17 Nov Ten things you need to know about the Jewish district of Budapest
1. Full of contradiction
The Jewish district is the smallest in Budapest, yet it currently has the highest population density. This combination leads to an electric atmosphere – day and night – as the streets fill with a mix of happy locals and curious tourists. Meeting people here is easy – just poke your head into anywhere that looks friendly and start talking.
2. It was really inhabited by Jews
The Jewish district is full with the historical remains of the Jewish community that once thrived here. There are three synagogues in the area with the Dohány Synagogue being the largest and, indeed, the second biggest in the entire world. Complete with a cemetery, a memorial garden and a museum, you can learn all about the Holocaust and the Budapest Ghetto that existed in this area. A small section of the wall, rebuilt from some of the originally-used bricks, still exists in the courtyard of a building on Király Street.
As you walk around, you’ll no doubt notice the narrow streets and passages – just like those on Gozsdu Udvar – connecting one long street with another. And, it’s on these streets that you’ll still find the bars and boutiques that make this area so interesting.
3. Contemporary Jewish history
Luckily, Jewish culture is not only something of the past. The district is experiencing an amazing revival of Jewish culture, embodied by a wave of new and renovated Kosher restaurants and eateries popping up. What’s more, a handful of Orthodox Jews have moved back to the district, helping to revive cultural traditions.
If you’re sticking around, one such eatery worth visiting is Mazel Tov. With a bright open courtyard and a young vibrant atmosphere, the menu serves a fusion of modern Mediterranean and Israeli foods.
Ortodox Jewish restaurant – photo: wikipedia.hu
4. Learning to love “Sissi”!
In the area known as ‘Erzsébetváros’ – meaning ‘Elizabeth Town’ – there is a living memorial to the beloved Austro-Hungarian queen “Sissi”, wife of Franz Joseph, the emperor, and the neighborhood’s namesake. She had a sweet spot for Hungarians and, it seems, one artist has a sweet spot for her – depicting her in a giant mural you can find on the side of a building in the area.
5. Ruin bars are very young and new
Despite looking old, ruin pubs are, in fact, very new. They are a byproduct of the decay the area faced after World War II and the tragic effects of the Holocaust that ravaged the area and stripped it of its population and identity.
Around the turn of the 2000s, young people that keen to drink somewhere other that the stuffy bars and bistros in the center, bought abandoned buildings in the neighborhood and turned them into bars. With little money to spend, they were filled with furnishing scavenged from attics and basements and decorated with the work of local artists.
It didn’t take long for this concept to catch on, and soon ruin pubs started to spring up everywhere. Today, the most popular ones like Szimpla and packed to the brim every night of the week and have expanded past their original vision, hosting gastro markets, putting on concerts and running restaurants.
Szimpla kert ruin bar
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6. Day and night, always alive
While originally famous for just its nightlife, the Jewish district is now a great place to hang out any time of the day. New wave coffee shops like My Little Melbourne run a brisk trade everyday, and hip art boutique Printa is a great place to browse, buy and enjoy the work of local artists.
Or you could just wander and explore. The Jewish district is dotted with loads of charming streets and hidden courtyards. One worth checking out is Röser Courtyard – home to the delicious brunch bar Szimply.
Farmers’ market in the Szimpla ruinpub
7. Street art in every size
Another benefit of the abundance of abandoned buildings that existed in the neighborhood was that it gave local mural artists plenty of places to show off their street art. What started as ad hoc efforts have blossomed into a rotating array of murals on some of the largest walls in the neighborhood.
Space invaders, concrete balls, and stickers of dogs with two tails are just a few of this things you’ll find if you go walking and, thanks to the Színes Város project – which invites a handful of artists to create works of art every year – you’ll have new stuff to see every time you visit.
To find all of the murals in the Jewish quarter check our comprehensive street art map of Budapest. To discover the vibrant murals and street art pieces in the Jewish quarter sign up on our small-group street art tour.
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8. Welcome to cosmopolitan Budapest
There is no other district in Budapest where expats and locals mingle so much. The reasons should be obvious – the ruin bars, the cool dining spots and the creative vibes in the city.
While Budapest’s low cost of living has always made the city an appealing place for expats to make a home, there is also a major influx of students every semester who come to study for 6 months at some of the city’s best universities – bringing with them the energy and excitement of cultures from all over the world.
9. Eat the street!
While Hungarian food is certainly delicious, Hungarians have begun to crave cuisine from all over the world and, like many cities, street food has become immensely popular and the Jewish district is one of the best places to find it.
On Király Street, Zing knocks out possibly the best burgers in the city. Pizza, on the other hand, is a firm favorite in the city, and one of the best places to get an imitation Italian slice is Pizzica.
Finally, for those seeking to try a few things, Karaván is a street food courtyard that has recently opened down the road from Szimpla ruin bar.
10. Never the same
Andy Warhol once said, “They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” Well, in the case of the Jewish district, you do not need to put in any effort – every time you visit, there will be something new to discover.
It’s a neighborhood that is constantly evolving – some would even say gentrifying – as entrepreneurs and artists clamber to make their mark in the area. So, how things will look in the future is anyone’s guess.