Le Meridien Budapest – hotel review and tips on exploring Budapest, Hungary
Erzsebet Ter 9-10
Budapest, HU 1051
By: Dave Grossman, HotelMagician.com
The Le Meridien Budapest, with the only 5-Diamond rating in town, did not disappoint on a recent 2 night stay. Located on a square adjacent to the Deak Ferenc Metro station, it is very central to all the major sights in town. Right around the corner is a wonderful pedestrian area where you will likely find yourself dropping into the Café Gerbaud for a coffee and one of their famous cakes or pastries. Erzsebet Terrace, a small grassy area, is right in front of the hotel if you just want to regroup for a minute. And with the Metro literally right outside your door that connects all three Metro lines (M1, M2, M3) you can be whisked to any part of the city in minutes. Also right nearby is the No 16 bus, known as the Castle Bus to locals, which can take you across the river and up into the historic Castle District. Or take a walk across the famous Chain Bridge and ride the funicular up the hills for a fantastic view back across the Danube River.
Also just a few blocks away is the old Jewish Quarter where you can visit a number of synagogues and see the areas that were the Jewish Ghettos. Or walk near the Danube and catch the tram No 2 south to Fovam Terrace where you can explore the Great Food Hall. The locals buy their meats and vegetables from the many vendors there and you can try the upstairs restaurant for some authentic Hungarian Goulash or a Wiener Schnitzel. (Be warned that the restaurant is cash only and the sides they will offer you with your main are not included in the price.) From there, you can stroll down touristy Vaci St where you may well end up dining later (Fatal is a favorite choice of the guidebooks as well as the gentleman sitting next to me now on my train to Zagreb).
On to the hotel and the room. While the Le Meridien Budapest itself is quite old, much of it has been modernized. I arrived a bit before check=in time and while I’d been upgraded from a Superior room to a Deluxe room (approx. 50% bigger in size) my room with a King bed was not yet ready so I settled for one with two single beds in order to get in and start exploring the city sooner. The rooms are modern with temperature controlled heating and cooling units, flat panel LCD TVs, a marble bathroom with soaking tub and a powerful shower, and a suitable desk for working. The bed was comfortable, if small. One small complaint in the room was that, for a 5-Star hotel, they were a bit skimpy on essentials. I was left only one towel and one bar of soap which I was expected to shuttle back and forth between the shower and the sink. While I’m all for conservation, that seemed a bit much. There also seemed to be a problem with the air-conditioning unit but not the one you’d expect… it was too cold! I couldn’t get it to moderate the cool air except to turn it off entirely. At least it works!
The staff was fantastic all around. They were all very friendly – from the gentleman that checked me in, to the woman at the desk at night warning me about local scams to watch out for (be wary if any girls try to invite you to a “club they know” as they likely work for the club and you will be in for anywhere from 40 to 100 Euro PER DRINK – you can read more about this scam on the US State Department’s travel warnings site), to the concierge who gave me advice on local transit and customs at the Szechenyi Furdo Baths*, to the kind bellman who readily called me a City Taxi without pressuring me to use the hotel’s cars. You should know that most hotels will try to get you to use their car service partners which cost significantly more than a taxi. City Taxi is a respected company you can ask for by name. As an example, I paid 1400 Forints (approx. Euro 5.50 / US$6.50) from Le Meridien to the Keleti train station when the hotel car would have been 2500 Forints (Euro 10 / US$ 12 as of August 2010). You can always ask someone for approximate cab costs vs. the cost of their car if you are unsure.
The Le Meridien Budapest does have a small pool / Jacuzzi and fitness center. I do mean small, though – the workout area was a few treadmills, a bike or two, and a few weights and weight machines. There is also a fancy French restaurant on property that appeared quite good, although I was too busy exploring local Hungarian restaurants to try it.
Overall, I found the Le Meridien Budapest to be a wonderful hotel with a boutique feel in an absolutely unbeatable center city location. With a prepaid rate on HotelMagician.com of only 87 Euro a night for 2 nights, it was a fantastic deal as well. Note the hotel will actually charge in Hungarian Forints, though that is a fixed exchange rate with the Euro – and unless prepaid, your taxes are *not* included in the quoted rate.
* Since the Turkish Baths in Budapest are somewhat mysterious to Westerners, I was a bit anxious about how to prepare and how it all worked. Let me share a bit of what I learned (this applies ONLY to the Szechenyi Furdo Baths, the largest complex in Budapest – others are undoubtedly different) : You will want to bring swimming attire and a towel as well as some shower gel for after since the mineral content in some of the baths is such that you’ll want a good cleansing if you’re not heading straight back to the hotel. You no longer need to hire a safe for your valuables as you will be given an electronic bracelet after you pay which will actually lock and unlock a locker. Just find one that’s open, press your bracelet into the lock (push it shut with the bracelet itself – it will then auto-lock. Same procedure to unlock it later). And one last tip – when you first enter you will be shown into the changing cabin (“Kabin” in Hungarian). You will have no idea how to lock this cabin and nobody will explain. There is a wooden seat that has a maybe 6 inch wide end that folds over the seat. Flip this part down and it barriers the doors on both sides, locking you in and others out. When you are all finished, fold the end back up and walk out the *other door* into the locker room area. Then find a shower to rinse off before entering the baths.