I often get asked which hotel I’d recommend for a short break in Europe, which is a tough one since we all have different ideas about what makes the perfect hotel. Instead of reeling off a list of lovely hotels that I’ve stayed in (although you can see a few below), I thought instead I’d walk you through the process I use to find my ideal hotel. Using these tips you should be able to find the hotel that suits you best and enjoy a fabulous weekend away.
Why is a hotel best for a European Citybreak?
Before I share how to find the perfect hotel for your European city break, let’s consider why I’d recommend choosing a hotel at all? After all you could book a friendly B&B or local apartment, as I have done myself on occasion. I’ve found that if you are spending a relatively short time in a destination and planning weekend breaks for couples or small groups then a hotel is usually best. Here’s why.
With apartments and B&Bs there’s less flexibility with the check in times. You may have to meet the owner or key holder at a certain time and there’s no opportunity to arrive earlier. With a hotel there’s always someone at reception, so you arrive at your convenience, drop off your bags if your room isn’t ready and get out to start enjoying your weekend break. If you prefer to relax there’s normally a hotel lounge where you can get a coffee, but either way you won’t be hanging around the streets with your luggage. I typically book an apartment when I am staying for a week or more, or am travelling in a large family group. Then those precious hours waiting to check in are not such a big issue.
Finding a hotel that matches your budget
One of the biggest considerations for weekend citybreaks is how much you can afford to spend on a hotel and what it will buy you. Sometimes there’s a trade off between price and location but we’ll come to that in a moment. As an example, you might be planning a trip to Stockholm and want to check roughly what your budget will buy you. This is where it’s useful to do a quick check on the going rate for the price of different levels of hotels in Stockholm to see if we’re talking pleasantly affordable or need to take out a second mortgage.
I typically use a hotel comparison site like Hotels Combined that shows the best prices from a range of different booking sites; you can try this out on my Heatheronhertravels hotel booking page which is powered by Hotels Combined. By putting in your chosen city and dates (or tentative dates if you’re not sure) you can then filter on the 3 star, 4 star or 5 star hotels to see what you can get within your budget. For a further comparison you might change your search to another city such as Gothenburg and find that prices are lower than Stockholm which could influence your decision on where to go. Occasionally there’s a big event or conference in town that inflates the hotel prices, so if you have flexibility in your schedule, check the price for a few different dates.
Having established what kind of hotel you’re likely to find within your price range it’s time to look at different locations in a city that work best for you. There are a few things that might influence you here such as:
- A hotel that’s walking distance from the main sightseeing area.
- A hotel that’s well located for a specific place you want to visit.
- A hotel that’s well located for transport links, for instance close to the metro or main train line from the airport
- A hotel that’s in a well lit, mainstream location if you’re a solo traveller.
Personally, if I’ll only be there for a few days, my first priority is to find a hotel close to all the main sights so that I can see as much as possible in the time I have. At this stage you could have a quick look at the destination’s official tourism website to establish where the major attractions are located, and if it’s a larger city perhaps to look at the metro or public transport map since there may be multiple areas for sightseeing. Having established where the main sites are, you can filter based on distance from a key tourist spot or just click through to see the hotels on a map.
Find a style that suits you
As everyone’s idea of a perfect hotel may be different, you’ll want to consider the style of the hotel. Some of you may like clean modern lines, others classic elegance or a trendy boutique style and I’ve enjoyed stays at hotels that offer all of these styles. Use the filters on the booking comparison website to see what’s available in different categories such as luxury, romantic, boutique/design. You may also want to do an online search for something like “boutique hotels in Stockholm” to see what hotel names keep popping up. This is the time to look at the photos on the hotel booking page or hotel’s own website to give you a feel for whether the style is right for you. After all, one person’s vintage charm is another’s outdated and shabby.
What facilities are important to you?
If certain facilities like a gym, spa or free wifi are essential to your enjoyment, now would be the time to put these into the filters of your hotel comparison website and make sure you are selecting hotels that have what you need. You may need to prioritise your wish list, as in smaller cities the perfect hotel with everything you require may not exist, or at least not within your budget.
Make a shortlist
Having considered price, location, style and facilities it’s time to make a shortlist of hotels. You should aim to have a list of 5-10 hotel names that would broadly match your requirements and jot them down somewhere with space to add comments beside them.
Read the reviews
Now it’s time to read the reviews. While most hotel comparison websites, such as Hotels Combined, have reviews I find the best place for this is Tripadvisor. Although there’s been a bit of discussion about fake reviews on TripAdvisor I’ve generally found that if you scroll through and scan at least 15 reviews posted over a few months, you will get a balanced overview of the hotel. Things that reviews will often cover are:
- How well located the hotel is for sightseeing
- The staff and service – is there one member of staff singled out for criticism or praise?
- The style of hotel, decor and general upkeep.
- Mention of any building work or renovation going on in the hotel or nearby. If so check the date as this may now be complete.
- Mention of hidden charges, things that weren’t working, rooms that were noisy.
When reading the reviews take a balanced view to consider whether any concerns raised by reviewers would affect your enjoyment of the hotel or are just unfortunate one-offs. Note how the hotel management answer the reviews, especially any negative ones.
If you scan through the reviews for your shortlist of hotels, you will probably eliminate a few of them based on the comments and ideally get to a list of around 5 hotels to investigate in more detail.
Shop around for the best price
With your shortlist of five hotels I’d go back to a hotel comparison site such as my Heatheronhertravels hotel booking page powered by Hotels Combined and do a price check for the dates you require. The beauty of Hotels Combined is that it scours a wide range of booking websites to come up with the best price deals. Of course you need to be sure you are comparing like with like. Check whether breakfast is included, that you’re comparing the same standard and type of room and look out for extras like local taxes. If any of your shortlisted hotels don’t have availability for your dates, it may be worth e-mailing the hotel directly just to check.
Check the cancellation terms
Be sure to check the cancellation terms, which can be quite generous on hotel comparison and booking websites, but not always so generous when booking direct with the hotel. I was once in a situation where my plans changed before a hotel stay I’d booked and I found myself liable for the whole bill – read my article on how to avoid hotel cancellation fees. If there is a claim of ‘free cancellation’ check the small print to see what this actually means.
Get the maximum benefit
Perhaps you’re down to a much shorter list of just two or three hotels that meet all your requirements, so now it’s time to make sure you’re getting the most for your money. Scrutinise the deals on sites such as Hotels Combined to check whether there are any other benefits that would save you money, such as free parking. It’s also wise to check the hotel website to see if they have any special offers, for instance 3 nights for the price of 2, or packages that include extra benefits that would interest you. In the spring and autumn when hotels have to work harder to fill their rooms, they are much more likely to offer extra benefits to entice you.
Make your booking!
I normally find that it takes around an hour to do the research I’ve described above, but for me that’s time well spent if I choose a hotel that’s perfect for my European City break. Now it’s time to make your booking, taking care to save or print off the confirmation, then relax until it’s time to go. Hope you have a great time!
Do you have a favourite approach to choosing the perfect hotel? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments.
Disclosure: If you book through my Hotels Combined booking page on this site I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you which helps support this site.
In this article, my daughter shares some of the things she enjoyed on a short break to Budapest, seen through the eyes of an 18 year old. Of course Sophie-Anne and her friend Emma spent their evenings partying and clubbing but they also managed to fit in a surprising amount of culture and sightseeing.
I arrived in Budapest with my friend Emma late on Tuesday evening and as it was too late to navigate the public transport links we hopped in a cab to my cousin Sophia’s apartment. The fares surprisingly aren’t too bad, that is if you pay in florins over euros. We had a quick catch up with Sophia, but with work in the morning she was eager to get some sleep and pointed us in the right direction for some things to do the following day.
Wednesday – we do the museums
Bright and early on Wednesday morning we rose eager to get some cultural sightseeing done, to satisfy our parents’ museum questions that we would surely encounter on our return. I am, of course, a believer in the ability of teenagers being able to mix culture and partying on a city trip, but it’s best to do what requires most energy at the start of the trip before the late nights get to you.
Unfortunately, it was raining on the first day, but the House of Terror museum was only one stop away on the tram, so we visited it first. The museum was very interactive and seemed quite popular, as by the time we left there was a queue and lots of school trips lurking in the different exhibition rooms. The building of the museum was used both as a Nazi and Communist office, and thus the exhibitions take you through a story of Hungary in occupation from both the Nazis, the Communists and then finally the story of independence. There was definitely a lot to see, including a creepy basement where prisoners were kept in dingy cells. We agreed that the museum was aimed to attract the young and had some pretty vibrant ideas going on; the unexplained maze of wax bricks being our favourite. The exhibition of all the Communist propaganda was probably my favourite room of the museum.
As we left the House of Terror, the rain continued to pour, so we stopped at the Opera House to get some shelter. The Opera House really is magnificent, with beautiful architecture even a teenager would appreciate, although we didn’t even bother to check for Opera shows due to our student budget. We then walked down to St Stephen’s Basilica which was truly amazing. It’s the kind of place that makes you wish your Granny had Vine so you could show it off to her. We were really lucky to witness the church choir practising for a show later that night, so the beautiful church was lit up by their voices and we were so impressed that we sat for a while amongst the more avid church visiters to enjoy the choir.
Of course at some point so much culture would need to be balanced out, so we decided to check out the shops on the famous Vati Utica shopping street. My map reading skills are not strong enough to give an accurate record of which end of the street we were on, as the guide book had informed us that one end was more for shopping and one was more for food, although I have strong suspicions we were at the shopping end. After we had spent perhaps too much of our budget on clothes (naturally) we navigated our way through the metro back to my cousin’s apartment. We only had a few moments to sit down until we were back out again.
We went to a restaurant that was absolutely packed, even on a Wednesday evening and stayed there for a few cocktails after the meal. Following that my cousin took us to Instant, one of Budapest’s ruin bars, although as she is rather upmarket she clarified she wouldn’t usually come here but wanted to show us. The bar was very peculiar indeed, with art features in every corner and each room decorated with some arty idea. I can imagine it to be full of students in the summer with a dance floor located underneath the bar area.
Thursday – we visit the Castle District
On Thursday the weather was much better so we decided to visit the castle district on the other side of the Danube. We walked across the famous chain bridge and had a few selfies with the lions at the entrance to the bridge. Cursing ourselves for spending so much on clothes we climbed the many steps instead of taking the funicular you had to pay for. Thankfully we weren’t too unfit so it wasn’t a huge chore, and when we got to the top it was definitely worth the effort.
We went to the Fisherman’s Bastion first, placed right next to St Matthias church, which both me and Emma thought could be in a Disney film. It had a lovely view over the whole of Budapest and was flooded with tourists taking pictures. We even payed a small fee to look around St Matthias church and explored its exhibition. Then we wandered towards the palace picking up some odd looking Translylvanian street food on our way that we both surprisingly enjoyed. We looked round the palace for a bit but generally more at the outside and decided not to go into the museum inside the palace. On our way back to my cousin’s we passed the Parliament but although Emma was extremely keen to look inside we couldn’t quite work out where the entrance was. Our trusty guide book also informed us you could only have a proper look if you were on a guided tour, which we of course had missed, being disorganised students.
Instead, we went to the Museum of Ethnography just behind the Parliament building. There were two main exhibitions we spent some time looking at and a third which contained photos of rocks which didn’t quite capture our attention. The two ones we enjoyed were the permanent exhibitions of a collection of Hungary’s artefacts and a temporary exhibition of photography. There were a lot of Hungarian weird and wonderful artefacts that we found humorous although the photography exhibition seemed more popular.
Again, in the evening we went out for a meal, this time Sophia took us to a more Hungarian restaurant, The Strudel House. This proved difficult for Emma as a vegetarian, as much of Hungarian cooking involves meat, although my goulash was delicious. Following our meal we went out for some more drinks at a bar with some of Sophia’s Hungarian friends, and then on to a club called Trafiq which was in a cool building and had a really great vibe. Me and Emma went on later to another club, Urimuri as Trafiq started to lose all its people, which was more arty but made all the clubs we go to back in Bristol look awful.
Friday – we relax at the baths
Naturally, on the Friday morning our energy levels were dipping so we decided to have a relaxing day in the famous Budapest baths. We choose to go to Gellert baths which was in a posh hotel, on the Buda side of the river. The bath itself had beautiful architecture and I can imagine it is amazing in summer with the outdoor pools, but the organisation of the bath itself wasn’t quite there. For example, we got redirected to the changing rooms about ten times by different staff. It was also slightly annoying that we could not swim in the main pool at Gellert spa as we did not have swimming caps with us, but what 18 year old is going to own a swimming cap! However, it was a lovely way to spend the day and we spent most of the time in the warm outdoor bath which was quite picturesque with all the autumn leaves and trees around it. We even had a view of the Liberty statue from our bath.
Having started late in the day we got back pretty late and so just grabbed a bite to eat in one of the nearby Asian restauraunts before going out again. We had some drinks with friends and headed out pretty late, to the club Hello Baby which seemed pretty upmarket, although the prices were reasonable. Me and Emma really upped our cocktail game here, trying different ones as they were nicely made and not too expensive.
We had a long night here as it was a Friday night so was extremely busy and full of international people. In fact it was surprising how everybody in the international community seems to speak English. Me and Emma only had schoolgirl French at our aid so felt very fortunate that everyone was able to understand us.
Saturday – time to go home to Bristol
On Saturday we just had a lie in and relaxed with Sophia until we had to go catch our flight in Budapest’s lovely modern airport! Overall we had an amazing cultural and fun time in Budapest, which I think is a really cool city to live in or just to explore. Budapest definitely has a lot to offer and at very reasonable prices.
More articles from Sophie-Anne’s travels
What Mum (Heather) enjoyed in Budapest
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Last time I was in Budapest it was summertime, with thunderstorms threatening to crack the warm humidity and we took the children to watch the Hungarian folk dancing for the St Stephen’s day festival. This time I was back in February with a breath of snow in the air, but the promise of spring just around the corner. This was a family trip of a different sort; I had 48 hours with my parents and sisters, to see the sights, eat some great food and have as much fun as possible together.
I hope you enjoy the video below about our 48 hours in Budapest
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For such a short trip, I think the choice of a hotel can really make or break the experience, so after reviewing the many hotel options on the Avios website, we decided to go for 5 star Intercontinental Hotel. This classy hotel combines location and luxury and is perfectly positioned on the banks of the Danube, close to most of the main sites of Budapest.
The bedroom window framed a postcard view of the Royal Palace on the Castle Hill, so it seemed obvious to make this the first area to explore. A brisk walk across the Chain Bridge and we found ourselves at the foot of the hill, in front of the funicular which is more of a tourist attraction than something that the locals use. I guess it’s one of those try-it-once kind of things, but a little expensive at 1000 HUF (£2.90) or 1700 HUF (£4.90) return for the 5 minute journey. I’d already tried-it-once on my previous visit, so instead we decided to climb the easy paths that run up the hill. Once at the top, we followed the stone steps to the wrought iron gates that guard the Royal Palace and found ourselves in a wide paved square, beside the upper funicular station.
The Castle Hill
At the top of the hill the views from the balustrade towards the Pest side of the city and down the Danube were spectacular. In front of the Sandor Palace we watched the soldiers marching back and forth and stamping to attention, as they guarded the residence of the Hungarian President. It was pretty chilly, so we kept moving along the cobble street that runs along the top of the hill towards the St Matthias Church.
On our last visit in the summer a couple of years before, the family had decided to let me look around the St Matthias church alone, and sat in a shady cafe just opposite while I went inside. The church interior was surprisingly colourful with painted frescoes and pillars in rich shades of red and ochre. I recalled hearing somewhere, that many Medieval churches had paintwork that was far more colourful than the bare grey stonework that we see today. I loved the multicoloured tiled roof of the church which is not the original, but was replaced when the church was restored after shelling in the Second World War.
In front of the church is the Fisherman’s Bastion, a fantasy colonnade of turrets and arches, built at the end of the 19th century as a monument to the Guild of Fishermen. Here we found more spectacular views towards the Hungarian Parliament Building on the opposite side of the river, built on a similar design to the Houses of Parliament in London. In summer when we were here, there were open air cafes set up on the battlements and in the arcades, and I listened to the gypsy violinists playing Hungarian folk music for the customers, giving everyone outside a free concert. In February it was far from balmy, so we warmed up in the nearby Ruszwurm Cukrászda cafe over a coffee and slice of strudel.
St Stephen’s Basilica
Back on the other side of the river we walked from the Intercontinental to St Stephen’s Basilica, another major landmark of Budapest, with a dome that dominates the skyline. We had a browse around the souvenir shops in the square and the side streets near the Cathedral which are full of little restaurants and bars, making this a good area to eat out (we tried the Strudel House later that evening). We decided to return to the cathedral for Mass the following Sunday morning and afterwards had a look around the Basilica, which is named after King Stephen I, the first king of Hungary who brought Christianity to his country. Canonised after his death, the saint’s mummified hand is displayed in one of the chapels of the Basilica and is paraded every year on St Stephen’s Day (20 August) which is a national holiday.
Later that afternoon we walked along Andrassy Avenue, an elegant boulevard with shops selling all the top international brands. We passed by the State Opera House, which I would also have loved to visit, on our way to 60 Andrassy Avenue, now known as The House of Terror.
The House of Terror
This museum was once the headquarters of the Hungarian Nazis and until the 1950s housed the communist state terror organisations, where suspects were brought to be interrogated, tortured and executed in the bleak basement prison cells. The museum gives a fascinating insight to how the Hungarian population suffered under Nazi and later communist rule, and is a monument to the victims of terror.
Inside the foyer, we were greeted by a black and white wall of the faces of the victims who suffered here, together with a tank trapped within the inner courtyard, reflecting in a shallow pool of dark water. On the upper floors we passed through a series of exhibition rooms with films and videos showing marching armies and care worn faces of old men and women telling their stories of evacuation, deportation and oppression under the communist regime. The tour ended with a slow descent in the lift down to the basement to a video commentary about the process of execution and then we walked past the cold prison cells. Our visit to the House of Terror was a stark but fascinating and compelling experience that I would highly recommend if you want to understand Hungary’s recent history.
The No 2 Tram
If you want a low cost sightseeing tour, jump on the No 2 tram that runs along the river and stops outside the Intercontinental Hotel. In one direction the tram will take you past the Hungarian Parliament Building to Margaret Bridge and Margaret Island, where we enjoyed an afternoon dip in the open air Palatine Baths on our summer visit. In the other direction, the tram will take you towards the Central Market and Liberty Bridge which you cross to reach the Gellért Baths. You just need to stop at a convenience store to buy a book of tram tickets, which you validate on the tram each time you use one.
The Gellért Baths
On Sunday afternoon after Mass at St Stephen’s Cathedral and an elegant brunch at The New York Cafe, we took the tram to the Gellért Baths for that quintessential Budapest spa experience. This is one thing that’s equally fun in summer or winter; in summer the outdoor pools and terraces are open, while in the winter you can linger in the steamy Turkish baths with sauna and heated pools. The baths are part of the Gellért Hotel, but if you enter at the side, you’ll come straight into the glass domed foyer to buy your ticket at the kiosk. You’ll be given a rubber wrist band with a magnetic disc which gets you through the turnstiles and opens your changing cubicle where you can leave your clothes and belongings securely locked up.
In the central bath you need to wear a swimming cap, but in the other heated pools this is not required. There’s a small heated pool next to the larger one but at the far and of the baths from the entrance you’ll find heated Turkish baths and saunas as well as treatment cubicles on both side of the building. It’s worth checking which day to go as it seems that on some days, the two identical Turkish baths are segregated into male and female, while on other days all areas are mixed. Last time my parents came to Budapest and tried the Gellért Baths, they were directed to different changing rooms and spent some time wandering around, trying to find each other again. We had a good couple of hours trying out all the pools – our favourite was the beautifully tiled Turkish bath and we braved a run up the cold stone steps to the outdoor pool, which was thankfully heated once we got in. Bring your own swimsuit, towel and cap, as these seemed relatively expensive to hire, and flip flops are also useful to keep your feet off the cold and sometimes grubby floor.
The Central Market
On our final morning, we took the No 2 tram again to the Central Market which I’d also visited on my previous trip. The large, glass roofed indoor market is great to walk around and admire all the fresh fruit and veg, as well as the many stalls specialising in meat products of sausages and goose live pate. There were also as a large number of stalls just devoted to selling all kinds of Paprika products, the favourite spice of Hungary.
Upstairs there are stall selling handicrafts and souvenirs and this is a good place to come to buy small gifts to take home, such as the painted eggs that I’ve been collecting to bring out at Easter or hang from my Christmas tree. Along one side there are also a number of food stalls selling snacks and beer. You might like to try the Lángos which is a typical Hungarian street food; a kind of flat doughnut that’s served with many different sweet and savoury toppings, but traditionally spread with cream cheese with a sprinkling of grated cheese.
After lunch at the Central Market it was time to head back to the hotel to pick up our bags and take our taxi to the airport. We’d packed a lot in to our 48 hours in Budapest, revisited some old haunts and made new discoveries, had fun in the process, but still left plenty to uncover for next time.
More things to enjoy in Budapest
Avios is an easy way to collect points at the places you shop online everyday, when you buy fuel or spend on your credit card. Then you can exchange the points for a flight, hotel, holiday or fun day out with your family. There’s plenty of inspiration on the Avios website to start planning your next citybreak. You can follow Avios on Twitter @AviosUK or on their AviosUK Facebook page and see some flying lawnmowers on the Avios YouTube channel
Through Avios we booked the luxurious 5 star Intercontinental Hotel Budapest which was perfectly positioned beside the Danube for sightseeing. The hotel has a lovely spa with a pool for those early morning swims as well as relaxing treatments. The hotel can be booked using your Avios Points and a room similar to ours at the time that we were there in February was around 15,000 Avios points or £150-180 per room/night including breakfast but may be higher in peak season. It’s worth looking out for packages that include breakfast and use of the exclusive Club Lounge. You can follow the Intercontinental Budapest on Twitter @ICBudapest and on their Intercontinental Budapest Facebook Page.
Thanks to Avios and Intercontinental Budapest for hosting our 48 hours in Budapest.
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey