A Guide To Budapest's Jewish Quarter (District 7)

Lined with bars and restaurants, Madách Imre tér in Budapest's old Jewish Quarter is a popular hangout for locals. Photo: Tas Tóbiás

Use this map to find all places mentioned in the article below.

A Little History

Budapest's Jewish Quarter is considered to be the inner part of District 7 – the area enclosed by Király utca, Erzsébet körút, Dohány utca, and Károly körút. It was here that Jewish people started to settle down in the late 18th century (the medieval Jewish Quarter of Buda was decimated during the 1686 liberation war against Ottoman Turkey). Budapest's rapid urbanization and economic development at the time presented plenty of opportunities for Jews, drawing them in increasing numbers. They, in turn, contributed significantly to the city's progress.

By 1867, around the same time as in Western Europe, Jews in Hungary gained full civil rights. As a result, the Jewish population continued to rise and by 1910, more than 23 percent of Budapest’s population was Jewish (over 200,000 people). The Jewish Quarter became a lively neighborhood, teeming with retail stores, kosher restaurants, and three synagogues near one another.

The mutually beneficial relationship between the Hungarian political elite and Jewish people, most of whom were highly assimilated patriotic Hungarians, began to deteriorate after WWI and culminated in the tragic events of the Holocaust – in the winter of 1944, German and Hungarian Nazis turned the Jewish Quarter into a ghetto where thousands died of famine and starvation. The ghetto's walls ran along today's Rumbach, Király, Kertész, and Dohány streets. In January 1945, the Soviet army liberated the ghetto and saved its residents from mass deportations. There are several Holocaust memorials in the neighborhood today.

The weeping willow memorial is located behind the Dohány Street Synagogue. The names of Holocaust victims are inscribed in the metal leaves. Photo: Tas Tóbiás
The weeping willow memorial is located behind the Dohány Street Synagogue. The names of Holocaust victims are inscribed in the metal leaves. Photo: Tas Tóbiás

The Jewish Quarter Today

The Jewish Quarter started to decline during the Communist period (1948-1989) as residents moved out or fled Hungary altogether. While Budapest is still home to the largest Ashkenazi community in continental Europe with an estimated 100,000 people, most of them live elsewhere and signs of Jewish life have largely disappeared. Still, the densely built streets and the three gorgeous synagogues (the "synagogue triangle") stand as a reminder of the past.

The Dohány Street Synagogue, the most famous in Budapest and the biggest in Europe, is nearly empty throughout the year but fills up for the High Holiday services. The admission ticket includes a visit to the synagogue, the Jewish Museum abutting it, as well as the memorials inside its garden. The orthodox synagogue of Kazinczy Street, a wonderful fusion of Judeo-Art Nouveau, has fewer than a hundred members. The Rumbach Street Synagogue, designed by Otto Wagner, functions as a museum currently.

An orthodox Jewish man outside the the Kazinczy Street Synagogue complex in Budapest's District 7. Photo: Tas Tóbiás
An orthodox Jewish man outside the the Kazinczy Street Synagogue complex in Budapest's District 7. Photo: Tas Tóbiás

Since the early 2000s, the neglected streets and dilapidated buildings of the old Jewish Quarter gave rise to a revitalized Hungarian culture, bristling with with shops, bars, cafés, and restaurants. This neighborhood is also the cradle of ruin bars, quirky drinking joints that started to mushroom inside the vast courtyards of vacant pre-war buildings and have since taken Budapest by storm (the ruin bar pioneer, Szimpla Kert, is also here).

Unfortunately, the Jewish Quarter is becoming a victim of its own success. Increased tourism is driving the prices up and the local residents away. New places are often purely commercial, absent a native spirit. Nonetheless, Budapest's Jewish Quarter is still worth visiting and I highlighted below some of my favorite places.

Printa is a designer store on Rumbach Sebestyén utca within Budapest's old Jewish Quarter. Photo: Tas Tóbiás
Printa is a designer store on Rumbach Sebestyén utca within Budapest's old Jewish Quarter. Photo: Tas Tóbiás

Downtown may have more Michelin-decorated restaurants, but the Jewish Quarter is giving it a run for its money with the diversity of its options. For example, within a few minutes from one another, one could have excellent traditional Hungarian food at Gettó Gulyás, fashionable vibes at Mazel Tov and Dobrumba, Korean sandwiches at Eggi, Japanese dishes at Komachi, old-school fare at Frici Papa, and kosher cholent at Carmel. (The neighborhood's glatt kosher restaurants serve mainly orthodox tourists since Budapest's Jewish community is almost completely secular. There are also a few Jewish-style places.)

Kőleves Kert is a vast outdoor bar right on Kazinczy utca in Budapest's Jewish Quarter. Photo: Tas Tóbiás
Kőleves Kert is a vast outdoor bar right on Kazinczy utca in Budapest's Jewish Quarter. Photo: Tas Tóbiás

Judapest specializes in designer items inspired by Jewish and Hungarian-Jewish culture. Mugs emblazoned with Yiddish-Hungarian words; earrings evoking the towers of the Dohány Street synagogue; seder plates and mezuzahs made from concrete; chic kippahs, for example. The store's name harks back to the famously anti-semitic mayor of Vienna, Karl Lueger (1844-1910), who coined the mocking term – Judapest, referring to Budapest’s large Jewish population – which was later mirrored by like-minded Hungarians.

With almost every street lined with attractive-looking drinking establishments, the Jewish Quarter's saturated bar scene can feel overwhelming at first. Kisüzem, imbued with 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 in whiskey and usually less crowded. Központ and Telep are where Budapest's trendy hipsters hang out. Fekete kutya and Dzzs bars occupy the in-between territory: part bohemian, part hipster. In the outdoor season, Kőleves Kert can be very enjoyable under a canopy of trees.

Both Hopaholic and Hops Beer Bar have an impressive array 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.

Kisüzem, an iconic bar of Budapest's Jewish Quarter, managed to retain a more or less local crowd. Photo: Tas Tóbiás
Kisüzem, an iconic bar of Budapest's Jewish Quarter, managed to retain a more or less local crowd. Photo: Tas Tóbiás

Throngs of local teenagers and college students who've been priced out of the Jewish Quarter drink away happily for a fraction of the prices just blocks away at bare-bones bars along the Grand Boulevard (Erzsébet Körút). If you're curious, stop by 4es6os Wesselényi before you hit the Jewish Quarter.

When it comes to craft coffee, I often find it difficult to choose from the individual providers because they can be so similar in terms of decor and offerings. I usually end up at My Little Melbourne or Massolit, the latter doubling as an English-language used bookstore with wonderful nooks and crannies and an outdoor garden.

Massolit is a beloved English-language bookstore and café inside Budapest's old Jewish Quarter in District 7. Photo: Tas Tóbiás
Massolit is a beloved English-language bookstore and café inside Budapest's old Jewish Quarter in District 7. Photo: Tas Tóbiás

Gozsdu Udvar (Gozsdu Courtyard) consists of a long stretch of bars and restaurants right in the heart of the Jewish Quarter. One should proceed with caution as Gozsdu is a favored hangout of stag parties and the type of place where scantily clad hostesses and grouchy bouncers abound. 2 Spaghi Pasta Bar serves up tasty traditional Italian pastas in a fast casual setting. Spíler delivers everything you'd expect from a trendy bistro and doing it without outrageously high prices. Sáo is a hip Asian fusion restaurant.

The unbridled neo-Baroque interior of Budapest's New York Cafe. Photo: Tas Tóbiás
The unbridled neo-Baroque interior of Budapest's New York Cafe. Photo: Tas Tóbiás

Just beyond the Jewish Quarter and dominating the Grand Boulevard (Nagykörút) is the New York Palace. This Baroque Revival building is best known for the dramatically ornate New York Café on its ground floor, once a famous hangout of journalists and artists. Today, instead of cigarette smoke and alcohol, tourists tend to line up outside for pricey cappuccinos, live Gypsy music, and a piece of history.

Kívánság étkezde is an old-school neighborhood restaurant in the outer part of Budapest's District 7. Photo: Tas Tóbiás
Kívánság étkezde is an old-school neighborhood restaurant in the outer part of Budapest's District 7. Photo: Tas Tóbiás

The outer part of District 7 beyond the Grand Boulevard is the opposite of the old Jewish Quarter – a sleepy, residential neighborhood. For a journey back in time and a true-to-Budapest experience, grab lunch at Kívánság Étkezde, known for its schnitzel-like mátrai borzaska and affordable daily specials.

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