Budapest's Jewish Heritage | Two Walking Tours:
The cultural links between Budapest and Judaism are amongst the oldest on the European continent. Records of permanent settlement by exiles from the Middle East date as far back as the mid-14th century, and even prior to this Jewish communities had been documented in what is now Hungary around the 3-4th centuries A.D.
Throughout the ages these emigrants have imparted upon the Hungarian capital one of the most vibrant and robust Jewish societies outside of Israel. It's a heritage that has survived relatively intact into the present day, despite perils ranging from Ottoman Invasion to anti-semitic fascism. Discover it for yourself during a future visit by booking either the Essentials or Grand Jewish Heritage Walking Tours (details below).
- May 1 - November 30, Daily.
- Except Saturdays.
- Live English-Speaking Guide.
- May 1 - October 31: 10:00 and 14:00.
- November 1 - 31: 10:00 only.
- Both Tours: In front of Dohány Street Synagogue, Budapest, Dohány street. 2, 1074.
- Essentials Tour: 1.5 - 2 Hours.
- Grand Tour: Approx. 3 - 3.5 Hours.
About The Essentials Walking Tour:
If you don't have a huge amount of time to spare yet are still interested in Budapest's Jewish story then you can't go wrong with the Essentials Tour. After meeting a professional guide in front of Dohány Street Synagogue you'll be issued with complimentary admission tickets before proceeding first to the Jewish Museum.
The Jewish Museum is a separate wing of the wider Dohány Street complex. Constructed in 1930 on the site of pioneering Zionist Theodor Herzl's childhood home, it contains a fantastic collection of Jewish religious and historical artefacts. Most of these were donated by private individuals whose families once resided (or currently do) in Budapest. There's also a display of relics from the Jewish Burial Society.
By starting in the Jewish Museum you and your group will receive foundational insights to the cultural and religious customs of Hungarian Jews. These are provided by an English-speaking museum guide who'll also help put into context the monuments and attractions you'll see later with the walking tour guide.
After leaving the museum you'll enter the Great Synagogue itself. Note that males must wear some form of headgear before entering. If you do not have a hat you'll be provided with a disposable paper yamaka / kippah. Inside, your guide will delve into the history of the synagogue and the dramatic events that it's witnessed since completion in 1859.
What you're likely to find most striking about the place is its architecture. Budapest's Great Synagogue is anything but conventional, in fact if you were to strip out all of its Jewish symbolism you'd probably be forgiven for thinking it was a church. Notable departures from tradition include a cathedral-like alter, multiple balconies and an organ which can be seen just behind the Torah ark.
As your guide will explain, these unusual aesthetics owed much to the social and cultural liberalism of mid-19th century Hungary. It was in this climate that the 'Neolog' reformist faction evolved, a wealthy community of upper-middle class Jews who sought greater integration with Hungarian society. Their funds were directly responsible for the Great Synagogue's creation, and their artistic contributions made it one of the world's most unique.
Emerging from the synagogue you'll walk across to the Jewish cemetery. Here your guide will highlight another striking anomaly, that in Judaism graveyards are never normally located next to places of worship. A cursory inspection of the dates on the graves is all it takes to realise why this is not the case on Dohány Street. Virtually all of them list the year of death as 1944 or '45, with some more ambiguously labelled as 1944 - 1945. The entire cemetery was a mass grave for the 8000+ victims of the Ghetto of Pest.
On the wall of the adjacent Heroes' Temple you'll see commemorative plaques listing the names of Jewish soldiers who died fighting for the Austro-Hungarian Empire during World War 1. It's perhaps no coincidence that these memorials overlook the final resting places of so many betrayed Hungarian citizens.
The final part of the Essentials Walking Tour takes you to the Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Park, where you'll see the Tree of Life (Emanuel) Holocaust Memorial. Easily the most poignant symbol of the Holocaust in Budapest, the metal sculpture famously depicts a weeping willow whose tendrils terminate in tiny leaves baring the names of concentration camp victims.
Right next to this is a memorial to Raoul Wallenberg himself and others listed as Righteous Among the Nations. One of the names you may recognise is Carl Lutz, the Swiss Vice-Consul credited with saving over 60,000 Jews from Nazi extermination camps.
At this point you'll come to end of the Essentials tour. If you booked the Grand Tour then this will commence after a short toilet break.
About The Grand Walking Tour:
Everything that's included in the Essentials Tour is included the Grand version. Instead of finishing up in the Memorial Park, however, you'll continue into the heart of the Jewish Quarter.
Wander over to historic Madách Imre Street with your guide. Along the way you'll pay an exterior visit to the Rumbach Street Synagogue. This is followed up with a journey across to Gozsdu Courtyard, an old yet refreshingly contemporary public space that was once the site of numerous Jewish businesses and prayer houses.
The final portion of the Grand tour takes you inside Europe's largest orthodox synagogue, the Kazinczy Street Synagogue. To top off your half-day heritage walk grab a free cake in the Fröhlich kosher confectionery store or enjoy 10% off a meal at Carmel Restaurant.