Amidst the frenzied popularity of Europe’s usual suspects, Budapest quietly flies under the radar. It excels in just about every form you wouldn’t expect! The world will continue to flock to the Amsterdams, and the Ibizas, and the Londons, and the Munichs of the world. If you want to party without burning a hole in your pocket though, you really have to explore the Budapest nightlife scene. In addition to being the cheapest city in Europe for a drink and the superb networking of Budapest Party Hostels, the Hungarian capital offers great variety in its party landscape. I celebrated my 25th birthday with the good folk at Retox Party Hostel [Read: Retox Party Hostel – Your Budapest HQs]. I’m not really a birthday person, and despite that, I think I had one of my most memorable birthdays ever.
So here’s your comprehensive guide to letting loose in the erstwhile communist city – your very own Budapest Nightlife Guide!
Headquarters – Where to Stay
You want to anchor your Budapest nightlife/party experience to a solid party hostel. Party hostels are a vital component of your planning. They become your gateway to the wildest, underground, most happening nightlife scenes in town. My personal recommendation’s always going to be Retox, because let’s face it – one day with those good folks, and you’re never going away! Having said that, I can understand why some of us may want to stay at a slightly quieter place after partying all day/night long to get a few hours of sleep. In that case, some of the quieter Budapest Party Hostel properties like Carpe Noctem Original and Carpe Noctem Vitae might be better picks. They are great because you still get to do everything with the crazier Grandio and Retox peeps, without having to lose out on sleeping hours 🙂
Budapest Nightlife Secret #1: Party Boats
The Danube has been a vital cog in the histories of Buda & Pest, and the Budapest Party Boats are a sort of not-so-quiet acknowledgement of that. There are many companies that offer cruise parties on the Danube, but nothing holds a candle to the folks at the original Budapest Boat Party. Depending upon the day of the week, the company offers 2 types of boat-parties:
i) The original River Rampage – priced at HUF 5000 (17 EUR) (HUF 2000 more can get you a complimentary bottle of champagne) happens every Thursday.
ii) Shipwrecked happens every Monday and Friday, and is an all-you-can-drink 2 hour slugfest, priced at HUF 9000 (29 EUR)
The boat parties begin at 22.30 sharp and go on for 2 hours. This is the best time in summers to be on the river. You get superb views of both sides of the city, and can look at each historic building in their mightiest glories – particularly the Parliament! With professional photographers, surround sound music, free-flowing alcohol and the cream of young people in town, this is the ultimate Budapest nightlife experience.
Started in 2011 by a traveller from Kent, these boat parties claim to entertain 300-400 guests every summer night. Don’t forget to live up to tradition and kiss strangers every time the boat goes under a bridge, or prepare to be cursed with bad sex for 7 years (if you believe in that kind of thing) 😉
Pro Tip: If you are doing this, I’d suggest you tank up on the alcohol beforehand and take the champagne offer. The bar is constantly full and you’ll struggle to order drinks. The champagne is cheap and warm, but once you’re already drunk, it’s not really going to matter!
Budapest Nightlife Secret #2: Spa Parties
You don’t just come to a chic East European city and not lounge about in one of their hot spring baths! Like several other things, Budapest is renowned for its public baths. And because it’s Budapest, somebody also thought it might be a good idea to put hundreds of uncouth, obnoxiously drunk young people inside these pools every Saturday night for raging UV lit parties. Thanks, but no thanks!
So did I give this a miss? Are you fuckin kidding me? Have you met me yet? The wronger a life decision sounds on evaluation, the more likely I’ve done it! Besides, this was supposed to be my one no-holds-barred party trip! So I dived right into it. Like the boat parties, the Spa Party, or SPArty is offered at most public baths, but why you’d pick any over the one that happens at the Széchenyi Baths is beyond me.
For most parts, it’s kinda fun. The weather’s pleasant enough in the summers, and the water in the pools is at a very nice temperature. It actually feel great for a while. Having said that, it is a potential health hazard. Just consider the number of people likely to spill alcohol, piss, semen or just be likely carrying some sort of disease in the water. Ok, maybe I’m over-reacting! It’s not so bad at all, I’m just biased because I caught a flu the day after SPArty. Admittedly, that could also have something to do with the 6 days of cyclonic drinking that preceded SPArty. Worth an experience for sure!
Tickets: Entry is priced at about HUF 12000 (~35 EUR). Drinks/food is extra at the venue. Most hostels will have a fixed number of quota for the SPArty, so you can book directly with them. Alternatively, you can also book directly with the organizers at the SPArty website.
Budapest Nightlife Secret #3: The Ruin Pubs of Budapest
Ruin pubs are Budapest’s unique calling! You might find boat parties and spa parties elsewhere in the world, but ruin pubs? Nada! Some incredible pieces have already been written about the eclectic ruin pubs of Budapest [Read: Ruin Bars of Budapest by Nomadic Matt], but I’ll attempt to keep up.
Ruin pubs cropped up in the early 2000s in Budapest’s VII District, which used to be the old Jewish district. Little wonder then, that most of these ruin pubs have been built inside buildings that saw heavy bombing during the world wars. For a good part of the last decade, these pubs have quietly built an underground cult following. Over recent years, this has literally spilt over and grown into the most well-talked of hipster scene in all of Europe.
The Budapest ruin pub scene is not as ‘offbeat’ as it might have been 10 years ago, but by god, there’s a reason it is so highly recommended! These are some of the most artistic, eccentric and elaborate pubs ever put together and deserve a round of applause on concept. I’ll hopefully do a separate post on ruin pubs, but here are some names for you to tick off the list:
Szimpla Kert – the original ruin pub, the mecca of all ruin pubs. Szimpla is almost like a museum of the most random, eccentric things you’d ever find in a pub, and has one of the best atmospheres I’ve seen. I’d frankly recommend two visits – one in the day and one at night, to experience Szimpla to its fullest. Certainly a must do in Budapest. [Read: Szimpla Kert | TripAdvisor Reviews]
Instant is an absolute monster with several storeys of cavernous rooms. Superbly decorated with different themes in every room, this place is one of the trendiest hotspots in town. In my opinion, this place can give some of the best clubs in the world a run for their money. Additional bonus? Instant is a 2 min walk from Retox, so you can always leave this one last on your list, before you retire for the night. [Read: Instant | TripAdvisor Reviews]
Ellato Kert is located in downtown Budapest. Its open courtyard is particularly appealing during the summer months, and the place is rumoured to have some of the best Mexican cuisine in town. [Read: Ellato Kert | TripAdvisor Reviews]
Pro Tip: the Budapest backpacker pub-crawl covers 3-4 of the most popular pubs in the city, and these inevitably end up being some of the most renowned ruin-pubs in the city.
Budapest Nightlife Secret #4: Alcoholympics/Jager-Train with Retox Party Hostel
These guys deserve another mention because they were such an integral part of my Budapest experience. Without question, your Budapest nightlife experience is incomplete without a visit to the good old-fashioned backpacker bar that Retox is! The Retox crew is notorious in town as the party animals of the city, and for good reason. My nights began at Retox every single day, and then moved to wherever the flow took me. Retox themselves have weekly events every night.
Alcoholympics is every Thursday night and involves (as the name suggests) a range of drinking game competitions. Your troupe, usually three person strong, must beat every other troupe to be declared the Alcoholympic champion of the week. Some shiny trinket will likely be hung around your neck as reward for the extraordinary amounts of alcohol you’ll consume.
Jager Train happens every Sunday followed by an in-house party! This involves dropping 100-200 Jager bombs at the same time and everybody downing them like the Zombie Apocalypse is upon us. Little needs to be said about what ensues!
It’s been three months since I was in Budapest, but the city truly has my heart! It is young, vibrant, and is full of history. It has a great art scene, great food, cheap alcohol, wonderful music and most importantly some really wonderful people. I think its location and growing rep as a backpacker friendly city is attracting throngs of young travellers. This has led to a seismic, cosmopolitan social setup.
The city is great for the partying crowd, no doubt; but it’s also great for the history and architectural buffs, and I really feel like I’ve only explored one half of its ethos. Budapest has carved out a special place for itself in my memories (even if some of them might be blurry). This might have something to do with the half remembered birthday I celebrated here, but I feel certain I owe the city another visit, to discover many of the well-kept secrets I missed in open sight, while stumbling through my hazy (mis?)adventures 🙂
Other Notable Mentions:
Beer Bikes – imagine cycling around the most popular streets of Budapest, while consuming a keg of beer. Jump onto a beer bike with your buddies from the hostel. Blare music at full blast and go around town getting shit-faced and letting totally loose! Beer bikes are exactly what they sound like and are a wonderful way to pre-game and get to know people. Plus point – you also get to see some popular parts of the city!
Sziget Festival (usually every August) – Sziget is one of Europe’s largest cultural music festivals and happens in Budapest every August. If your trip coincides with the festival, don’t miss out!
Club Studio – I’m personally not much for clubbing, but if you are and want to give it a shot, you must check out the monstrous Club Studio on Sziget Island. Entry might be a little expensive to arrange (between 10-15 EUR cover), and drinks inside are expensive. The club is supposed to be the 3rd largest club in the world, and is renowned for its techno and house scene!
After all of this, if you finally find yourself in a situation where you finally want to take a break from the partying, you should check out some of the recommendations from this list of things to do in Budapest.