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Eastern Europe tour: driving or train?

My wife & I are in the early stages of planning a trip to Berlin, Prague, Vienna, and Budapest. We also would like to see the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, which is a bit off the beaten path.

We could drive the entire distance, but it's a lot of driving. Plus, if we want to avoid a drop-off fee, we'd have to drive back to Berlin. As well, we won't need a car in the big cities.

Trains run between the main cities, and I see that one can take the train from Budapest to Krakow (where Auschwitz is).

Anyway, given the above itinerary and approx. 2 weeks for the entire trip, I was wondering if anyone had any recommendations. Thanks.

Posted by
201 posts

Take the train, if you want to go somewhere public transport wont take you, rent a car for a day or two.

Posted by
12357 posts

I think you're going to be very, very rushed trying to see Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest and Krakow/Auschwitz in two weeks. The bare minimum time I'd want in each of those places would be three full days (meaning four nights each). I spent at least twice that long recently in Berlin, Prague and Budapest and was unable to see all that I hoped to see.

Before finalizing your plans, I suggest digging into the "Sightseeing" section of appropriate guidebooks. This sounds like two trips to me rather than one.

Posted by
1629 posts

The way you describe it, this is definitely a train itinerary. Auschwitz is not in Krakow it’s around two hours away, maybe an hour and a half. Krakow is not that practical to connect on public transit though from these cities. It’s the outlier here, otherwise this is a snap on the train. There are other places in these countries worth visiting, you might want to cover less ground. Your time is short for four cities. I would allocate the nights 4-3-3-4.

Posted by
101 posts

Thanks to everyone for your responses! We're going to cut back the itinerary and go via train!

Posted by
4087 posts

And, not to be pedantic, but all of these places would consider themselves in Central Europe, not Eastern Europe (well, except Berlin, which most would consider Western Europe). It's worth being aware that a lot of folks in these places would take at least a little offense to hear their home being referred to as Eastern Europe. Some folks don't care, others are more touchy about the labels.

Posted by
848 posts

I would agree with previous advise to drop Kraków with your time limitation. We are doing a similar trip this year- Budapest>>Vienna>>Cesky Krumlov>>Prague>>Amsterdam. Plan to do day trips as well. We've planned 3.5 weeks. We plan to take the train, CK Shuttle x2 and fly from Prague to AMS. Some friends did Prague>>Cesky Krumlov>>Vienna>>Budapest and felt 2 weeks was doable. Enjoy your planning!

Posted by
590 posts

Yes I concur, save Krakow (and the rest of Poland too!) for another trip.

P.S. try calling an Austrian an "Eastern European", you'll either get a big laugh or a stern lecture! 😉

Posted by
8647 posts

I spend almost every free moment in Eastern Europe, have a home there, business there and a couple of bank accounts; and with the exception of Austria "Eastern Europe" is the perfect word for Americans to make themselves understood when discussing the region among themselves. If someone is offended, its their problem, not yours. There was a time when I wanted to makes sure I was polite so I did some research. Even in the United Nations, depending on the program, Hungary (for example) can be Central or Eastern Europe. The Balkans become even more complicated depending on who is defining the region. So, when I say "Eastern Europe" its just about the only term i can use and know whom ever I am talking to understands me ... and that is the purpose of language isnt it?

Anyway, back to your trip.

Two weeks is 16 days (with the following weekend built in to it). I think it could be enough time, but depends on your travel style and interests; and I think Krakow is doable for tourists, but probably not for "travelers".

AND, I have used all of the potential carriers for the Vienna - Krakow - Budapest leg, and they are all just fine.

So

Day 1 USA to Berlin
2 Arrive Berlin
3 Berlin
4 Berlin to Prague (train)
5 Prague
6 Prague
7 Prague to Vienna (train)
8 Vienna
9 Vienna
10 Vienna to Krakow (non-stop discount airline about $100)
11 Krakow
12 Krakow to Budapest (non-stop discount airline about $100)
13 Budapest
14 Budapest
15 Budapest
16 Return home

Posted by
12357 posts

James, would you seriously go to Berlin for just one full, non-jetlagged day? I'm sorry, but that makes no sense to me for a first trip. Either spend enough time there to see at least a few of the important historical sites and/or museums, or skip it and add that time to the other cities that are being shortchanged.

Posted by
15567 posts

If skipping Krakow and Auschwitz, then other concentration camp memorials you can visit include Sachsenhausen near Berlin (1 hour each way), Mauthausen near Vienna (2 hours each way), or Terezin near Prague (1 hour each way but a different type of camp).

Posted by
8647 posts

Acraven, no, I wouldn't. But I'm not them, and they aren't me. RS tours spend as much time in a number of cities I would hang around longer in. Personally I would skip Berlin or Vienna as neither interests me much. I prefer Eastern Europe (you know, Hungary, Slovakia, etc). Just thought I would provide them an option that fit the question.

Posted by
4087 posts

There was a time when I wanted to makes sure I was polite

James E, but eventually you got over that? ; )

(just kidding...)

Posted by
10818 posts

Very most likely, Americans will continue to call that region Eastern Europe, regardless of folks there being offended or not. I see it as central Europe from a geographic sense, and Budapest located in east-central Europe.

Would I go to Berlin for just one day, assuming it's 24 hrs or close to it? Yes, since I don't have jet lag, I would be spending a non-jet lag day there. It certainly is a rush but can be done if you what you're doing and where to go....no problem. It depends how desperate you are to see what you're after in Berlin, a matter of priorities.

Posted by
590 posts

Here is an interesting grouping: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_geoscheme_for_Europe which puts Hungary in Eastern Europe and Spain and Albania in southern Europe. Like most artificial constructs, it makes little sense.

James E. - in the above grouping you link from United Nations Statistics Division, they note that "the assignment of countries or areas to specific groupings is for statistical convenience and does not imply any assumption regarding political or other affiliation of countries or territories".

Fred, not just Americans. Not uncommon in Western Europe either

I'm from Spain, which I would consider western Europe, and the first time I heard the notion that Austria Poland, Hungary are in Eastern Europe was by Americans on this forum. I thought that It was a simple mistake initially, but I keep seeing people repeat it. I theorize that it must be a hold over from the Cold War mentality.

Posted by
10818 posts

Carlos. your point is well taken. Those calling Austria part of Eastern Europe really have no notion of the history in literally the last 100 years.

Part of today's Poland, today's Hungary, today's Austria, just to use these 3 listed countries , made up most of the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary. The other parts I omitted here are in today's Romania, the Ukraine, northern Italy, Czechia and the Slovak Rep, all of which cause Austria-Hungary to be labelled as the part of the "Central Powers"

In their official language of administration, German, Austria-Hungary was known as such.

Posted by
10835 posts

The cities on your list with the most to see are Berlin and Vienna. I can't understand giving those two the least days?

I think Berlin, Prague, Vienna and Budapest (possibly add Dresden) makes a great two week itinerary by train. Krakow adds a big jog and is best part of another itinerary where it fits more logically.

Posted by
8647 posts

When i get faced with an out of the way place like Krakow I schedule it first so its part of the trip over. Then I only have to deal with the leg out of that location. Krakow now has non-stop discount airline service to a number of cities (Budapest included). The problem with Krakow is it really just isnt terribly convenient to any mainstream location if you dont use a flight.