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Five Favorites in Dublin, Ireland

Dublin is one of those cities that is on almost everyone’s bucket list. It was never high on my list, but I knew it was somewhere I wanted to go, especially with it’s close proximity to England. I’m past the age where drinking in bars or pubs is what I want out of a trip, and I’m usually in bed by 10:30, so I can’t commit to the nightlife. But, I knew I wanted to explore Dublin, and have at least one pint of Guinness (at an appropriate hour). I’ve actually been to Dublin twice at this point, and I didn’t really love it the first time. I left thinking “why is everyone so obsessed with this place?” The second time, I enjoyed it much more. Honestly, the only reason I went the 2nd time is because we were flying back to the states from Dublin because it was so much cheaper than flying out of Heathrow.

There is enough to keep you busy in Dublin for 2-3 days. I will say, if you have the time, consider leaving Dublin to see other places in Ireland (or even head up to Belfast and the Giant’s Causeway). Do NOT spend your entire trip to Ireland in Dublin. There is so much to see in Ireland, and I’ve barely scratched the surface! While Dublin has the allure of the big city, get outside and see the rolling hills and the beautiful cliffs and coastlines. (And make sure you read my post about Galway and the Cliffs of Moher). You can also enjoy Dublin by wandering around the shops and pubs. I’m going to share some of the most popular attractions in Dublin!

5) Trinity College and the Book of Kells

Visiting Trinity College and seeing the Book of Kells is on almost every Dublin must do list! When we visited, it was April and FREEZING. We went in the morning, and arrived around 9:00. We paid for a campus tour and then went in to the library. Trinity College, or it’s official name, The College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth, is famous for it’s Old Library with ancient books and artifacts. It’s a common tourist attraction, and worth a visit if you have time. Trinity College was founded by Queen Elizabeth I in 1592 and is synonomous with the University of Dublin. It was modeled after Cambridge University and Oxford University. The Library is famous because it is the largest library in Ireland, but it is also considered a “legal library”. This means it is legally entitled to a copy of every book ever published in the United Kingdom and Ireland. So essentially it is a college library that also holds copies of 50 Shades of Grey and Harry Potter. The library is gorgeous with its wooden interior, and almost impossible to get pictures of due to the crowds. The tours happen daily and make for a crowded experience. Honestly, if I were a student there I would be annoyed at the crowds. It feels like the purpose of the library is lost when you add in all these visitors. That said, I enjoyed it and I’m glad I went. Seeing the ancient books was really interesting, but unfortunately no pictures are allowed in those rooms. The library houses the Book of Kells, which is ancient illustrated manuscript of the Gospel written in Latin. It’s definitely the highlight of the library visit and pretty impressive, though other exhibits in there are interesting as well.

Trinity College

4) Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle is not only beautiful, but full of history, and definitely a tour worth taking! It doesn’t resemble a typical castle on a hill with multiple towers and a courtyard in the middle. It almost seems a little out of place in the middle of a busy city, which makes it all the more interesting. To be honest, we went inside with the intention of getting out of the wind and rain, and were plenty surprised at the beauty the place holds. For centuries, Dublin Castle served as the headquarters of the English administration in Ireland. It was built in the 13th century on the site of a Viking Settlement. It served as the residence of the British Monarch’s Irish representative. On January 16, 1922, Dublin Castle was handed over to the government of the newly formed independent Irish state. Dublin Castle currently serves as a government complex. You can take a tour of the gorgeous and lavish state rooms. The rooms you get to see are incredibly beautiful and regal. The castle is open 7 days a week, and tickets are 12 Euros, and can be purchased online in advance, although some walk in tickets are available the day of. For more information check out the website: https:// walkinwww.dublincastle.ie/.

Dublin Castle

3) Jameson Distillery

I’m honestly not a big whiskey drinker, but when in Rome…. I was hesitant to go on the Jameson tour because I’m not that interested in whiskey but it was really interesting, and in such an eclectic space; I loved it and it exceeded my expectations. They have multiple types of tours, so select the best option for you. We did the Bow Street Experience, which shares the history of the distillery along with the history of whiskey in Dublin. The tour came with a tasting and a drink at the bar after the tour ended (may I recommend Jameson with ginger and lime). The Jameson Distillery on Bow Street was founded in 1780 by John Jameson. His distillery survived American Prohibition, and remains one of the most famous whiskeys in the world. To officially be called Irish Whiskey, there are strict standards, similar to vineyards in Italy. It must spend a minimum of 3 years maturing on the island of Ireland to be considered Irish Whiskey. Jameson prides itself on using locally sourced barley and products. During the tasting, we tried different ages of whiskey and also compared whiskey to Scotch (which I did not like). This is a definite must for visiting Dublin, and enjoying a drink or two in the bar afterwards is also fun!

Jamesons Bow Street Distillery

2) Kilmainham Gaol Museum

It may seem a little odd to tour a jail on vacation, but this tour came highly recommended from a family friend, and I’m glad I went. I learned a lot about the history between Ireland and England, Ireland and Northern Ireland, and the different wars and uprisings that took place. I’m still fuzzy on the details, and it’s not something covered in American education, but it was quite intriguing and the jail tour covered a lot, and there is also a museum with more information (though we were pressed for time and couldn’t stay as long as we’d have liked). Kilmainham Gaol opened in 1796 and served as holding place for prisoners awaiting transportation to prison colonies in Australia. During the Irish Famine from 1845-1850, the prison was overcrowded and conditions were terrible, with many of the prisoners being women and children charged with begging for food, a punishable crime at the time. In the 1880s it became an all male prison until it closed in 1910 and was given to the British military. Kilmainham became a military detention center. If you take the guided tour, you will learn about it’s role during the Irish fight for Independence fought between the British Army and the Irish Republican Army. In 1916, the Easter Rising took place where the Irish Rebels took over key places in Dublin. It lasted for 6 days before they surrendered to the British and later were sent to Kilmainham where they awaited death. While it seems a bit morbid to tour an old gaol where many died, it was really interesting. It is necessary to book online ahead of time and tickets are 8 euros for adults. The Gaol is not walking distance from city center, but you can take a city bus and then walk. Parts of the tour are in the old building which is musty and moldy. If you have allergies you may want to be warned.

Kilmainham Goal

Kilmainham Gaol


1) Guinness Storehouse Brewery

This almost seems likea no-brainer, I mean, it’s Ireland after all. The land of beer and the home of Guinness. If you’ve been following my blog, or know me IRL, you know I love Guinness! (Well, all stouts and porters, to be honest). So of course this was a must do for me, especially since you can have a beer at the glass enclosed rooftop bar, with views of Dublin. Visiting the Guinness Brewery is not only a must do, but it’s also essential to book ahead of time to avoid missing out. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll need as much time in the gift shop (helllllo Guinness chocolate, socks, Christmas ornaments, tshirts, etc) as you will touring the Brewery. The tour is self lead, and consists of 7 floors sharing everything from the history of Guinness, about the family, how the beer is made, and even the famous advertising. Arthur Guinness began brewing beer at St. James Gate in 1759. In May of 1969, he exported beer for the first time – to England. In 1799, he stopped brewing ales to focus on porters. When he died, the business was passed on to his son. By the turn of the 20th century, Guinness was not only international, but also the largest brewery in the world. The first advertising campaign began in 1929, resulting in some of the icon posters and adverts we know of today. Guinness Stout is sold in 150 countries around the world. Since a picture is worth 1,000 words, I will stop rambling and let my pictures tell the story of the tour.

Places to Eat

One restaurant we enjoyed in Dublin was called MV Cill Airne, which is on a boat in the river. It has a nice ambiance, and the food was tasty. We actually discovered this place because my Mom’s friend told her about it. Her cousins own the restaurant, and she eats there every time she visits Dublin. Since it came recommended from a family friend, we decided to try it, and it ended up being a nice evening out. We were there on a random Tuesday night, so it wasn’t very crowded, but I imagine booking is essential on weekends and summer.

MV CILL AIRNE

Another place we really enjoyed was the Brazen Head, which is officially the oldest pub in Ireland. It dates back to 1198! This place was adorable – a true pub feel with a cute garden courtyard. Service was speedy and good, and the food was delicious. And of course the Guinness was tasty. We were in a rush as we needed a quick lunch before heading to the airport, otherwise we would have stayed longer for dessert and to enjoy the pub. I’d definitely come back here if back in Dublin. I’m sure because it’s “the oldest pub in Ireland” this makes it a tourist trap, but it still felt like a traditional pub.

If you’re not in the mood for Irish food or pub food, or just feel like trying something different, go to the Admiral. The Admiral is a Russian/Eastern European restaurant and the food is amazing. It’s a lot of comfort food! We ate here both times we went to Dublin, because we enjoyed it so much. The have diffferent variations of stuffed dumplings and pierogies, stuffed cabbage, and braised meats. You won’t be disappointed.

Stuffed cabbage from The Admiral

The Brazen Head
Guinness beef stew and Bangers and Mash at the Brazen Head

I feel like I need to mention the Temple Bar because it is such a Dublin icon and it’s adorable. They serve food, but we didn’t eat there. It’s definitely worth having a pint in and checking out though.

Dublin is definitely a fun city, with lots to do. There is something there for everyone, and it’s a great springboard for seeing other parts of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Some other things to check out are ChristChurch Cathedral (they have a mummified rat in the basement), St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Hapenny Bridge, and local bakeries. When we went to Dublin, it was during Lent and I had given up sweets. My husband and mother stopped at nearly every bakery we passed, it seemed like. They had donuts, cakes, chocolates, pastries, you name it. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I bought a loaf of Guinness bread since it couldn’t have sweets. And you know what? That thing was the most delicious package of carbs I’d ever tasted. I carried that loaf of bread around like a baby. I wish I knew what bakery it was from (all I know is it was on our way from the bus stop to Kilmainham Gaol) because I’ve never found anything so amazing again. So in reality, that loaf of Guinness bread should be #1 on my top 5 list for Dublin, but I don’t know where I got it. I hope you find some when you’re there! It’s life changing, for real!

Ha’Penny Bridge

What are your favorite things to do in Dublin?

Galway and the Cliffs of Moher

People are obsessed with Ireland. More specifically, it seems Americans are obsessed with all things Irish. I’m pretty sure we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day harder than Ireland does. I’m willing to venture a guess that Ireland is one of the top European travel destinations for Americans. After all, it is the “closest”. A flight from NYC to Dublin can be less than 6 hours depending on the jet stream. For some reason, Ireland wasn’t one of the countries we went to right away, when we moved to England. I guess we figured because it was so close, we’d make it eventually. We headed to Dublin and Belfast this past spring (see my blog post on Belfast and the stunning coastline trip to the Giant’s Causeway). I’m not gonna lie, we didn’t LOVE Dublin like most people do. It’s probably one of our least favorite places we’ve been, but to be fair we really like a lot of places we’ve been. Anyhow, it could have been the cold and rainy weather that turned us off, or the fact that we aren’t in our 20s and looking to party. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t have a quaint “Old Town” like Prague, Nuremberg, Krakow, and so many other places we’ve been. It’s also a rather large city, and we tend to like smaller European cities. Irregardless of the reason, we figured Dublin was “one and done” and we’d likely come back to drive around Southern Ireland.

That was the plan…. until I started researching trips to the states for Christmas break. Flights were literally twice the price from London than they were from Dublin. So we decided to hop a cheap Ryanair flight to Dublin, spend a few days in Ireland before our trip, and a day coming back. The best part? We only had to drive to London Stansted, instead of dealing with the hellish drive and traffic to Heathrow. Pro Tip: if you are doing a multi-city tour of Europe from the states, look into flying into Dublin first and then taking Ryanair and EasyJet between cities (just make sure you check the baggage allowance). So we made the plan to fly to the states, with Ireland as bookmarks on either end. Since we didn’t love Dublin the last time, we decided to fly into Dublin and rent a car to drive somewhere else.

For some reason, I’ve always been intrigued by Galway. Ok, the reason is Ed Sheeran’s song “Galway Girl”. That’s literally the only reason Galway was on my radar. I freaking love that song and I love Ed! I’m sure I annoyed the crap out of my husband by singing it on repeat. When we made the decision to fly into Dublin, I was excited to learn that Galway was an easy 2:15 drive from Dublin! And even better – the Cliffs of Moher were fairly close to Galway. I knew I couldn’t bank on having good weather to see the Cliffs in late December, but it was still part of the draw for going to Galway. I did a quick google search and saw that Galway has a Christmas Market in December and I was sold! Decision made; fly into Dublin, drive to Galway and spend 2 days (one overnight) there, before checking into an airport hotel for our flight to the states.

cute Christmas Donkey

We took a Ryanair flight from London Stansted to Dublin. I was surprised at the cost of the flight (around $100) because you can usually go to Stansted to Dublin for less than 50 quid. Either way, it’s still cheap air travel by American standards, and much better than driving all the way to Heathrow and dealing with that airport around Christmas. We rented a car from Flizzer, which is located at the Dublin airport, and then it was an easy drive to Galway. Unfortunately, it was super foggy and low visibility on the drive to Galway so we didn’t get to see much. That’s typical for Ireland and the UK! Lucky for us, it lifted as we were arriving in Galway, and it ended up being a beautiful (overcast, but dry) day in Galway. We stayed at the Jurys Inn, which was an excellent location to city centre in Galway. Part of the reason I choose this hotel was the underground parking right next door to the hotel. The hotel validates the parking and it ends up being 10 euros a night for parking, which was reasonable. The hotel employees were friendly and our room was large by European standards, and it was clean. I would stay there again.

After checking in to our hotel, we went for lunch because we were starving. Those early morning flights mean you wake up at 3 am to get to the airport two hours ahead of time. That means I am famished by 12:30. Ok, I’m hungry all the time and eating is a favorite activity of mine, but still. My husband and I are always complaining about how bad the burgers are in England. We can go to a great pub, but they will cook that burger until it is black and beyond well done. So when we saw a burger joint just steps from our hotel, we were drawn to it like a moth to a flame! The Burgerstory hit the spot and satisfied our cravings for a good, American (not fast food, but gourmet) burger! I’d definitely go back there, and the fries were so good as well. If you are in Galway and craving a burger, this is the place to go.

This burger hit the spot!!!!

After lunch, we wandered the streets of Galway. The Christmas decorations were spectacular and it was so pretty to wander the streets lined with lights. Galway has some really quaint streets with adorable shops. We did some window shopping and some actual shopping. I was disappointed that my suitcase was completely full for my flight home, because I could’ve really done some damage in those shops. I noticed a surprising amount of jewelry stores for a smaller city. There were also many shops with handmade Irish wool sweaters. The Aran Sweater Market (which is right next to Burgerstory on Quay St) has a huge selection of sweaters, scarves, gloves, etc. There is something in there for everyone, and it’s worth a visit. Their products are beautiful, and I wish I had room in my suitcase, and the ability to make a decision. If you’ve ever seen the show The Good Place, my husband calls me Chidi because I struggle at making decisions. Last year, we were in Scotland and I loved all the Harris Tweed bags. I must’ve dragged him into ten shops, looking for hours. I couldn’t decide on a bag because they were all beautiful. The whole way home I regretted not being able to choose a bag. I feel the same way about these sweaters! Luckily, my husband surprised me with a Harris Tweed bag for my birthday shortly after that trip to Scotland. So maybe the same will happen with a sweater??

beautiful sweaters made from Irish wool.

After browsing some shops, taking lots of pictures (too many according to my husband) and peeking inside some churches, we set out for the Christmas Market. Christmas Markets are one of my favorite things about Europe in December. Sadly, I’ve never been to any markets in Germany, other than one small market in Potsdamer Platz in November (before the other markets opened) but hopefully that will change next year. I’ve enjoyed Christmas Markets in Prague, Krakow, Budapest, London, and other smaller English cities. I was curious what an Irish market would be like, but it was very similar to other cities, complete with a Ferris Wheel. One thing that frustrated me was how overpriced the mulled wine was, and it was in such a small glass! That did not put me in the Christmas spirit. I had my one obligatory glass and couldn’t justify getting another one so we wandered around the market and didn’t stay long. We would’ve stayed longer if the mulled wine was better and cheaper! Just sayin…..

Galway Christmas Market

Since the Christmas Market was a little bit disappointing, we set off in search of something we knew would be perfect. I mean, if you go to Ireland and don’t have a pint of Guinness, did you really go to Ireland??? Truth be told, I love Guinness. In fact, I love all stouts and most porters, even the ones they try to make hipster such as those caramel coffee toasted marshmallow stouts, or chocolate covered cherry coconut stouts. Who knows if those exact flavors really exist, but the point is I love stouts when they are plain, and when they flavor them. And Guinness is one of my favorites, and YES, it does taste better in Ireland. So of course we need to grab a pint, and heading a somewhat loud pub with rugby playing in the background (I’m a former flanker and hooker, played for about 10 years in the states) seemed like the perfect fit for the ultimate Irish Guinness drinking experience outside of Dublin. We headed to the Dail bar and enjoyed our pint with an appetizer (nachos) before dinner. It made for a brilliant Irish experience and I’d recommend it to those visiting Galway. We didn’t eat dinner there, so I can’t comment on the entrees, but the Guinness was cold and refreshing and that is all that matters. For dinner, we went to the Piemaker which is delicious but they recommend you have a booking. The dinner pies are baked individually. We both enjoyed the steak and ale pie and the crust was so tasty! This is an Irish/English specialty done right. I highly recommend checking this place out.

You can’t visit Ireland without a proper pint!
The Dail Bar was a great pub for a pint of Guinness!
A delicious Steak and Ale pie – I subbed out the potatoes for a beet salad, which was fantastic.

The next morning we checked out of the hotel, grabbed a quick coffee (hot chocolate for my husband) and hit the road. The drive to Cliffs of Moher wasn’t too bad, but it was a lot of back roads through smaller towns. It was absolutely beautiful. We hoped to find a pub for lunch, but it was Sunday, and all the pubs in smaller towns were closed. After about three stops, we decided we’d just eat lunch at the cafe at the Cliffs. When we arrived we paid for parking (I can’t remember how much but it was the price of admission and it wasn’t bad) and walked across the street to the Cliffs. I’d recommend wearing hiking boots or wellies, as it is really muddy. My running sneakers, or trainers as the British say, are still covered in mud. The narrow paths get traveled on so much, that even on a dry day it is muddy. The Cliffs of Moher are truly stunning and a must see if you’re exploring the Western Coast of Ireland. The visitor center has information about the wildlife on the Cliffs. We walked as far as we could go (maybe a mile) until the path became covered with large, muddy puddles. Everyone seemed to turn around at this point, as you’d be shin high in water and mud if you keep going. We lucked out with the sunny weather and got amazing views of the Cliffs. This was definitely a bucket list for me, and I’m so glad we had the chance to go! The Cliffs of Moher are famous in Irish folklore, and are often used as filming locations in movies. In fact, all my fellow Potterheads will recognize the Cliffs of Moher from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, when he is searching for the Horcrux in the cave with Dumbledore. I could bore you with details about the Cliffs and the geological makeup, blah blah blah. But instead I will leave you with some pictures. Afterall, a picture is worth 1,000 words.

After spending a few hours at the Cliffs (and you need a few hours to explore, especially if you take a million photos like I do) we started the drive back to Dublin. It’s a little over three hours from the Cliffs of Moher to Dublin. We did a lot of driving in 36 hours, but it was so worth it to see different parts of Ireland. I know we will be back to explore more of the Wild Atlantic Way. The drive back to Dublin was beautiful and we had daylight for a good part of it. We had made a plan to stop in Kildaire for dinner because I’d heard it was a cute, charming, Irish town. I heard correctly; it was indeed cute. But it seems like EVERYONE ELSE heard this information too, because all three restaurants we tried to stop in were completely booked. In hindsight, it was 3 days before Christmas so I should’ve made a booking ahead of time, especially since some of the restaurants looked excellent. We ended up at a Chinese restaurant which was quite tasty. We were literally the only ones in the restaurant, but it looked like they did a large amount of take away orders, because the phone never stopped ringing. After dinner, we headed back to Dublin and stayed at an airport hotel before catching our flight to the USA the next morning. I quite liked touring Ireland and saving money on a longhaul flight at the same time. I may need to incorporate trips to Ireland with all our overseas flights. One thing is certain; there is still more of Ireland left to see.

A Guide to Christmas in London

London is seriously one of my favorite places! I know I say that about almost every place I write, but London is definitely my favorite “big city”. It is the perfect mix of historic and modern, with a splash of all things royal. I mean, who doesn’t love guards in black fur hats? There is so much to do in London – museums, palaces, the West End for musicals, shopping, markets, good food, etc! And as with many big cities, London comes alive at Christmas with twinkling lights, decorations, and the adorable chalet stalls of Christmas Markets. You can walk around admiring the lights while sipping on mulled wine and window shopping. Simply put, it is magical at Christmas.

It’s also a giant freaking nightmare. Don’t get me wrong, I adore London. And I adore Christmas. But my number one tip for enjoying London at Christmas is to stay home. Kidding. Sort of. It’s seriously super crowded and if you’re a Grinch like me, that can be frustrating. Side note: the Grinch didn’t really hate Christmas, he hated people. Which is totally fair. All these “people” decide to come to London at Christmas and bump into you, get in your way, and stand there forever taking pictures and blocking the view. Just like I did. Only I’m not realllllly a tourist since I live 80 miles from London and have been at least 10 times. I know my way around the underground; I’m not like all *those* people I was referring to.

So yes, London is crowded at Christmas, even if you go weeks in advance. It was frustrating, but also beautiful. We didn’t get to see everything we wanted (we only went down for the day since we’ve been to London so many times) but we did enjoy it. Where you go depends on what you are in the mood for. Some places are loud and overrun with people, while others are quieter. You’ll also want to wait until it’s dark to go to some places so you can enjoy the lights in the dark.

Five Great Places to Go in London at Christmas

# 5 Leicester Square

Leicester Square is always a popular area in London, and Christmas is no exception! Located in the West End Theatre District, Leicester Square boasts good shopping and food. It’s right on the edge of Chinatown, which is a spectacle in itself with the beautiful lanterns and decorations (and not to mention delicious restaurants). Leicester Square has a Christmas Market this time of year, complete with chalets and vendors. You can shop for gifts, eat some fudge or chocolate, enjoy a beer, and wander around and enjoy the scenery. They also have free toilets which is a huge plus when walking around a big city. The Leicester Square Christmas Market is right next to the Lego Store. The displays in Lego Stores are always incredible and worthy of a visit. This one is no exception, with the tube station made of legos and Big Ben. I’m glad I visited the Lego Store because I finally got to see Big Ben without all the scaffolding. Ha!

Leicester Square Christmas Market
Continue reading “A Guide to Christmas in London”

My first solo trip – Budapest, Hungary

Budapest, viewed from the Buda side of the Danube.

Budapest was not only a great trip, but also my first solo trip, though it wasn’t planned that way. It worked out to be a great, forced, opportunity for me to try something I hadn’t done – travel alone. Originally, when we booked this trip, my husband was planning on coming. He had a plane ticket and everything. Then, life happened. A week before we were to leave, one of our cats unexpectedly starting having seizures, and they were pretty scary and intense. We immediately brought him to the vet and he started a medication. They told us the medicine could take up to 2 weeks to work. He continued to have seizures that week of the trip. At one point he had 6 in one day! We decided it would be best for my husband to stay home with the cat and monitor him. I ended up going alone, and thankfully our cat has stopped having seizures, but needs medicine twice a day for the rest of his life.

Anyhow, enough about Jinxy cat, yes he has the same name as the cat from Meet The Parents, and back to Budapest. Hungary may not be on your travel radar, but it should be! It is gorgeous and relatively inexpensive for a European Capital. Before I go on, it’s important to let you know that George Ezra is singing it ALL WRONG. (Side note: I sang that song on repeat in my head for two whole days before the trip. Is it in your head now too?). It’s actually pronounced Budapesht, not Budapest. Which relates to my next nerdy fact. Budapest is actually comprised of two separate cities, Buda and Pest (pronounced pesht), divided by a river. Buda is on the Western side of the Danube, and Pest is on the Eastern side. Back in history, they existed as two separate cities, but now they are one. Of course amongst the citizens of Budapest there is division over which is the “best side”, but they were both pretty beautiful to me.

I arrived in Budapest on a Saturday, mid morning. The first thing I did was hit the ATM at the airport take out some local currency, the Hungarian forint. I took out 30,000 forint, which was equivalent to around $99. Hungary is one of the countries in the EU that still have their own currency (just like Czech Republic, Croatia, and Poland among others). Many places in Budapest accept the euro, but you aren’t getting a good exchange rate for it. I find it best to use the local currency, whether I’m paying with cash or using my credit card. The conversion rates are never great when you convert it your own currency, so remember that when you are paying with credit card and given the option. I then used a kiosk in front of the airport to buy a ticket for the airport shuttle to city center. It was pretty cheap, and about a 35 minute drive. A cab would not have been any faster, so why spend the money. My stop, Kalvin, was the first of three stops in the city center. I found this public transportation option to be extremely affordable and easy to use. The shuttle comes every 10 minutes during peak hours. I would use this again if I return to Budapest. The shuttle dropped me off about 5 minutes from my hotel, Inn Side Kalvin. The hotel was not glamorous, but my room was spacious and quiet, and the hotel had a free breakfast. The city is so spread out, so it’s hard to find a hotel in close proximity to everything. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be near, so I just searched based on price and rating. This hotel was close to the Danube, and along tram lines, but it was at least a 35 minute walk to the Parliament Building. One plus is that it’s less than 5 minutes from the large market with a food hall!

Once I checked in and washed my face (am I the only one who feels gross after being on a plane and needs to wash and re-moisturize?) I headed straight to the market for lunch! I love a good market; if you’ve been following my blog or instagram, you’re probably sick of hearing it. BUT, markets are the best! You get to experience the culture and food at affordable prices. The Great Market Hall in Budapest is two stories, and rather large. The building is unique as well. It’s very clean, unlike some markets where you actually feel like your outdoors instead of indoors. The market is all inside, and has food and souvenir stalls. If you head upstairs you can grab lunch from one of the vendors. They have Hungarian food, as well as other specialties. I opted for stuffed cabbage with a side of dumplings and it was delicious. I also grabbed a sweet treat from one of the bakeries in the market, but due to not knowing the Hungarian language, I couldn’t ask about the sweets and ended up with something I didn’t love. There were so many choices and I couldn’t decide, so I just pointed. I bet if I went back I would’ve had something amazing. The market is a great place to experience Hungarian culture and have an inexpensive meal.

Great Market Hall
delicious and cheap market food – stuffed cabbage with sauerkraut and dumplings!

After lunch and shopping at the market, I headed to St. Stephen’s Basilica, to wander the area around the square. I had a tour leaving from there. On the way, I made a detour when I noticed a Christmas Market. This was an unexpected treat as I was in Budapest in early November; some markets opened rather early this year, allowing me to indulge in mulled wine and other market favorites. After browsing the stalls and drinking hot wine (such a tasty treat, and much prefer mulled wine to the traditional German Gluhwein), I headed to St. Stephens. From this spot I was joining a free walking tour of Budapest. If you like to travel, and you’re not familiar with the app freetour, you need to download it! It’s so great – you just type in the city where you are going, and it has several free tours available, with their dates and times. You reserve your spot on the app, and then tip in cash after the tour. The guides have always been informative and I’ve always enjoyed the tours. While the tour is free, you tip afterwards in cash. I highly recommend this tour of Budapest; our guide Regi was fantastic.

St. Stephen’s Basilica

Unfortunately my tour of Budapest was in the rain, which meant photos weren’t amazing. It also meant I re-walked most of the tour two days later when it stopped raining! The tour started with a history of Budapest, where I learned how the name is actually pronounced Budapesht. Our guide also told us about the city really being comprised of the cities of Buda and Pest. We left the square and stopped at statue for more discussion. There was a lot about Hungary’s history and the ways the country changed due to the various occupations. We through a park near the Christmas Markets called Elizabeth Square. There is a large ferris wheel called the Budapest Eye, likely an attempt to recreate the London Eye, though not as high and probably not as expensive either. The square is named for the wife of an Emperor. From here we headed to another main square that also held a Christmas Market. We learned that the Hungarians had the first undergrad tram system in mainland Europe (the first being in London, thus the phrase “mainland Europe”. We headed to the iconic Szechenyi Chain Bridge next, where the guide told us about the universities in the city. After a brief stop by the bridge, we crossed and headed over to the Buda side of the city where we climbed the steps to the Castle District. From the Castle District you get the best views of both Buda and Pest. The views were definitely worth the climb when we reached the top to see Matthias Church, and Fisherman’s Bastion. The neighborhoods in the Castle District are so quaint and charming. I had to go back on Monday morning to snap pictures when it was less crowded (and not raining).

St. Stephen’s Basilica
Chain Bridge on a rainy day
Parliament Building at night

The tour ended in the Castle District on the Buda side. I stayed for a bit to enjoy the views of the Parliament Building and Chain Bridge lit up at night. The views from Fisherman’s Bastion are the best in Budapest! It was an easy walk down the streets to the Chain Bridge to head back over to the Pest side. I decided to walk along the Danube to check out the moving memorial Shoes on the Danube. Shoes on the Danube is a beautiful sculpture featuring several pairs of bronze shoes on the riverbank; a memorial to the Jews in Budapest who were murdered by the Arrow Cross, a fascist Hungarian group in the winter of 1944-45. Jews were taken and lined up along the Danube where they were shot at a close range, so their bodies would fall into the Danube, and be carried away by the river. Prior to being murdered, they were told to take off their shoes. Shoes were a precious item during World War II. As many as 20,000 Jews were shot along the banks of the Danube. The 60 pairs of 1940s era bronze shoes, is a memorial to them and quite moving. There is so much sad history in Budapest. It was hard to take pictures at night, and I truly wish I had come back during the day.

Chain Bridge and Buda Castle at night

That evening I intended to go to a restaurant alone and enjoy dinner at a Hungarian restaurant and try some goulash or chicken paprika. But, I was drawn in by the lights of the Christmas Markets and wandered the stalls with warm mulled wine in my hand. I tried some amazing marzipan bonbons and had a Hungarian sausage similar to bratwurst for dinner as I shopped and enjoyed the festive atmosphere. And of course I had more warm mulled wine. There’s something about it that just gets you into the Christmas spirit! Budapest was my first solo trip and I felt completely safe navigating the streets alone, even at night.

Marzipan bon bons – so amazing!

Sunday was my only full day in Budapest, and I wanted to make the most of it. But it was pouring down rain, literally all day long… so I slept in a little. The first thing I did was head to the Parliament building, which was a good 45 minutes from my hotel. It was easy to buy single tickets on the tram, and I opted for that. I got there around 10 and waited in line to get tickets for a tour. The English tours in the morning were sold out, so I decided to buy a ticket for the 4:00 tour and spent the rest of the day hitting museums. Of course, I snapped a million pics of the Parliament Building in the rain before doing so. I really wish I could’ve captured it in the sunlight, but it is pretty far out of the way from some other places I was going on Monday.

My first stop for the day was the Holocaust Memorial Center. Entry is 1,400 HUF, which is approximately $4.60. I’ve always been a history nerd, and someone who enjoys museums and historical sites. Having traveled all over Europe, and to sites such as Auschwitz, I think it’s important we never stop learning about the past, so that we can prevent it from happening again. There is so much sadness and despair associated with these sites, but there is also hope for a better tomorrow. I also believe it’s important to pay respects to those who have suffered. The Hungarian Jews were no different from others in Europe; they only difference was the deportations started much later. The Holocaust Memorial Center focused on the Hungarian Jews, the laws passed to restrict their rights, and the eventual deportations to concentration and death camps. The building itself encompasses the Pava Street Synagogue, which was once the second largest synagogue in Budapest. It fell to ruin as most of the congregation was killed at Auschwitz. It was been restored, and is gorgeous inside. Outside the building there are names of the Hungarian Jews deported, as well as a list of over 1,000 Jewish towns and villages that cease to exist because of the Holocaust. One in three killed in Auschwitz was either Hungarian, or deported from Hungary. By the time the deportations came to Hungary, the Nazis had perfected their efforts of mass extermination. Around 440,000 Jews were deported from Hungary in 6 weeks. The Memorial Center is a moving tribute to the lives lost, and the visit is informative. It is worth visiting to pay your respects and learn about the horrific fate of the Hungarian Jews.

This synagogue fell to ruin after almost the entire congregation was killed in Auschwitz.
Such a beautiful synagogue

After visiting the Holocaust Memorial Center, I headed towards the Hungarian National Museum. I couldn’t seem to find any direct public transportation, so it was easiest just to walk. Walking turned out to be a good idea because I stopped at a small bakery and had a delicious treat with sweet cheese baked inside it. I have no idea what it was called, but I saw them all over Budapest, so they must be a local specialty. I also stopped for lunch at a place that is not worth visiting so I won’t mention it (though they did have curly fries and it was cheap). The Hungarian National Museum was interesting, and I spent almost two hours there as they have a long and fascinating history. Unfortunately, I had to leave before I finished in order to trek across town to the Parliament tour. While the museum held my interest and had lots of great exhibits that helped me learn about the country’s history, I probably wouldn’t have gone if it weren’t raining all day. I did not want a second day of walking around in the rain, so that’s why Sunday was spent at museums and the Parliament Building. Plus, all the museums in Budapest are closed on Mondays, so it was my only opportunity. If you have extra time, or a rainy day, I’d recommend this museum. It wasn’t too expensive and there is a lot there to hold your attention, particularly if you like history. I could’ve spent more time there, but had to make it to the Parliament Building for my tour. In hindsight, I would’ve bought my Parliament tour online ahead of time for first thing in the morning and started there since it opens an hour before the museums. It would’ve got me moving earlier, and then given me more time at the museums.

Hungarian National Museum

I used public transportation to get to the Parliament building because it was about 30 minutes from the museum. It’s pretty easy to figure out using your google maps, and there is more than one tram/bus option that takes you to the Parliament building. I had purchased a 48 hour pass, which was pretty inexpensive, but unfortunately I lost it while taking gloves out of my jacket pocket. Fortunately a single ticket is pretty cheap and it was worth to save some time and get out of the rain. I used Tram Line 2 and got off at Kossuth Lajos Square Station; it is right in front of the Parliament Building. At the Parliament, you go through metal detectors and security prior to starting the tour. You also have to show proof of citizenship while purchasing tickets, so bring your passport. European Union citizens receive a large discount. The tour I took was in English, but there was also a Spanish tour at the same time, and they also offer tours in French and Italian as well. The guide spoke excellent English, and we wore devices around our necks that helped us hear her throughout the tour. The building is extremely opulent with gold decor and red carpet throughout. It is the third largest Parliament building in the world, and 2nd largest in Europe (after London). The building lies along the Danube on the Pest side of the city, and boasts 691 rooms! Construction began in 1885 and finished in 1902 but sadly the architect never saw his finished product. The building has seen a lot of history, from the independent Hungarian state to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to part of the Soviet Union, and now back to being an independent country. The building is beyond impressive, and I couldn’t stop staring at the ceilings and lavish decorations. It is the epitome of opulence! You can take photos inside during the tour, except for the Dome Room (which was of course the most beautiful room). The Dome Room holds the Crown Jewels of Hungary, which are stunning, but I couldn’t take a photo to show you. Our guide shared an interesting story about Hungary’s Crown Jewels. During World War II, the Allies bombed Hungary which was occupied by the Germans. The Hungarians knew the Soviets were advancing. They worried about the safekeeping of the jewels, so they gave them to American soldiers who agreed to protect the Crown Jewels. They were kept at Fort Knox until President Jimmy Carter returned them years later. Turns out the Hungarians were right to be concerned; the Soviets arrived to “liberate” Hungary in 1945 and stayed until 1991. Which brings me to my last stop of the day, The House of Terror.

Hungarian Parliament Building

The House of Terror, or Terror Haza, is a Museum that portrays life in the communist and fascist regime in Hungary. It closes at 6pm, and it was 5:30 when I arrived. In hindsight, I would’ve skipped this or tried to go earlier. I didn’t get much out of it trying to race through in 30 minutes, when most people spend a few hours there. It is a memorial to those killed and tortured during the regime. The museum itself was almost creepy in the way it was staged, dimly lit and a maze of exhibits. They have information written in Hungarian and English, in each room to help you understand what happened during the Soviet Occupation. They have a strict no pictures policy, so I’m unable to share what the inside looks like. In the basement, they have the prison cells set up. To get there, you take this dark, glass elevator which takes 4 minutes; as it slowly moves they a video. If I return to Budapest, I’d go back to this museum since I didn’t really get to explore it fully. Outside the museum, they have more information as well as a sculpture that represents the “Iron Curtain”.

The proverbial Iron Curtain

After a day full of museums, it was time to indulge! I hit up the Christmas markets for wine and the most delicious (overpriced) marzipans bon-bons, again. I love the magic of Christmas markets with the lights and chalets and everyone enjoying the season. The mulled wine is a huge attraction as well. After wandering the markets, I headed to Drum Cafe, which was recommended by my tour guide from the day before. It was extremely cheap, and delicious. I ate outside and the heat lamps kept me nice and toasty as I enjoyed my Chicken Parprika with dumplings. The food was authentic and the menu had a variety of dishes, with pictures to accompany. I highly recommend this place. After dinner, I headed back to the hotel to relax as I had an early morning planned for Monday.

Christmas Market fun
delicious chicken paprika from Drum Cafe

My last day in Budapest was a half day, as I had to leave for the airport around 3pm. It was also my only “not gray and raining” day in Budapest, so I had to take advantage of the sunshine. Basically,I left the hotel around 7:30 am to hit all the places I’d already been, to get pictures in the sunshine. I headed up to the Castle District and Fisherman’s Bastion first, and was able to get some pictures before the crowds arrived. It was amazing to have the streets almost to myself, and not have to worry about crowds. I’ve started to do this when I travel, and I definitely need to make it a habit. I was really excited to get some pictures in the sunshine!

I headed back to St. Stephen’s Basilica around 10 for a look inside. They have the right hand of the first King of Hungary inside the Cathedral, but you have to pay to light up the case to see it. The Cathedral itself is absolutely stunning on the inside and worth a visit. It is a beautiful example of neoclassical architecture. I’m always amazed at the beauty Cathedrals hold, and this one was no exception. There is no entry fee, but there is a donation box. It’s worth a quick peek inside!

Outside the basilica, I met my group for another free walking tour at 10:30. This tour was a Jewish District tour. The guide was informative, and talked about the history of the Jewish people in Hungary. Hungary was a little later than other countries in Europe to restrict the rights of Jewish citizens, but eventually they did pass laws that severely limited the rights of Jews. The tour took us to a synagogue that is being restored, as well through areas where Jews used to live. During the tour, the guide pointed out some “stumbling stones” which are memorials you will see all over Europe. They are small brass markers that indicate where someone was taken and deported. It lists their name, date of birth, and in most cases, date of death. I’ve seen these before in Prague, Amsterdam, and Brussels as well. We stopped at the Carl Lutz Memorial which depicts an angel descending to help a fallen victim. Carl Lutz was a Swiss Diplomat who saved more than 60,000 Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust by issuing them Swiss documents and setting up 70 safe houses. We also stopped at the Emmanuel Tree. We did not go inside, but for 4,500 HUF you can visit inside the Dohany Street Synagogue and see the sculpture in the back. The weeping willow memorial has the names of 30,000 victims on the leaves. The tour ends at the Dohany Street Synagogue, which is the largest synagogue in Europe. This was once the border of the Jewish Ghetto during WWII but the walls are no longer remaining. I enjoyed this tour, and recommend it if you have time or an interest in history.

Carl Lutz Memorial
Emmanuel Tree

This tour wrapped up my visit in Hungary, as afterwards I ate a quick lunch, did some last minute shopping and headed to the airport. While I loved my first solo trip, there is a lot I didn’t have time to do in Budapest, so I’d like to go back with my husband! If I go again, I’d hit some spas and baths.

You can’t go to Budapest without trying Hungarian goulash

One perk about traveling alone- I can eat when I want without having to consider if someone else is hungry. Also, I didn’t have to share my food. What about you, do you prefer solo traveling, or going with someone?

Puffins at Bempton Cliffs and Bridlington Harbor

If you’ve been following my instagram, you already know how much I love exploring coastlines. The truth is, the United Kingdom coastline is so beautiful, and filled with amazing cliffs and animal life. Every time I explore a new area of England, I’m simply amazed. This country is so beautiful and has so much to offer. Most people just think of London when they think of England, but it is so much more than that! To truly experience England, you need to explore the countryside and the coast. The rocky, jagged coastline is simply stunning, with beautiful waters of the North Atlantic, and also home to a variety of wildlife. When I found out you could see puffins in ENGLAND, I was so excited! I had no clue they came this far south in the summer and just assumed they stayed closer to the Arctic! We missed seeing the puffins in Iceland because we went in winter, so I was pumped to learn I could drive about 3 hours and see them. Once I realized that Bempton Cliffs is located near York, a weekend trip was planned! This was the perfect June getaway weekend for us, and on the plus side, we were able to drive there.

Bempton Cliffs at the RSPB Nature Center

Bempton Cliffs is located in Bridlington. The Nature Reserve is an amazing place to take a walk and enjoy all the wildlife and stunning views the area has to offer. Every year between March and October, over half a million seabirds make their homes on the chalky cliffs to raise their young. The result is a spectacular scene including puffins, gannets, guillemots, and other birds. The cliffs themselves are also an attraction, along the beautiful coast. There are walking paths, as well as viewing platforms with information about the wildlife. The RSPB (Royal Society for Preservation of Birds) puts on events throughout the year and has a cafe and gift shop on site as well. Definitely check out the website to help plan your trip! Also, be sure to bring your camera and binoculars for up close views!

My main reason for going was to see the puffins. While I’m a huge animal lover, I don’t usually have any interest in birds. However, there is something about puffins that is so freaking cute! I don’t know what it is, but I find them adorable. Go ahead and google them and tell me they aren’t the cutest! My husband thinks I’m crazy, but I’m obsessed with them and I can’t explain it. Anyhow, puffins are seabirds that live on rocky cliffs and dive into the water to get their food. Their beaks are brightly colored during mating season. Atlantic Puffins are found on the coasts of Northern Europe in the British Isle, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, Norway, and Canada. In the winters they travel as far south as Morocco. The come ashore in the United Kingdom during spring and summer, their mating season. I was fortunate enough to see several of them on Bempton Cliffs!

puffins nesting at Bempton Cliffs

After exploring the cliffs and walking along to see views of the coast, we headed to Bridlington Harbour, where we had a three hour seabird cruise booked. Despite the cold, and spots of rain, the cruise was phenomenal! It left from Bridlington, and cruised along the coast up to Bempton Cliffs. We marveled at the gannets, puffins, and other seabirds, and enjoyed spectacular views of the cliffs from the water. Puffins are better swimmers than they are flyers, and they flap their wings extremely fast to stay in the air. They aren’t quite as graceful as others birds when they land, and this makes them easier to spot in the air. We also pulled in close to some rocky cliffs and little caves, allowing us to view the birds up close in their nests. If you are interested in seabirds or fascinated with the brightly colored puffins like I am, this trip is for you!

This was definitely an unforgettable experience, and I highly recommend it. Bridlington Harbor is less than an hour from the charming, Medieval city of York, so put this on your list of things to do in summer in England! You will not be disappointed.