A magnificent city that is brimming with everything from some jaw-dropping architectural gems to its spa culture and chic ruin bars, Budapest is best enjoyed at night. Raul Dias shows you the top ways to spend your evenings in the twinkling Hungarian capital.
Never mind the stunning visuals put out there of Budapest by night that you may encounter when planning your trip to the Hungarian capital (whose name is a portmanteau of the city’s two neighbourhoods of the hilly Buda to the west and flatter Pest on the east). Or even in a travel article such as this, for that matter. Trust me. They do absolutely no justice to the nocturnal charms of the city, however well-composed they may be. You simply have got to see it with your own eyes, as I recently did on a trip to Central Europe.
Very little actually prepares you for that exact shade of cobalt blue of the night sky that you’ll see reflected onto the mighty Danube as the crimson sun melts into the river’s waters. No amount of reference is enough to catch a real-time glimpse of the Gothic Parliament Building all lit up, sitting mightily perched on the river’s banks. And you need to actually cross the river forded by the iconic Széchenyi Chain Bridge to realise how imposing it really is—with its twin arches illuminated by thousands of flickering lightbulbs.
Perhaps, no other city—save for Paris, France—has ever had such an impact on my senses as Budapest did, all under the cover of dusk. Here’s my list of the best take-aways from Budapest at night:
Enjoy sunset at Buda Castle
Overseeing the city that lies beneath it, the imposing Buda Castle sits atop a hill on the Buda side of the Danube. You can head here in the early morning hours, or better still at sunset for breathtaking photo ops, or come during open hours for a guided historical tour that’s free. Part of the palace complex of the Hungarian kings in Budapest, the massive Baroque castle was built between 1749 and 1769 and sits on the south tip of Castle Hill, bounded on the north by what is known as the Castle District of Várnegyed. The castle now houses the Hungarian National Gallery and The Budapest History Museum along with other 19th-century houses, churches and public buildings.
Join the Heroes!
A famous landmark in Budapest, the Hősök Tere Heroes Square with its colonnade remains a local and tourist favourite at night when it’s all lit up. If you love history, monuments and statues this is a great area to explore and take some pictures, specially of the iconic statue complex featuring the Seven chieftains of the Magyars and other important Hungarian national leaders. The Memorial Stone of Heroes often (wrongly!) referred to as the tomb of the unknown soldier can also be found here, as well as one of Hungary’s biggest museums for art and culture lovers—the Museum of Fine Arts!
An evening dip, perhaps?
Legendary for its many therapeutic thermal baths that can be found across the city, Budapest is a spa-junkie’s dream come true. And one of the best places for a post-sundown soak or splash about is the Szechenyi Spa Bath in the Pest side of the city. Here is where you can take part in the traditional Hungarian past time of going to a spa bath. Think huge tubs to choose from, lots of people resting and relaxing in the thermal pools, and snack bars to hang out at, all while making some new Hungarian friends! Interestingly, this spa offers occasional (and very popular) pool parties here as well, if you are willing to pay the hefty (almost Rs 4,000) price ticket, that is.
What better way to get to know Budapest by night than to see all of it while sailing the Danube on a leisurely dinner cruise? Sail past the superbly lit up Parliament Building, the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, the Liberty Bridge and Matthias Church. All this, as you sip Hungarian wine and tuck into traditional Hungarian dishes like the paprika-rich goulash stew and the exotic horsemeat sausage called lo-keilbasa.
As the birthplace of the ruin bar, Budapest has a very impressive cache of them indeed—places that are perfect to wind up your evening about town at. It all goes back to the early 2000’s when people who were looking for cheap places to drink started frequenting these lively and stylish bars that were often housed in derelict buildings and unused outdoor spaces in the Jewish Quarter of the city’s Bohemian 7th District. Here, check out places like Szimpla Kert that was the city’s first ruin bar and one that remains iconic or perhaps Anker’t that is one of the most popular party venues in Budapest, with its large courtyard that’s surrounded by bars and dance rooms.