Things to do in Budapest

I’ve had a couple of weeks to recover now after the adventure to Budapest, and I’m pretty much settled back into regular life. Commuting up and down to Belfast every morning isn’t that bad, unless it’s Moira at 5 o’clock, in which case I have been sorely tempted to get out of the car and walk home. It would probably be quicker than driving at that point. Aside from that, I’ve just been relaxing, eating, gardening, and enjoying summer, whenever it isn’t pissing out of the heavens. The Rain God is terribly unpredictable these days, but you would do well to appease him, particularly in this country. In between lab work and surviving as a normal human, I’ve been playing a few games – Dino Crisis, Bioshock, Miasmata, and L.A. Noire to name a few. I am also revisiting one of my favourite games, Shenmue, with the sequel – the aptly titled Shenmue 2.

Back to Budapest (I wish). Sarah and I did a lot of sightseeing, in an attempt to see almost every sight possible in only three days. It is a fantastic city and well worth visiting, particularly considering how cheap everything is when you get out there. The public transport system is also great, though walking through the streets is hardly a chore.

Things to do when visiting Budapest:

Bring a wad of cash!

Hungary isn’t one of the most frequently visited countries by folks from the UK, so exchange rates suck. The best option by far is to bring cash and get it changed into Hungarian Forint whenever you arrive, though don’t make the same mistake I did and bring our ‘funny money’, as they will only accept English banknotes. The second best option is just to use your card. The rate I got for taking out cash in Budapest was still much better than getting money exchanged in advance at the post office. I had some money left from a family trip to Hungary back in 2006 and tried to pay for something only to find out half the notes had been taken out of circulation or replaced, so we had to stop off at the Hungarian National Bank to replace the old notes. The bank itself seemed incredibly grand, but we had to track around back to the tiny cash office.

Eat lots of food.

There are many great cafés and restaurants in Budapest and if you avoid the very touristy areas they are quite reasonably priced too. Some of the places were grand on a scale I had never encountered before, or at least, could never have hoped to have eaten in. Even the New York Café, once named the ‘most beautiful café in the world’ and housed in a palace originally built for the New York Life Insurance Company back in 1894, is an affordable place to dine. We stopped there for cake and hot chocolate, and to bask in the surroundings. A rather sizeable slice of opera cake, which was fantastic, and a caramel hot chocolate cost around £10 including tip. Main courses were around £15 which isn’t outrageous, and though the place has such a distinguished pedigree, the staff were pleasant and unpretentious.

The grand New York Café, one of my favourite places in Budapest

The grand New York Café, one of my favourite places in Budapest

The Lotz-Terem bookcafé is another gem in the heart of Budapest. Hidden away at the back of the Alexandra bookshop, the bookcafé is housed within a luxurious 19th century building, steeped with grandeur. Floor to ceiling mirrors, murals, gilded surfaces, and chandeliers all contributed to the extravagant setting, but in my opinion, the food and service were nowhere near the standard set by the New York Café. It is still worth a visit, and I finally had a chance to try Dobos torte – a traditional Hungarian layered sponge cake with chocolate buttercream and topped with caramel.

Lotz Terem bookcafé

Lotz Terem bookcafé

The food highlight of the trip was easily Zeller Bistro, a small restaurant a few blocks away from our hotel. The moment we walked down the steps from the street into the quaint cellar, we knew it was going to be an experience. Our table was still being prepared when we arrived, and there was a little wait which may have been a chore, if we hadn’t been served homemade elderflower champagne by a friendly waiter. The atmosphere was great, and the service was even better. The staff explained almost every item on the menu, and we got to taste the wines on offer before making our selection. The menu wasn’t saturated with choices, which was good – I’d rather a restaurant made a few things well, than a lot of things to an average standard. Underneath our plates were white sheets of paper, and each table had several different colouring pencils. You can see where this is heading – we sat and sketched while waiting for the food.  We had rosé duck and guinea fowl, and with a glass of wine each, the bill only came to £10 per person. The food was fantastic, and beautifully presented. To top it all, we were given mini cupcakes with the bill, and a cup full of tiny fruit sweets. Hands down, it is the best experience I’ve ever had at a restaurant, and I will definitely be paying a visit next time I’m in Budapest.

Dobos Torte

Dobos Torte

Escape the Room(s)!

One of the best experiences of the trip was at Claustrophilia, one of several escape the room games in Budapest. The premise is simple – you’re locked in a room (or series of rooms) and have an hour to get out. There are many puzzles along the way, and locks to unlock, and it is up to you to figure out what is important in the room, and what can be disregarded. In the Wicklewood Heritage, the first game we tried, it took us a while to fully understand the concept. Nothing can be ignored, and everything may be important. The first puzzle was difficult, so much so that we needed a hint from the operator in charge of the game, but after that it was (almost) smooth sailing. It was great fun, and required teamwork, but we made it out in the end just after our allotted time. The second game, Voodoo tales, was not quite as challenging as the first, but still fun. We had more of an idea of what we needed to do going into it, and it went more smoothly. That’s about as much as I can tell you without spoiling the games – just go to Budapest and try it for yourselves. Or Dunmurry, as ‘escap3d’ is an escape the room game based just outside Belfast, and seems to be well reviewed.

St Stephen's Basilica

St Stephen’s Basilica

Sightseeing

We managed to fit a lot in on our short trip including, but not limited to, Buda castle, Fisherman’s Bastion, the central market, St Stephens Basilica, Margaret Island, and Heroes’ square. There is a lot to see and do in Budapest, and we didn’t get to any of the museums or the opera. It is well worth a weekend visit, or even a week. After three days we had only really scratched the surface of what the city had to offer. In fact, right under the surface is a system of limestone caves which you can get guided tours of, or for the more adventurous, caving/spelunking is available.

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Heroes’ Square – monuments to the heroes of Hungary

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