No one looks back on their life and remembers the nights where they got plenty of sleep
The plan was to only stay a few nights. Arrive in Budapest, see the sights, and then perhaps head off to see a bit of the Romanian countryside before our Eurail pass ran out.
We had already been traveling for close to 2 months since leaving Essaouira Morocco. In that time we had:
- been on a camel trek to the Sahara desert
- hung out eating tajine in Marrakech
- met up with friends old and new at the TBEX conference in Costa Brava,
- started our Eurail journey which took us through France, into Switzerland, Austria, Lichtenstein, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria (again) and Slovakia.
As you can imagine, when the train pulled into Budapest – we were pretty much exhausted!
We already had 5 nights booked which was to be the longest of any stops so far – we ended up spending 8.
Not due to being tired and wanting somewhere to rest. In fact we unexpectedly hit the ground running once we arrived in Budapest. And we didn’t stop until we collapsed on the night train to Bucharest over a week later.
So why, when we were already so exhausted from travelling, did we take it level 11 once we arrived in Budapest?
Because we fell in love. And not just with Budapest as a whole (which is still totally kick ass), but in particular the little area known as the 7th District.
Jewish Quarter Budapest
This particular area of town is probably the most historic areas of Budapest today. Most of the city was decimated by the allies during the second world war and what you see today is what has been rebuilt post war. The Jewish quarter however still stands today as it always has, as the allies had no desire to bomb the Jewish ghetto which had been barricaded off by the Nazi’s. It is a place where many people lost their lives – and a place that still has a lot of scars.
The 7th District has endured years of neglect post war as well. With many of the buildings left abandoned and falling into ruin during the communist regime, and even today many of the buildings are crumbling with neglect.
But something changed in the 7th District about 13 years ago when a couple of mates looked at a dilapidated factory building and decided to open an open air cinema & bar called Szimpla Kert.
Today many more ruin bars have opened up around the 7th District and it has turned into a big draw card of not just this district, but all of Budapest. We figured it was our duty to go around and try out a few for y’all, so here’s some our favourite ruin pubs in Budapest:
Ruin Bars Budapest
Szimpla Kert – the original ruin bar opened 2002
This is the number 1. Must Visit place in the Jewish Quarter. Szimpla Kert is like an insane up-cycling fairy got wasted one night, and threw up all over an abandoned building. It’s really hard to explain – so let me show you….
Szimpla Kert is totally trippy, and you can go there time and time again and spot something completely different every time. If you do happen to go on a Sunday, there is a fabulous farmers market where you can buy locally made cheeses, jams, meats etc. They also regularly feature local up and coming artists, and give them a space where they can perform.
After Szimpla Kert opened it seems that every Ruin Bar that has opened since has tried to out do the ‘crazy’ – but in the most fabulous way. So here’s a few other places to drop by, grab a drink, and embrace the insanity
Instant is the biggest ruin bar in Budapest Featuring 26 rooms, 7 bars, 2 gardens and 7 stages – all with their own unique theme. There is certainly something for everyone in this massive bar, just find a room that suits you and enjoy a drink or 2.
Note: This is a bit more of a nightclub than a bar so it doesn’t have the relaxed vibe as some of the other ruin bars around town. But I highly recommend checking it out (and that’s coming from someone who hate’s nightclubs).
Grandio is part ruin pub, part hostel. The garden area is a great place to chill for a few happy hour drinks, before you head out into the awesome insanity of the Budapest bar scene. Also drop by and check out their sister hostel Retox – which is where we stayed. All I can say, is those guys know how to party!
For something a little fancier and a lot less insane, drop by the uber classy Mazel Tov. It’s hard to believe that this place is even a ruin bar it’s so fancy looking. Mazel Tov is also a full service restaurant as well as a venue for DJs and other local live music.
Fogas Haz translates into “House of Teeth”. Random yes! But a great place to hang out. The open air courtyard is a place to chill and enjoy a blast from the past. We found that much of the music played we old classics that kept young and old in the mood for a night out!
But it’s not just all bars in Budapest’s Jewish Quarter. There is also an incredible art scene. And you won’t find the art in any gallery…
Check out our favorite hotels in Budapest HERE
Street Art in Budapest Jewish Quarter
One of the things we really love about many post communist cities, is the new found colours.
These people lived through so many years of grey, suppressive, and dull that communism is famous for. Now that red curtain has fallen, you can spot colour popping all over the place. And one major way that lots of younger people are expressing themselves is through street art.
Now we are not talking about some shitty tags on a wall. We are talking real art – and real talent. Talent that is brightening up the decaying walls of the 7th district, and creating a sight that is attracting not just tourists but international street artists who are interested in their work for the community.
A few years ago this park was a place you did not want to visit – day or night! Full of the lowest of low, if you visited this park it was because you were looking for trouble. Today it is full of children giggling and parents calmly chatting on park benches.
Did you know that the Rubix Cube was invented by a Hungarian?
Another important part of the street art murals, is to remind the locals of Budapest of their successes and their triumphs. To take their minds off the negative past, and remember the good that has come from Hungary. Like this mural about the time Hungary beat England at football on Wembley soil, in a 6-3 thrashing in 1953.
Even the bars have started hiring local famous street artists to decorate a mural on the walls of their bar. All of the murals give a life and vibrancy to the streets of Jewish District that is captivating, and inspiring. But perhaps that’s just me – I love street art!
A great way to see the beauty of the 7th District is by taking the Alternative Budapest tour. This way you have a guide who can help you find the best street art in the area (not all of it jumps out at you like these murals). Plus give you a little bit of a background as to how the professional street artists and the government finally decided to work together to make the grey and drab post communist walls of Budapest, a little brighter for the residents.
But this tour is not just about the street art, it also give you an important insight into the area, what it’s been through, and how it is trying to heal. We really found it fascinating to learn about this unique little pocket of Budapest.
One part of the tour we loved actually came post tour – where we got to partake in a little street art of our own. After the Saturday Alternative Budapest tour there is an option to head over to Retox Party Hostel and learn the basics of spray painting. This was an absolute blast! Sitting around having a few beers, while you cut out your chosen stencil, and then get to spray paint it (with the guidance of a professional spray painter) onto a piece of canvas. A little memento of the alternative side to Budapest that you can take home.
The guys who run the workshop have some real chops when it comes to street art, and you can find their influence all over the bar and hostel. As it’s a Ruin bar / hostel pretty much anything goes, and they can let their creativity go nuts.
In fact we had such a great time at Retox we decided to get a room and stay for a few nights. As I said before, Retox combines a ruin bar and street art into one kick ass little package. And it’s a hell of a place to party. Don’t expect to get much sleep at this hostel, as every night they have a different event on.
Our favourites included:
Where teams of 3 compete to be the drinking champions of the WORLD – well of the Budapest Party Hostel world! These guys and gals had some serious talent – we thought we were big drinkers, until we saw this event!
What could be better than being handed your very own personal bottle of champagne to consume while sailing the calm waters of the Danube? Yes, you will get drunk – very drunk! But it’s a great night and the views are second to none.
There is always one thing for certain at Retox Party Hostel, there will be lots of laughs, lots of booze and one killer hangover in the morning! But trust us – it’s worth it!!!
Transport – Getting in and out of Budapest
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Have you experienced the alternative side of Budapest’s Jewish Quarter? Let us know your favourite thing about the 7th District in the comments.