The Ruin Pubs of Budapest

Budapest is a budget traveler’s dream. The Hungarian capital is equal parts beautiful and run-down, a sign of its rich cultural history and its decades of communist occupation. It’s hard to undo 45 years of conflict and strife so many parts of Budapest are still battered and derelict. Unlike other cities, where this might be dangerous or unsightly, something about the energy of the Hungarian people makes it charming and captivating. In come the ruin pubs. Ruin pubs in Budapest are bars or clubs that have converted the empty spaces and abandoned buildings of the city into beautiful, affordable watering holes for locals and tourists alike.

The pubs are scattered throughout the city but concentrated mostly on the Pest side to the east of the Danube River.  If you Google Map directions to one, you’ll be a few steps or blocks from all the others, as they are very close to each other, making for excellent nights of bar hopping while in Budapest. The bars are all relatively unique, even though they share certain qualities, so it’s definitely worth visiting several of them. Though the formula varies, your average ruin pub will have a lot of exposed brick and a makeshift uncovered patio that may or may not be the result of missing roofs or torn down walls. The decor is a mix between junkyard and busy antique shop. You may find old street signs, car parts, to an entire piano. It’s the kind of look that many hipster bars and restaurants in the US try to cultivate in a less authentic way.

You can usually find beer, wine, a variety of cocktails, and even food at most of these ruin pubs. Some large ruin pubs, like Szimpla Kert, have different rooms or areas, where you can enjoy live music, performance art, or a DJ. As a result, people spend many hours at these pubs hanging out and drinking until the wee hours (as late as 5 or 6 am in some cases). You can dance or sit around on mismatched chairs and couches and relax.

Some of the ruin pubs not to miss include:

Szimpla Kert

szimpla kert

As mentioned above, this is one of the largest, most intricate ruin pubs and also happens to be credited as the first one. It’s housed in a huge abandoned building and every single room and corner contains something worth seeing. They often have scheduled concerts or open stage nights where local musicians can come together to share their music with the masses. It’s usually quite busy so you can enjoy a long night of loud music and dancing in a big crowd or you can make your way to one of the quieter areas of the pub where you can find an old lawn chair, ottoman, or box to sit on to have a beer.

Instant

The self-proclaimed largest ruin pub in Budapest is Instant. Here you can find a similar variety of ambiance in their seven rooms and two gardens. Instant also offers live music and like a large dance club in Vegas or Miami, has specific rooms for different types of music including pop, electronic, and underground. Unlike the big clubs of the US, there is no cover and the drinks are cheap. You can also enjoy a much more toned down version of Instant with acoustic concerts and jazz in the courtyard. Because of its size, it offers a lot of variety. You’ll feel like you’re bar-hopping without ever leaving the place.

Fogas Haz

Under the circus tent of Fogas Haz
Under the circus tent of Fogas Haz

Another artsy and unique ruin pub is Fogas Haz, which is as adjacent to four other night life hot spots, including Larm, Kert, and Liebling. Kert is a large outdoor courtyard which contrasts the loud, dark, dance floor in Haz. At Liebling, you’ll find an entirely different atmosphere of a cozy wood-paneled speakeasy. This conglomerate of bars can keep you busy for hours. Outside of the party, here you can also find films being screened or art exhibitions. If you’re looking for a more laid back, less artsy bar experience, you can also play foosball or ping pong.

Kuplung

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Kuplung in Budapest

Kuplung is not as large or elaborate as the other ruin pubs, but it makes for a good, relaxing time day or night. The art on the walls of the outdoor courtyard and the hanging light-up jellyfish give you the vague feeling of being underwater. They have an extensive concert and events calendar, often serving as a concert venue or hosting a variety of events. When the place isn’t packed during one of these events, you can sit at the bar or grab a table and enjoy the night air.

Red Ruin Bar

Though farther from the main ruin pub area, Red Ruin Bar makes it on the list because it epitomizes the spirit and sense of humor the people of Budapest have about their communist history. At this laid back hole-in-the-wall, you can enjoy $2 liters of beer while you enjoy the satirical communist decor. If you have a twisted sense of humor and you happen to be in area, stop in for a round with the “communist party.”

The communist party at Red Ruin Bar.
The communist party at Red Ruin Bar.

Check out the GPS-guided version of this article on GPSmyCity here.