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Help with ambitious itinerary Vienna -> Budapest -> Prague -> Cesky Krumlov -> Salzburg -> Hallstatt

I am traveling to Central Europe with my girlfriend and another couple May 15-29th. I've spent a great deal of time researching but am overwhelmed.

This is our current plan whereby we fly in and out of Vienna
We will be driving
(bold indicates that we have booked our stays)

1 Fly in and spend night in Vienna
2 Vienna, Vienna
3 Vienna, Budapest
4 Budapest, Budapest
5 Budapest, Budapest
6 Budapest, (one of the following, Slavonice, Znojmo, Brno, Telc, Bratislava)
7 Prague, Prague
8 Prague, Prague
9 Prague, Prague

10 Cesky Krumlov, Cesky Krumlov
11 Salzburg, Salzburg
12 Hallstat, Hallstat
13 Melk, Vienna
14 Fly out of Vienna very early

I am looking for the following feedback:
- General itinerary comments
- Am I devoting too much time to the larger cities? - Should we instead devote more time to some places in between?
- I want to pack in the Grossglockner High Alpine Rd into the Salzburg day. Girlfriend wants to do Sound of Music Tour. Too ambitious?
- I feel like we're very heavy into the cities here. We want to see some of the most amazing attractions but don't need to pack in every church or museum. I want to spend time in the mountains, and at spas. Where are the best spas and places to relax in Budapest?
- We want to go to a winery somewhere in here.... but where?

Thanks in advance

Posted by
18492 posts

“We will be driving”, that’s excellent but it can be expensive and not entirely necessary. Just paying for parking in Vienna, Prague and Budapest will cost more than train tickets and the difference in time is marginal. The Cesky Krumlov connections can be done by Bean Shuttle.

Yup, it’s a lot. The stretch on this tour is Prague. Without Prague you could do a pretty good mix of City and Town and Vineyard without spending so much time traveling in circles. But looks like you have the Prague and Cesky Krumlov already locked in.

If you plot out your trip you will see you have 3 extremes. I would enjoy the trip more if I eliminated one of the three extremes; Salzburg or Prague or Vienna. I would enjoy setting up bases in Prague, Vienna and Budapest for example (or Salzburg, Vienna and Budapest) and then work shorter trips and more in-between stops in smaller towns – and actually spend the night in those smaller towns. Places like Cesky K, Gyor, Eger (wine), Sopron, to name a few you could overnight in. Just too much for me, but this is a personal thing and nothing is wrong.
When you are sure about going to Budapest and you have some hard dates, write me and I will help you with that portion

Posted by
8201 posts

We visited Budapest, Bratislava (2 nights to rest), Vienna and Prague on our last trip. And we spent 4 nights in each of these great cities.

It's just not possible to see everything in such a large region in 2 weeks.
You can see Budapest, Vienna and Prague in 2 weeks--giving each city 4 full nights. Given that time, you could do a 1 day outing outside of each city--coming back into the big city to sleep. You wouldn't get your Alps fix, however.
Another option is to fly into Vienna and spend 4 nights. Then take the train to Budapest and back to Vienna after 4 nights. Rent a car, head toward Salzburg for a couple of days and then go south toward Innsbruck. I don't know when The Grossglockner opens this year, but you could possibly run over the mountain and spend the night on the Italian border. Next day, go west to the Motorway/Autobahn and back north through the Brenner Pass into Innsbruck.
This is a good example for buying flights open jaw--into one city and out of another. It would have been much easier to have flown into Budapest and out of the last city you're visiting--or Munich. Round trips into one city gets expensive due to backtracking.
Anyway it goes, you will have a great trip.

Posted by
4637 posts

As James says car is a hassle in big cities like Vienna, Budapest, Prague. On the other hand you can see a lot on your way even without staying overnight. Itinerary is a little bit intense but you will have a car. To see larger cities you need certain time. If you feel that you got enough of a big city, do a day trip. Easy with the car. On Grossglockner High Alpine Rd you will have plenty of mountains. On the way from Budapest via Slovakia stop at UNESCO Heritage Park at Valtice and Lednice. Both small towns have chateuas, Lednice nicer. But in chateau Valtice there is a wine cellar where they keep 100 samples of the best wines in the Czech Republic, most of them produced in southeastern Moravia. The wines are recently getting more known. Ryzlink from that area won the first price out of all white wines samples in international competition in San Francisco. I think there were over 1500 samples there. Check this website: Unfortunately unless you stay overnight in Valtice, driver will not be able to taste. Zero tolerance for alcohol behind the wheel. Then on the way to Prague stop in Brno. If you can, stay overnight. Then on the way to Prague from Brno do just a little detour and stop for lunch in Telc. Prague. On the way from Prague to Cesky Krumlov stop in chateau (or castle) Konopiste and then in little historical town Tabor. To C.K. you will go via Ceske Budejovice (German name Budweis). Yes, that's where original Budweiser is brewed (IMHO quite better than that one from St.Louis). If you have time you can take a tour of brewery (it's with tasting). Cesky Krumlov is about half an hour away. I leave Hungary for James and Austria for Emily.

Posted by
9 posts

First, thanks to all of you for taking the time to provide such detailed insights. I truly appreciate it. I'll address each response separately and look forward to any additional feedback.

For all of you it is important to re-emphasize that we want to maximize fun, photography, yoga poses on tops of pretty buildings and don't need to see EVERYTHING. We can always go back.

James: I have so much camera equipment and we really want to be able to stop along the way if we want. This may not be the best way to maximize our time and budget, but we'll accept that for the additional flexibility.

Prague is a requirement, however, we may have been pushing it to do Salzburg/Hallstatt. Now we have our hearts set on Hallstatt. I'm hoping this little town is worth the insane amount of additional driving. :) I am a big fan of little towns and less of big cities but this isn't just my trip. And I have always wanted to visit Budapest and Prague.

As far as Budapest, where should we look to stay? We are super excited about the spas but also want to check out the food, culture and architecture (of course). Any other suggestions are welcome.

David: I realize we're trying to pack too much in. I can be happy doing a lot of driving and putting in a lot of work to know exactly where we're going to maximize the time we have.

I really wish we had bought tickets open jaw. That would have made this so much easier and I totally would have loved to see Munich. But our little modified "circle" isn't that bad, and we've booked parts of it, so we're locked in.

We do not have Salzburg locked in and could do a fun drive in that time. Do you suggest we stop through Salzburg then head to a mountain town and loop back around to Halstatt? or are we just adding more and more that way.

Ilja: I am a bit concerned about the car myself. Again, if we plan WHERE we're going to leave the car, it shouldn't be too big of a deal. I hope I am not wrong.

Thanks for the winery recommendations. I'd love to stop in one of these towns. Two of our party doesn't drink and so driving won't be an issue. Are you thinking that I should leave Budapest, stop in Lednice or Valtice and then to Brno?

Would you choose that over Kutna Hora?

Posted by
18492 posts

Let’s start with where to stay in Budapest. There are so many choices that it all comes down to preferences and budget. So I came up with this:!14944&authkey=!ABx6AcT8DtFafcs&ithint=file%2cpdf Find a few places then list them and if I know anything about them or the neighborhood then I can give you my two cents. If you have 2 nights don't rule out apartments. And once you have dates for sure and know where you are staying and for how long I can give you some ideas for what to do and how to do it.

In Budapest the parking rates will be high or the car will have to be parked in a lot outside the center. Sorry, cant help you much as its outside my field of experience. I've traveled from Istanbul to London and from Moscow to Rome and most places in-between and never driven a car ................. been driven more than a few times........ But you have one of the greatest reasons to rent a car. So, with a car a new possibility opens up: the Slovakian High Tatra Mountains: Just trying to make a confusing decision even more confusing.

Posted by
4637 posts

Hi jabts,
after you cross Czech border on freeway D2 on your way from Budapest to Brno, take exit toward Podivin and then you get to Lednice, see the chateau, tropical greenhouse, take a boat toward minaret, nice views from there. Lednice is about 10 minutes drive from freeway. From there about 5 minutes drive to Valtice where you can do your wine tasting. Then drive to Brno - about 45 minutes. There you should stay for the evening and overnight. I think if you start early morning from Budapest it's all doable by car in one day. From Brno it's about 2 hours to Prague on freeway. If you decide to see Kutna Hora on your way, exit from the freeway, direction to Havlickuv Brod. To go via Kutna Hora to Prague driving time would be about 4 hours instead of 2 if you stay on freeway. So you decide if you want to see Kutna Hora too. I would. When I go to Prague by car I stay in pension Hattrick because they have secure parking in the courtyard. Disadvantage is that its location is a little bit of downtown. It takes by bus and metro (subway) 24 to 30 minutes depending where in downtown you go. The website:
I am sure there is some other accommodation with secure parking in Prague but this is the one I have personal experience with.
You can read more about Valtice, Lednice and Kutna Hora in Rick Steves book: Prague & the Czech Republic. Brno is not there. You will find a lot of information on google and of course you can ask me.
It's funny, I will be in Europe at the same time as you (but stay longer) in C.R. and Poland (Warsaw, Gdansk and surrounding area).

Posted by
16894 posts

It sounds like you are ready to cut Salzburg and I would do that. You can stay two nights in Hallstatt and use the car to make stops that are not easily accessible by train (e.g., not Salzburg).

Posted by
9 posts

James: That map you created is incredible! I love it. We found an AirBnB right in the middle of it and will definitely take advantage of your map. Thank you.

We aren't terribly concerned with costs—more with convenience and getting the most from our trip. Parking will be split four ways (well, between two couples). Driving costs in general will be split which is part of why we're getting the car. The other part is, we want the freedom.

Yes, all the suggestions make things more confusing but I appreciate it and have added the slovakian high tatra mountains to the research list.

Posted by
9 posts

Ilja: I really like the suggestion of a full day experience leaving Budapest and ending in Brno. I must say, i've read many reviews of Brno that aren't that compelling, however, between Budapest and Prague, a slightly less touristy destination would be welcomed. I'm actually open to an even less touristy town if you have a suggestion. I would like that night to have the opportunity to experience as close to an authentic Czech evening minus the tourists. Do you think Brno is the place for that?

I am on the fence about Kutna Hora. We want to really experience Prague as much as we can, but KH looks incredible. I am staying two nights at Mandarin Oriental (one of my clients) which will be a fantastic luxury experience. However, I will need an additional night elsewhere and will look into Pension Hattrick. If you have a suggestion for the best area to stay in that will be helpful as we may grab an AirBnb. We were thinking Mala Strana.

I just read your profile. I really appreciate all this help from someone who truly knows the region. I hope you have fantastic travels yourself!

Posted by
9 posts

Laura: Yes, this one has been tough. We are booked in Hallstatt but don't necessarily feel the need to be there two nights (plus the hotel only has vacancy for the one night).

I do like, as you suggested, taking advantage of having the car. I'm very open to a beautiful drive further southwest and staying more remotely. We could potentially "see" Salzburg on the way.

What do you think of attempting the Grossglockner highway in lieu of the Sound of Music bike tour?

Posted by
4637 posts

Hi jabts,
Brno is not a touristy town but it's a second largest city in the C.R. with 400 thousand inhabitants. Busy especially in downtown which is walkable and nice. If you want some smaller town then Mikulov (few minutes drive from Valtice). It's a really pretty little town. But it's in R.S. book. Farther west is a bigger town (about 30 thousand) Znojmo. Historical center, castle, views. Pretty. Mikulov and Znojmo are wine towns. From Znojmo to Prague little over 2 hours. Or Jihlava (about 60 thousand) on the way from Brno to Prague. Historical center with a big square. About one hour to Prague. Check this website I wrote about my favorite destinations in the C.R.
James mentioned High Tatras (Vysoke Tatry). IMHO one of the most beautiful mountains anywhere. But May is not the best month to go there. The trails above tree level are still closed. They open July first and stay open until October 31st. So next time you time it better. I already wrote about High Tatras on this forum several times. You find one of the posts under Slovakia, under Best destination in Slovakia.
You want to stay in Mala Strana. It's a medieval hilly part of Prague right under Hradcany Castle. Another medieval part called Old Town (Stare Mesto) is on the other side of the river Vltava. They are connected by Charles Bridge. Built I think 1348 by king Charles IV. I think one of the best hotels in Mala Strana is hotel U zlate studne. Spendy but worth it. Right under the Castle with gorgeous views. If you stay there don't miss the pub U hrocha (At the hippopotamus). It's at Thunovska Street. IMHO the best beer in Prague. It's a typical old time small pub surprisingly untouristy. You can meet senators (the pub is close to Senat) and professional musicians from Prague Symphony there. They must have it close too. They serve something to go with beer but not really dinners. Check the website of the Hotel U zlate studne:

Posted by
501 posts

You aren't devoting nearly enough time to Vienna. I've said this before: it's a major world city, not a quaint music-box city. Think of it more like Paris. You're treating it like Salzburg.

Posted by
9 posts

Ilja: I just came across this post of yours from 2010 and it sounds PERFECT. I really want to visit this area on bike but we would basically be arriving at 10am and just have the one day. Do you think it is possible?

From your post
In chateau Valtice is also hotel Hubertus. I would stay there. They rent bicycles and you can pedal to chateau Lednice. It has a big park with canals and lakes and a minaret. Climb it for views. Visit chateau tropical greenhouse. You can take a boat ride from the chateau to the minaret. Or back or both ways. Then you can bicycle different way to Valtice. You can do some serious wine tasting in the 14th or 15th century wine cellar.

Posted by
4637 posts

jabts, it is certainly possible. If I remember correctly, hotel used to rent to their guests but nowadays there are plenty of bicycle rentals in Lednice and Valtice. Google it. Many more websites are in Czech only. Google also pujcovna kol (bicycle rental). Get a map with bicycle trails. Rental should have it or at least advise where you can get it.