Budapest Great Synagogue © iStock/Tania Calini
Short on time in Budapest? Make a beeline for the 7th District, aka Erzsébetváros –Budapest’s Jewish Quarter. Filled with historic landmarks, excellent drinking and dining dens, avant-garde galleries and eclectic boutiques – as well as Europe’s largest synagogue – Erzsébetváros is a lively introduction to the Hungarian capital. Here are the district’s highlights to include in a day’s itinerary.
A Hub of History
One of the most striking aspects of this colourful enclave, just beyond Pest’s city walls, is its layers of history. This was traditionally an area populated by the city’s Jewish community, and the neighbourhood is home to three synagogues including the aforementioned Dohány Street Synagogue. The grand towering structure harks back to the mid-19th century, and its beautiful Moorish façade was inspired by Spain’s Alhambra.
Pay a visit to the adjoining memorial garden and Hungarian Jewish Museum, which showcases traditional Jewish clothing and cultural practices and pays tribute to the Hungarian Jews killed during the Holocaust. Step outside to discover Imre Varga’s moving Memorial of the Hungarian Jewish Martyrs. A contemporary sculpture of a weeping willow, its leaves are each inscribed with the name of a Hungarian family who lost their lives during the Holocaust.
The Best Shawarma in Town
Erzsébetváros has had a real resurgence. Budapest’s first ruin bar, Szimpla Kert, set up shop here in 2002 and ushered in a new wave of trendy drinking and dining establishments. While the condemned buildings and shabby architecture may have received a new lease of life, Erzsébetváros’ gentrification hasn’t depleted the area’s laid-back appeal. For a taste of traditional Jewish cooking with a contemporary twist, tuck into a juicy Shawarma at Mazel Tov—a new-wave ruin bar that’s a worthy rival to Szimpla Kert. There’s plenty in Erzsébetváros for vegetarians, too. The area’s menus are replete with hummus, falafels and shakshuka.
It’s not just history and cuisine that Erzsébetváros excels at. Budapest’s Jewish Quarter has blossomed into a lively hub for creative locals and entrepreneurs. As a result, its streets are now home to a variety of cool independent lifestyle stores. Szputnyik is a local favourite for its tongue-in-cheek humour, selling vintage treasures alongside witty tees and totes. Printa is a fiercely eco-conscious local sustainable lifestyle brand that creates easy-wearing wardrobe staples and quirky homeware from recycled materials. For contemporary art, Inda Gallery shows Hungarian artists alongside rising international talent in a rewarding rotation of thought-provoking exhibitions.
Erzsébetváros After Dark
If it’s a digestif you’re after, there are plenty of intriguing ruin bars to stack up an evening’s entertainment. The Incan-inspired Ellátó Kert muddles the best Margaritas in town, served on sunny evenings in its friendly beer garden, with its tacos making excellent beer snacks, too. After sunset, follow the hipsters (and the music) to Klub Vittula, an atmospheric underground cavern that’s filled with quirky décor, cool clientele and local DJs spinning tracks into the early hours.