Summer is a particularly beautiful time of year in Budapest. The castles glisten in the sunlight, the Danube is filled with boats, and warm weather inspires a packed calendar of outdoor events to keep visitors entertained all season. From the three-month-long Budapest Summer Festival to the lively Danube Carnival, plan your trip around these events in Budapest this summer.
Summer in Budapest starts as it means to go on: with a party. Established over two decades ago, the Danube Carnival has become an important fixture on the Budapest summer cultural calendar. Lasting around ten days, this varied programme celebrates Hungary’s rich folklore through traditional and modern dance, with shows, galas and concerts held across the capital. The undoubted highlight is the eponymous Carnival, which weaves its way from the Danube Promenade up to Vörösmarty Square, the bright skirts and headdresses, jaunty hats and impossibly high jumps an unrivalled spectacle.
As its name would suggest, the Budapest Summer Festival is a vibrant programme of concerts, musicals and theatre held al fresco during the three warmest months of the year. Taking place across two open-air theatres and at Margaret Island’s Art Nouveau Water Tower, each year sees events ranging from opera performances to circus shows, stand-up routines to ballet enthral visitors of all ages under the summer sun.
An impressive amalgamation of Hungary’s grandest architectural styles, Vajdahunyad Castle is an imposing backdrop for a summer evening of live music. Usually held during July and August, the Vajdahunyad Castle Summer Music Festival sees thousands flock to its grounds in the City Park to soak up the strains of classical concertos, traditional klezmer, lively swing and authentic gypsy melodies. As the shadows get longer, the castle is illuminated and lights glimmer off the lake. The ambience is a romantic one, making this an ideal event for couples.
One for thrill-seekers and adventure enthusiasts, the annual Red Bull Air Race Budapest presents a series of jaw-dropping aerial competitions and stomach-turning stunts by some of the world’s best light plane pilots. Claim a viewing spot along the riverbank and watch the planes dive and circle over the Danube against a backdrop of the capital’s most historic sites and be sure not to miss the swoop under the Chain Bridge, one of the hardest manoeuvres a pilot can execute.
Hungary’s biggest racing event, the Formula One Hungarian Grand Prix, is as thrilling today as it was in 1986, when it became the first race to take place behind the Iron Curtain. Held on the Hungaroring Circuit in Mogyoród, a challenging, twisty track set in a beautiful valley, this is an unmissable couple of days for the dedicated petrolhead, from the less-frenzied Pit Walk and practice laps to the exhilarating qualifiers and final race.
Gaining popularity with every edition (and it’s been running for almost three decades), Sziget has gone from a student-run, grassroots event to one of Europe’s biggest music festivals. Taking over the island of Óbudai in northern Budapest for a week every year, it sees over half a million attendees enjoy acts which have included the Foo Fighters, Gorillaz, Kasabian and more to date. Its unfettered, alternative atmosphere has earned it the prestigious comparison to America’s Burning Man – a real chance to let your hair down.
Every year on 20th August, Budapest commemorates Hungary’s first King and the foundation of the Hungarian state over a millennium ago. Celebrations take place in the form of an all-day party featuring concerts, processions and special events such as a cake-cutting ceremony and military parades. Concluding with a spectacular fireworks display soaring over the Danube, watch the show from the riverbank or board a boat for a front-row seat fit for a king.
A prime opportunity to discover Hungary’s rich folk heritage, the Festival of Folk Arts brings together artists and craftspeople from all corners of the country to showcase skills passed down through families for generations. Held at Buda Castle, visitors can watch demonstrations including shoe-making, carpentry and embroidery and even try them for themselves. It’s not just limited to the local, though; guest nations feature every year, contributing to the demonstrations, workshops, traditional dance performances and varied crafts market.
The Art Nouveau Liberty Bridge straddles the Danube, routing traffic and trams between Buda and Pest. On select weekends during summer in Budapest, the iconic bridge is cordoned off and pedestrianised to become a hub of local musicians, dancers, performers and acrobats, with the occasional open-to-all Zumba and yoga class thrown in for good measure. It turns out that above the Danube is a popular spot to roll out a picnic blanket, too. Join most of Budapest for one of the liveliest al-fresco events in the city.
Come Saturday, the ultimate pool party lands upon Szechenyi Baths, creating the ubiquitous ‘Sparty’. The thermal baths’ outdoor pools are lit with lasers and flooded with a decidedly sybaritic set as a live DJ pulses out electro, hip-hop and trance beats into the early hours of the morning. Not for the faint-hearted, the crowds swell as the night goes on and you’re hard-pressed to find a local among the crowds. However, the atmosphere is convivial and there’s a certain novelty in sipping a lethally potent mojito while submerged in toasty waters as ultraviolet lights illuminate the plumes of steam around you.