Budapest’s 'ruin bars' – quirky pubs and clubs that have taken over the city's abandoned spaces – shouldn't be missed. Here are four of the best to start you off...
The original, most popular, and (some say) the best, Szimpla is a huge maze of mismatched furniture and random items strewn about in the bohemian rooms and open courtyard. A hollowed-out Trabant turns out to be a couch. A bathtub spliced in half also reveals itself to be a seating arrangement. There isn’t much here that isn’t disguised seating space waiting to come to life – but you have to arrive early to snap up the best spots.
Szimpla Kert (Flickr Creative Commons: Simon Q)
After opening in 2001, moving around, settling in 2004, inviting decoration by contemporary artists and wooing the locals with its second-hand style, Szimpla has set the scene for Budapest’s night owls. It is a great place to meet locals, fellow travellers, or just appreciate the relaxed atmosphere.
Lokál is slightly smaller than some of its fellows, and also slightly quieter, being more of a locals' pub than Instant or Szimpla – the bar staff will be a lot friendlier and chattier if you at least attempt a köszönöm (thank you) in Hungarian. There's an incredibly mixed crowd, from ageing locals who have lived through a communist Hungary to wide-eyed young backpackers.
If Szimpla is the grandparent of ruin bars, Instant (+36-1-311-0704) is the younger, buzzing relative. Decorated with disco balls and hordes of rabbits dashing across the ceiling, it's devoted to displaying Budapest’s music scene, and it also makes for a surreal but quiet afternoon drinking spot to escape the crowds.
Instant pub (Flickr Creative Commons: JaSchau)
Unlike some ruin bars that start with a courtyard and occupy selections of the buildings sandwiching them, Instant takes up a whole building to itself – and with its maze of back rooms, it’s easy to get lost here.
Bright primary colours light up the courtyard of Fogasház, which is a lovely spot for wiling away the evening. This is one of the quieter ruin bars in the city – both in volume of crowds and music. Fogasház has a relaxed vibe, with small tables allowing intimate conversation, and bicycles adopted to decorate the walls.