All photos taken by Timothy Arnold in April 2014

The capital and the largest city in Hungary, Budapest straddles the beautiful Danube River. Originally comprised of two cities, Buda and Pest, one on each side of the river, Budapest together has a population of 1.7 million people, about the same as Vienna. The Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport is about 30 minutes outside the main city area, and offers direct flights to most European destinations. Hungary is a member of the European Union but has its own currency, the forint. When I was there in May 2014, the exchange rate was about 200 forint to US$1. Most hotels will contract in euro, and I saw many merchants taking euros as well.

 

The best way to experience the city is a river cruise. At night, all of the monuments, castles, churches, and the Parliament buildings are lit up and provide stunning views of this UNESCO heritage area. The Parliament building is especially impressive, the fourth-largest parliament building in the world, after Buenos Aires, Bucharest, and London. It offers a lot of private event space here for groups, including a ballroom with a terrace overlooking the river.
Budapest was heavily damaged during WWII, but has been rebuilt beautifully in the same classic style. The revival of the city has been especially robust since the fall of Communism in the late ’80s. The whole city sits on a very shallow crust of the earth, and has hundreds of naturally occuring hot springs. There are many mineral spas and bathhouses that take advantage of these hot springs.
I stayed at the 414-room Corinthia Hotel, a stunning historic property about 10 minutes from the river, situated near one of the major intersections of the city. The Corinthia has an amazing ballroom that can seat 500 people, and a really cool conference center for exhibits and breakouts. For me the highlight of the hotel was its massive spa complex. It was so relaxing to spend a couple of hours enjoying the pool, hot tubs, sauna, and steam room, especially after a long week of traveling.

 


In the same area as the Corinthia, about three blocks away, is the Boscolo Budapest hotel. The hotel is gorgeous, and has 185 rooms, suites, or apartments. The meeting space is nice for the size of the hotel, with its largest ballroom about 4,000 square feet. The rooms are amazing and well designed. In the lobby of the hotel is a must-visit spot in Budapest—the New York Café. This place is simply awe inspiring in its over-the-top grandeur. Even if you are not staying at the hotel, you must come to the café for a coffee or dessert. The décor is just spectacular.

 

Between these two hotels and the river is Le Meridien Budapest. The hotel is small, with 218 rooms, but is a very nice upscale hotel situated on a major park, with plenty of attractions within walking distance.
Still on the Pest side of the Danube River, right on the bank, four hotels sit in a row. Directly at the base of the Chain Bridge is the Four Seasons Gresham Palace. This hotel has 179 rooms, and meeting space for about 100 people. The hotel used to be a palace, but with the damage from the war and mothballing from the Communists, sat empty for about 70 years. It has been open for about eight years since being restored to its former glory. Their rates are very high, and there is little negotiation room, but the hotel has the prime location in all of Budapest and is opulent.
 

 
A block or so from the Four Seasons, is the 357-room Sofitel Budapest Chain Bridge. Nice product, rooms are well appointed, and they have meeting space for about 200 people.
Next door to the Sofitel is the 402-room InterContinental Budapest, which has the largest meeting space of any hotel in Budapest. The largest ballroom is just under 9,000 square feet. Bathrooms are small, but the rooms are spacious and half of them have great river views. The hotel was upscale without being stuffy. Based on its location, product, and their flexibility in contracting, this was my favorite hotel in Budapest.

 
Next to the InterCon is the 364-room Budapest Marriott Hotel, with meeting space for about 300 people. All of the rooms at the Marriott face the river, which is a huge selling point for this hotel. There is a large historic theater between the Marriott and the InterContinental that can hold more than 600 people, plus large areas for exhibits and meals. It would be very easy to contract a large group with both hotels, and have the main sessions in this theater.
 
The only five-star hotel on the Buda side is the Hilton Budapest Hotel, with 322 rooms. This hotel is directly in the Royal Castle District (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and some of the meeting space is surrounded by walls that are 600 years old. The hotel is nice, and there are many historic attractions right outside the front door.
The value that you can get in Budapest is exceptional, the food is wonderful, and the history is impressive. It is a great choice for any group that wants authentic Europe at an excellent value. I highly recommend this fascinating destination in the heart of Europe.

Timothy Arnold, CMP, CMM, is Regional Vice President with HPN Global, the Hospitality Performance Network. Watch for his destination reports from around the world, a regular MeetingsNet feature and part of our ideaXchange series.