The 8 Best College Bars in Budapest

What makes a great college bar? Cheap drinks, of course. But while plenty of inexpensive drinking joints scatter around Budapest, the places below stand out from the pack with lively vibes and a college-age crowd. Located near the city's main universities, they’re at their best during the school year (September to June). If you're looking for local bars with older patrons, check out this list, too.

Opened in 1968, Ibolya Espresso is an iconic café in Budapest's downtown. Ibolya is deeply anchored in Budapest's collective memory as two generations of locals have been coming to this unpretentious drinking joint for everything from first dates to business meetings to class reunions. The interior is a throwback to the Communist era (1947-1989), featuring Mid-century modern-inspired light fixtures with orange plexiglass and curvilinear chairs topped with red faux leather upholstery.

Despite being in the heart of tourist-heavy downtown, most patrons here are locals, many of them here to watch soccer projected on the big screen, or to wolf down a toasted ham and cheese sandwich blanketed in ketchup before calling it a night. Teenage lovebirds from the neighboring high schools often occupy the secluded tables upstairs. Before you leave, take a glance at Ibolya's timeless typography above the entry door.

Mélypont is a cavernous, below-ground bar situated on a quiet backstreet in downtown Budapest. The inside features a mishmash of worn-out, communist-era furniture and usually fills to capacity with students from the nearby law and political science colleges of Eötvös Loránd University. It's a small miracle that this college bar continues to exist in an otherwise expensive neighborhood — let's hope it stays that way.

Despite the occasionally rowdy crowd — things can get heated around the foosball table — Mélypont works well for a date night too thanks to the many hidden nooks and crannies. There are local craft beers on tap and by the bottle, and also many whiskies, including top-shelf varieties.

Lámpás is a lively below-ground bar in Budapest best known for its daily live music performances (mostly rock, jazz, and blues). Oddly, this gritty, and by no means mainstream bar is opposite Gozsdu Udvar, the tourist-heavy passage teeming with pricey restaurants and wine bars. Lámpás, where you can get a beer and a spritzer (fröccs) for €5, feels a world away — a little gem in the heart of it all. If things get too heated and cramped in the concert room, look for a table in the labyrinthine rear section which better caters to conversations. Note that Lámpás scales back its operation during the summer months.

Fecske Presszó is a laid-back, wallet-friendly cafe and restaurant across from the Szabó Ervin Library in Budapest's Palace Quarter. This means students of all ages gather here throughout the day to take study breaks of varying lengths and with varying amounts of alcohol.

Weather permitting, try to snag a table on the outdoor terrace canopied by the overhanging tree. Otherwise, look for a charming nook in the below-ground inside. On weekdays, Fecske serves an affordable two-course lunch and drinks are also cheap. Once here, be sure to visit the library, whose 4th floor has retained the aristocratic splendor of its past (the reception sells low-priced admission tickets).

Grinzingi is an unpretentious downtown wine bar with a simple formula that has changed little since its 1983 opening: serve cheap drinks in Budapest's city center that's otherwise teeming with overpriced, tourist-oriented bars. Fast forward 40 years, some of the early patrons still pay repeated visits, as do plenty of college students from nearby universities. Inside, rustic wooden fittings evoke the atmosphere of the bar's namesake Austrian village (Grinzing, known for its wine taverns), and the weathered furniture bears marks of long, alcohol-fueled nights.

Once here, you should try a zsíroskenyér, a traditional Hungarian sandwich slathered with lard and drizzled with salt, pepper, and red onions. A word to the wise: check also downstairs, if the ground level is full of people.

Open since 1975, Libella is a longtime watering hole of engineering and architecture students from BME, the university located across the street. This of course means that drinks are low-priced and unpretentious: no, there are no craft IPAs or natural wines here, but you can gulp down a cold lager from the draft for less than two euros.

Order also a melegszendvics; toasted bread topped with ham and melted cheese is hardly a foodie's dream, but it's delicious — especially when smothered in ketchup — and with hangover-mitigating powers. Finally, don't leave without observing the artworks on the wall and the original neon sign above the entrance.

Fahéj is an adorable café and bar on a quiet backstreet in Budapest's downtown. Fahéj eschews the trendy vibes and the tourist-centered approach of other places in the neighborhood, relying instead on a loyal group of regulars, both young and old. The two softly glowing, high-ceilinged rooms fitted with wooden floors, bookshelves, and small round tables works well for a casual weeknight drink, a date, or a heart-to-heart over a bottle of wine. Affordable hot wine and rum-laced tea during the colder months; tasty toasted sandwiches throughout the year.

It’s easy to miss Altair, a cozy, below-ground teahouse on a sleepy side street in Budapest's Palace Quarter, but you shouldn't. Defying space limitations, they've squeezed in myriad tiny nooks and crannies that are separated from one another by curtains, pillows, and wooden beams. This low-lit labyrinthine haunt is an ideal date spot, offering a bit of seclusion from the hustle and bustle of the city center just minutes away. Besides the almost one hundred types of teas, including black, white, oolong, and green teas, Altair also has a selection of (hot) wines, beers, spirits, and hookahs (water pipes). There's a no-shoes policy, so make sure your socks are on point.