The story of the Great Synagogue in Budapest

Visiting the Great Synagogue in Budapest was one of the highlights of my last trip to the Hungarian capital.

In this guide, I explain why and share all the tips you need to know before you visit the Synagogue.

When you walk around the Jewish Quarter in Budapest, among the ruin pubs and trendy cafes, it’s hard to miss the stunning building of the Great Synagogue.

It is a very popular tourist attraction in the city for many good reasons.

I think anyone interested in history, culture, or architecture will find this place fascinating.

Also known as Dohány Street Synagogue or the Grand Synagogue, it is the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the world. But while its size is significant, it’s just one element in a much more intriguing story.

How to visit the Great Synagogue in Budapest

You’ll need a ticket to visit the Great Synagogue.

This ticket gives you access to all the buildings, monuments and exhibitions within the Great Synagogue complex, including entray to the impressive Hungarian Jewish Museum.

Most importantly, a guided tour is also included in the ticket price.

Tours run every 30 minutes in English. There are tours in many other languages too, including French, Italian, and Hebrew.

There’s a lot to see in the Synagogue complex, and the tour will put everything in historical context for you.

Tickets to the Great Synagogue in Budapest

It’s best to book your ticket online in advance, rather than just show up, because:

  • The lines at the ticket office can sometimes be quite long in high season. I got my ticket online with skip-the-line access and didn’t have to wait at all.
  • The opening times vary, depending on the season and on the dates of Jewish holidays. When you book online you’ll see the schedule, making it easier to plan your visit.

What’s unique about the architecture of the Great Synagogue in Budapest?

Dohány Street Synagogue Budapest
Dohány Street Synagogue view from the street

Before you step inside the Great Synagogue, take your time walking around the building and appreciating the exterior.

Back in 1859, the Great Synagogue was considered an architectural masterpiece. To this day, it is one of the most beautiful and impressive buildings in Budapest.

However, it’s not just another beautiful building. It has symbolic significance on many different levels.

The Synagogue was designed by a Christian architect from Vienna called Ludwig Förster.

The style of the building is the Moorish-revival style with North African and Medieval Spanish elements and influences.

It also borrows elements from the Byzantine, Romantic and Gothic styles.

One of its most notable features is the onion domes, which you’d often see in Eastern European churches.

You can notice the stars and other geometric shapes, warm tones and Arabesque decorations both outside and inside the building.

All of these elements make the architecture stand out, both as a building on the streets of Budapest and as a Jewish institution.

This is a Jewish temple, designed by a Christian architect in a style inspired by Islamic architecture.

If that sounds a bit odd, remember that architecture isn’t merely decorative or functional; it often tells us a lot about the the spirit of the time and the worldviews that people wanted to express .

Looking at the background of the Jewish community in those days can provide a plausible explanation.

The section of the Jewish community in Budapest that established this synagogue wanted to integrate into Hungarian culture.

They were patriotic, involved in public life and showed that they could adapt to changes in society, while keeping their religious traditions.

They were the Neolog faction of Judaism, who turned away from the more secluded Orthodox community.

The architecture of the Great Synagogue isn’t just there to impress; it reflects a strong wish to assimilate, and in that sense it was groundbreaking.

What you’ll see inside the Great Synagogue

Inside the Budapest Great Synagogue
Step inside the Great Synagogue

When you walk inside the main hall of the Great Synagogue, the design is spectacular.

I spent a lot of time wandering around and taking pictures of the decorations, before joining the guided tour.

You’ll soon notice that the wish to integrate into Hungarian society played a part in the interior design as well.

The design borrows quite a lot from non-Jewish traditions, and you may even have the strange feeling that you’re inside a Christian basilica.

The Budapest Great Synagogue interior - organ
The organ – an unusual thing to find in a synagogue

The most noteworthy non-traditional element is the organ.

You’d expect to see an organ in a church, but it’s not part of the Jewish tradition to have an organ in a place of worship.

The celebrated Hungarian composer and pianist Franz Liszt, who enjoyed a pop-star status in those days, played a concert in the Synagogue during its opening ceremony.

Interior design decorations in the Great Synagogue in Budapest
Beautiful decorations inside the Synagogue

There are many other interesting details to notice in the interior, but that’s enough spoilers for now; I’ll leave the rest of it for your tour guide to point out.

Other parts of the Budapest Great Synagogue complex

There’s more to see beyond the main hall of prayer.

The Great Synagogue in Budapest is a complex that also includes some other points of interest that visitors can see, such as the Heroes’ Temple, the Cemetery, the Holocaust Memorial, and the Jewish Museum.

Your tour guide will take you to see all of these when you go outside the main hall.

Most of what you’ll see at this point has to do with commemoration and grieving over Jewish victims.

The Tree of Life  Holocaust Memorial in Budapest's Great Synagogue
The Tree of Life Holocaust Memorial outside the Great Synagogue main hall

In the Raoul Wallenberg Holocaust Memorial Park behind the main hall, you’ll see the Tree of Life monument, shaped like a willow tree, which has the names of Hungarian Jews who died in WWII engraved on its leaves.

The Righteous Among the Nations Memorial is dedicated to the Hungarians who helped Jews hide and escape.

Heroes Temple Budapest
The Heroes’ Temple

You’ll pass by the small Jewish Cemetery in the yard and enter the Heroes’ Temple.

This is a smaller synagogue used in winter. It is a memorial to Hungarian Jews who died in World War I. Interestingly, it was designed in an Art Deco style in the 1930s.

All of these can be quite difficult emotionally for some of us, so if you need a break, head upstairs to the Hungarian Jewish Museum. Admission is included in your ticket.

The museum is impressive and well worth a visit. It gives you a chance to learn a bit about Jewish heritage, customs and holidays.

It has a beautiful display of Jewish traditional artefacts, such as clothing, menorahs, scrolls, jewellery, books and many other items.

Tips for visiting the Great Synagogue in Budapest

  • Once you enter the Synagogue, you can stay inside as long as you like.
  • The guided tour takes about 45 minutes. You can stay much longer in the complex.
  • You can take the guided tour around the Synagogue more than once if you like. I took it twice when I was there, because I noticed that each of the guides had a different style of presenting the historical facts and telling the story of the place.
  • There’s a quick security check when you enter, so don’t bring any oversized luggage or anything that might look suspicious.
  • Places of worship often have a dress code. In this particular Synagogue, the dress code isn’t terribly strict: Just make sure your shoulders and knees are covered. Avoid shorts, sleeveless tops, or short skirts. Men need to cover their heads, so bring a hat (I think they have headcovers available at the entrance as well).
  • Save yourself time by booking tickets in advance with skip-the-line access. Check availability here:

Learn more about the Jewish history of Budapest

If you want to learn more about the Jewish history of Budapest while you visit the city, beyond visiting the Synagogue, here are some good options:

1. A group tour: Take the Budapest Jewish Heritage Walking Tour.

The tour includes the other synagogue nearby (Kazinczy Street Synagogue), an overview of the Jewish Quarter, the Raul Wallenberg Holocaust Memorial Park, the Jewish Museum and more.

2. Entry ticket + free tour: You can book an admission ticket for the Great Synagogue and combine it with a free walking tour of the Jewish Quarter.

I took the free walking tour on my last trip to Budapest and can recommend it. It is tip-based, meaning you pay the guide what you like at the end of the tour. You still want to book in advance and reserve your spots on the tour, because it’s quite popular.

3. Self-guided tour: You can take a self-guided walking tour of the Jewish quarter. It’s a good option if you want to see the Jewish quarter at your own pace, with an audio tour created by an expert guide.

How to get to the Great Synagogue in Budapest

Dohány Street Synagogue is located at Dohány utca 2 (utca is Hungarian for street).

It’s in the Jewish District, or the 7th district of Budapest, on the Pest side of the city.

The Synagogue is in a very central location and conveniently close to the tourist information office.

The nearest metro and tram stations to the Great Synagogue are: Blaha Lujza tér, Astoria, and Deák Ferenc tér.

You can also reach it on foot. It’s about a 15-minute walk from Szent István Bazilika or from the Hungarian Opera House.

From Buda Castle or the Hungarian Parliament, it should take you about 30 minutes on foot. It can be a nice walk, depending on the weather.

Staying near the Synagogue

If you want to stay near the Synagogue when you visit Budapest, there are many vacation rentals in the Jewish Quarter. It’s a very touristy area, so do make sure you book a quiet room.

Here are some options of highly rated places to stay within a couple of minutes from the Synagogue:

A very brief history of the Great Synagogue in Budapest

The Synagogue was built between 1854 and 1859.

During WWII the building was damaged, but survived, unlike many other buildings in the city that were destroyed.

Some say it was used as a warehouse by the Nazi occupation forces during those days, which was common practice; other sources say it was used for the German Radio and as a stable.

After the war and during Hungary’s Communist era, the Synagogue served what was left of the Jewish community in the city.

The building was renovated in the 1990s (after Communism) and today it is used for weddings and other celebrations.

Due to the size of the building, it can’t be heated effectively in winter, so the community uses it for prayers only during the summer, and in winter they use a smaller temple next door.

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