In this article, my daughter shares some of the things she enjoyed on a short break to Budapest, seen through the eyes of an 18 year old. Of course Sophie-Anne and her friend Emma spent their evenings partying and clubbing but they also managed to fit in a surprising amount of culture and sightseeing.
I arrived in Budapest with my friend Emma late on Tuesday evening and as it was too late to navigate the public transport links we hopped in a cab to my cousin Sophia’s apartment. The fares surprisingly aren’t too bad, that is if you pay in florins over euros. We had a quick catch up with Sophia, but with work in the morning she was eager to get some sleep and pointed us in the right direction for some things to do the following day.
Wednesday – we do the museums
Bright and early on Wednesday morning we rose eager to get some cultural sightseeing done, to satisfy our parents’ museum questions that we would surely encounter on our return. I am, of course, a believer in the ability of teenagers being able to mix culture and partying on a city trip, but it’s best to do what requires most energy at the start of the trip before the late nights get to you.
Unfortunately, it was raining on the first day, but the House of Terror museum was only one stop away on the tram, so we visited it first. The museum was very interactive and seemed quite popular, as by the time we left there was a queue and lots of school trips lurking in the different exhibition rooms. The building of the museum was used both as a Nazi and Communist office, and thus the exhibitions take you through a story of Hungary in occupation from both the Nazis, the Communists and then finally the story of independence. There was definitely a lot to see, including a creepy basement where prisoners were kept in dingy cells. We agreed that the museum was aimed to attract the young and had some pretty vibrant ideas going on; the unexplained maze of wax bricks being our favourite. The exhibition of all the Communist propaganda was probably my favourite room of the museum.
As we left the House of Terror, the rain continued to pour, so we stopped at the Opera House to get some shelter. The Opera House really is magnificent, with beautiful architecture even a teenager would appreciate, although we didn’t even bother to check for Opera shows due to our student budget. We then walked down to St Stephen’s Basilica which was truly amazing. It’s the kind of place that makes you wish your Granny had Vine so you could show it off to her. We were really lucky to witness the church choir practising for a show later that night, so the beautiful church was lit up by their voices and we were so impressed that we sat for a while amongst the more avid church visiters to enjoy the choir.
Of course at some point so much culture would need to be balanced out, so we decided to check out the shops on the famous Vati Utica shopping street. My map reading skills are not strong enough to give an accurate record of which end of the street we were on, as the guide book had informed us that one end was more for shopping and one was more for food, although I have strong suspicions we were at the shopping end. After we had spent perhaps too much of our budget on clothes (naturally) we navigated our way through the metro back to my cousin’s apartment. We only had a few moments to sit down until we were back out again.
We went to a restaurant that was absolutely packed, even on a Wednesday evening and stayed there for a few cocktails after the meal. Following that my cousin took us to Instant, one of Budapest’s ruin bars, although as she is rather upmarket she clarified she wouldn’t usually come here but wanted to show us. The bar was very peculiar indeed, with art features in every corner and each room decorated with some arty idea. I can imagine it to be full of students in the summer with a dance floor located underneath the bar area.
Thursday – we visit the Castle District
On Thursday the weather was much better so we decided to visit the castle district on the other side of the Danube. We walked across the famous chain bridge and had a few selfies with the lions at the entrance to the bridge. Cursing ourselves for spending so much on clothes we climbed the many steps instead of taking the funicular you had to pay for. Thankfully we weren’t too unfit so it wasn’t a huge chore, and when we got to the top it was definitely worth the effort.
We went to the Fisherman’s Bastion first, placed right next to St Matthias church, which both me and Emma thought could be in a Disney film. It had a lovely view over the whole of Budapest and was flooded with tourists taking pictures. We even payed a small fee to look around St Matthias church and explored its exhibition. Then we wandered towards the palace picking up some odd looking Translylvanian street food on our way that we both surprisingly enjoyed. We looked round the palace for a bit but generally more at the outside and decided not to go into the museum inside the palace. On our way back to my cousin’s we passed the Parliament but although Emma was extremely keen to look inside we couldn’t quite work out where the entrance was. Our trusty guide book also informed us you could only have a proper look if you were on a guided tour, which we of course had missed, being disorganised students.
Instead, we went to the Museum of Ethnography just behind the Parliament building. There were two main exhibitions we spent some time looking at and a third which contained photos of rocks which didn’t quite capture our attention. The two ones we enjoyed were the permanent exhibitions of a collection of Hungary’s artefacts and a temporary exhibition of photography. There were a lot of Hungarian weird and wonderful artefacts that we found humorous although the photography exhibition seemed more popular.
Again, in the evening we went out for a meal, this time Sophia took us to a more Hungarian restaurant, The Strudel House. This proved difficult for Emma as a vegetarian, as much of Hungarian cooking involves meat, although my goulash was delicious. Following our meal we went out for some more drinks at a bar with some of Sophia’s Hungarian friends, and then on to a club called Trafiq which was in a cool building and had a really great vibe. Me and Emma went on later to another club, Urimuri as Trafiq started to lose all its people, which was more arty but made all the clubs we go to back in Bristol look awful.
Friday – we relax at the baths
Naturally, on the Friday morning our energy levels were dipping so we decided to have a relaxing day in the famous Budapest baths. We choose to go to Gellert baths which was in a posh hotel, on the Buda side of the river. The bath itself had beautiful architecture and I can imagine it is amazing in summer with the outdoor pools, but the organisation of the bath itself wasn’t quite there. For example, we got redirected to the changing rooms about ten times by different staff. It was also slightly annoying that we could not swim in the main pool at Gellert spa as we did not have swimming caps with us, but what 18 year old is going to own a swimming cap! However, it was a lovely way to spend the day and we spent most of the time in the warm outdoor bath which was quite picturesque with all the autumn leaves and trees around it. We even had a view of the Liberty statue from our bath.
Having started late in the day we got back pretty late and so just grabbed a bite to eat in one of the nearby Asian restauraunts before going out again. We had some drinks with friends and headed out pretty late, to the club Hello Baby which seemed pretty upmarket, although the prices were reasonable. Me and Emma really upped our cocktail game here, trying different ones as they were nicely made and not too expensive.
We had a long night here as it was a Friday night so was extremely busy and full of international people. In fact it was surprising how everybody in the international community seems to speak English. Me and Emma only had schoolgirl French at our aid so felt very fortunate that everyone was able to understand us.
Saturday – time to go home to Bristol
On Saturday we just had a lie in and relaxed with Sophia until we had to go catch our flight in Budapest’s lovely modern airport! Overall we had an amazing cultural and fun time in Budapest, which I think is a really cool city to live in or just to explore. Budapest definitely has a lot to offer and at very reasonable prices.
More articles from Sophie-Anne’s travels
What Mum (Heather) enjoyed in Budapest
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey
One of my favourite games is to dream of the places that I might travel to, the things I could see, imagining the pleasure of sharing the experience with friends and family. Let’s face it, at this time of year when the days can be dark and cold, we could all use a little escapism, to imagine ourselves in a place with blue skies and sunshine or at least one that has new and fascinating possibilities. HomeAway have come up with a clever game to help with the daydreaming in a Places to see before you die micro-site which allows you to plug in your interests and see what places you could visit at each age of your life.
To give it a try, I put in my age and location, then selected some of the things that I enjoy such as culture, gastro, activity. To be honest I love doing a whole range of things depending on where I am and who I’m with, but the things I didn’t bother to tick were clubbing (I leave that to my kids), shopping (although I love searching out local crafts), beach (love walking along them but not so good at relaxing) and romantic (although I enjoy spending time travelling with my husband).
I was impressed to discover that I would be travelling until I’m 82, and why not? My parents are in their late 70s and are always off somewhere interesting, and they were the ones that gave me the travel bug from our family camping trips around Europe. Here are the HomeAway Places to see before you die recommendation for me and what I thought of them.
When I’m 56 I should visit the Dead Sea in Israel/Jordan
The Suggestion: Bordering Jordan to the east and Israel to the west, the Dead Sea is a unique body of water that lies 423 metres below sea level. That alone ought to make the Dead Sea an intriguing proposition, but its peculiarities don’t just end there. With a salinity level of 33%, the Dead Sea is one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world
My Thoughts: Israel and Jordan are both on my bucket list, ever since I spent a week in Lebanon a few years ago. I know that in the Middle East the hospitality is boundless, the people incredibly welcoming, the culture rich and the landscapes varied. I suspect that rather than spending much time drifting around in the Dead Sea, I’d have a quick dip and then get my hiking boots on to explore some of the desert and mountain landscapes of this part of the world.
When I am 61 I should visit Meteora in Greece
The Suggestion: Situated in Thessaly, central Greece, Meteora is one of the world’s more unusual destinations. Famed for the ancient monasteries which sit perched atop its cloud-topping rock towers, it’s a fantastic spot for those seeking a rural retreat in the mountains; and those looking to discover some of Greece’s finest natural landmarks.
My Thoughts: My sister lives on the Greek island of Zakynthos, where I visit her each year. Many years ago, when we were en route to her wedding to her Greek husband, my younger sister and I took a detour through northern Greece. I do believe that we may have visited Meteora or at least some of the rocky peaks and villages of this area, although I know that in some of them women are not allowed. I’d be very happy to go back, perhaps in the spring or autumn and link up with my Greek sister for a stay in the mountains.
When I’m 67 I’ll be visiting Socotra Island, Yemen
The Suggestion: Made up of four islands in the Indian Ocean, Socotra is an amazing archipelago; an area of isolated, alien landscapes. Famed for its plant life, a third of which can be found nowhere else on earth, its main island Socotra sits amidst three smaller and stranger isles; Samhah, Darsa and Abd al Kuri.
My Thoughts: Yemen is also a place that’s on my list to visit at some point and hopefully by the time I’m 67, some of the political volatility in this part of the world will have calmed down. I’ve heard that Socotra is one of the safest areas of Yemen to visit and I was fascinated to read what my friend Anil from Foxnomad had to say; It’s sort of like evolution got bored with the rest of the planet and decided to drop acid while creating the four-island archipelago. However I probably won’t wait until I’m 67 as my spirit of adventure may be waning a little by then.
When I’m 70 I should visit Sapporo, Japan
The Suggestion: Japan’s city of Sapporo is famed for a number of things. It boasts the country’s oldest beer (Sapporo Draft has been around since 1876), it’s the capital of Hokkaido (where the indigenous Ainu people are now settled), and it’s home to the Sapporo Snow Festival, which takes place every frost-laden February. Hats and scarves at the ready!
My Thoughts: This is one suggestion that I’m not really sure about. Although in a detatched way I find Japanese culture fascinating, it’s not a destinations that would be top of my list. The thought of discovering the country’s oldest beer is not especially enticing, although I can see my husband knocking back a few pints, and I’m afraid that I can happily miss out on frost-laden February, as I am more of a sunflower, gravitating towards warmth and sunshine when I travel.
When I’m 82 I should visit Jerusalem, Israel
The Suggestion: Not only is it the capital city of Israel, but one of the most important holy cities to the religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Brimming with historical sites, it’s one of the oldest cities in the world, and known as the ‘City of Gold’ in Hebrew. When you’re looking for a destination where glistening skyscrapers sit aside first century dwellings, head for Jerusalem.
My Thoughts: As a Catholic, I would love to visit the Holy Land, in fact I’m not quite sure why I haven’t already been as I enjoy connecting with my faith through pilgrimage travel. I’d love to experience at first hand the melting-pot of cultures and religions and to feel the history of the place, to walk where Jesus walked, and connect with what happened there centuries ago.
I’ve picked out the places I fancied most, but there were also some other suggestions that I might try in the future;
- St Helena, the volcanic island in the Atlantic that I’ll be visiting when I’m 64
- Rome, Italy I’ll be visiting when I’m 73
- Vienna, Austria I’ll be visiting when I’m 76
- Knossos, Greece I’ll be visiting when I’m 79
If you would like some inspiration for the places you could visit in the future, do check out the Places to die site from HomeAway.
More Travel Inspiration
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey
Our visit to Rotterdam as part of our 4 day European Sampler Cruise on board Crown Princess was one of the most enjoyable days of the cruise. The sun shone as we stood on deck and the ship glided through the canal that led to the port of Rotterdam, the second city of the Netherlands and one of the largest ports in the world. On the skyline were rows of windmills – the modern white kind rather than the picturesque old ones you get on every postcard, and the canal was lined with industrial buildings. We only had one day in Rotterdam, arriving mid morning and departing late in the evening but we managed to pack in plenty of interesting things, all within easy walking distance of the cruise terminal. So if you only have one day in Rotterdam, here are some of the things that we enjoyed on our cruise day ashore.
1. Spido Harbour Tour
From the cruise terminal we walked across the Erasmus bridge, known locally as the Swan for the sculptural effect of its supports, and from the jetty on the other side we took the Spido Harbour Tour, lasting 75 minutes. We were lucky to have bright and sunny weather, but the large boat would be suitable for all weathers with indoor and outdoor seating areas, and a café to buy coffee and snacks.
We settled on the open, upper deck from where we got a great view of all the interesting buildings alongside the Maas River. The commentary in English and other languages informed us about the modern buildings, many by notable architects, as most of the older buildings of Rotterdam were destroyed by bombing during the Second World War. We toured up one side of the harbour, past the Euromast tower and around the working shipyards where cranes were loading goods and colourful containers were stacked along the quay. Returning along the other side of the harbour we made a detour to pass the old cruise liner SS Rotterdam, the Hotel New York and the Crown Princess moored on Wilhelmina Pier, before being dropped off beside the Erasmus bridge again. Need to know: Spido Harbour tour lasts 75 minutes and cost €10.75 per adult €6.60 for children. The tours run all year round and in the summer there are around 10 sailings a day, with less in winter.
2. SS Rotterdam
We passed the SS Rotterdam on our harbour tour, but unfortunately we didn’t have time for a proper visit. This steam ship was the biggest passenger ship ever built in the Netherlands under the Holland America line and is now a hotel and museum. In her heyday she welcomed celebrities like Frank Sinatra and European Royalty like Crown Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands and Princess Margaret of England, but now anyone can eat in one of the restaurants and cafes or have a cocktail in the bar. You can take a 1 hour audio tour around the ship to see behind the scenes in the charts room, bridge and captain’s cabin. Need to know: SS Rotterdam, Katendrecht. Audio tour costs €16 Adults, €9.50 children 10am-5pm, free entry for the restaurants and bars
3. Schmidt Zeevis
Once we completed the Spido Harbour tour, it was getting close to lunchtime so we asked a local shopkeeper for a recommendation of where we might find some pickled herring, my husband’s favourite. We were directed to Schmidt Zeevis, a fishmonger’s and deli which had apparently won awards for the best in the city and was just a 5 minute walk away from the Erasmus Bridge. The chilled counters were full of fresh seafood as well as ready-to-eat dishes to take out, but there were tables by the window where you could stand and eat your lunch selection. In the open kitchen we could see large pieces of fish being sliced with great precision and the sharpest of knives. Display counters doubled as table tops and groups of local businessmen were eating anything from Japanese raw fish with dipping sauces, to battered fish goujons, all washed down with a glass of chilled white wine. We joined the lunchtime diners standing at a counters and Guy ordered a selection of herring and roll-mops from the deli counter, while I had the lunchtime special, which cost us around €10 per person Need to know: Schmidt Zeevis, Vasteland 60 – 3011 BM Rotterdam
4. HavenMuseum (Harbour Museum)
Strolling down the Leuvehaven area of the harbour full of old boats, we were invited on board one that was part of the Haven (Harbour) Museum. This Dutch barge named Geertuida or Gertrude, after the wife of the owner, was built in 1906 and was used to transport building materials like stone and gravel to Brussels travelling along the many canals. Even more fascinating, as the volunteer guide explained to us, was that the barge had housed a whole family who lived on board. The children continued to manage the boat until they were too old, when it was given to the musum.
We were taken into the boat to see the old-fashioned living room, bedroom and kitchen, with the childrens’ bunks down below. The rooms were small but cosy and well fitted, and in days when many people lived in poor housing conditions, would have been a very pleasant place to live. There were also many other boats that you could look at as part of the Havenmuseum, with walkways between them. Need to know: Havenmuseum, Leuvehaven 50, 3011 EA Rotterdam. Entry is free although donations are welcome. Open Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday 11am to 5pm although you can look at the boats from the quayside at any time.
5. Maritiem Museum
Walking further along Leuvehaven we reached the Maritime Museum where we found the Mainport Live spectacle on the ground floor, with a model of the port and a light and sound video presentation to give you the feel of the life and vibrancy of Rotterdam. Upstairs there was the Sea Palaces Exhibition with examples of cruise ship interiors since the 1920s. The exhibition showed how cruise ships had developed from luxury liners that only the very wealthy can afford, to the holiday playgrounds of today that everyone can enjoy. If you want to wallow in the nostalgia of towels folded into animals, dressing up for dinner at the Captain’s table and leather trunks full of finery, you will love this exhibition. Need to Know: Maritiem Museum Rotterdam is open every day except Monday, Adults €7.50, Children €4. Address: Leuvehaven 1, 3011 EA Rotterdam
6. Architecture walking tour
At the tourist information stand in the cruise terminal, we had picked up a leaflet for the Architecture Walking Tour. As Rotterdam was heavily bombed in the Second World War, much of the old centre was destroyed, but the city has more than made up for this with some striking modern architecture. We crossed the Erasmus Bridge with the 139m steel pylon which earn it the nickname of The Swan. The walk along the canal took us past the “Red Apple” residential tower which gets its name from the colour of the exterior and the apple market that once stood here. Further along was the Art Nouveau Witte Huis or White House, an attractive eleven story building which was considered the sky scraper of its day, and one of the few older buildings to survive the bombing. The walking tour continued through the city centre with over 30 buildings of architectural significance to see, although we ran out of time to see them all. Need to know: Pick up a leaflet for the Architecture walking tour or Rondje Rotterdam at the Rotterdam info tourism office or in the cruise terminal. There are also Black street signs marked Rondje Rotterdam to guide you. More information about Rotterdam architecture on Rotterdam.info
7. The Cube houses
A little way beyond the White House were the famous Cube Houses designed by Piet Blom, looking like a forest of cubes, each on its own trunk, containing the staircase. The houses overlook a small harbour area with a couple of bars which were a pleasant place to have a drink on the quayside and obviously very popular. If you fancy staying in one of the houses there is a hostel in two of the cubes joined together run by StayOkay. As the residents apparently got fed up of curious tourists wanting to have a nose around, one of the houses is now open as the Kijk-Kubus museum and I took a look around. The concept of Piet Blom was to create an urban village that included living space at the top level and small shops, businesses and play areas on the ground level between the houses, with each cube house being one of the trees in the forest. Having looked around the small show house, I decided that the houses are better to look at than to live in, with very small rooms and slanting ceilings tucked into the cube shape, but certainly an interesting insight into modern architecture in Rotterdam. Need to Know: The Kijk-Kubus museum is open every day 11.00-17.00 Adults €2.50, Children €1.50
8. A Water Taxi back to the ship
By the afternoon, we were a little foot weary and so we took one of the yellow and black water-taxis from Leuvehaven, near the Havenmuseum to speed us back to Crown Princess. We’d spotted the water taxis from the deck of the cruise ship in the morning when we docked and thought they looked rather fun – you could imagine yourself in one of those James Bond moments, weaving through the harbour with the baddies in hot pursuit. There was a crowd of people waiting but we all managed to squeeze in and I got the front seat beside the boatman as we left the harbour under the bridge, and then he pulled back the throtttle across the open water. In no time we were passing Crown Princess and Hotel New York on the end of Wilhelmina piers to be dropped off by the little boathouse jetty nearby. Need to know: Water taxis run from Leuvehaven and Veerhaven on one side of the river, to Hotel New York and SS Rotterdam on the other. They are normally running around every 10 minutes from 9am to midnight and our trip from Leuvehaven to Hotel New York cost €3.80 per person one way.
9. Hotel New York
Our water taxi from Leuvehaven dropped us at Hotel New York, at the end of Wilhelmina Pier, and before we made the short walk back to Crown Princess, we had to stop for coffee at this legendary hotel and cafe. The historic building was once the office of the Holland America cruise lines and the place where emigrants from the Netherlands left for New York to start a new life. Now the building is a buzzing hotel with bar, restaurant and outdoor terrace. Of course there’s plenty of seafood on the menu and a relaxed, brasserie atmosphere. We sat at the reading table, full of books and international magazines, under an enormous crystal chandelier, for a coffee an enormous slice of Dutch apple cake. The whole of Wilhelmina Pier is being redeveloped as a happening place with a photography museum and old warehouses being converted into residential apartments. The terrace café in front of the hotel was also busy and a great place to sit in the afternoon sunshine, with views of the harbour and boats going by. Need to know: Hotel New York, Koninginnenhoofd 1, 3072 AD, Rotterdam – On Wilhelmina pier, a short walk from the cruise terminal. Open from 7am to 1am
There was far more of interest to see in Rotterdam than I had expected, and it was easy to walk to many of the sights from the cruise terminal. Other guests used the free shuttle bus to take them to the central shopping area and the station, and I heard that some just stayed on the bus and used it as a mini-sightseeing tour. Another option that was very popular was to take the free bus to the station and catch the train to Amsterdam which I gather was a quick and inexpensive journey. There were also many excursions available to see various things in Amsterdam if you prefer to have transport and activities arranged for you.
More about our European Sampler Cruise with Princess Cruises
How to enjoy your Princess Cruise without piling on the pounds
Taster Cruise diary series at the Online Travel Journal
I found plenty of useful Rotterdam Tips in this podcast from Tips for Travellers by Gary Bembridge
My 4 night European Sampler Cruise with my husband was hosted by Princess Cruises who offer cruises to European and Worldwide cruises to allow you to explore fascinating destinations and escape completely on board their elegant and spacious ships. Our cruise took us from Southampton to Rotterdam to Guernsey before returning to Southampton. You can keep up with latest updates for Princess Cruises on their Twitter page @PrincessCruises and on the Princess Cruises Facebook Page.
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey