Budapest's Józsefváros Shows Both Sides Of Budapest (District 8)

Józsefváros reveals the pre-war, 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 in Józsefváros still exude an air of upper class, pre-war Budapest. Stylish cafés and restaurants have mushroomed to take advantage of the area's newfound popularity, but the neighborhood isn't yet overrun by tourists as the nearby and better-known Jewish Quarter (District 7).

Fecske is a relaxed cafe and bar outside the Szabó Ervin Library in Budapest's District 8. Photo: Tas Tóbiás

This area is also known as the Palace Quarter because in the late 19th century, Hungary's wealthy nobility built lavish winter residences near the National Museum. Why there? The upper chamber of the Hungarian Parliament assembled inside the museum before it moved into the current building on the Danube's bank in 1902. Three of the most impressive mansions are directly behind the museum on Pollack Mihály Square, the homes of the Festetics, the Esterházy, and the Károlyi families. In the Communist period, from 1947 onward, the buildings were confiscated and nationalized.

From the National Museum, 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. The below-ground level is home to a fashionable Spanish restaurant, Arquitecto Pitpit.

The 4th floor of the Szabó Ervin Library, which was formerly the Wenckheim Palace, has retained its aristoractic splendor. Photo: Tas Tóbiás

The massive Szabó Ervin Library, formerly the home of the Wenckheim family, offers a chance to see the inside of these aristocratic homes. Purchase a tourist pass (€4) 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. Many students take their study breaks at Fecske Presszó, a low-priced bar just outside the library.

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 wines and beer. It's worth checking back here in the evening too, when the space transforms into a lively bar with live music performances.

Steps away from Lumen are two excellent art galleries worth visiting: TOBE specializes in contemporary photography, while Molnár Ani Gallery showcases paintings and installations.

lumen cafe budapest
Lumen Cafe. Photo: Tas Tóbiás

Across from Lumen hides Padron, a family-run dinner-only tapas bar, and down the street is a cute Italian neighborhood restaurant, Al Dente. There, the south-Italian chef prepares tasty classics simply and well and reasonably-priced wines from Apulia are available to pair. Next door is Typo Showroom, a higher end vintage clothing store where you can unearth top labels for reasonable price points (for more shopping ideas, proceed this way).

Fans of craft beer can sample a wide array of local options at the sleek Mixát bar, while those looking for an immersion into everyday Budapest life can continue on to Krúdy Söröző, 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.

On Rákóczi Square, Vaj is almost insultingly expensive bakery for everyday Hungarians, but you can't argue with their delicous and freshly made chocolate rolls (kakaós csiga) and other morning pastries.

rakoczi market budapest
The entry of the Rákóczi Market in Budapest's District 8. Photo: Tas Tóbiás

Next to Csiga stands the imposing building of the Rákóczi Market. It's far from being the liveliest 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 serves up excellent cocktails, while the similarly atmospheric Macska (upstairs!) specializes in craft beers and vegan dishes. Both of them ideal for date nights.

A ten-minute walk from the Rákóczi market takes you to 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.

Műterem café is located on the farther end of Budapest's District 8. Photo: Tas Tóbiás

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. Another excellent option for new-wave coffee and people-watching: Kastner Kommunity.

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. 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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