Looking for recommendations for moderately priced hotel rooms (prefer less than $150) on the Pest side that are locally owned (no large chains). Any insight would be appreciated--thank you in advance!
The Budapest book lists several hotels that fit your price range in pest, and sound promising.
Like everything else when traveling this comes down to personal taste. The part of town I send people to is defined by a line drawn from the Oktogon, down the center of Andrassy ut to banks of the Danube river. A diagram showing what I mean can be found as "Hotel Zone.pdf"on the right hand column at this website: http://budapestflat.shutterfly.com/fivedaysinbudapest Now find a hotel within 2 blocks of that line (or in the yellow zone of the diagram on the website). This puts you in a decent clean area with direct access to both tourism attractions and the "real" Budapest within a block one way or the other. Being near Andrassy ut puts you on the wonderful M1 metro (the oldest subway on the continent) that will get you to two of the most enjoyable extremes of Budapest and with one connection, all over Budapest. Andrassy ut is also the home of the Opera, the Operett, the House of Terror, Hero's square, etc; and a number of outstanding restaurants and cafes. The Hotel Pest falls in the zone and I have stayed at it a couple of times. The Hotel Pest is a very decent, well run hotel. The other hotel I have stayed at is the K&K Opera which is where I send most people. It does not however meet your requirement of not being part of a chain. If you stay in this zone there is another document on the same website with places to eat, see, and walking distances to the sights. Look for: "The Pond Help File public.pdf".
Unless you want to stay in the lap of luxury, you can easily get by in Budapest not only for less than $150, but less than $100 if you are looking for a single room. The last time I was in Budapest, I stayed at the Residence Baron Hotel, across the street from Central Market Hall off Vaci utca. I picked the location because it is also very close to Kalvin ter, Raday utca, and Kiroly Mihaly utca, my favorite spots in the city.
The rooms are small but modern and clean (a desktop in each room!), and breakfast is included.
Price could depend on what time of year you go. I stayed at the Hotel Pest near the Opera. I got a good internet price from their website. And it is a very good choice. You can read reviews on Tripadvisor.
Last month my wife and I stayed at Kalvin House (Haz), around the corner from Kalvin Square (Ter) a couple of blocks from the Great Market Hall and Danube, a couple of blocks the other way from Raday utca with lots of restaurants, in the southern part of central Pest. We liked it and it's recommended in the RS Budapest book. We had an air-conditioned room on the top floor, quite large, with skylights instead of windows (though you could open them and look over the rooftops). I'd recommend the AC in summer, not all rooms have it. The entrance is a little off-putting, you ring a bell then go down a hallway to the elevator (or stairs) taking you to the "first" (i.e. second) floor where the lobby, registration, and breakfast room are. Once upstairs it's very pleasant and the staff are friendly and helpful (helped us find an English-speaking doctor when we needed one unexpectedly). Very good breakfast. They have various room sizes and shapes, adequate furniture though a little sparse, good bathrooms. It would be within your budget, we paid a little over $100 a night. They arranged for a driver to meet us at the airport and bring us there, cost about $30 and well worthwhile after long flights with luggage. The Metro and tram stop nearby so you can get anywhere, or you can walk north to most of the central Pest sights.
See, I'm just not a fan of the Kalvin ter area, especially in the evening. But its all about what you find comfortable and about taste so there isn't a right or a wrong. The only comment I would make is that hotel taxis tend to cost a little more than they need to and you have to go through the hassle of finding the guy with your name on a sign in a crowd of people. The Budapest airport is quite well done and the airport contract taxi company has a stand immediately outside the arrival hall exit. This is about 50 feet from where you exit the customs area. The rate to most of tourist hotels in Pest is 5800 ft which today is about $25.00. The return trip is discounted to 3990 ft which is somewhat less than $20.00. Compared to most of the world this is a bargain. The drivers speak enough English to get the job done and the cabs are pretty clean and seem to be in good repair.
Thank you everyone for all of your insight! I will take this all into consideration when making a final decision. James - one question - what is it about the Kalvin Ter area that you are not a fan of? Is this a more sketchy area or more touristy, or? I appreciate any info. Also, we were planning to take bus/metro from the airport - we are just bringing backpacks. Is this something that can be done or are taxis a much better way to go? Thank you, thank you!!
Kalvin ter is as wonderful as the rest of Budapest and I love Budapest. The area i suggested provides more opportunity for relaxing evenings in extrodinary settings and wonderful food. I say its more beautiful, but its really just my taste. Oh, and the area i suggested is a little more convenient to the attractions, and a little easier to find the "real Budapest because its a little easier to navigate (the streets are less confusing). Budapest in general is outrageously safe, even Kalvin ter. So thats not the issue. Download that PDF file I suggested and you can get an idea of what is in the area. Or write and maybe i can tell you a little more about both with a little more depth. Bottom line though is go to Budapest its a wonderful experience.
I second Kalvin House, we stayed there in May 2011 for five nights. Nice staff, big rooms (floors a little creaky, old hardwood) -- best of all, easy walking distance to the river, tram line, beautiful bridge - walk to the Gellert baths in 10 minutes or so. Also a nice little grocery store right around the corner.
We stayed at the private Bellevue, see the description in Budapest book, and the comment on TripAdvisor. Could not ask for a better experience, and from conversations with the owners, that appears to be the standard that the smaller places are aiming to.
As for not on the Euro, that should not be an issue whatsoever. The US, Canada, England, Czech Republic, Poland, all of Scandanvia, Switzerland (among others) are also not on the Euro. Their ATMs work just fine.
"Hungarians hardly speak english, and they don't use the euro so two strikes up front. I liked Budapest, but the people in customer service were stuck in the Cold War era. I think it's national policy to not smile." Once again, my experience couldn't be more different from Ralph's. 1. I speak no Hungarian, so I can assure you that while not all Hungarians speak English, there was enough in Budapest, Eger, Pecs, Szentendre, and Vac to get my needs met. I only used German a few times, but otherwise found that people either spoke English, or only spoke Hungarian. When it comes to English availability, Hungary is not Sweden, but you'll do fine. One worry I had was English menus, but almost all restaurants had these. 2. I'm not sure why, as a traveler, one can only go to Euro countries. While the forint has had its problems, these affect Hungarians, not visitors. it's still a fully convertable currency, and, as said above, Hungary's ATM's work just as well as anyone else's. 3. I don't expect smiles and "Hi, I'm Istvan and I'll be your waiter today" type of service anywhere. Smiling all the time is an American thing - not a European one. The Hungarians I met were perfectly nice and accommodating. Warm and fuzzy? No - it's just not their way. Have a great trip!
It only takes one "off" experience to color someone's broad perception of a place or an experience; and it only takes the action of one person out of ten thousand to that "off" experience. There is a café in Budapest that has very, very positive reviews but when I went it was a complete disaster; from the food to the staff to the atmosphere. Everyone thinks I am unfair when I pan it but it was my experience and every experience is valid. First, its the fact that Hungary isnt on the Euro that makes it a bargan right now. So enjoy the reality that the dollar goes pretty far some place in Europe. And I agree with the "hi, I'm Biffy and I want to ......" I find it disgusting. I want you to serve me, not be my friend. Ten years ago the odds of finding someone that understood English in Budapest were about the same as finding a Parisian who would admit to understanding English. Things have gotten much better and today I would hazard to guess you are going to have no more problem with communication than you would in any major city in Western Europe. I have found the Hungarians to be somewhat guarded in their attitudes but in no way impolite as a whole. For some reason I struck up a pretty high comfort level with them very quickly. I guess the guarded attitude makes them a little more honest when they do interact and that honesty s a higher level of comfort. Naaaaa, I don't really know what I am talking about. As a whole I like them and feel comfortable around them. Who knows why. So base your plans on as many opinions as you can find and balance the nuts that love the place (like me) with the ones that have had somewhat less positive experiences.
We too found the Hungarians we met to be friendly and pleasant. Everyone we encountered in the "tourist economy" (hotel staff, waiters, even Metro ticket sellers) spoke English, as did everyone under about 50 whom we met otherwise. The only exception was during our unexpected two-hour foray into the health care system, where two of the four people we met didn't speak English but were kind and helpful and we managed to communicate. I won't say I fell in love with Budapest like James did, but I developed a powerful affection, not least for the people. And BTW, thanks to James for lots of previous posts that helped us prepare better and enjoy Budapest more.
Thank you. This is a very nice place with very nice contributors. I enjoy it.
My RS tour stayed at Hotel Erzsbet on the Pest side. Great location, multi-national and friendly staff. Yes it is a chain, but I thought the location was awesome nice and the room prices are good for the area. http://www.danubiushotels.com/en/our_hotels/hungary/budapest/hotel_erzsebet_city_center