Liberty Square Budapest
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Read More About the Area
Introduction to Liberty Square Budapest
Liberty Square (Szabadság tér in Hungarian) sits in Lipótváros, the northern section of Budapest’s District 5. It lies between the Hungarian Parliament Building and St. Stephen’s Basilica: a 6-minute walk from either. Walk a few minutes to the Danube, and you’ll find great views of Fisherman’s Bastion, Matthias Church, and Buda Castle across the river in District I.
One of Budapest’s largest squares, Liberty Square is a popular park. It has interesting architecture, plenty of green space, a playground for kids, and an interactive fountain. It’s also got a heavy dose of controversy, thanks to the monuments and statues placed around the square. More on that below, in the Things to Do section.
Well-located and in a beautiful part of the city, Liberty Square is a popular area to stay in Budapest for tourists. Generally speaking, it’s an upscale area of Budapest, and very quiet at night. The Iberostar Grand Budapest Hotel sits on the southern end of the square if you’d like to stay right at Liberty Square. There are plenty of other great hotels in the vicinity, as well.
Liberty Square History
Liberty Square’s name stands in opposition to the site’s past as a prison.
Ordered by Emperor Joseph II, the barracks and prison that once stood here held a number of Hungarian political prisoners. Prime Minister Batthyány Lajos was held here following the 1848-1849 Hungarian Revolution. He was executed in front of the prison.
Many Hungarians saw the prison as a symbol of Hapsburg oppression. When the prison was demolished in 1897, it was replaced by a public square. The name for the square – Liberty Square – references this pivot from the site’s past oppression.
A short but pretty detour from Liberty Square is tiny Bathory Square. It lies behind where the former prison building sat, and there’s a small oil lamp in the centre of the square dedicated to Batthyány Lajos. It’s unassuming and quiet – one of my favorite squares in Budapest.
Liberty Square Today
Liberty Square is one of Budapest’s prettiest squares. This part of the city has gorgeous architecture and clean, wide streets. It’s one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Pest, home to government buildings, the finance sector, and homes. It’s generally quite peaceful, and feels a bit like Paris. Think lovely sidewalk cafés and bistros, old trees, and grand buildings.
The square itself is a popular spot for Budapesters to hang out. During the most recent FIFA World Cup, the city set-up massive viewing screens here. It felt like the entire city descended on Liberty Square to cheer together.
Day-to-day, you’ll see plenty of people relaxing on the grass, strolling the square, or reading on one of the benches.
There’s also a nice children’s playground here and an interactive fountain. The fountain turns on and off depending on whether you’re approaching, leaving, or standing around.
Book Your Trip to Budapest
Save Money in Budapest
The Budapest Card includes free, unlimited public transportation for the duration of the card, and is available as a 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5-day card. In addition to free public transport, the card includes free entry to many museums, a complimentary tour, discounts throughout the city, and more. Click for prices and details.
Book Your Flight to Budapest
CheapOair is our current favorite when it comes to searching for flight deals. It’s a meta aggregator, and will find the best deals and routes for you by searching airline websites and other aggregators.
Book Your Budapest Hotel in Advance
We use Booking.com when making hotel reservations in Europe. In our experience, it has the best inventory/selection of hotels and holiday apartments, and we’ve had good experiences with their customer service team when things go wrong (which has been a rarity for us, thank goodness!). TripAdvisor is also trying to get into the hotel booking game, and may be worth checking out.
Skip the Line in Budapest
Budapest is getting busier by the year, meaning you should expect to wait in line at the most popular attractions, especially in high season. If you only have a short vacation, consider getting a Skip-the-Line ticket for the most popular attractions: The Great Synagogue, Széchenyi Thermal Baths, and the Parliament. If you want to visit the interior of the Parliament, you have to pre-book. You can either use an international tour aggregator like Get Your Guide or use the Hungarian website Jegymester.hu.
Book Your Budapest Tour
Why use an aggregator instead of going direct? Personally, we like to compare the different tours available for each attraction, as well as read reviews. Both Get Your Guide and Viator let us see multiple, similar tours, and compare prices and past reviews before making a booking.
Getting from Budapest Airport to the City Center
Budapest’s public transportation system is generally excellent, and this extends to the airport. For a detailed post about getting from Budapest Airport to the City Center via public transit, shared shuttle, or airport taxi, read our guide here.
If you’re arriving late at night, coming in on a long-haul and expect to be exhausted, or would rather have the peace of mind of a private transfer, you can book one here.
Buy Travel Insurance (Just in Case)
We can’t actually recommend a travel insurance provider. Apparently it’s against the law.
However, we can say this: we know several people who racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical expenses during separate, life-or-death situations while traveling. They were both insured by Allianz, they both received life-saving care, and they both made a successful claim.
No one wants to need travel insurance, but you’ll certainly be glad you have it if something goes wrong. And if something does go wrong in Budapest, we personally go to FirstMed for our healthcare. Staff and doctors speak English.
Make Restaurant Reservations in Advance
If you visit Budapest in winter, you’ll probably be okay if you don’t make restaurant reservations, although we’d still recommend you reserve in advance Thursday to Saturday evenings where possible.
In summer, things fill up pretty quickly, although capacity at many restaurants increases when the city’s terraces open, usually sometime in May. It’s worth noting Budapest’s restaurants are all non-smoking inside, but get quite smoky on the terraces.
Things to Do at Liberty Square
The art nouveau US Embassy is one of the most imposing buildings on the square. You’ll spot it instantly because of its heavy fortifications. Look for the concrete blocks and steel fencing.
Statue of Harry Hill Bandholtz
In front of the US Embassy, facing the square, you’ll find a bust of American Harry Hill Bandholtz.
Bandholtz was posted to Budapest at the end of WWI on behalf of the Allies, arriving in the city in August 1919. Part of his job was ensuring Romanian troops left Hungary following the war. Due to the treaty Hungary signed with the Allies ending the war, Romanian troops were pretty much persona non grata in Budapest at the time. The Treaty of Trianon had demanded Hungary give up roughly two-thirds of its territory, including ceding Transylvania to Romania. It was a bitter pill to swallow for being on the losing side of the war.
It’s within this context that Bandholtz developed into somewhat of a hero to Hungarians. Upong hearing Romanian soldiers were looting Budapest’s National Museum, Bandholtz went to stop them from relocating Transylvanian treasures.
When Hungarians heard of Bandholtz’ act, it was seen as vindication. Hungarians interpreted it as a sign that America thought Hungary’s loss of Transylvania’s to Romania was unfair. Bandholtz gained instant hero status.
Hungarian National Bank
This is a historicist-style building on the east side-of the square, beside the American Embassy. It’s still a functioning government building, and worth a quick look.
Former Stock Exchange Building
Opposite the US Embassy sits the Exchange Palace. Dating back to 1905, the Beaux-Arts-style building was designed and built by Hungarian architect Ignác Alpár. It originally housed the Budapest Stock Exchange. Then from 1955 until 2009, the building was HQ to the Hungarian national broadcaster, MTV. It has since sat empty, although there are plans to develop it into mixed-use retail and office space.
Post-Office Savings Bank
The Post-Office Savings Bank (Postatakarékpénztár) is just behind Liberty Square, but well worth the detour to Hold u. Designed by Ödön Lechner, the art nouveau/secession building is spectacular. Check out the ornate ornamentation on the exterior and the stunning ceramic mosaic roof. The Intermezzo Roof Terrace bar/restaurant at Hotel President offers great views.
Soviet War Monument
This is the only remaining soviet monument in central Budapest. The rest have been banished to Memento Park, a bizarre theme park of Soviet monuments on the city’s outskirts.
Plenty of Budapesters hate this monument even today, but it’s protected by a treaty between Hungary and Russia, and isn’t going anywhere. When Estonia removed the last of its Soviet monuments a few years back, Russia inflicted some economic pain on the country.
This message didn’t go unnoticed by the Hungarians, and the Hungarian government found itself between a rock and a hard place. They couldn’t remove the monument without angering the Russians, but they couldn’t keep it due to domestic protest. Instead of removing it, the government chose to erect a Ronald Reagan statue facing the monument (see below).
What’s perhaps most interesting about this monument is how uncontroversial it is today. At times, it’s had to be fenced off, such was the outrage of some Hungarians. These days, no fences are needed. It’s a sign of the times, perhaps, as Hungary leans more toward Russia politically.
Statue of Ronald Reagan
At the north end of the square, Ronald Reagan confronts the Soviet War Monument. A symbol of capitalism and the West, the Reagan statue offsets some of the Soviet monument’s symbolic power. Many Hungarians love Reagan for his anti-communist stance, and his role in the fall of the Berlin wall – and iron curtain – with his “Tear Down this Wall” speech.
Previously, another anti-communist statue stood between Reagan and the Hungarian Parliament Building. Imre Nagy, the anti-communist leader of the 1956 revolution, stood with his back to the Soviet Monument. His gaze focused on the Hungarian Parliament Building as a symbol of democracy. When it was erected, it was meant as a direct rebuttal to the Soviet monument. However, in late 2018 the government ordered it relocated. A memorial to victims of a brief 1919 communist regime will replace the statue. It is said to be a replica of a statue that stood here during the interwar government of the pro-Nazi leader, Miklós Horthy (see below). When it finally gets erected, expect some controversy!
Memorial for the Victims of the German Occupation
This is another controversial monument on a square that’s full of them. The memorial depicts Germany’s invasion of Hungary – from the perspective of the current government of Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party.
The statue shows an eagle (Nazi Germany) attacking the Archangel Gabriel (Hungary). Critics say the monument portrays Hungary as a passive victim in WWII and the Holocaust, rather than a complicit participant.
In front of the monument, you’ll notice a permanent protest. The artifacts lining the space in front of the memorial show examples of Hungary’s participation in Holocaust atrocities. They’re meant as a rebuttal to what Holocaust historians say is Hungary’s revisionist view of this part of its history.
Miklós Horthy Statue
Yet another controversial statue, Horthy was Hungary’s Prime Minister during the Interwar period.
To Hungary’s nationalist far right, he’s a hero. To many others, he’s a fascist anti-semite. Indeed, he was responsible for overseeing the implementation of a number of anti-Jewish laws in Hungary in the build-up to WWII. One, the Numerus Clausus law, reduced Jewish participation in universities by implementing a quota. During WWII, Horthy allied Hungary with Nazi Germany. He also sought to reclaim the roughly two-thirds territory Hungary lost in the Treaty of Trianon at the end of WWI.
When the Nazis got wind Horthy was having second thoughts and negotiating with the Allies, Germany invaded. They allowed Horthy to stay on as Hungary’s leader as the worst of the Holocaust arrived in the country.
The church where the Horthy bust sits today is associated with Jobbik, Hungary’s far right political party. Jobbik sits to the ideological right of Orban’s ruling Fidesz, of “illiberal democracy” renown.
Hotels Near Liberty Square Budapest
|Hotel||Guest Rating||Star Rating||Price & Availability||Distance from Elizabeth Square|
|Iberostar Grand Budapest||9.1/10||5-star||Check Now||0-minute walk|
|Hotel President||8.2/10||4-star||Check Now||1-minute walk|
|Prestige Hotel||9.4/10||4-star||Check Now||4-minute walk|
|Hotel Parlament||9.4/10||4-star||Check Now||5-minute walk|
|Opera Garden Hotel & Apartments||9.2/10||4-star||Check Now||8-minute walk|
|Four Seasons Gresham Palace||9.3/10||5-star||Check Now||7-minute walk|
|Hotel Moments Budapest||9.6/10||4-star||Check Now||9-minute walk|
|Callas House Budapest||9.3/10||4-star||Check Now||10-minute walk|
|Aria Hotel by Library Collection||9.6/10||5-star||Check Now||6-minute walk|
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