There’s no shortage of churches in Budapest. Just by walking around the city, you can find a slightly different offering on every street corner. It’s usually pink or yellow, it will probably have a spire or two and, as the Belvárosi Chapel next to the Erszébet is evidence of, it has probably just been renovated.

There are so many that you cannot possibly see them all and it may become tempting to just pass by after a while, but every so often it’s worth taking the leap and popping inside. One which I’d particularly recommend is the Franciscan Church of Pest on Ferenciek ter: its outside is a particularly lovely example of neo-baroque architecture which is matched by the grave beauty of the interior. But these churches are not only pretty: they often play host to concerts and recitals or both orchestral and choral music. Information can generally be found just inside the door and most have something at least once a week, so there will always be somewhere local to go.

St Stephen's Basilica © Bachtrack Ltd / Hannah Marcus
St Stephen's Basilica
© Bachtrack Ltd / Hannah Marcus
Of course, there are a few key sights that any church enthusiast, religious or not, cannot miss – and indeed, it is virtually impossible to do so, with the city-wide ban on skyscrapers meaning that the tallest spires can be seen for miles around. On the Pest side, there is obviously St. Stephen’s Basilica, which well deserves its reputation as one of the three most famous places to go in Budapest. Situated in a pleasant open courtyard (which often plays host to street markets and stalls), the majesty of this neo-classical building can be seen from all sides. Once inside, it is no less impressive, with everything you would expect from the largest Catholic church in the area; statues, stained glass, the largest organ in Europe, you name it. Again, watch out for the regular organ concerts on Mondays and Fridays, as well as sporadic choral and instrumental concerts.

St Matthias Church - angel © Bachtrack Ltd / David Karlin
St Matthias Church - angel
© Bachtrack Ltd / David Karlin
St Matthias Church - Madonna and Child © Bachtrack Ltd / David Karlin
St Matthias Church - Madonna and Child
© Bachtrack Ltd / David Karlin
In complete contrast to this is the church on the other side of the river. Seeming almost to balance out St Stephen’s, St Matthias is named after Hungary’s other favourite King, and certainly serves as fitting a testament of their adoration as the Basilica does for St Stephen. Situated high on Buda Castle Hill, next to the achingly picturesque Fisherman’s Bastion, on a clear day this area provides beautiful views of the Pest side, whilst being no eyesore itself. The coloured roof-tiles alone, found very sparingly throughout the city, are worth a gander, as is the florid late Gothic architecture, which again serves as a nice contrast to the neo-classical we’ve seen elsewhere. Pop inside to find an Ecclesiastical Art Exhibition, as well as more of those impressively ornamental interiors you will come to know and love. Furthermore, just down the bank from this is the Calvinist Church, which makes a lovely sight from across the river when juxtaposed with the more famous buildings above.

Calvinist Church © Bachtrack Ltd / Hannah Marcus
Calvinist Church
© Bachtrack Ltd / Hannah Marcus
If, however, synagogues are more your bent, then not far from here is what is sometimes known as the ‘golden triangle’ of the Dohany St Synagogue, the Orthodox Synagogue on Kazinczy St, and the ruined Old Orthodox Synagogue on Rumbach St. The Dohany St Synagogue is the largest and in the best condition and is thus probably the one to start with. Although about a hundred years old, it was restored in 1993 to its former glory after heavy bombing in the war, and is well worth a look both as a point of religious interest and as an example of secessionist architecture. Housing a Neolog community Synagogue (the Hungarian version of Reform Judaism which is unique to the country), there are some unconventional features, such as the inclusion of pulpits, the bimah (stand for reading the sacred texts) being placed at the front, and the fact that there is an organ, which has to be played by a non-Jew on the sabbath in order to get round religious sanctions. It’s worth getting a guided tour in order to hear the lengthy but fascinating history of this building, right up to the restoration being funded by famous Hungarians-turned-Americans (Tony Curtis, anyone?).

Dohany St Synagogue © Bachtrack Ltd / David Karlin
Dohany St Synagogue
© Bachtrack Ltd / David Karlin
Included in the cost of a basic ticket are both the cemetery, which includes part of the original ghetto wall (this Synagogue used to mark the entrance), and the famous Memorial Tree, whose silver leaves each mark a victim of the Holocaust in Hungary. You also have the option of entering the Jewish Museum, which contains a variety of artefacts used in different Jewish ceremonies, and also has a section devoted to the Holocaust, which would be particularly interesting for those more interested in details of Jewish culture.

In order to get the full picture of why this Synagogue was so special, you should then walk just a street over to the Orthodox Synagogue, which is a beautiful art nouveau building in its own right, even if the  religious features are a little more conventional. It’s definitely worth finding the funny old man to unlock the main synagogue (he’s probably hiding in the winter overflow on the other side) - again, this 130 year old building has been restored to its former glory, and is an impressive array of colour and detail, despite its smaller size.

Dohany St Synagogue memorial tree © Bachtrack Ltd / David Karlin
Dohany St Synagogue memorial tree
© Bachtrack Ltd / David Karlin
Serving as a poignant contrast to this is the Ruined Orthodox Synagogue, whose minareted front would be even more impressive if it wasn’t falling apart. Inside, you can just see enough of the faded walls and flooring’s original pattern to mentally recreate the buiding’s former glory, whilst the Here and Now Exhibition inside, although little more than a few photographs, is a nice summary of how the entire area has been reconstructed out of ruins.

Arguably, the best thing about the churches and synagogues you can find around Budapest is the care with which they are looked after and preserved; nothing is peeling or decrepit, and most have been recreated according to original designs. This means that walking inside you are treated to both a slice of history and a living part of the Budapest community - and the fact that they are lovely to look at doesn’t hurt either. You can find in these buildings the very life blood of the city, and this is something that every traveller to Budapest can and should make the most of.