I adore street art. I’ve seen some incredible street art all over the world, in cities like Belfast, Bogota and Sao Paulo, so checking out the street art was high up on my list of things to do in Budapest. From colourful murals to tiny details that are easily missed, street art in Budapest is everywhere, so I was excited to see that my hostel (wombat’s BUDAPEST) offered a free Budapest street art tour.
As the #WombatsTraveller Ambassador for wombat’s CITY HOSTELS, I had a complimentary stay at the wombat’s BUDAPEST so I could explore the city and share my favourite things to do in Budapest. As always, all opinions are my own and I maintain full editorial control of Tales of a Backpacker.
Wombat’s CITY HOSTELS Budapest Street Art Tour
Unlike the other street art tours I found in Budapest, wombat’s pay their guide to conduct the tours, so you don’t have to worry about tipping her. Reka runs the tours every Saturday during the summer, and every other week in the off-season. She met us in the lobby of the hostel and we set off to explore the Jewish Quarter around the hostel.
Street Art in Budapest’s Jewish Quarter
Before I took this Budapest street art tour, I had expected the street art to be murals or paintings – sort of a glorified graffiti. However, street art in Budapest is much more varied than I thought! Although there are some colourful murals, I was surprised to find other artworks which I didn’t expect.
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The tour is about street art, but also about the culture and history of the area, which has changed dramatically in the last hundred years or so. It was fascinating to learn more about the people who lived here and to understand what happened to them, and what prompted the street artists to create their works of art here. Some of the art has a strong message of protest or remembrance, others have more simple meanings like the celebration of a famous footballer or an inventor.
As well as providing some advertising for a nearby restaurant, the eyes above are made of mosaic and are meant to show that art should be visible to everyone. Are you looking at the art? Or perhaps the art is looking at you!
Ernő Rubik created the Rubik’s Cube, a colourful puzzle which took the world by storm in the 1980s. According to the text next to the painting, a Rubik’s Cube has 43,252,003,274,489856,000 different solutions – and the quote from Rubik reminds Hungarians that there is always more than one solution to every problem.
Ferenc Puskás is probably Hungary’s most famous footballer and is adored by Hungarians – so much so he is buried in St Stephen’s Basilica, the most important church in Budapest. Budapest street art has to be agreed on by the local people who live next to the artwork, and when the initial proposal was submitted for a mural on this wall, the residents denied the request. However, when they learnt it was to be dedicated to Puskás, they agreed!
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Other pieces of street art simply provide something nice to look at, like this sky and hot air balloon next to the park.
Even the paving stones in Budapest are artistic! The dividing lines represent the two sides of the city – Buda and Pest. A tiny detail which I wouldn’t have had a clue about if Reka hadn’t pointed it out.
A lot of the Budapest street art, in particular in the Jewish Quarter, pays homage to the Jewish community who lived and died here, commemorating the places and events during the Holocaust and remembering those who lost their lives. One of the first stops on our Budapest street art and cultural walk was to see some of the wall of the old Jewish Ghetto, where hundreds of families were forced to live in squalid conditions, and that’s if they survived the slaughter. Some of the old buildings still haven’t been repaired, and the contrast between the old and the new is quite striking!
One of the most colourful murals pays homage to one of the men who helped provide thousands of Jews with fake passports so they could escape persecution during World War II.
Another mural has a simpler message, a reminder to Love Thy Neighbour:
Ruin Bars in Budapest
The Ruin Bars deserve a whole post on their own, but you can’t talk about street art and culture in the Jewish Quarter without mentioning them. The Ruin Bars are full of artwork, combining unwanted junk with graffiti and imagination to create a work of art in itself. We ended our tour in Szimpla Kert, the first and most famous Ruin Bar. Wandering through the different rooms is quite an experience, as there is something weird and wonderful at every turn.
Other Budapest Street Art to Explore
Once I’d learned about the street art in Budapest’s Jewish Quarter, I was looking out for other examples of street art in the rest of the city. Bronze statues are all over the city and vary in size from life-size to miniature. I had fun spotting some of these along the Danube River and in some places you might not expect, like in the Budapest Castle Complex.
Full-size statues include the policeman whose belly you rub for good luck, the American fictional detective Colombo and his dog, a mermaid and ex-President Ronald Reagan.
Miniature bronze statues I found along the river bank were great fun to spot, as they are easily missed and most people walked right past them. I found a Rubik’s Cube, a small tank, and a cartoon worm, as well as another statue in the castle complex which I’m not entirely sure what it is supposed to be!
Another poignant street art is a memorial to the Jewish people who were murdered at the end of the second world war. When the fascist Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest during World War II realised that the Soviets were coming to liberate the city, they lined up thousands of Jews on the banks of the Danube, made them take off their shoes and shot them. Their bodies fell into the water below, and the bronze shoes were placed here along the river as a memorial to this awful time.
I learned a lot about Budapest street art on the tour and combined with the cultural and historical facts this was one of the best walking tours I’ve taken. I highly recommend taking this tour if you are staying at Wombat’s City Hostel Budapest!
Where is your favourite city for street art? Have you seen some of the Budapest street art? Please share your comments below.
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