Nightlife in Budapest: a dash of culture

by adrian.phillips

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.

Theatre

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.

Music

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.

Dance

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 – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Budapest page.

Read my overview on Budapest nightlife.

 

adrian.phillips

I am Publishing Director at Bradt Travel Guides (www.bradtguides.com) -- the last independent mainstream guidebook publisher in the UK -- and a professional travel writer, broadcaster and occasional photographer. My articles feature in a range of national newspapers and magazines (including The Independent on Sunday, The Express and Wanderlust); I recently won the award for Best Short Feature Article of the Year. I speak regularly about travel-related topics on radio/television programmes and at leading shows and exhibitions (such as the Destinations Travel Show). In addition, I teach at travel-writing seminars and I am one of the judges of the annual Bradt-Independent on Sunday Travel-Writing Competition (which launches every April).

Hungary is one of my favourite destinations. Several years ago, I spent six months exploring the country's highways and byways in preparation for writing the most comprehensive guidebooks on the market -- Budapest: The Bradt City Guide and Hungary: The Bradt Travel Guide. The latter was voted Best Guidebook of the Year by the British Guild of Travel Writers, and both are now into their second editions. I return as often as possible, and have also written guides for the AA, Michelin and Insight. If further proof was needed of my love for Hungary, I am now engaged to a Hungarian and getting married in Hungary next year! 

My Budapest

Where I always grab a coffee - Where to start?! Budapesters love the ‘black soup’, and there are coffee houses dotted all around the city, several of them with genuine yesteryear elegance. Gerbeaud in Vörösmarty tér is the big daddy for the tourists, but I prefer to take an outdoor table at the Gerloczy, set in a quiet square beneath a shady tree.

My favourite stroll - There are some classic strolls in Budapest - including the river promenade and the broad Andrássy Boulevard, both of them UNESCO World Heritage sites. However, my rather unusual choice would be the gravelled pathways of the Kerepes Cemetery. It’s deathly peaceful!

Fiction for inspiration - The Paul Street Boys - first published in 1906 - is a coming-of-age tale of two rival gangs of children fighting for control of one of the city’s recreational areas. It’s probably the most famous novel set in Budapest.

Where to be seen - It’s got to be Liszt Ferenc tér – a square that straddles Andrássy Boulevard, and attracts the hip and trendy to the tables outside its many bars.

The most breathtaking view - It’s all about getting high! The outer walls of the Castle District offer great views over the river, while for the best of Pest you should climb up to the gallery running around the outside of St Stephen's Basilica.

The best spot for some peace and quiet - Head for the hills! If you want a few minutes of real solitude, take a seat on the chairlift (libegő) that runs up and down János Hill.

Shopaholics beware - Váci utca is the main place for the browsers of expensive boutiques. If you want some real character, though, hit the Great Market Hall. It’s an architectural wonder of metal girders and bright majolica roof tiles, and you can buy everything from intricate lacework to bags of powdered paprika at its busy stalls.

City soundtrack - Anything by Ferenc Liszt, Hungary’s most-famous musical son. If pushed to pick, it would have to be his Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2!

Don’t leave without... Eating some Hortobágy pancakes - meat-filled pancakes with a paprika sauce - and taking a dip at the Széchenyi Baths. Not necessarily in that order - and certainly not at the same time...