When you visit Budapest, there’s one thing you most definitely do during your stay – visit one of the city’s many ruin pubs. I’m not much of a drinker or clubber (until this recent trip to Budapest I think it had been a couple of years since I’d stepped inside a nightclub!) but you don’t have to particularly be into that sort of thing to enjoy the wackiness that ensues once you enter one of these unassuming looking buildings – seriously, these places have to be seen to be believed.
What are ruin bars?
The clue is in the name – Budapest’s ruin pubs are simply shells of old buildings that have been turned into warrens of bars, pubs and club rooms full of upcylced junk that’s been turned into furniture and art.
Known as ruin pubs, bars or clubs, each is utterly unique, with its own style and atmosphere. One place might be a buzzing sea of people dancing to house or techno music, while the other might be a larger, more chilled space, with fairy lights, comfy seats, lounge music and friends sharing a hookah.
Where to find ruin pubs in Budapest
Although scattered across the Buda side of the city, the main ruin bars can be found in the Terézváros and Erzsébetváros districts, which on their own are wonderful places to wander through after dark; turn a corner and you can find yourself face to face with an art installation of a tree made of metal or perhaps a large, historic synagogue. The areas are like a maze of wonders!
Budapest nightlife – don’t miss Szimpla Kerts
Varying in size and atmosphere, the biggest and most popular site of the city’s ruin bars is Szimpla Kerts. Down a side street with an unassuming façade, inside you’ll find yourself in a corridor that has a post-apocalyptic feel to it reminiscent of the underground scenes from 90’s movie Demolition Man. Although dark, your senses are bombarded with sounds, smells and sights – mainly the variety of crazy flashing lights and signs that hang precariously from doorways, window frames and beams.
Small rooms on either side of the corridor have been turned into bars or public spaces of some kind, but when you reach the end of the corridor the space opens up, into what was the main part of the former stove factory. Partially open to the elements you can party under the stars, or if the weather turns simply move over to the area covered by a multicoloured tarpaulin from which chairs hang upside down, as well as plastic horses and gnomes on swings. Yup, crazy.
This may be the main area at Szimpla Kerts, but for the explorers there’s still so much to see. At the rear of the space there’s a stand selling food and to the right a projector beams movies onto one of the large blank walls. Side rooms lead off to god knows what, and the brave can even risk the rickety stairs to see what the floor above holds. A health and safety nightmare, I can’t ever imagine seeing something like this in the UK, but man I’d love to. That’s why visiting one of these places when in Budapest cannot be missed!
Although we were smitten with Szimpla Kerts we were keen to visit more of the city’s ruin pubs, so after a drink we headed down to Fogas Haz, which is walking distance away. Here there was a different atmosphere, still clubby; but less buzzing. Fogas Haz is mainly one large space, which even has a large tree growing up and out into the night, beautifully adorned with cute little fairy lights.
Small stands around the edge of the room provide drink and food (although they’re not always all open, depends on the day and time you visit) and, again, side rooms offer different spaces for visitors to explore. On the night we visited, one large side room was filled to the brim with people dancing to a DJ set, and on the other we found a crazy little games room, complete with foosball tables, a retro electric dart board, neon lights and even some crazy communist era furniture and appliances. What’s not to love?!
Our last stop was to Kuplung, which we discovered was more like a café than a pub, and was deathly quiet. To be fair we got there late, just half an hour before it was closing up, and I don’t think this place is designed as a party pub, but rather a place for chilling and relaxing with friends.
This shell of a building had a feature wall painted with an underwater scene and the space was filled with rows of tables, similar in style to Wagamamas. Nothing particularly quirky here, but if you’re looking for a quieter place then it has its appeal.
One of the best things to do in Budapest
With so many different bars to visit we only got a small taste of the ruin bar scene, but what we learnt is that the biggest and best is considered Szimpla Kerts.
If you get a chance to explore further then I’d definitely recommend it, but if you’re short on time the one you should definitely visit above all others is this, the big daddy of the ruin bar scene!
We only visited the ruin pubs at night-time, but I’d love to go back and see them during the day. I’ve been told that when the sun is up the atmosphere of these places completely transforms into quieter, more relaxed communal areas where friends can meet up over beer or coffee. They also host community events and things like art shows, making them an important part of life in Budapest in many different ways.
What you should know about Budapest’s ruin bars – hints and tips
- Although they can be found all over the city, the majority of ruin pubs lie within the Terézváros and Erzsébetváros
- Entry to the ruin bars are free, you only pay for things you want to drink, eat or smoke in there.
- Most ruin bars have guards by the door who will check your bags. No drinks are allowed on premises, including bottled water, so expect these to be confiscated if you bring them with you.
- Drinks are decently priced, unless you want a cocktail, which will cost you quite a lot more (as I learnt the hard way!)