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
District VII & VIII
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
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
Buda (District I & surrounds)
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)