Make a grand entrance at the hotel

Budapest is a great place for a city break but with a growing list of great hotel options, choosing where to stay has never been harder. We sent Jane Duru to see whether the Continental Hotel Zara should make the cut.

First impressions

The first thing that strikes you about Continental Hotel Zara is the opulent facade - a giant copper and glass ensemble that looks like the entrance to some ancient temple. In fact it's a protected facade, the only hint of the building's former use as a Hungária Spa. Although the entrance may lean slightly towards gaudy, a swish of the revolving doors into the lobby reveals a sense of decorum on the other side. The cavernous lobby is subtly lit, large artworks decorate the walls whilst leather club chairs dot the floor, and a piano tinkles away in the corner. It’s the epitome of contemporary classic.

Ideal for...

With 272 rooms, the hotel is large enough to accommodate anyone from couples and families to business travellers, and whilst the ambience is quite classic, it’s not boring. If you prefer the reassuring bustle of a large hotel, laced with the character of  a more boutique place, then this is a good bet. It’s well located for some great restaurants in Pest too.

The room

Continental Hotel Zara bedroomA standard bedroom
Continental Hotel Zara

I’m staying in a standard room, and at first glance I’m struck by its size - the large double bed takes up most of the room, with a  headboard that expands across the wall, dark brocade furnishings and slick black surfaces everywhere. It might feel cosy, but there is plentiful storage and the usual amenities are present - flat screen TV, free Wi-Fi access, mini-bar and safe. The bed, obviously the main focus, is super comfortable, with fluffy pillows galore and a firm mattress which ensures a great night's sleep throughout my stay. When it comes to the bathroom, there’s more of the same – dark tiling, marble black worktop and halogen lighting - which make me feel a little like I’m in a nightclub, although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; all the comforts of a large mirror and sink, and none of the fighting for reflective real estate with the other girls…

Other little touches I like are the inclusion of local magazines for those who may not be as prepped for exploration as they wish (the copy of Time Out Budapest certainly comes in handy throughout my stay) and the turn down service telling me the next day's weather. In fact, throughout my stay, the service is good. From getting restaurant recommendations from the concierge upon arrival, and the unobtrusive housekeeping, to being able to leave our bags during the day after checking out, nothing appears too much trouble.

Eating and drinking

Restaurant ArazEnjoy the wide range of breakfast options at Restaurant Araz
Continental Hotel Zara

The buffet breakfast at Restaurant Araz offers a range: from cereal, fruit and yoghurt to hot food and cured meat. Eat in the main restaurant or on a nice day, go one better, grab a table in the courtyard and settle in with a fresh orange juice to enjoy the al fresco setting. A top tip for non-hotel guests - eating Sunday brunch gets you free access to the hotel’s wellness areas, pools and sauna. More on that later.

At lunch there are set menus available serving a mixture of contemporary French and Hungarian cuisine. Hungarian cuisine has a reputation for stodge and stew but the menu here is much more fine dining than rustic cuisine, with dishes such as beef tenderloin fillet with sautéed calf gland, sweet potato mignon and red onion jam, or duck breast with lavender, licorice carrot cream and manjari sauce.  A mezzanine floor houses a sumptious bar area - it’s the perfect spot for pre-dinner cocktails, and with a view over the lobby, you can people-watch to your heart’s content whilst the piano music wafts upwards through the floors.


Continental Hotel Zara rooftop poolTake a refreshing dip in the rooftop pool
Continental Hotel Zara

One of the hotel’s biggest pluses is the wellness area on the top floor, which has an outdoor rooftop pool you can frolic in (or surrounding loungers and real grass you can laze on, for the more exercise-averse), an indoor pool, two small saunas and a hot tub. On a hot day, you'll need to get up here early if you want to grab a lounger, but even if you don't want to hop back and from forth from sauna to pool, it's worth coming just for the view out across Budapest's skyline. Just beware, if you've got plans - you'll easily lose track of the time up here.

Room for improvement?

Try to check in at a reasonable hour; the front desk, although always staffed, was manned by only one person when I arrived after a late evening flight, meaning a bit of a wait to check in.

Out and about

Budapest is a great city to walk around and explore. Split into two halves by the river Danube, the hotel is situated in Pest, in an area slightly off the tourist trail, and with the main commercial centre of restaurants and shops on Vaci Utca are a 10 - 15 minutes walk away. It's only around five minutes away from two metro stops as well, so you're well placed for getting to Buda, on the other side of the river, if you wish to visit the castle or the famous baths near Gellért Hill.

Budapest architecture and foodExperience Budapest's architectural and culinary gems
Jane Duru

On the hotel's doorstep is the Jewish Quarter, full of interesting architectural gems; the ornate baroque of centuries-old buildings are lovely to look at, despite some pockmarked, crumbling facades. Also nearby is the National Museum, which hosts concerts as well as exhibitions telling Hungary's complex history. In addition, the city is becoming something of a hidden culinary gem, with  a host of great restaurants in the nearby Liszt Ferenc ter. Go to nearby Klassz Bistro, on Andrássy Utca for a pared back menu of tasty Hungarian dishes and a great selection of local wines.


1074 Budapest, Dohány utca 42, Hungary
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7380 3658
Price: Continental Hotel Zara Superior is a member of Great Hotels of the World's Luxury Collection. Rooms start from £81.


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