The range of entertainment available in Budapest includes everything from clubbing and folk dancing to opera-going and jazz. To find out what's on , check out Where Budapest , a free magazine distributed in hotels; the listings in Budapest in your Pocket and Budapest Sun ; or the Hungarian-language weekly Pesti Est (available free in cinemas and bars; published on Wednesdays) for its English-language film section. Another source of information is the monthly Koncert Kalendárium (free from Tourinform, and the National Philharmonic Ticket office at Mérleg utca 10), which lists classical music performances, plus booking agencies .
Clubs and dancing
Budapest is not famed for its rave scene - though the old Turkish Rudas baths offer a fabulous setting for monthly Vizimozi dance parties ( www.cinetrip.hu ). It does, however, boast some good DJs , including international names such as Yonderboi, Keyser and Shuriken (easy listening), Palotai, Titus and Mango (drum'n'bass) Norman (house) and Superbeat (nujazz). Dancing often doesn't start till late, sometimes not before midnight. Some clubs and discos in the city are still run under the aegis of universities, though there are an increasing number of private ventures, some of which have a fairly strict entrance policy (entry is 200-1000Ft). You'll also find dancing in some of the bars we've listed, including the Old Man's Music Pub and Picasso Point , as well as in the three big arts centres, the Petofi Csarnok, Almássy téri Szabadido Központ, and the Trafó. Be warned that bouncers are a common feature of Budapest nightlife and it's worth keeping on the right side of them.
Cha Cha Cha IX, Kálvin tér subway. Glam 1970s bar with fake zebra furnishings and a louche feel. Despite its strange location, it attracts a big crowd spilling out into the concourse, and there are DJs Thursday to Saturday nights. Mon-Fri 7am-2am, Sat 10am-2am.
E-Klub X, Népliget (at the Planetarium). Formerly in block E of the Technical University, this once-wild cattle market for engineering students has been exiled to outer Pest. Today a more mixed crowd packs in for the two discos on different floors and beer galore. Fri & Sat 8pm-5am. Live rock music on Fridays.
Franklin Trocadero Café V, Szent István körút 15. Excellent Latin music and dancing just up from Nyugati Station. Daily 9pm-5am.
Közgáz DC IX, Fovám tér 8. Massive, sweaty party scene at the Economics University, with a live rock band and nonstop disco, two films and a karaoke show, plus a "tea house", ice cream bar and lots of beer. Fri 8.30pm-3am.
Petofi Csarnok XIV, Zichy M. út 14 tel 1/343-4327, www.petoficsarnok.hu . Huge purpose-built youth centre near the back of the Városliget, hosting the Madonna Club, the Pet Shop Boys Club and other band-specific DJ nights, concerts by local and big-name foreign bands, contemporary dance performances and Greek folk dancing (Sun in summer). Exhibitions are also held here, and there's a very good flea market on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Ring the above number for more details in English.
Piaf VI, Nagymezo utca 20. This old favourite on "Broadway" charges 500Ft to enter - unless you come with a regular. Basically a room and a cellar graced by the odd film star and lots of wannabes, with occasional jazz or rock sets. Daily from 10pm until well after dawn.
Romkert I, Döbrentei tér 9 tel 1/344-3155. This popular nightspot behind the Rudas Baths draws yuppies and bimbos on the prowl, offering cocktails, tasty bar food (reserve a table if you're going to eat) and a small dance floor. March-Oct Mon-Fri noon-2/3am, Sat 6pm-4/5am, Sun 6pm-2/3am.
SOTE Club IX, Nagyvárad tér 4 (in the Semmelweis Medical University - Orvosi Egyetem - near Nagyvárad tér metro stop) www.soteklub.hu . A heaving disco plus sideshows including jazz gigs, rock concerts and movies. Closed July & Aug.
Süss fel nap On the corner of Honvéd utca and Szent István körút. Big club with mixed music and a young crowd. Daily 8pm-4am.
West Balkan XI, Kopaszi-gát. Lively dance spot which attracts top DJs and big crowds, despite it being out of the city. Ten minutes' walk south along the river bank from the Buda end of Petofi Bridge - or there are bicycle rickshaws from the bridge or Zöld Pardon . May-Sept daily 5pm-dawn.
Zöld Pardon XI, Goldmann György tér. Large, heaving outdoor bar near the Petofi bridgehead, where hundreds of teenagers dance to drum 'n' bass, deep house and jungle. Visit their website for a preview: www.zp.hu . Punch-ups and knifings despite heavy security. Daily 9am-6am (kitchen noon-6am).
Festivals and events: the Budapest year
The two highlights of Budapest's cultural calendar are the Spring Festival in late March and the Autumn Festival from late September to late October, though these are less impressive than in the past, owing to cuts in funding. Both offer music, ballet and drama, including star acts from abroad.
The ten-day Budapest Film Festival is usually in February, while the first major national holiday of the year is on March 15 , when Budapest decks itself out in flags and cockades in honour of the 1848 Revolution, and there are patriotic gatherings at the Petofi statue and the National Museum. Easter is marked by church services and outbreaks of locsolkodás (splashing) - when men and boys visit their female friends to spray them with cologne and receive a painted egg or pocket money in return. The fall of Communism has put paid to grandiose parades on April 4 and May 1, but May Day remains a national holiday, with a big party in the Városliget organized by the trade unions. In early June Vörösmarty tér is packed with bookstalls for the very popular Book Week ( Könyvhét ), and there are long queues for the booksignings by top authors. Politicians have now joined the book circus, competing for who can attract the largest numbers of followers coming to get their book autographed.
While many theatres close down for the season, there are plenty of outside concerts and events over the summer, as well as the Hungarian Grand Prix , usually held in mid-August. World Music Day (a French invention that celebrates music across the world, not to be confused with "world music") is held on June 21, while the Budapest Bucsú or Farewell, first held in 1991 to celebrate the departure of the last Russian troops from Hungary, takes place on the last weekend of June, with open-air music, dance and events across the city. The Bridge Festival ( Hid Fesztval ) at the end of June is a new event that commemorates the building of the Chain Bridge in the 1840s. The bridge itself is closed to traffic, and there is a river cavalcade and general festivities. Two other events in June that are gaining alarmingly in popularity are the marking of the Trianon Treaty on June 4 , an occasion to mourn the loss of Transylvania and the other territories, and the Hunnialis , a new event at the end of June commemorating the ancient Hungarian tribes that entered the Capathian Basin in the tenth century - another chance for nostalgic nationalism.
The biggest music event of the summer is the Sziget Festival , one of the largest open-air rock and pop gatherings in Europe, held on an island north of the city in early August ( www.sziget.hu ). The BudaFest opera festival takes place in the opera house during the summer recess, and at the end of August the Jewish Festival ( www.jewishfestival.com ) attracts an international range of artists presenting classical, jazz and klezmer music and exhibitions. St Stephen's Day (August 20), honouring the founder of the Hungarian state, occasions day-long celebrations at the Basilica, a craft fair and folk dancing at different venues in the Vár, another river parade and finally a spectacular display of fireworks at 9pm from barges in the river between the Erzsébet and Margit bridges - check at Tourinform for the precise location so that you can get the best vantage point. Up to one million people gather on the river bank, and the traffic jam that follows the display is equally mind-blowing. If you want to eat out that night, you should book a place well in advance, as all the restaurants are packed. Soon after is the Budapest Parade on August 25, a mini version of London's Notting Hill Carnival, when a procession of floats set up by radio stations and clubs parade through the city, ending up on Dózsa György út by City Park for a rave into the early hours.
September heralds the start of the grape harvest, marked in Budapest by the annual Wine Festival , which fills Vörösmarty tér with stalls - and merriment, as the wine flows. As the Autumn Festival winds down and trees in the parks turn russet and gold, it is nowadays permitted to honour the anniversary of the 1956 Uprising . October 23 was a taboo anniversary for decades, then suddenly accorded cathartic, televised recognition; however, interest now seems to be waning among the majority of Hungarians who are too young to have experienced the Uprising, while others find their memories too painful to want to reawaken them. On December 6 , children hang up Christmas boots for "little Jesus" to fill, and people prepare for the Christmas Eve feast of jellied carp or turkey. Festivities build up towards New Year's Eve , when revellers gather on the Nagykörút, engaging in noisy battles with toy trumpets at the junction with Rákóczi út.
Live music: rock and pop
Budapest attracts every Hungarian band worth its amplifiers and a growing roll-call of international stars, making it the best place for rock concerts in Hungary. Major foreign acts appear at the vast Népstadion, the smaller Kisstadion or the SAP arena, all in the same complex, and their appearances are well publicized in the media. Don't get too excited by flyposters advertising Michael Jackson or the Cure, however, as these usually refer to light shows or DJs at clubs and discos. Posters around town - particularly around Deák tér, Ferenciek tere and the Astoria underpass - also publicize concerts by Hungarian bands. Prices range from 1000Ft up to as much as 10,000Ft for international superstars. For an authentically grim Magyar rock-opera, you can't beat István a király (Stephen the King) or the new Attila Sword of God , both of which are about the early heroes of the Hungarian nation. Tickets for most performances are available from Music Mix at V, Váci utca 33 (tel 1/266-7070, www.musicmix.hu ), TicketExpress, VI, Andrássy út 18 (Mon-Fri 9.30am-6.30pm, Sat 9am-1pm; tel 1/312-0000, www.ticketexpress.hu ) or Publika at VII, Károly körút 9 (tel 1/322-2010).
Local bands often perform at the Petofi Csarnok , a big youth centre near the Városliget. The following cultural centres are also popular venues.
Almássy téri Szabadido Központ VII, Almássy tér 6, north of Blaha Lujza tér tel 1/342-0387, www.datanet.hu/~almassy . One of the city's main district cultural centres, located in downtown Pest. Tram #4 or #6.
Fonó Budai Zeneház XI, Sztregova utca 3 tel 1/206-5300, www.fono.hu . Lively concert venue out past Móricz Zsigmond körtér. Tram #18 or #47.
Trafó IX, Liliom utca 41 tel 1/456-2040, www.trafo.hu . Major contemporary arts centre attracting top foreign acts, with an excellent bar downstairs. Ferenc körút metro.
Live music: jazz
Don't be fooled by the small number of jazz venues in Budapest - the country boasts some brilliant jazz players, some of them well known abroad. For the top names, keep an eye out for pianists Béla Szakcsi Lakatos, György Szabados and György Vukán, double bassist Aladár Pege and saxophonist Mihaly Dresch. Some bands appear at local cultural centres, others in some of the places listed under "Clubs and discos", such as the Petofi Csarnok .
Benkó Dixieland Klub IX, Török Pál utca 3 tel 1/218-0193. Regular Wednesday concerts by Hungary's biggest dixieland band, when they are not touring the world. Wed 5-10pm.
Dokk Jazz Bistro III, Hajógyári sziget 122 tel 1/457-1023. Bar/restaurant on an island by Óbuda (easiest access is by taxi). Regular attractions include acid jazz pianist Zsolt Kaltenecker. Mon-Thurs & Sun noon-midnight, Fri & Sat noon-dawn.
Hades Jazztaurant VI, Vörösmarty utca 31 tel 1/352-1503. Pleasant bar/restaurant with a jazz trio (Mon & Fri) and piano music (Tues-Thurs). No live music June-August. Open till 2am (midnight on Sun).
Jazz Garden , V, Veres Pálné utca 44/A tel 1/266-7364. Jazz bar and restaurant. Guests include Hungarian stars Béla Szakcsi Lakatos.and Aladár Pege, as well as local resident American blues guitarist Bruce Lewis. Daily noon-1am.
New Orleans Jazz Club VI, Lovas utca 5 tel 1/354-1130. New modern bar attracting big international names - but tickets can be astronomical even by western standards. Daily noon-2am.
Folk music and táncház
Hungarian folk music and dancing underwent a revival in the 1970s, drawing inspiration from Hungarian communities in Transylvania, regarded as pure wellsprings of Magyar culture. Enthusiasts formed "dance houses" or táncház to revive traditional instruments and dances, and get people involved. Visitors are welcome to attend the weekly gatherings (350-800Ft admission) and learn the steps. Groups such as Muzsikás, Téka, Ökrös and Kalamajka play Hungarian folk music, while other groups are inspired by South Slav music from Serbia, Croatia and Bulgaria, or, in the case of Di Naye Kapelye, klezmer music from around the region.
Details of events are available in events magazines or on the website www.tanchaz.hu . Bear in mind that many cultural centres close for summer, so check before you go.
Almássy téri Szabadido Központ . Greek and African dance houses; there are often big Hungarian or gypsy (Roma) gatherings too. Closed July & Aug.
Belvárosi Muvelodési Ház (City Cultural House) V, Molnár utca 9 tel 1/317-5928. The Kalamajka ensemble plays to a packed dance floor on Saturday nights at this downtown Pest cultural centre. Instruction from 7pm. There is also music in the bar upstairs, and as the evening rolls on a jamming session often develops. Closed early June-late Sept.
Fonó Budai Zeneház . Folk musicians from around the Carpathian Basin play every Wednesday evening, followed by a local band.
Marcibányi tér Muvelodési Ház (Csángó Dance House) II, Marcibányi tér 5/A tel 1/212 0803. The best place in the city to catch the pulsating sounds of this music from eastern Romania - it's a meeting point for Csángó people living in Budapest.
Rézmál II, Marcibányi tér 5/A, tel 1/315-0592, www.pipacs.hu/rezmal . Members of Muzsikás often play on Thursday night from 8pm - check in Pesti Est . Not a dance house as such - the group just plays and people sit around in a very informal atmosphere.
Opera, ballet and classical music
Opera is highly esteemed in Hungary, a country whose composers and writers have created such works as Bánk Bán, László Hunyadi, The Queen of Sheba and Blood Wedding . Most productions are in Hungarian, a custom introduced by Mahler when he was director of the State Opera House in Budapest; fans prefer their opera "old style", with lavish sets and costumes, and they interrupt with ovations after particularly bravura passages. Operas by Mozart, Verdi, Puccini, Wagner and national composers are staged throughout the year, while several new productions are premiered during the Spring and Autumn festivals, when you can also catch performances by the State Opera ballet and visiting foreign companies.
The city excels in its variety of classical music performances, although pre-Baroque stuff is poorly represented. There are several concerts every night of the year, especially during the two main festivals. Look out for performances by the Budapest Festival Orchestra (the city's only privately financed orchestra), conducted by the charismatic Iván Fischer, and the Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra , conducted by Tamás Vásáry - both orchestras are below par when their inspirational directors are not at the helm - as well as two excellent chamber ensembles : the Liszt Ferenc Chamber Orchestra and the Weiner Száz Orchestra. Pianists Péter Frankl, Zoltán Kócsis, András Schiff and Deszo Ránki, violinist Vilmos Szabadi and cellist Miklós Perényi are other names to look out for. The Lutheran Church on Deák tér in central Pest has regular concerts including Bach Passions before Easter; information for these is posted by the church's entrance. St Stephen's Basilica and the Kálvín tér church in central Pest also host occasional concerts; consult Tourinform for details.
Over the summer , smaller concerts take place outdoors on Margit sziget, and in many historic buildings, including the Mátyás Church , the Dominican Yard of the Hilton Hotel in the Castle District, and the Vajdahunyad Castle in the Városliget. Choral or organ recitals are also held at the Mátyás Church on Fridays and Saturdays between June and September (from 8pm), and less frequently the rest of the year. Bear in mind that many city venues - the opera, theatre and concert halls - close for the summer at the end of May, reopening in mid-September. There is a summer season of concerts at Martonvásár and Vácrátót, within commuting distance of Budapest.
Weekly and monthly listings magazines cover all musical events, and information can also be obtained from Tourinform and the main ticket offices. Tickets for the Opera, Operetta and Erkel theatres are available from the Central Box Office at VI, Andrássy út 15 ( Központi Jegyiroda ; Mon-Fri 9am-6pm; tel 1/267-9737); TicketExpress, VI, Andrássy út 18 (Mon-Fri 9.30am-6.30pm, Sat 9am-1pm; tel 1/312-0000, www.ticketexpress.hu ); Filharmónia at V, Mérleg utca 10 (Mon-Fri 10am-6pm; tel 1/318-0281); Music Mix at V, Váci utca 33 and in the Mammut Shopping Centre (tel 1/266-7070, www.musicmix.hu ); Publika at VII, Károly körút 9 (tel 1/322-2010); and the Vigadó Jegyiroda at V, Vörösmarty tér 1 (Mon-Fri 9am-7pm, Sat & Sun 10am-3pm; tel 1/327-4322). The Opera House has its own box office (Mon-Sat 11am-5pm, Sun 4-7pm) for events there and in the Erkel Theatre, and also sells tickets for outdoor performances in and around Budapest (Martonvásár, Vácrátót, etc). Music Mix and Publika also sell tickets to most classical concerts, as well as other events such as fashion shows and pop concerts.
Budapest Kongresszusi Központ (Budapest Convention Centre) XII, Jagelló út 1-3 tel 1/209-1990. This modern and uninspiring concert hall behind the Novotel is the venue for big orchestral concerts.
Erkel Színház VIII, Köztársaság tér 30 tel 1/333-0540. A modern venue for operas, ballet and musicals, on the edge of the red-light district near Keleti Station.
Liszt Ferenc Zeneakadémia (Music Academy) VI, Liszt Ferenc tér 8 tel 1/342-0179. Nightly concerts and recitals in the magnificent Nagyterem (Great Hall) or the smaller Kisterem . The former is usually shut during summer, as it gets too hot.
Magyar Állami Operaház (Hungarian State Opera) VI, Andrássy út 22 tel 1/353-0170. Budapest's grandest venue, with gilded frescoes and three-tonne chandeliers - a place to dress up for.
Operetta Színház VI, Nagymezo utca 17 tel 1/332-0535. Located on "Broadway", a few blocks from the opera house, this recently restored magnificent theatre stages classical Hungarian operettas and modern musicals - Hungarians' favourite musical genres.
Vigadó V, Vigadó tér 1 tel 1/327-4322. Another fabulously decorated hall, though the acoustics are not so hot. Box office opens 1pm.
Mainstream Hungarian theatre is in the doldrums at present, and there is little to tempt the visitor in its melodramatic and unsubtle productions in an incomprehensible language. Of the established theatres, both the Új Színház (VI, Paulay Ede utca 35 tel 1/351-1406) and Radnoti Színház (VI, Nagymezo utca 11 tel 1/321-0600), however, offer reliably solid performances, while locals dress up in their finest for the beautiful Vígszínház (XIII, Szent István krt 14 tel 1/329 2340). It is also worth looking out for performances by the provincial theatre company from the town of Kaposvár in Transdanubia, which has attracted some good actors out from the city. The best Hungarian mainstream theatre is to be found outside the borders, in places like Cluj in Transylvania, where for the Hungarian minority the theatre still plays a vital role in communication. In theory, this could change when the National Theatre , on the Pest riverside near Petofi bridge, is opened; the culture ministry is pumping in huge funds to turn it into a showcase for the nation's drama, but cynics just expect more of the same dross.
Alternative theatre is where the quality is to be found. One Hungarian group that has received considerable critical acclaim abroad is the Mozgó haz (Moving House) theatre company, whose inventive combination of music and movement under the direction of László Hudi won the top award at the International Theatre Festival in Sarajevo in 1998 and was well received at the London International Festival of Theatre in 2001. Sadly, however, the group is struggling to survive: the cultural ministry determinedly refuses to give it any backing, and this lack of support means that, absurdly, the group rarely performs at home - though look out for them at the Trafó, the best venue for alternative dance and theatre. Other names to look out for are the Krétakör group, under the young director Árpád Schilling, and performances by Péter Halász , a big bald actor-director who spent many years in New York before returning to Hungary.
Alternative theatre venues include the MU Színház , XI, Körössy József utca 17 (tel 1/209 4014); Szkéné Színház , XI, Muegyetem rakpart 3 (tel 1/463-3741); Studio K , IX, Mátyás utca 9 (tel 1/216-7170); and the Merlin Theatre in the centre of town at V, Gerlóczy utca 4 (tel 1/266-4632), which often hosts visiting British companies. Look out for flyers and check out the theatre listings publication Súgó (published in English in July and Aug). During summer there are easy-to-understand performances at the outdoor theatre on Margit sziget. The puppet theatre is covered under "Children's Budapest".
Hollywood blockbusters and Euro soft-porn films currently dominate Budapest's mainstream cinemas , though the city has a chain of "arts cinemas", which specialize in the latest releases and obscure films from Eastern and Western Europe. Their provenance is indicated thus: angol (British), lengyel (Polish), német (German), olasz (Italian), and orosz (Russian). Budapest Sun runs listings of all movies playing in English. If you understand Hungarian, the fullest listings appear in Pesti Est and Pesti Musor ( PM ) under the heading Budapesti mozik musora . Here, the times of shows are cryptically abbreviated to n8 or 1/4 8 for 7.15pm; f8 or 1/2 8 for 7.30pm; and h8 or 3/4 8 for 7.45pm. " Mb." indicates the film is dubbed, and " fel." or " feliratos" means that it has Hungarian subtitles.
Budapest has some of the most beautiful movie houses around. It is worth checking out the Moorish interior of the Uránia , at VIII, Rákóczi út 21 - which is being turned into the National Cinema as a showcase for Hungarian film - and the coffered ceiling of the turn-of-the-century Pushkin , at V, Kossuth Lajos utca 18, while the Cirkógejzir , at V, Balassi Bálint utca 15-17 is an alternative joint complete with Chinese tea before showings. A host of multiplex cinemas have now also appeared in the city, including the Corvin Film Palace at VIII, Corvin köz 1 ( Corvin Filmpalota ; tel 1/459-5050, www.corvin.hu ), and the Westend Ster Megaplex, at Westend City Centre by Nyugati Station (tel 1/238-7222). Cinema-going is still cheap, with tickets between 600 and 900Ft, and sometimes films arrive in Budapest before they reach New York. In the summer there are also outdoor and drive-in cinemas on the edge of town.
The three main film festivals during the year are the Hungarian Film Festival ( Magyar Filmszemle ; www.magyar.film.hu ), a parade of the year's new films in February, and two alternative festivals of Hungarian and foreign films, the Titanic Film Festival ( www.datanet.hu/titanic ) in October and the Europa Film Festival in December.
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