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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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Read my overview on Budapest nightlife.