Next time you are choosing a destination for a European event, why not look east to Budapest? The Hungarian capital was one of the first cities to emerge from behind the Iron Curtain and welcome delegates. At first, there was a limited choice of hotels but after Four Seasons Gresham Palace opened on Roosevelt Square in 2004, others quickly followed.

Budapest is rich in art nouveau splendour and there are beautiful buildings on almost every corner. Its two sides, Buda and Pest, are divided by the Danube. Pest provides the dynamic, more modern character, plus good shopping, the Hungarian State Opera House, St Stephen’s Basilica, lively nightlife, museums and most of the hotels – and if the Parliament Building looks familiar, it is because it is modelled on ours. The centre of Pest is relatively compact and most distances are walkable.

The Castle District on the Buda side is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site, the most outstanding attributes of which are the 700-year-old Matthias church and the Fisherman’s Bastion, both of which were recently restored.

The city is well set up for hosting meetings. It has a proactive and efficient convention bureau – recently restructured by the new government, which supports the industry – and destination management companies (DMCs) are well established, clued-up and creative, ensuring that support for any kind of programme is forthcoming.

Hungary is two and a half hours from the UK and is well served by BA, Malev and low-cost carriers. Previously, security procedures for departing passengers at Ferihegy airport were slow but a new £61 million terminal building, Sky Court, which has been constructed between Terminals 2A and 2B and was set to open at the end of March, should speed things up. It has 28 passenger security screening channels, 50 border crossing points, 21 boarding gates, 80 check-in counters and 16 self-check-in kiosks, as well as retail and dining outlets.

Connections are good: “The city has excellent flight access, which makes it an ideal destination for a worldwide audience, and it is great value for money,” says Katrina Rannard, lead design manager for events organisation company BI. Although Hungary is a member of the EU, it is not in the eurozone and the exchange rate with the forint is favourable.

The city’s good spread of hotels from mid-range to luxury means it can cater to a range of budgets. “Hungary has an excellent range of three-, four- and five-star hotels and because there is so much competition [with 16 five-star and 61 four-star properties], they are outstanding value,” says David Marks, managing partner of MM and Company, a DMC representation firm. “The MICE [meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions] industry is well established – the people at the convention bureau know what they are doing and DMCs are experienced. We have been representing it for a number of years and last year it was one of our best sellers. In short, it works.”

It also stands out because potential delegates have often not been there, which gives it an advantage over its neighbours. “We rarely lose the business once [event planners] have been here [to check it out as an option],” says Agnes Racsai, managing director Microcosmos, a DMC represented by MM and Company. “As a little known destination, it is difficult to sell but it is great when 90 per cent of a group has not been here.”

Some of the events Microcosmos arranged last year included a product launch and recognition event for 250 customers from the Dubai office of a mobile phone company, a strategy conference weekend for 50 CEOs for a media company based in South Africa, and a trip to the Hungarian Formula One Grand Prix race for 20 staff from an automotive company.

The hotels have excellent meeting facilities and many are close to one other, making it easy to accommodate larger groups across properties. “The city is picturesque and offers a great hotel product,” says BI’s Rannard. “We ran a conference here for 400 delegates and it provided a fantastic, compact solution owing to the close proximity of many of the hotels.”

Within walking distance of one another are the 179-room Four Seasons, which holds 133 delegates theatre-style in its largest meeting space; the 420-room Intercontinental Budapest, which accommodates 850 theatre-style; and the 354-room Sofitel Budapest Chain Bridge, with a maximum theatre-style capacity of 340. The Four Seasons provides art nouveau charm against its more modern neighbours.

The 366-room Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest (with a theatre-style capacity of 450) and the 218-room Le Méridien (210 theatre-style) are also next-door neighbours on Erszébet Square. The 170-room Boscolo New York Palace, which holds 140 delegates in its largest meeting room, has the grandeur you would expect from a building constructed as a bank in the late 19th century. A short walk away and open since 1886, the 414-room Corinthia Grand Royal hotel (which holds 520 people in its biggest venue) is the largest five-star property in the city and still has its original spa.

In the four-star bracket is the Achat Premium hotel, open since September last year, on the ring road 5km from the city centre; the Expo Congress Hotel, located at the entrance to exhibition space Hungexpo; the Courtyard by Marriott Budapest City Centre, popular with groups; and, after a £39 million renovation, the former Continental hotel, also in the city centre, which has reopened as Continental Hotel Zara.

If you’re looking for an unusual option, the huge outdoor skating rink at Heroes’ Square can be taken over for private events such as group skating or displays. And in the old town of Buda, a raft of interesting venues can be found among the clamour of cobbled streets. The Hungarian National Gallery ( stands majestically at the top of Castle Hill, overlooking the river, and has meeting rooms for up to 400 delegates. Cocktails or dinner can be arranged under the dome or in one of six other impressive halls, and in summer, drinks on the terrace takes full advantage of the views. Many of Budapest’s other museums are also available as special venues.

Even the Hilton Budapest, which holds 660 people theatre-style, has an unusual spin, being built around a 13th-century Dominican monastery. Appropriately, groups can be greeted by monks singing Gregorian chants, which is one way to get a meeting off to a good start…