Say you've just finished dinner and still have some energy to discover Budapest's nightlife. Below, you’ll find the best options for drinks, concerts, and electronic music. As with our other recommendations, these are true-to-Budapest places, drawing at least as many locals as they do visitors. Most of them are located in Pest, in or near to the city center (unless stated otherwise).
For Budapest locals, a night out means drinks at a bar. To experience some of the more atmospheric drinking joints, visit these adorably grungy local hangouts. Many don’t have a deep drinks menu and aren’t fitted with the trendiest furnishings, but a motley cast of regulars give these bars a soul. In the warmer months, several outdoor-only venues come to life, both casual spots and chic rooftops and terraces.
The city’s ruin bars, which originated in the then-neglected Jewish Quarter in the early aughts, have become world-famous. Although tourists and exchange students tend to crowd their dilapidated nooks and crannies these days, be sure to visit at least one for the experience.
Budapest was quick to mimic global drinking trends, so today there’s a flourishing craft beer and craft cocktail scene. Wines are a little different: Although Hungarian wines have a glorious history, the unpalatable plonk produced during the communist-era turned whole generations away from it. This is now finally changing thanks to a couple of ambitious wine bars that give platform to Hungary’s leading winemakers.
Finally, if you’re looking for a taste of the communist era, pop into one of these battered bars for a travel back in time.
Budapest doesn't often top lists surveying classical music in Europe — Vienna, London, and Salzburg (the birthplace of Mozart) land more often on such roundups — but the city’s sheer number of classical music performance halls makes it a destination for music-lovers. Dipping into the city’s classical music scene is also a helpful way to explore other gems: many music venues happen to be notable architectural sites.
With sleek, high-tech concert halls and inside a beautiful modern building, Müpa Budapest presents classical, contemporary, jazz, popular and world music. This season features diversity, from Philip Glass’ enchanting opera Akhnaten to puppet theater to classical piano recitals. Budapest’s grand Hungarian State Opera House, where Bartók’s famous gothic opera Bluebeard’s Castle originated a hundred years ago, has a jam-packed events program (note that the main building on Andrássy Avenue is closed until 2021 for renovation).
The Liszt Academy, the nation’s top music school, features transporting art nouveau architecture and its ornate concert hall hosts many concerts each year. The Hungarian Heritage House is home to the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble. And even the historic Matthias Church and the Saint Stephen’s Basilica present concerts. Also keep an eye out for intimate concerts hosted by the Bartók Memorial House a bit outside the city center in Buda.
The Opus Jazz Club (part of the Budapest Music Center) and the Budapest Jazz Club are the city’s two hallowed halls for jazz fans. You can also run into high-energy jazz concerts on Saturday evenings at Jedermann Café, a small, snug bar not far from the city center.
The most unique concert hall in all of Budapest is A38, built within a reconstructed Ukranian ship. The hybrid musical repertoire includes everything from pop to rock, indie, metal, electronic, folk, ambient, you-name-it. There’s a more mainstream concert schedule at Akvárium, a huge multi-hall venue right in the city center.
Big-name heavy metal acts, both foreign and Hungarian, tend to blow the roof off Dürer Kert, a longstanding venue near the City Park. Trafó is the leading platform for contemporary experimental arts; apart from music there’s also dance, circus, and English-language theater.
A gem inside the tranquil Palace Quarter is Lumen Café, with solid presentations of folk, contemporary, and classical genres. Ellátóház is a convenient choice if you want to remain near downtown: this bar and concert hall combo hosts live music many nights a week, featuring everything from folk through funk and house music. Almost next door is the cavernous Lámpás bar, where local bands of varying quality perform daily (they usually shut down in the summer). The Friday and Saturday night concerts at the lovingly grungy Hunnia bar draw locals who are nostalgic for underground Hungarian music of the ‘80s. The unfashionable below-ground space and the cheap beers are part of the charm. If Balkan and Hungarian pop-folk is more your speed, check the lineup at the gritty but beloved Pótkulcs bar. Similar vibes radiate through Gólya community center, which anchors Budapest’s alternative cultural scene and lies far outside downtown.
In the summer, the enormous open-air venue of Budapest Park is a popular destination for high-profile acts, both foreign and Hungarian. For a more intimate concert, head to the makeshift PONTOON bar right on the Danube’s bank, where the river, the Buda Castle, and the sunset provide an impossible backdrop.
Budapest has one of the strongest electronic music scenes in Central Europe, which means you have several options to party the night away while immersing yourself in seriously good techno, house, or one of their myriad subgenres. Discerning electronic music fans will appreciate the lineup at Lärm, a pitch-black cave with contemporary, often experimental sounds. This is also the case with the monthly Technokunst series hosted at A38 (in the summers, you’re here for the Lick the Click! parties on the upper deck of the boat). You’ll find more popular strains of electronic music with festival headliners inside the spacious hall of Akvárium.
AETHER Club in the Jewish Quarter is best known for its cutting-edge sound system and minimal techno and tech-house parties. Ambient is a teeny-tiny club featuring many Hungarian DJs and quality acid house, deep techno, and dub techno. Although more of a bar than a club, you can run into wild parties at Toldi club too. Goa fans should head to Dürer Kert, which hosts a popular monthly goa party series. The newest club on the electronic scene is Edith, run by local industry veterans and embracing disco and acid-house without being beholden to any one genre. Head out to Flashback Studio for new-wave rave music blasted within the exposed brick walls of a pre-war industrial building.
There are also semi-illegal, pop-up electronic parties across Budapest, attracting the most diehard fans. If you’re one of them, put in the effort, ask around, and you’ll find them (a good place to start is Akt Records store).
General dance clubs
If you’re simply looking to put on your dancing shoes and have a good time without music being a chief criteria, Instant & Fogas is your best bet: this gigantic ruin bar comes with several halls and stays open late every night of the week. Be prepared to share the dance floor with fellow tourists.