All Articles 8 best ruin bars in Budapest

8 best ruin bars in Budapest

A go-to guide to the city's top haunts

Jennifer Walker
By Jennifer Walker10 May 2024 6 minutes read
People sitting on stools in bar at night
Szimpla bar
Image: Tim White/Getty Images

When I first went to Szimpla Kert (one of Budapest’s most iconic ruin bars) almost 10 years ago, I found myself in a warren of rooms with crumbling, graffiti-covered walls strewn with fairy lights, crawling plants, and mismatched furniture, where old East German cars and bathtubs sawn in half were repurposed as seating. Sounds strange? It is—and that’s exactly why people love it.

Ruin bars, or romkocsma in Hungarian, get their name from the original bars that occupied the abandoned, dilapidated spaces left behind in the former Jewish Quarter in Budapest's VII District. This area became a ghetto in 1944, following WWII, and the bars remained empty well into the 2000s. But Budapest is a city of reinvention—and it shows its scars proudly. So these ugly, unused spaces in former factories, apartment complexes, and dental laboratories were given a vibrant new life.

Ruin bars are transient: While many began as pop-up artistic or counter-cultural hubs, today they’re frequented by tourists and bachelor parties. I'd say the concept of the original ruin bar has changed, and other than Szimpla Kert, most first-generation bars are gone or transformed beyond recognition. Don’t worry, a few old haunts still capture their spirit—and the updated ones have their own level of fun, too. From popular ruin bar icons to a few of my favorite local joints, here’s where to explore Budapest’s ruin bars.

For the original ruin bar: Szimpla Kert

Outdoor bar with lots of plants, hanging cloth, and colored stools
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

Szimpla Kert is the first ruin bar. Four humanities scholars founded a small café in a former locksmith's in 2001. Then they set up bars in parking lots and abandoned courtyards till the group took over a condemned building, a former stove factory, in 2004, which became the iconic place it is today. Although Szimpla Kert morphed into one of Budapest's top tourist attractions, it's still loyal to its countercultural origins, offering space to local artists—like life drawing events, pop-up exhibitions, and concerts (even I co-organized a surrealist festival here one summer)—and NGOs, as well as its farmers' and flea markets.

Tip: Come on a Sunday morning for its farmer's market and donation-based lunches run by local charities.

Travelers say: “Whether you are a b-boy, a graffiti artist, or a designer, this is a place you make sure to visit. A sense of lightness surrounds you the moment you enter, as people from different backgrounds and cultures frolic and mingle.” —Marios G

For an all-night party: Instant-Fogas

Animal figurines hanging above people at bar
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

Instant-Fogas began life as two separate ruin bars, but after the building housing the funky original—complete with furniture stuck to the ceiling—was bulldozed, it moved in with another iconic ruin bar. Fogas Ház and Kert, meaning "House and Garden of Teeth" thanks to its residence in a former dental laboratory, welcomed Instant into its home and merged into a super club.

Instant brought its surreal art collection over, like a female nude sculpture with an owl's head, and Fogas got to keep its large circus tent in its courtyard garden. The super ruin bar spans 1,200 square meters with 18 bars and seven dance floors, including micro-clubs catering to various music genres. It's a great place to forget reality and dance all night, only to stumble out at dawn.

Tip: There are several clubs inside: Go to Robot for rock, metal, and industrial; Unterwelt for party hits; and Frame for D&B, jungle, and dubstep.

Travelers say: “It doesn’t matter if you are in your 20s or your 40s, this place serves the right amount of fun! It has seven floors, and at least one of them will play your kind of music.” —Patty Evo

For the best food: Mazel Tov

People sitting on white wrought-iron chairs in room with glass ceiling and hanging greenery
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

A few doors down from Instant-Fogas, Mazel Tov is a bougie ruin bar for food-lovers. It blends the signature ruin bar features (think: crumbling walls and courtyard interior) with an elevated style I'd describe as Mediterranean-industrial chic—decorated with Moroccan tiles, hanging plants, and dangling Edison bulbs. It's more of a restaurant than a bar, serving shareable Middle Eastern dishes as well as quality wines, spirits, and craft cocktails. Booking is a must; I've learned that lesson the hard way on multiple occasions.

Tip: Try a shot of the pálinka, a traditional Hungarian fruit brandy. If you don't mind being spendy, it's worth forking out for the raspberry flavor, which is rare.

Travelers say: “Delicious food and fantastic atmosphere...lovely sociable venue with beautiful old external facade and chic interior with friendly staff. Also has veggie options, which is hard to find in Budapest otherwise.” —@Shauna D

For a hangout with friends: Csendes Létterem

People sitting inside and watching dimly lit concert
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

Csendes appropriately means "quiet" in Hungarian, but this doesn't mean like a library. Rather, "I can still sit down with friends for a conversation without losing my voice" kind of ambiance. The bar took over a former literary Fiume coffee house dating back to the 1880s. It morphed into a ruin bar with quirky decor, mismatched furniture, and graffiti scribbled on the walls. Csendes still echoes back to its classic café heritage, set in a large room with high ceilings and cast-iron columns. It's a quirky but chill place to have drinks with friends.

Tip: In the summer, head out to the terrace by the Károly Kert (Garden) at its sister bar, Csendes Társ.

Travelers say: “A fun and rather unique place. There are numerous ruin bars in Budapest, but I found that this is a bit more of the calm type. Usually quite crowded but the atmosphere is great. The drinks are good too.” —Bogi F

For pints of craft beer: Élesztő Craft Beer Bar

Outdoor space with worn brick walls, wooden tables, and atrium-style ceiling
Image: Neil K/Tripadvisor

Élesztő opened with a mission to offer the ruin bar experience to craft beer fans. It has 30 taps and a wide selection of beers from independent Hungarian breweries, from the usual suspects like lagers and IPAs to lambics and breakfast stouts. It's set in a former glassworks factory decked out with second-hand furniture and has its own bar and restaurant ecosystem. Although the focus is on the brews, there are also bars stocked with natural wines and spirits, so there’s a little bit of something for everyone.

Tip: If you like sour beers, try Feher Nyul's Rafa. I got hooked after tasting it at a party here.

Travelers say: “This was one of our 'locals' when we stayed just outside of District VIII, so we visited a few times. Great ruin pub, with a massive selection of craft beers and a laid-back atmosphere. We also ordered food, which was a little pricey but really nice with a good range of options.” —CDM

For interesting social events: Auróra

Several people sitting on chairs in white room for an event
Image: danmay/Tripadvisor

This one can be a bit of a hunt to find, as it's hidden in the VIII District behind a crumbling facade. Auróra is a cultural hub home to several NGO organizations and a gathering place for local activists. I've stumbled upon many great events here, like English-language comedy nights, art exhibitions, independent book launches, and LGBTQ-friendly parties. I even walked in on a refugee mixer while showing someone around town. It fits the ruin bar formula with its courtyard structure and upcycled furniture, but what sets Auróra apart for me is how it embodies the countercultural spirit of the first-generation ruin bars. You won't find bachelor parties here (please stay away), but a local socially conscious crowd who are welcoming and inclusive.

Tip: Check its social media accounts to see what events are on.

Travelers say: “Meeting place for a young, alternative, leftist crowd. Moderate prices, concerts, big social life, small courtyard, expats. You will probably have to ring the bell to enter. Please do not disturb the neighbors.” —csandras

For hot summer nights: Kőleves Kert

Bird's eye view of duck steak and ribeye steak dishes
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

This outdoor ruin bar popped up when the building next to the Kőleves restaurant was demolished; it left behind an empty plot immediately reclaimed by the restaurant as Kőleves Kert, an outdoor pub that’s packed all summer. Paved with gravel, decked out with colorful chairs and tables, and illuminated with fairy lights, with street art adorning the surrounding empty firewalls, it's the ideal spot in the balmy evenings. During the day, I often see families with kids. You’ll find a mix of local and international visitors (see the full bike rack) at night.

Tip: For a classic Hungarian summer drink, try fröccs (pronounced "frroech"), which is a spritzer with white wine or rosé. The most popular version of it is kisfröccs (a 50/50 blend of wine and sparkling water), or you can double down by ordering a nagyfröccs ("nadj-frroech").

Travelers say: “This place has a nice garden to drink your beer and get out with friends. It is a cheap bar and you can relax and have fun. It is one of the best bars in Budapest.” —Kostas B

For live folk music: Pótkulcs

People sitting around table in space with brick details and hanging artwork
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

I think Pótkulcs is one of Budapest's most underrated bars. Set in a former engineering workshop, this ruin bar attracts a local artistic, bohemian crowd. It feels like a secret garden, with a green courtyard as well as an indoor bar, side rooms, and a large cellar where live music and folk-dancing can be found most nights. It often has bands catering to genres like jazz-Ethno, Hungarian folk, and Balkan music.

Tip: The entrance is hard to find, so look for a wooden door set into a brick wall covered in ivy.

Travelers say: “Everything about this place was off the charts. From the little nameplate on the door to the fabulous bartenders, you can’t go wrong. We had a Rammstein Army meet at Heroes Square and then decided to head over to Potkulcs. Everyone was very friendly and accommodating and didn’t get at all flustered by the business rush.” —Tom

Jennifer Walker
Jennifer Walker is a British-Hungarian ex-nuclear physicist turned writer living in Hungary. Although she has lived and worked in the UK, Germany, Spain, Georgia, and India, she returned to Budapest in 2013 to reconnect with her Hungarian roots. She writes about Central Europe and is co-author of Moon Prague, Vienna, and Budapest. Her work has been featured in CNN Travel, Lonely Planet, The Times (UK), The Independent, National Geographic Travel, Conde Nast Traveler, BBC Travel, and TimeOut. She also co-founded the Panel Magazine, a literary magazine focusing on art and literature in Central and Eastern Europe. She spends most of her free time discovering Budapest’s hidden places and secrets (which she sometimes shares on Instagram @jenniferdeborahwalker)