A visit to the largest church in Hungary was on our list of things to do in Budapest. Not because churches consistently have some of the best views, but because I desperately needed a way to burn extra calories so that I could consume more langos (aka fried bread.. aka heaven). With 324 steps to the top, St. Stephen’s Basilica was exactly the excuse I had been looking for.
St. Stephen’s Basilica is a neoclassical Roman Catholic church named after the first king of Hungary (his hand is even on display inside.. but more on that later). While we initially visited for the viewing deck, the overall massiveness of the church drew us inside.
The basilica is gorgeous and the views from the top ended up resulting in some of my favorite photos from the trip. It’s definitely worth a quick stop, so keep reading for information about the church including ticket prices, hours and how to get there.
ST. STEPHEN’S BASILICA
We visited St. Stephen’s Basilica at the most beautiful time of day when the sun was shining directly through the windows, making everything look gold and shimmery. The main alter is located in the center under the dome, and the church is intricately decorated with opulent gold detailing and never ending marble.
ST. STEPHEN’S MUMMIFIED HAND
One of the most unique draws within the basilica is the ornate glass viewing case which features the mummified hand of St. Stephen himself.
St. Stephen was recognized as a saint after he died and in 1083, as part of the canonization process, they had to exhume his body from the crypt.
Legend has it that when they exhumed the body, they noticed St. Stephen’s right arm was still fully intact and showed no signs of decay. The arm was cut off to be used as a relic, and throughout the centuries it has been passed around amongst different churches. Today, just the hand is left and it remains a permanent fixture inside St. Stephen’s Basilica.
To find the mummified hand, make your way to the left of the main alter where you’ll find Szent Jobb Chapel. If you drop a coin into the slot, the light in the display case turns on for 2 minutes.
As with most churches, it is recommended that you dress appropriately: modestly is key and you cannot wear hats inside.
If your outfit shows your bare shoulders, you will be given a paper shawl to cover them up.
Photography is allowed inside the church as well as on the Panorama Tower. Flash is not allowed inside but you are free to use a tripod.
To reach the Panorama Tower, it is a relatively easy 364 steps up a spiral staircase. Alternatively, you can take the elevator but it only fits 4 people at a time so lines do form during peak times.
The view from the top is not the best you can find in Budapest (I like the view from Fisherman’s Bastion better), but it is still definitely worth a visit. From the top of the dome you can see the Hungarian Parliament Building, Buda Castle and the Chain Bridge.
5 FACTS ABOUT ST. STEPHEN’S BASILICA
- Each year on August 20th, Budapest celebrates St. Stephen’s Day. On this day, St. Stephen’s mummified hand is taken out of the church where it then leads the precession.
- St. Stephen’s Basilica is the largest church in Hungary. It can hold 8,500 people at one time!
- The Basilica took over 50 years to build, with construction starting in 1851 and finally finishing in 1905.
- During construction, the church’s dome collapsed and they had to completely tear down what they had built and re-start from scratch.
- St. Stephen’s Basilica is tied with the Hungarian Parliament as the tallest buildings in Budapest (96 meters / 315 feet). The two buildings’ equal height symbolizes the importance of both church and state in Hungary.
If you’re a classical music fan, on Thursday nights St. Stephen’s Basilica hosts popular organ concerts.
The church acts as a gorgeous setting for the concert, which featuring some of Hungary’s most celebrated musicians including Kolos Kováts, Miklos Teleki and Eleonóra Krusic.
Classic pieces from Mozart, Bach and Vivaldi are performed and tickets start at around $20 USD.
During the Winter, one of Budapest’s largest Christmas markets is located in St. Stephen’s Square, directly in front of the church.
You’ll find an ice skating rink, light shows, food and of course, mulled wine.
ENTRANCE FEES & TICKETS
Entrance into the church is free although they do request a donation of 200 HUF (.69 cents USD) when you first enter. You won’t be turned away if you don’t have the change but it did seem customary (and expected) to give a donation.
Adults: 600 HUF ($2.06 USD)
Students: 400 HUF ($1.38 USD)
Children under 7: Free
Adults: 400 HUF ($1.38 USD)
Students: 300 HUF ($1.03 USD)
ST. STEPHEN’S BASILICA VISITOR HOURS
CHURCH: Monday-Friday 9am-5pm / Saturday 9am-1pm / Sunday 1pm-5pm
TREASURY Monday-Sunday 9am-5pm
HOLY RIGHT (mummified hand ) Monday-Saturday 9am-5pm / Sun 1pm-5pm
PANORAMA TOWER Monday-Sunday 10am-6pm
ST. STEPHEN’S BASILICA MASS TIMES
There are a lot of conflicting mass times listed on the internet so I contacted the church and this is the most recent schedule as of July 2019.
SUNDAY 8:30 am, 10:00 am (Latin), 12.00 pm, 5:30 pm (English), 6:00 pm
WEEKDAYS + SATURDAY 7:00 am (Chapel of the Holy Right), 8:00 am (Chapel of the Holy Right), 6:00 pm
MONDAY, TUESDAY & FRIDAY (NOT IN AUGUST) 7:30pm (English)
HOW TO GET TO ST. STEPHEN’S BASILICA
St. Stephen’s Basilica is located in Pest (District V) and is easily accessible by public transportation. Take the metro yellow line (M1) to Bajcsy Zsilinszky út or the blue line (M3) to Arany János utca. If you’ll be arriving by bus, take lines 15 or 115 to Hercegprímás utca.
PIN IT: ST. STEPHEN’S BASILICA // A VISITOR’S GUIDE TO BUDAPEST’S LARGEST CHURCH
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