Drinking & Nightlife
In recent years Budapest has justifiably gained a reputation as one of Europe’s leading nightlife destinations. Alongside its age-old cafe culture, it offers a magical blend of unique drinking holes, fantastic wine, home-grown firewaters and emerging craft beers, all served up with a warm Hungarian welcome and a wonderful sense of fun.
Pubs & Bars
Drinking establishments in the city run the gamut from quirky pubs and bohemian bars to much more refined wine and cocktail bars.
If you want to sample the local beer (most commonly Dreher, Kőbányai and Arany Ászok) head for a söröző, a ‘pub’ with draught beer (csapolt sör) served in a pohár (0.3L) or korsó (0.4L or 0.5L). Many pubs and bars now also serve a range of craft beers from dozens of microbreweries across the land.
Hungary makes some excellent wines too, many unknown outside its borders. The most distinctive reds come from Villány and Szekszárd in southern Transdanubia and the best dry whites are produced around Lake Balaton and in Somló. The red Bikavér (Bull’s Blood) from Eger and the honey-sweet white Tokaj wines are much better known abroad, however.
A borozó is a traditional establishment (usually a dive) serving wine; a pince (or bor pince) is the same thing but in a cellar. Modern wine bars are the new black. Many serve wine by the deci (decilitre, 0.1L) so you can sample a wide range of vintages. And, just in case, they usually serve light meals (cheese, sliced meats, salads etc) as a blotter. Another very popular way of drinking wine is to water it down with soda to make a drink known as fröccs (spritzer or wine cooler). These come in a variety of sizes, with ratios of wine to water altered to your taste.
Don’t leave Hungary without trying its two most famous spirits. Pálinka, a strong brandy or eau de vie distilled from a variety of fruits (most commonly apricots or plums), kicks like a mule and is served in most bars, some of which carry an enormous range. You’ll also come to recognise Unicum and its unique medicinal-looking bottle. It’s a bitter aperitif that has been around since 1790 and is now available in three different versions. If you acquire a taste for it, learn more about it at the Zwack Museum & Visitors' Centre in Southern Pest.
Garden Clubs & Ruin Bars
During the long and usually very hot Continental European summers, so-called kertek (literally ‘gardens’, but in Budapest any outdoor spot that has been converted into an entertainment zone) empty out even the most popular indoor bars and clubs. These vary enormously, from permanent bars with an attached garden, and clubs with similar outdoor sections, to totally al fresco spaces only frequented in fine weather.
Ruin pubs (romkocsmák) began to appear in the city from the early 2000s, when entrepreneurial free thinkers took over abandoned buildings and turned them into pop-up bars. At first very much a word-of-mouth scene, the ruin bars' popularity grew exponentially, and many have transformed from ramshackle, temporary sites full of flea-market furniture to more slick, year-round fixtures with covered areas to protect patrons from the winter elements.
Many garden clubs and ruin pubs have DJs, live music or jam sessions. Table football, table tennis, pool and other pub games are frequently a fixture, and a number of places offer street food; some also host escape games.
The line between garden clubs, ruin bars, live-music venues and clubs here is a blurry one, with many places morphing from bar to club and hosting DJs and a dance floor without charging an entrance fee. Where there is a cover charge, the amount will vary depending on the event or DJ; it can be as low as 500Ft or go to around 3500Ft. Clubs in the city run from small underground caverns playing quality house and techno, to more mainstream complexes offering a variety of rooms and styles, to vast outdoor spaces that mimic summer music festivals. There are even club nights in a few of the city's famous thermal baths.
Some indoor clubs are forced to shut up shop during the summer months, when everyone prefers to party outside. All venues usually stay open till dawn at the weekend.
Cafes & Teahouses
Cafes have long been an integral part of Budapest's social life. A kávéház is literally a ‘coffee house’ (ie cafe). An eszpresszó, along with being a type of coffee, is essentially a coffee house too (also called presszó), but it usually also sells alcoholic drinks and light snacks. A cukrászda serves cakes, pastries and ice cream as well as hot and cold drinks.
Old-style cafes, some of which date back as much as a century and a half, abound in Budapest and some of them are classic examples of their type, with ornate fin-de-siècle decor. Generally, these cafes are frequented by older folk and tourists. Younger Budapesters prefer the new breed of coffee house, of which there are a growing number, roasting their own blends and importing specific beans to ensure the quality of their cappuccinos and flat whites.
You'll also find teahouses across the city. In general, black or ‘English’ tea is not so popular here (and never served with milk), though you’ll always be able to choose from a wide range of herbal teas and fruit tisanes.
Drinking & Nightlife
- Csendes Társ Lovely little outdoor terrace on the edge of one of the city's prettiest parks.
- Szatyor Bár és Galéria Funky bar with street art and Hadik Kávéház as an annex.
- Ruszwurm Cukrászda Dating back to the early 19th century, this is the oldest traditional cafe in town.
- High Note Roof Bar This impressive rooftop bar above the Aria Hotel has the 'Wow' factor in spades.
Garden Clubs & Ruin Bars
- Instant Multilevel venue with a bar for every taste.
- Kertem Wonderful beer garden in City Park with live music on weekends.
- Élesztő High-quality craft beer, and lots of it.
- Pótkulcs Almost a garden club, with a variety of live acts.
- Szimpla Kert Budapest's first romkocsma (ruin pub), and some say still the best for all its quirkiness.
Wine & Cocktail Bars
- Művész Kávéház People-watch with the Hungarian State Opera House as backdrop.
- Gerbeaud Dating back to 1858 and still serving impeccable cakes and coffee.
- Hauer Cukrászda és Kávéház Historic (and enormous) confectionery once again serves scrumptious classic amidst all its finery.
- Auguszt Cukrászda Opulent central branch of the 1870 institution.
Gay & Lesbian Venues
Need to Know
- The website www.wheretraveler.com/budapest is useful for nightlife listings.
- Consult the listings in the freebie Funzine (www.funzine.hu) and PestiEst (www.est.hu)
- Many (but not all) clubs levy a cover charge.
- Most pubs and bars have a happy hour, usually between 5pm and 7pm.