Budapest: Hollywood on the Danube

05/27/2015 09:18 am ET | Updated May 25, 2016

When the movie "Spy" opens June 5, viewers will see Melissa McCarthy and Jude Law flirting in the offices of the C.I.A.

In Budapest.

The Central Intelligence Agency is located in Langley, VA, of course, but the set for it was on a sound stage a few miles outside the capital of Hungary. Budapest itself has stood in for Buenos Aires ("Evita" with Madonna), Paris ("Bel Ami" with Robert Pattinson), Florence in "The Borgias" and Munich in Steven Spielberg's movie of the same name. "A Good Day to Die Hard" with Bruce Willis was shot here, as was "Spy Games" with Robert Redford and Brad Pitt.

The city has another cinematic boast. There really is a Grand Budapest Hotel, the "star" of West Anderson's award-winning film. It originally opened in splendid glory as the Grand Hotel Royal in 1896, suffered through wars and revolution, and now, fully refurbished back to all its former grandeur, it is the Corinthia Hotel Budapest. Its distinctive rounded turrets still bookend the grand dame's edifice.

Budapest consists of the old town of Buda and, across the Danube, the newer area of Pest. Unlike in the movie, however, where the Grand Hotel Budapest is perched on a precipitous and craggy mountain top, the Corinthia is smack in the center of Pest, safely nestled on a main shopping street. But the silly little trolley that supposedly takes guests up to the hotel really does exist, although in reality it takes visitors from the banks of the Danube up to Buda, the old town.

Film-making legends, the Hungarian-born Korda brothers--Alexander, Vincent and Zoltan--established Budapest as a film-making center. Today the Korda Filmpark is located outside the city as part of the Korda Studios, a working film studio. Depending on the day's schedule, visitors to the Filmpark can see the stages and backlot sets of the Korda Studios, and participate in interactive exhibitions as well as real hands-on experience: dubbing a sound track and even taking part in the shooting of a short film as an actor or crew member.

Budapest's standing as a film center was cemented before the Kordas, however. The Lumiere brothers, the inventors of film-making, showed a black-and-white film in 1915 in Budapest in the grand ballroom of the Corinthia hotel, then the Grand Hotel Royal. The ballroom later became the Red Star Cinema, showing news clips. Guests staying in the Corinthia can celebrate its cinematic heritage with a special Grand Hotel Budapest package, which includes a screening of the movie in their guestroom and a historical tour of the hotel, highlighting its cinematic past and present.

Visitors to Budapest wishing to see the city's movie sites can sign up for Moviewalking's walking tour or Movilfestour's biking tour. And anyone can step inside the Corinthia's lobby, and be dazzled by its acres of polished marble, its glass atrium, the mosaic swimming pool under a stained glass roof, the Royal Coffeehouse with 34 different types of cake, and the photo gallery of its historic past. Here and there are glass panels, etched with an "R", recalling its days as the Grand Hotel Royal: the real Grand Hotel Budapest.