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During the past few years, an interesting and lively gay scene has re-emerged in Hungary. Budapest, once known as the "Paris of the East", has always been regarded as a gay capital by Eastern Europeans.


The city is divided into two parts by the second-longest river of Europe, the Danube. There's Buda - the hilly side, and Pest - the lively city centre. To find your way around you'll need to know that Budapest is divided into districts ("kerület", abbrev. "ker.") arranged in a spiral, and numbered in Roman numerals starting at the centre - so, I. and II. are the most central districts on the Buda side, V.,VI., VII. and VIII the most central districts on the Pest side.

GAY LIFE

Since the fall of the communist regime, a commercial gay infrastructure has grown up, though there is less of a sense of community than in other European countries. Nevertheless the very first gay youth group was founded recently and a Gay Pride Day in Budapest has been organized every year since 1997.

The legal situation for gays is a mixed. The age of consent for gay and straight sex is equal at 14, and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is banned in the country. However, households headed by same-sex couples are not eligible for the same legal rights available to opposite-sex married couples.

Gay marriage is not possible, but registered partnership for same-sex couples was legalized in 2009. In January, 1998, the government ruled that people who test positive for HIV must, by law, be registered. Since this ruling, it has no longer been possible to get an anonymous HIV test and many clinics have closed down.

LOCAL COLOUR

When they visit for the first time, most gay tourists are surprised at the intense and very obvious level of cruising that goes on here which is totally accepted. If you go during the summer to Erzebet Square in the heart of Budapest, and walk some hundred metres down the Danube to the Korzo between the Marriott Hotel and the bridge, you'll find yourself in a large, very public, outside cruising area, especially in the two hours before and after sunset. At one part of the Korzo, there are a lot of seats and you can be sure that many of the people sitting there are gay. Also you'll find that most of the teenage lads hanging around are more than happy to strike a deal. It's not the only place where cruising goes on in Budapest, but a lot of gay socializing takes place here. Just by occupying, for a short time at sunset, one of the seats along the Korzo near the Erzsebet bridge and March 15th Square, you can get a good idea of what gay society in Hungary is really like.

The other big cruising ground is Népliget, The Peoples Park, behind the Planetarium and around the area of the old ruins, and also the path between the Planetarium and the Epitok Sport Club. People go here to do everything and the men in the parked cars are all looking for action.

In Hungary, it is very easy to make contacts with the locals. You might even find yourself feeling somewhat irritated at their frankness, because Hungarian gays are very quick to tell you their wishes and expectations. Foreign visitors are the objects of great interest, partly because Hungarians are very fearful of having their sexual liaisons gossiped about, and they look upon foreign visitors as gossip-proof, because of the shortness of their stays. For all that, Hungarians seem to have no trouble at all in passionately enjoying their gay lifestyle. And Hungary's gay night spots are typically crowded.

NIGHTLIFE

Starting with the gay bars, on Wednesdays and Sundays, shows and dancing are a happening at the Cafe Cappella, which is located right on the Danube, but on the Pest side. It's on the gay tourist map and don't lose your drink ticket as you'll have to pay 10,000HUF when you leave.

Why Not Cafe and Bar is a gay bar in the heart of the city with friendly staff. The music is often loud but overall it is a great place to spend the evening with friends on the Danube bank and there's an outdoor terrace. Look out for Karaoke Tuesday. The beer is relatively cheap. Habrolo Bisztro is a place that you can have some fun but unfortunately they overcharge tourists. On Saturday night they blatantly charge more than what's stated in their menu.

Vault 51 - Gamer Bar is exactly that with an awesome selection of boardgames, video games and a VR bar. The interior for me looks something like a factory's bar. They even have a living room designed to look like a small house that you can bring your friends to and have a small reunion. The food is good and the beer is to be found at regular city prices.

You'll find male prostitution is prevalent in many Hungarian gay bars, but it's not really run on a professional basis. The guys tend to just turn up and see who's around.

Turning to the clubs, Anker Klub is a slate-grey venue in an old banking hall, with simple European menu plus lounge DJs, live music & art. Also popular is The Alterego Club which has 2 different dance tracks playing due to their 2 dance areas so it is often noisy and confusing. Unfortunately, the staff aren't the most friendly and there's no re-admission if you go out of the club.

Ruin Pub Budapest is a nightclub that's part of huge complex converted from 2 houses, with theatrical decor, 6 bars, 3 dance floors & 2 gardens. It has a very crowded dance floor with excellent mainstream dj music. You can chill out in the sub trance floor upstairs where's there's normally only 10 to 15 people on it. They have several very underused private spaces upstairs and lots of security hanging around.

There are a number of really good cocktail bars in Pest and the Blue Fox The Bar is one of the most popular. It offers a varied and inventive cocktail list, high end liquors and skilled creative bartenders which is an essential for a Budapest hotel bar. Blue Fox has a classy, laid back vibe and is better for savoring your drink than partying hard. It's rather pricey but worth it. Warm Up Cocktail Bar has an interesting premise, there's no menu and the barman just makes you a drink based on what you tell him you like. This also means it's up to him what he charges, but that being said it tends to be quite reasonable. Garnish can be a little overboard, but the idea is very novel for making drinks. The bartender was spot on for the cocktails that we tried.

TURKISH BATHS

Budapest is fortunate to have some of the world's finest Turkish baths. Not only do they boast original Ottoman architecture consisting of wonderful octagonal pools, cupolas and stained-glass windows, but they offer a unique bathing experience. Admission is cheap and expert masseurs happily re-arrange your limbs and muscles in ways that you thought were impossible. While some are definitely mixed, others have a mostly gay clientele, so make sure you choose the right ones. The Király Bath is one of the city's most historic Turkish monuments and is open to men on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays when it is full of local gays. Its origins date back as far back as 1570 and today it is a listed building and shows the early Ottoman bathing culture in its original glamour. The octagonal main pool is surrounded by a number of smaller pools, steam rooms and saunas.
The Gellért Bath is probably the finest example of Art Nouveau anywhere in Europe. Located on the banks of the Danube it boasts wonderful statues, mosaic tiling and stained glass. This characteristic style extends from the internal areas to the outdoor pools and the artifical wave pool. Leading off from the main pool on either side are two Turkish style thermal baths, one for men, the other for women, where local gays always meet, or next to the outside pool in the summer.
The longest established gay only sauna is the Magnum which offers private cabins, glory hole rooms and a darkroom. Quick check in, lots of rooms, private and public spaces and a hot selection of men which is a real feast for the eyes and more. Somewhat newer is Sauna 69 which is clean and well kept with a mixed gay crowd. Admission varies as to whether you have a membership card which is valid for a year and allows you to pay the cheaper regular prices.

GETTING THERE

There are direct flights from the UK and discount deals are available from around Ł90 return. Easyjet, BA, Ryanair, KLM and Lufthansa all fly there direct from a variety of UK Airports.

STAYING THERE

The best time to visit Budapest is in the warmer months between April and October. The old city is architecturally beautiful, and well-preserved. Hungary is a very cheap destination, except for the cost of accommodation, which is comparable to any western European city. There are the normal range of international hotels and a number of gay guest houses and apartments. You'll also find an extensive choice of hotels bookable online, at all price ranges with many special deals at our recommended hotel partners Booking.

THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK

Alterego (Dessewffy u. 33, 1066 Budapest; T: +36 70 345 4302)
Anker Klub (Anker köz 1-3, 1062 Budapest; T: +36 70 621 0741)
Blue Fox The Bar (Erzsébet tér 7, 1051 Budapest; T: +36 1 429 4499)
Coxx Club (Dohány u. 38, 1072 Budapest; T: +36 1 344 4884)
Gellért Bath (XI Kelenhegyi út 4, T: 1 466 61 66)
Habrolo Bisztro (Szép u. 1, 1053 Budapest; T: +36 1 950 6644)
Király Bath (II Fö utca 84)
Magnum (Csepreghy utca 2, corner Mária utca, T:1 267 25 32)
Ruin Pub Budapest (Akácfa u. 49-51, 1072 Budapest; T: +36 70 638 5040)
Sauna 69 (Angyal utca 2, 1096 Budapest; T: +36 1 210 1751)
Vault 51 - Gamer Bar (Ó u. 51, 1066 Budapest; T: +36 30 203 3224)
Warm Up Cocktail Bar (Nagy Diófa u. 26, 1072 Budapest; T: +36 70 534 0012)
Why Not Cafe and Bar (Belgrád rkp. 3-4, 1056 Budapest; T: +36 1 780 4545)

Revised October 2017.

 

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