How to have a good night out in Budapest
There’s no need to head back to the hotel for an early night after a day’s sightseeing. Hungarians like their culture and they like their drink - this is after all the country of both Liszt and of Tokaj wine - and these happy interests come together to guarantee a vibrant city nightlife.
Bars are two-a-penny, particularly in Pest. You’ll find the odd beer hall (söröző) or wine bar (borozó) of the old school - essentially nicotine-stained drinking dens in which rough wines and beers are sold for next to nothing - but Hungary was the most Western-looking of those countries behind the Iron Curtain and most central bars are smarter affairs. They are generally open until about midnight, although in summer (and at weekends) they frequently open into the wee hours of the next day.
Outdoor garden bars - often occupying the courtyards of abandoned buildings - have long been a fixture of the drinking scene, and a newer trend is roof-top terrace bars; the nature of such venues means that these sorts of bars are rather transitory, although Szimpla kert is one of a few places that have become well established over the years.
There’s a fair range of nightclubs. Many of these have winter and summer venues, the latter outdoor ‘beach-style’ clubs (often by the river or on Shipyard Island). Some target the serious, ‘look-at-me’ clubbing crowd, while others take themselves less seriously and play cheesy disco favourites. Things generally don’t get going properly until 11pm or so; there’s often an entrance charge (although many offer free admission for women).
Hungary prides itself on its cultural output, and it certainly has a significant tradition in this area - Ferenc Liszt, Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály are all its children. There are several major annual cultural festivals - including the Spring and Autumn festivals - and you’ll be able to take in performances of classical music and dance at any time of the year (whether indoor or out). The Budapest Opera House offers not only spanking good looks but some rock-bottom ticket prices. There’s less to choose from where theatres are concerned - the tourist wanting to see a play in Hungarian is not a common breed - but a few places put on productions in English. And if you want to tap those toes while enjoying a meal, hunt out one of the city’s jazz clubs. Do note that many theatres (and, indeed, the Opera House) close during the hottest months of July and August.