Use this map to find all places mentioned in the article below.
A little history
During Budapest's modern era, the first Jewish people settled here in the late 18th century (the thriving medieval Jewish Quarter in Buda's Castle Hill was decimated in 1686, when the Imperial Army defeated the Ottomans). The Jewish Quarter became the area that's the inner part of Budapest's District 7 today. Budapest's rapid urbanization and economic development at the time presented plenty of business opportunities for Jews, drawing them in increasing numbers. Jews, in turn, further contributed to the city's progress.
By 1867, sooner than in most neighboring countries, Jews in Hungary gained civil and legal rights that were effectively the same as those of local Christians. As a result, the Jewish population continued to rise, so that by 1910, more than 23 percent of Budapest’s population was Jewish (over 200,000 people). The Jewish Quarter, as it was known then, became a bustling neighborhood, teeming with retail stores, kosher restaurants, and three synagogues near one another.
The mutually beneficial relationship between Budapest Jews, most of whom were highly assimilated and thought of themselves as Hungarians, and Christian Hungarians began to deteriorate after WWI, and culminated in the tragic events of the Holocaust—in the winter of 1944, Nazis and Hungarian fascists turned the Jewish Quarter into a ghetto, where thousands died of famine and starvation. The ghetto's walls ran mainly along today's Rumbach, Király, Kertész, and Dohány Streets. In January of 1945, the Soviet army liberated the ghetto and saved its residents from deportation. (You can read more about Budapest's Jewish past and present.)
A period of deterioration and hardscrabble life followed during communism; residents moved out en masse or fled from Hungary, leaving the neighborhood in decay. Today, marks of Jewish life are rapidly disappearing from the area. Three beautiful synagogues, known as the "synagogue triangle," still stand as a reminder of the Jewish past, but each of their congregations are small. The Dohány Street Synagogue, by far the most famous and also the largest in Europe, still fills up during the High Holidays, but the orthodox synagogue in Kazinczy Street has less than a hundred members, and the Rumbach Street Synagogue is no longer functional. Three of Budapest's main Holocaust memorials are also here. Only a few glatt kosher restaurants remain, although Jewish-style places have started to appear, in part thanks to booming tourism.
The Jewish Quarter today
Today, the streets and dilapidated buildings of the old Jewish Quarter are home to a revitalized Hungarian culture, bristling with shops, bars, cafés, and restaurants. This neighborhood is also the cradle of ruin bars, these impossibly cool drinking joints that began to mushroom inside the vast courtyards of vacant pre-war buildings and have since taken Budapest by storm (the most famous, Szimpla Kert, is also here).
The Jewish Quarter, however, is gradually becoming a victim of its own success. Skyrocketing tourism is driving up prices and local residents away from the area, gradually stripping it of its essence. Nonetheless, it's still a fascinating neighborhood, you just need to navigate through the tourist-heavy streets with care. This primer is here to help.
While downtown may be the food mecca of Budapest with its Michelin-decorated restaurants, the Jewish Quarter is giving it a run for its money, especially with the diversity of its options. Consider this: within a few minutes of one another, you can have New Orleans-style jambalaya at Soul Food, kosher cholent at Hanna, Vietnamese bánh mì sandwich at Bánh Mì, barbecued meat at Bp BARbq, Japanese ramen at Komachi, and no-frills, old-school Hungarian food at Frici Papa and Kádár Étkezde.
In addition, several of Budapest's hottest restaurants are also inside the old Jewish Quarter, including Gettó Gulyás, serving simple-but-tasty Hungarian stew dishes, Mazel Tov, an updated ruin bar, DOBRUMBA, a chic Middle Eastern-themed restaurant, and the snug M. Restaurant. Know before you go that most customers at these places, as in others in the neighborhood, are tourists, because of the relatively high price points (still, they're lower than in Western Europe).
The Jewish Quarter's saturated bar scene can feel overwhelming at first, as almost every street is lined with attractive-looking drinking joints. Kisüzem, exuding bohemian vibes, managed to retain a mainly local clientele and serves a broad selection of premium rums from the top shelf. Nappali Kávéház plays in a similar league, except it's stronger on the whiskey front and usually less crowded. Központ and Telep are where Budapest's trendy hipsters hang out. In the outdooor season, you can enjoy low-priced drinks at Kőleves Kert under a canopy of trees. (Here's the full list of the best local bars in Budapest, many of which are in the Jewish Quarter.)
An interesting phenomenon is how throngs of local teenagers and college students, who've been priced out of the Jewish Quarter's bars, drink away happily for a fraction of the prices just a few blocks away at the dime a dozen bars along the Grand Boulevard (Erzsébet Körút). If you're curious, stop by 4es6os Wesselényi before you hit the Jewish Quarter.
Ruin bars have become a tourist attraction, and unfortunately their low-priced beers can bring out the worst of English stag party crews. Nonetheless, Szimpla Kert, despite throngs of camera-wielding tourists, is still the best ruin bar in Budapest and worth experiencing at least once.
When it comes to the world of craft coffee and drinks, I often find it difficult to choose from the individual providers because they can be so similar in terms of decor and offerings, so I usually just end up where the service is friendliest. With that in mind, my favorite specialty coffee in the Jewish Quarter is Dorado Café. Both Hops Beer Bar and Hopaholic have incredible arrays of craft beers and knowledgeable bartenders. If you're serious about your drink, be it a classic martini or a contemporary Penicillin cocktail, Boutiq Bar and Hotsy Totsy will not disappoint.
Gozsdu Udvar (Gozsdu Courtyard) consists of a long stretch of bars and restaurants right in the heart of the Jewish Quarter. Here too, you should proceed with caution as Gozsdu is another favored hangout of stag parties (Americans: bachelor parties), and it's the type of place where scantily clad hostesses and grouchy bouncers abound. A few exceptions, however, do exist. 2 Spaghi Pasta Bar serves up tasty traditional Italian pastas in a casual, takeout-type setting. Spíler delivers everything you would expect from a trendy bistro, and doing it without outrageously high prices. Sáo is the go-to Asian fusion restaurant for the city's fashionable crowd, and you can run into high-energy live music and dancing at Vicky Barcelona tapas bar.
Despite the crowded bar scene, the Jewish Quarter offers few options for feeling the beat. The most reliable electronic dance venue is Lärm, inside the enormous Fogasház ruin bar, where international DJs spin ear-splitting music inside a pitch-black dance hall. 4BRO Downtown/Aether is a posher space in Gozsdu; on the lower level they blast electronic music until the wee hours. A local, alternative crowd hangs out at Beat On The Brat, which occasionally hosts good parties with pop and indie tunes.
Klauzál Square offers the one and only green space in the Jewish Quarter. The refurbished, 19th century Klauzál Market Hall is still searching for its 21st-century purpose, but there are two low-priced eateries inside that are ideal for a quick lunch: Marika Lángos Sütője and Mangalica Mennyország. Despite the obvious gentrification that's sweeping the area, you can still find some old-time residents near the park, many of them Roma families, mixing with recently-arrived Millennials and tourists.
Beyond the Jewish Quarter and dominating the Grand Boulevard (Nagykörút) is the 1894 building of the New York Palace. This dramatic building is best known for the New York Café, located on the ground floor, a famous hangout of journalists and artists of yore. Today, instead of cigarette smoke and alcohol, tourists, sipping €7 cappuccinos and listening to live cabaret music, fill this ornate space complete with bronze statues and a frescoed ceiling.
The outer part of District 7 beyond the Grand Boulevard is the opposite of the old Jewish Quarter—a sleepy, residential neighborhood. Rózsák Square is lined with a Roman and a Greek Catholic church, a Serbian middle school, and a Lutheran dormitory, serving as a reminder of the city's oft-forgotten religious and ethnic diversity. For a journey back in time, grab lunch at Kívánság Étkezde (don't sleep on the mátrai borzaska here). If you have a more refined palate, it's worth trekking out to Olimpia, one of Budapest's best and most affordable tasting menu restaurant, specializing in modern Hungarian dishes.
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