Prior to the building of this bridge, people relied on a structure on the water that had to be dismantled when ships passed and that was easily wrecked in stormy weather. The Széchenyi Chain Bridge was named for the man who financed it in its original form, Count István Széchenyi. Széchenyi reportedly funded the bridge while his father was dying because he was not able to cross the river by ferry for medical assistance; bad weather delayed the ferry for 8 days, and his father died in the meantime. He came from one of the wealthiest families of the time and was intent on bringing Hungary into the modern times by funding a number of projects. He wanted not only to unite Buda with Pest for the first time, but also to unite the country as well. After successive trips to London to view bridge construction, he commissioned Tierney Clark to design the bridge. The bridge was an exact copy of the bridge Clark designed at Marlow for crossing the Thames. Ádám Clark, no relation to the designer, was hired as the chief engineer. He is responsible for the tunnel that runs under Castle Hill and the square at the foot of the bridge is named for him.

During the war with Austria in May 1849, the Austrians planned on blowing up the yet-to-be-completed bridge. Ádám Clark had the anchoring chambers flooded to foil their plans and the bridge was completed later that year. In January 1945, the Germans destroyed the bridge as well as all the others that were in existence by that time. The Széchenyi Chain Bridge was rebuilt and reopened in November 1949.

With its advantageous location in the city center, it is most beautiful at night when thousands of lights adorning it glitter like a chandelier until midnight. In summer, when festivals are held on it on weekends and traffic is diverted, it is a place to stroll while stopping at the booths set up by artists, craftspeople, vendors, and musicians who entertain the locals and tourists alike. At other times, there are pedestrian lanes on either side to take a walk across for a view of the Danube: a pleasant experience and an excellent photo opportunity from the center.