Last summer, Hugo Slimbrouck, our director of Strategic Partnerships travelled to Hungary for a famtrip in beautiful Budapest. The trip was organised by Ovation Global DMC, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, Microcosmos DMC Budapest and SN Brussels Airlines. Hugo has stayed in the Hungarian capital for less than three full days, which meant he spent his time wisely and experienced a wide array of locations and activities as efficiently as humanly possible. It turned out to be a lot of fun.
“Budapest was one of the few European capitals I hadn’t visited yet, so when the opportunity arose I was of course very happy to join a group of six Belgian incentive agents, Ovation’s Hugo Slimbrouck and Ritz-Carlton’s Pauline Bergé for a two and a half days discovery tour of the city. It didn’t disappoint in the slightest. The destination is fantastic – maybe one of the most beautiful cities on the continent. It’s full of baroque, neoclassical and art nouveau architecture and the centre is very well preserved – although heavily restored after WWII.
The romantic promenade along the river is lined with boats offering food and drink. There are some fantastic museums and a multitude of hot spring public baths to be enjoyed. Moreover, the whole city is clean, safe and easily walkable and it offers good value for money. It also oozed a festive atmosphere few other European cities seem to match, although this might have had something to do with the exams just being over when we arrived. The whole Elisabeth Square in front of our Ritz-Carlton Hotel was literally filled with young people enjoying the evening with beers and snacks.
Three million people live in and around Budapest. Most of the country’s focus is therefor concentrated on the capital – the MICE industry being no exception. It’s a city divided into two clear paths by the Danube River. Buda is home to the famous Castle District and is the more residential part. Pest has most of the clubs, bars and restaurants, and is generally the part where most stuff is happening.
Although this famtrip was just a teaser and was meant to quickly and efficiently show us what Budapest could bring to the table as far as meetings and incentives were concerned, it quickly became obvious to me that three days is not nearly enough to see more than a fraction of what’s on offer here. This is why my article will concentrate on the things I experienced myself – divided into three separate categories for your comfort. I’ll have to come back one day to see the rest of it – which is something I’m already looking forward to. Let us head right into the centre of the matter and talk about the venues we saw.
Hotels and venues – a nice mix of old and new
Of course we can’t start the article without mentioning the hotel hosting us during the trip: the splendid Ritz Carlton Budapest. The hotel and its grand entrance hall look like how a classic 5-star luxury venue should. It comes with 171 guest rooms and 29 suites, a great restaurant, a conference floor consisting of an elegant ballroom and five smaller meeting rooms able to accommodate 180 people for an event (the whole floor can be privatised), a luxurious spa, a fitness centre and an indoor pool with natural daylight on one of the upper floors. A great hotel on a very convenient location you should definitely check out.
One of the first stops we made was in the Ethnographic Museum. It’s housed in an impressive classical building and its main hall can be privatised for events after hours. It’s very popular for more formal occasions and is able to accommodate gala dinners for up to 150 people.
After that, we visited a completely different place: the VAM Design Centre. This is a much more modern venue that serves as a large contemporary art gallery and showroom with brick walls under a glass roof. It is often used for exhibitions and events and comes with a more loungy cellar level as well. The venue can seat up to 300 guests.
The Main Market Hall is a gigantic indoor food market full of stalls and restaurants of all types. The best thing about it, is that it can be completely privatised after hours, leaving some of the shops open for your guests to taste or buy the merchandise. This one is meant for truly massive events and offers quite an astounding setting.
The Whale is a contemporary, mostly glass building on the riverside. It serves as a shopping, culture and entertainment centre but also offers a giant modular hall able to host large events in a multitude of settings. Very interesting for those looking for a more modern setting.
Restaurants and bars – Something for everyone
If you’re looking for a drink with a view over the river or a dinner in the middle of the Castle District, book the Fisherman Bastion. The interior looks impressive, the view over the river and the Mattias Church is amazing and it can seat up to around 120 guests.
Gundel Restaurant is a very classical restaurant offering great Hungarian dishes. It has served some of the most famous and powerful people on the planet: From J-Law to the British Queen and the Pope. It comes with a ballroom and several smaller banquet rooms that can be used for gala dinners. The chef served us a fantastic avalanche of desserts in the kitchen after dinner – special treat. It’s been two weeks and sometimes I still feel full. Great venue for those looking for a classic but very fancy dinner.
Robinson Restaurant is located right across from Gundel, in a lovely park near Heroes’ Square. It offers great food and a more contemporary option in the same neighbourhood.
Urban Betyár Restaurant is a new venue in the city centre. The interior was marvellously designed, it can seat large groups of people and has smaller rooms that can be privatised. The cellar holds a small museum and the diaper changing room in the toilets is the cutest one we ever saw.
The San Andrea Wine and Rooftop bar was located not far from our hotel and offers wine tastings as well as a very fancy rooftop bar with a view over the city. Good for a variety of smaller events.
Kiosk Bistro is where we had our last lunch: a very hip and trendy venue in the city centre near the waterfront. The deserts are amazing.
The Szimpla Garden truly was something special and was my personal favourite venue of the trip. It’s the most famous ruin pub (party venues in derelict buildings – this one was an old factory) in Budapest. The place is huge, offering several floors of bars, food spots and lounge areas in every little room of the building. There’s a dance floor both in- and outdoors. There are even concerts and cinema experiences organised here. Incredibly cool and well-transformed venue and ideal for late night drinks after a long day of meetings or speaking sessions.
Activities – Race around the city
Isn’t driving around in a bus boring on famtrips like these? Well, we barely used one once we left the airport. Instead we got to our destination in alternative ways. Why not use a tuktuk for example? It’s like being in Bangkok without the murderous traffic. Why aren’t there any tuktuks in Brussels by the way? Couldn’t be bad for traffic.
On our second day, they drove us to the Gundel Restaurant in good old Soviet Trabants – which is always an experience. The most fun way to get around Budapest were the so called ‘monster rollers’. A cross between a step and a motorbike with big fat tires that works on electricity and is very easy to handle. I would buy one if it wouldn’t rain so much here.
While visiting the Castle District around the cathedral, we went on an iPad treasure hunt in teams, solving questions about the city and its history. It’s a fun and interactive way to get around and learn some facts without having to listen to a tourist guide.
Why sail the Danube in a slow tourist boat when you can do the same thing on a speed boat with your very own cocktail mixologist? It’s not a difficult choice, if the group is small enough.
One of the most fun experiences while in Budapest was attempting to make the dough of our traditional Hungarian strudel. Hint: it’s nearly impossible. Still, after you try in vain, they present you with a perfectly made one filled with either apples or cottage cheese: finger licking good.
Budapest is truly one of Europe’s great cities. It can cater to a lot of different crowds: from history buffs looking to get lost in the old town, to foodies wanting to sample the famous Hungarian kitchen and young people looking for an amazing party destination. It offers the same variety of offers to the MICE market. Venues and activities of all sorts, sizes or shapes are waiting for you in a city that is safe, open, international, relatively cheap and quite close by.”
Budapest has the elegance of Paris, but not the rates. What’s there not to love?
If you want to know more about Hungary, please contact us or visit Ovation Hungary
Text and Photography by BBT Online
First published on www.bbtonline.eu