My husband and I have made 6 independent trips to Europe. Because of COVID uncertainty we are taking our first Rick Steve’s tour May 2022 – Best of Eastern Europe. We are retired, in our 60’s, active and like to spend up to 4 weeks when we travel from the Seattle area to Europe. We would like to add on up to another 2 weeks of independent travel to the RS’s 15 day BEE. The added days can be either at the beginning or end of the RS tour. We are planning to arrive in Prague several days before the tour starts. Does anyone have recommendations for where to go for add on days? We’d probably prefer to continue exploring eastern Europe but am open to other options if travel is easy. Renting a car would be an option. On prior European travel trips we have been to France, Italy (twice), Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Portugal. We love museums, wandering old towns, old churches, gorgeous country sides and seasides. We are not much into lazing on beaches. We do have RS’s book as well as a couple other tours guides but would love to hear what others might recommend. Thanks much for any suggestions.
You might start by seeing which cities have easy flight connections from your home airport. That could help steer you towards an itinerary.
Austria and Germany would be logical add-ons. For example, Vienna is about a 4 hour train ride to Prague. You could fly into Vienna and spend some time there before making your way by train to Prague. Another possibility would be to fly into Berlin which is also about 4 hours by train to Prague.
Similarly, Salzburg is about 4 hours from Bled. You could travel to Salzburg after your trip ends and then spend time in southern Germany, eventually flying home from Munich or Frankfurt.
We took the BEE tour in 2016, and it was a wonderful experience (Sonel, our guide was terrific). We arrived a couple of days early in Prague, and enjoyed exploring the city before the tour started. After the tour, we went from our hotel in Lake Bled to a nearby (a short taxi ride shared with other tour members) train station, and went to Vienna for ten days. It was a beautiful city to end our trip with, and the public transportation was excellent in Vienna. Enjoy your planning, and have a great time!
I would also recommend Vienna and Austria. All together we have spent at least two weeks in Vienna. Part of that with RS tours but mostly on our own. Wonderful city. There is an excellent subway and tram system and the central area is pedestrian only. Great art and music everywhere. Plenty of old churches and palaces and really good museums. Salzburg is also well worth a visit as is Bavaria. If you want to do Bavaria driving would probably be best but watch out for international drop off fees. It all depends on your interests.
We have taken the train from Vienna to Prague (and later on to Berlin). It's an easy trip. I see that the tour effectively only spends one day in Prague. So, I recommend you get there a couple of days early and tick off the sights on your list that are not visited on the tour.
If you fly into Prague early, take a train to Český Krumlov (3h with a connection) for a night or two. After the tour you can take a train / bus / train to Vienna taking 5h 45m and eventually work your way to Munich and fly home from there.
To avoid a horrific, drop off fee you’ll need to rent a car in each country since It costs a lot more to return a car in a different country. This means you'll need to use public transportation to cross the borders. For example, you can take a direct 2h train from Salzburg to Munich.
If you arrive in Prague a few days early, take the train to Českÿ Krumlov, a delightful medieval town with a baroque theatre. We went down the Vltava River in rafts on a hot day in June, so much fun! I’m seconding MaryPat’s suggestion. I also second Vienna after the tour, it’s packed with more art, history and culture that will occupy you for as many days as you can spare.
Definitely add those additional days in Prague. The tour used to spend three nights in Prague. Two nights is simply not enough.
Since you're going to end at Lake Bled, I might add a couple of nights in Ljubljana.
I second the idea of flying into Berlin. We also enjoyed Potsdam about 45 minutes outside the city- easy train ride for the day. We stopped in Dresden (to see the Historic Green Vault-awesome!!) about half way between Berlin and Prague- easy by train. Then on to Prague. Definitely need 3 days in Prague. We also love Munich and Salzburg. We really enjoyed Neuschwanstein Castle- did a bus/bike tour out of Munich for the day.
I agree with Laura. Which flights would be easier and more economical is something I would look at. For me, Berlin is a great city but lacks the old world charm of Vienna. You could also venture south into Croatia and hit some of the coastal towns, Rab, Zadar, Šibenik, Split, Korcula, Dubrovnik, just to name a few. You could also go to Gdansk, Marlbork, Pozan, Warsaw to see more of Poland. So many combinations. Pre-tour I would look at staying in Prague, Cesky Krumlov was wonderful for 2 nights, very nice small city with lots to see. On the way to we stopped at Kutna Hora’s bone Church and took a tour of a nearby silver mine. From Prague we also did a tour to Terezin. Once you decide on where to stop, you will find so many sights to see.
Consider staying in Prague at Hotel Upava - just on the New Town end of the Chain Bridge - incredible little hotel. We have been there twice. https://www.hotel-upava.cz/en/ Agree with others about Český Krumlov. We took a Student Bus there from Prague - nicest bus we were even in! Vienna definitely. Looks like this will be a wonderful trip.
I'd suggest a nonstop to Frankfurt and a driving trip in Germany -- wherever you want to go there, but finishing in Berlin or Dresden, where you can drop the car and get a train to Prague a few days before the tour starts. After the tour, consider Vienna and Austria (I wasn't thrilled by Salzburg but many people are), then fly home via Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Paris, or London (those are the nonstops to/from Seattle). Or you could work your way down the Dalmatian coast if that appeals more.
I’m surprised to learn that Rick’s tour doesn’t include a Czesky Krumlov visit. We had 2 days and 2 nights there, 15 years ago, and it’s definitely worth fitting into your trip, especially as it’s so close. We’d been in Austria, then got to Czesky Krumlov by train, en route to Prague. You could actually fly round trip, Seattle/Vienna, see some of Austria before the tour, make your way to Prague with Czesky Krumlov en route, then eventually finish again in Austria and Vienna before your flight home.
More of Croatia, south of Plitvice Lakes Park, is certainly worth some time, too, but would mean some minor backtracking after your tour finished in Slovenia. And no time spent in Ljubljana on the tour? Go there, for sure, before you leave Slovenia!
I did this tour in 2012 when it had more tour days in Prague. Definitely add two or three days on the front end. I used one day ahead to daytrip to Kutna Hora to see the bone church. At the end of the tour I took the train from Lake Bled to Salzburg for one day, then on to Munich (I used frequent flier miles and this was best return flight). Several others on tour went to Vienna after the tour. In hindsight, I would have spent some time in front of tour going to other parts of Czechia, and post tour spent time in Ljubljana (the tour didn't visit the city at all) and gone on to Trieste or Venice. But I didn't have that much vacation time, so probably couldn't have added that on anyway!
We took this tour in 2018. We flew into Vienna (super easy airport to navigate) and spent 5 full days there. Then we took a shuttle to Cesky Krumlov and spent one night there (Hotel Beatika was wonderful!), then took a bus to Prague. We spent 3 full days in Prague (could easily have spent more) prior to the tour, and chose to stay in the Lesser Quarter, which is a different part of town from where the RS tour stays. That was a great choice (highly recommend House at the Big Boot) because it gave us a completely different feel for the city and wasn't as crazy touristy as the central square area. We took a full day trip to Terezin with Pavel Batel, which I also highly recommend. The tour ended at Lake Bled. From there, we took a cab to Ljubjana and spent an afternoon (certainly could spend longer there!) and then took a hired car (there were 5 of us traveling, which made this super affordable -- it was only a 4 hour drive) to Venice, where we spent 5 nights. Venice airport was also small and super easy to navigate. The BOEE tour is absolutely wonderful and I hope you decide to give it a try!
Thank you all so much for your ideas and suggestions. There are lots of really good ideas that will help us with our planning. We are so looking forward to international travel in May of 2022.
The BEE tour in May 2019 was excellent. FYI There was a half day in Ljubljana and you go to Auschwitz in Poland on the BEE. No need to see any other concentration camps. We explored many countries in central/eastern Europe by bus on another trip . Trains don’t connect countries well and a car crossing many borders is not practical since you are visiting the central old town areas. The capital of Croatia, Zagreb, was more interesting than Ljubljana. The two halves of our trip Helsinki, Tallinn, Riga, —the third capital ——, and Warsaw connecting by a flight to Kotor, Dubrovnik, Mostar, Split, Zagreb, Ljubljana were quick but fun. We spent 2 nights in each location. Then flew out of Venice. Either half of this quick trip is doable on your BEE. Go-opti transfer from Lake Bled to Zagreb is easy at the end of the tour. The northern half of our trip could be done at the beginning or end with a short flight to Prague. We have traveled from Berlin to Prague with a three hour stop in Dresdin and Vienna, Salzburg to Munich with some other stops. It was a good trip, but not central/ Eastern Europe. All of these trips have been on public transportation. Happy planning and travels.