Jewish Quarter Walking Tour, Budapest

Jewish Quarter Walking Tour (Self Guided), Budapest

Budapest's Jewish Quarter is a neighborhood filled with contradictions. Despite being the smallest, this district has the highest population density. As well as being home to a conservative Orthodox Jewish community, it's an eclectic mix of hedonistic nightlife. Of all of the city's neighborhoods, it is the Jewish Quarter that tends to leave the biggest impression on visitors, so take some time exploring its most important sites and hotspots.

Grand and magnificent, the striking star of the Jewish Quarter is the Great Synagogue, the largest in Europe and one of the biggest anywhere. Distinctly Moorish in style, crowned by the twin onion-shaped domes, it is the very emblem of the neighborhood and one of the city’s main attractions.

While strolling through the adjacent park, stop by the touching memorial shaped like a tree with leaves bearing the names of Hungarian Jews who lost their lives during the Holocaust. Raoul Wallenberg, the savior of thousands of Jewish lives, is commemorated nearby, while his friend and ally, Carl Lutz is depicted as standing against a white wall on a tiny plaza nearby.

Don’t miss the Gozsdu Courtyard, recently spruced up and opened to the public after decades of neglect. Now filled with restaurants and bars, it gets all lit up after dark and becomes a major attraction; however, you shouldn’t go here thinking that it's party central, because it’s not. Round your trip with Kazinczy Street instead, which is where you’ll find most of the action, as well as an amazing range of different cuisines.

For an excellent day out around Budapest’s Jewish Quarter, follow this self-guided walking tour!
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Jewish Quarter Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Jewish Quarter Walking Tour
Guide Location: Hungary » Budapest (See other walking tours in Budapest)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.2 Km or 0.7 Miles
Author: kane
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Great Synagogue
  • Tree of Life / Raoul Wallenberg Park
  • Rumbach Street Synagogue
  • Carl Lutz Memorial
  • Gozsdu Courtyard (Gozsdu-udvar)
  • Orthodox Synagogue
  • Kazinczy Street
Great Synagogue

1) Great Synagogue (must see)

Built in the 1850s as a place of worship for the Neolog Jews, this is the second-largest synagogue in the world, running up in size only to the Temple Emanu-El in New York City. Just like its counterpart in Rumbach Street, the Dohány Street synagogue was also designed by Viennese architect, Ludwig Forster, in a similar Moorish Revival style. Set in the old Jewish quarter, the synagogue forms part of a larger complex that includes the Heroes' Temple, the graveyard, the Memorial, and the Jewish Museum. During WWII, Dohány Street marked the border of the Budapest Ghetto and today still carries strong Holocaust connotations.

The massive damage sustained by the Great Synagogue during the Second World War, followed by a long period of neglect under the communist rule, called for an extensive restoration work which finally took place in the 1990s.

The octagonal twin towers of the building, guarding the main entrance topped with a beautiful stained glass rosette, are crowned by onion domes that make it visible all over the city. Inside, the enormous nave rises almost 40 feet high revealing influence of the Gothic, Romantic, and Byzantine styles. Dominating the interior is a new mechanical organ replacing the original one created in the 19th century.

Just as in many other synagogues, the seats on the ground level are reserved for men, while the upper gallery is for women. In all, the place can seat up to 3,000 people.

Those interested in the Jewish history, can explore the Jewish Heroes’ mausoleum next door, or the museum and archives upstairs which are quite informative, thought-provoking and enlightening, if you like. Buried in the local graveyard are the Jews died during the Holocaust, as well as the non-Jews who helped saving Jewish lives. The adjacent park holds a memorial to these people.

The Great Synagogue offers group tours in a variety of languages. Visitors must observe a strict dress code, though. If need be, there's a special “overall” type of clothing provided at the entrance.
Tree of Life / Raoul Wallenberg Park

2) Tree of Life / Raoul Wallenberg Park

Situated right behind the Great Synagogue of Budapest is the Holocaust memorial park set to commemorate those who risked their lives, during World War II, trying to save the Jews of Hungary from the Nazi extermination, and for which they are declared “Righteous Among the Nations”. Inside the park, there is a monument dedicated to these people. One such man is Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat and a key actor in the salvation effort who himself had disappeared mysteriously towards the end of the war. Among the others also honored by this monument is a little-known Spanish consular officer, named Ángel Sanz Briz, who virtually saved some 5,200 Jews by giving them Spanish passports and allowing to use the Spanish embassy as a safe house.

Also, in the middle of the park, there is another memorial called the Tree of Life – a commemorative sculpture paying tribute to some 5,000 Holocaust victims buried in the area. Designed in the form of a willow tree, symbol of mourning in the Hungarian Jewish tradition, it has the names of Holocaust victims inscribed on its leaves.

The park was established in the 1990s after Hungary regained a democratic rule. The memorial was completed in 1996, thanks to the generous donation from Estée Lauder, renowned international manufacturer of beauty and skincare products.

The Tree of Life monument is well visible from a distance, even outside the park. However, if you wish to see it up close, you'll have to pay an admission fee.
Rumbach Street Synagogue

3) Rumbach Street Synagogue

Located in the heart of downtown Budapest, at the historic district of Belvaros, this synagogue has been the spiritual home for Neolog Hungarian Orthodox Jews since the late 19th century. Built to the design of Otto Wagner, the genius behind many Art Nouveau buildings in Vienna, this synagogue has an architectural style clearly reminiscent of the Northern African and Arabic themes, featuring octagonal, minaret-style columns similar to those of Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock.

The decorative brickwork on the outside of the building is quite remarkable, with carved stone and stucco complementing the wrought iron work. The multi-colored facade, along with the oriental style arches, make the perfect backdrop to the windows with the Star of David in them; at the center of the facade, one can also see the two stone tablets of Moses.

The interior of the synagogue is quite stunning too, with a soaring main nave, exquisitely decorated dome and ceilings, stained glass windows, and decorative arabesques on the walls. Suffered badly during World War II, the building has been out of service for almost 60 years now and its restoration is still underway.

The surrounding area is just as reflective of the Jewish culture and history with plenty to see. You can wander around and make a few interesting stops further afield to see the main Budapest synagogue, on Dohány Street, just a few blocks away.
Carl Lutz Memorial

4) Carl Lutz Memorial

While wandering around the former Budapest Ghetto you will come across this memorial – half-hidden by trees – dedicated to Swiss diplomat, Carl Lutz. Made by Tamás Szabó in 1991, it consists of two bronze figures, portraying an angel on high sending down a bolt of cloth to a prostrate victim.

While serving as the Swiss Vice-Consul in Budapest, from 1942 until the end of World War II, Carl Lutz had saved thousands of Jewish lives by negotiating a deal with the Nazis and Hungarian Government to issue special Swiss safe-conduct passes to British-controlled Palestine. He deliberately used his permission for 8,000 protective letters as applying to families rather than individuals, and proceeded to issue tens of thousands of additional protective letters, all of them bearing a number between one and 8,000. He also set up some 76 "safe houses" around Budapest, declaring them annexes of the Swiss legation and thus off-limits to Hungarian forces or Nazi soldiers. Among the safe houses was the now well-known "Glass House" (Üvegház) at Vadász Street 29, in which about 3,000 Hungarian Jews found refuge.

In 1965, Yad Vashem (Israel's memorial to the Holocaust) awarded Carl Lutz the title of "Righteous Among the Nations", for his life-saving deeds.
Gozsdu Courtyard (Gozsdu-udvar)

5) Gozsdu Courtyard (Gozsdu-udvar)

Dating to 1901, the beautifully redeveloped Gozsdu Courtyard, once the hive of activity before the Holocaust, has in recent years emerged as a top nightlife destination in the district. Lined with restaurants, cafes and bars, this passageway comes alive every evening, pulsing with music and merriments along its 200-meter length.

Favorite hangouts to check out include the trendy wine bar DIVINO with lots of great Hungarian wines by the glass, bottle, and for takeaway; CAFE VIAN, with its incredibly diverse and extensive food menu offerings; 2 SPAGHI – one of the best pasta places outside of Italy; the Jewish-Italian restaurant YIDDISHE MAMMA MIA; and the buzzing SPILER 'bistropub' which excels by its unique interior ambiance (for Asian-inspired food/drinks, hop across the road at sister branch SPILER SHANGHAI). All offer indoor and outdoor dining.

From March to October, the popular GOUBA (Gozsdu Bazaar), held here every Sunday, offers diverse arts and crafts, gastronomic delights and unique entertainment.
Orthodox Synagogue

6) Orthodox Synagogue

A physical and spiritual center of Jewish life in the 8th District, the Orthodox Synagogue is nestled in a quaint little community that has a kosher eating establishment, a school, and a prayer room. Nearby there is also a mikvah (ritual Jewish bath) – the only one to be found anywhere in Budapest, dating to 1913.

The Hungarian Orthodox Jews, which make this house of worship their home, are a rather unique offshoot of Conservative Judaism. They maintain many of the practices of the Jewish immigrants from Germany and Moravia. There is also a strong Hassidic background in these people, which came to the area from Poland and Galatia.

Although the synagogue's Art Nouveau exterior appears a bit run down on the outside, its interior is beautifully restored and brightly painted, adorned with traditional Hungarian motives, a very unusual Bimah (similar to an altar), as well as original stained glass windows (situated high up near the roof).
Kazinczy Street

7) Kazinczy Street

Located in the heart of Budapest's Jewish district, this street is known for its colorful mixture of cultural heritage, one-of-a-kind events, a very diverse gastronomy scene, and buzzing nightlife venues. Apart from the Orthodox Synagogue, kosher restaurants and bakeries offering traditional Jewish dishes and pastries, the numerous premises named after prominent Jewish figures as well as other cultural monuments all bear testimony to the quarter's past. If visiting during the beginning of summer, the Judafest street festival has a lot to offer in terms of the cultural and culinary heritage of Hungarian Jews.

Traditional Jewish cuisine can be enjoyed at the CARMEL (in a 100-seat white-walled space, with chicken soup, cholent and fish dishes) and the MACESZ BISTRO, but these are far from being the only cultural peculiarities here. If you want a mix-match of New Orleans- and Jamaican/Caribbean-inspired dishes, pay a visit to SOUL FOOD; otherwise, make your way to BORS GASZTROBAR for possibly the best authentically Hungarian street food in Budapest, or the STREET FOOD KARAVAN, which is another good budget option, with an amazing range of different cuisines.

Within easy striking distance, the street's highly popular "ruin pubs" – SZIMPLA KERT, ELLATO KERT, or KOLEVES – offer cheap food/drinks in a unique atmosphere with retro gardens and quirky interior designs. Below street level, in a sort of cellar, you will also find the YELLOW ZEBRA BAR, a quaint tavern for those not so much into partying, but who love to enjoy a cold beer and freshly-cooked local food at very reasonable prices.

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