For me, a wonderful hotel is an essential ingredient of a city-break like the one I’ve just returned from in Budapest. I sometimes hear people say “Just give me somewhere clean and comfortable to come back to sleep” and think “Are they mad?” Call me greedy, but I just want more from my hotels! Give me clean and comfortable of course, but give me a little luxury, stylish furnishings that inspire me to go home and redecorate, perfumed bowls of hyacinths, artistic touches that catch my eye and service that makes me feel special. All of these are what makes a short stay in a city full of happy memories.
Which brings me to the Hotel Intercontinental Budapest, that I selected from the many hotel options available through the Avios website, as we were using Avios points. You may remember the old British Airways Air Miles that have now been reinvented as Avios points – you can earn them while shopping and then use them to treat yourself to a short break like ours. With only three days to pack in as much fun as possible, we wanted somewhere central and the Intercontinental is perfectly positioned, right by the Danube and within an easy walk of many of the key landmarks such as the Chain Bridge, Castle District and St Stephen’s Basilica. For a trip with my sisters and parents who are in their 70s, this kind of classy, 5 star hotel was ideal for a stay that wraps you in a cocoon of luxury without stress of any kind.
I hope you enjoy the video below about our stay at the Intercontinental Budapest
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And then there was the view! Although the hotel is not especially exciting to look at from the outside, being a block of a building covered with grey glass, when you are on the inside looking out it’s quite another matter. This is one hotel where you must book a room with a river view. My bedroom window framed a perfect postcard shot of the Danube with the dome of the Royal Palace rising from Castle Hill on the other side. I could have happily sat there all day watching the boats, like the huge barge filled with cars, go up and down the river, each on their way to somewhere interesting. As night fell, the lights twinkled on Castle hill and the Chain bridge, reflecting on the river, creating a magical view.
Our room with a view
We quickly settled into our rooms at the Intercontinental, mine with twin queen beds on the 6th floor which I was sharing with my sister, my parents on the 9th floor with a king bed and room for a sofa by the window. The bedroom was classic and elegant, with cherry-wood headboards and furniture, a black tortoiseshell bedside lamp and soft green bed throws and easy chairs. There were all the conveniences you’d expect, like a desk with Internet connection, a flat screen TV, a fridge with mini-bar , safe and ironing board. On the wall were some modern prints of the Budapest Castle district which picked up the deep red colour scheme and echoed the view outside from the window. The room was lit entirely by the side and floor lights, with no ceiling lights and I found the lighting levels a little too low in the evening, which was my only fault with the room.
A choice of standard and high speed Internet is available in the room at a charge which wasn’t cheap, something I’ve noticed is common in luxury hotels. It seems to be upside down thinking that if you stay in an inexpensive hostel you get free and fast wifi, but if you stay in a 5 star hotel, you pay through the nose for Internet access, so I hope that this is one charge that the hotel will change, as travellers come to expect wifi as part of the service rather than an optional extra.
The bathroom was compact but elegant with a wooden vanity unit and black marble sink surround, cream marble wall tiles and a range of luxurious toiletries. It was a little on the small side, but then my parent’s room on the 9th floor had a lovely bathroom which was much bigger with a frosted glass wall and room for both a bath and walk-in shower, so I guess it depends which room you book.
I’m not a great watcher of TV when I travel, preferring to get out and explore the place I’m visiting, but I did like the short video playing on the flat screen TV in which Chief Concierge, János Valcz, gave us his recommendations for things to see in Budapest, from fine dining and souvenir shopping, to a memorable dip in the Szechenyi Thermal Baths. It’s great to see a hotel using video in this way to bring their guests an insider’s view of the city and introduce them to the concierges who are there to help you get the most out of your visit. You can watch the video on Youtube here.
The Club Lounge
On our arrival from the airport, we were sent up in the lift to the 1st floor for a personal check-in service in the Club Lounge which was an extra benefit that the hotel had kindly extended us. This luxurious private lounge is a really beautiful place to relax with figured velvet armchairs, glossy coffee table books about Hungary and more exceptional views out towards the Danube and the Chain bridge from the full length windows.
The lounge also has computer terminals, free wifi and international papers, with complimentary drinks and snacks being served throughout the day. There is also the option to eat breakfast in the lounge as a quieter alternative to the main dining room. I really enjoyed gathering in the Club Lounge with my parents and sisters to have a chat over a coffee and make our plans for exploring Budapest or to have a lunchtime snack before heading out again.
The Club lounge is open for members of the Intercontinental Priority Club and Ambassador Loyalty Programmes and can also be purchased as an extra during your stay. I noticed that some of the room rates advertised also included use of the Club Lounge and I think that this would be be best value way of accessing the lounge which was really a lovely place to relax, meet with friends or business colleagues.
The Pool and Spa at Intercontinental Budapest
Budapest is a city built on thermal springs that feed the public spas like the Gellert and the Szechenyi Baths, but I’ll let you into a little secret. The Intercontinental has a fabulous pool and spa that’s tucked away on the first floor and perfect for a refreshing early morning swim or a few languid lengths and a warm up in the sauna after a day’s sightseeing. My parents, sisters and I all enjoyed a gentle swim at different times during our stay and pretty much had the place to ourself. With such a lovely spa and pool, I think the Intercontinental would be a fabulous place to base yourself for a girl’s getaway incorporating treatments at the hotel with visits to some of the other famous thermal baths of Budapest.
The pool has a pretty coloured effect with tiles that graduate from sea green at one end to turquoise at the other, while the dark stained wood, green recliners and eastern harp music give the spa a vaguely oriental air. There are two private treatment rooms and the spa uses Hungarian Kaviczky products which incorporate natural, organic agents, such as the waters and mud of the thermal lake at Heviz where our family spent a surreal afternoon a couple of years ago, drifting among the water lilies with rubber rings to keep us afloat. The spa often runs seasonal promotions such as a couple’s massage with champagne for Valentine’s day or a Mother’s day package, so be sure to check when you go for your swim. There is also a gym, which is useful to keep fit if you’re on business, although when I’m on holiday I prefer to keep fit by walking everywhere or in the case of Budapest, racing the funicular up to the top of castle hill.
Dining and more at the Intercontinental Budapest
The whole of the ground floor of the Intercontinental benefits from that view, through full length windows towards the Danube, Castle Hill and riverside walk. The lobby area is elegant and classical, with velvet button backed sofas, biedermeier style cherrywood furniture and some pretty bowls of hyacinths with wild catkins strewn over them that seemed to herald spring. Through the lobby seating area is the bar, where we stopped on our return from dinner one evening and sipped a coffee, listening to the musicians at the white Elton John piano. Hanging above the bar I noticed an large bulbous container of Palinka, the traditional spirit of Hungary that is often flavoured with fruits like cherry or apricot, although be warned that it’s eye-wateringly strong.
We enjoyed looking at the artworks around the lobby, including some abstract paintings in gold, terracotta and black and the sculpture we came to know as Kiss Kiss in which lips gently touch on disembodied faces. I expect that these artworks change regularly but there was a lovely carved wooden frieze of turn of the century street scenes, right opposite the lift which we enjoyed too, especially that girl on the swing.
At the opposite end of the hotel to the lobby is the spacious restaurant where we really enjoyed the buffet breakfast every morning with a huge selection of pastries, cereals and fruit if you were trying to stay healthy, or numerous hot dishes if you were indulging yourself. Although we ate out every night and didn’t get a chance to try the restaurant, we thought the menu looked very appetising with a mixture of international and local dishes such as Hungarian goat’s cheese on pumpkin puree or goose liver with roasted apples in a Tokaj wine and honey sauce. The hotel often runs themed food events to coincide with the many festivals and events going on in the city, such as the Formula 1 in July or the St Stephen’s day festival in August, and the Sunday brunch is also very popular, with a children’s corner so parents can relax.
So what did we see in Budapest?
If you’re visiting Budapest on a short break, you couldn’t get a better location than the Intercontinental which is at the heart of all the key things you’ll want to see. Cross the Chain bridge by the hotel and you’ll be standing in front of the funicular that takes you up to the top of castle hill, although it’s only a 10 minute walk if you’re feeling energetic. Stroll along the top to see many of the old palace buildings which now house galleries and museums, and end up by the colourful St Mathius Church and Fisherman’s Bastion where the views across to the Hungarian Parliament Building are fantastic, and you might just be serenaded by some gypsy violinists.
Close to the hotel is St Stephen’s Basilica where we went to mass on Sunday and in the surrounding streets are many excellent small restaurants and bars to try, such as The Strudel House where we ate on our first night. If you run out of energy for walking, the yellow No 2 and 2A tram is perfect for sightseeing as it runs along the river and stops right outside the Intercontinental Hotel. A couple of tram stops in one direction and you can look around the Central Market where we we stopped for lunch one day or from the same tram stop walk across Liberty Bridge to the Gellert baths for the old fashioned Budapest spa experience.
A couple of tram stops in the opposite direction will take you to the Hungarian Parliament Building and then on to Margaret Bridge where there’s a lovely park on the island in the Danube with an outdoor lido baths that we visited on a previous summer holiday. Not far from the hotel is the start of Andrassy Ut, a long boulevard lined with designer brands, where you’ll also find the House of Terror, a fascinating museum that gave us a taste of what the Hungarian people went through in the last century under the Nazi and Communist regimes.
We were extremely happy with our choice of the Intercontinental Hotel for our Budapest city break booked through Avios. The central location enabled us to easily see everything we wanted while the fabulous views and luxurous surroundings made our family gathering really memorable.
Need to know for the Intercontinental Budapest
Intercontinental Budapest, Apaczai Csere J. u. 12-14, Budapest H-1052, Hungary
We booked the Intercontinental Budapest as part of our city break through Avios, the easy way to collect points when you shop online, which you can then convert into a flight, hotel, holiday or day out with the family. Start planning how to spend your points on the Avios website and you can follow Avios on Twitter @AviosUK or on their AviosUK Facebook page and see some flying lawnmowers on the Avios YouTube channel
The Intercontinental Budapest 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. For best rates book well ahead or enjoy a low season break as we did. It’s also 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.
Other costs: WiFi charges (standard and fast service) were £11-19 per 24 hrs or £23-42 for 3 days. Breakfast if not booked with your room package 8000 HUF (£22)
My thanks to Avios and Intercontinental Budapest who hosted my spring break in Budapest
Other stories from our Budapest trip
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