The Palace of Arts (Müpa) is one of Hungary’s principal cultural hubs | Photo by Zsuzsa Petï
Jazz jam sessions, symphonies and string quartets, wild techno and rave parties – Budapest offers a seemingly infinite array of music events. To get some insight into the Hungarian capital’s dynamic music scene, Culture Trip asked local musicians and concertgoers for the lowdown.
It doesn’t matter what you’re into, Budapest has it all when it comes to music. Every night there are dozens of events, including concerts, parties and alternative theatre performances. The venues are as varied as the gigs: from an inner courtyard transformed into an elegant music hall, to an old boarding school run by French nuns.
Budapest Music Centre
“Classical music is boring, outdated, and for old people in suits.” Isn’t this something we’ve all heard? The Budapest Music Centre is far from boring. This exciting venue is set within a Neoclassical 19th-century residential building that has been renovated and turned into a modern cultural space, with the old courtyard transformed into the main concert hall. Other rooms and venues provide space for music courses and conferences. “I love playing here,” says Bence Juhász, a talented young conductor. “The acoustics are great, and I feel like the venue adds something very special to our performance every time.” If you are looking for some quality contemporary classical or jazz music, this is your best best. BMC has a wonderful and vast music library, and – crucially – it has a great restaurant.
History, elegance and culture – Vigadó epitomises these terms. As its name implies (“víg” means “happy”), Vigadó is a culture and entertainment hotspot. Being the first (and for a long time the only one) of its kind in Budapest, the venue boasts an illustrious list of performers: among others, Franz Liszt and Johann Strauss played here regularly. After entering the building and crossing the beautiful entrance hall, visitors can take the marble stairs, check their ties and their make-up in the huge, elegant mirrors and finally enter the vast ballroom. This breathtaking palace of gold and marble is nowadays used as a concert hall. “I like how beautiful and elegant it is,” Juhász says. “Unfortunately, because of its size and shape, this room has quite a bit of echo, but it is still a brilliant venue. I often come here for concerts, and I’m never disappointed,” he says.
The Palace of Arts (Müpa) opened its doors in 2005, and has been one of Hungary’s principal cultural hubs ever since. The mammoth complex consists of a museum of Modern art, a theatre and the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall. The latter is one of the country’s most modern concert halls, seating over 1,500 people and equipped with hyper-modern equipment. “As a musician, I’m always impressed by how versatile the hall is,” Juhász says. “With the help of moveable walls, echo chambers and other high-tech solutions, the acoustics can be perfectly fine-tuned for the performance. It doesn’t matter if it’s a monumental Wagner piece with 120 musicians on stage or a solo recital, the sound is crystal clear.” Pro tip: students can purchase a standing ticket for 500 HUF (around £1.20).
With an interior painted completely black, Lärm is an electronic music club with Martin audio equipment and no decibel cap. Due to the club’s central location, you might need to fight your way through the crowds to get in, but it’s worth it. “Lärm is currently the most popular underground electronic music venue in Budapest,” says Maxim Jurin, an up-and-coming DJ. He recommends only going to concerts with an entrance fee. “Although there are free concerts as well, having to pay for the ticket means that only hard-core techno fans come. Don’t touch the walls though, if you don’t want to stick to them,” he adds. “It’s dirty, it’s pitch black, it’s raw and loud – it’s true fun.”
This huge complex of different spaces (two halls, a garden, a studio and even a sofa bar) offers a great variety of concerts and genres. “When it comes to electronic music, this place is incredibly versatile,” says Jurin. In the past few years, many of Hungary’s most popular artists have performed here, including metal and pop bands but also top-level DJs, playing every single sub-genre of the electronic scene you can think of. But that’s not all – they regularly hold other events, including painting auctions, wardrobe fairs and even board-game competitions. The building itself is a former boarding school, which was run by French nuns.
For an intimate musical experience, head to Auróra. As its website describes, the venue is a “social enterprise” that aims to embrace and promote the civil sector. The space hosts talks, family events, open theatre performances and concerts, making it both a feature of Budapest nightlife and a hive of activity during the day. According to Vica, a frequent attendee, “Auróra is great because you can always find something you like. It has numerous rooms and bigger areas, so you can peacefully enjoy the concert of your favourite band while not being disturbed by the partying people downstairs.”
Gólya (“Stork”) is more than a concert venue. It’s a community centre with an ambitious mission: promoting peace and acceptance. The wide variety of events include arts and crafts workshops, talks on salient issues such as sustainability and, of course, concerts. The line-up is usually rather eclectic.
An elegant restaurant, indulgent Surf and Turf burgers and a soundtrack of smooth jazz… If this sounds like your ideal set-up, Opus Jazz Club will hit the spot. Opus is a little on the pricier side, but it’s worth it for the experience it offers: high-level performers, delicious food and an upscale vibe. “I’ve been here several times,” says Gábor Fánczi, a local jazz bassist. “I usually come here for the unique concerts, and I’m never disappointed.” Pro-tip: after the concert, take advantage of the club’s location close to the river and enjoy a stroll along the Danube.
Being one of the oldest jazz clubs in the city, Budapest Jazz Club deserves its fame. This very atmospheric venue combines the dimly lit vibes associated with smooth jazz clubs with the nostalgia-rich interior of a former cinema. Its bistro-like restaurant serves refined international dishes – try the pork medallions with sweet potato purée and avocado, for example – while the inner room hosts concerts every night. Gábor has played here several times: “The atmosphere is great, and performing here is always a fantastic experience,” he reflects. Although for most of the concerts you need to buy a ticket, on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, there are jam sessions that are free of charge. BJC is very popular, so book your table in advance.