1. FULL OF CONTRADICTION
The Jewish district is the smallest in Budapest, yet it currently has the highest population density. This combination leads to an electric atmosphere – day and night – as the streets fill with a mix of happy locals and curious tourists. Meeting people here is easy – just poke your head into anywhere that looks friendly and start talking.
2. IT WAS REALLY INHABITED BY JEWS
The Jewish district is full with the historical remains of the Jewish community that once thrived here. There are three synagogues in the area with the Dohány Synagogue being the largest and, indeed, the second biggest in the entire world. Complete with a cemetery, a memorial garden and a museum, you can learn all about the Holocaust and the Budapest Ghetto that existed in this area. A small section of the wall, rebuilt from some of the originally-used bricks, still exists in the courtyard of a building on Király Street.
As you walk around, you’ll no doubt notice the narrow streets and passages – just like those on Gozsdu Udvar – connecting one long street with another. And, it’s on these streets that you’ll still find the bars and boutiques that make this area so interesting.
3. CONTEMPORARY JEWISH HISTORY
Luckily, Jewish culture is not only something of the past. The district is experiencing an amazing revival of Jewish culture, embodied by a wave of new and renovated Kosher restaurants and eateries popping up. What’s more, a handful of Orthodox Jews have moved back to the district, helping to revive cultural traditions.
If you’re sticking around, one such eatery worth visiting is Mazel Tov. With a bright open courtyard and a young vibrant atmosphere, the menu serves a fusion of modern Mediterranean and Israeli foods.
Ortodox Jewish restaurant – photo: wikipedia.hu
4. LEARNING TO LOVE “SISSI”!
In the area known as ‘Erzsébetváros’ – meaning ‘Elizabeth Town’ – there is a living memorial to the beloved Austro-Hungarian queen “Sissi”, wife of Franz Joseph, the emperor, and the neighborhood’s namesake. She had a sweet spot for Hungarians and, it seems, one artist has a sweet spot for her – depicting her in a giant mural you can find on the side of a building in the area.
5. RUIN BARS ARE VERY YOUNG AND NEW
Despite looking old, ruin pubs are, in fact, very new. They are a byproduct of the decay the area faced after World War II and the tragic effects of the Holocaust that ravaged the area and stripped it of its population and identity.
Around the turn of the 2000s, young people that keen to drink somewhere other that the stuffy bars and bistros in the center, bought abandoned buildings in the neighborhood and turned them into bars. With little money to spend, they were filled with furnishing scavenged from attics and basements and decorated with the work of local artists.
It didn’t take long for this concept to catch on, and soon ruin pubs started to spring up everywhere. Today, the most popular ones like Szimpla and packed to the brim every night of the week and have expanded past their original vision, hosting gastro markets, putting on concerts and running restaurants.