Many guide books on Budapest give the impression that, before the political changes of 1989, there was little in the way of nightlife. Although it's fair to say that back then most venues (especially those in university halls) were a throw back to the days of cheesy 70s disco, glitter balls and alarmingly wide trousers, locals have always found places in which to party until the early hours.
Of the more 'sophisticated' western style clubs which have sprung up since then, many come with burly bouncers, expensive beer and journeymen DJs. That said, it's still easy to find a lively salsa bar or enjoy the laid back atmosphere of a Budapest jazz club.
As well as our listings for nightclubs and casinos below, further details about nightlife in the city can be found in the Budapest Sun or Budapest 'In Your Pocket' Guide.
XI. Pázmány Péter sétány (at the Buda side of Petőfi Bridge), Tel: 464 3940, Website: www.a38.hu Open: 11am-midnight Mon-Sat. When club nights are advertised in advance 4pm-4am. We're fine with party boats just so long as they stayed moored all night (essential after a few shots of Unicum). Luckily, the A38 does just that, being an old stone-carrying ship in its previous incarnation. Having been dragged all the way from the Ukraine, its new owners set about giving it a full refit before opening for business in 2003. The A-38 attracts big name DJs from across Europe, with the fun and games spread over three floors (incorporating a restaurant, roof terrace, lounge and club). Those in the know rate it highly.
VII. Huszár utca 7, Tel: 06-20-919-7979, Website: www.babar.hu, Open: Sun-Thu 11.30am-2am, Fri-Sat 1130am-4am, Metro: Keleti pu. Located just a short walk away from Keleti railway/metro station, the Ba Bar Lounge is an modern, attractively decorated bar cum restaurant, with small dance-floor attached. In keeping with its upscale aspirations, service and attention to detail are both good, while the comfy chill out areas and tasteful music are a far cry from some of Budapest's dodgier venues. Nice.
V. Nyári Pál u. 11. Tel: 267 3199, Fax: 328 0706, Website: www.fatmo.hu, Open: Mon/Tue noon- 2am, Wed noon-3am, Thu/Fri noon-4am, Sat 6pm-4am, Sun 6pm-2am, Metro: M3 Kálvin tér/M3 Ferenciek tere A music venue, bar and restaurant rolled into one, Fat Mo's is included here (rather than on our bar/pub pages) as the club stages regular DJ sets, along with jazz, soul and blues nights. Seemingly around forever, the club has still managed to retain its popularity, both with locals and expats alike.
VI. Nagymező utca 25, Tel: 312 3823, Open: 10pm-6am daily, Metro: M1 Oktogon Anyone with vaguely Bohemian leanings seems to wind up at Piaf, a stylish and sophisticated night-club, named of course, after the famous French Diva. Red velvet furnishings abound, while the music upstairs (which is often provided by a resident pianist) has a distinctly jazzy feel. The basement bar is an altogether different proposition though, with all sorts of weird and wonderful characters cutting shapes on Piaf's lively dance-floor.
IX. Fővám tér 8, Tel: 215 4359 Open: Mon-Sat 8pm-5am, Metro: M3 Kálvin tér, Tram 2, 47, 49 Student disco located in the bowels of the city's Economics University. Disco oriented grooves and a weekly karaoke are supplemented by cheap beer and no-nonsense food. Bouncers have a reputation for being real bruisers, so keep out of trouble!
If you prefer to gamble, rather than dance the night away, Budapest has over a dozen casinos, most of which are sited in the luxury hotels along the Dunakórzo. Formal dress is often a prerequisite for entry (as is a sizeable wallet). All accept hard currency only (usually US dollars, sterling or Euro).
I. Hess András tér 1-3, Tel: 375 1001, Open: 7pm-2am daily, Free Entry, Metro: M2 Moszkva tér then Várbusz Slots plus Blackjack, Caribbean Stud Poker, English Roulette, French Roulette, Red Dog and Video Poker. See Hilton Hotel.
V. Roosevelt tér 2, Tel: 266 2082, Open 2pm-5am daily, Free Entry, Metro: M1 Vörösmarty tér Slots plus American Roulette, Blackjack, Craps and Poker. See Hyatt Regency Hotel
V. Vígadó u. 2, Tel: 266 3062, Website: www.tropicanacasino.hu, Open 2pm-5pm daily, Free Entry for Hilton guests, reduced entry for Budapest Card holders, Metro: M1 Vörösmarty tér Popular casino just off Váci utca which is easily recognizable thanks to a bright neon entrance (see left). And, even if you don't plan on gambling away a fortune, the Tropicana can provide a few hours entertainment without emptying your wallet. Slots plus American Roulette, Black Jack, Caribbean Draw Poker/Stud Poker and Punto Banco.
With a population of only 10.5 million it's surprising that, over the years, Hungary has had such a high level of success in major sporting competitions. At the Olympics especially, the nation often achieves a respectable tally of medals in disciplines such as football, fencing, gymnastics, water polo and swimming.
Back home, major athletics meetings and football matches are held at the Puskás Ferenc Stadion (formerly the Népstadion) - Budapest's 68,000 all seater arena - while indoor events will take place at the nearby Budapest Arena (a purpose built, futuristic looking venue, that replaces the old fire damaged Sportcsarnok).
The most popular spectator sport is football, with Budapest providing most of the nation's popular teams. The standard of domestic football is moderate, while the international team failed (yet again) to reach the Euro 2004 Championships in Portugal.
Sadly, Hungary hasn't really had a world class team since the golden team (aranycsapat) of the 1950s, which many hold to be the greatest footballing side ever. The team's domination of the world stage at this time, through players such as Ferenc Puskás, Jószef Boszik, Sándor Kocsis and Nándor Hidegkuti was most famously demonstrated in a friendly match against England on a cold November afternoon in 1953.
The home side, who had previously joked about Puskás being a couple of stones overweight ("who's that fat little fellow?") knew they had a match on their hands when, during the warm-up, the Hungarians began volleying the ball to each other continuously from opposite sides of the pitch. The final scoreline of 6-3 to Hungary (which flattered England) saw Hidegkuti help himself to a hat-trick.
The following year, as a prelude to the World Cup in Switzerland, a return friendly in Budapest was marked by a similar scoreline, this time 7-1 to Hungary. With Puskás's team now seemingly unbeatable, they waltzed through the early stages of the World Cup to play Germany in the final. Although in qualifying, they had trounced a deliberately under strength German side (and despite going 2-0 up early on in the final) the combination of a change in tactics by their opponents and an injured Puskás saw Hungary lose 3-2. Older locals of course still claim that the team was robbed (a thunderous last minute equalizer by Puskás was disallowed for offside) although the sad reality is that the match marked the beginning of the end for Hungary's global supremacy. Less than two years later, the players who had made up the team dispersed to the four winds after the Soviets invaded in 1956, with both Puskás and Kocsis (nicknamed "the man with the golden head") staying in the west.
While today's Hungarian teams aren't even on the same planet in footballing terms (with many top players being arrogant, lazy and unable to fathom the concept of a tackle), a trip to a match in Budapest can still be good fun. It's certainly cheap compared to western prices and although there's some hooliganism (particularly centred around Ferencváros the most popular team), thugs are hardly on a par with those in Germany, Holland or the UK. Budapest's most popular local teams are:
IX. Üllöi út 129, Tel: 215 6025, Fax: 215 3698, Website: www.ftc.hu, Capacity 18,000, Colours: green and white, Metro: M3 Népliget Hungary's biggest and most successful club. "Fradi" as they are affectionately known, have the best stadium in town and the most ardent fan base. Local rivals Honvéd provide the best fixture of the season. Be warned though wearing red in the home end is not a bright idea.
XIX Újtemető utca 1-3, Capacity 15,000 (5000 seated), Colours: red and black, Metro: M2 Határ út then tram 42 to the end of the line Not surprising really that Honvéd's prodigal son Ferenc Puskás is still hero worshipped here by those old enough to remember his wizardry during the 1950s. Occasionally he attends on match days, although what he must think of this famous old army side's current team is anyone's guess.
VIII, Salgótarjáni út 12-14, Tel: 333 8368, Fax: 303 0592, Website: www.mtkhungaria.hu, Capacity: 12,700, (5000 seated), Colours: white and blue, Metro: M2 Népstadion then trolleybus 75 or tram 1 Playing at the Hidegkuti Nándor Stadion (named after the famous Hungarian forward who played in the "aranycsapat" of 1954) MTK have seen a resurgence of late, now overtaking both Kispest and Újpest as Budapest's second best team.
IV. Megyeri út 13, Website: www.ujpestfc.hu, Capacity 32,000 (12,000 seated), Colours: white with purple trim, Metro: M3 Újpest Központ then Bus 104 or 96 to Megyeri út Not the force they once were during the 1930s, these days Újpest play second fiddle to Ferencváros. Mention András Töröcsik (their finest ever player) in glowing terms though and you'll be guaranteed a few pints after the final whistle.
With the benefit of Lake Balaton and a Strand or Fürdő in most towns, you'd expect Hungarians to love water sports. Swimming, waterpolo and canoeing are all very popular in Hungary, with swimming baths also being a major social meeting place for people. Best of all, most are family-oriented with good facilities and cheap entrance prices:
XIII Margaret Island, Tram 4/6 the bus 26, Open 6am-6pm Mon-Fri, 6am-7pm Sat/Sun. See Margaret Island
XI Kelenhegyi út 4, Trams 18, 19, 47 to Gellért tér, Open 6am-7pm daily. See Gellért Baths in our sightseeing section.
XII Margaret Island, Tram 4/6 the bus 26, Open May-mid September A massive sprawling complex on the Margaret Island which becomes unbelievably busy during the summer. See Margaret Island
XIV. állakerti körút 11, Metro: M1 Széchenyi fürdő, Open 6am-7pm daily See Széchenyi Baths in our sightseeing section. Hungarian Formula One (F1) Grand Prix
The Hungarian grand prix is held each August at the Hungaroring, east of Budapest at Mogyoród (take the M3 motorway out of Budapest). Having proved to be extremely popular over the years, the Hungarians are justly proud of hosting such a prestigious event. Although the race itself isn't in the same league as say San Marino or Monaco (due to a narrow, slow circuit), the warm weather and excellent facilities make the Grand Prix a pleasant event to attend. In particular, good natured Finnish fans always have a great time (they jokingly believe that the Hungarians are distant cousins, see language). Tickets are not cheap though and can, on occasion, be difficult to obtain. For further information visit www.hungaroring.hu (official ticket sales) or www.formula1.hu (unofficial website).
These sports are both popular in Hungary with an enthusiastic and noisy following. Hungary has had a strong record in major handball tournaments with good men's and women's teams. The basketball league has attracted sub-NBA standard American players, though unusually, the strongest teams are not based in the capital. Further details can be found on the Hungarian basketball Federation's website at: www.hunbasket.hu.
Golf has only recently begun to take a foothold in Hungary, being seen as a status symbol by many of the city's new young professionals (who can usually be found trudging around in the rough or cursing from the bunkers). Hungary's best golf course is Birdland Golf and Country Club, located in the spa town of Bük-fürdő (a long way from Budapest) although the Pannonia Golf and Country Club at Alcsútdoboz lies only 40km west of the city. The Petneháza Golf Club (driving range) is also worthy of consideration if you just fancy whacking off a few balls during your Budapest stay. For further details about golf courses in Hungary visit: www.hungolf.hu or www.golfhungary.hu.
The city guide lists scores of restaurants of different tastes and budgets. Just about every ethnic style is available: Mexican, Jewish, Greek, Japanese, French, Slav and many, many others.
The top-of-the-range Gundel, is where visiting royalty and heads of state often eat at. Your local corner etterem will offer an impossibly large menu of usually fried foods and a piled-high plate for reasonable prices.
A tip: Hungarian wines range from undrinkable plonk to award-winning, well-made and delicious Cabernets. If you don't have time to experiment, stick to wines from the Villany region, preferably Cabernet Sauvignons, or Chardonnays from Balaton. The prices are very reasonable. Local beers are also sold at a good value. Try Dreher on draught; a light, lager-style beer.