Budapest is definitely a cosmopolitan city with a tremendous variety of cultural events all throughout the year. There is no event that is unaffordable to the average tourist if you don't have your heart set on a particular section of a theater, but even then, seats are bargains as compared to New York, San Francisco, or London. At the opera house, one of Europe's finest, tickets generally range from 600 Ft for the nosebleed balcony to 16,000 Ft for the ultra-luxurious royal box once used by the Habsburgs, depending on the performance. Almost all the city's theaters and concert halls, with the exception of those hosting internationally touring rock groups, offer tickets within an affordable 2,000 Ft to 10,000 Ft range. Of course, higher-priced seats are available at the same venue if you want a closer view. In some cases, it is wise to choose performances based on the venue. For example, you may not particularly be a fan of ballet, but if that is all that is offered during your stay, you may want to consider less expensive tickets just to see the opera house up close and personal. You won't regret it: its splendor is superlative and it can be better appreciated with any performance than just a tour.
The opera, ballet, and theater seasons run from September through May with some sporadic events in June, but most theaters and halls also host performances during the summer festivals. Bear in mind that none of them are air-conditioned and heat rises. If you are sitting in a balcony on a hot evening, you may be miserable. A number of the better-known churches and stunning halls offer concerts exclusively in the summer. While classical music is ingrained into the culture in Budapest, the country, jazz, blues, rock, disco, and every other variation you left at home is here also. Stylish and unique new clubs and bars open and close regularly. The bar and club scene starts late and lasts until morning, sometimes until the last patron leaves. Only the bars in residential areas have strict closing times. Restaurants and bars in these areas in the summer have to bring in their tables at 10pm by district law in consideration of the neighbors. So whether you have dancing feet or a taste for opera, whatever your entertainment preference, Budapest nights offer plenty to choose from.
Program Listings -- For the most up-to-date information, go to www.jegymester.hu and click on the English link. This site includes information for the opera house as well as the major theaters in the city. A complete schedule of mainstream performing arts is found in the free bimonthly Koncert Kalendárium, available at any of the Tourinform offices, or you can check it online at www.koncertkalendarium.hu; there is a link for English. Funzine also has events calendars; the weekly Budapest Times includes cultural listings. Where, a free monthly tourist booklet, highlights different topics each month, but includes some entertainment listings. Our latest addition for the city scene is Time Out, an internationally known magazine that focuses on a particular city's culture and entertainment scene in greater depth. Pick up a free copy at Tourinform offices or pay 450 Ft at newsstands. All of the publications mentioned above are in English.
Ticket Offices -- If you are looking for the easy way out, you can look at ticket availability online for purchasing opera, ballet, theater, or concert tickets for a number of different venues at www.jegymester.hu. It shows how many tickets are available with a seating chart to help you decide how much you want to spend for what seat. Its secure server allows you to make your purchase online. You can also prepurchase special museum exhibitions on this site, but it may require you to print an e-ticket. If you don't have Internet access, you can save time by going to the Cultur-Comfort Ticket Office (Cultur-Comfort Központi Jegyiroda), VI. Paulay Ede u. 31 (tel. 1/322-0000). The office is open Monday through Friday 9am to 6pm. It is easier than going to the individual box offices. They sell tickets to just about everything, from theater and operettas to sports events and rock concerts. Schedules are posted for a variety of choices and they will show you a seating chart. If none of the cashiers speaks English, find a helpful customer who can translate for you. For last-minute tickets or performances that are looking like they are sold out, try the venue box office for no-show tickets about 30 minutes before the performance. For opera and ballet, go to the Hungarian State Opera Ticket Office (Magyar Állami Opera Jegyiroda), VI. Andrássy út 22 (tel. 1/353-0170), open Monday through Friday 11am to 5pm. Try Concert & Media, XI. Ülloi út 11-13 (tel. 1/455-9000; www.jegyelado.hu), for classical performances as well as pop, jazz, and rock concerts. For just about everything from rock and jazz concerts to opera, ballet performances, and theater tickets, try Ticket Express, VI. Andrássy út 18 (tel. 30/303-0999 mobile phone only; www.tex.hu), open Monday through Friday from 10am to 6pm. You do have the option to buy online and print your own tickets if you have access to a printer.
Note: For cheaper tickets, look online at one of the sites above and then try going to the actual box office of the venue. Some of the ticket agencies only carry the higher-end price range of tickets. You may also find that agencies charge a commission (usually about 4% or higher), especially for hit shows or international performers.
Bistros: For the Sophisticated Night Owl
Hopefully, you will not have difficulty finding a watering hole at 2am, with many pubs and clubs open until, yawn, 5am. However, district by district, they are trying to change the laws forcing restaurants, pubs, and bars to close early, meaning by 10pm, to control "happy" customers' noise as they leave the establishments. The lesser popular districts have been successful, but it may be a domino effect in the future. With that in mind, if you're looking for a late-night cocktail but want to avoid the typical bar and club scene, Paris, Texas on the popular Ráday utca, is a pleasant place to sit down and talk or eat after a concert, but their food comes from the Pink Cadillac. For a summer alternative check out Funzine for the kerts or garden pubs that are currently open.
Budapest has a couple dozen respectable casinos. Many are located in luxury hotels: Las Vegas Casino, in the Atrium Hyatt Hotel, V. Roosevelt tér 2 (tel. 1/317-6022; www.lasvegascasino.hu); and Orfeum Casino, in the Hotel Béke Radisson, VI. Teréz krt. 43 (tel. 1/301-1600). Formal dress is required. Other popular casinos include: Grand Casino Budapest, V. Deák Ferenc u. 13 (tel. 1/483-0170), Tropicana Casino, V. Vigadó u. 2 (tel. 1/327-7250; www.tropicanacasino.hu), and the most elegant Várkert Casino on the Danube side, Ybl Miklós tér 9 (tel. 1/202-4244; www.varkert.hu). There are a number of smaller independent casinos around the city, but we do not recommend patronizing them.
There is no longer a wide selection of movie theaters showing movies in their original language. Movies labeled szinkronizált, m.b., or magyarul beszél mean that the movie has been dubbed into Hungarian; feliratos means subtitled. Tickets cost around 1,500 Ft to 2,100 Ft. MOM Park, XII. Alkotás u. 53 (tel. 1/487-5500), multiplex provides the option of seeing movies in their original language even if the movie itself was dubbed, but this is one of the more expensive theaters. Check listings at www.palacecinemas.hu. To reach MOM Park, take tram no. 61 from Moszkva tér to Csörsz u.
The art cinemas where English-language movies are only sometimes found are Corvin, VIII. köz 1 (tel. 1/459-5050; tram nos. 4 or 6 to Ferenc krt.); Európa, VII. Rákóczi út 82 (tel. 1/322-5419; no. 7 bus to Berzsenyi u.); Hunnia, VII. Erzsébet krt. 26 (tel. 1/322-3471; tram nos. 4 or 6 to Wesselényi u.); Muvész, VI. Teréz krt. 30 (tel. 1/332-6726; tram nos. 4 or 6 to Oktogon); Puskin, V. Kossuth L. u. 18 (tel. 1/429-6080; metro to Astoria, Red line); and Uránia, VIII. Rákócxi út 2 (tel. 1/318-8955; metro to Blaha Lujza tér, Red line).
Going to a movie at one of the cinemas above can be a cultural experience in itself. Some theaters are smaller than most people's living rooms. Seats are assigned in all of the theaters. Jobb means right and Bal means left. First, find the sign to see if that theater uses right and left as you face the seats or as you are facing the stage; it is not a uniform custom. Then find your row number Sor, and finally your numbered "chair" Szék. If you do not sit in your assigned seat, you may find an upset Hungarian hovering over you telling you that the seat is theirs. As a throwback to earlier times, you will find a half-empty theater with people insisting they have to sit in their assigned seat when better seats are freely available. If popcorn is sold in the theater, don't expect any butter or other topping. As much as the Hungarian diet is made up of fats, they don't use any for their movie munchies.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.