Budapest is famous for having some of the best nightlife in Central and Eastern Europe. You won't find a better way to let loose than with the city's ruin bar culture. Born from tragedy and transformed into icons, visiting one of these popular ruin pubs is one of the best ways to experience the real heart of Budapest.
Ruin bars and the bustling nightlife scene in Budapest are relatively new, but their origins go back to World Wars I & II. Hungary fought alongside Nazi German forces for much of the conflict, and much of the city was brought to ruin–especially the buildings which were abandoned and left to disrepair once their Jewish residents and workers were forced out. After the Soviet occupation, shells of broken down buildings remained, victims of the elements and the passing of time.
However, innovation could not be held off forever. In the early 2000s, a group of young entrepreneurs sought out a community space for holding cheap parties and events. They didn't have any money to spend on making their venue look nice, so they just brought in whatever pieces of furniture they could get their hands on.
Over time, the venue became known for its quirky, mismatched interior, creating what is now the most-known attraction of Budapest, Szimpla Kert. This idea of a “ruin bar” caught on, and now there are countless around the city (especially in District VII, the Jewish Quarter), each with its own unique decoration and atmosphere.
Here are a few of our favorite ruin bars in Budapest.
This ruin bar is located on the Buda side of the Danube, a relatively quick walk from your vacation rental home. While many other ruin bars embrace a shabby chic aesthetic, Béla incorporates a different kind of charm. A refined jungle of sorts, find a seat among its soothing green walls and quirky lamps.
Sample the tasty bites on their menu, or treat yourself to what we think is the best lemonade in town (the peach-thyme is our favorite!).
Located on Bartok Béla Utca, it’s the perfect starting point for exploring the lively boulevard, whether you head for Indo-European food at Kelet Cafe, or old-world charm at the famous Hadik Coffeehouse just up the street.
Ruin bars are one of the most famous attractions of Budapest, and Szimpla Kert is the one that started it all. Located in a dilapidated former factory, this lauded nightlife hotspot houses room after room of wacky decor.
You can find more than classic Hungarian beers on tap here–stop by the dedicated wine bar, cocktail bar, or craft beer counter. If you’re lucky, you may even be able to snag a seat in the old Trabant on the ground floor.
Szimpla may have started as a bar, but since its opening in 2002 it’s evolved into a cultural icon, hosting weekly art and music shows, and attracting countless visitors from all over the globe.
As the largest ruin bar in Budapest, you could easily spend an evening discovering the many rooms and alcoves. If you want to see Szimpla in the light of day, come by on Sunday, when you can peruse local wares at the weekend farmer’s market or sit down for an all-you-can- eat brunch.
We know that not everyone is eager to drink, but if there was any ruin bar to add to your Budapest sightseeing itinerary, this would be it!
A true star of the up-and-coming 8th District, Elesztőház is part of a multipurpose complex meant to delight the senses. Opened in 2013, Elesztőház is a beloved watering hole for craft beer enthusiasts and beginners alike.
Come with an open mind–the innovative multi-tap bar has over 20 beers to try at any time. Grab a stool, settle in with the locals, and choose your beverage! Aside from the brewery, you’ll find Rengeteg (a whimsical ruin cafe) and food stalls where you can indulge in some Hungarian comfort food.
Doboz (translating literally to “box”) is an upscale Budapest ruin bar where drinking and dancing combine. High heels and button-downs coexist with wacky decor in this ruin club. Resident DJs keep the good tunes coming weekend after weekend, with dedicated Latin and R&B nights that keep a steady clientele coming.
After you’ve worked up a sweat on the dance floor, you can cool down in the courtyard, sipping your drink casually underneath the metal King Kong statue twisted around a tree rumored to be older than Budapest itself.
If you want to try the Budapest ruin bar ambiance, but still have a fancy night, this is the place to go! There’s a cover charge on weekends, but ladies get in free.
Although it’s smack dab in the middle of Budapest party district, the Jewish Quarter, Kőleves kert (literally: “stone soup garden”) always manages to provide a laid-back environment. Tourists and locals alike gather underneath the cheerful glow of string lights to indulge in a fröccs or draft beer.
The crumbling walls of the courtyard keep colorful remnants of murals, adding to the friendly atmosphere. Although the courtyard is extensive, it fills up quickly, so bring your patience. If you're lucky, you might even snag one of the popular hammock seats at the entrance.
Hungry? The ruin bar is connected to one of the most respected restaurants in the Jewish district, Kőleves. Make the most of your visit and sit down to a hearty feast (but make sure to make reservations!)
For the mellower at heart, Csendes is located outside of the typical party zone of the Jewish Quarter. Formerly a grand coffeehouse during the height of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Csendes has since settled into the diverse shabby chic characteristic of Budpaest ruin bars.
This is the place to come if you want to experience this unique Budapest atmosphere, but still want to be able to have a conversation without shouting over music or dodging merrymakers. It’s also one of the best ruin bars where you can have a hearty meal along with your drink. Grab a beer, grab a seat (bonus if you snag the bathtub chairs), and enjoy!
If you visit during the warmer months, take advantage of the delightful outdoor patio set just outside a park. There’s nowhere more relaxing to indulge in a fröccs and enjoy the summer breeze!
This whimsical ruin bar is one that should be at the top of your list! As you enter the eclectic watering hole you’ll be greeted by splashes of colorful murals and surreal sculptures. Brush elbows with young professionals of Budapest as you sip your drink and peruse their menu of Hungarian comfort food.
Depending on the day of the week, the bar also hosts theatrical or musical shows in their spacious basement-turned-stage. Visit their site for more programming information.
Púder is near the beginning of Raday Street, but the avenue is actually packed with restaurants and bars. We suggest leaving plenty of time to explore the different eateries after a pre-drink at Púder!
It's not just big; it's expansive! There's a huge outdoor beer garden, an indoor lounge/restaurant (complete with a dance floor built around a graceful Mulberry tree), and various smaller bars where you can get away from the crowds.
There's even a kids' play area for the little ones. And if you're feeling hungry, there's a grill serving up all sorts of classic pub grub.
With “ruin” in the name, how could we leave this craft beer bar off the list? Recently opened by craft beer enthusiasts, Ruin Brew has quickly become a favorite for those who appreciate their beer.
Located in the party district, just around ultra-popular ruin club Instant/Fogas, you’ll find a lot of partiers either starting or ending their night here. Ruin Brew has also won the hearts of locals and expats, however, largely thanks to their standout menu of tacos, quesadillas, and other juicy Mexican classics.
Started by two Americans who miss the taste of home, an unmissable event on their calendar is their weekly Sunday pop-up, The Diner, in which they serve up American classics such as pancakes, buttermilk biscuits, and egg sandwiches galore. Don’t miss out!
If you truly want to feel like a local, you must make your way to Pótkulcs. When we say it’s hidden, we mean it: you won’t find any signage or symbol–merely an open doorway set in an ivy-covered wall. Once you step through, you gain access to a secret garden of sorts. Once you’ve been here, you’ll start to understand the name of the place a bit more; Pótkulcs literally translates to spare key.
The bar embraces its crumbling architecture, in fact, that’s part of its charm. Settle into this retro, no-frills pub, enjoy the weekly live music, and soak up the relatively-cheap drinks with some of their bar food (we suggest one of their oversized pogácsa, or cheese scones).
A Budapest ruin bar list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning one of the largest ruin bar complexes in the city! Instant/Fogas ház started as two separate clubs, but were semi-recently combined for an unmissable night out.
Once you make it through the queue (there’s always free entry), you’ll wind up in Budapest’s biggest ruin club, where you can melt into the music pounding from the multiple dance floors. R&b, techno, top hits, and latin are all to be found.
You could spend a night exploring the different nooks and crannies both above and below. If you want to get away from the crush of the crowds in the summer, see if you can locate the “secret” rooftop bar, Liebling, to get a drink away from it all.
One of the classier ruin establishments on this list, Mazel Tov mixes a gracefully crumbling setting with flavor-packed Israeli food. An urban garden of eternal spring, gentle vines hang from the ceiling while intermingling with the cheerfully glowing string lights.
The restaurant may be located within a once-neglected building, but the owners of Mazel Tov have transformed it into quite the popular restaurant that serves up middle-eastern dishes. If you want to try this trendy eatery, we recommend reservations: you’ll often see a line out the door.
Red Ruin isn’t normally on foreign visitors’ radar, but we think it’s a unique experience that can’t be missed. The bar is a tongue-in-cheek embrace of Hungary’s history of Communism, describing itself as having a “sense of humor about Hungary’s political past”. Murals of some of history’s most infamous Communist leaders will keep you company as you sip your drink. There’s no better time than to cheers to freedom!
Now that you’ve picked your venue (or at least the first venue of your night), you need to know what to order. How can you drink as the locals do?
Chances are, you’ll go for an ice-cold sör (beer). Some top Hungarian beer brands you’ll likely find on tap are Arany Aszok, Soproni, or Dreher. If you prefer bor (wine), you’ll also be spoiled for choice. Did you know that Hungary has 22 wine regions? Those who love full-bodied reds can dabble in the wines from Villány, while if you like dessert wines, something from the Tokaj regions can’t be beat. But look around at locals and you’ll probably see them sipping a fröccs– the classic Hungarian wine spritzer made with either white or rosé.
Finally, if you’re in the mood for something stronger, look no further than two of Hungary’s proudest exports: Unicum is anise-flavored (similar to Jaeger), and made of a secret recipe of over 40 herbs and spices. Pálinka is a fruit brandy (our favorite flavors are plum or sour cherry), famous for its high alcohol content. If you’re in town during the Pálinka Festival, you won’t want to miss it!
Regardless of what you choose to drink, cheers by wishing a wholehearted “egészségedre”! (To your health!).
A visit to Budapest isn’t complete without exploring the city’s ruin bars. These eclectically decorated, formerly-abandoned buildings are a testament to the Hungarian people’s ability to create something beautiful from whatever lies at hand. Each bar is uniquely decorated, so enlist a drinking buddy, choose a ruin bar that fits your vibe, and enjoy!