Maybe this has happened to you: You’re sightseeing in a European city, you want to pop inside a grand historic hotel to take a look, and you’re stopped at the door because you’re not a guest. It’s certainly happened to me—usually when I’m wearing sneakers rather than chic leather shoes—and it flies in the face of the most fundamental rule in the hospitality business: Show hospitality.
So I was thrilled when I encountered the opposite approach in Budapest’s most stylish hotel last week. At the Four Seasons Gresham Palace, which TripAdvisor travelers rate #1 in Budapest, non-guests are welcomed with open arms. The soaring lobby and the ground-floor public rooms are part of the historic fabric of the city—they are an Art Nouveau feast for the eyes as well as a famed restoration project—and visitors to Budapest should absolutely stop by and enjoy them, Fouad Shafik, the hotel’s director of marketing, told me. There are so many details to admire, and visitors can even ask at the front desk if it’s possible to have a little tour.
Which brings me to my tip for the day: When you’re sightseeing in a European city, don’t shy away from a grand historic hotel just because formal-looking doormen seem to be guarding the place with their lives. What I’ve learned to do, over many years, is to walk right in like I belong and make a beeline for the bar, the restaurant, the front desk (where I ask for a business card or a brochure “in case I want to stay there next time”) or the concierge desk (if I need local intel). Of course, it’s always fun to linger over a cocktail or tea. At the Four Seasons Gresham Palace I grabbed lunch al fresco—in the café that looks onto the Danube, the Chain Bridge, and Buda Castle. The tab for Hungarian goulash with country bread and warm paprika oil? Just $10.
There’s nothing wrong with trying to incorporate the world’s legendary hotels into our sightseeing itineraries. It won’t always work, but it’s worth it for the times when it does.