Two months of living in Budapest

Budapest by night

Twilight is falling over Budapest, and the city is getting ready for another great night out.

Today it’s been exactly two months since I arrived in Budapest. After living in Budapest for two months, it seems like a good moment to take stock of what I’ve encountered here so far.

Living in the city

A lot of my time during the first month had been spent on finding a new apartment. In some ways Budapest is a pretty easy city to move to. Many rentals are completely furnished, with all the utility contracts in the name of the owner. This means you can just move in with your two bags and a suitcase and enjoy life without much of a hassle. Real estate agency fees are normally paid by the owner rather than by the tenant, so you don’t have to deal with that either.

On the other hand it can be difficult to make sense of the city and its real estate market. Some areas that common sense would suggest are really good, aren’t all that, and others are hidden gems. On the Buda side the city is green, clean, and spacious, but all the excitement that makes this city great is far away. That is, unless you live near a public transportation hub like Széll Kálmán tér or Déli pályaudvar. On the Pest side, the area inside the ‘Grand Boulevard’ (körút) seems pretty crowded and busy, but there are some remarkably quiet streets with hardly a car or tourist to be seen.

Szimpla Kert Budapest

A night at Szimpla Kert, the oldest and most famous ruin pub in Budapest

In retrospect I might have decided too quickly on my own flat. It is modern, well-appoined, within walking distance of the City Park (Városliget), and not too far from the centre either. But it turns out that public transportation is near worthless. My street is served by a trolley bus, which runs a route that leads to nowhere I’d like to be, and there is no night service. Thus I just end up walking 20-30 minutes each time I want to go somewhere. Also it turns out that with all the brick and concrete around, it gets pretty hot in summer.

Budapest nightlife

I’ve found the nightlife in Budapest to be absolutely stellar. It is one of the greatest attractions of this city. A significant part of it revolves around the famous ‘ruin pubs’: old deserted residential buildings with a courtyard that have been converted into bars. Their decorations are typically a mish-mash of art, furniture, and random objects dragged in from the street, and they give the ruin pubs a delightfully artsy and underground feel. While some of them are rather obscure and deserve the moniker ‘underground’ indeed, others have become hot spots and now serve the mainstream tourist crowd.

There’s nothing wrong with that, though. Famous ruin pubs like Szimpla, Anker’T, and the cheesy Instant attract the party crowds, and are easy places to meet English-speaking people. On the other hand new venues constantly pop up, trying to offer something a bit more alternative, or going back to the ruin pub roots by hosting cultural events. Just a month ago a new ruin pub named Téboly Kert opened its doors in Klauzál street. It offers a good blend of the typical courtyard bar scene, some areas that feel more like a living room, and some wickedly-themed rooms (one of which is just bizarre: an old dentist’s practice).

Budapest palinka festival

At the pálinka festival with three Hungarian girls (and my friend Rob, who’s taking the picture).

Part of the fun of Budapest nightlife is to find these cool new places before they become mainstream, raise their prices, and start attracting stag parties. The latter being the one big annoyance in the Budapest party scene. Somehow being part of a stag party turns even reasonably intelligent people into complete morons, and it isn’t just the liquor talking. Nevertheless, the stags are easily avoided by going to lesser known venues. And with beer prices still averaging about $2 a pint, going out a couple of times a week won’t break the bank.

A city of festivals

Another cool aspect of Budapest is its never abating stream of festivals. Since I arrived not a weekend has gone by in which there wasn’t some kind of festival going on, and usually more than one. I attended the pálinka festival, two beer festivals, a city music festival, the Freedom concert, a Jewish cultural festival, and then some random ones I didn’t know what they were about but just happened to wander in upon. Meanwhile many other festivals have been taking place, such as the night of the museums, the gay pride, various beer and wine festivals, and the ongoing Budapest summer festival. And then in August there will be the biggest of all, the famous Sziget festival on Óbuda island.

While not all festivals are my cup of tea, they do give the city a wonderful and vibrant atmosphere. There’s always something happening. Some festivals are closed off, requiring an entrance fee to partake in the fun. But many are simply out in the open, on one of the many squares in the city centre, or among the green surroundings of a park. This adds greatly to the liveability of a city.

At any rate I haven’t been bored. I will definitely be able to hold out here until the cold season starts, at which point I’ll re-evaluate whether I want to stick around. If you’re considering to make Budapest your home for the summer, don’t hesitate to drop me a line!


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