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First time visitor - suggestions for itinerary

Hello,

This is my first post here after reading all the wonderful and knowledgeable conversations going on in the forum.

We are a middle aged couple on the East coast in the US, planning our first trip to this part of Europe. We have planned a 8-10 day visit to Budapest-Vienna-Prague, in late April-early May to beat the crowds (we are OK with moderate cold temperatures). We would like to arrive in Budapest, take the train to Vienna and then to Prague and fly back to the US from Prague. We are interested in history, culture, architecture, natural beauty and a bit of music. I know that we need close to a week in each place to do full justice to all aspects of these cities and surroundings but am OK to trade breadth for depth of sightseeing. The tentative plan is to spend 3-2-4 nights in Budapest, Vienna, Prague respectively. Would appreciate comments from the experts on the feasibility of this plan.

Thanks in advance for ll advice and guidance.

Posted by
2567 posts

I am guessing extra days are not a possibility? So are you flying into Budapest and out of Prague? Your days add to 9. Does that mean the 10th day is a travel day? Or is the vacation length not exactly set? I think if you can't get more days, it's a doable trip. I, myself, would do 3 days in each city. Prague will still be somewhat crowded. I would be very organized with an itinerary and directions so you don't lose time. I would have maps and any walking tours organized. I would have a centrally located hotel so you can walk to most things or are able to quickly jump on a metro. I would arrive to some of the sites with tickets in hand. Schonbrunn can often have long lines. Same with Prague Castle. I really like the Budapest Parlament. I would investigate times and possibility of advance tickets. If you can't get an English tour of Parlament, I would take any language just to get in.

Those are great cities that are naturally linked by their common history.

Posted by
1627 posts

Did you get the Rick Steves Eastern Europe book yet?

Posted by
13 posts

Thanks Jules for your prompt and detailed response. Yes, the itinerary is not yet set in stone but the plan is not to exceed 10 days including days of travel. Appreciate and understand all the points you have made regarding a well structured plan and good location for hotels so as not to waste time. As I mentioned earlier, I would not be trying to see everything in each of the cities and would definitely give myself time to 'wander around'. From that point of view, if you have the time, please let me know a prioritized list of things that are a must-do in each city. Thanks again.

Posted by
13 posts

Rick Steves' book will be my bible and will soon be reading that cover to cover!

Posted by
3828 posts

Of the three cities, Vienna is my least favorite but still needs a third day. And be prepared, Prague will be crowded. We went to those cities in April several years ago and all of them had a lot of tourists.

Posted by
590 posts

So if you aren't exceeding 10 days including travel than you really only have a maximum of 8 plus travel days between to get to each new city? So say a half day for each of those and you are down to 7 days. That is really not a lot especially when you factor in cost for airline tickets. Could you extend it at all to 12 days including travel? Assuming you can't I would say just 2 of those cities. All 3 are very worthy cities to visit, though if I could only pick 2 it would be Budapest and Prague. Those 2 of your 3 are of course the ends. My recommendation would then be to fly into Budapest and out of Prague with taking a train in between because I love trains. You could fly though.

Posted by
1903 posts

Once you get your guide book you will discover what are the recommended must-sees...and then you must decide which of them are YOUR must-sees. I have been to all 3 cities in late April through late May and you will have fairly pleasant weather, but expect some rain. Your itinerary makes sense, though as Budapest is my favorite city (5th trip in as many years in May) I'd rather 4 nights there, 2 Vienna and 3 Prague. As others suggest, you might be better off with just Budapest and Prague this trip--each is uniquely spectacular, though I certainly do love Vienna.

I was thrilled to see Don Giovanni at the Estates Theatre in Prague, the last remaining house that Mozart conducted his works in. In Budapest I have twice been to musicals at the gorgeous Operettszinhaz--quality performances and the tickets are surprisingly inexpensive, plus it's not a tourist theatre, full of locals. www.operettszinhaz.hu I just checked the other day to see what's playing when I am there in early May and the calendar is only through April just now, but you'll get a good idea of the shows. Definitely buy in advance as shows sell out. I also enjoyed seeing Macbeth at the National Opera, but really loved the delightful shows at the Operett much, much more.

Posted by
5880 posts

We have made that same trip many times. Prague and Budapest are very much alike, so I would suggest skipping Prague in order to spend more time in Budapest and Vienna. We absolutely adore both cities, and they are each worthy of 4 days each.
PM me if you need places to stay, as I know a couple of great places in great locations in each.

Posted by
593 posts

Nara for a 10 days trip you can set up an itinerary like this:

Budapest 3 Days

Day 1 Budapest

Day 2 Budapest

Day 3 Budapest

Vienna 4 Days

Day 1 Vienna

Day 2 Vienna (Day trip to Melk and cruise Danube)

Day 3 Vienna

Day 4 Vienna

Prague 3 Days

Day 1 Prague

Day 2 (Cesky Krumlov)

Day 3 Prague (Fly home)

Places to eat in Budapest (affordable and good food):

Drum Cafe Budapest
Address: Budapest, Dob u. 2, 1072 Hungary
Hours: Open ⋅ Closes 12AM
Phone: +36 20 540 7422

Frici Papa
Address: Budapest, Király u. 55, 1077 Hungary
Hours: Open ⋅ Closes 11PM
Phone: +36 1 351 0197

Places to eat in Vienna:

Cafe Restaurant LETO
RESERVE A TABLE
Address: Schwertgasse 3, 1010 Wien, Austria
Hours: Open ⋅ Closes 12AM
Reservations: restaurantleto.at, quandoo.at
Phone: +43 1 3995846

Gasthaus Elsner
Address: Neumayrgasse 2, 1160 Wien, Austria
Hours: Open ⋅ Closes 10PM
Phone: +43 1 4925596

Posted by
13 posts

Thank you all for the recommendations and advice. As I anticipated, I am confronted with the difficult task of choosing from a lot of good options. Thanks.

Posted by
8882 posts

First, consider flying to Vienna, then train to Budapest, then flight to Prague (or reverse) Buys you a bit more time on the ground for just a few dollars more.

Then, generally speaking Budapest speaks to middle aged couple a bit more than Prague unless you are really young at heart, arent put off by crowds. So I would take a day from Prague and add it to Budapest.

Then for things in Budapest, depends on your style and interests. Are you more Opera or more Ruin Pub (google Ruin Pub). Then with that I can give you ideas. If you can schedule May 1st in Budapest, that's a winner (May Day). A bit rushed, but it's my first trip about 15 years ago and I've found my way back dozens and dozens of times.

Posted by
13 posts

I have been looking at flight options and have a couple fo questions.

If we fly into one of the connection points such as London (LHR, LGW, etc.) and then connect to Budapest (or Prague) via one of the local, economy airlines such as easyjet, it would appear that we have to collect our luggage and recheck for the connecting flight. This may involve having to go through immigration and customs at London, with visa implications? Also, how reliable (on-time and service) are these low cost airlines? In the process of saving a few hundred dollars in airfare, will we end up losing out more?

One last question - is Turkish Airlines worth considering as they seem to offer good connections via Istanbul?

Thanks for all your advice, as always.

Posted by
8882 posts

Turkish Air is great. I do it often. Splitting tickets to use a discount airline is always risky. One way to do that though is to pick a place you want to visit, spend a few days then use the discount airline for the next leg. I do that often to reach Budapest. Budapest is a hub for Wizzair and is very well connected to some great places. Ryanair I have less trust in, but Wizz has been pretty good. Eurowings has also been good on my trips.

Posted by
118 posts

I wouldn't consider changing to any of the discount carriers at Heathrow or any major European hub. It generally requires a second booking and if your inbound flight is delayed and you miss the connection flight, your probably outta luck and will have to buy new tickets on the discount airline. Not to mention the time involved in going through passport control, checking in for the new flight, going back through security, etc. Just too much risk and too much hassle.

Consider flying British Airways into London and connecting on a BA flight to your ultimate destination. Or Air France via CGD, or KLM via Amsterdam, or any other European airline via their hub which also serves Budapest/Prague/Vienna. My wife and I lave been looking at going to Vienna/Bratislava/Budapest and are seriously considering BA's new service to/from Pittsburgh (we're in Cleveland) and connecting at Heathrow since they have multiple daily flights to/from Budapest and Vienna

Posted by
8882 posts

Which airline to fly is an easy choice. The cheapest flight on one ticket (unless I am staying a few days at the city where I change tickets) with no more than one lay over in Europe and one layover in the US. I prefer a 2 hour to 3 hour layover when ever possible. Shorter can turn into a sprint. Beyond that nothing else matters. Oh, any layover at Heathrow or Chucky D, I extend to 3 hour minimum.

Posted by
4373 posts

An alternative -- if you would like to do a day in Cesky Krumlov, the CK Shuttle can pick you up in Vienna, drive you to CK (walk around, spend the night in a hotel or b&b of your choice) then drive you to your hotel in Prague the next morning. Lovely relaxing drive through the countryside.

Posted by
12241 posts

I have flown Turkish several times in recent years, always good flights. The long-hauls have a very good entertainment selection, I find the seating a tad roomier and the food is a little better than others.

If you only have 8 days in Europe, trying to see 3 cities is short-changing at least 1, probably 2 of them, or maybe all 3. It sounds like you've been in Western Europe, so I'd skip Vienna and fly between Budapest and Prague. Vienna to me is like Paris meets Munich (or pick another Germany city). Prague and Budapest have similarities but I found them to be very different, and both are quite different from Western Europe.

If you do have 9 nights, I'd go with 4 nights in your first city because you'll be jetlagged on arrival.

Posted by
13 posts

Hello experts,

After multiple iterations on flights, duration, etc., we have finalized our trip and only have a short stay of 1 1/2 days in Budapest on our way back - we are not landing in Budapest on the way in. ( I know this is barely enough to scratch the surface but I will plan for a more leisurely trip later). We arrive from Prague by train around 12:30 PM on Friday (May 3) at Nyugati and are booked at the Museum Hotel. After checking into the hotel, we want to head to the Szechenyi Baths. Later in the evening, we want to stroll around the Parliament area and take an evening/night cruise on the Danube (is the 'Duck' tour a good idea). The next day, we have half a day to do more sightseeing before we head out to the airport for an international flight at 5:40 PM.
We would be grateful for any and all ideas on how to make the best use of our limited time available. Thanks.

Posted by
304 posts

The next day, we have half a day to do more sightseeing before we head out to the airport for an international flight at 5:40 PM. We would be grateful for any and all ideas on how to make the best use of our limited time available.

Budapest is so fun and easy to get around that I'm sure you could make a great half day of sightseeing with selections from your own must-see list, especially with input from James and others on this forum.

As a "sampler of Budapest" alternative, I will offer the idea of a "Grand City and Parliament Tour" by bus. There are many companies that offer such a tour. The tour I took (can't recall the company and I'm not at home to check my files) included (not in this order):

  • Enjoy a walk in Buda’s Castle District
  • Visit Gellért Hill for spectacular views of the city
  • See famous Heroes’ Square in central Pest, with its statues of Hungarian kings and dukes
  • Enjoy a bilingual guided tour of the interior of the Parliament and see the Hungarian Crown Jewels

The tour gave me a really great overview of Budapest, before my next several days on my own. The tour went many of the places I had intended to go anyway (some of which I went back to for more depth) AND they booked the English Parliament tour for the group - one less detail for you to sort out.

My tour was 16500 HUF (about 52 Euros) which included the non-EU entrance fee to Parliament. The tour was 4.5 hours, so you'd need a morning departure.

One such tour that looks similar to the one I took:
https://www.getyourguide.com/budapest-l29/grand-city-tour-with-parliament-visit-t737/

Posted by
304 posts

take an evening/night cruise on the Danube

You also mention an interest in culture and a bit of music. The evening Danube cruise that I took included dinner, folk dancing and Hungarian folk music. I don't recall the specific tour company, but it was similar to this:

https://www.getyourguide.com/budapest-l29/evening-folklore-performance-dinner-cruise-in-budapest-t4327/

Here's my take on such an evening cruise: the food will not be as good as in a local restaurant. The dancing + music will not be as good as (say) the evening I spent at Duna Palota, where the folk dancing is wonderful and the folk music is incredible. But you'll get a taste of culture and a bit of music to go with the spectacular views!

Posted by
304 posts

Your hotel may be able to help you book any tours or Danube cruises. I emailed my hotel and they (offered and) booked everything for me. Another detail that you do not have to sort out. They did require that I pay cash in advance of each tour, whereas you could probably pay via credit card if you book online yourself.

Posted by
8882 posts

You didn’t say how you were going to get from the train station to your hotel. You could take the metro, but the station at Nyugati is a bit hard to find and you have to change at Deak Fernec ter. But if you are adventurous, then that’s the thing to do. Otherwise call a taxi. I like CityTaxi +36 1 211 1111 If you do take the metro, then purchase a 24 hour travel card from one of the machines at the metro station adjacent to Nyugati. https://bkk.hu/en/budapest-24-hour-travel-card/

If you took a taxi, first see if your front desk will sell you a couple of metro tickets. If they cant then you will have to go down to the Astoria metro station. So get your hand map and walk to the Astoria metro stop. Go down and find a machine and buy tickets if you didn’t get them from the front desk. On the street level you will find the 47/49 Tram. Hop on going left to right and stay on until the end stop. Get off and continue walking in the same direction 300 to 400 feet and you will find the end of Andrassy ut. At the corner of Andrassy ut you will see stairs down to the M1 Metro. Be sure to take the set of stairs to the metro stop before crossing the street. At the bottom you will find ticket machines. Buy a 24 hour TravelCard for 1,650 forints if you haven’t yet done it. Now you can travel for free.

Now you are going to get on the M1 metro line and ride it to the next to last stop, Széchenyi fürdő (bath). Go up the stairs and you are at the bath house. If you need flip flops or a towel, you can purchase both from the vendors under the trees. Now you have souvenirs.

I am going to guess you didn’t reach the bath house before 3pm and if you spend 2 hours now it is 5 pm. So walk through the park to Hero’s Square. Across the street from the square you will see the stairs back down to the M1. Depending on how tired you are you can make the 30 minute walk down Andrassy ut (it is a beautiful walk with some pretty interesting and beautiful architecture which includes embassies, magnificent old apartment blocks, and some pretty nice shopping at the lower end) or you can hop on and off the metro. Ride for one stop, get off and walk to the next stop, until you reach the lower end of Andrassy ut. Now its 6pm maybe. Return home to get ready for your cruise. It’s a pretty good walk from your hotel to the dock. I’ve take a couple and they are pretty okay. Personally with so little time in Budapest I wouldn’t be doing the cruise. But everyone is different. For instance, the Folk Dancing show mentioned in another post here bored the heck out of me. But that was over 10 years ago, maybe its better now.

Sorry, we didn’t make it to walking around the Parliament. How about tomorrow? AND, its really not a great evening strolling place….. My two favorite places would be the Danube Corso (the other side of the Chain Bridge from the Parliament) and the lower end of Andrassy ut, or Kiraly utca or the Godszu udvar.

The Duck Tour? If that is the bus they drive off into the Danube, that thing scares the heck out of me. No idea how you would get out of that thing when it rolls over.

The next day, go back to the 47/49 tram, this time in the opposite direction to the stop in front of the Market Hall (the stop before you cross the river) Go in and take a look, up stairs and downstairs. Very interesting. Then back out front, if you look towards the river you will see stairs going down. Take them. At the bottom you will find the famous No2 Metro (google it). Get on heading left to right. This will take you along the Danube to the Parliament Building and the Shoes on the Danube Memorial. On the way back get off at the first stop after the Chain Bridge and walk away from the river and you will find Vorosmarty ter. Show there till you are out of time…

Posted by
8882 posts

I tried not to say it, cause once people decide, it's hard to change their mind, but if you can get a refund on that hotel, for 2 nights you are going to be much better off on the Danube Corso (Intercontinental or Marriott) or on the lower end of Andrassy ut (K&K Opera or Hotel Moments). You will get more out of your short stay.

Posted by
13 posts

Thanks a ton James and CWsocial. Your detailed responses and attention to detail are amazing. I will review, absorb and plan my time - including trying to change my hotel (I still have time to cancel my booking). I would also appreciate some information on the disruption to the M3 metro line (I think it is the M3?) due to the construction that is going on now. Thank you all.

Posted by
13 posts

Hello James,
I have changed my hotel booking to K&K Hotel Opera. Please let me know if this changes anything in your well thought out suggestions on what to do in Pest. Regards.

Posted by
8882 posts

You didn’t say how you were going to get from the train station to your hotel. You could take the metro, but the station at Nyugati is a bit hard to find and you have to change at Deak Fernec ter. But if you are adventurous, then that’s the thing to do. So, walk out the front door of the station and then turn right down the sidewalk and look for stairs going down under the street with a blue “M”. Those stairs will take you to the M3 metro station, as well as a strange new world. This is the most “unique” underground in Budapest. In the station you will find vending machines for tickets. Might as well purchase a 24 hour TravelCard. You will need it. Then you want to get on a car on the track marked Kőbánya-Kispest (it’s the end station in that direction). Get off at the second stop Deak Ferenc ter. Now follow the signage to the M1 line, and board it towards Mexikói út (again the end stop if you are going in the correct direction). Get off at the second stop which is the Opera station and the location of your hotel. https://bkk.hu/en/budapest-24-hour-travel-card/

Otherwise call a taxi. I like CityTaxi +36 1 211 1111. The taxi stand is outside the doors that face track 10 near the front of the station.

Once you are checked in and ready to explore, if you took a taxi, first walk to the M1 Opera station right out front of the hotel; but cross Andrassy ut to the station stairs on the opposite side of the street. In the station purchase a 24 hour TravelCard. Now with handy TravelCard in hand ride the M1, you want to get off at Széchenyi fürdő (bath) stop.

Go up the stairs and you are at the bath house. If you need flip flops or a towel, you can purchase both from the vendors under the trees. Now you have souvenirs.

I am going to guess you didn’t reach the bath house before 2pm and if you spend 2 hours now it is 4 pm. So walk through the park to Hero’s Square. Across the street from the square you will see the stairs back down to the M1. Depending on how tired you are you can make the 30 minute walk down Andrassy ut (it is a beautiful walk with some pretty interesting and beautiful architecture which includes embassies, magnificent old apartment blocks, and some pretty nice shopping at the lower end) or you can hop on and off the metro. Ride for one stop, get off and walk to the next stop, until you reach the lower end of Andrassy ut. Now its 5pm maybe. Return home to get ready for your cruise.

To get to the dock, get on the M1 by going down the stairs in front of the Opera and ride it to the end stop (2 stops). This is Vorsomarty ter. Get there early and look around and do a little shopping. From Vorosmarty its about a 5 minute walk to the dock.

Personally with so little time in Budapest I wouldn’t be doing the cruise. But everyone is different. For instance, the Folk Dancing show mentioned in another post here bored the heck out of me. But that was over 10 years ago, maybe its better now.

Sorry, we didn’t make it to walking around the Parliament. How about tomorrow?

Posted by
8882 posts

The next day, walk to the end of Andrassy ut (3 – 5 minutes) and look to your left and you will see a yellow tram about 300 meters away. That’s the 47/49 Tram. Get on and ride it to the stop just before it crosses the river, that is the stop in front of the Market Hall

Go in and take a look, up stairs and downstairs. Very interesting. Then back out front, if you look towards the river you will see stairs going down. Take them. At the bottom you will find the famous No2 Metro (google it). Get on heading left to right. This will take you along the Danube to the Parliament Building and the Shoes on the Danube Memorial. On the way back get off at the first stop after the Chain Bridge and walk away from the river and you will find Vorosmarty ter form which you know your way to the hotel.

See, much shorter directions from the K&K and Andrassy ut has good restaurants, great strolling, my favorite wine bar about a 5 minute walk (Kadarka Wine Bar). You are two stops from the river, also good in the evening. Cant do much better for a quick stay.

Posted by
13 posts

Thank you for the prompt and detailed response. I already feel like I am in Budapest!

Posted by
8882 posts

A copy of Eyewitness Guide Top Ten for Budapest has a good map and just enough information for your trip without being overwhelming (sorry Rick). To see the place in advance, use Google Earth or Google Maps street view and walk the route before you get there.

Posted by
13 posts

We recently completed our trip to multiple European cities including Budapest. Special thanks to James for the excellent suggestions on how best to use the less-than-24 hours that we had in the lovely city. We followed his suggestions to a t and had a great time. We were very happy with the visits to the Szechenyi baths, the Great Market Hall, the Chain bridge and the Parliament area, as well as the lovely river cruise by Legenda in the evening. One definitely needs more than 2 days to do justice to what the city has to offer.

Here is a tip: Validity of the one day travel pass on the Metro/tram starts immediately upon buying, by default (date and time are printed). There is no need to 'validate' this type of ticket at the entrance to the Metro.