As the year nears a close, thoughts of escaping the sun for a winter city break come to mind. With a direct, six-hour flight from the UAE, Budapest, Hungary’s bewitching capital city is an ideal destination, sure to satisfy all your wintery fantasies.
A mesmerising city basked in history, Budapest is bisected by the River Danube; the iconic 19th-century Chain Bridge connects the regions of hilly Buda and flat Pest. Easy to navigate the city either on foot or by one of Budapest’s treasured trams, hotels are largely centralised in Pest, scattered around statuesque sights such as the Hungarian Parliament building, Heroes Square and St. Stephen’s Basilica. With international names a plenty when it comes to finding a base, you’d be hard-pushed to find a more convenient location than the Ritz-Carlton, Budapest.
Standing proudly on the edge of the aptly named Fashion Street laden with trendy restaurants and well-loved apparel stores, and overlooking the monumental Budapest Eye, the five-star Ritz-Carlton is the epitome of elegant luxury. An impressive facade gives way to a contemporary interior, true to the international Ritz-Carlton brand; a palette of creamy nudes and splashes of dreamy turquoise. As you’d expect from the popular American hotel chain, service is exceptional. No ask is too great, or small. It’s this attention to detail that sees guests loyal to not only the Ritz-Carlton brand, but this particular hotel itself; during our stay, we encountered several other guests all on their third, fourth, even fifth visit to the hotel. We always say the measure of a good hotel is by how many people chose to return rather than try somewhere new, and the Ritz-Carlton Budapest’s loyal following speaks for itself.
With over 200 rooms and suites, it’s by no means a boutique property, but manages never to feel too crowded. Those on business talk hushedly in the lobby, families with impeccably behaved children gaze in wonder at the impressive, stained-glass cupola over a lavish breakfast and entwined couples quietly canoodle at the foyer bar, making their very own #RCmemories.
In winter, Budapest comes into its own. Snowy vistas, enchanting fog swirls over the River Danube, lively festive markets seemingly dot every corner and a general sense of merriment descends on the city. It’s phsycically a city of two parts, but it also allows for you to be as active or sedate as you please. Saunter up the chic Andrássy Avenue, recognized as a World Heritage Site laden with designer boutiques and eclectic, Neo-Renaissance palaces and private residences which offer a magnificent taster of Hungary’s renowned architecture. Make your way up the Avenue to City Park which houses many of the city’s must-see monuments and attractions including the Municipal Zoological and Botanical Garden, Museum of Fine Arts and Széchényi Baths – the latter is one of the most popular things to do in the city, especially in the freezing winter time; Brave the cold if only for a minute, and immerse yourself into the steamy waters of the healing baths. City Park is also home to Europe’s largest outdoor ice-skating rink, perfect for the time of year.
We recommend a stop at the New York Cafe – the world’s most beautiful cafe, on your return back to the hotel. Booking is essential, or expect to wait up to an hour for a table. However, upon entry, you’ll see why. At the turn of the 20th century, the New York Cafe was the place to see and be seen, popular among writers and editors, in fact, the most influential newspapers were edited here in the gallery upstairs, it’s played host to some of the biggest names in the world. Now resorted to its former, glittering glory, the New York Cafe is largely a tourist trap, but’s its stunning, gilt facade, atmospheric musicians and delectable deserts ( Eszterházy cake must be tried ) make it well worth a visit.
Back in the sanctuary of the Ritz-Carlton, relax in the comfort of your room or suite; there are eight categories of room and suites to choose from ranging from Deluxe King to the impressive Ritz-Carlton and Royal Suites alike.
Each room’s interior is a reflection of the rest of the hotel-calming, understated and impossibly luxurious. Some rooms come with Executive Club Level access (this can also be added on to lower category rooms for a supplement ) which is highly recommended if you plan on spending a lot of time inside of the hotel. The Ritz-Carlton Club Lounge will completely redefine your luxury hotel experience. Strides beyond club lounges at other hotels around the world, this serene oasis will challenge your desire to venture outside and explore the city. A hotel-within-a-hotel, this relaxed lounge boasts comfortable seating, meeting facilities, food and beverage throughout the course of the day and a roaring fire as a toasty backdrop.
Club Level guests can enjoy an extensive breakfast in the private lounge, as well as a light lunch, afternoon tea, evening hors d’oeuvres and complimentary beverages including wines and spirits.
As excellent as the Club Level lounge is, we recommend visiting the hotel’s Hungarian inspired restaurant DSK Wine & Grill – in fact, the food here is so good, we opted to eat here two nights in a row such was the predicament of what to choose from the menu the first time around. With a rather masculine interior – polished wooden floors and smooth tan leather seating, this upscale but relaxed restaurant is the talk of the town.
With an enviable location overlooking the lights of Fashion Street, it gets busy during the weekend when there is live jazz music, so booking is highly recommended. With a wide variety of Hungarian-inspired dishes, created with fresh, Hungarian-sourced ingredients (some grown in the hotel’s roof garden), you’ll be hard pressed to not find something for every palette. For starters, we recommend the Duck Foie Gras Terrine with spicy plum chutney and homemade brioche and for main course, the in-house dry aged beef is fantastic as is the aged Angus beef tenderloin served with creamy mashed potato and seasonal greens. For desert, the ‘famous royal chocolate cake’ deserves a special mention, Pair your delicious meal with flavourful local wines (Hungarian wines are some of the very best in the world) from the restaurant’s extensive selection.
The beautiful Kupola Bar – named after the hotel’s stunning stained-glass dome, is a glamorous spot for after dinner cocktails.
Budapest is known both for its thermal baths and reputation for encouraging wellness, and no winter break in the capital is complete without a spot of pampering. The Ritz-Carlton Spa offers this in abundance. A romantically-lit indoor pool and jacuzzi, sauna and steam room are positioned next to a 24-hour fitness centre (perfect for working out after over indulging in the hotel’s restaurant and Club Level Lounge).
A full treatment menu of facials, massages, manicures and pedicures is also available. One of the spa’s immersive therapies is a good choice for those looking to embrace the country’s culture: The Royal Palace Ritual which features a full-body exfoliation and hot stone massage is a real treat.
From it’s luxurious interiors to it’s delectable dining, the Ritz-Carlton, Budapest really is at the heart of the city. With a history stretching back thousands of years, Budapest is a beautiful, mysterious city with some of the most magical architecture in Europe, just waiting to be discovered. Budapest is somewhere to be enjoyed all year round, but for us, the winter months are when it’s mysterious magic really comes alive.