Hungary for attention in Budapest

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here
Passover supplement

Hungary for attention in Budapest

Goulash soup and the largest shul in Europe: Budapest’s claims to fame may not make it themost sought-after city for a break. Louisa Walters discovers it has much more to offer

Louisa Walters is Features Editor at the Jewish News and specialises in food and travel writing

View of Parliament Building from Buda
View of Parliament Building from Buda

Despite being divided into three separate towns – hilly, tranquil Buda and Obuda on the western side of the Danube and flat, bustling Pest on the eastern side – the city of Budapest is relatively compact and much of it can be traversed by walking (I was excited to see how my daily steps and kms notched up on my fitness app).

On arrival, after dropping our bags at the centrally located Corinthia Hotel, we headed straight to the New York Café, a magnificent tearoom with red carpets, cherubs on the ceiling and gilt décor, plus a string quartet to entertain diners.

Thus re-energised, we wandered the whole length of Vaci Utca (Budapest’s answer to Oxford Street) and sampled a freshly made Kürtőskalács, or chimney cake, which is like sweet flattened crusty bread rolled in sugar – delicious! We popped in to the Central Market Hall, a calmer, more ordered version of London’s Borough Market,  and later dined at Babel, one of the city’s newer restaurants.

At St Stephen's Basilica
At St Stephen’s Basilica

The next day, we did a four-hour walking tour with a fascinating Jewish guide.

She took us to Heroes’ Square for a potted history of Hungary’s leaders, who are commemorated in statues and from there walked us through the City Park, past the famous Gundel restaurant, a Budapest institution along Oslo Court lines, but much grander and much more expensive, towards the Szechenyi Spa.

A special feature of Budapest is the spa society; the city has 120 thermal springs with warm therapeutic waters.

Buda is home to the best, Gellert Baths, while Szechenyi is one of the largest spa complexes in Europe and the first to be built in Pest.

Water temperature is 74ºC and a chilly March day saw hundreds of people luxuriating in the warm outdoor springs.

Szechenyi Spa
Szechenyi Spa

Next stop was the Dohany synagogue, also known as the Great Synagogue, the largest in Europe, which can hold more than 3,000 people – the ladies’ gallery is two-tiered. Theodore Herzl was born in a house next door in 1860.

The area around the shul became a ghetto in 1944 for six weeks, during which 14,000 Jews died and many thousands more were sent to Auschwitz. In total, 600,000 of Hungary’s Jews died during the war and there is a beautiful cemetery garden in the synagogue complex where 2,000 of those ghetto dwellers are buried in mass graves.


Two-tiered ladies' gallery Dohany Shul
Two-tiered ladies’ gallery Dohany Shul

Also there is the Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Park, home to the Holocaust memorial, the Emanuel Tree, which has the names of Hungarian Jews killed inscribed on its metal leaves. The memorial was sponsored by the Emanuel Foundation, which was created in 1987 by the actor Tony Curtis in honour of his Hungarian-born father, Emanuel Schwartz. There is also a Jewish museum at the shul.

Today, the area around the shul is the Jewish Quarter, home to several more synagogues, Jewish shops and restaurants. We ate at Spinoza, a traditional Hungarian Jewish-style restaurant  and Mazel Tov, a newly-opened trendy Israeli restaurant, which was playing live music and hosting a quiz on the night we went.

Strudel anyone?

The Jewish Quarter is also home to many of the city’s ruin bars, so-called because they are housed in ruined buildings. Szimpla Kert is the biggest of these, and features a huge number of little rooms, eclectic furniture, graffitied walls and, above all, a terrific atmosphere.

The next day, we hopped on a bus to the Buda side for magnificent views of Pest across the Danube and then made our way back for a guided tour of the Hungarian State Opera house. Tea at the famous Gerbeaud teahouse followed – rich dark hot chocolate and a slice of Sacher Torte (we walked 18km that day – we deserved it!).

Budapest’s pièce de résistance is the magnificent Parliament, modelled on our own Houses of Parliament, in front of which is the Shoes on the Danube memorial.

Parliament Building
Parliament Building

In the winter of 1944, many Jews from the ghetto were rounded up by the ruling Arrow Cross Party, forced to strip naked on the banks of the river and shot.

They fell into the river and were washed away. The memorial features 60 pairs of rusted shoes in different sizes. As we stood there on a sunny day, we reflected on our own freedom, which allowed us to visit this wonderful city.

Louisa travelled with Voyage Prive – £600 for hotel and flights for two

Shoe memorial on the River Danube
Shoe memorial on the River Danube
Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: