Look at any guide to Hungary’s elegant capital city and you’ll probably see “visit a ruin bar” somewhere near the top. They’re as akin to Budapest as patisseries are to Paris (plus they’ll make equally as awesome backdrops for all your holiday snaps).
While it’s perfectly possible to sip on sundowners in chic cocktail bars or set sail on a champagne cruise down the Danube, the cherry on top of Budapest’s drinking scene is undoubtedly these laidback bars which are unpretentious, unadorned and, in some cases, darn impossible to find unless you’re in the know…
So, what’s the deal with ruin bars in Budapest?
Wondering how these bizarre drinking holes lodged inside tumble-down buildings came to be? Many visitors to beautiful Budapest are curious about the heritage of its ruin bars – and it’s a pretty fascinating story to boot.
Like many cities in Europe, Budapest was hit hard in WWII and suffered invasions from both the Nazis and the Soviet Union. This was especially true in the Jewish Quarter (also sometimes called Erzsébetváros) which was left in a pretty awful state for decades after the war ended.
In the early 2000s, some savvy locals decided to turn a few of Budapest’s abandoned buildings into super chilled out underground bars featuring cheap-as-chips drinks and décor mostly made up of unwanted furniture and kooky bric-a-brac.
Fast forward to today and these lowkey pubs are actually some of Budapest’s best nightlife spots. It helps that even a pint of good local craft ale in one of these rough-around-the-edges venues tends to come in at around 1200 HUF (£3). Not fussy? Standard draught lager is typically just 400 HUF (£1) per pint.
The best ruin bars in Budapest
If you fancy getting ruined in a ruin bar (excuse the bad pun), we’ve rounded up some tried-and-tested options to check out on your next Hungarian holiday. Pop into one of them for a leisurely night cap or set out on an epic Budapest ruin bar crawl at all five…
The biggest – and often regarded as the best – ruin bar in Budapest has to be Szimpla Kert. It’s famous for being one of the first ruin pubs in the city and for its eclectic set up which’ll see you wandering through eight or so different rooms, each with its own bar and theme.
You’ll find Szimpla Kert tucked away in a huge warehouse in the Jewish Quarter and it’s easy to stroll straight past unless you keep your eyes peeled for its vintage-style street sign. Like most ruin bars, it’s pretty unassuming until you walk through the doors and into what essentially feels like a cave covered in all sorts of crazy junk. It all centres around a covered central courtyard littered with tables and chairs, plus a cool 1950s-era Trabant car that’s been turned into an intimate seating area (we reckon it’s the best spot to sit in the building).
Drink prices vary at Szimpla depending on which bar you go to. What’s more, you’ll have your pick of beverages, from local beers and mulled wine to fruity cocktails and heady Hungarian liqueurs like pálinka. There are also several outlets serving typical comfort food like burgers and pizza – perfect for sobering yourself up for the walk back to your hotel.
Szimpla isn’t just about good drinks and tasty grub, though. The venue also hosts concerts, live theatre nights and even the occasional flea market. Check out its website for full details on any upcoming events.
Location: Kazinczy u. 14
If crumbling walls and cars turned into makeshift sofas sounds a bit too ghetto for your tastes, Mazel Tov is a much better match. It’s a relative newbie to the Budapest ruin bar scene and definitely one of the city’s more upmarket options.
Mazel Tov is an Instagrammers dream thanks to its wood panelled walls, shabby-chic furnishings, strings of fairy lights and gorgeous greenery which hangs dramatically down from its high ceilings. Its gorgeous aesthetic does mean its menu comes with a slightly higher price tag than other Budapest ruin bars; however, it still won’t break the bank.
Don’t just venture here solely for the delicious cocktails or decent vino (who knew Hungary had such a thriving wine industry?!) Mazel Tov also has a mouth-watering food menu of wholesome Jewish dishes and tasty Mediterranean mezze. Get your taste buds going with some homemade houmous, a pastrami and pickle sandwich or some slow-cooked lamb served on creamy mashed polenta.
Depending on which night you visit Mazel Tov, you might even get to listen to local jazz musicians perform as you wine and dine…
Location: Akácfa u. 47
This ruin bar inside the much-loved Grandio party hostel is one of our top picks for a more chilled out evening or cheap pre-drink session before you hit up livelier locations like Instant (see below).
Spread out across the hostel’s courtyard, the ruin pub is a real mishmash of roughly painted seating, strung up lanterns, bizarre art pieces and even the occasional hammock. Did we mention the lush vegetation? This has to be one of the leafiest bars you’ll ever visit; the entire space is dotted with trees which gives it serious jungle vibes and adds to its air of abandonment.
Grandio is definitely a place for a pint and a chat rather than a round of shots. In the winter, fire pits are placed around the courtyard and staff serve up delicious mulled wine.
Location: Nagy Diófa u. 8
Saying this ruin bar is huge would be an understatement; Instant takes up an entire apartment building, with each individual floor offering a different genre of music. There’s additionally no fewer than 18 bars – including a more relaxed one on the roof – where you can grab a drink and then head straight into the crowd on your preferred dancefloor. In true ruin bar style, Instant’s furniture looks like it’s been retrieved from a dumpster, but don’t let that put you off.
Instant also merged with another ruin bar in 2017: Fogasház, which loosely translates to “House of Teeth”. Apparently, it got its name when the original owners found a dental office sign in one of its rooms. Regardless of its odd title, you’ll find Fogasház is closer to a typical ruin pub in Budapest, while Instant offers a wilder, party vibe.
Location: Akácfa u. 49-51
Okay, so this one is more of a pub garden than your classic ruin bar, but it’s still a great spot for a drink and a natter. It’s essentially just some mismatched tables and chairs set up on the grass in City Park – Budapest’s largest green space that’s only a short bus ride away from the Jewish Quarter.
Kertem – meaning “my garden” in the local lingo) – does have a permanent bar area beneath a wooden pagoda, plus there’s sometimes a food truck dishing out greasy yet oh-so-delicious burgers. It’s a real sanctuary among the trees and an ideal place for a few drinks on a hot day (note that it’s only open in the summer).
Can’t wait to get your drink on in Hungary’s stunning capital city? Start to Dream, Plan and Book your perfect getaway to Budapest with the Orbzii app.