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Sleep: Budapest

One of central Europe’s buzziest and most strikingly beautiful capitals, Budapest has it all: UNESCO-heritage architecture, the romantic Danube, communist-era relics — and a burgeoning bar, club, restaurant and art scene. Not to mention an eclectic clutch of hotels from affordable boutiques to five-star luxe

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Best Budapest Hotels - Exterior, Four Seasons  Gresham Palace, Budapest

Exterior, Four Seasons
Gresham Palace, Budapest. Image: Four Seasons/Paul Thuysbaert

District V

If anywhere could be classified as downtown Budapest, it’s District V. Located on the Pest side of the Danube, it forms a neat triangle between the river, parliament and Váci utca, the main shopping street. Once the medieval heart of the city, the area is notable for its historic buildings — including St Stephen’s Basilica and the Great Market Hall — upscale restaurants and an array of commercial galleries and bars. Most of the accommodation is equally high end — there are more five stars here than anywhere else in the country.

We recommend: Four Seasons Gresham Palace
This magnificent hotel is not only regarded as the best in Budapest, but in all of Hungary. Located on the banks of the Danube at the foot of the Chain Bridge, the Four Seasons has updated the city’s century-old Gresham Palace, one of the world’s finest art nouveau buildings. Its two-year, £70m restoration has created a suitably regal interior, with a jaw-dropping lobby. You’ll be treated like royalty, too, thanks to the impeccable five-star service, and elegantly appointed rooms and suites (the pricier ones have views over the bridge). The Gresham restaurant serves Italian-Hungarian cuisine and one of the most lavish breakfasts in the city. There’s also a 12m lap pool, Clarins spa and fitness centre on site.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €325 (£257). fourseasons.com

Best for party people: Buddha-Bar Hotel
Located inside a former palace commissioned by the granddaughter of Emperor Franz Joseph, the Buddha-Bar Hotel is about as bling as Budapest gets. With a prime location right on Váci utca, the interior has been stripped of any fusty Austro-Hungarian atmosphere and replaced with the brand’s seductive low-lit ‘Asian fantasy’ style: think black, gold and red colour scheme and statues of dragons and buddhas. The slickness continues in the rooms and suites, with their king beds, large desks and rainfall showers, through to the Asian-fusion restaurant. There’s a lively summer terrace on Váci utca with DJs, cocktails and a sushi menu, plus a spa in the historic basement — book the Sauna Suite and the massages and treatments will come to you.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €140 (£110). buddhabarhotelbudapest.com

Best for art fans and romantics: Bohem Art Hotel
One of the district’s newest hotspots, the Bohem Art Hotel enjoys an attractive location inside a turn-of-the-century compass and stationery factory. Part hotel, part art project, works by Hungarian contemporary artists adorn the 60 rooms and public areas. The Art & History Suites are among the most characterful, featuring gorgeous arched ceilings and contemporary design elements, though the romantically-inclined may prefer to book the Superior Sweetheart, which comes with an elevated queen bed and Champagne on arrival. The American-style buffet breakfast is also served with a glass of fizz, and it’s all just a hop, skip and jump to the Central Market Hall and the restaurants, cafes and bars of Váci utca.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €69 (£54). bohemarthotel.hu


Best Budapest Hotels - Drawing Room at Brody House

Drawing Room, Brody House, Budapest.

District VII & VIII

District VII (Erzsébetváros) is best known as the city’s traditional Jewish quarter. It boasts the must-see Great Synagogue, and is also home to cultural riches such as the National Museum and Kazinczy utca, one of the city’s nightlife and cultural hubs. This creative and recreational vibe has recently spilled over into District VIII (Józsefváros). Once known for its high crime levels, today it’s home to an increasing number of underground bars and edgy galleries.

We recommend: Brody House
One of the most happening places to stay in the city, this boutique bolthole has had the local and international media in a frenzy. Set in a 19th-century townhouse in District VIII, it’s accessed by an impressive stairwell that leads to the reception area and a network of rooms, including  a bar, relaxation lounge and communal breakfast area, that seem straight out of a lifestyle magazine. Indeed, the hotel’s charming, edgy aesthetic — distressed walls, in-your-face artworks, vintage and recycled furnishings — is often in demand for fashion shoots. Original artworks feature in the private-apartment style rooms — each of which is named after the artist  — along with smart parquet floors, tall ceilings and natural light. Each room is individual: the Tinei room comes with a freestanding golden bath, while the two-bedroom Yusuke Apartment has its own lounge and kitchen. In-room massages and beauty treatments are available.
■ Rooms: From £57. brodyhouse.com

Best for nostalgia: Corinthia Hotel Budapest
The restored, neo-classical façade and striking glass atrium of Budapest’s Corinthia hark back  to the Millennium Exhibition of 1896 when this grand-dame debuted. With its five-star emphasis, the hotel today offers spacious, quiet rooms with neutral decor, three restaurants — one of which, the Rickshaw, serves exceptionally good Far East fusion cuisine — and a Turkish spa that’s been restored to its original 19th-century splendour.
■ Rooms: From €125 (£112). corinthia.com

Best for style: Palazzo Zichy
Once the residence of Count Nándor Zichy, this slick, Italian-owned, four-star hotel in the university district blends 19th-century mansion architecture with some serious interior chic. The 75 rooms and five junior suites aren’t the most spacious in town, but are tastefully decorated by Spanish design company Cúbika Plan, and come with all the mod cons. The sauna and fitness room are well equipped, and there’s also a handsome all-white lounge area and glass-roofed breakfast room that serves up a better-than-average spread in the mornings.
■ Rooms: From €89 (£70). hotel-palazzo-zichy.hu


Best Budapest Hotels - 'Cool' room at Casati

‘Cool’ room at Casati, Budapest.

District VI

This rather well-heeled district, also known as Terézváros, is defined by the beautiful, tree-lined boulevard Andrássy út, a UNESCO world heritage site that runs through the whole of the city centre right up to Heroes’ Square and the sprawling City Park. Known for its upscale shops and fine restaurants, visitors will also find a slew of cultural venues, including the Hungarian State Opera House, Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music and the Museum of Fine Arts.

We recommend: Casati
This lovingly restored boutique is a charming mix of 18th-century, stone-wall architecture and contemporary art and design. Beyond the dapper ‘welcoming lounge’ is an intriguing art installation in the main corridor, which links to the adjacent art gallery that supports young Hungarian artists, and whose works in turn fill the hotel. The 25 spacious rooms and suites come in four different types: the luxurious ‘Classic’, with its antique furniture and oil paintings; ‘Cool’, filled with modern design furniture and graffiti; the ‘Natural’ rooms, which have a more naturalistic design and softer textures; and the airy, minimalist ‘Heaven’ spaces, featuring original artworks. For its size, Casati manages to cram in a lot of impressive spaces, such as the lovely, ivy-covered courtyard, the atrium-cum-breakfast room, retro-style bar and handsome basement spa.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €90 (£71). casatibudapesthotel.com

Best for privacy: Opera Garden Hotel & Apartments
Tucked away on a quiet pedestrian street, a few blocks away from the Opera House and Andrássy Street, this four-storey hotel occupies a restored 110-year-old building. There are 35 rooms, plus spacious double-room apartments fitted with four-poster beds and kitchen areas. But it’s the little touches that make you feel at home: complimentary umbrellas for rainy days, bathrobes and slippers for the sauna/spa…
■ Rooms: Doubles from €120 (£95). operagardenhotel.hu

Best for modern architecture: Mamaison Hotel Andrássy
Originally built by architect (and Olympic swimmer) Alfréd Hajós in 1937, this authentic Bauhaus-style boutique hotel sits in the exclusive Embassy neighbourhood. The distinctive exterior is matched to an elegant interior, mixing minimalism with art deco flourishes. The hotel’s stylish La Perle Noire restaurant serves up Hungarian cuisine with a French twist. Guests have free access (and taxi ride) to a nearby spa.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €150 (£118). mamaison.com


Best Budapest Hotels - Indoor pool at The Gellért Bath & Spa

Indoor pool at The Gellért Bath & Spa, Budapest.

Buda (District I & surrounds)

Hilly, green Buda on the western side of the city, though more residential than its eastern counterpart, offers plenty of charm and sights for visitors. As well as medieval architecture, some of which dates back to the 13th century, there are the well-known charms of the Castle District, which is accessible via the funicular at Chain Bridge — as well as the Hungarian National Gallery and St Mathias Church. Not to mention great views from spots like Fisherman’s Bastion, and several excellent local spas, bars and restaurants.

We recommend: Danubius Hotel Géllert
At the foot of Géllert Hill, which at 778ft offers spectacular views over the capital, this art nouveau landmark has hosted an array of luminaries, from Arthur Miller and Kirk Douglas to Richard Nixon and Otto Habsburg, since it opened in 1918. Its grandeur has faded somewhat — especially in the rooms — but it remains one of the best hotel options in Buda. Despite the old-fashioned decor, rooms are spacious and comfortable, and most have panoramic views across the Danube or Gellért Hill. The Gellért Bath & Spa is one of the city’s finest, with tiles produced by the renowned Zsolnay factory and other original art deco elements. As well as an indoor and outdoor pool, the spa also offers a Jacuzzi, thermal baths, a sauna and steam room, and modern treatments such as Thai massage. The hotel’s Panorama restaurant serves up decent Hungarian cuisine and occasional live gypsy music, and a 10-minute stroll across the beautiful Szabadság (Liberty) Bridge, will bring you to the downtown pleasures of District V.
■ Rooms: From €100 (£79) for a double room. danubiushotels.com

Best for views: Art’otel
Located slap-bang in Buda’s Castle District, Art’otel Budapest’s main talking point is its 600 original artworks by contemporary artist Donald Sultan. Comprising four baroque townhouses fronted by a glass façade, many of the bright, airy rooms come with spectacular views across the Danube River. There’s a bar terrace serving drinks and light meals, and the Chelsea restaurant offers international cuisine with a Hungarian twist. The hotel also has an in-house fitness centre, art shop and a garden terrace.
■ Rooms: From £142. artotels.com

Best for families: Molnár
Situated slightly further out in Buda’s suburbs, this three-star, family-run hotel is well worth considering for its excellent prices and top-notch service. Its 23 rooms are simply decorated but modern, and include singles as well as family rooms, often with great views of Budapest. An in-house restaurant offers international and Hungarian dishes, with some great local wines, and there’s a pleasant garden where you can have breakfast. Plus, a mini-playground keeps the kids busy.
■ Rooms: From €47 (£37). hotelmolnarbudapest.hu

Published in the November 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)