Nightlife in Budapest: a dash of culture
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The city of Ferenc Liszt, Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály remains a thriving cultural centre. There are thrilling performances of music and dance, ranging from the classical to the cutting edge
You can find information about arts productions at the relevant venues, at Tourinform outlets or in listings magazines. Tickets can be purchased at the box offices; alternatively, try ticketing agencies such as Ticket Express (www.tex.hu) and Interticket (www.interticket.hu). Do note that many theatres and music venues - including the Budapest Opera House - are closed during the hottest months of July and August.
While drama is popular in Hungary, the language barrier makes it less of an open book to tourists than other areas of the arts. However, the Merlin Theatre (Gerlóczy utca 4; +36 1 317 9338; www.merlinszinhaz.hu) is an English-language theatre that is very highly rated. In addition, the National Theatre (www.nemzetiszinhaz.hu) - a modern building near Lágymányosi híd that is designed to look like the bow of a ship - stages the occasional drama or comedy in English. However, tickets sell like hot cakes, so do check their websites and try to order tickets in advance.
Whether or not you’re an opera nut, you should make time to take in a performance at the beautiful Hungarian State Opera House (Andrássy út 22; +36 1 331 2550; www.opera.hu). The Neo-Classical building was designed by master-architect Miklós Ybl and completed in 1884; its interior - adorned with rich frescoes and a mammoth chandelier - makes a wonderful setting. Furthermore, tickets are as cheap as you’ll find anywhere - from as low as 1,000 forints (but nearer 6,000 forints for a good seat).
Budapest is also a leading centre for operetta; the Budapest Operetta Theatre (Nagymező utca 17 B; +36 1 472 2030; www.operettszinhaz.hu) is a luxurious Art Nouveau setting in which to watch one (the modern musicals generally have English subtitles, while the traditional Magyar productions are subtitled in German).
Classical concerts are staged at venues all around the city. The Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra plays at the Opera House and the Palace of Arts (Bajor Gizi Park, Komor Marcell utca 1; +36 1 555 3001; www.mupa.hu) - a cube-like building that divides opinions as to its architectural merit but is the city’s main centre for arts - while the Dominican Courtyard at the Hilton Budapest is the site for outdoor concerts during the Buda Castle Summer Nights running through much of July. The Liszt Music Academy (Liszt Ferenc tér 8; +36 1 462 4600; www.zeneakademia.hu) is renowned for its wonderful acoustics, and has two auditoria - including the Nagyterem, which can seat over 1,000 people.
Many of the capital’s churches (including St Stephen's Basilica, the Matthias Church and St Anna Church), the Vajdahunyad Castle in City Park and the Parliament building host organ recitals and classical concerts. You can get information from Tourinform offices; alternatively, try the website www.viparts.hu (where you can also reserve tickets online).
If you fancy something with a more contemporary flavour, you might consider hitting a jazz club. My top choice is the Jazz Garden (Veres Pálné utca 44/A; +36 1 266 7364; www.jazzgarden.hu), an atmospheric club decked out to look like an outdoor café under the stars, and a place that attracts excellent musicians from home and abroad. Alternatively, the New Orleans Jazz Club (Lovag utca 5; +36 1 451 7525; www.neworleans.hu) hosts leading jazz groups.
The A38 Club (Állóhajó, near Petőfi híd; +36 1 464 3940; www.a38.hu) is a converted boat that’s moored alongside Petőfi Bridge and serves as a venue for live music (ranging from jazz and rock to hip hop). The Gödör Klub (Erzsébet tér; +36 06 20 201 3868; vwww.godorklub.hu) also hosts musical acts, while for blockbusting big-name performers you should check what’s coming up at the Papp László Sportaréna (Stefánia út 2; +36 1 422 2600; www.budapestarena.hu) or the Petőfi Csarnok (Zichy Mihály út 14; +36 1 363 3730; www.petoficsarnok.hu) in City Park.
The National Dance Theatre (Színház utca 1–3; +36 1 375 8649; www.dancetheatre.hu) - sitting near the Buda Castle Palace - is based in a former 18th-century Carmelite monastery. Its walls were witness to a performance by Beethoven in 1800; today it stages productions of folk dance, ballet and contemporary dance. If you haven’t had your fill of modern dance, check out the programme at the Trafó House of Contemporary Arts (Liliom utca 41; +36 1 456 2040; www.trafo.hu), a former industrial building that now functions as a cultural centre and nightclub.
More expert advice on Budapest
For suggestions on where to stay in Budapest, see my Budapest hotels page.
Read my overview on Budapest nightlife.