Dohány Street Synagogue. Photo credit: Hungarian Tourism Agency
A Guide to Sites that Embody the Fascinating History and Dynamic Present of the Hungarian Capital's Jewish Community
Article continues below advertisement
There are many different sides to Hungary’s capital waiting to be explored. One of the most fascinating is its rich Jewish heritage, from ancient synagogues to moving memorials while restaurants serving both classic and contemporary cuisine are waiting when you are ready for a break.
Dohány Street Synagogue (aka Great Synagogue)
The largest synagogue in Europe and biggest the world after Temple Emanu-El in New York City, the monumental Great Synagogue wows with its dramatic Moorish-Revival architecture and vast, ornate interior that can accommodate up to 3,000 worshippers. Built in 1854–59 in the heart of the Jewish Quarter, the still-active Neolog (or Conservative) synagogue features intricate Byzantine mosaic tilework, colorful geometric frescoes, and beautiful stained glass throughout—including a striking central rose window in the women's galleries. A richly carved ark contains 25 Torah scrolls, many rescued from other synagogues destroyed during World War II. The sprawling complex is also home to the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives, the Heroes’ Memorial Temple and a Jewish cemetery where the remains of thousands of Jews who died during the Holocaust are buried.
Address: Dohány utca 2, 1074 Budapest
Emanuel Tree and Memorial Wall at Dohány Street
Right behind the Dohány Street Synagogue, the Emanuel Tree is a huge stylized weeping willow tree, with the names of 30,000 Holocaust victims inscribed on its leaves. Another monument, the Memorial Wall, was inaugurated in 2014, on the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust. Designed by architects Peter Sugár and László Kara, the massive wedge of concrete and steel commemorates the walled ghetto that stood from November 1944 to January 1945, crowding some 70,000 Jews into an area less than a square mile and cutting them off from the rest of the city. Peepholes in the concrete urge you to look closer, revealing particularly moving archival photographs of Jewish buildings and Jewish life in Budapest. The memorial features a map of the ghetto and inscriptions in Hebrew, English, and Hungarian, inviting you to pause and remember the tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews who died during the Holocaust.
Address: Dohány utca 32-34, 1074 Budapest
Frankel Leo Synagogue
Tucked inside the courtyard of some 1920s-era apartment buildings on the Buda side of the city, this small synagogue may lack the grandeur of the Great Synagogue but it serves an important role in the local Conservative Jewish community. Built by architect Sándor Fellner in 1888 in a French-Gothic style, the shul can seat 400 worshippers in its traditional, understated interior. During the Holocaust, Germans used the building as a stable. Look for the plaque commemorating Jewish families who once lived in the surrounding apartments and were deported in 1944.
Address: Frankel Leó utca 49, 1023 Budapest
Shoes on the Danube Bank
Walk along the Danube between the Parliament building and the Chain Bridge and you’ll come across 60 pairs of rusted cast-iron shoes—old-fashioned men’s loafers, women’s heels, children's boots—set along the concrete bank. This haunting memorial, created by sculptor Gyula Pauer and film director Can Togayin in 2005, commemorates the Hungarian Jews who were killed by the anti-Semitic, pro-German Arrow Cross militia during the Holocaust. Men, women, and children were lined up along the riverbank, forced at gunpoint to take off their shoes (a valuable commodity in the 1940s), then killed by a firing squad. Often flowers and candles are places among the shoes to honor those who died. At several places along the memorial are signs in Hungarian, English, and Hebrew: “To the memory of victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944-45.”
Address: Id. Antall József rkp., 1054 Budapest
Carl Lutz Memorial
At the entrance to the former Jewish ghetto, a bronze statue depicts an angel descending to help a fallen victim. The caption, taken from the Talmud, reads: “Whoever saves a life is considered to have saved an entire world.” This memorial is dedicated to Carl Lutz, a Swiss diplomat who saved an estimated 62,000 Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust by setting up 76 safe houses throughout the city and issuing documents that enabled nearly 10,000 Hungarian Jewish children to emigrate. For his bravery during the war, Lutz was added to Israel’s honor roll of the Righteous Among the Nations, honoring non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust.
Address: Dob utca 12, 1072 Budapest
Jewish Cultural Festival
Celebrating Hungarian Jewish culture, this annual event brings together locals and tourists for eight days of music, song, dance, theater, and film. In 2018, the festival will be held September 4–11. The central venue of the event is the Dohány Street Central Synagogue in the historic Jewish Quarter. There are also concerts at the Rumbach Street Synagogue and Hegedűs Gyula Street Synagogue, as well as the cultural center Goldmark Hall. Expect performances of live klezmer music along with classical, jazz, opera, and Yiddish songs.
Article continues below advertisement
Set near the main Keleti train station, this family-run establishment is considered one of the city’s best Hungarian-Jewish restaurants. Opened in 1996 by Tibor Rosenstein, the legendary eatery sprawls across two floors and multiple dining rooms—yet still manages to feel cozy and homey. The extensive menu features traditional Hungarian dishes like lamb knuckle and pan-fried goose foie gras, as well as Jewish delicacies such as stuffed cabbage and matzoh ball soup. It’s also justly famous for its cholent (or sólet in Hungarian), a slow-cooked bean and meat stew meant to be eaten for lunch on the Sabbath; here it’s served on Fridays. There’s also a terrific selection of Hungarian wines from the country’s top cellars.
Address: Mosonyi utca 3, 1087 BudapestThaler Thomas
The historic Jewish Quarter has become a remarkably hip neighborhood of late, filled with indie cafes, wine bars, and, notably, ruin pubs (abandoned buildings reimagined as bars and restaurants). In the heart of the seventh district, Mazel Tov, which bills itself as an “open-hearted cultural space,” is one of the best examples of this trend. Inside the airy, brick-walled, industrial-chic eatery, you'll find a fashionable crowd savoring Israeli and Mediterranean bites like kebabs, pastrami sandwiches, and shawarma on freshly grilled pita bread. A casual dog-friendly garden transforms into a stylish cocktail spot come evening.
Address: Akácfa utca 47, 1072 Budapest
Frőhlich Kosher Confectionery
Not much has changed in this old-school kosher patisserie and cafe in the Jewish Quarter since its opening in 1953. Lining its glass shelves are traditional Hungarian-Jewish baked goods like flódni, a cake with multiple layers of pastry, walnuts, poppy seed, apple and plum jam. You'll also find seasonal treats, like Hamantashen cookies during Purim or donuts at Hanukkah. Other Hungarian delicacies made on-site include beigli (a poppy seed or walnut roll), túrós rétes (cottage cheese strudel) and a rich, chocolaty Dobos torte. The handful of tables are usually filled with locals chatting over coffee and, naturally, pastries.
Address: Dob utca 22, 1072 Budapest
Cholent is the specialty at this simply decorated eatery in the Palace Quarter, with no fewer than six varieties of the traditional bean and meat stew on the menu—including an atypical Mexican version served with spicy chili. Along with classic Eastern European Jewish dishes such as crispy duck with steamed cabbage and goose leg with latkes, you can find Hungarian staples like goulash and chicken paprika. Keep in mind that the portions are huge, especially if you want to save room for local desserts like túrós palacsinta (Hungarian crepes filled with cottage cheese).
Address: Kőfaragó utca 5, 1085 Budapest
Named after the Hungarian word for matzo, Macesz offers an upscale take on traditional Hungarian, Jewish, and Israeli cuisine. The bright, white-walled dining room feels fresh and modern, complementing the refined versions of classic Hungarian dishes like ludaskása, a risotto-like dish topped with goose meat. If you're not a meat-eater, there are several options, including shakshuka (a poached egg dish) and a vegetarian lasagna layered with matzo. Skilled chef Ákos Tasnádi diversifies the menu with seasonal offerings as well.
Address: Dob utca 26, 1072 Budapest
more from afar