Two to Do ... in Budapest

Whether you’re stopping off for a couple of days as part of a European tour or making Budapest your  final destination, get hold of a 3-day travel pass and get off the beaten track to see more of this wonderful city, the Jewel of the Danube. Here are two visits to make, sure to add to your sense of having glimpsed beneath the surface of this multi-layered, metropolis.

Great Synagogue in Dohány 
First, head to the Great Synagogue in Dohány (‘Tobacco’) Street, near the Astoria metro station in the inner city of Pest. Recently restored, the Great Synagogue is a bustling and vibrant meeting place, a magnet for locals from the nearby Jewish quarter and visitors from all over the world. Built in the mid-19th century in a Byzantine-Moorish style, this stunning synagogue boasts almost 3,000 seats (with separate galleries for women), along with a majestic 5000-tube organ. Like other parts of the city, the original building suffered damage from the bombs of the Second World War, during which it also served as a collection point from which the Nazis dispatched Budapest Jews off to extermination camps. It has a tale to tell that only a guided tour of the interior, the gardens and the adjoining Jewish museum can convey. It is probably best summed up by the haunting ‘Tree of Life’ memorial, a willow tree whose leaves are inscribed with names of Hungary’s holocaust victims.

Next, another kind of community space altogether. Take the metro out west to Kós Károly Tér, followed by the 194 bus and you’ll end up in Budapest’s XIX district, on the Wekerle Estate. An early 20th century experiment in social planning, and influenced in no small part by the early garden cities of England, the Wekerle Estate was built between 1909 and 1926 as a self-contained garden suburb to house 20,000 lower-paid Budapest workers. It retains its unique, Transylvanian style to this day. Tree-lined, intersecting streets made up of 16 different designs of gabled houses and colourful apartment blocks combine with churches, a police station, schools and other social amenities to make this area a lively, low-rise oasis in the middle of Budapest’s urban sprawl. Well worth a visit. 
Wekerle Estate