Budapest Street Art Guide: District VII
Good street art is like good poetry in that it challenges your perspective. There is plenty of mediocre street art nowadays; urban beautification doubling as commercialist sludge. But the cream of the crop remains brilliant. Nowhere does this ring truer than in Budapest. The Danube flows with graffiti paint and perhaps this explains why it is not so Blue as it was in the days of Strauss. Most of my favourite pieces in the whole city are in lower Erzsébetváros aka Elizabeth Town aka District VII aka my neck of the woods.
Once you get below the Erzsébet Korut (home of the 4/6 tram) District VII turns into a party town. You have 7 main streets running parallel to the Danube with 4 avenues (Király, Dob, Wesselényi and Dohány) splitting these streets into quadrants. On this tour through the city, you will walk the streets from right to left (if you are looking at a bird’s eye view of google maps and positioning your back to the Danube). Imagine your trip down each street beginning on the Dohány side and ending at Király. Like I said, right to left.
Kertész is the ugly stepchild of Erzsébetváros as there is a relative dearth of things to do here. However late night revellers who are in the mood for a grungy, alternative vibe can check out Klub Vittula , which is open until the very wee hours of the morning. Thankfully there are two wonderful pieces of street art on Kertész. Your first mural is on the corner of Wesselényi utca, called the Time Man of the Year.
You actually have to turn left on to Wesselényi in order to see this piece and make sure you do, as it’s spectacular. In 1956 there was no singular “Man of the Year”. Instead, the award was bequeathed to all of the brave Hungarian rebels who fought for their freedom against the cruel communist regime of the Soviet Union. Ever since then, the Hungarian freedom fighter has been used as a symbol of liberty in the face of communist oppression. This mural is a straight replica of the original time cover and that is all the better, for the original is a breathtaking work of art. You can learn more about the communist era in Budapest by following my Communist Times footprint on the Like Locals App.
As you continue to walk along Kertész utca you eventually come to an enormous parking lot. The lot is located midway between Wesselényi and Dob and houses one of my absolute favourite murals in the whole city, Motivation is a Wonderland.
This is a piece from Spanish graffiti genius Dan Ferrer. It depicts an Alice-in-Wonderland-esque child who has grown too big for the house she kneels within. If you’ve read or seen Alice, you’ll recognize this as an interpretation of events from the story. Alice is on the verge of growing up and is facing uncomfortable changes as a result. This is a challenging piece and is one that would be housed in a surrealist museum if it weren’t gracing the enormous walls of a Budapest parking lot.
Akácfa utca is one of the best-known streets in the party district. Here you can find the ruin bar and mega club combination of Instant/Fogas/Larm, as well as the delectable Mazel Tov restaurant. Which has some of the best hummus plates in town and an unbeatable hybrid indoor/outdoor dining room for a group dinner or date night. Right on the corner of Akácfa and Dohány, we have our first piece of street art, the Canga Bike.
This piece is a pretty straight forward depiction of some sort of bike race. I actually don’t know too much of the story here, but what I do know is that the colour scheme of aquamarine and creamsicle orange just does something for me. This piece, just like many of the murals in the city, was painted by the Neopaint – a local collective which has been beautifying Budapest with their work since 2010. Look out for their name on the murals, which is usually located in the lower corner of each piece. As you continue to walk along Akácfa you will arrive at the Szabómesterek mural in between Wesselényi and Dob.
You will notice several establishments in the shadow of this piece are also adorned with derivatives of the word Szabó. It is the Hungarian translation of the word ‘tailor’, which was historically one of the leading professions for Jews in the city, particularly in this area. There are several tailors still active on this street if you are in a pinch and need something fixed up quick! On a personal note, my middle name is “Taylor” and my girlfriend’s last name is Szabó. Which is another reason why I’ve always stopped to admire this historically fascinating piece of art. Just across the street, you’ll find a small little craft beer bar/shop called Hopaholic. It’s an unassuming place but has some of the best craft brews in town and is well worth a visit.
Your next street is Klauzál utca. Here you’ll be treated to a plethora of coffee shops, bars and eateries all centred around the delightful little park known as Klauzál tér. Be sure to stop by Dorado Cafe for the best croissants in the city (I’d crawl through barbed wire wearing nothing but my underwear for one of their pistachio croissants and a cortado right now). There is also Stika for eggs benedict galore and a brilliant outdoor eating area, which happens to be right in the shadow of our only street art of note on this street, The Greengrocer.
Pretty meh as far as murals go. I wouldn’t even really classify it as “street art” – though it is an idyllic and aesthetically pleasing piece. There is an optical illusion created here with the adjoining flower shop which seems to simply flow out of the piece. Ok you know what I changed my mind, I actually do like this mural. Its a distant relative of guerrilla graffiti-style street art, but it is a beautiful addition to the city nonetheless.
Kis Diófa / Nagy Diófa utca
Pound for pound the best street in all of Budapest, the small (Kis) and Big (Nagy) Diófa streets. I don’t actually even know who Diófa was but he’s got a hell of a collection of places to go on the narrow corridor named after him. Dzzs bar and Kisüzem are two of my favourite watering holes in town (see my Pubs and Poetry footprint for more) and Massolit Books is an excellent coffee shop with the best selection of English language books anywhere in the city.
There is a series of three consecutive murals to look out for on this street and you better get them before they are gone. This due to a huge construction project currently being erected, and I can only assume a garish block of flats will obstruct these incredible works soon enough.
Kazinczy is the granddaddy of all the street art streets. It’s the showcase street of the party district, the heart of the Jewish quarter and is a wonderful little street to prioritize your time if it happens to be limited. As we begin walking down this street we are instantly confronted by a cornucopia of pubs, clubs, shops and stops in the heavily pedestrianized section of road between Wesselényi and Dob. Your landmark here is going to be an absolutely incredible door mural.
On either side of the door, we have a litany of places to dine and drink. The pick of the litter is the Bors GasztroBár, and I will be incredibly disappointed if you leave Budapest without trying one of their signature baguette and soup combinations. My favourite baguette is the French lady and a soup that changes daily. Bors is a Budapest institution and there is usually a line out the door but it moves quickly, I promise! In the immediate vicinity, you can also find the most famous ruin bar in town, Szimpla Kert. As well as an absolute hullabaloo of eating options in the Karavan street food park. Further down Kazinczy, between Dob and Király, you will find this mural at Kőleves Kert.
It’s a nice mural but the main reason to come here is for the excellent beer garden. Kőleves (also known as ‘Stone Soup Restaurant’ if you have trouble googling) is one of my favourite places for a group dinner in the whole city. In the summer they open up their garden where you can see this mural and absorb one of the best atmospheres in all of Budapest. Just before you get to the beergarden you will also find the incredibly thought-provoking ‘Dining Bull’ piece that is pictured on the cover photo of this article.
Your tour of Kazinczy street comes to its inevitable conclusion at the corner of Király at the ABC Team Játszótér (playground). It is a splendid little playground that is home to the largest mural on this list, the Balloons on Kazinczy Street.
There is something I find quite childlike and magical in the essence of the piece. It seems to simply blend into the small, rectangular park and become a literal part of the lived environment. It’s particularly blissful on a sunny day in the late afternoon when the golden shadows transform the pastel blue skyscape into something downright heavenly. I know not when this mural was painted or by whom, but I thank them very much for their tasteful contribution.
Rumbach Sebestyén Utca
So there are actually two little half streets (Sip utca and Holló utca) that are between Kazinczy and Rumbach Sebestyén, but they don’t really have any street art so I’ve skipped over them. Next to Rumbach Sebestyén, we’ve got the Madach square and Gozsdu Udvar which have more pubs per square foot than perhaps anywhere in the entire world. My favourite establishments here are Központ and Telep,which can both be visited via my Pubs and Poetry footprint. Between this pedestrian square and Király, we come to a breathtaking mural (actually this is the biggest on the list!) in an enormous parking lot, the Match of The Century.
Today Hungarian soccer is somewhat of a laughing stock. That may be slightly harsh of me, but their recent history leaves a lot to be desired. Yet this was not always the case! In fact, for much of the 1950s, Hungary was the most feared team anywhere. The “Magical Magyars” led by their captain Ferenc Puskás, a Budapest native, went to Wembley Stadium in London and beat the English 6:3. This match is known as the match of the century and is to this day one of the most beloved Hungarian sporting accomplishments. The mural before you is a commemoration of the 9 goal thriller.
Further down the street just before we get to Kiraly you will find a commemoration of the famous Rubik’s cube.
Ernő Rubik, who is still living today, was a Hungarian inventor and professor of Architecture who is best known for his 1974 invention of the Magic Cube; later rebranded as the Rubik’s cube. The colourful little box puzzle has become famous around the world and is as good of a testimony as any to the intricate genius of the Hungarian people.
Finally we wash out onto the Korut and come to your final stop on this little tour through town. Watch the trams go by as you walk alongside the old firehouse where this mural is painted. If you want to head on to Deák tér, follow the tram line to its extremity and grab a seat on this grassy enclave below the Budapest Eye. It is a favourite spot for young people to have some drinks on a sunny day and has plenty of interesting businesses and buildings on its perimeter. Our helpful guides Dohány, Wesselényi, Dob and Király have ceased to exist at this point, but our final piece would otherwise have been positioned between Dob and Király, The Vasarely illusion.
Victor Vasarely, known as Gyöző Vásárhelyi to Hungarians, was a Hungarian-French artist who pioneered something known as optical illusion art – or ‘the Op Art movement’. His stunning visual concepts were groundbreaking at the time and continue to exert an influence on Hungarian style to this day – particularly on the street art in the city which is colored by his surreal aesthetic. Unfortunately the mural has been replaced by something less lovely. It is a series of portraits that I haven’t closely examined yet. I leave this picture up as a reminder of Mr. Vasarely’s influence on the street art of Budapest. There is a great museum dedicated to his work in Óbuda by the Szentlélek ter train station if you remain intrigued.
You can find more information about Budapest street art – as well as some additional pieces – by following my “Magical Murals” footprint on the LikeLocals app. There is plenty more street art outside of the confines of district VII and I promise to share it with you some time soon. That’s all for now folks, have a fantastic day.
You can find more of Willie’s poetry, photography videos and writing on his Instagram page @willie.tv