It goes without saying that Budapest’s nightlife is fabulous (there’s a reason why thousands of bachelor parties head to the city every year)!
But before I talk about where to go out, you need to know this: there are two drinks that you must have when visiting Hungary. The first is Pálinka, a fruit brandy that can be made with anything from plums and apricots to cherries and apples. Fair warning: it is very, very strong! It has to have at least 37.5% alcohol before it can be considered authentic pálinka, and it usually has between 50%-85%. It’s essentially Hungarian moonshine.
I generally don’t like pálinka very much, so I had no interest in continuing to drink it. But then I’d be presented with a new flavor, and I would think to myself “well I haven’t tried the plum yet, so I may as well have some…”
And then the next thing I knew I was fluent in Hungarian!
You also need to sample fröccs, which is a mixture of wine and carbonated water. It’s basically a wine spritzer, but Hungarians take it much more seriously than Americans. When at a bar, you order based on what percentage of the drink you want to be wine, and which percentage you want to be carbonated water.
There are funny names for each combination. For example, the Házmester is 3/5 wine and 2/5 carbonated water. The Nagyfröccs is 2/3 wine and 1/3 carbonated water. And the Kisfröccs is 1/2 wine and 1/2 carbonated water. Make sure you order carefully! It would be just awful if you wanted 1/2 wine and 1/2 carbonated water and instead ended up with 2/3 wine and 1/3 carbonated water!
As far as where to go, Budapest is known for its ruin pubs (romkocsma = ruin pub). These pubs are derelict buildings and unused outdoor spaces which have been transformed into trendy, unique bars. Don’t worry, they’re not hipster at all! In fact, they’re really cool, chill places to hang out.
Budapest’s most famous ruin pub (and my favorite!) is Szimpla (the “z” is silent). Since it’s famous it’s obviously popular with tourists, but the locals love it too.
“Whoa” will be your first thought when you walk in!
While we were there, one of the waitresses approached us with a basket of carrots and offered to sell some to us. We thought it was a little weird (who wants to buy carrots at a bar?) but figured it was just another unique Hungarian tradition. So then at the next several bars, when we weren’t offered carrots, we were offended. Where are our welcome carrots?! Then we asked our guides, and it turns out Szimpla is unique (read: weird) in selling carrots, and it’s not a Hungarian tradition at all. Good to know… I guess I won’t be seeking carrots every time I go out in Budapest!
Another fabulous ruin pub is Fogasház, where I went on my birthday (more on that here). I started referring to Fogasház as the teeth pub because the front of the building has a big flag with dentures on it (not sure why…). Unlike Szimpla, Fogasház has almost no tourists, and some rooms have a more energetic, upbeat vibe. If you want to dance, head to Fogasház!
Köleves Kert is another ruin pub that’s so chill that there are hammocks surrounding the bar. EVERY bar should have that!
In addition to ruin pubs, the city has normal bars too. 360 Bar is a popular rooftop spot where you can see miles of Budapest streets below. Although, there’s really only a 180° view rather than 360°!
Red Ruin is a famous bar in the city that’s obviously touristy (the name is in English, after all). However, even with the tourist aspect, it is worth visiting because the decor is so clever and witty. I was entertained just walking around the bar and reading the signs!
I also really like Könyvtár Klub, which is outdoors, relaxed and even has swings! Because nothing goes better with a glass of fröccs than swinging!
Just like I have a favorite ruin pub, I also have a favorite bar: Raqpart. It’s located on the shores of the Danube, right near the Széchenyi Lánchíd (Chain Bridge) on the Pest side.
If you’re headed there, make sure to arrive before sunset, as you won’t want to miss these views! (For more amazing nighttime Budapest views, click here).
Raqpart has both a terrace and a ground floor, and you usually need reservations. We didn’t have them (whoops) but that turned out to be for the best. Raqpart lets you order at the bar and take your drink down to the river to sit, which ended up being the more scenic option.
We sat along the shore as the sun went down, and it was one of those perfect moments where you think to yourself: I’m exactly where I should be.
Cheers to you, Budapest. Egészségedre!