The Palace District is the most diverse, and perhaps one of the most interesting areas of Budapest. It is an emerging district, and is absolutely iconic. Nowhere else is the atmosphere of faded elegance, of living history stronger and more prominent than in this part of town. The 8th district gets a bad reputation, and not without warrant; this rather large inner-city district of Budapest has many neighborhoods, some not so savory. Because of this, the 8th is usually not mentioned when people talk about tourism in Budapest. But the district is improving rapidly, as more and more infrastructure is introduced, and more and more areas are rehabilitated. Today, the 8th is a fascinating area, with amazing and unique locations that can only be experienced here. University campuses, museums, the Palace district, and a whole lot more await the weary traveler.
What’s so special about the 8th district?
The eight is no doubt one of the liveliest areas of Budapest, well loved by the tough inner city crowd who call it their home. Not the wealthiest district in inner Budapest, it is definitely one of the busiest. Lots of novelty and specialty stores can be found here, due to the somewhat lower rent compared to the neighboring areas. The 8th is known for its diversity, as it is the most ethnically diverse area, but also the most eclectic; the district has the largest concentration of Muslim and Roma population, but many Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants call this area home as well. Joseph city, as it is called, is an old part of Budapest, being one of the original 10 districts the city was founded on. The Palace district has a wonderful tour by the Have Fun Travel mobile app, which shows how this was once a well to do area full of large gardens and the estates of wealthy noble families, and this once incredible wealth can still be seen and felt today. The nightlife in the 8th is also spectacular, with many nightclubs and smaller clubs, lots of live music and tons of regular bars and dives that have their strong bases. Universities and the venues that cater to them dominate the area, but local counterculture and DIY places can also be seen in the ever eclectic and lively 8th district of Budapest.
How to get there
A large portion of the 8th district can be approached through the Körút, so it this is a very easily-approachable area public transport-vise. This means that the 4 and 6 trams, the lifeline of Budapest, go through it. Several trolleys, and metro 2,3, and 4 have stops in the 8th. There are also untold number of buses and night buses that criss cross the area, as well as several tram lines. The 24 tram and the 99 bus go through the district, and Keleti Railway Station, one of the large train terminals of Budapest, is also located here.
Although the 8th has come a long way, it is still a bit seedier than the rest of the inner-city. Heightened safety is recommended, but there is no reason to fear this district. Some neighborhoods are to be avoided after dark, though, like Népszínház Street, Diószeghy Sámuel Street, and Hős Street, or the Pongrácz telep area. If you are staying in the district, ask your accommodation provider about the area, and what to look out for. As a general rule, areas that border the 7th and 6th districts are usually fine, areas close to the “Körút” are also safe, and have infrastructure that can support visitors. You may come across people selling drugs, for your safety, we do not recommend purchasing drugs off of the streets. If you have an Airbnb in the area, make sure you lock your doors. Hostels on the area are perfectly safe, and some of the most affordable ones are located here. But just to be on the safe side, check the neighborhood where your Airbnb is located first, and make sure it is safe. Always read reviews and listings to make sure.
Top Attractions in the 8th District
A day in the 8th district of Budapest is sure to entertain, whether you like museums, urban exploration, theatre or movies, or just want to walk around and get a feel for the city. Just off grind enough to be cool, but not boring, there are several smaller scale and quaint places and sites to explore while here.
The Botanical Gardens are located in the 8th. These gardens are a pleasure to visit in any season, but show their best face in the spring and early summer. The Japanese garden and the orchards are in bloom at this time, and frequent poetry readings and other events are hosted underneath the cherry blossoms. They have green houses as well, and a tropical exhibition with a carnivorous section. Great buffet and coffee can be had on the premises as well. The garden has been in its current location since 1788, and is currently home to 85 endangered species of flora that are native to the Carpathian basin. Some 250 red listed plant species are kept here altogether, so the place has a significant ecological impetus. There are bromelia and begonia exhibits, as well as the mentioned tropical and subtropical houses, but there is also an exhibit of local flora, Mediterranean plants and succulents. Perhaps the most interesting exhibit is the healing herbs and spices one, which gathers useful plants from all over the world, and explains what they are used for in detail. A pleasant walk in the arboretum will help you tune out the noise of the city, and leave you refreshed and recharged.
Hungarian Natural History Museum
Located just a stone’s throw from the Botanical Gardens, we recommend visiting these two educational facilities together. The Museum has been open since 1802, and has the largest collection of geological data (including dinosaurs!) of the region. They have a very family friendly exhibit of taxidermy that shows the different kinds of animal species on an arc like construction. Their most notable exhibit is definitely the gems and minerals collection. Colorful precious stones and astounding geological formations line two floors, for a truly breathtaking display. The bottom floor has the ‘Dinosaurs of the Carpathian’ exhibit, with a cool interactive map that shows you how the region has changed in geological times, and there is also a garden full of life size dinosaur statues. Their gift shop has jewelry and cool little bits of lab grown minerals in striking colors. Not a very large museum, but an extremely fun one, especially if you have kids, the whole thing can be seen in around 2 hours. Aside from their permanent collection, they house temporary exhibits as well, so check out their website to see what current attractions are in town.
Hungarian National Museum
Located right next to the Palace district, the National Museum of Hungary is the definitive museum. It has a collection of all archeological relics and artifacts from the Carpathian Basin. There is a Roman lapidarium, Avar and Scythian relics, but of course, the main attraction is the massive amount of Hungarian artifacts. There is an entire exhibit for each era of Hungarian history, and this section is so well built and visually pleasing, even a child could go through it and leave with an understanding of how and when this land was settled. There are always lots of temporary displays as well, and four permanent ones. The garden of this beautiful building is also noteworthy, as it is a meeting point of local university students, with its two signature giant magnolia trees and large steps, ideal for a cup of coffee and a chance to catch your breath before embarking on your journeys once more. There are many restaurants and cool cafés located right next to the museum, so you can grab a bite right after (or before) browsing the exhibits on display.
Palace District Tour
If you love architecture, and want to get to know a little more about Budapest’s history through looking at beautiful buildings, have we got a tour for you! Our very own Have Fun Travel app offers tours in Budapest, and one of them happens to take you around the old Palace District. While looking at these enormous mansions, you are transported back to a different era, one where barons and empresses visited the pearl of the Dual Monarchy, Budapest, and had their estates in this fair city. By looking at these regal establishments, we learn about the intricate political alliances, whimsical rulers, and turbulent, often violent past that helped shape Europe into what it is today. The tour is interactive and focuses on this particular area of the 8th district, so it does not involve too much walking. The most beautiful mansions and palaces can be seen on this tour, with enough educational content to make it interesting.
The building hosting the Erkel Theatre belongs to the Opera House, and some of the official roster of the Opera House is showed in this theatre. It is one of the largest public buildings in the city, and is unique because it was an Opera house built for the masses, and was supposed to offer cheap and accessible cultural activities for the working proletariat. The premier was held in 1911, and the theatre has been active, in one form or another, ever since, with only brief hiatuses for renovations and rebuilding. It’s a great place to catch a viewing of a favorite play, but is also cool to visit if you are interested in history. There are tours of the Erkel, and they reflect on the turbulent 20th century, which had such a profound impact on the city of Budapest. Located well in the inner city, a trip to the Erkel can be easily incorporated into a day of exploring the 8th district.
A bite to eat and something to drink
What makes the 8th district special is its cultural diversity and the fact that it is home to so many different kinds of people. This of course means diversity in restaurants, nightlife and the kinds of establishments that are available in “Joseph town”. There is a large Muslim community in the district, and hookah bars are thus abundant, along with authentic Middle Eastern cuisine. There are several food markets and specialty stores that cater to Middle Eastern, Indian and African cuisine, as well as several East Asian markets. The African community in the 8th is quite strong, and it is probably the only place in the city where you can buy some puff-puff with beans. The Curry House, perhaps the best Indian restaurant in the city, is located in the 8th, and is known for its authentic Indian spices, its selection of ales and beers, and its friendly service.
University students shape much of the landscape of the nightlife in the 8th district of Budapest. More affordable and much more hip, there are several bars that cater to college life, like Gólya, which is a communally owned and run establishment, just like Kékló, as well as Macska and other student oriented bars. There are several cafés that are frequented by art students and the art world, like Lumen, which also has live performances and exhibits.
The 8th is also one of the last places in the city where you can have retro Hungarian street food like in the olden days. Lángos is served on every one of the several market places scattered throughout the city, along with grilled kolbász, and liver or blood sausage (don’t knock it ‘till you tried it!). Ethnic fast food is also big here, with lots of Chinese food stands and gyros places as well.
We recommend the 8th district to anyone who wants to see something more than the regular tourist attractions. Seedier and less accessible, with perhaps a bit less infrastructure, the 8th gives off a unique vibe that characterizes Budapest, and is truly the cultural heart of the city. If you are craving a bit more and want to explore off of the beaten path, we strongly recommend a day in Joseph city.