Whilst District VII might sound like some terrifying suburb in a George Orwell novel, it is actually the free-thinking cultural heartbeat of Budapest!
Just like Kreuzberg in Berlin – it‘s where the city’s bohemians, artists, musicians, down-and-outs and cool kids hang out. It is also what is now known as a 'Hipster Holiday' destination. Please don’t look away now - it’s not half as pretentious as it sounds.
Over the Easter bank holiday, I spent four nights in Budapest. From the ruin pubs, to the street art, to the micro-breweries and coffee shops – Erzsbetvaros/Elizabethtown/District VII propelled itself into my top-three European travelling spots.
Budapest used to be divided into two towns: Buda and Pest. District VII is in the Pest bit, to the east of the River Danube. District VII - the Jewish quarter – boasts that much-searched-for blend of locals and travellers. You can get under the skin of the city and see what it’s all about.
After suffering greatly during WW2 and the ensuing years of Soviet-ruled communism, the district has blossomed since the fall of the iron curtain in 1989. No doubt you could find cheaper accommodation elsewhere but there is no need to at these prices.
Search ‘What to Do in District VII’ on Google and you'll see the words ruin and pub everywhere.
Known locally as “kerts”, ruin pubs are dilapidated buildings (often old apartment blocks) that were hanging on by a thread, before some really stylish threads were added… and they re-opened as bars. Ultimately, they’re just cool places to eat, drink, relax, dance, or do whatever the heck you please.
Much of the charm lies in their structural imperfections. It feels a bit like you’re hanging out in some quirky Berlin warehouse in the nineties.
They’re well decked out with places to sit: old sofas, bath tubs, garden chairs, stools, hammocks and anything else you might think of – lots of places to sit.
Thankfully everyone seems to be on the same page with regards to proper sanitation. Disrepair does not spread to the loos. Phew.
Feast your eyes on this bill...
Gin & Tonic - 890 Ft (£2.20)
Weiss Beer - 440 Ft (£1.09)
£1.09. For. A. Whole. Pint. Of. Delicious. Local. Weiss. Beer.
All sorts: Think retro pinball machines, mind-bending wall art, graffiti, fairly lights, candles, 80’s computers dangling from the ceiling, garden furniture, stuffed animals, hippy camper vans, chairs like that one from Men In Black and you’re on the right page.
I agree with We Love Budapest and all the folk on Trip Advisor who propelled Szimpla Kert to the top. It’s just got the most going on inside: Each room is different, it’s the biggest, and the garden terrace has a great buzz.
I also liked Instant which has more of a nightclub vibe with a big main room and stage for DJs and bands. There is also a giant owl with breasts on the wall. No, I’m not sure why.
District VII is bursting with great pubs and bars - many of which have live music on at night. Just have a walk around and bob into the ones you like the look of.
Unlike with beer, finding a good cocktail in district VII is not outrageously easy. But it is possible. There are two stylish options in the shape of TukTuk Bar (reasons for the Thai theme still unknown), and Pharma Bar - which is like a science lab for mixologists.
Neither place is churning out the drinks six at a time but once you've tasted one, you'll see why. A lot of thought has gone into these and the barmen engineer each one with love and precision.
Every tipple costs £5 or thereabouts which is pricey by district VII standards but still great value considering these would cost between £10 and £20 in city centre equivalents around the world.
Decorated like a library, KonyvBar & Restaurant is a quirky little restaurant/café with a cool twist that's completely in-tune with the rest of the neighbourhood. The twist is book-themed menus... but this isn’t just a novelty.
Our night was American Psycho-themed (they change every week) and a bit like Patrick Bateman’s killing spree – it was fastidiously executed. The small menu was well thought out and delicious. And, crucially for us – the experience was none-intrusive and none-cheesy!
For local cuisine, I had an outstanding goulash in Szimpla Kert but I’m going to bend the rules slightly with this one and veer outside of the 7th District boundaries. Don’t worry, you won’t be captured by Orwell’s Thought Police!
For local grub, at local's prices, the Great Market Hall is perfect. Once a thriving centre of commerce - ships could sail right to the market’s backdoors and unload – the GMH is worth it for the architecture alone. It is also the place to pick up any memorabilia and/or tat at a bargain price.
This place is very popular with locals which is always a good sign and the perfect place to gobble up any of Hungary’s staples: Langos, schnitzel, csabi, porkolt – they have it all.
The beef burger isn’t a European dish (if you can call it a dish) but that doesn’t stop the whole of Europe being a little bit obsessed with them. Tuning Bar&Burger is right up there with Patty and Bun and Honest Burger which are my personal favourites in London.
Chicken, yoghurt, avocado and salsa was my pick the first time. I went back again and got the Rockerfella too. Mmmm. With a fridge full of local craft beer at very affordable prices, this place is worth a visit. Glutton free baps for those who want them. Lovely.
When strolling the streets, make sure you don’t have your head in the clouds – there’s lots and lots to see. You can pay for walking tours, but I quite enjoyed stumbling across the wall art on my wanderings. This area really isn’t that large. Snaking up and down the streets is the best way to find your baring’s, and soak up the atmosphere. Finding a blank chunk of wall is a tough task.
I couldn’t speak highly enough of Budapest as a place to visit. That recommendation does stretch beyond the seventh district too. Don’t underestimate this city because of its budget prices or hipster ruin pubs - it is crystal clear why people have labelled Budapest the Paris of the East.
Over in Buda, the Castle and Fisherman’s Bastion are beautiful and offer awesome views over the Danube and across into Pest.
On the advice of a friendly Hungarian girl sat next to us on the plane, we took the Danube night cruise. Many of the city’s most impressive buildings line the river and this is a stunning way to see them. I’ll leave you with this picture of the Houses of Parliament, but really it’s the District VII memories that will live longest...
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