Budapest is renowned for its historic architecture, but the city also features several impressive modern buildings – and one of the most distinguished of them serves as home to the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest, a five-star hospitality hub that reflects all of Hungary’s best attractions with brilliance. Since this curvaceous edifice was built right in the heart of downtown in 1992 specifically to be Budapest’s Kempinski location, its guests included numerous world-famous celebrities and dignitaries – so we were delighted to follow their footsteps with an extraordinary stay here.
Magyar architect József Finta designed this landmark building to be the country’s first world-class luxury hotel soon after Hungary’s 1989 regime change, and it still towers impressively above central Pest’s Erzsébet Square with its earth-toned masonry, gleaming windows, bold lines, and protruding decorative metalwork reminiscent of Art Deco style. While this main façade provides an imposingly perpendicular appearance, the rear side that faces Fashion Street seems almost like a completely different building, as a huge circular courtyard airily envelops the Kempinski’s sunlight-ringed dining and conference facilities. This external duality is in many ways representative of the Kempinski’s multifaceted spirit – while the 349-room hotel provides accommodations and services of exquisite standards, a relaxed atmosphere puts guests at ease to enjoy appealing amenities with an unpretentious spirit, particularly after a comprehensive renovation completed in 2013.
Walking through the huge revolving door to enter the sunlit lobby adorned with fresh flowers, we admire how the Kempinski balances the diverse forms of its interior design – beneath a lofty ceiling supported by tapering columns, the circular interior is harmonized by marble floor tiles resembling a piano keyboard. To the right, the lounge-like concierge area encourages guests to sit down and leisurely arrange their city experience, while Blue Fox The Bar awaits to the left… but we’ll get to that later. For now we progress to the reception area and are greeted by the graceful front-desk clerk; during check-in she asks which international newspaper we’d like to receive in the morning – and while delivery of an English-language publication seems like a nice touch of luxury for us, we realize that this service is de rigueur for the jet-setting businesspeople who frequently stay here.
Another friendly receptionist guides us to our room on an upper story overlooking Erzsébet Square, and though we are immediately impressed by the understatedly warm atmosphere of our home for the night, we are irresistibly drawn straight to the windows – from here we have a sweeping view over the urban parkland below to the Parliament House dome peeking above rooftops to the left, the Basilica dome much closer toward the center, and the Opera House roof crowning the buildings of Andrássy Avenue not far away to the right; meanwhile, the gigantic Sziget Eye spins in the middle of it all.
Once satisfied with an eyeful of the Pest panorama, we turn around to appreciate the tasteful features of our room. Natural wood, sleek black trimming, and cool grays impart a soothing character to these accommodations, complete with a business desk equipped with high-speed Internet, a flat-screen TV with varied channels from around the world, and an extremely comfy queen-sized bed with a selection of pillows available. On one wall we are pleased to find framed artworks by István Orosz, a Magyar graphic designer who specializes in mind-bending illustrations with optical effects like the drawings of M. C. Escher; the Kempinski proudly showcases works by Hungarian artists in numerous mediums, providing guests with intriguing perspectives of local culture.
After putting our things away in the spacious closets and cabinets, we freshen up in the bathroom, and are equally impressed by the amenities here – the marble-walled WC features a separate tub and shower, along with a broad sink, terrycloth robes, slippers, a scale, and an aromatic assortment of deluxe soaps and lotions.
It’s tempting to laze away the entire afternoon here lounging in a bubble bath, but the day is still young, and one of the most impressive features of the Kempinski is the wide variety of individual hospitality establishments located within the building (most of them available to the public), so to truly experience all that a guest here can enjoy, there is no time to waste. We head back downstairs to take a walk around the sunshiny conference facilities, recently enhanced with a fully equipped show kitchen that groups can rent for cooking demonstrations, casual meals, or even to have fresh gourmet snacks prepared between meetings.
We head further downstairs to check out the dining options for that evening – it was going to be a tough choice. Notably, the Kempinski is home to Hungary’s exclusive Nobu
Japanese-fusion restaurant, partially owned by Robert De Niro and visited by guests like Jeremy Irons, John Cusack, and Brad Pitt with Angelina Jolie and all of their children; we enjoy sneaking a peek inside on the chance that we might just spot another movie star that could currently be filming a movie in Budapest.
From there we head back past the front desk to check out the Living Room, a sprawling lounge and modern coffeehouse with bright artwork, plush couches, and a luscious selection of cakes and other treats; during wintertime a streamlined fireplace creates a cozy air throughout this central hideaway, while it serves as a refuge of cool during the heat of summer.
While visiting the Living Room, we can see through slim windows into the adjacent ÉS Bisztró, a favorite among locals and international guests alike for its regionally sourced traditional cuisine prepared with modern flair; under the leadership of the Kempinski’s longtime Executive Chef – Roland Holzer from Austria – the Wiener schnitzel here is widely regarded as the best in Hungary. We decide to enjoy dinner there, but in the meantime, we stopped by the lobby area’s new ÉS Deli to pick up a scrumptious toasted croissant stuffed with Hungarian Mangalica ham and Emmental cheese, before taking a little walk through the surrounding city scenery.
Stepping back outside, we admire the lush greenery of Erzsébet Square across the street before us – and to the left we admire the Michael Jackson Memorial Tree, a truly organic Budapest monument first established when the King of Pop’s dedicated fans camped out here to bask in his presence while the superstar musician was staying at the Kempinski’s Royal Suite in the 1990s. These days, Erzsébet Square is a bustling Budapest hub – home of the Sziget Eye, Design Terminal, the Akvárium Klub, and the open-air Fröccsterász bar – and everything that it has to offer is found just a short stroll away from the Kempinski.
Other major Budapest attractions in the immediate area include the luxury boutiques of Andrássy Avenue, the gritty ruin pubs of downtown’s Jewish Quarter, the shops of Fashion Street and Váci Street, and landmarks like St. Stephen’s Basilica, the Chain Bridge, and the scenic Danube Promenade… but in reality, the vast majority of Budapest is easily accessible from the Kempinski thanks to its proximity to Deák Square – where three of the city’s metro lines meet, and the 16 minibus regularly departs to whisk passengers up to Castle Hill.
But for now, we’re happy to leave all of the bustle behind and head back to the hotel’s air-conditioned interior for a revivifying visit to a city-center oasis of calm – Kempinski The Spa. Recently reconceptualized to offer varied services inspired by the European cycle of seasons, this all-purpose wellness haven presents a relaxation area and indoor pool with views over Erzsébet Square, but we forget about the entire outside world when plunging into the soothing water for a few short laps before some skin-cleansing minutes in the steam rooms and sauna, all before an eagerly anticipated full-body massage.
Kempinski The Spa presents a creatively assembled collection of massages, treatments, and facials designed to suit every season, and while all of these are available throughout the year, we wisely decide to opt for the current “Summer Bliss” 90-minute rubdown, featuring soothing strokes from a gently muscular masseuse that thoroughly calm our nerves with refreshing materials like aloe vera, cucumber, and cool stones placed on the face. By the end of this dreamy procedure, we are so relaxed that we drift back to our room in a soporific daze, happily stopping en route a few times to languidly admire additional artworks hung on the hallway walls.
Following a short nap, we spring out of bed and dress for dinner, keen to head back downstairs to take our twilight table on the sprawling terrace at ÉS. With its name meaning “and” in Hungarian, ÉS strives to provide guests with the best of all worlds – a concept created by one of Budapest’s premier restaurateurs, the Zsidai Group (the proprietors of Pierrot, Spiler, Baltazár, and more), and carried out with the vision of the company’s masterful Magyar chef Zsolt Lituaszki. Here a seasonal selection of Hungarian and international dishes are prepared with creative skill and ultra-fresh ingredients – in fact, during warmer months the restaurant utilizes several herbs (including sage, mint, thyme, rosemary, and basil) immediately after they’re picked from a garden maintained on the Kempinski’s rooftop.
Back on the ground floor, we pass through the welcoming atmosphere of the ÉS interior, featuring a warm ambience that melds urban style with quaint grace in elements like natural-wood parquet, chalkboards announcing seasonal specialties, and white-tile walls like in a countryside kitchen. Nonetheless, we step outside to the sprawling patio to enjoy a fine alfresco dinner while watching the shoppers pass by on Fashion Street. The affably informative waiter commends our choice – the dry-aged fillet steak, served with zesty homemade salsa – and we take his recommendation for a nice Hungarian red wine to accompany the succulent beef; savored together, these tasteful selections take our already-dreamlike state of mind into a new realm of properly pampered satisfaction.
After taking our time to enjoy the lingering aftertastes of this gourmet repast as night settles over the city, we slowly ambled back into the hotel with our destination only a few meters away – Blue Fox The Bar, a relatively new addition to the Kempinski’s offerings that is already considered as one of Budapest’s top cocktail lounges. Here drinks are mixed as potable works of art as the “Music Sommelier” plays diverse melodies that somehow straddle the line between mellow and upbeat, from ’60s pop to modern electronica. We savor sips of masterfully mixed original summertime cocktails like the “Vagabond” with Mandarine Napoléon, Lillet Rouge, and rose, and the “Dark & Horny” (apricot-infused Myers’s Rum, Aperol, and lavender water).
Taking our cocktails out to the patio beside the main entrance and reclining while watching the whirling buzz of Erzsébet Square, we revel in the luxury living right in the middle of a city that we ordinarily appreciate more for its bohemian charms; from this perspective, we can recognize the worldly elegance of Budapest much more appreciably than in our day-to-day existence here. Concluding such thoughts with our last delightful gulps, we step back inside to the comfort of our room and sleep absolutely deeply thanks to the cozy bed and soundproof windows.
In the morning our wake-up call arrives five minutes late along with a sincere apology for this mishap; it’s truly no problem, as we would’ve been happy to spend much longer in our soft cocoon anyway. Arising with gusto and a pot of hot coffee delivered fresh to our room, we hasten to spruce ourselves up in anticipation of another journey to ÉS, this time for breakfast – we enjoy a generous morning buffet loaded with local delicacies and organic products, such as freshly prepared yogurt with juicy blueberries, regional honeys (and honeycombs) from bees drawing pollen from acacia and lavender, and homemade jams like apricot and strawberry with vanilla. Fresh-baked pastries are continually delivered to our table as we make multiple trips for country ham, smoked salmon, select cheeses, muesli with dried fruits, and much more, all while a fine selection of breakfast entrées are cooked to order.
After such an early feast, we really want to just retreat to the room and go back to bed… but alas, check-out time arrives, and we reluctantly pack our things and head to the front desk – but not before one more sweeping gaze across the downtown panorama from our window, happily prolonging every moment of enjoying Hungary’s high life above the capital city’s very center.As of press time, room rates at the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest range from approximately 125 euros per night to 4,800 euros per night, breakfast not included; see the hotel’s official website for current rates and discounts.
We Love Budapest’s “Guest Experience” series profiles various Budapest hotels that invite our staff to visit at no charge, but with the understanding that we may include negative impressions in our coverage; hotel management is not allowed to review these articles before they are posted.