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10-14 day Central Europe tour - destinations and accommodation advice please!

I'm planning to visit central Europe this summer - probably July/August, and most of my time will be spent in Austria. Although I've seen plenty of Germany and some of Switzerland in recent vacations (I live in the UK), I've not seen much of Austria - in fact, just the line from Innsbruck to Garmisch. and Salzburg for an evening before catching a night train, which have both whetted my appetite. I'll be travelling by train, including Eurostar to and from Brussels, and probably using night trains to get between Cologne and start/end destinations - Vienna for one and maybe Innsbruck or Zurich for the other. I'll have an Interrail global pass for all my journeys. I tend to stay in hostels as I travel alone and don't mind dorms.

So, I'm thinking something like this:
Vienna, 4 days, including a day trip to Bratislava, and another to Melk & Krems
Hallstatt, 1 day, possibly between Vienna and Salzburg, or 1 night if worth it?
Salzburg, 2-3 days, to see the city & possible SOM tour, one day to see Berchtesgaden - something I planned to do last year but gave it a miss due to poor weather.
Innsbruck/Hall in Tirol - 2 nights maybe, if worthwhile - any other Tirolean places more attractive yet accessible? I understand Innsbruck is nothing special. After the above two cities I'll be looking for something more mountainous/rural.
Southern Tirol/Dolomites - Having watched 'Alps of Austria and Italy' this region looks promising. Kastelruth perhaps.
Other places I've considered are Germany's Black Forest & Switzerland's Appenzell, but can't do everything!

So any advice on places to see or miss, places to stay, would be very welcome. What are Austria's HI hostels like?
Thanks!

Posted by
18911 posts

Either Kastelruth (Castelrotto) or Ortisei will work for your Dolomite time. Ortisei is a bit livelier and has a small woodworking museum I enjoyed.

Appenzell is rolling hills and cows. Very nice area, very pretty large town; quite different from the Alps. I like that part of Switzerland a lot, but it's not what you typically see on the travel posters. Which would probably be fine if you get your mountain fix elsewhere.

Posted by
5668 posts

Where else in Central Europe ?? If you're in Vienna, Budapest is just a 2-3 hour train ride away.
I would give Vienna more time, too -- yes on the boat/train to Melk, haven't gotten to Bratislava yet after three trips to Vienna.

Posted by
1618 posts

I understand Innsbruck is nothing special.

I'd not subscribe to that. The historical center is small but beautiful; nearby Schloss Ambras is worth a visit too. And then you can take the Nordkettenbahn - almost out of the city center up to the Karwendel mountains, which offer spectacular views.

Regrettably, the land of Vorarlberg is often neglected by visitors. It offers wonderful and varied landscape. You can, e.g., swim in the morning in Lake Constance and hike in the afternoon in the mountains. And besides popular alpine areas like the Montafon there are others that are rarely visited in summer. One of my favorite tours of this kind is driving from Rankweil (north of Feldkirch) over the Furkajoch to Damüls and back over the Faschinajoch to Bludenz.

Posted by
95 posts

Thanks acraven & Laura B.

For a start, I shouldn't have used the term Central Europe, as I was really only referring to Austria, southern Germany, the east of Switzerland , northern Italy etc. I need to be clearer! So other than those areas, perhaps Budapest instead of Bratislava for the day trip, as it seems that it gets the vote out of the two. Looks to be a beautiful city, my only thought is that I surely couldn't do it justice with one daytrip - especially as it's not just over the border. Might be a place to visit next year instead, as I think I've got enough to see already - I'll be travelling there and back for a day each way, leaving 11 nights and 12 days sightseeing in between.

Maybe then I'll skip Bratislava as well for now and see more Vienna as suggested.

Castelrotto or Ortisei then. What is the area like for getting around? The RS video of the area seems to be a lot about driving to places. I'm used to the mountains of Switzerland that are well served by rail, but it doesn't seem to be the case here. Looks magnificent though I must admit.

Appenzell will probably have to wait for another time as well. I've heard before that it's far from rugged, but attractive all the same. The bare foot trail would be fun!

Posted by
18911 posts

Once you leave the valley (Bolzano, Bressanone, etc.), you're talking buses and then sometimes also lifts of one type or another. The transportation runs quite regularly; it worked fine for me while I was in the area during 2015. I did have one bus driver who forgot to let me off at the bottom of a lift; I should have been using the map on my phone to track my progress.

The tourist offices in the Sud Tirol usually have in stock a thick pamphlet with the schedules of all the local transportation, from trains to alpine lifts. They are very handy. The schedules are also online, but I don't remember where; they should turn up pretty easily if you do a bit of Googling. Some of the hotels in the area give you (Bressanone, in 2015) or can sell you (Bolzano in the same year) a transportation pass that covers the local buses and trains. I think the pass may also have covered a ride on a few of the lifts, but I'm not sure. It's a very good place to go in mid-summer. Just remember that it can be scorching hot down in that valley, and most of the budget-moderate hotels in Bolzano and Bressanone don't think they need air conditioning. They are wrong.

Posted by
4325 posts

Flights from London to Vienna are always super cheap and probably less than your pass’ average daily rate. Night trains are no fun. The journey between Vienna and Salzburg, one of your bigger trips, is 19 Euro on OEBB or 24 Euro on Westbahn. Again, cheaper than the daily rate of your pass. Sounds like many of your other journeys will be regional, so cheaper still. In all, a pass does not make financial sense for your trip. On hostels, the private ones are often better, like Wombats at Naschmarkt. I’d stay in a village like Hall or Seefeld instead of Innsbruck, or just skip Tirol altogether and focus on the Wolfgangsee area.

Posted by
95 posts

Thanks everyone for your input!

Voralberg looks rather nice sla019, and, like Appenzell, set in their traditions. Fodder for future holidays I think though, as on the one hand, it's my first time in Austria and i want to see the more popular areas first, and on the other, I'm so smitten with Germany & Switzerland, and I'm sure it will be with Austria, that I'll be coming back many times. Re Innsbruck, I like the look of the Nordkettenbahn, and no doubt I'll get to see the old town, but maybe somewhere else to stay like Emily suggests, though it does depend on the availability of suitable accommodation of course.

Emily - Sorry, I should have mentioned, I don't often fly unless I'm going quite far, but thanks for the info. Also, would have to disagree on night trains being no fun - I love the experience, and have enjoyed them on both my trips to Germany. Yes it's not great having no access to a shower(!), but the romance and adventure of sleeping on a train making it's slow way from one great city to another really makes up for it, to say nothing of the wonderful rocking motion and sounds of the train lulling you to sleep . I book a couchette, and it's not expensive. Just wish they wouldn't keep cancelling them for good.

I'll certainly check how the pass compares to usual fares before I decide, but then I imagine that the fares you're quoting are for particular trains? I prefer to have the flexibility to travel when I need to (aside from night trains!), plus there are added benefits with Interrail that have been added over the last couple of years - Eurostar passholder fares which mean I can travel for only 30 euros each way, and free rail travel in your home country to and from whichever port, airport or in this case Eurostar terminal you're leaving from. Last year I found the daily rate comparable or cheaper to fares in Germany, although the year before, I opted for a Swiss half fare card instead.

Run out of time, will reply to acraven tomorrow!

Posted by
479 posts

I recommend eliminating the night in Hallstatt in favor of adding a Salzburg night (perhaps giving you better odds of seeing Berchtesgaden in good weather) -- and visiting Hallstatt on a tour from Salzburg if group tours are OK with you. (We haven't done this, but we had a car in the region and made a successful day-trip to Hallstatt from our lodging outside Salzburg.) I think many Forum participants will agree that a day in Hallstatt is sufficient for the sights, but much is also reported about how pleasant it is in the evening when other tourists have departed. Nice options to ponder. If you lop off any of the shorter destinations, you'll have no trouble staying longer in Vienna.

Posted by
4325 posts

Westbahn trains are fully flexible. These are Notre-booked fares. Your trip, your money. Night trains and a Eurail pass are not for me (or today’s European traveler).

Posted by
12355 posts

Great that you're doing this central Europe trip. Expect it to be hot. There is a night train going from Cologne to Vienna, I've taken it. That was from one stop prior, ie, from Düsseldorf to Vienna. You say you don't have any objections/problems with night trains...good, neither do I. Traveling solo too, I take at least two night trains per trip, lazied out on the third one last June from Vienna to Katowice/Poland. You stretch out your traveling time by taking night trains. It's best to reserve your night train seat.

Night trains do fill up, especially last minute on a week-end. I've encountered that. The people riding them are locals, ie which means Germans/Austrians is what I have seen, a few tourists (Asians). You'll see that as you wait on the platform who the other night passengers are.

If you stop in Munich, be advised that Munich is a major hub for night trains... to Italy, Budapest, Berlin via Hannover Hbf, Düsseldorf, Hamburg.

In Vienna at Westbahnhof are 3 hostels nearby, two are Wombat, one of them is across the street from Westbahnhof on Mariahilferstraße. At Wombat I've stayed in private rooms and dorms (coed, six persons)..depending on my mood and how much I want to spend.

If you are going to Berlin, that can be done by night train from Cologne too as well as from Vienna via Munich, also from Budapest.

Posted by
12355 posts

Hi,

In planning this trip I would suggest you use the Michelin Green Guide and Rough Guide, if you can find Let's Go, library, used book stores), even better , use that too. Michelin Green I used that on (west) Germany in 1989, discovered Rastatt was featured...lucky, a good thing, I went there in 1989.

Posted by
95 posts

Sorry for the pause, had to work very late Monday and so was shattered Tuesday night!

acraven, thanks for the info on transport in the Dolomites. I'm a bit wary of trusting to buses, but it seems pretty reliable. Will ensure I keep an eye on the stops! It's certainly a destination that will feature this year.

rca , good idea maximising the nights in Salzburg to give me more options for Berchtesgaden, I'll do that. As for a tour to Hallstatt, I'd certainly consider it, especially since it seems a bit of a nightmare getting there otherwise. I'm sure a day is plenty to see it, if anything I was wondering whether to stay overnight to give me time to take the salt mine tour, but it's not a big thing. (the wooden slide looks fun though!).

Emily, I'll certainly check out the price of the trains, as they do sound cheaper than the pass rate. As for the pass not making financial sense over flying, it's true, but it shouldn't be the case IMHO. Don't think I mentioned it before, but thanks for the Seefeld recommendation - think I might give that a go. But you also mentioned the Wolfgangsee area - is it much different from Hallstatt?

Fred, thanks once more for your advice - I'm sure you helped me out last year and perhaps the one before. Yep, night trains are great - if you're a backpacker or similar and don't have problems getting to sleep like me! I've been on Heidelberg to Berlin (3 hrs late!); Berlin to Munich on the last year it ran; Salzburg to Zurich (twice) and Hamburg to Innsbruck. This year I'll mostly be in Austria, so no need to take any in between destinations, just to get there and back. I've too noticed that it's mainly locals taking the night train, which is fine - I know a little German, it's enough.

Re Hostels, I stayed in the Munich Wombat last year, and that was good enough, so I guess i'll stay with them in Vienna. As for guidebooks, working my way through Rick's Vienna, Salzburg and Tirol at the moment, although it's got nothing on the Dolomites so I'll check at our library as you say.

Posted by
12355 posts

@ mike...My compliments on your efforts at plugging away with the German. You and I are on the same page, ie, no problems with sleeping on night trains. I have 3 of them planned for my trip in May, zig zag traveling.

Since my trips from 2009 on, I taken several night trains, 99% are locals in Germany and Austria, both in compartments and in the general seating area. You look at who is on the platform waiting as you, listen to the language being spoken (or eavesdropping), it's all German. Like you I did (night) the Berlin-Munich in its last year of its direct service, but that night service still exists except via Hannover, which I did in 2017. Getting into Hannover Hbf between 0600 and 0700 hr is absolutely fine, since I am not rushed to get to Berlin. Food eateries are open, lots of people.

Wombats is a bit more expensive than other private independent hostels but their service, (help with info, etc), security and cleanliness make up for that. I've stayed in both private rooms at the Wien Wombats (Wombat charges per bed) and dorm rooms, where my roomies are half to one third my age.

Posted by
479 posts

Mike,
If your time in Hallstatt doesn't accommodate the salt mine tour, you might look into similar opportunities in or around Salzburg or Berchtesgaden. I've only done Hallstat's, and that was in the 1970s, but I suspect they're all similar (and include the slide attraction -- that's what I remember most from 40+ years ago.)

While in Hallstatt, regardless of your transportation mode, consider the short boat trip to/from the RR station across the lake. It's used primarily by folks arriving/departing by train, but you can jump on in Hallstatt for the ride across the lake and back. It offers great views and photo ops of the town that can be only be seen from the water.

Posted by
12355 posts

@ mike....This I think would be most helpful in your trip planning , ie the logistics of it.

Since you are in Austria, get the OeBB booklet "Nightjet" at any train station ticket center (Reisezentrum) dealing with night trains (Mit Nachtreisezügen) going from Hamburg to Croatia and Italy to Rome. I had the booklet covering most of 2017, super helpful on planning night train routes...and there are lots of them.

Posted by
95 posts

Thanks folks for all the extra tips - much appreciated!

It's looking like I may have to scale down my holiday this year, as I've got a good few things need doing to the house and garden, which may mean that I won't get to Austria this year at all. If this is the case however, then it's on the cards for next year, and I'll make sure I save all that you've passed on to me.

For now though, huge thanks to everyone for their generous assistance!