I recently visited Budapest, Hungary with Avalon Waterways to check out their new “Active and Discovery” excursion tours that are offered on their European river cruises. Since I have been on my share of European river cruises along the Rhine, Main, and the Danube, I was excited to try out their new style of excursions. One of my choices for a “discovery” excursion was called the Retro Tour. Avalon Waterways billed the tour as a way to “travel back in time in Budapest History”. And since I love the city of Budapest, I was easily hooked!
Pub Crawl Budapest
These Trabants created quite the scene for our “pit stops” along the retro tour! Every time we stopped, I saw people flashing their cell phone cameras at us and smiling! Each stop transported us back in time, back to the olden days of Budapest. Honestly, this tour was so much fun. In fact, I think it may have been one of my favorite tours just for the nostalgia of it all! (Although I loved the “discovery” tour I took to Clam Castle and the “active” bicycle tours that I took in Budapest, Vienna, and the Wachau Valley)
One of the stops on the retro tour was to the most famous ruin bar in Budapest called Szimpla Kert. And since I have been to Budapest many times, I had been here before, but it is always fun to revisit. During my previous visits to Budapest, I have seen my share of pubs and bars.
What Exactly is a Budapest Pub Crawl?
Basically, Budapestians have one day of the year they can put out trash and discard items they no longer want on the street, as authorized by the city. On that day, the city workers come by and pick up all the discarded items. But the owners of this ruin bar decided to hire people to pick up the discarded items in the street and “decorate” abandoned buildings found in the city with all the “stuff” that they collected. So they collect it, take these things to the ruin bars, decorate with it, and that is how you will find a ruin bar or go on a Budapest pub crawl!
Budapest Has Many Ruin Bars
Budapest has a lot of ruin bars or pub crawls in the Jewish Quarter because it was once home to a flourishing Jewish community before WWII. But when thousands of Jews were deported, this area fell into neglect and poverty. This neglect continued into the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Many buildings and houses were abandoned. So ruin bars created a buzz to allow locals and now tourists to come back to these types of neighborhoods. Today, these neighborhoods have emerged into some of the best Budapest pub crawl neighborhoods on the Pest side of the Danube River!
Budapestians call these pop-up pubs “ruin bars” or if you like “Budapest Pub Crawl” heaven! They are sprinkled throughout the run-down neighborhoods. Pub Crawls are great to bring in tourists to these impoverished neighborhoods. As mentioned before, the bar owners find abandoned buildings, rent them out or buy them. Then they clean them up (sort of– as you can still see pipes coming out of walls or ceilings/electric wires on the outsides of the wall, etc). Then they install a bar, decorate it in wild fashionable decor and the people flock to these pubs.
Ruin Bars Are Known for Their Eclectic Decor
As mentioned before, ruin bars are typically housed in dilapidated buildings with great architecture that has been brought back to life! They tend to be filled with discarded furniture, dated interior design pieces, graffiti, and old electronics that you haven’t seen in years!
You can pretty much guarantee there will be graffiti on the walls, in the stalls of the bathroom, and everywhere else! Primarily, they are the new “hip cool pub” for the young at heart! Many of these Budapest pubs are located very near to each other. So you can walk or take public transportation from one pub to the next pub. So you don’t even have to worry about drinking and driving. Remember safety first!
This capital city has plenty of pub crawl bars or ruin bars to choose from. Since you don’t have months to find them all while on your one-week vacation to Budapest, let me help you by recommending my top pub crawls in Budapest.
Let’s Go on a Budapest Pub Crawl:
#1 Trabant Retro Lounge & Bar
Trabant Retro Lounge & Bar was also on my Retro tour with Avalon Waterways. It was stop number one. What I loved about it was that it truly was like walking back in time… Russian time that is. In fact, our guide grew up here in Budapest, and walking around the Retro Bar he said it was like reminiscing about his childhood days! It was filled with pieces that reminded him of his past life in Budapest as a communist country and also of his grandmother!
It was a glimpse into everyday life during what they call the ‘Goulash Communism’ days. Come in, look around, order a wine spritzer or a sour-cherry soda in this downtown retro bar. You won’t be disappointed as you look around at the Trabant lodged into the ceiling, the old-style hairdresser dryers, and dial-up telephones. Don’t forget to look up to the hanging luggage on a rotating dry cleaning conveyor belt!
#2 For Sale Pub
For Sale Pub is one of those bars that is decorated with the guest’s artwork, photos, and any other paper you can imagine hanging from the ceiling. With its brick fireplace and straw-strewn wooden floors, go in, then grab a seat and sit for a while. This pub is located right across from the Great or Central Market Hall, where many tourists stumble upon it! It is a fun little stop in this massive capital city. And the portion size of the food is huge – where they actually warn you of this on their menu!
#3 Koleves Vendeglo
For our next Budapest Pub crawl, I was hesitant to put this one on the list, but after thinking about it, its garden is like an open-air village pub in the countryside of Hungary. Where the adults are having their beer, yet the kids are hanging out eating ice cream and playing outside. So stop by for a nice drink in the evening.
Koleves Vendeglo is also known as the “Stone Soup Restaurant”. You might as well make a reservation and eat off of the restaurant’s eclectic menu that mixes traditional Hungarian food with local Jewish food! Everything from matzo ball soup and roast goose to catfish stew with noodles!
Ruin Bars in Budapest
#4 Szimpla Kert
Probably the most famous ruin bar and pub craw place (ever!) in Budapest is Szimpla Kert, meaning “Simple Garden”. Be sure and go upstairs and look all around. Order a drink, walk around, as it is THE original ruin bar. I believe it is the biggest and the oldest ruin bar in town. It even has an old stripped out Trabant (East German car) to have a drink in if you want! But then once you have checked it out and have taken all your photographs: get out of there! As it has evolved into a tourist haven!
If you only want to take a peek, go there during the day, so you can really see it. At night and on the weekend, this place is packed full of visitors. Either way, it is a must-visit on any trip to Budapest, if only for a bit of your time.
#5 Kolevest Kert
Kolevest Kert is just up the road from Szimpla Kert and it is great to visit in the afternoon because it is more relaxed and also is outdoors. Next to Kolevest Kert are Mika Kert and Ellato Kert, they are not quite as nice but do pop your head in for a moment. Once you have had a chance to see them all, I’ll let you decide which one of these Budapest pubs crawls you like the best.
#6 Corvin Teto
For our next Budapest Ruin bar adventure, let head to this ruin bar that is located in an abandoned supermarket on the rooftop called Corvin Teto. This rooftop terrace makes it very popular in the summertime, as it has a view of the buildings of Pest and the hills across the Danube River of Buda. It makes for a nice sunset bar to have a drink. It also is more “clubby” and has lots of dancing and music, especially electronic music (not really my cup of tea, but I have one college-aged son who loves that style and insisted we go here!)
Of course, Instant is probably the largest ruin bar ever and one of my favorite Budapest pub craws! It is located in an entire apartment building! This one has more of a club-like atmosphere with over 20 rooms to hang out in. They knocked out many of the walls so that you can see from one apartment to another. You can sit in basic furniture, ie discarded couches, and chairs that resemble a living room! They even have furniture attached to the ceiling! So get ready for this if that is what you are looking for! As they have DJ’s and lots of music and dancing. Since it is more “clubby” than a bar, it is also more expensive.
And who doesn’t love Fogashaz? Fogashaz is not as lively as Szimpla Kert, as it aims to be more of a local hangout than Szimpla Kert. It is smaller and less touristy. You will find a more local crowd here having drinks in this area around Klauzal ter, the heart of the old Jewish district. It has bicycles and glasses hanging from the ceiling, so I am sure you won’t want to miss seeing that!
At one time, it was believed to be an old dentist’s office, as they found a sign in the building when installing the bar. Therefore, some call it the “House of Teeth”! At Fogashaz Haz there is not a lot of loud music like in other pubs, but they do have ping-pong tables for your athletic endeavors!
Obviously, there are many more pubs and ruin bars to explore in Budapest:
#9 Anker Kert
Anker Kert, also known as Anker’t is one of the more subtle bars among the ruin bars in Budapest. In comparison to the colorfully and chaotic ruin pubs like Szimpla Kert, the Anker’t doesn’t focus on crazy decoration and exaggerated frills. Also, I felt that the audience is not much on alternative outerwear and seemed to be more casual. They have a relaxed and chill atmosphere. Plus the music is GREAT!
#10 Retox Bar
At the Retox Bar, the party goes on forever! This place is actually crazy! There is always an atmosphere and the party goes on until late into the morning. This is actually a hostel as well, so you can imagine what goes on here!
#11 Füge Advar
Füge Advar is a great place to do a Budapest pub crawl. It is a lively, colorful ruin-pub on Klauzál street. Beyond the heated garden, there is a spacious inside area as well as Winter Füge, which is a basement area (füge basement) with table soccer, table tennis, and snooker in the playroom. Monthly they have varying special prices, four-bar counters, projectors, music, and burgers. In fact, W35 Grill Bar serves up savory snacks and by far were some of our favorites!
#12 Mika Kert
#13 Ellato Kert
Of all the Ruin Bars my group visited in Budapest, we all agreed this was the best one! Ellato Kert’s atmosphere was relaxed, there was a fairly large drinks menu on the wall behind the bar, and there was plenty of seating options inside and outside from chairs to sofas. In fact, we loved it so much we went a few times upon our return to Budapest. We Didn’t want the hustle and bustle of the larger Ruin Bars. They also have great Mexican street food which is more suitable for late night snacks. Also, try the cherry beer!
#14 Mazel Tov
But according to Budapest and the best Budapest pub crawl you can have, Mazel Tov is THE PLACE TO BE, currently! In fact, it is so famous, that you have to get a reservation in advance! LOL! Considered to be one of the best restaurants in the Jewish quarter, it feels like a hipster scene. It is gorgeous and decorated with a hanging garden, live music, and of course, delicious food!
I was trying to keep my list of pub crawls short, but there are so many more Budapest Pub Crawls you can do!
#15 Csendes Létterem
And of course, I will give you my insider tip: when it comes to a great pub crawl in Budapest, the Csendes Letterem is one of the absolute best ones! This really chic bar is located in the 5th district. Csendes Letterem feels comfortable compared to other ruin bars. During the daytime it is run as a café, in the evening it turns into a pleasantly quiet bar, which I like!
I do recommend you try the goulash soup and they have a great burger selection! Plus the prices are cheap.
One of our last stops on the retro tour with Avalon Waterways was our stop at Momento Park. This park is an open-air museum lying on the outskirts of town where the largest monuments and statues dedicated to the cold war are resting. It was quite a sight to see!
My fascination with this city never ceases to amaze me and every time I visit, I always find new and different things to do. I certainly appreciated the retro tour given by Avalon Waterways, as they helped me find something new this time too! I also love visiting these crazy pubs and ruin bars for fun (not really for drinking, but when in Rome…).
Obviously, there are many more pubs and ruin bars to explore in Budapest (such as Anker Kert, Ellto House, Ellto Garden, Retox Bar, and Fuge Advar, but I am trying to keep my list of pub crawls short and doable on a quick city visit!).
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Read about another excursion I took on AmaWaterways: Cycling the Danube River
Disclosure: As is common in the travel industry, Dr. Maloney was provided with accommodations, meals, and other compensation for the purposes of review managed iambassador in partnership with Amazon Waterways. While it has not influenced her review, PointsandTravel.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. All Photos are by the author. There may be affiliate links in this article.