48 Hours in Budapest

Our contributor helps you make the most of a short stay in this beautiful European city
Leah Travels
Leah Travels

Gelarto Rosa is a small and unassuming gelato shop that can be found by the long line stretching out the door.

Budapest is a beautiful city, but not in the traditional way. It’s not perfectly restored like Vienna or straight from a storybook like Prague. But there’s no mistaking that Budapest is splendid, and it has become one of my favorite European cities.

Located on both banks of the Danube River, the steep hills of Buda and the bustle of Pest give visitors a glimpse into the city’s grand and turbulent past. Approximately 30,000 buildings were destroyed during World War II and the 1956 Revolution, and much of that can still be seen today. The crumbling buildings give this city character and are a reminder of the past, while the restored buildings remind visitors of what makes this Hungarian capital one of the most picturesque cities in Europe.

Stay: Four Seasons Gresham Palace
For the ultimate in luxury while in Budapest, there’s only one place to rest your head: Four Seasons Gresham Palace. The building has a rich history and storied past. Completed in 1906, the Palace was heavily damaged during WWII. Sadly, it remained in disrepair until 1998, when the Four Seasons began the historic restoration.

Once luxury apartments and high-end shopping for the crème de la crème of Budapest, artisans transformed the dilapidated building back into its once-grand condition. Salvaged were the two million-piece mosaic tile floor, staircase, stained-glass floors, and a wrought iron elevator. Modern touches like a spa, fitness facility, and a pool were added as well. Once revitalized, Gresham Palace was opened as the Four Seasons in 2004 after a five-year, $110 million dollar restoration.

The stunning Art Nouveau building couldn’t be in a better location. Situated in Szechenyi Square, along the bank of the Danube River and in front of the famous Chain Bridge, the Four Seasons is on the bustling Pest side of Budapest. With only 179 rooms in an intimate setting, it’s easy to feel like royalty here. And just like every other Four Seasons in which I’ve stayed, I was made to feel like a queen.

My Danube River View Room was decorated in art deco style and retained some of the original architecture elements like soaring ceilings and detailed crown molding. The room even had a doorbell, which is fun feature left from the Palace's apartment days.

My absolute favorite aspect of the room was the floor-to-ceiling windows and glass doors that lead out to a small balcony. From here, I could see the Danube, Chain Bridge, Buda Hills, Royal Castle, and the Fisherman’s Bastion. Honestly, I didn’t see any better view while in Budapest.

Little thoughtful touches throughout the two nights made my stay even more special. In typical Four Seasons fashion, beautiful two-bite pastries and bottled water awaited me each evening. That’s so much nicer than typical chocolate. The mini bar not only included the standard offerings of snacks, drinks, and alcohol, but also a travel guide of Budapest, gorgeous note cards, and a Rubic’s Cube. Apparently, the inventor is from Budapest.

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What impressed me the most were the two parting gifts I received: a small box of cookies and my favorite, a quart-sized plastic bag. I know it must sound silly considering I was staying in a palace, but the bag was so simple, innovative, and something I’d never seen. I thought so much of this minute amenity that I included it in “Six Simple Amenities That All Luxury Hotels Should Offer.”