The craziest nightlife, the most decent Saturdays, kosher restaurants and shops, three splendid synagogues, menorahs on balconies decorations and beautiful doors with birds from Jewish tales, together with the tragic history of the Hungarians Jewry of the 20th century – coexists in the ex-ghetto. Our list offers the most curious places.
Dohany Street Synagogue
The largest Synagogue in Europe was built by three architects who had a challenging task to accommodate it and the community buildings at an asymmetrical plot of land. The result is one of the world's most beautiful synagogues that was later replicated in NYC. Its decor features Byzantine, Oriental, classicism and Moorish elements while its two towers remind of Christian churches. It is constructed of the most cutting edge materials of the 1850s – original brick outside and baked brick inside. The 5,000-pipe organ was the issue of debates – can it be played during the shabbat service as playing means working which breaks the commandment. The instrument was played by Franz Liszt and Camille Saint-Saens.
The synagogue belongs to the neolog Jewry, which emerged in Budapest in the mid 19th century – its followers wanted to modernize the service, so the synagogue has a female balcony and women are also allowed to stay downstairs to the right of men.
During World War II, the Great Synagogue saw bombings and was used as a stable and a sorting facility wherefrom arrested Jews were sent to camps. After the war, the cemetery appeared in the yard.
The synagogue was restored in the 1990s and is now the gem of the quarter getting its glory back after the turbulent 20th century. It has a monument to Righteous Among the Nations who saved Jews despite all dangers – a willow with their names on the leaves.
To the left of the building there stood a house (it hasn't survived) where Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, was born. He is revered and remembered in every tour along with other famous Jews, like Nobel prize winner or other prominent people.
Rumbach Street Synagogue
The sun brings this destroyed synagogue in Rumbach Street back to life: its walls shine in bright purple, red and yellow and the rays of light fall directly to the Torah reading table – that was the design of the most renown Viennese architect Otto Wagner, who created the synagogue. Since 1872, the synagogue was attended by not so numerous status quo ante Budapest Jews, meaning they were moderately Orthodox. Wagner's task was to create a little synagogue not to outshine the neighboring neolog synagogue in Dohany Street but at the same time make it nice. The building is the most stunning example of a traditional Jewish synagogue with Byzantine and arabesque elements.
Kazinczy utca is a nightlife centre in the middle of the Jewish quarter. The street runs amidst kosher stalls and synagogues. It was named after the great Hungarian educator and nobleman Ferenc Kazinczy. The street has hardly preserved its atmosphere of patriarchal and imperial Hungary. In the evenings, crowds of walkers stroll through former ghetto ruins, newly built houses, renovated mansions, open-air and ruin pubs, clubs and restaurants. The place is very noisy, and any attempts to calm down the jolly crowd fail. If locals don't sleep, nobody will. Elderly women on the second floor often pour icy water on those who start drunk singing and who can't control themselves anymore.
Bar hopping means changing several bars per one night. This is a must-program for those who want to see the city life in its fullness. Start from Szimpla, a famous ruin pub which preserved a genuine atmosphere of a ramshackle house. Have a simple and tasty dinner with Slovak beer in Yellow Zebra Bar or try fusion cuisine in Kőleves. Watch a concert in Mika Tivadar or Kirakat, drink a cocktail in Méter. Visit each place, you will certainly find something suitable for you. During the last few years, activists have been trying to make the street pedestrian, so don't be surprised if someone asks you to sign a petition.
Kazinczy Street Orthodox Synagogue
Kazinczy Street is home to the funkiest bars, kosher restaurants, the Orthodox synagogue and a mikveh ritual pool next to Szimpla ruin pub. All this makes for a harmonic mix in Budapest's Jewish quarter.
The 1913 synagogue is the most impressive building in the street. The splendid art nouveau facade has recently been renovated and now nothing reminds of the decline faced by the area not so long ago. Together with the buildings on the corner of Kazinczy and Wesselényi Streets the synagogue form the real Jewish community fortress – a spacious hall for prayers, a smaller hall, a school, a mikveh, two kosher restaurants, a butcher shop and houses of Orthodox Jews. On shabbat when all doors are opened you can look at the patio garden.
The main hall of the synagogue is sparkling in blue, green and gold filled with the light streaming through stained glass.
The entrance ticket also includes a tour offer (in English)a kippah for men and a shawl for girls to cover bare shoulders.
The legend of the stone soup is part of Hungarian folklore: soldiers were returning from the war and the only food they have was a stone and a pot so surprised villagers watched them making a stone soup and helped with a carrot and some potato – bite by bite the soup appeared quite edible and everyone enjoyed the meal. Kőleves is a restaurant in the heart of the Jewish quarter with a patio, a street bar and a hostel. The interior is quite creative: grater and wine glasses chandeliers, plate-tiled bar and a collection of vintage coffee machines and pots scattered around the hall. One wall bears Kőleves manifesto: no pork, frozen food, GMO or additives: only fresh products grown at least 60 km far from Budapest. The menu honors Jewish ancestry of the place and Hungarian culinary traditions: goose-matzo-ball soup, goose leg with mashed potatoes and red cabbage, flodni cake (a matzo recipe). They have a special menu for vegetarians and Asian food loves (made of Hungarian ingredients)
Dec 17-24 is Hanukkah time in the Jewish Quarter. Menorahs with one candle to be lit every day will be placed all over the city – you can find them in Gozsdu Udvar, in front of Dohany Street and Vorosmarty Ter synagogues. Budapest has several famous kosher restaurants – all to be found in the Jewish Quarter. The oldest Hanna dates back to 1916 and is naturally closed Sats.
Café Noé Cukrászda
A rabbi's daughter Rachel Raj was a fashion designer who became famous when she switched to cakes design. Together with her husband, they launched a website where you can order a custom-made cake, as well as several bakeries in the city. A must-try cake from Rachel is her personal version of flodni, a dessert eaten by Hungarian Jews.You can try it in an unremarkable place in the middle of the Jewish quarter. Main ingredients include apples, nuts, plum and poppy seeds. This dessert makes all Magyars feel proud. They say that this is the only place in the world where flodni is that tasty. Rachel also set a world record. She baked so many flodnis that they made up 96 meters in height if put one on the other. The same height as the Parliament building.
The name from Bulgakov's novel, books in English, coffee, home-made pies and a garden with branchy fig trees. Massolit is the favorite cafe of English-speaking professors from local universities and their students, writers, movie stars, musicians, artists and people coming to Budapest from all over the world. The shelves are packed with translated Hungarian literature, philosophy, culturology and history works as well as non-fiction books. A separate big shelf is dedicated to the culture of Jews and their dramatic history. You can check your email, work on thesis, discover a new book with a cup of coffee or just start writing a book. Massolit is the perfect place to work in a quiet atmosphere or just enjoy your time. The cafe often hosts exhibitions, concerts, poetry readings and book presentations.
A special bar claiming to be the place where educated, stylish and inspired people meet. The bar is two hundred years old and is located, like many others, in ruins. Lokál is famous for its dancing parties in the 1950s style. The small room is always overcrowded. People stand in line from the entrance. The band Laura Lackey's Rhythm Revue is bringing the house down: a thin female singer with a guitar supported by a violin, trumpet, contrabass and a simple drum set sings as though there is no distance between Budapest and Luisiana and we are still in the 1950s. Two of the visitors in the crowd look very familiar - Marcel and Dora. Each Tuesday and Thursday they gladly teach swing for free.
For warm weather Lokál also has a courtyard with a bar. Music is quiet here, projector shows silent films, visitors chat sitting at tables. Besides the dancing hall, there is a chill-out zone upstairs. Former private apartments are decorated with red wallpapers and old things. The light is dim here and you feel disposed to intimate conversations.
This Jewish quarter newcomer has already won the hearts of its residents. It is so Budapest: a ruin bar with great starters, homemade falafel, various pitas and grilled veggies – nothing heavy. They also offer concerts during the Hanukkah week and their New Year parties rock the entire area.
Doors of the Jewish quarter
Budapest doors tell everything about the style of the house (though sometimes facades are really badly damaged) and what's inside. Was the architect a Jew or a Hungarian patriot, or maybe a fan of Secession or classicism. The beauty of doors is shining even from under graffiti and destructions.
The magnificent doors of Budapest are all around the city and are worth a separate collection. My favorites are in Síp utca – doors with beautiful Jewish motives and firebirds and the brutal aggressive door in Baross utca 11.