I will be staying in Budapest for six full days in January and am wondering about a possible full day trip to Vienna. Should this be an overnight instead? My flights are already booked roundtrip (in and out of Budapest). Thank you.
Your trip should be overnight and even that is too little for Vienna.
Would you recommend two days minimum? My idea was to base myself for one week in Budapest to really gain a feel for the city. I arrive in Budapest on Saturday early afternoon and depart the following Saturday also early afternoon.
Should I split my time between both cities?
Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday Budapest. Wednesday, Thursday Vienna. Return early Friday to Budapest. Flight home Saturday?
James, this sounds like a wonderful plan. My main interest in Vienna really centers around art and music, namely Schönbrunn Palace, Kunsthistorisches Museum, St. Stephen's Cathedral, the Wien Staatsoper and The Österreichische Galerie Belvedere. I would want to try the Sacher torte and have a café. I feel I could do all of this in a long day trip (with six hours of train travel etc.) since my interests have a slightly narrower focus.
I could have easily based myself in Vienna and planned a daytrip to Budapest, but my intuition has led me to base myself in Budapest and plan a daytrip to Vienna--which must seem backwards to most travelers. There is something very exotic and beguiling about Budapest--I cannot quite place it. I have felt a longing to visit for over a year--a little voice urging me to go and to visit, specifically, the opera house there. Strange, I know!
I have visited each city three times and always ended up spending longer in Vienna, so I certainly advocate for at least one night there. I don't think you really can fit your sightseeing list into one day. Rick's book says to allow at least three hours for Schönbrunn Palace (including local transport) and I'd probably say the same for the Kunsthistorisches Museum. If you make one of those major sites your first stop each day, then you can feel more flexible about how long you spend there.
Well, you could use either city as a base Vienna or Budapest, if the music interest is paramount in your itinerary. The famous Hotel Sacher and its adjacent Cafe is across the small street from the Staarsoper, ca 2 mins or less. The other sites except for Schönbrunn and Belvedere are within walking distance.
Historically, once you've seen buildings, ie large cultural buidings, eg. the Kunsthistorisches Museum, sandblasted, refurbished a veneer of its history is gone. In 1977 I saw the Kunsthistorisches Museum when it was still all black. See the buildings in Budapest in their original historical grayish tone before they become spic and span and dull as a result of the sand blasting.
I do also recommend visiting the Liszt Academy as per your music focus, haven't yet been there myself but saw a promo on French TV (TV5 Monde) on Budapest which also featured the Liszt Academy...very ornate, historically and culturally revealing and interesting. Since you're flying out of Budapest , use it as the base instead of Vienna, unless you want to see a lot more musically connected sites (the museums/houses of Mozart, Mahler, Hayden, Schubert, J Strauss), and their graves at Zentralfriedhof.
I spent a full week in Vienna last August--2 days trips, one to Melk and a Danube exploration, and the other to Salzburg--and felt that the remaining days gave me plenty of time to see all the museums and explore. I then took the train to Budapest and spent 3 1/2 days there which was just enough to scratch the surface. I absolutely loved Budapest, it is indeed a magical and beautiful place and have been unable to get it off my mind--so I am returning next May for a full week.
The train takes 3 hours each way, so it's do-able if you get an early start and return in the evening (as in, arrive around 9 am and back in Budapest around 9 pm) and have a plan for what you want to see in Vienna--a couple of museums, exploring the innere stadt, perhaps a short tour--it's a very walkable, compact area.
If you want to do Vienna even the least amount of justice, two full days would be a minimum - three is better. Minimum train trip seems to be 2:37 in duration which for a day trip to a major city seems to make it prohibitive. Over five hours on the train would really take a bite out of your day. I would question though whether the whole idea of visiting Vienna on such a short trip makes sense. Eger and Sopron in Hungary are very worthy stops and you can see them on a day trip (they are a manageable size). The trip might not be that much shorter but you could actually see these places on a day trip. I know it's really tempting to want to tack on things in other countries, but you miss really seeing the country when you see that approach. Vienna is great but takes some time to get oriented. We spent three nights (two full days) on our 2006 Germany/Austria trip (yes, I was still tacking on things to my itineraries back then) and it was not enough. If you really must see Vienna on this trip, go for it, but definitely stay overnight.
James, I can see myself inching closer and closer to wanting a flat in Budapest. I have friends who visit Italy every year and I used to wonder why they'd keep returning to the same country, but now I get it.
How does your partner know if a possible guest is a Rick Steve's person or not? Must they sign an affidavit? Where I live that's called discrimination. One almost suspects your claim is just to satisfy the Webmaster's rules about advertising. I am open to being convinced my suspicion is misplaced.
I think James makes the perfect point about not mixing business and pleasure, and when I say I'm inching towards wanting a flat I mean doing what he did and buying one, if life goes a certain way and allows me to. Kind of a pipe dream, but it sounds quite do-able, to hear him tell it!
The only context I ever hear in his answers on the forum is a complete and utter love for Budapest and a sincere desire to help fellow travellers get as much from a trip there as possible.
More seriously, I'm OK with this exchange as it was in reply to owning a flat and how you can make that work, though this teeters on the line. I'd be OK with it if James chose to edit himself a little bit further. ;) Or, we can let this thread fade into the depths of the forum.
@ James...we have here a diplomatic quid pro quo.
I have just returned from Budapest. I had more than enough time for a daytrip to Vienna. I left on the 6:40 AM train arriving in Vienna at 9:18 AM. I visited St. Stephen's Cathedral, indulged in Sacher torte at the Sacher Hotel Café, visited the Kunsthistoriches Museum, rode around the Ringstrasse and toured Schönbrunn (the forty room tour and a walk through the gardens to the Gloriette). I returned to Budapest on the 6:42 PM train.
I found Vienna rather a bore and somewhat sterile after a couple of days in Budapest. Budapest is glorious--exotic, enigmatic, dark and alluring. She reveals herself to you in layers. There is no question as to her status as "Queen of the Danube". Through fading architectural fantasies, crumbling façades and gilded interiors one can gain a sense of this former imperial Austro-Hungarian second city.
Vienna is staid--culturally established, conservative. I am in no hurry to return there.
Well, Elle, Budapest and Prague are eye candies, Vienna is not. It is grandiose, former capital of a big empire, kind of snobby. It has one advantage over Budapest and Prague. It did not experience communism. Customer service in Vienna is above one in Prague or Budapest. I had Wiener schnitzel with potato salad in Vienna. Well above the same in Budapest or Prague. I plan to visit all three and then some this spring.
I have to chuckle when someone tells of visiting a very few mega-tourism sites in Vienna that are all about the fumes of the Habsburg Empire and then complaining about Vienna being staid and conservative. ;-)