Christmas may be busy but you can always find time to meet up with old friends over a drink or three. These warming Budapest locales are ideal for a seasonal rendezvous – either à deux or with a bunch of long-lost companions.
The 360 Bar is a roof terrace spot atop one of Budapest’s most iconic buildings, the Páris Department Store, right on showcase Andrássy út. Named after the full panorama on offer, at its best when sun sets, the summer-friendly 360 has already seen out two successful winters, installing cosy, communal igloos for that full Bing Crosby experience. This year there are nine, two specially designed for larger groups, and if you arrive early enough, you can choose a jungle or a vintage theme. Within are rugs, blankets, furry pillows, atmospheric lights and a small fireplace-like heater. And since vision can get a little blurry depending on your level of alcohol intake, each igloo has a window that can be opened. Superior cocktails are the order of the day, with prices to match the surroundings – but with a cityscape this awesome, who’s complaining?
District VI. Andrássy út 39
Open: Mon-Wed, Sun 2pm-midnight, Thur-Sat 2pm-2am
BB’z Bar & Grill
Although party hub Király utca after dark might be a no-no due to the heaving crowds, it does have an abundance of attractive venues within easy reach. One such is BB’z, which offers a huge variety of drinks and plenty of burgers and bar snacks, too. Games nights are also possible thanks to the range of board games on the shelves. In the evenings, when a party mood ignites, you can swap the games for dancing, with DJs spinning discs on Fridays and Saturdays. A special feature on the menu, the Plant a Tree cocktail allows visitors to carouse and help the environment at the same time.
District VII. Király utca 15
Open: Mon-Thur, Sun noon-2am, Fri-Sat noon-4am
BÉLA is a real gem on ever-busier Bartók Béla út in Buda, with its own unique atmosphere. Those quick or lucky enough to get a place in the gallery should enjoy an particularly merry get-together with friends over Christmas. The drinks selection is far-reaching, with quality beers, wines, spirits and imaginative alcohol-free varieties. To go with the beverages, there are tapas as well as main dishes, with a slightly shorter menu listing great bar snacks and seasonal specialities.
District XI. Bartók Béla út 23
Open: Mon & Sun 11am-11pm, Tue-Wed 11am-midnight, Thur 11am-1am, Fri-Sat 11am-2am
Bereg Embassy Bar & Café
In the atmospheric garden of the Hattyú House a short walk from Széll Kálmán tér in Buda, this bar is a family business run by two siblings from Bereg in north-east Hungary. A peaceful haven in summer, thanks to a heated igloo set up this year, it’s now cosy in winter. As for drinks, it offers plentiful craft beers as well as nice wines, pálinkas and basic cocktails. The service is just as pleasant as the atmosphere, and the igloo can be rented out for an unfettered, merry time semi-alfresco.
District I. Batthyány utca 49B
Open: Daily 11.30am-11.30pm
Once it became clear in 2017 that the first Lumen was too small for the arty, bohemian crowd that used this gallery/café in the Palace Quarter, the Big Lumen was created just a few corners away. The space is larger but the atmosphere remains the same: the most important building blocks are still the concerts, dances, hot dishes (lunch menus included), craft beers, wines, expertly prepared coffees and friendly crowd. Cosy and atmospheric, it’s not a million miles from lounging in a friend’s living room.
District VIII. Horánszky utca 5
Open: Mon-Fri 8am-midnight, Sat-Sun 10am-midnight
One of the main benefits of going to the Élesztőház is that you can avoid the dilemma of choosing a place for its beer or its wine. This is an all-in-one option, and even though Élesztő is renowned for being the first local craft-beer pub, you can stumble upon the city’s largest – and best – range of hot chocolates at Rengeteg RomKafé, as well as a great wine selection at Vino Piano. where there are also tasty snacks. Those looking for beer should turn to the main counter at Élesztő, where 22 await on tap.
District IX. Tűzoltó utca 22
Open: Daily 3pm-3am
Enriching focal Madách tér with new and refreshing colours is the recently opened Fiaker, offering a range of nearly 400 wines and an atmosphere reminiscent of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Apart from their penchant for reds and whites, the beer and spirits selection isn’t shabby either. As for food, the cold plates accompanying the wine are masterpieces – the ham-and-cheese platters are some of the best in town, and showcase specialities from neighbouring countries. Three separate booths in the gallery provide peace and solitude from downtown bustle and some of the wines can be taken away, a handy gift at this time of year.
District V. Madách tér 11
Open: Mon-Fri 8am-midnight, Sat 9am-midnight, Sun 9am-11pm
High Note Skybar
Presenting one of the most outstanding views in the city, the High Note Skybar atop the equally dazzling Aria Hotel is enticing in sunny and snowy weather alike. Watching winter descend on the panoramic, beautifully lit streets of Budapest and St Stephen’s Basilica right alongside is an experience like no other. At this time of year, the drinks list follows a witty theme created by the staff – this December, it’s all about myths and legends, with related bar foods. Throwing a private party is also possible thanks to the cosy pavilion that can accommodate around 40 people.
District V. Hercegprimás utca 5
Open: Daily noon-midnight (reservations recommended)
One of the most atmospheric hangouts in District VIII, the Rocking Horse Drinkery is set down a quiet street between Blaha Lujza tér and Rákóczi tér market. A cosy interior, part living room, part ruin bar, is enhanced with decorative examples of the titular horse, as well as eclectic furnishings from flea markets, spiced up with a soupçon of Berlin. You’ll hear smatterings of German and Spanish from the cosmopolitan bar staff and slacker regulars but the overall feel is pure Józsefváros. Their whisky, vodka, gin and rum assortment is impressively wide, beers too, at affordable rates. Care is taken over the choice of music, rarely off the mark, often beckoning you to a revisit – and then another revisit.
District VIII. Bacsó Béla utca 15
Open: Daily 6pm-1am
The KEG Beer House is Budapest’s largest craft-ale outlet, with 32 varieties on tap. While a mecca for ale aficionados, wines, pálinkas and other local grappa-style brandies are also available. Groups of friends who decide to sink suds might want to form a team to take on the experts in the Lame Tasting ale sampling game, involving 14 varieties in seven rounds. The winners not only stagger home after a night to remember, kind of, but with free drinks as well. To soak up the booze, KEG also serves succulent hamburgers at pocket-friendly prices.
District XI. Orlay utca 1
Open: Mon-Wed 11.30am-11pm, Thur-Fri 11.30am-midnight, Sat noon-midnight, Sun noon-11pm