25 Oct 6 reasons to visit Budapest’s District VIII
When you come to Budapest it’s very easy to flow with the mainstream – pay a visit to Buda Castle, head out for a wild night out in the Jewish Quarter, bath at the Széchenyi -, but magic always happens outside your comfort zone so step away from the main sights and explore a lesser-known part of Budapest in the VIII District.
But before you do, it’s important to understand that the two faces. Inside the Grand Boulevard, the Palace District captures the district’s former grandeur with palatial apartments set around cobbled squares, narrow streets, and trendy coffee houses.
Beyond the boulevard, flaking apartment blocks mingle with alternative arts hubs, diverse communities and pop up events. Either way, the VIII District is one of Budapest’s most exciting neighbourhoods to check it out when you’re in town next time. If you’re not convinced, see our 6 reasons to visit the VIII District.
1. Leave the Crowds Behind
Relaxed atmosphere in District VIII. Photo: facebook.com/mindspacebudapest
Just across the road from the trendy Jewish Quarter, the VIII District is so near yet much less visited. If you sick of getting jostled by British stag parties and party hostel-organised pub crawls then you’ll want to take the extra few minutes to head over to this vibrant and underrated district.
The VIII District, also known as Józsefváros, once had an unsavoury reputation for being a rundown ghetto, but in recent years it has developed into an artistic hub buzzing with underground culture (more on that in point 3). And it’s not just the number of people that goes down here, but the prices too.
2. Immerse Yourself in a Diverse Community
Pop up design fair in Rákóczi square market. Photo: facebook.com/mindspacebudapest
The VIII District is perhaps Budapest’s most diverse neighbourhood. It’s home to a vibrant and vast Roma majority, and you’ll also find a community of Asians (if you want something different, head out to the Four Tigers Market, a bustling Chinese market in the outskirts of the district). You can also grab a bite to eat at an African buffet, buy spices and halal meat from a Pakistani shop, or pick up Greek specials from the local Hellenic deli.
There is also a historic Jewish population residing in the area around Teleki Square. Head to number 22 on a Saturday morning to join the local Jewish community at their hidden shul in a ground floor apartment for the Sabbath led by their charismatic South African rabbi.
3. Vibrant Underground Culture
Exhibition at BRFK Gallery. Photo: facebook.com/brfkgallery
One of the most exciting things about the VIII District is its vibrant underground culture scene. Both inside and outside the boulevard you’ll find countercultural groups, bars, and hubs buzzing day and night, and sometimes pop-up events, like those organized by MindSpace NGO, take over. Inside the boulevard, head over to Painters Palace hidden in a basement in Bródy Sándor utca. This arts hub runs events almost nightly, from creative writing to live drawing, as well as concerts and theater workshops.
Heading away from the Palace District, Auróra and Gólya reign as alternative cultural centers hosting a range of events from refugee mixers, stand up comedy nights and concerts depending on the program. You can also find exciting events in some of the local galleries, like Feri, BRFK or tiny micro gallery Puccs.
Join our walking tour of Budapest’s District VIII
Expolore local galleries, cosy coffee shops and non-touristy ruin bars and more
4. Grab a Drink in Some of Budapest’s Most Underrated Bars
Kék Ló underground bar. Photo: facebook.com/KekLoPub
In our opinion, some of Budapest’s best watering holes reside in this vibrant, flaking neighbourhood. You won’t regret a night out in the surrealist themed Kék Ló tucked in a side street just behind the Rákóczi Market or the nearby chill Csiga Cafe. Just round the corner, you’ll find cosy Hintaló Iszoda with its worn booths, Dali prints, low lighting, and a hip young crowd.
And if you want to head inside the Grand Boulevard, you can pick up a pint of craft beer at the steampunk themed Krak’n Town or get a coffee from local roasters Lumen down around Mikszáth Kálman tér. And if you get your inner detective in gear, see if you can find Keret, a secret bar located in the Palace District you’ll need to ring the bell to get in. We won’t give you the address – part of the reward is to find it for yourself – but you will be rewarded with a hidden, welcoming speak-easy nudged behind closed doors.
5. Lose Yourself in Stunning Architecture
Szabó Ervin Library. Photo: wikipedia.org
The Palace District gets its name from all the palaces built once by Hungarian aristocracy around the Hungarian National Museum in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Take a stroll in this district and don’t forget to look up! Around each corner lies stunning palaces with stucco details, neoclassical columns, or ornate facades.
You can start at the Szabó Ervin Library at the beginning of Baross utca and wander over to Mikszáth Kálmán tér and feel like you’ve parachuted into a Veronese square in northern Italy. Get a drink in the ivy-clad Architect’s Forum on Múzeum utca, and keep wandering down to the abandoned Károlyi Palota and then further onto the Andrássy Palota, home now to a German-speaking university. The number one thing to do in this area is to keep your eyes peeled for the details.
6. Relax in the VIII District’s Secret Gardens
Martsa Workshop and Artist’s Garden. Photo: martsamuterem.hu
When everyone goes to City Park and Margaret Island, you can find your green oasis in the VIII District away from the tour groups. For a sense of grandeur, head over to Orczy Kert, with a large lake, jogging path and views over the 19th-century campus buildings belonging to the University of Public Service.
Nearby, spend an afternoon in the Botanical Gardens, the oldest kind of its type in Hungary. This garden is home to a beautiful wrought-iron palm house and an Asian garden famed for its cherry blossom trees that burst into bloom in April. For something more secret and intimate, don’t miss the Martsa Workshop and Artist’s Garden tucked away in a hidden plot on József utca.