Well, this is one of the main selling points of the city… What can you say on this when the price of a beer is 1/5 than a beer in London and as good as you can get from a brewery in Camden? Budapest is seeing a significant flow of Western European tourists and in the past 5-10 years became the party capital of Europe. Bars, nightclubs and restaurants are open till morning every day, and the varieties of parties are beyond imaginable on the weekends. Booze and drugs are cheap as hell, and the party scene is at the root of the culture of the city. Budapest is also the thermal bath capital of the world so your hangover can be cured in hundred-year-old spas around the town.
Budapest has party places all over the city, but the main sites are inside the Grand Boulevard. The favorite spots are in the 6th and the 7th districts while the 9th district offers a more relaxed scene and the 8th district now focuses on the alternative and underground parties.
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Options to get crazy: ruin pubs
If you read something about the Budapest party-scene, the ruin pubs will be the first that you’ll encounter. The ruin pub culture started around a decade or so ago and now ruin pubs are all over the city. It was hipster stuff before hipster even coined up. Ruin pubs initially were super-cheap and unused council estates that were rented out by entrepreneurs and turned into a pub, but now it’s a fashionable way to design and create a place. As far as I know,, only Berlin has something similar to this concept where old council flats are turned into pubs without any or little renovation. The interior is psychedelic and eclectic. In these pubs, you can hang out and drink during the day, and the place is converted to a full club in the night. Most of them are open till morning.
Popular ruin pubs:
Szimpla: the ruin pub that started it all. It was the first of its kind, and now it’s a popular destination. Szimpla is located in Kazinczy Street (Kazinczy utca) in the 7th district that is considered as the party neighborhood. Szimpla now features a less ruin interior and focuses on eclectic, vintage and contemporary designs. Szimpla is very popular among tourists and is flooded with an international crowd.
Ankert: the pub is a spacious garden downtown in a massive building that was formerly a factory. The interior is a minimalistic, maze-like connection of courtyards. The pub has multiple dance floors and lounge areas and is equipped with a full grill bar for those who get hungry during the party.
Ellátó: also placed in the party district on Kazinczy Street, Ellátó is a more relaxed space where people come by between parties. The old property is spacious with a big open courtyard. The open space is super popular during the summer, but in winter a temporary roof keeps the guests inside warm. The place features fantastic Mexican food.
Fogas Ház: Fogas ház is a spacious place that mainly focuses on contemporary artists, and it’s a popular destination for locals. The interior reflects an old design. Much more affordable than other pubs and has very tense parties with local artists.
Instant: one of the most popular spots with its very spacious spaces and extremely psychedelic design. Instant is located not far from the central party district, and it is basically a whole ex-residential building converted to a crazy party place. It’s open almost 0-24 all days.
Party on the river
Apart from the ruin pub culture, Budapest offers another unique feature: having a party on the river. The Danube is vast, and it is all across the whole city with boats on its banks everywhere. Most of the ships function as restaurants and smaller clubs, but one boat tops them all:
A38: the club was repurposed from an old Ukrainian cargo ship and now serves as a cultural center, an alternative concert venue, a restaurant and one of the most popular clubs in the city. The boat is floating next to Petofi Bridge (Petőfi híd) on the Buda side. It’s a living legend once voted as the best club in the world by Lonely Planet readers.
Eating out and clubbing
Budapest has so many party options. Ex-socialist era pubs and places are now also popular again due to the retro-hype, and you can find true original ones as well where the food and drinks stayed the same as they were behind the Iron Curtain.
Budapest has full streets in the central areas, and the summer is unusually warm, so terraces and little beer gardens are all over the place. Hungary itself also has a great wine drinking tradition, so wine bars are also a big hit in the town.
The city has 5 1-star Michelin restaurants and multiple ones with several awards. The town has strong roots in German, Slavic, Jewish, French and traditional Hungarian cuisine but you can find literally every nation’s culinary delicacies. Before you pick your spot, check the local Gault & Millau or Michelin guides or just rely on locals’ recommendations to avoid overpriced tourist traps. But even locals sometimes can’t catch up with the new restaurants that pop up every week. Street food also has a big hype in the city with the most excellent burgers and food trucks mainly downtown.
The traditional Hungarian cuisine is dense and spicy with lots of paprika, cumin, and pepper. Conventional Hungarian restaurants offer the same dishes everywhere from Goulash and Chicken Paprikas to Snitzels. If you have already given up your diet or just want to take a guilt trip, try the traditional Hungarian dishes. Langos and Chimney Cake (kürtőskalács) are the conventional Hungarian street foods. Hungarians are also fond of bakeries (pékség) and patisseries (cukrászda). To get an order in your belly, try the local shot, Palinka after your meal. The traditional Hungarian dinner has 3 or 4 courses: appetizers, soups, main meal and desserts. The amount of food is massive in each direction. Hungarian wines are also great but favor the imported beers instead of locals, except crafted beers.
For those who prefer the known paths, there are multiple classic clubs around the city. They look and feel exactly the same as any Western clubs. Ötkert, Tesla and Morrison’s are the most popular ones.
Drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes
Every drug is illegal to own, sell or consume in Hungary, marijuana as well. However, they are widely used during the night. Prices are cheap, but the quality sometimes lacks. You can find a dealer in pretty much any club if you ask around but relying on personal recommended resources is advised. Make sure you’re not lighting up to a joint on the streets because police take this issue seriously, although with foreigners they are more tolerant. Marijuana is universally available. Also, cocaine, psychedelics, and other party drugs are more accessible in the clubs.
You can buy alcohol and cigarettes if you’re above 18. Alcohol is accessible anywhere, local shops, groceries, clubs, gas stations. However, in primarily all central districts of Budapest sale of liquor in grocery and convenience stores is prohibited after 11pm or midnight, this obviously doesn’t apply to bars. Hungarian wines are super cheap and pretty high, local beers are also a go with a recent boom in craft beers. Tobacco, however, can be purchased only in select stores, National Tobacco Shops (look for a brownish-red 18 sign and ‘Trafik’ logo). Cigarette prices are also significantly lower than in other European countries, as well as alcohol.
Prostitution and nightclubs
Working girls are illegal to operate in Hungary except in striptease bars, but they are accessible everywhere in the central areas. Massage salons are favorite spots and don’t get surprised if a girl walks to you, offers her services, and her flat is right next to the club or pub where you’re drinking. Prices are moderate or low, but they tend to charge more to foreigners. AIDS and other STDs are not common and their flats usually super clean and everything is professional.
Night clubs, however, are not the best choice, most of the rip-offs happen there. Nightclubs with striptease shows are popular among foreigners, but it’s no coincidence that you rarely spot any locals there. Prices are incredibly high, and rip-offs are popular.
Budapest has the world’s largest thermal cave system. Therefore, you can find multiple spas in the city. The most popular is Szechenyi Thermal Bath (Széchenyi Gyógyfürdő) with its old classicist building in the City Park (Városliget). Szechenyi Thermal Bath is a bath with multiple pools and medicinal thermal water during the day, but in summer nights the tub turns into a Cinetrip rave party with ravers high on everything partying in the hot thermal water and enjoying the laser show and rave/club music. Other thermal baths are the Kiraly Bath (Király Győgyfürdő) which is an old Turkish bath and Rudas Bath (Rudas Gyógyfürdő) which has men- / women-only days for the LGBTQ communities. Other spas are more popular with locals only but are still accessible if you are looking to refresh and recharge after a long night.
Other types of fun
Budapest has everything a modern big city has to offer from go-kart rings, pools, poker hideouts to casinos, extreme sports and shooting ranges. Two new unique options, however, are popular even among locals: thermal baths and escape rooms.
Escape rooms are a recent trend in the city. You pay to enter a room and solve a puzzle or a detective riddle with the available tools in the place (or multiple rooms). After you solved the mystery and got the story, you can escape the room. It is famous not just among foreigners but locals as well, they are spread across the city mainly in the central areas.
Being a tourist in Budapest: the basics
Though this book is not a tourist guide, there are some essential sightseeing you can do in Budapest. The city is very old, and most of the tourist attractions are concentrated in the central areas. These are the main tourist spots:
Heroes Square: the main square on the top of the Andrassy Avenue where you can check the status of the notable kings of Hungary.
Castle Hill and the Fisherman’s Bastion: the whole of Buda Castle is a tourist attraction, and it is located on the Castle Hill. The Fisherman’s Bastion is a Neo-Gothic, Neo-Romanesque terrace where you can get a decent panoramic view of the city.
The Citadel: it’s a former military installation, and it is located on the Gellert Hill. The Freedom Statue is located on the citadel, and it offers one of the best panoramic views of the city.
The Hungarian Parliament: it is located in the middle of the fifth district, the center of the city. It is the third largest parliament building in the world.
The House of Terror: those who are into history can check out the House of Terror, located on Andrassy Avenue. The interactive and modern museum commemorates the communist and Nazi oppression and brutality, you can learn what it takes to live under a totalitarian regime.
Saint Stephen’s Basilica and the Dohany Street Synagogue: the basilica is located next to Deak Ferenc Square, and it is the largest church building in Budapest. The synagogue is located on Dohany Street in the Jewish Quarter, not far from Deak Ferenc Square, it is the largest synagogue in Europe and one of the largest in the world.
Museums: the city is filled with museums where you can check the local Hungarian history, art and design. The largest art collections are in the museums located at the Heroes’ Square.
For your tourist trips, obtaining a Budapest Card is recommended. The Budapest card is valid for 1, 2 or 3 days and you can get into all museums and spots for free or get a substantial discount. It also gives you discounts on sightseeing trips, thermal bath tickets, discounts on some restaurants and further discounts on other cards, services, and events.
To get off the beaten path and experience what’s beyond the touristic version of the city, check out the tours of Beyond Budapest.
Tips on going out in Budapest
1. Tipping 10% is not mandatory but recommended even at the counter
2. Most of the central restaurants offer business lunches with a menu, even the fancier ones
3. You can get on a beer-bike and ride-and-drink around the city during the night
4. More prominent restaurants are open till midnight and have kitchen till 11pm, smaller ones and street food vendors are open till morning in the central areas
5. Clubs, pubs, and bars are usually open until the morning, mostly all around the week
6. You can’t bring your own drink into clubs and bars, make sure you drink them before entering
7. Most of the party places are in the Jewish Quarter in the 6th and the 7th district in the Kazinczy, Wesselenyi, Kiraly Street Triangle
8. Hungarians tend to party in this order: having dinner in a restaurant, having drinks in a pub and going to the clubs at around 11pm or midnight, spend the night there and look for after party pubs around 4-5am, so don’t get surprised if the party in the club is on low heat at 10pm
9. Parties are crowded between Thursday and Saturday, while less stuff happens between Sunday and Wednesday
10. Budapest is also a popular venue for international concert tours, check the listings to see if your favorite is in town