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Guest experience: Danubius Hotel Gellért

Budapest’s most legendary hotel, once the definition of supreme luxury, will close on 1 December. Today its former glory is overshadowed by decades of neglect and old Socialist charm. This at least creates the opportunity to experience authentic nostalgia within the walls of this beautiful Art-Nouveau building on the banks of the Danube, and sample its signature dishes for one last time before it closes for long-term renovation.

The opening of the 176-room Szent Gellért Szálloda in September 1918 was a huge sensation, the new lodging completely booked out and two Turkish imperial princes renting a suite.

Unfortunately, the boom lasted only two months, as the hotel, with all its Art-Nouveau finery and state-of-the-art technology, was soon replaced by military units. First British officers made it their home, then the Red Army and then Hungary’s national government.

Guest Experience

We Love Budapest’s Guest Experience series profiles 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.

Fate had not been kind to the Gellért in the first place. Due to World War I, construction had been slow, the opening constantly put back. It suffered severe damage during World War II, was repaired here and there after ’56, then renovated and rebuilt in 1973.

Since been, it has essentially been left to its own devices, although there was a minor renovation in 1997. An entirely new era begins in December, when the hotel closes and new owners, the Indotek Group, will start renovating the building, so in a few years the Hotel Gellért should regain its old glow.

As you walk across Liberty Bridge, the exotic notion of staying at the Gellért arises as this iconic hotel on the banks of the Danube hones into view. It was designed by the most famous architects of the early 1900s, in the then new style of Art Nouveau.

As the jury couldn’t decide between the winning designs, the concepts of Ármin Hegedűs, Artúr Sebestyén and Izidor Sterk were kneaded together. By 1918 the building decorated with cone-shaped towers was completed, with a glass dome and wrought-iron decorations.

One of the special features of the building is the stained-glass window in the main staircase, originally modelled on the ancient legend of the wonder deer, but there was no frame for its restoration after war-time destruction. A new version was made in the ’90s which, along with the folk myth, also tells the events of the 1956 Revolution.

Back in the early 1920s, after the soldiers withdrew, and the hotel was again occupied by guests, it soon became the hub of social life, with luxurious balls, receptions and cultural events filled the lounges and salons.

Thermal water was introduced into the suites, and even sparkling water flowed from the bathroom taps. At the opening, Gellért started out with two restaurants and a café, but the gastronomic offerings overseen by Károly Gundel soon became memorable, the dishes served to seated guests at their table.

As we walked through the hotel from the cellar to the attic, it was with mixed feelings that we climbed into one of the domes to take photos of colourful Gellért Hill and the Pest panorama.

On the one hand, it’s fantastic to spend a night at the first hotel in Budapest which was at the forefront of the hospitality trade and in the education of hotel professionals until the 1970s – this effect can still be felt today, from the receptionist to the restaurant manager. On the other hand, the lack of renovation is quite pronounced in the communal spaces.

The current hotel has 234 rooms, nine suites and a surprising number of single rooms, many coming for business trips. Eight rooms are named after the celebrity who once occupied it, Otto Habsburg, Richard Nixon and actress Ida Turay.

We spent a strangely nostalgic evening in a room after Andrew Lloyd Webber, its balcony overlooking Liberty Bridge. We made it to the spa for a few hours, not included in the price of the room, as different owners oversee the two operations, but hotel guests can comfortably walk in their bathrobe and slippers to the pools.

Exciting for first-time visitors, the passage of time is reflected in the faded elegance of the furniture and the archive photos of its lively past.

The sensation of being frozen in time, underscored by the installations from the ’70s, still attracts a surprisingly large number of guests, and a number of filmmakers.

For a taste of the past, pop into the Gellért Söröző, where the chef has prepared his Grand Finale before the shutters come down in December, goose-liver parfait, Gellért pork medallions and the famed Gellért roll.

With this being your last chance to stay at the Gellért for some time, and last-minute prices down to €52/night, your experience may be the same as ours, a mix of childish enthusiasm to admire sunrise from the terrace of what was once the best hotel in town, sprinkled with the dust of past neglect. Staff, however, are unfailingly kind and attentive.

Hotel information

Danubius Hotel Gellért
1014 Budapest, Szent Gellért tér 2
Rooms from €52
Closes 1 December 


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