John Brunton, The Guardian, June 19, 2014
Budapest is buzzing right now. It's not just one of the most affordable destinations in Europe but has brilliant nightlife – from the famous ruin pubs to the current trend in craft beer bars – and a gourmet revolution that is seeing traditional Hungarian cuisine creatively reinterpreted from reasonably-priced bistrots to food trucks. While the city boasts a host of budget hostel accommodation, there is also a selection of stylish hotels where a stay costs well under £100 a night.
With the perfect waterfront location on the Buda side of the Danube, just below the Royal castle, this discrete design hotel looks more like an anonymous apartment block from the street. But walk inside and the soaring entrance lobby doubles as an elegant cocktail bar, and on the first floor, a smart restaurant offers creative local cuisine with dishes like duck breast with sour cherry and rhubarb sauce or roasted goose liver on a ragout of apricots and apple. By July, a brand new elevator will open just by the Lánchíd to whisk visitors straight up to the Royal Castle, while a romantic walk across the grandiose Chain Bridge brings you straight into downtown Pest. Rooms have been decorated by local artists and graphic designers, many have big bathtubs, but if you want a panoramic view over the Danube rather than looking out over the Castle at the back, then that will add £20 a night to the bill.
• Lánchíd utca 19, +36 1 457 1200, lanchid19hotel.hu, double rooms from £67 not including breakfast
Hotel Palazzo Zichy
As you walk into the imposing marble entrance hall of the Palazzo Zichy it seems that little has changed since it was built in the 19th century for an Hungarian nobleman. But this is an hotel that mixes ancient with modern, and the reception lobby, in comparison, looks almost space-age, with a vast glass ceiling above and an open view on to the breakfast room a floor below. As is often the case in Budapest, the standard rooms are large, including the bathrooms, that have walk-in showers. Guests have free use of the sauna and fitness room, while during the day, free tea, coffee and snacks are served in the lounge bar. The Palazzo is located in the lively Palace neighbourhood, looking out over a leafy square with a Russian restaurant, while two minutes' walk away, Mikszáth Kálmán square is brimming with bars and bistrots.
• Lőrinc pap square 2, +36 1 235 4000, hotel-palazzo-zichy.hu, double rooms from £74 including breakfast
An apartment building dating back to the communist era of the 1930s has been cleverly converted into a retro-style address whose vivid psychedelic colours look more Carnaby Street than Budapest. Prices are very reasonable, but bear in mind that this is more basic B&B than boutique hotel, with small rooms – albeit decorated with graphic pop art prints – and no extras like gym and spa. A generous buffet breakfast is served in a striking orange and green dining room, and there's a popular lounge bar for hanging out before hitting the town's nightlife. While the famous ruin bars of the Jewish quarter are all around, such as the anarchic Fogasház, you can also splash out on a Martini at the opulent belle époque New York Café, right on the main road by the Soho.
• Dohány utca 64, +36 1 872 8292, sohoboutiquehotel.com, double rooms from £120 (£60 for last-minute offers) including breakfast
The Castle District looks like one of the most touristy parts of the Buda side of the city, but once you leave behind the crowds at the Fisherman's Bastion and Mattias Church, the narrow cobbled streets lined with pastel cottages and grand mansions rapidly become quieter, more like a village. Eventually you reach the city's latest hotspot, Baltazár, a winebar and bistro on the ground floor, with 11 rooms upstairs that opened in July 2013. Each room is individually-themed, with decor inspired by Warhol and Keith Haring alongside vintage furniture and comfy leather armchairs. The restaurant specialises in charcoal grill cooking, and is the perfect place to discover Hungary's surprising wines, such as the crisp white Furmint or pinot noir from Transylvania. The 16a bus stops almost outside which whisks you over the Chain bridge and into the heart of downtown Pest.
• Országház utca 31, +36 1 300 7051, baltazarbudapest.com, double rooms from £84 not including breakfast
Lavender Circus Hostel
It is worth staying at the eccentric Lavender just to meet the bohemian owner, artist Adam Szarvas, who doesn't just make guests feel welcome but part of the family, cooking together with them some nights, organising a trawl of the latest clubs, such as Akvárium, and offering free wine and 'pálinka', Hungary's lethal fruit brandy, that he brings back from his village in the countryside. He may call it a 'hostel' – 'because we are neither a hotel nor B&B, as we don't serve breakfast' – but Lavender consists of 15 unique double rooms (seven with their own bathroom), decorated with flea-market furniture, the walls covered with Adam's witty line drawings, and bathrooms that have a goldfish tank embedded in the window. Located right opposite the National Museum, room rates have to be the best deal in town, with one drawback, a steep slog up three flights of stairs.
• 8 Múzeum boulevard 37, +36 70 417 7763, lavendercircus.com, double rooms from £27, no breakfast but free use of the kitchen
Gerlóczy Rooms De Lux
Right in the centre of Pest, the Gerlóczy Cafe is one of the city's most popular, romantic restaurants, with a sprawling terrace in the shade of a giant elm tree, and draws an animated crowd of arty locals and expats. Their weekend brunch is legendary, there is an outdoor fish grill every evening, and on Saturday mornings a secondhand bookseller sets up his stall. The cafe covers the first floor of an imposing 1890s town house, and there is a separate side entrance to the 19 guestrooms, which are set off a wonderful winding art nouveau staircase that leads up to the attic. Some rooms have striking claw-foot bathtubs and velvet armchairs, while the attic rooms have wood-beamed ceilings. The minibar is complimentary, including beer and wine, and is temptingly refilled each day.
• Gerlóczy utca 1, +36 1 501 4000, gerloczy.hu, double rooms from £85 including breakfast
Mirage Fashion Hotel
This imposing 1820s villa is perfectly located for classic Budapest sightseeing, right opposite the monumental Heroes Square, the Museum of Fine Arts and the lovely park and lake that surround the Disneyland-like Vajdahunyad Castle. A 10-minute walk takes you past the city's memorable art nouveau zoo as far as the Széchenyi Thermal Baths and Spa, where you can spend the whole day relaxing. While the exterior of the Mirage harks back to another era, the interiors have been renovated and modernised. Five standard rooms come with terraces overlooking Heroes Square at no extra charge, so it is worth asking if one is available when booking. There is a lively terrace restaurant with all-day dining, popular with tourists taking a sightseeing break as well as hotel guests.
• Dózsa György út 88, +36 1 462 7070, miragehotelbudapest.com, double room from £58 not including breakfast
Tucked away in a leafy sidestreet alongside the Hungarian National Museum, the Brody House looks a bit forbidding from the outside, but walk up two floors and you enter one of the most original places to stay in the city. Guests are first shown around the high-ceilinged communal areas; a breakfast room, two huge lounges with one-off furniture pieces and lighting created by the Brody's in-house designers, sculptures and avant-garde paintings by artists-in-residence, and an honesty bar with wine, beer and a do-it-yourself cocktail kit. You have to go back down to the ground floor and cross a courtyard to the back of the building to access the guestrooms, which are just as quirky, where you may find a bathtub standing by the bed or a wall stripped back to bare bricks. Now the owners have opened up another cavernous house on the other side of town as the Brody Studios (Vörösmarty utca 38), a private-members club which includes a restaurant, bar, art events and late-night partying at the weekend, and those staying at Brody House get complimentary membership.
• Bródy Sándor utca 10, +36 1 266 1211, brodyhouse.com, double room from £74 not including breakfast
The Casati describes itself as an art hotel, beginning the moment you pass beneath a giant hanging sculpture dominating the entrance, while sitting in the cocktail bar is like being part of a multi-coloured gallery installation. By contrast, once inside the bright, spacious standard rooms, the decor is essentially minimalist – white, beige or black. A big buffet breakfast, complete with Hungarian sparkling wine, is served in an interior courtyard covered with a glass roof, while down in the vaulted cellar is a complimentary sauna and gym. Location is good too, just by the Opera House and grand cafes of Andrássy street, but also five minutes walk from the frenetic nightlife of the Jewish quarter.
• Paulay Ede utca 31, +36 1 343 1198, casatibudapesthotel.com/hu, double rooms from £78 with breakfast
Art'otels operate under the concept where all the decor is created by a single artist or designer – Andy Warhol in Berlin, Atelier Van Lieshout in Amsterdam. Here in Budapest, carte blanche was given to New York painter Donald Sultan, who exhibits over 700 works, from paintings and prints to porcelain, carpets and door numbers. The layout feels almost like two separate hotels, with one modern building looking out over the emblematic Hungarian Parliament across the other side of the Danube, contrasting with a 17th-century mansion at the back. So breakfast is served in an ancient vaulted cellar, while the colourful modern bar and bistro has riverside views. Rooms are very spacious and guests have use of a sauna and fitness suite. Don't miss one of Budapest's most splendid baroque churches, the ornate St Anne, in nearby Batthyány Square.
• Bem Rakpart 16, +36 1 487 9487, artotels.com/budapest, double room from £74 not including breakfast
• Flights were provided by easyJet. Returns from London Gatwick to Budapest from £97 (excluding taxes).
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
This article was written by John Brunton from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.