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Vienna, Prague, Budapest: Dec/Jan

We are flying standby from the US to Vienna on Sunday, December 22. We fly standby home Saturday, Jan 4 or Sunday. We are thinking Vienna, Budapest, Prague with day trips out from these hubs. Is this too much to achieve? We love art, music, museums, good food, Christmas markets, outdoor recreation. And we enjoy smaller cities and villages as well as big cities. Our departure city will depend on standby availability so we need flexibility and access to transportation to get us to a variety of airports if needed. I'm beginning to think we need to do Vienna and either Budapest OR Prague and get ourselves to someplace in Germany for our last few days of the trip so we can have easy access to our departure city (most likely Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt).

Current itinerary.

Fly into Munch on Dec 22 (we can't fly to Vienna standby) and train to Vienna

  • Vienna: Dec 22 to Dec 27 (take train to Budapest)
  • Budapest: Dec 27 to Jan 1 (depart for Prague by train)
  • Prague: Jan 1 to Jan 3 (need to get to a city to fly standby, likely Berlin)

Questions: Is that too short a time in Prague? Prague has been on my bucket list, but Budapest intrigues me the more and more I think about it. There appear to be some really neat places to visit outside Budapest. I am torn between the two. Do we skip one of the cities and get more central since our departure city is up in the air? We have to fly direct on United back to US. Thank you!

Posted by
180 posts

This seems like a lot to me. Flying intercity would be faster -- your train trips range from 2.5 to 6 hours. In addition, sunset is at 16:00, you have 2 major holidays (and their eves) and 1 Sunday in your timeline, so you will face closures for museums, etc. I would eliminate Prague, and then consider flying from Munich to Budapest and then working yourself back towards Germany for your flight out.

Posted by
15566 posts

Does it have to be United metal, or can you go on partner Lufthansa as well?
You might have better luck flying back from Munich standby. It is 4 1/4 hours Prague to Berlin, and a shade more than 5 hours on the train to Freising, Germany, a short bus ride from Munich airport.

Posted by
6540 posts

I would just take in two of the cities and visit them slower: Vienna and Budapest.
If you end up going to and from Munich, I'd visit there, Salzburg and Vienna since they're traveling in a straight, efficient line.
PM me if you need a place to stay in either Vienna or Budapest. I know a couple of great places.

Posted by
7 posts

Thank you, Pam, Sam, and David. I think I've talked ourselves out of Prague. Just too much with travel and holidays. We do have to fly United metal. Wish we could fly partner airlines. We are thinking it could be neat to meander our way west back to Munich with stops in Salzburg and Hallstatt to mix things up. And while in Budapest, visit Szentendre and Visegrád. Would love recommendations! So . . .Christmas in Vienna or Budapest? Thank you!

Posted by
15566 posts

I think I'd do Christmas in Salzburg and New Years in Vienna. Hit Budapest between those.

Posted by
1499 posts

We will be in Vienna from the 23-27. Depending on how you arrange your trip, let me know if you overlap us and we can get together for coffee or drinks. Or just look for an American Couple with a big Chocolate Lab.

Posted by
7 posts

Thank you, all. You've helped us narrow things down and we are very excited! Because we are lucky enough to be able to use Marriott points for Vienna and Budapest, we need to stay within the Marriott Bonvoy system and it looks like it's impossible to flip flop Vienna and Budapest. We've adjusted our itinerary.

Adjusted Itinerary.

Fly into Munch on Dec 22 (we can't fly to Vienna standby) and train to Vienna

Vienna: Dec 22 to Dec 27 (train to Budapest)
Budapest: Dec 27 to Jan 1 (begin travels West on train)
Travel between Budapest and Munich (details yet to be decided): Jan 1 to Jan 4. Some ideas include Melk, Steyr, Salzburg, Hallstatt, Prien, but I'm not sure if the train goes to these places and I need to do research.
Munich, overnight: Jan 4
Depart Munich for home: Jan 5

Questions: Are there places between Budapest and Vienna that we should visit? We will be on the train so it needs to be reachable via public transit.

Karen, we will send you a message!

Thank you, all.

Posted by
16614 posts

I day-tripped to Györ while staying in Budapest last year. An overnight there would be fine, too. It's not a large place, but it has a good-sized, lovely, historic district and a bunch of small museums (most art-related, as I recall). It's also the jumping-off point for trips to Pannonhalma Abbey. I think all the fast trains from Budapest to Vienna stop at Györ, and in some cases one changes trains there.

Sopron is also a pretty place, but it's a detour from the main rail line, has a smaller historic area than Györ, lacks the Györ's flock of museums and isn't convenient to Pannonhalma Abbey. Therefore, I think Györ is clearly the superior choice in your situation.

Last year I traveled overnight to several really attractive Hungarian towns/cities that see very few American tourists, but they are south of Budapest and not remotely on the way to Vienna. I'm quite certain Györ isn't the only nice option for you, but I don't know what else to suggest. I'm sure someone else here will have a suggestion or two.

If you're willing to delay your departure toward Vienna, you could make a quick jog to Serbia, Romania or Croatia. But there would be considerable travel time involved, possibly on buses.

Posted by
180 posts

In Budapest, I stayed at the Hotel Gellert on the Buda side (I happened on a great rate), right near the bridge to the Great Market hall in Pest. There are bus stops and a metro stop right at the hotel, also within walking distance of the main sights in Pest. It is magnificent -- right out of the 30's and 40's. Great breakfasts. We took a train to Szentendre and then a ferry back to Budapest along the Danube to enter the city during the day -- but this was in the fall. We also took an evening cruise to see the city with the lights.

Don't miss a trip up to see the Hungarian National Museum and environs. When I was there, a battle of the bands was on outside of the museum.

I went to Bratislava as a day trip from Vienna on the train. Follow Rick's walking tour of Bratislava so that you don't miss anything. In Vienna, I met with a Vienna Greeter, which was a wonderful experience. I highly recommend them in any city that they are available. The tour is personal, usually 1-on-1, and free -- just make a donation to the organization itself.

I had schnitzel in Vienna at Figmuller. Make a reservation before you go, as there will be a line. With a reservation, you walk right to the front. Don't order anything else -- the schnitzel is more than enough!

Posted by
10715 posts

Having been in Vienna and Budapest for Christmas and New Year, I think you are doing it backward. New Year in Budapest isn't much, but Christmas is significantly better in Budapest. Since Vienna to Munich is 4 hours while Budapest to Munich is 7 hours, I think I would rather leave from Vienna.

As for the Gellert, it's an amazing 3 star hotel. There is no metro stop at the hotel, but there is a tram stop. There is little to see within a 15 min walk of the hotel, but the trams will get you to most tourist sites with no more than one transfer and within 20 minutes in most cases.

Remember, it might be 55F or it might be 0F so if you dont enjoy walks in the fresh winter air, choose your hotel location wisely.

Posted by
4063 posts

Jan. 1-4 in Austria will be church mouse quiet. Holidays here last until Jan. 6. Small towns like Prien, Steyr, Melk, for example, don’t mix well with your dates. A lot will be closed. What would you do all day in a place like Steyr? Walk around and freeze. I’d stick to larger towns/cities which have indoor attractions. Salzburg is the obvious choice.

Posted by
10715 posts

An interesting dilemma. I would .....

22 Dec Arrive Munich and train or fly to Budapest.

24 Dec Christmas Eve in Budapest
28 or 29 Dec Train to Salzburg
31 Dec NYE in Salzburg (great fireworks show)
1 Jan Train to Vienna
5 Jan Train back to Munich.

I think you need to leave a day earlier and arrive on the 21st if possible.

Posted by
7 posts

Thank you, all, for your advice and assistance. We've narrowed our trip to Vienna, Budapest, and Salzburg. Thank you for helping me make our trip more reasonable than it was to start. We are very excited! You've been incredibly helpful and given me good advice. I am keeping all your notes to plan the stay. And I will return with more questions I am sure! - Sylvia

Posted by
10715 posts

This is all subjective so no one get mad. Just my personal feelings.

The Christmas Markets in Budapest are much better than those in Vienna. Yes, I know, Christmas markets are a German thing and Austria is German, Budapest isn’t. Means the Germans need to step it up I guess. Everything in the Budapest markets is reviewed by a committee to make sure its local craft and art before they let them sell it. No junk. The Market extends until New Year but its smaller and no food booths after Christmas eve. Technically Vienna is probably better for music and theater events for Christmas, but you can get dang good technical in the states too. Because the arts are still so much a part of Hungarian life, you can still go to the theater in Budapest and sit among mostly Hungarians. Vienna tends to be heavier on the tourist trade.

But NYE in Budapest is a bit of a bust. Salzburg is much more beautiful and I hear Vienna is as well.

Because you wanted to go to more places I made the recommendation I did, but in truth, with so little time I would split it between Budapest and Vienna. From Budapest I would do an overnight in Gyor and see a concert at the Archabbey at Pannonhalma. From Vienna day trips to Wachau Valley and Melk. Maybe find a holiday concert in Melk? There are just so many holiday things to do in Budapest and Vienna I cant see the trip to Salzburg. But no matter what you do, I am certain it will be great.

Posted by
7 posts

Thank you, James. I really appreciate your input. We really wish we could flip Budapest and Vienna but it isn't going to work. We loved your suggestion of Salzburg so we will stay there on the way to Munich. We can't wait to listen to live music in all these cities. Your description of Budapest is wonderful. I'm going to do more research on the abbey. Thank you for all your information! This is fun! I love the research!

Revised Itinerary

  • Fly into Munch on Dec 22 and train to Vienna
  • Vienna: Arrive, Dec 22 to Depart, Dec 27
  • Friday, Dec 27: Train to Budapest
  • Budapest: Arrive, Dec 27 to Depart, Jan 1 (Enjoy Budapest and visit Danube Bend towns/cities as day trips--Szentendre, Visegrád, Esztergom, any preferences?)
  • Jan 1: Train to Salzburg
  • Salzburg: Arrive, Jan 1 to Depart, Jan 4
  • Jan 4: Train to Munich
  • Jan 5: Depart Munich for home

Thank you, all.

  • Sylvia
Posted by
16614 posts

I went only to Szentendre. I really enjoyed it, but it was in May and I took advantage of the many small art museums in town. I don't know that they'll even be open at the time of your visit.

Posted by
10715 posts

The bad news is that Hungarians love their theater and concerts. If you dont already have tickets, my guess is you will be lucky to find anything. Szentendre is "open" but it will be cold and the boat ride back to Budapest will be closed for the winter. The Christmas markets will be about half closed with all the food and drink gone. By NYE everything will be gone.

Posted by
2081 posts

I love Szentendre and have spent time there on 4 of my 5 visits to Budapest, which are always in May so the weather is lovely and conducive to wandering and outdoor dining...probably not so much in December, though. If you want to take a short trip (45 min) on a suburban train, perhaps consider Godollo to visit the palace used mainly by the Empress Sisi--it's just across from the train station and I really enjoyed touring it--after visiting Vienna I became quite fascinated by Sisi's story and she was beloved by the Hungarians. Take the M2 line to Ors Vezer tere and catch the HEV train 8.