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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.

Things to Do at Liberty Square

American Embassy

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

The Iberostar Budapest Grand is your best bet for staying right on Liberty Square. Hotel President is also extremely close – one block off Liberty Square on Hold u. Beyond those two options, there are plenty of other hotels within a short walk from Liberty Square. 

HotelGuest RatingStar RatingPrice & AvailabilityDistance from Elizabeth Square
Iberostar Grand Budapest9.1/105-starCheck Now0-minute walk
Hotel President8.2/104-starCheck Now1-minute walk
Prestige Hotel9.4/104-starCheck Now4-minute walk
Hotel Parlament9.4/104-starCheck Now5-minute walk
Opera Garden Hotel & Apartments9.2/104-starCheck Now8-minute walk
Four Seasons Gresham Palace9.3/105-starCheck Now7-minute walk
Hotel Moments Budapest9.6/104-starCheck Now9-minute walk
Callas House Budapest9.3/104-starCheck Now10-minute walk
Aria Hotel by Library Collection9.6/105-starCheck Now6-minute walk

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