Combining fascinating history with local art and design and excellent drinking and dining establishments, it’s little wonder that most visitors to Budapest are keen to see the city’s Jewish Quarter. Located in the 7th District of Erzsébetváros, this area of the Hungarian capital is home to plenty of historic landmarks and the second largest synagogue in the world, as well as many of Budapest’s famous ruin bars, eclectic boutiques, avant-garde galleries and great places to eat. Whether you’re a culture vulture or a culinary connoisseur, here’s how to spend a day exploring the Jewish Quarter in Budapest.
In order to understand the district as it is today, it’s important to get to grips with the poignant history of the area. As its name suggests, this was traditionally an area populated by the city’s Jewish community, and the neighbourhood is still home to three synagogues including the Dohany Synagogue—which is one of the largest synagogues in the world. Be sure to visit the adjoining memorial garden and Hungarian Jewish Museum, which showcases traditional Jewish clothing and cultural practices and pays tribute to the Hungarian Jews killed in the Holocaust. Exhibits on display range from film art to film and architecture and outside the museum visitors will find Imre Varga’s incredibly moving ‘Memorial of the Hungarian Jewish Matyrs.’ Shaped like a weeping willow, the leaves of the sculpture are each inscribed with the name of a Hungarian family who lost their lives during the Holocaust.
Step outside, and you’ll see the area is still home to many Jewish families, with plenty of busy kosher restaurants serving the community. For a taste of Jewish cooking with a modern spin, we recommend lunch at Mazel Tov. Tuck into Shakshuka as well as hummus with pita or, for a more substantial option, the Mazel Tov veggie burger or Pastrami Sandwich are both filling and seriously flavourful. From here, wander up the grand Andrassy boulevard to reach the former secret police headquarters, which is now the House of Terror. Telling the brutal story of the country under fascist and Stalinist rule, the museum honours the victims of both regimes with both permanent and temporary exhibitions. Reconstructing some of the original rooms, such as the cells in the basement, the displays offer a powerful and poignant reminder of Hungarian history.
Alongside its historic significance, Budapest’s Jewish Quarter has also become a hub for creative locals and, as a result, visitors are likely to come across many intriguing independent stores. Get to know Printa, a Hungarian sustainable lifestyle brand that creates chic clothing and homeware from recycled materials. Check out local art at Inda Gallery, which exhibits contemporary Hungarian artists alongside international figures. It’s also worth making a stop at Szimpla Design Shop, a space that’s full-to-the-brim with unusual antiques, locally designed items and upcycled pieces. This compact but characterful shop offers a wealth of design inspiration as well as a lesson in Hungarian crafts.
Pop into Szimpla Kert (next door), Budapest’s most famous ruin bar, to soak up the atmosphere of this Hungarian landmark. Rub shoulders with the locals as you enjoy the day’s live music, before heading to dinner at the Jewish Quarter’s much-loved Zeller Bistro. This friendly bistro is cheerfully decorated with plenty of plants and its menu proudly supports Hungarian farmers and producers. Begin with the Hungarian grey beef followed by the rose duck breast, served with celery salad and sweet potatoes. Accompany your meal with a bottle of wine from the carefully compiled list, which includes plenty of small-scale Hungarian winemakers.