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The grand palazzos and charming side streets of inner District 8 (Józsefváros) still exude an air of pre-war Budapest and offer a welcome refuge from the tourist-heavy old Jewish Quarter nearby. Although here too, new places are mushrooming to take advantage of the area's new-found popularity, the number of cafés and restaurants still pale in comparison to those of the Jewish Quarter.
This neighborhood is also known as the Palace Quarter because in the 19th century the country's wealthy nobility, attracted by the increasingly buoyant political life in Pest, built extravagant mansions here. Three of the most impressive ones are directly behind the National Museum on Pollack Mihály Square. If you're wondering what those communist-era, anonymous box of buildings are doing in-between the palaces, rest assured knowing that locals are, too. From here, walk down Ötpacsirta Street, shaded under a canopy of trees. Before you reach the library at the end, pop in to the ivy-covered interior courtyard of the Chamber of Hungarian Architects (#2)—it's open to the public—to get your day's Instagram post out of the way.
café on the ground floor, once the horse stable, offers a journey back in time with its watery coffee, stale sandwiches, and rock-bottom prices.The massive Szabó Ervin Library, formerly the home of the Wenckheim family, offers a chance to see what the inside of these aristocratic homes looked like. Purchase a tourist pass (€1) and proceed to the 4th floor, where they preserved some of the original furnishings. If you go during finals week, throngs of students will be cramming in the chandelier-studded former ballroom and the wood-paneled cigar room. The
A total of six universities have campuses nearby—ranging from a German-language college to the Pázmány Péter Catholic University's law faculty and Central Europe's only university for Jewish studies—meaning that wallet-friendly bars, cafés, and tea houses abound. One of my favorites is Lumen Café, a five-minute walk from the library, serving specialty coffee, egg-based breakfasts dishes, and local wine and beer. It's worth checking back in the evening too, when the space transforms to a lively bar and hosts almost daily live music performances (with lots of jazz and experimental music).
Down the street from Lumen is a cute Italian neighborhood restaurant, Al Dente. The Italian chef prepares tasty dishes simply and well, and there are reasonably-priced primitivos from Apulia to wash them down. (A few storefronts down from here the same owners run a pastry shop, Al Dente On The Go, that specializes in Italian morning pastries like bombolone, zeppole, and arancini.) The other culinary highlight of the neighborhood is Padron, a cute, reliable, family-run Spanish tapas bar that's open only for dinner. For an immersion into everyday Budapest life, you could stop by for a drink at Krúdy Söröző, a watering hole with an eclectic crowd from all walks of life.
The outer part of District 8 still has a bad reputation as an unsafe neighborhood, but, like it or not, the wheels of gentrification keep turning, and many old-time residents—including Romas and other ethnic minorities—are being replaced by newcomers. The area is totally safe during the day; come nighttime, the streets get eerily deserted. A cute café on Rákóczi Square is Csiga, although they recently jacked up the prices, which alienated many local regulars, leaving the place to foreigners.
Jókrisz Lángos Sütöde, a mom-and-pop food stall hiding in the back of the building, makes excellent lángos, a deep-fried dough topped with sour cream and grated cheese. An eight-minute walk away from the market is Műterem Kávézó, a coffee roaster and specialty café, whose owner deserves a hat-tip for bringing moderately priced, premium coffee to this part of the city, away from the well-trodden city center.Next to Csiga stands the imposing building of the Rákóczi Market. It isn't the most interesting market hall in Budapest, but
After coffee, walk out to Népszínház Street, historically the home of immigrants and ethnic minorities, including Turks, Arabs, and Africans. Its lively (and littered) streets, diverse population, and small businesses—including a Persian and a Turkish grocery store, and a Nigerian barber shop—show a slice of Budapest that even some locals are unaware of. The often shockingly dilapidated condition of the buildings here stands in wild contrast to the pristine facades of downtown.
Just minutes away from Népszínház Street is the Fiumei Road Cemetery. It's a vast, beautifully maintained garden cemetry—think of it as the Père Lachaise of Budapest—with towering limestone and marble mausoleums of Hungary's famous statesmen and artists, including Lajos Kossuth and Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka. In the rear of the cemetery, but accessed from outside—it takes about 15 minutes to get to—is the Salgótarjáni Street Jewish Cemetery, where the Jewish upper crust of the 19th and early 20th century is buried in similarly ornate graves.
You can round out your Józsefváros trip with a hearty meal at Rosenstein, one of the best traditional Hungarian restaurants in Budapest. For a more budget-friendly meal, try Kürtös Ételbár eatery, run by the same owners next door. The easiest way to get back to the city is by taking one of myriad buses that connects Keleti railway station with downtown, with one arriving almost every minute (#5, #7, #8, #110, #133).
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