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Eastern Capitals

A friend an I are beginning to plan a trip to Berlin, Prague, Vienna and Budapest leaving Los Angles around Oct. 13, she has to return by Oct. 29 I can stay a few days longer. The journey between Cities will be by train - any tips would be appreciated. It does not have to be in the above order - we could start in Vienna - however, she is very keen to go to Berlin so I guess we will have to start there - I figure at least 3 full days in Berlin and 3 in Prague - any ideas on Vienna and Budapest and any ideas on whether we should go anywhere in between - we are also interested in a boutique type of hotel, or pension - we are not interested in the big chain hotels. Or any other interesting and off the tourist track information anyone has would be greatly appreciated.

Posted by
14274 posts

That order is best. Berlin has lots to offer. It's hard not to have a good time there. The museums are top-notch. With about 14 days on the ground, 4 destinations is the most I'd plan on. That's really only about 3 days per city, since going from one to another will use up at least 1/2 day. If your friend passes on Budapest, she could fly home from Vienna - then you'd have time for "in-betweens" and you could spend a few days there on your own. If you are really efficient, 3 full days in Prague, 2 in Vienna. I think Berlin needs more than 3 days, especially since the first and maybe even the second days after that long flight, you really aren't going to be going full speed. You could visit Dresden on the way to Prague, take an early morning train out of Berlin, then an evening train to Prague. Potsdam is a good day trip from Berlin. Brno is nice between Vienna and Budapest. There are nice day trips from Budapest.

Posted by
12329 posts

Here is how I see it. 13 Leave LA 14 Arrive Berlin (good first stop because it will be the most active stop) 15 Berlin 16 Berlin 17 Berlin (that makes 3 full days) 18 Berlin to Prague 19 Prague 20 Prague 21 Prague (3 days allows for a side trip) 22 Prague to Vienna 23 Vienna 24 Vienna (I will get arguments but two days is enough) 25 Vienna to Budapest 26 Budapest (great last stop because it is the most laid back) 27 Budapest 28 Budapest
29 Fly home Rent apartments. There is no better way to get to know a place than living among them. I know Budapest better than the other cities. If you don't rent an apartment look at the Wombat Hostel on Kirlay utca. For a good hotel at reasonable rates in also in a great location check out the K&K Opera. In all the stops check each accommodation you are considering against the distance to the things you want to see. That is easy to do with Google Maps as you can ask for Directions and the map will give you walking times and times on public transport. I think too many people stay too far out to save money but then they lose so much time they could be enjoying just getting back and forth.

Posted by
4637 posts

James made your homework easier and made a great itinerary for you. You won't have much time for side trips. You can decide on it once you are there and feel that you saw enough of the city. I would strongly recommend that you read Rick Steves guide books about these cities. They are the best for your short visit. Also Rick recommends a lot of that kind of accommodation you are seeking.

Posted by
12270 posts

Ann, You have presumably three weeks. I would suggest visiting three cities in depth out of the four. Good that you're flying into Berlin. I agree with taking a day trip r/t to Brno, a former province capital, better than Bratislava (Pressburg). Some recommenable Pensionen are located in Berlin-Charlottenburg if you mind staying the western area. Guests are mainly German. Take a tour in Potsdam from Potsdam Hbf.

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12329 posts

I always plan to see a place twice. Once as part of reasonable typical tourism visit and then I return to the special places on another trip and try to get a more intimate feel. I am always afraid of ending up someplace that just isn't what I had hoped for with not native but to last it out for an extended period of time. What if you get to Prague and the crowds are just more than you can handle or you get to Vienna and have a feeling that the whole thing is just one big fake tourist front or you get to Krakow and discover unless you enjoy visiting the site of the murder of millions of innocent souls that Krakow escapes your interest after 48 hours. I could write each one of those from the exact opposite point of view and I would be correct in both instances. Everyone is different. See as much as you can, be open minded, and plan to return if something pulls at your heart or soul.

Posted by
4637 posts

I agree with Chani that Brno would be a nice stop if you had more time. But it's not between Vienna and Budapest; it's between Prague and Vienna. I agree with George that Krakow is another nice destination. But for you with a limited time is logistically a little bit out of way and I certainly would not trade any of the great European capitals you planned to see for Krakow. Krakow is actually former capital many centuries ago and has a pleasant provincial feel.

Posted by
2 posts

Thank you all very much for your input - this is the first time I have signed onto this website - I was in Croatia and Bosnia following Rick Steves Book - will most definitely read up and get his info on this trip - I do look for a more central place to stay - you do save so much time on getting around - I usually travel with a friend and rent a car, but this is the first time I will be traveling between destinations via rail - fortunately, there is a great travel store in Pasadena called 'Distant Lands' and their rail 'person' is an expert on trains and schedules etc. which will be extremely helpful. Again, thank you everybody And Chani - I love Tel Aviv!!

Posted by
12270 posts

Ann, I agree with the above accessment of Krakow. Maybe that could be your third city after Berlin and Vienna. What both Krakow and Prague have in common historically is that they survived the war intact, undamaged, and were spared the horrors being the target of military operations. For that reason both are worth three to four days visit. I liked visiting Krakow, would certainly go back for another visit.

Posted by
12329 posts

Budapest as you see it now didn't exist prior to 1890. It was heavily bombed during the War and Buda was essentially destroyed. So know as you walk through Buda much, not all, but much is rebuilt since the war. Pest was also damaged during the war. Some reports were that 90% of the buildings were hit but only 3% were destroyed. So essentially Pest is 1896 – 1941 intact as it was. If prewar Europe interests you then you will probably enjoy Budapest. Even attitudes about art, literature, music, theater remain similar to those of the last century. It is the closest to time travel that I have ever experienced. Of the major cities in Central Europe Budapest is the most "gritty", and in my experience the most "living" in the primary tourist areas. I travel quite a bit and few places have made me feel as much a part of as Budapest has; even on my first 3 day visit over a decade ago. But that's just my impression and I am certain that others will feel the same way about one place or another in their experiences.

Posted by
868 posts

I'm always surprised how underrated Vienna is. This place ruled over Budapest, Prague, Germany and half of Europe! Around 1900 it was fourth largest city in Europe, and most of the architecture of that time is preserved. But while tourists always rave about the bubbly 19th century quarters of Budapest (Pest) they don't seem to know that exactly the same exists in Vienna... maybe because they never cross the Ringstrasse and think the city ends there. And the city has so many wonderful museums, like the armoury, the Wagenburg, the Funeral Museum or the Museum of Military History, but strangely you see only a few non-German speaking tourists there. It's also a mystery to me why the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague is always sardine-packed like a a train station, but no one wants to see Beethoven, Schubert, Salieri, Strauß or Falco on Viennas Zentralfriedhof. And I can't agree that the "culture is staged for the tourists". The coffeehouses, K.u.K. confectioners, theatres, operas etc. aren't for tourists, they are part of the daily life in Vienna. Some of the places, like Demel or Sacher, just get visited by way to many tourists (instead of Sacher simply visit the almost tourist-free Gerstner). Because of the fixed rents many "normal" Austrians still live in the old town, in contrast to Prague for example, whose old town feels more like a theme park these days.

Posted by
868 posts

Krakow vs. Prague: Krakow is a very beautiful city, but the old town is only half as big as Pragues. Prague has more churches, palaces and better museums if you ask me. But the food was, surprisingly, much better in Krakow. And to the OP: if you plan to stay a few days longer I would recommend to end your trip in Berlin, simply because there is so much to see and to do. Berlin offers something for everyone, and if you don't care for 20th century history simply visit Potsdam for instance, which offer not just Sanssouci but 4 more royal parks.

Posted by
12270 posts

@ George...good, valid historical points on Poland and Hungary. "...a city frozen in time." That's exactly the feeling and impression I had when I saw Potsdam in 1987 with a tour from (West) Berlin that time and history in Potsdam had stopped in 1945. Although this was in the summer, it was a gray, overcast, gloomy looking day...also fascinating.

Posted by
12329 posts

A couple of great tools for planning a trip are Google Earth and Google Maps. Between the two you can get well orientated, estimate walking and metro times between various sites and attractions and get a firsthand street level view of where you are going. The center of Budapest on Google Earth is now almost entirely computer 3D enhanced which is amazing. In a lot of instances you can "pre walk" the trip using the street view http://goo.gl/maps/z8qRn With such good tools a lot of the guess work is out of the way.

Posted by
14274 posts

Ann, train travel is very easy on your route and the trains are modern, comfortable, and fast. You can use the German train website to find timetables for all your destinations - bahn.de When you choose the language option, go for UK English, not US English. For some reason the UK site works much better than the US site. You will have to use the German names for places (Wien = vienna, for example). I find that often it's better to take late afternoon or evening trains and have a "picnic" supper on the train, so I have more time for sightseeing during the day. You wrote: And Chani - I love Tel Aviv!!
I don't! LOL. I do love Israel and especially Jerusalem, though.

Posted by
389 posts

English place names are recognized by the German Rail site (bahn.com). Vienna, Prague, etc

Posted by
12270 posts

Hi, As suggested above you can use either bahn.de or bahn.com to schedule your rides. Krakow is a good walking town, well worth spending your time there.