We are planning a trip either in mid May or Mid September touring Vienna, Prague,Krakow,and Budapest. We are 4 adults and have been successful in hiring private drivers on recent European trips. We would appreciate any insight into transportation, itinerary, and thoughts for our planning.
I made a similar trip last fall, with the addition of Cesky Krumlov and 17 full days on the ground. I flew into Krakow and out of Budapest.
4 nights Krakow
1 night train to Prague
3 nights Prague
2 nights Cesky Krumlov
4 nights Vienna
4 nights Budapest
I used easy public transportation, mostly trains, 1 overnight (Krakow to Prague) and CK Shuttle from Cesky Krumlov to Vienna. I used the overnight train in place of losing a day of sightseeing to the daytime train. I allocated about 1/2 day to each of the other transfers.
Ideas for itinerary, transportation, and lodging based on our trips to all four cities plus a suggested fifth:
Fly into Warsaw! Cool city with wonderful food, history, music, and the friendliest people. Take a day trip in a retro Fiat, and maybe a cooking class.
Train to Kracow. We used PolRail to book rail travel on our 2017 trip. Great service! And Polish trains are terrific...clean, on time, and modern.
Driver service from Kracow to Prague as the train schedule is inconvenient for most people! We used MyDayTrip. Five hour drive plus a lunch break and visit to a beautiful Czech palace and grounds.
Train or driver service from Prague to Vienna.
The same for Vienna to Budapest.
In 2014 we trained from Budapest to Prague and wow! That was a very long train trip with a two hour delay in one of those older German style rail cars...compartments for six...even in first class. Crowded and not comfy.
For lodging we book apartments in most cities where we are staying three or more days. Both Booking.com and VRBO are useful for this. We rented a huge apartment in Prague for a group of five and it worked out well. It is so nice to have laundry facilities and a place for a quick breakfast. We rented an apartment in Kracow and that was fine although it was not as close to the center of town as we like. And we’ll be staying in an apartment hotel again in Vienna this fall. I’ll review that in December.
We stayed in a hotel near the opera house in Budapest because we knew language would be more of a challenge. And as it turned out, there are far fewer English speakers in that lovely city than in Warsaw, Kracow, Prague or Vienna. And Hungarian was hard for us! We barely could remember hello and goodbye, please and thank you. We also stayed in a hotel in Warsaw to be as close as possible to the Castle and the main square.
We have traveled to your cities in late September and mid-October and other than a little rain, the weather was perfect for touring. I have heard that May is very nice in Poland...lots of flowering trees!
Happy planning! Your trip is going to be amazing!
Of these four cities, hands down, Krakow was our favorite. Totally walkable, smaller city, charming, inexpensive, so much history. da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine” is there. We stood alone in front of her so unlike the Mona Lisa!
I place Prague at the top of that list, Krakow second. Polish trains are incredibly inexpensive, even in First Class. You might consider Dresden in your planning process. With discount airlines, you might not need car services. But (as another noted) adding a visit along the way is a bonus. Possible luggage constraints in a sedan trunk.
All great destinations, but I'd certainly want more time than you have. It depends, obviously, on what you want to do in each place. Krakow is comparatively small, but many people traveling there want to go to Auschwitz, which takes a major chunk of the day. The Schindler Factor tour could be close to a half a day if you have a strong interest in the WWII period. Then you have all the other sights in the city. The other three are much, much larger.
What it comes down to is that I cannot imagine having less than 3 full days in any of those places (personally, I'd want about a week, but I'm slow). Three full days means 4 nights. And you have 4 cities, so that would be 16 nights altogether. I'd suggest you drop one of the cities and catch it on your next trip. Perhaps you could then take advantage of private transport to stop in an interesting spot on your in-transit days. As it stands now, I don't see how you can afford to stop anywhere along the way.
I'm with acraven as a fellow slow traveler. If you only want the highlights, you could do visit those 4 cities on a 14 day trip whether you have 13 or 14 nights in Europe. My similar trip was 12 nights without Krakow. I was inefficient in Budapest but after a longer return visit I still haven't seen enough. My time in Vienna was brief ( 1.5 days) and I managed to fill a 4 day weekend there on a subsequent trip. Prague, oddly, was the only place I don't feel the need to return to, though I would have liked at least one more day there - I had 4 and used one to visit Terezin.
2 years ago I went to Poland - Gdansk Warsaw Krakow - and was glad I'd left Krakow for a longer Poland trip. 4 days in Krakow, slow-paced, was good for me. I didn't go to Auschwitz, did go to the salt mines (it was my least favorite sight in Poland).
The train is good from Budapest to Prague via Vienna. Krakow is an outlier, best to fly there. You could hire a driver and spend a day or two going through Slovakia between Krakow and Budapest but not on a 14 day trip.
I would do
Land in Krakow 2 to 3 nights
Nonstop flight to Budapest for about $125 last time I checked, 4 to 5 nights.
Train to Gyor/Pannonhalma Arch Abbey, 1 night
Train to Vienna 2 to 3 nights
Shuttle to Cesky Krumlov 1 night
Shuttle to Prague 2 to 3 nights
Cesky and Gyor are options if you dont mind one night stays and they break up the trip a bit more.