A Guide To Józsefváros (District 8), Budapest's New-Cool Neighborhood

Józsefváros shows both the stylishly contemporary and the less glamorous sides of Budapest.

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

The grand palazzos and charming side streets of inner District 8 (Józsefváros) exude an air of pre-war Budapest and can offer a welcome refuge from the tourist-heavy Jewish Quarter nearby. Here, too, new places are mushrooming to take advantage of the area's newfound popularity, but the number of cafés and restaurants still pale in comparison to those of the Jewish Quarter.

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This neighborhood is also known as the Palace Quarter, referring to the extravagant mansions that line the streets. In the early 19th century, Hungary's wealthy nobility was attracted by the increasingly active political life in Pest and built these lavish winter residences for themselves. Three of the most impressive buildings are directly behind the National Museum on Pollack Mihály Square; going from left to right, they belonged to the Festetics, Esterházy, and Károlyi families.

From here, walk down Ötpacsirta Street, shaded under a canopy of trees. Before you reach the end, drop by the ivy-draped interior courtyard of the Chamber of Hungarian Architects (#2) — it's open to the public — to get your day's Instagram post out of the way.

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The 4th floor of the Szabó Ervin Library.

The massive Szabó Ervin Library, formerly the home of the Wenckheim family, offers a chance to see what the inside of these aristocratic homes once looked like. Purchase a tourist pass (€1) and proceed to the 4th floor, where they preserved some of the original furnishings. If you go during finals week, you'll find throngs of students cramming for the exams in the chandelier-studded former ballroom and the wood-paneled cigar room.

The Palace Quarter doubles as a university district. A total of six universities have campuses nearby, ranging from a German-language college to the Pázmány Péter Catholic University's law faculty and Central Europe's only university for Jewish studies. This means that wallet-friendly bars, cafés, and tea houses abound. One of my favorites is Lumen Café in Horánszky Street, serving specialty coffee, egg-based breakfasts dishes, and local wine and beer. It's worth checking back here in the evening too, when the space transforms into a lively bar with almost daily live music performances.

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Lumen Café on Horánszky Street is a popular hangout for students.

Down the street from Lumen is a cute Italian neighborhood restaurant, Al Dente. The Italian chef prepares tasty dishes simply and well and there are reasonably-priced wines from Apulia to wash them down. A few storefronts down from here, the same owners have a pastry shop, Al Dente On The Go, specializing in Italian morning pastries like bombolone, zeppole, and arancini. The other culinary highlight of the neighborhood is Padron, an adorable, family-run dinner-only tapas bar. For an immersion into everyday Budapest life, you could stop by Krúdy Söröző for a drink, a grungy watering hole with an eclectic local crowd.

The outer part of District 8, beyond the Grand Boulevard, still has a seedy reputation, but the wheels of gentrification keep turning and many old-time residents — including Romas and other ethnic minorities — are being replaced by newcomers. The area is totally safe during the day; come nighttime, the streets get eerily deserted. A popular café on Rákóczi Square is Csiga, although they recently jacked up the prices which alienated many local regulars.

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The entry of the Rákóczi Market.

Next to Csiga stands the imposing building of the Rákóczi Market. It's far from being the most lively market hall in Budapest but Jókrisz Lángos Sütöde, a mom-and-pop food stall hiding in the back of the building, serves up excellent lángos, a deep-fried dough topped with sour cream and grated cheese. There are two wonderful bars nearby that fly under most people's radars. The dim Hintaló Iszoda is teeming with cozy nooks and crannies and has delicious cocktails. The similarly atmospheric Macska serves an array of craft beers and vegan dishes. Both are ideal for date nights.

A ten-minute walk from the market is Műterem Kávézó, a specialty café whose owner deserves a hat-tip for bringing moderately priced, premium coffee to this part of the city, away from the well-trodden city center.

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Műterem café is located on the farther end of Budapest's District 8.

Népszínház Street has historically been home to immigrants and ethnic minorities. The lively (and littered) streets, diverse population, and small businesses — including a Persian and a Turkish grocery store and a Nigerian barber shop — show a slice of Budapest that even some locals are unaware of. The shockingly neglected condition of the buildings stands in wild contrast to the pristine facades of downtown. If hunger strikes, Öcsi Étkezde, an old-school mom-and-pop lunch eatery, is by far the best option around here.

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Lunchtime at Öcsi Étkezde.

Just minutes from Népszínház Street is the Fiumei Road Cemetery. It's a vast, beautifully maintained garden cemetry with towering limestone and marble mausoleums of Hungary's famous statesmen and artists, including Lajos Kossuth and Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka. In the rear of the cemetery, but accessed from Salgótarjáni Street — it takes about 15 minutes to get to — is the Jewish section, where the Jewish upper crust of the 19th and early 20th century is buried in similarly ornate graves.

You can round out your Józsefváros trip with a hearty meal at Rosenstein, one of the best traditional Hungarian restaurants in Budapest. For a more budget-friendly meal, try Kürtös Ételbár eatery, just next door and run by the same owners (open for lunch only). The easiest way to get back to the city is by taking one of myriad buses that connects Keleti railway station with downtown, with one arriving almost every minute (#5, #7, #8, #110, #133).

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