It is rare that I am impressed by Jewish neighborhoods. I like Jewish culture, go to Israel occasionally, have friends there, have also been to a kibbutz in Israel. But due to the Holocaust and also the migration of Jews from Eastern Europe after 1945, there are only a few neighborhoods with Jewish life left in Europe today. Actually, only the Marais in Paris or Kazimierz in Krakow come to mind. I found my time in the Budapest Jewish quarter all the more surprising. I had rented a small apartment in the heart of the neighborhood through Airbnb. This was also the reason why I was able to roam the Budapest Jewish quarter so extensively. After all, it was always on the way.
Budapest Jewish Quarter – Where is it?
A Budapest jewish quarter does not really exist today. The majority of Hungarian Jews live in Budapest, but they are spread all over the city. Nevertheless, the Jewish quarter of Budapest is mainly the 7th district, which is also called Elizabethtown (Hungarian: Erzsébetváros). It is named after the Empress of Austria-Hungary, whom you probably know mainly from the movie under the name Sissi. The district is now considered one of the hippest neighborhoods of Budapest. It is within walking distance of the main sights and there are many trendy pubs here. However, until the Holocaust, the district was almost exclusively inhabited by Jews.
Jews in Budapest – Once one of the largest communities in the world
The importance of the Jewish community in Budapest and Hungary can be seen to this day. Before the Second World War, according to censuses, about 800,000 Jews lived in the Hungarian territories. Probably the most famous Hungarian Jew was Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism. He was born in Budapest, just near the Great Synagogue. Today a memorial plaque commemorates him. Erzsébetváros, which has been called the Jewish Quarter of Budapest only for a few years, has been the center of Budapest Jewry for centuries. This is evidenced not only by the numerous synagogues, yeshivas (Jewish schools) and former hospitals. In the neighboring 8th District is also the oldest still existing rabbinical seminary in the world.
The Budapest Jewish Quarter in the Holocaust
During the dark times for European Jews, Budapest was equally affected. During the Shoah, the Jewish Quarter of Budapest served as a ghetto in which 200,000 people were crammed. Even after Adolf Eichmann’s departure, the Arrow Crossers, who were allied with the Germans and terrorized Hungary, dragged thousands of Jews to the banks of the Danube, forced them to undress and pushed them into the river. However, especially due to foreign help, probably three quarters of the Jews of Budapest were able to outlast the Holocaust – far more than, for example, in Lviv in Poland at that time.
Righteous Among the Nations in Budapest
Budapest was also a place of rays of hope. Here, the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg helped many Jews and housed them in shelters. He is honored as Righteous Among the Nations at the Yad Vashem memorial, among other places. The Swiss Friedrich Born and Carl Lutz also helped thousands of Jews, but are far less well known, as was the German diplomat Gerhart Feine. And even overall, many Jewish traces can be found in Budapest to this day. Apart from the restaurants and stores with Hebrew signs, many of the backyards of the Budapest Jewish quarter still look as if they were from the turn of the century, when a majority of Jews lived in the apartments here.
Dohány Street Synagogue – Home of a large Jewish community
But what would a Jewish quarter be without the most important identifying feature of the Jewish religion. And here Budapest is a real treasure chest. For example, the Dohány Street Synagogue, also called the Great Synagogue, is the second largest synagogue in the world. There is room for up to 3000 faithful Jews. Its towers are almost 50 meters high and the facades are richly decorated. Next door is also the Jewish Museum and the Holocaust Memorial to the murdered Jews from Hungary. The Dohány Street Synagogue can be visited during the week. However, it is of course closed on Shabbat, in this case from Friday afternoon to Saturday. The exact opening hours of the Great Synagogue in Budapest can be found here.
Synagogues in Budapest – Liberal, Orthodox – all have a home
But besides the impressive Dohány Street Synagogue, there are other smaller synagogues in the Jewish quarter of Budapest. Nearby, the Orthodox Jews of Budapest also have their religious home. The Orthodox Synagogue of Budapest in Kazinczy utca is also open for visitors, as well as the Rumbach Synagogue and the synagogue in Vasvari Pal utca. But that is far from all, because Budapest has many more synagogues, many of which, however, are used differently today. Some have become churches, others are sports halls. For those interested, here is a complete list of Jewish institutions in Budapest and Hungary.
Ruin pubs, beer gardens and restaurants in the Jewish Quarter of Budapest
But the fascination for the Jewish quarter in Budapest does not stop at the purely Jewish institutions. For today the quarter is one of the hippest nightlife areas in Budapest. Dozens of pubs can be found along Kazinczy utca. Among them is the Szimpla, Budapest’s most famous ruin pub. But other pubs or beer gardens like the Ellato kert or the 400 are also recommended – this end of the street is also referred to by some as Budapest’s Bermuda Triangle. And indeed, I almost disappeared here too.
Dining in Budapest’s Jewish Quarter
There are very good restaurants in the Jewish quarter. With the large number of tourists, there is of course a good selection of restaurants and snack bars.
- A good Jewish restaurant with kosher food is Carmel (Kazinczy utca 31). Here you can try traditional Jewish food like egg salad, gefilte fish and babka. But there are also Hungarian dishes like goulash or pörkölt – kosher, of course.
- Good kosher pastries such as flódni, a layer cake with apple, poppy seeds, walnuts and plum jam, are available at the Frőhlich kosher bakery (Dob utca 22). During the Jewish holidays there are other Jewish pastries.
- Between the ruin pubs there are also street food stalls where you can eat your fill. The spectrum ranges from burgers to Thai food.
- We ate at Kőleves Vendéglő. Here you can find good international and also local Hungarian cuisine.
- For those who like it simpler and cheaper, goulash is best eaten at Frici Papa at Király utca 55, which also serves other typical Hungarian dishes.
Shopping in the Jewish Quarter Budapest
Király utca is also a fun place to shop in the Jewish Quarter. For window shopping in Budapest, Kiraly utca has quite a few nice shop windows with all kinds of odds and ends. There is also a lot to be found in the side streets around the Astoria metro. My favorite Tisza cipö. The Hungarian sporting goods manufacturer sells, among other things, sports shoes made in Hungary. They are available from 60 euros, the better ones for 80 to 100 euros.
Guided tour of the Budapest Jewish Quarter
Even though you can easily walk around the neighborhood by yourself, it doesn’t hurt to take a guided tour. There are two options for this.
- With a Free Walking Tour you can see the most important sights of Jewish Budapest. Such a tour is available, for example, at the Free Walking Tours Budapest. With the Free Walking Tours you determine the price.
- The other option is a private city tour. I personally can recommend you the tour of my good friend Daniel Draskoczy. With his company Budapest Explorers he also offers tours through the Jewish quarter of Budapest.
Budapest book tips
Budapest is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and there are tons of sights. Therefore, we recommend that you prepare for your stay in the city around the Jewish quarter of Budapest with a good travel guide. Here are our recommendations.
The Lonely Planet for Budapest and Hungary gives you a good overview of the city and the country beyond.
- Fallon, Steve (Author)
The Lonely Planet pocket guide is a more comprehensive version and focuses more on the best things to see and do in Budapest itself.
In this book you will learn more about the most famous rescuer of Jews in Budapest, the Swede Raoul Wallenberg.
Jews from Hungary have changed the world. There is more to learn about them in this exciting book.