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Contemplating Trip to Budapest and Prague and Possibly Points in Between

My husband and I are tentatively planning a trip to Europe in November 2020. I know that's not the ideal month to be in Europe, but it's the only month we can get away next fall. (We have other plans for the spring, and we prefer not to travel in the summer.) We are thinking around 15-18 days, and we want to be back by Thanksgiving.

I'm thinking of doing a week in Budapest and a week in Prague. We would consider a couple of days in between, perhaps Bratislava or Vienna, although I am not that interested in Vienna. During the weeks in Budapest and Prague we would like to take a day trip or two to a small town or rural area.

My question is - how appealing are these cities in November? Would there be any good day trips at that time of year? Although we tend to prefer small towns to big cities, I'm thinking we will need to stick mostly to big cities, and Budapest and Prague are two that interest us.

We do not mind cold weather, although we'd prefer it not go too far below freezing. My husband actually likes gray days, and I can tolerate them. Our interests are history, nice scenery, walking/hiking, architecture, and eating local food (not foodies and prefer to stay under $20-25 per person per meal). We don't care about nightlife, although we enjoy a concert now and then (open to most types of music). Thanks.

Posted by
16766 posts

I'm betting JamesE has hit Budapest in November and UncleGus has probably visited Prague at that time of year. They're both great cities with a lot of indoor sights, so I think you'll be fine.

I haven't been to Bratislava, but I liked Brno, which is also on the main rail line between Budapest and Prague. Brno has a very pretty historic district (somewhat hilly) and few tourists.

Not a stop on the trains between the two capitals but not requiring much of a detour is the pretty, small, historic town of Gyor (Hungary). You can travel to Pannonhalma Abbey from Gyor, and Gyor has a bunch of small museums, many of them art-related, so there are more indoor opportunities there than in most places of the same size.

There are several interesting towns located more or less south of Budapest (requiring a significant detour), of which my favorite was Pecs. I don't know what they'd be like in November. I spend a lot of time pounding the pavement, looking at building exteriors, and it wouldn't be much fun for me with an average of only 69 hours of sunshine (that's for Budapest) in the entire month. If that number horrifies you, you might consider Andalucía. Seville averages 181 hours of sunshine in November.

Posted by
13930 posts

Like acraven, I've been but not in winter. I'm sure JamesE will opine. If he doesn't turn up soon, PM him. On my first visit to Budapest, I had 5 days of almost always cloudy skies and too much rain (in May) but I still enjoyed it. In Prague the weather was sunny and I don't think I'd have enjoyed it much on gray, rainy days. You'll have long evenings - Budapest is super charming after dark - don't remember much about Prague at night, so I guess it wasn't memorable.

With an interest in architecture consider 1-2 nights in Pecs from Budapest (a little too far for a day trip).

I wasn't interested in Vienna either, but it was a convenient stop between Budapest and Prague for 2 nights and I wished I'd had more time there - in fact, I went back for a long weekend at the start of another trip.

Posted by
10899 posts

I'll let someone else help with Prague. I would fly between the two, it's cheap and fast. I guess I would get an AirBnb in Budapest and do one overnight in Eger or Pecs. The Christmas markets open about the 15th of November so try and be there in the second half of your trip. As for the temp in Budapest a few days ago it was 55F today 52F. It can snow that early, but it's not common. Most often a sweater and light jacket weather.

As for skipping Vienna, if you haven't been, while its not a favorite of mine, it's worth a couple of nights to decide for yourself. In that case, take the train.

For my taste if just Prague and Budapest I would do 40% Prague and 60% Budapest. Throw in Vienna and it 35% Prague, 15% Vienna and 50% Budapest.

Posted by
2487 posts

I think you’ll have a great trip and I like Jame’s percentages. I’ll throw out another idea though since you are going during a potentially colder season of the year. Have you considered going between Thanksgiving and Christmas so all 3 cities, Prague, Budapest and Vienna would be festive, lit and magical with their Christmas markets? I’ve been to two of these 3 cities during this time and if I could time a visit to see them in their most festive atmosphere I’d try to go in late November-early December.

Posted by
667 posts

Let me start by saying I have not been to either city in November. I have been to Prague in March several times and I like it because there's more snow than tourists. One of my fondest memories is walking across old town square at midnight when the snow was falling and all the pastel houses were lit up.

November is a great time to tour Europe. Fewer tourists, cheaper rates, the same attractions without the crowds, and while you may get rain or snow, there's always some local fest going on that never makes the guide books. As noted above, the Christmas markets get started in November, the winter beers and wines come out, and when the weather's good the views are glorious.

Between Prague and Budapest I like Brno. I have friends who recommend Bratislava, but I have no personal experience. I love Vienna; in fact I prefer it to Paris.

Posted by
10899 posts

You will get some comments on the short days that time of year. In fact it will start getting dark at about 5:30. But that's when a lot of cities get beautiful, especially Budapest. I'm going in about 4 weeks and it's one of the things I am looking forward to.

Posted by
2070 posts

These responses are really helpful; thanks so much! I'm going to look into all the suggestions for day trips and stops in between Budapest and Prague, even Vienna.

I like James' allocations between the two cities, so if we add anything else, I will take it from Prague or add more days.

I am really excited to learn that Budapest's Christmas markets start on November 15. I will definitely hit that city last so we can see them. We did a Christmas market trip in Germany a few years ago and loved it. I had thought of doing another Christmas market trip, but I really hate being away from home during the Christmas season. I might have considered it if Thanksgiving was earlier next year.

I'm okay with the long evenings (another reason to stick mostly to cities). They are not actually that long for me because I go to be pretty early!

Thank you again for all the excellent recommendations.

Posted by
10899 posts

This year the markets in Budapest opened on the second Friday of November. If 2020 is the same it will be the 13th of November.

And the Christmas lights of Budapest are beautiful, so the short days work for the holidays.

Posted by
13930 posts

Look into concerts and other musical events in Budapest. Excellent quality and very good prices.

Posted by
10899 posts

Chain is correct. But you have to purchase very, very early. One of the special things about the arts in Hungary is that it is still very much a local interest and tickets sell fast. But the good thing is that other than church concerts and balcony seats the locals are in the majority making it a true local culture experience. Something that's getting lost in a lot of cities famous for their arts.

Posted by
2070 posts

I would love to go to a concert. Thanks for the suggestion, Chani, and the advice on buying early, James.

Posted by
10899 posts

Good news and bad news.

Good News: The Hungarian State Opera House is one of the most beautiful in the world
Bad News: Its closed for renovations until 2021 http://www.opera.hu/programme?lan=en
Good News: The season goes on at the Erkle Theater
Bad News: This c.1910 edifice really isnt the same as seeing a production in the Opera House.
Good News: The tourists are less likely to go meaning its an exceptional opportunity to spend the evening with Hungarians
Bad News: Tickets see out really really fast

Good News: The opera isnt the only game in town.
Better News: The Budapest Operett theater is an amazing experience http://www.operett.hu/
Even Better News: Before you buy tickets PM me for a tip on where to sit.
Bad News: Tickets sell out really, really fast.

More Good News: If you enjoy jazz, so do Hungarians and there are a couple of venues. PM me

Good News: There are other venues too
Good Music News: For concerts nothing beats the Liszt Academy https://zeneakademia.hu/en great performances amazing venue.
Good Music News: An "impressive" venue is MUPA, but its modern. Still the show and concerts cant be beat so if its the art you are after you cant do wrong.... https://www.mupa.hu/en
Bad Music News: These sell out just as fast as the others

Posted by
13930 posts

I went to two operas at the Erkle Theatre. The accoustics are very good, and the production of Rigoletto was terrific. Tickets were a lot cheaper than they would have been at the Opera House. Also, the venue seats more people so you should have no problem getting good seats.

Be careful. I also went to what I thought would be Figaro, but I didn't pay enough attention and it was Figaro 2.0. While the music was Mozart, the production was modern, the lyrics were in Hungarian and there was Hungarian narration (longish) between scenes. I think I paid about $10-15 for the ticket, 2 years ago.

Posted by
2070 posts

Thanks, James and Chani! I wasn’t going to ask for specific recommendations until I did some research myself, but I am happy to get them. I am afraid we do not appreciate opera, but we love classical music and jazz. It’s going to be a while before I finalize my arrangements; I’m thinking a couple of months. I hope tickets don’t sell out before then.

Posted by
10899 posts

The heart of Budapest, something between 3 and 5 square miles still sits intact as it did in 1920. Sure, during WWII 90% of the buildings were hit, but only about 3% of them beyond repair. So what you see now is generally what has been there since the start of the 20th century. But what is somewhat unique about Budapest is that this city center is not a tourist zone (with the exception of District V); its a functioning city and all those old buildings still function as they did 100 years ago. Culturally I've seen a lot of change over the last 15 years, but there is still this ambiance of a past culture where the the theater and coffee houses played an important role. They still exist as a life style and not a tourist attraction as they do in other cities. For me at least, the attraction is to step back in time and part of that experience is the attraction of the city. To get the most out of it you have to go to the the theater, a coffee house, the bath house, ride the trams and the metro, etc; dress the part and act the part. Even an AirBnb can add to the whole experience.

A nice thing about the Hungarian Concerts and Opera is the cost. Its not hard to spend well over $100 for a ticket at the Vienna State Opera; in Budapest the best seat on the best night for the best performance might set you back $60 and the best seats at most performances will set you back less than $30; and yes, there are plenty of $10 tickets too.

As for the tickets selling out. You are talking about November 2020. The season starts in the Fall of each year. So those tickets will go on sale maybe in July of 2020. I dont remember exactly so I would start watching the websites in June. Look here and at the venue site https://www.jegymester.hu/eng/Index

For Jazz there are two excellent places: https://www.bjc.hu/home/ and https://opusjazzclub.hu/ and nearly a dozen smaller neighborhood places.... At Opus you will need a concert ticket and you will need a dinner reservation.

Of course there are rare occasions when you can spend a bunch more for a ticket to the Opera House, but its not for those that travel with nothing but carry-on luggage: http://static.origos.hu/s/img/i/1602/20160206magyar-allami-operahaz-shakespeare-estely46.jpg (I like this one because I am in it).

http://static.origos.hu/s/img/i/1602/20160206magyar-allami-operahaz-shakespeare-estely25.jpg
http://static.origos.hu/s/img/i/1602/20160206magyar-allami-operahaz-shakespeare-estely30.jpg

Posted by
13930 posts

I booked my tickets in July. I'm not a big opera fan either. I listened to the operas on youtube before choosing. Rigoletto was in Italian and there were English and Hungarian subtitles.

Posted by
2070 posts

I'm sure we can find something we will enjoy, and I'm glad I have some time before I have to spring for tickets. Thanks again for all the suggestions and information!

Posted by
46 posts

Jame’s allocation of time seems about right. Been several times to these cities. Skip Bratislava. We spent two nights there using the short bus ride from Vienna. It could easily be seen on a day trip. Be sure to go to the baths in Budapest and get a simple massage. I think a day trip by train out of Prague to Dresden is possible. Don’t know the weather at that time of year.

Posted by
1932 posts

Great suggestions from Sir James E., Chani & acraven. They were my go to’s for planning our trip to Budapest>Vienna>Cesky Krumlov>Prague this past fall. I would concur with spending more time in Budapest and Prague. I would think a day trip to Cesky Krumlov would be lovely that time of year. It’s a nice way to get the small town vibe as well. We did go to concerts and our favorite was at the Klementinum Chapel in Prague.

It looks like you will be able to check all your boxes In these cities!

Posted by
112 posts

I have been in Prague, Vienna and Budapest in late October and found the weather OK as long as you have a warm jacket and dress in layers. In Prague we have stayed twice in the Vinohrady district at Hotel Anna (recommended in the NY Times 36 hours in Prague). Vinohrady is a few stops on the metro out of the centre and has a relaxed cafe vibe with numerous affordable restaurants - U Bulinu has the Czech version of a pub meal and Per Te is a good, affordable Italian place. Monolok cafe has excellent coffee (they even do an Australian flat white) and is great for brunch. On day trips from Prague we have been to Cesky Krumlov on a small tour (10 people), by train on our own to Usti nad Labem (scenic trip along a river), to Litomerice - a typical market town with some WWII connections, and to Olomouc - a beautiful small city with a surprisingly good religious museum, an excellent modern art gallery, a Soviet era astronomical clock and a beautiful river walk following the old city walls (though this was an overnight stop on the way to Budapest). In Budapest we stayed at the Bohem Art Hotel which was in a quiet street just back from the river making everything easily walkable. From Budapest we did a day trip by train to Szentendre - this small village is very tourist-oriented and can get busy. It was not far from Budapest and we were glad to take the train as the tour groups (who came by boat) were there for a long time when we found we saw everything we wanted in around 2 hours.

Posted by
10899 posts

A suggestion on Szentendre. For me its entertaining for hours including a late lunch. So take the train up about 1 pm. That will get you to the center at about 1:45. Then get to the boat for the ride back about 4:30. The boat back is worth it. Entering Budapest on the water is amazing.

Posted by
2070 posts

These are great suggestions, Aussie Nomad and James. I will definitely look into them. Thanks!

Posted by
10899 posts

I picked up a friend at the airport a few years ago, we went straight to Szentendre without going into Budapest first. Her first impression of the city was coming around Margaret Island and seeing the Parliament rise before the boat. Pretty spectacular introduction to the city. Boat going downstream is about the same time to the Corso in Pest as is the train + metro.