In 1910, more than twenty percent of Budapest's residents were Jewish, but after the Holocaust and the subsequent mass Jewish emigration from Hungary, this is no longer the case today. Many synagogues, however, still stand as witnesses of a lost era. (Here, you can read more about the history of Jewish people in Hungary.) Hungarian Jews split into three factions in 1869 over a disagreement about assimilation. The central temple of each of the three factions comprises the so-called "synagogue triangle" inside Budapest's old Jewish Quarter (#1-3 below).
There are 16 functional synagogues in Budapest today – 31 in greater Hungary – with a total congregation size of only a few thousand members. Most belong to the relatively progressive Neolog faction, followed by the increasingly active Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidics, and the Autonomous Orthodox Jewish Community.
#1 - Dohány Street Synagogue (location; opening hours vary, closed on Saturday; HUF 9,000 admission, which includes a guided tour to the synagogue and entry to the Jewish Museum): This enormous building, commissioned by the progressive Neolog faction of Budapest's Jews in the 1850s, is the biggest synagogue in Europe. Some of its features, like the towers, the pulpits, the organ, and the placement of the bimah bring to mind a Christian church (orthodox Jews regarded it with sneering contempt). Although the congregation today has only about 300 active members, the synagogue fills up during High Holiday services.
Attached to the synagogue is the Garden of Remembrance, a mass grave for Jews killed by Hungarian Nazis in 1944/45. In the back is the weeping willow memorial, with the names of Hungarian Holocaust victims inscribed on the metal leaves (the Tablets of Stone in front of it are stripped of their content). The symbolic tomb of Raoul Wallenberg commemorates the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews in Budapest during the Holocaust.
Also attached to the synagogue is the Jewish Museum (entry is included in the admission ticket), showcasing Jewish relics from Hungary. Highlights include an ornate seder plate made by the Hungarian porcelain manufacturer, Herendi, and a 3rd century CE tombstone from the region decorated with a carved menorah. Finally, a memorial plaque outside the synagogue shows where stood the house where the father of Israel, the Zionist Theodor Herzl, was born.
#2 - Kazinczy Street Orthodox Synagogue (location; opening hours vary, closed on Saturday; HUF 3,000 admission): This impressive Art Nouveau synagogue from 1913 anchors the winding Kazinczy Street, which has long been home to Budapest's orthodox Jewish community, and more recently to Budapest's nightlife. The inside features pale-blue walls, stained glass windows, and benches adorned with Hungarian folk motifs. This fortress-like building also has a kosher butcher shop (35 Dob Street), a kosher restaurant (Hanna), two prayer rooms, and a wrought-iron canopy (chuppah) under which a couple stands during the wedding ceremony. Today, the congregation has only about 70 members.
#3 - Rumbach Street Synagogue (location; closed on Saturday; HUF 3,000 admission): The young Viennese architect, Otto Wagner, later the father of the Viennese Art Nouveau, designed this stunning synagogue in 1872. The Islamic ornaments — minaret-like towers and slender, Moorish-style Alhambra columns — evoke the medieval architecture of Sephardic Jews in the Iberian Peninsula. In the past, the congregation belonged to the “middle” faction of Budapest Jews, people who favored some religious reforms but were put off by the modern designs of the nearby Dohány Street Synagogue. Today, the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidics manage the building.
#4 - Salgótarjani Street Jewish Cemetery (location; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., closed on Saturday; free admission): Opened in 1874, this is the oldest functional Jewish cemetery in Budapest. The Jewish business and political elite is buried here, as evidenced by the ornate marble and granite mausoleums designed by leading architects. A highlight is the cubic funeral home (ohel) at the entrance. Many of the tombs are in bad shape — neglected, collapsed, and overgrown with ivy and creeper — because the family members of the deceased were killed in the Holocaust or fled Hungary, leaving no one to maintain the graves.
#5 - Kazinczy Street Mikveh (location; advance registration necessary to visit or use the bath: +36 20 961 5419): Bizarrely, Budapest’s one remaining Jewish ritual bath (mikveh) is located right next to Szimpla Kert, the world-famous ruin bar. To meet the strict religious requirements, the bath uses only rainwater collected on the roof and spring water through wells drilled in the garden. The bath, built in 1928, was partially refurbished in 2004, when a New York-based Hasidic mikveh specialist commuted weekly between New York and Budapest to oversee the renovations.
#6 - Budapest University of Jewish Studies (location; opening hours vary, call +36 1 318 7049, extension 110 to schedule a visit; €10 admission): With the active support of Franz Joseph — Habsburg Emperor and King of Hungary — Budapest's progressive (Neolog) Jews founded a Rabbinical Seminary in 1877 to educate a more secular clergy. During the Communist era, this was the only rabbinical seminary in the Eastern Bloc. Today, 180 students are enrolled with an academic staff of 80. There's a charming synagogue inside the building and the university is also home to the world's most complete library on Jewish theology. You can arrange a guided tour using the phone number listed above.
#7 - Dessewffy Street Orthodox Synagogue (location; opening hours vary, usually open only in the mornings from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m.; call +36 30 200 7674 to schedule a visit; no admission): Hidden behind a nondescript, one-story building, Dessewffy is the oldest orthodox synagogue of Budapest. It was known as the "porters' synagogue," as many of its congregants worked as carriers at the nearby Nyugati railway station. Today, there are only three active members, meaning they're unable to assemble a minyan but they nonetheless meet every weekday morning for prayer. You can arrange a visit using the phone number listed above.
#8 - Medieval Jewish Prayer Room (location; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., closed on Monday and Saturday; HUF 800 admission): Of Budapest's medieval synagogues, only this tiny Sephardic prayer room has survived which today doubles as a museum (the local Chabad-Lubavitch Hasids use it for services). The paintings and Hebrew inscriptions depict the existential worries of Jews caught in the middle of brutal clashes between the allied European and Ottoman armies. The remains of the massive Ashkenazi synagogue, which stood across the street from here, are displayed in the courtyard. There are medieval tombstones next to the entrance.