Nightlife in Budapest: a night on the tiles

by adrian.phillips

Budapesters are a sociable lot. When the sun goes down the fun-lovers head out, gathering at prime drinking spots like Liszt Ferenc tér. For those with energy to spare, there are nightclubs to follow

There are bars all over Budapest, with particular concentrations at the ever-popular Liszt Ferenc tér and Ráday utca. You can find details of theme nights and other events at nightclubs in free listings magazines available in hotels or Tourinform offices - Funzine is a good one to look out for.

Bars

Liszt Ferenc tér
This pedestrianised square cutting across Andrássy út has long been the city’s fashionable drinking spot and is the obvious first port of call for those new to the city’s night scene. Over a dozen café bars sit cheek to cheek along both sides of the square, and in summer the tables outside each are packed with hundreds of Budapesters and tourists enjoying a drink and a snack.

Because of their proximity and popularity - particularly at the weekends in summer - your choice of bar is likely to be dictated by available space. Tables tend to be slightly quieter towards the square’s eastern end. Most are slick, stylish and modern - you might try Barokko (Liszt Ferenc tér 5; +36 1 322 0700; www.barokko.hu), Buena Vista (Liszt Ferenc tér 4–5; +36 1 344 6303; www.buena-vista.hu) or Karma Café (Liszt Ferenc tér 11; +36 1 413 6764; www.karmabudapest.com).

For a slightly different vibe, you can cross Andrássy út to Jókai tér. Here you’ll find Cactus Juice (Jókai tér 5; +36 1 302 2116; www.cactusjuice.hu), an uncultured offering that’s popular with young bucks on the pull, and the less brash Kiadó (Jókai tér 3; +36 1 331 1955), a soothing bar with well-priced drinks and a decent basement area.

Ráday utca
The city’s other prime cluster of bars is at Ráday utca, which runs southwards from the back of Kálvin tér towards the Great Boulevard. Slightly closer to the very centre than Liszt Ferenc tér, it is particularly popular with students from the nearby universities. As with Liszt Ferenc tér, the bars are largely contemporary in feel, and the richness of the pickings means that you’re best just taking a stroll and stopping where you fancy.

Irish bars

There are several Irish-themed bars in Budapest, often catering to the large ex-pat community that lives in the city. Probably the best known is Becketts (Bajcsy-Zsilinsky út 72; +36 1 311 1035; www.becketts.hu), which has a good selection of beers on tap and screens rugby and football matches. Irish Cat (Múzeum körút 41; +36 1 266 4085) plays blaring music and has a reputation as something of a meat market. Janis’ Pub (Királyi Pál utca 8; +36 1 266 2619; www.janispub.hu) attracts an older crowd after a more peaceful pint, and also serves a decent range of whiskies.

Other bars

Café Miró (Úri utca 30; +36 1 201 5573; www.cafemiro.hu): Bars are few and far between within the lofty walls of the Castle District, but Café Miró offers a haven for those after a beer or a cocktail in the shadow of the Matthias Church.

Dokk Café (Mammut II, 2nd Floor, Lövőház utca 2–6; +36 1 345 8531; www.dokkcafe.hu): This is a longstanding favourite among the city’s fashionistas. There are cocktails galore and some good-quality food on the menu. It’s one of several bars and restaurants in the Mammut Shopping Mall, near Moszkva tér.

Negro (Szent István tér 11; +36 1 373 0391): Arguably the city’s most upmarket bar, Negro - named after a Hungarian cough lozenge - serves champagne and cocktails and attracts the achingly trendy. It stands just in front of St Stephen's Basilica.

Instant (Nagymező utca 38): If you’re after something different, Instant is definitely for you. Choose to drink in the covered courtyard or one of the quirkily-designed rooms of the block of residential flats that surround it.

Kópé (Nyugati tér 1–2): Sitting high atop a former department store overlooking Nyugati station, this roof-terrace bar has a beach theme and a live DJ.

Castro Bisztró (Madách tér 3; +36 1 215 0184): I love this place. It’s rough around the edges and is thick with cigarette smoke, but it is frequented by a really diverse crowd, has a good atmosphere and serves very reasonably priced drinks.

Szimpla Kert (Kazinczy utca 14; +36 1 321 5880; www.szimpla.hu): A derelict courtyard strung with pretty lights is at the heart of this well-established garden bar on a quiet residential road.

Nightclubs

Shipyard Island (Hajógyári-sziget)
Shipyard Island - just to the north of Margaret Island - is the place to party. It plays host to seven clubs, and absolutely buzzes during the summer months. Bed Beach (Hajógyári-sziget; +36 30 436 4400; www.bedbeach.hu; Fri-Sat 9pm-5am, May-Sep/Oct only) is a summer club with an artificial beach. In winter, things move inside to the warehouse-like Bed (Reményi Ede utca 3; Sat 9pm-5am, end of Dec-April only). Dokk Beach (Hajógyári-sziget 122; +36 30 436 3666; www.dokkbeach.hu; Fri-Sat 10pm-5am, summer only) is a spectacular outdoor club that features a decked structure that juts out onto the water.

Sláger Terasz (Hajógyári-sziget; +36 30 408 8030; www.slagerparty.hu; Sat-Sun 8pm-4am, summer only) is a club that takes itself considerably less seriously. ‘Sláger’ is the name given to classic pop tunes, and clubbers let themselves go to cheese-tastic Hungarian favourites that you’ll never have heard before. It all makes for a fabulous feel-good atmosphere.

Other clubs

Some of the other party spots to consider are: Café del Rio (Goldmann György tér; +36 30 297 2158; www.rio.hu), a summer club next to Petőfi Bridge that’s adorned with faux palm trees; Zöld Pardon (Goldmann György tér 6; www.zp.hu; mid Apr-mid Sep), standing adjacent to Café del Rio, and offering a more rocky, ear-splitting atmosphere; Jam Pub (Mammut II, Lövőház utca 1–3; +36 1 345 8301; www.jampub.hu), a bar/club on the first floor of the Mammut shopping mall that has retro-themed nights; Romkert (Döbrentei tér 9; May-Sep only), a riverside garden club near the Rudas Baths; and Holdudvar (Margit-sziget ; +36 1 236 0655; www.holdudvar.net; May-Sep), a huge club that includes an outdoor cinema.

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...