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Ferencváros doesn't have the vibrant nightlife of the old Jewish Quarter nor does it have the pre-war palazzos of District 8, but it would be a mistake to dismiss it off the cuff. This once sleepy area has a dynamic cultural scene, boasting some of Budapest's best museums, and, partly fueled by international college students, its drinking and dining options have vastly improved in the recent past.
Officially part of Ferencváros, the stunning Great Market Hall is a must-see for every visitor, so it's a good place to start your trip. Things can get a little crowded here, but zigzag through the ground floor, scanning the array of seasonal fruits, vegetables, paprika spices, and charcuterie along the way. The upstairs is more touristy, teeming with vendors of knick-knacks. When you're finished, exit the building through the back entrance.
The imposing Renaissance Revival building to your right is the Corvinus University of Budapest ("Karl Marx University" during communism), and previously a customs house, placed strategically near the market. In 2007, the university expanded into a modern wing, straight ahead at 4 Közraktár Street, creating one of the few state-of-the-art public college facilities in Budapest. If enjoy a drink with a college crowd, stop by Trapéz during the school year, around the corner from here (the upstairs is where the action is). Fans of jazz should pop in to the Budapest Music Center next door, the nucleus of the city's jazz scene, hosting almost daily live concerts inside an impeccably refurbished pre-war building.
A few blocks from here is Ráday Street, which used to be the center of the city's nightlife in the early aughts. Although it's still lined with bars and restaurants, only a few of them are worth a visit, for example Jedermann, an atmospheric all-day café and jazz bistro with a diverse crowd and magnetic charm. No matter the time of day, stop by here for a coffee or drink. All the way on the other end of Ráday is Costes, Budapest's first Michelin-starred restaurant, on-track to its second star.
From Jedermann, walk out to the Grand Boulevard and dart across to Tompa Street. This part of Ferencváros, beyond the Grand Boulevard, looks different from comparable parts of other districts thanks to an ambitious urban planning project in the early 1990s, when new buildings with modern amenities replaced the dark, crumbling pre-war houses, and car-heavy side streets gave way to slower traffic and green spaces. The area around Ferenc Square is becoming the heart of this up-and-coming residential neighborhood, spawning new restaurants and bars.
Paletta serves updated Hungarian dishes with a particular emphasis on produce from around Hungary's Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Central Europe. A higher-end option is Petrus, a Bib Gourmand-awarded restaurant with excellent French fare. After your meal, stop by Élesztő, a bustling craft beer bar with 21 types of Hungarian craft beers, located inside a former glass manufacturing plant. Next to Élesztő is Trafó, a contemporary-arts center with experimental music, dance, and theater performances, some of them with English subtitles.
Holocaust Memorial Center, an informative and poignant exhibit about Jewish life in Hungary. Further down, where Tűzoltó Street intersects Thaly Kálmán Street, is Semmelweis, Budapest's medical school with thousands of foreign students. The surrounding building boom is partly fueled by the accommodation needs of the university's international students.Just a block away from Élesztő is the
Turn right on Thaly Kálmán and walk all the way to the Zwack Museum, about 10 minutes, which showcases the history and the production process of Hungary's most famous herbal liqueur, the Unicum (yes, the tour includes a taste). Next to the museum is Dandár Bath, the most under-the-radar of Budapest's thermal baths, with a mostly local crowd.
From here, cross the busy road back to the Danube promenade, lined with a row of modern office buildings. These international companies, like Vodafone and Morgan Stanley, drive the neighborhood's transformation, bringing white-collar local office workers and a service sector to the area. The architectural highlight of District 9 is Müpa, an enormous cultural complex completed in 2005. Müpa is home to the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art and two high-tech concert halls with world-class performances. Next to Müpa is the ship-shaped National Theater (2002), a controversial building among both architects and theatergoers. If you have limitless energy, you can walk back to the city center along the river path, otherwise take tram #2, which also offers river views.
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