Budapest's Best Ruin Bars

Known as romkocsma, Budapest’s ruin bars are an unlikely phenomenon for a city with a reputation of romantic grandeur to uphold. But ruin bars, aptly named for their locations within dilapidated old buildings, give an honest (and uber-trendy) voice to the city’s bohemian history and eclectic nightlife.

Following WWII, there were a collection of neighbourhoods within Budapest that fortune forgot. A lot of beautiful old buildings, particularly in the Jewish quarter, slowly succumbed to urban decay. But in the face of 1990s property-developer predation, local artists banded together to create amorphous ‘art spaces’ out of these neglected inner-city secrets. Tumbledown apartment buildings, cavernous old warehouses and curious shopfronts became places to practice art, make music, screen films, eat, drink and make merry. Without the interior design budgets that other drinking establishments usually benefit from, ruin bars were principally decorated with found objects - setting the scene for shabby chic and industrial style. Although they're not steeped in centuries of history, or situated in the most elegantly distinguished buildings, ruin bars showcase a different side of Budapest and provide an exciting contrast to more traditional tourist attractions.

Here we've picked 5 of the best ruin bars to help you sample the city's nightlife.

1. Csendes Vintage Bar

Csendes translates as quiet, and this bar, its high ceilings all hung about with odds and ends like old prams and mannequin busts, is perhaps best visited when the dancing’s all done and you’re ready to have some quiet time with a board game and the hair of the dog. Don’t mistake quiet for boring though – there’s far too much to look at here, and plenty to sink your teeth into on the hearty menu.

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Red Route, Stop: Király Street

2. Instant

Like a run-down office complex dedicated to the serious business of partying, Instant is situated in an entire apartment building. It’s the biggest ruin bar in Budapest, and has over 26 different rooms, with an ‘enchanted forest’ dancefloor as its centrepiece. With pricier drinks, the vibe here is definitely more club than pub, but you’ll find that the eclectic atmosphere at the heart of the ruin bar phenomenon translates well to a large-format enterprise – ideal for when you really want to go out out in Budapest.

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Red Route, Stop: New York Cafe 

3. Dzzs

Head to Dzzs for a cosier contrast to the aforementioned Instant and Grandio. It’s smaller, less crowded and more local – you’ll find cheaper drinks and an authentic arrangement of artwork, live music, friendly bar staff and tasty snacks. The clientele isn’t as homogenous, so visitors of all stripes should find a warm welcome here. Our tip? Don’t miss the secret garden out back.

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Red Route, Stop: New York Cafe

4. Grandio

The outdoor courtyard at Grandio makes it the perfect place to air yourself out after a summer’s day of sightseeing. It’s part of a hostel, so there’s always going to be a good number of travellers propping up the bar. Relax under the courtyard’s trees with a drink and a smile on your face, and be prepared to join a ruin bar crawl with fellow visitors.

Red Route, Stop: New York Cafe 

5. Szimpla Kert

It’s regarded as a ruin bar mecca, and for good reason. Szimpla Kert was the very first one, springing up out of an old factory in 2001. It’s a multi-functional destination, with art exhibitions, musical performances, film screenings and markets all mainstays on its cultural calendar. Combining the best features of the city’s other ruin bars, including a giant courtyard, a warren of rooms dedicated to different themes and pursuits, and even an old communist Trabant car to sit in, it’s Szimpla the best.

Red Route, Stop: New York Cafe 

Once you've bar hopped your way through the above list, there's plenty more to see and do in Budapest after dark. From mystical circus shows to comedy nights, and everything in between, we’ve rounded up our top picks of things to do at night in Budapest - check out our guide on Budapest Nightlife.