Before we arrived in Budapest there was one thing we wanted to do, and that was to visit the legendary, unique ruin bars. What’s a ruin bar you may ask? Ruin bars are basically bars that have opened up in….you guessed it, ruined buildings and courtyards. They first started appearing around 10 years ago in the historic Jewish quarter of Budapest, since then they have become a very popular attraction when visiting Budapest.
Now, these bars, of course, can be visited by yourself, but we wanted to find a tour that not only includes the ruin bars but also the interesting historic Jewish quarter.
That’s when we discovered a company called ‘Budapestflow’, owned and ran by the amazing Attila, he offers an alternative ruin bar tour, not only visiting the popular ruin bars but also takes you to sites around the Jewish quarter that many tourists rarely visit or don’t even know exist. We booked onto the tour and made our way to Budapest.
Budapestflow Alternative Walking Tour
Fast forward a couple weeks and we had just met Attila outside a small coffee shop called ‘My Little Melbourne’, after a quick introduction explaining what the tour consisted of and that how he likes to keep the groups small so it feels more like wandering the streets with friends rather than a large tour group, we were on our way.
As Attila led us up Rumbach Sebestyen Utca, we passed the Rumbach Synagogue which was built in 1872 based on the plans of the famous Viennese architect Otto Wagner. Unfortunately due to the time of the day it was closed, but Attila recommended visiting the synagogue when open to view its intricate interior. We carried on along the street before coming to a stop alongside a large mural depicting Hungary’s famous 6 – 3 win against England in football in 1963, Attila cheerfully explained that because Hungary is a small country they like to take pride in small successes, while this may be true, personally we just think everyone likes to show off when beating England in football.
Across the street another mural was brightening up the area, this one was a pixelated painting of the Rubik cube which was invented by Hungarian Ernõ Rubik. While you can make out what the mural is by looking at it with the naked eye, if you look at it through a lens of a camera, the Rubik cube appears 3D. While making our way into a unique design shop further down the street called Printa, Attila explained that the Jewish quarter has a reputation of being very hipster and while this is evidently clear, if that isn’t your thing there are still many great places to escape it all. Inside the shop, there was a range of one-off prints and unique clothing for sell, many of the items sold in the shop is based on the word Budapest and eco fashion.
As we made our way towards one of the most popular streets in the 7th district ‘Kazinczy Utca’ we passed the memorial of Carl Lutz, a Swiss Vice-Consul who was based in Budapest during World War II who saved the lives of over 62,000 Jews.
Once on ‘Kazinczy Utca’ we made our way into Lomography, a cool little shop, come café, selling analog camera’s which was new to us. A great feature in the shop was a photo wall which they had assembled made up of 100’s of photos taken by an analog camera.
Just up the street from Lomography is Köleves Kert (Stone Soup Garden), a typical ruin pub with colourful secondhand furniture set out across an open courtyard with a backdrop of a colourful mural, and of course a bar in the corner selling cheap beer!
Throughout the tour, Attila gave us great insight into the history of the Jewish quarter and you could see he was really passionate about what he was telling us while guiding us around the neighbourhood. He encouraged us to take the time to stand back and look at the many murals painted around the Jewish quarter as each one had a story to tell regarding Hungarian culture and even politics. Below are some of our favourite.
The next two steps on ‘Kazinczy Utca’ are without a doubt the two most popular places along this street, Karavan and the most famous ruin pub of them all Szimpla Kert.
Karavan was Budapest’s first street food court, a selection of permanent food trucks offering up an impressive range of food, from the famous Hungarian Langos to hamburgers and Mangalica sausage. An ideal place to visit and have a bite to eat after a few beers at our next stop, Szimpla Kert.
Szimpla Kert is Hungary’s most famous and popular ruin bar. From first impressions, it would be easy to describe it as a unique ‘hipster-ish’ bar, but after walking around the former ruined building (hence the name) it felt more like a community than just a bar. Szimpla Kert is made up of an open courtyard surrounded by many different rooms, each decorated differently with random knick knacks and salvaged furniture. The main focal point is a funky multi-coloured Trabant with its roof cut off and turned into a seating area in the middle of the courtyard, it’s quite hard to describe every detail about Szimpla Kert, so if you’re ever passing head on in, grab a drink and take in the artistic surroundings and vibrant atmosphere.
Attila also runs a Sunday morning hangover tour, where you will see a different side to Szimpla Kert, each Sunday morning they hold a farmers market within the pub, where locals come to sell their goods hours after the last revellers leave to head back to bed. The details of the tour can be found here.
With only a handful of places left to visit we were over half way through the tour. We didn’t have far to go for the next stop, a couple doors down from Szimpla Kert Attila led us into what we thought was just a Mexican restaurant, but instead of heading towards the bar we were led downstairs and as we went, stepping back in time to Hungary’s past. We were faced with an Aladdin’s cave of toys, games and mementos of Hungary’s past and everything on show were apparently for sale, the best description we could come up with was an underground ruin bar, come flea market.
The evening was starting to draw in and with the light fading there were three stops left, the first was Massolit book and cafe, an English language bookshop, inside there was a handful of people sat reading amongst hundreds of books stacked upon the shelves. We made our way to the back of the shop and outside to a small courtyard with chairs, tables, and even a small vegetable patch. What really struck us was how quiet it was considering we were in the middle of a city, it would be a great place to escape to with a decent coffee and good book.
The second to last stop was a quick visit to a contemporary art gallery, and while we are both not huge fans of art, this shop was pretty cool. The standout piece was a picture of inside a metro carriage put together out of pieces of blackened wood (see picture). There were other similar, smaller styles of wooden pictures but this one was by far the best. The tour was almost over and as Attila led the way to Müszl our last stop we had time to reflect on what we had seen on the tour, realising there’s a lot more to see and do if you just take your time to explore a new area, rather than just visiting the main tourist spots.
The final stop of the tour had arrived and we were left wondering where the last three hours had gone. We walked towards a large grey communist style building (we later learnt under its grey shell sits a beautiful building waiting to be renovated). Attila led us down a side street next to the building to a discreet side door, we were buzzed in and made our way up a twisting stairwell to Müszl. Once reaching the top floor we walked out into what can only be described as a large community area, for humans and dogs! Inside was a bar and large chill-out, seating area, but also work spaces where many NGO’s, social projects and local start-ups are based. Art shows and performances are also a regular occurrence at Müszl. We were both amazed at what first looked like a horrible looking building, had hidden away inside. Müszl seemed a great place for young locals to hang out, stay off the streets and maybe even start up a new multimillion-pound company.
The tour had ended and we said our farewells to Attila and thanked him for the tour before making our way back to the hotel for a much-deserved rest and beer. We were very happy we had chosen to book the Budapestflow tour, we got to visit places you can’t find in a guide book, but most importantly we had a guide who was passionate about what he did, which made the tour even better.
We highly recommend this tour to anyone who wants to visit the Jewish quarter in Budapest and uncover its hidden gems, rather than sitting in a ruin bar getting drunk (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).