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Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava April 2023

I've learned a lot from this forum so hopefully some will find these notes of our very recent trip helpful.
Overview: My wife and I visited these three cities with 7 nights on ground (yes, too short, especially for Budapest but it's the time we had). I had been to Budapest and Vienna 40 years ago as a college student, my wife never. 2 Nights Budapest, 4 nights Vienna, 1 night back in Budapest. Budapest is completely different from the gray, rundown, communist city I saw in '83. Vienna (like me I hope!) is less changed, still elegant and aging gracefully. Vienna is in the same major league as Paris, London etc. for palaces, art, museums, etc. Budapest isn't, but a lovely city with an interesting ambiance, especially with the Danube flowing through the center (in Vienna, the river is far from the center city). Bratislava a good daytrip from Vienna.
Transportation: Washington Dulles to Budapest via Amsterdam on KLM, both ways. All flights and connections excellent. Yes, open jaw out of Vienna would have been more handy, but the Budapest tix were a LOT cheaper (in Delta miles). Train from Budapest to Vienna. Much helpful info on train travel on "man in seat 61" website. Bought tix from website called thetrainline.com that was mentioned on seat 61. Did this cost a bit more than the official site? Maybe, but if so not by much, and it was very convenient. Got an email from OBB (Austrian rail) in German a few days before departure, which had me worried, but turned out it was saying, with Austrian efficiency, that our arrival time had changed from 12:21 pm to 12:18 pm! Ok, can live with that! Train (on a Saturday morning was full and all (or mostly all) seats reserved -- glad we spent the extra couple euros for seat reservations. Return to Budapest by Flixbus (kind of like their Megabus). Why not train? Because I had wanted to go direct to Budapest airport, but that bus didn't leave at a good time, so just booked it instead to Budapest main bus station (Nepliget). When we saw the grim little waiting room at Vienna Erdburg bus station, I thought, what have I got us into, but the bus was on time, comfortable, about same length of time as train, and half the price of train. For Bratislava daytrip, there is a "Bratislava ticket" excursion for 18 euro, roundtrip plus public transit in Bratislava, which we didn't use as central station (Hlavna Stanica) is within walking distance of old town. Buying this ticket took a while at Vienna Hauptbahnhof, since I couldn't find it on ticket machine, needed to find the staffed counter in the massive station, which works on a number system like a DMV. Easy enough eventually but glad I did it the day before trip (when passing through Hbf) rather than dealing with that, morning of. Trains to Bratislava are hourly, no reserved seating, takes about an hour.
Accommodations: I used to go for the cheap hotel on the theory, all you need is a bed. Getting older, like many of us I appreciate the comforts of a better hotel. In Budapest, "Prestige Hotel" is excellent -- good room, perfect location. Found this one on Tripadvisor -- I know that gets mixed reviews, but using it carefully, I've never had a bad experience with a hotel highly rated there with a large enough number of reviews. In Vienna, the Ritz-Carlton: normally above my price point, but got such a very good rate there (about 250 euros per night, typically it's twice that), that I broke two of my usual rules, by booking nonrefundable rate, and on booking.com. The service and room here was impeccable, location right on Ring (saw Vienna marathon go past window). Then one night at Ibis Styles Budapest Airport, perfect to catch very early flight. Good hotel, 5 minutes walk to terminal, decent rate (123 euros), and they know their early-rising market -- breakfast starts at 4 am!

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Report continued. Food: No bad meals, but will just mention noteworthy ones. In Budapest, Hungaricum Bisztro (it's in RS Budapest guide). Good traditional Hungarian. Essential to reserve here well in advance (can do online). In Vienna, restaurants Putschner (thanks to Vienna expert Emily for that one), and Huth. Both classic Viennese. Also good idea to reserve these. Huth online, Putschner you send e-mail, got prompt reply to confirm. Recommend especially the boiled beef (tafelspitz) at Huth -- boiled beef may sound a bit dull, but it's delish. Cafe at Kunsthistorische: Good service, nice menu of lunch dishes as well as cakes and coffee, beautiful decor, prices not too bad for a museum location. Since (unlike some other museums) if you leave for lunch you can't reenter on same ticket, this is the only place to fortify oneself for more art in this huge museum.
SIghts: In Budapest, the Legenda sightseeing cruise is really good (especially with the great weather we had most of the trip), and we also visited the Great Synagogue, which is extensive, with memorials and museum as well as the synagogue itself. Difficult but meaningful to learn about the terrible fate of the Hungarian Jewish community in 1944-45. In Vienna, aforementioned Kunst can't be beat. Got the combo ticket with Habsburg treasury (Schutzkammer) which saved a few euros. Belvedere is really good -- two palaces (upper and lower) with lovely garden between. Upper has 19th-20th century painting (Klimt, etc.). Guidebooks rightly say to focus on Upper, however, check what's going on at Lower -- If you're visiting soon, until May 29 (I think) there is a tremendous special exhibit on Klimt and his influences (Van Gogh, Monet etc.) -- don't miss it. This is the one place we reserved timed entry ticket ahead of time, combo Upper and Lower (Upper is timed entry, then visit Lower anytime). Not sure if we needed this, but Upper was very crowded. Austrian military museum: Highly recommended if (like me) this interests you. World War I wing the best done (including Franz Ferdinand's death car and suit). It's big! (Austria has fought many, many wars, most of them unsuccessful). This museum is not far from Hauptbahnhof, but you need good mapping, as Hbf is huge with many exits, it's easy to get directionally confused, and it's a lot longer walk if you start on the wrong side of the station.
Bratislava: Views from castle are great, beautiful old town. Highly recommended day trip. Bratislava city museum: You will learn a lot about Bratislava here. In fact, more than you wanted to learn! Up a bell tower, then through many rooms of exhibits. Don't get me wrong, it's well done, but we were getting tired and it kind of felt like an escape room scenario; we thought, surely we've finished and the exit is near, but then there would be another curator firmly pointing the way into another ten rooms about every 19th century civic association, five more rooms about public transportation, and so on.

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Also one other food note, highly recommend the unique little open faced sandwiches at Trzesniewski in Vienna. A couple dozen kinds to choose from, plus drinks. Had lunch at their original location (Dorothegasse in old town), then the next day passing through Hbf after our long day in Bratislava, noticed they have a branch there (near entrance to U-bahn), so picked up a box of them to go, perfect for a light dinner in hotel room with a bottle of wine from nearby supermarket.

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Great trip report, I’m especially interested since I’m going to Prague, Budapest and Vienna in October and November this year. I love the food commentaries. And I love military/historical museums. Sounds like y’all had a great trip. How many days do you wish you had in Budapest? Thanks for sharing.

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Thank you, Lyndash. I would have liked to have had at least one more full day in Budapest. Things I regret not having had time for include the Buda side (didn't make it over there at all, although saw it from the river cruise, and had visited it on my long-ago trip to Communist Budapest), and the House of Terror museum. One other thing we did that I didn't mention before, was walk around the great market hall, which was interesting (lots of paprika!). I know the thermal baths are famous and highly recommended, but they're not really our thing. For Vienna, things that unfortunately didn't make the cut this time (but we will be back!) , were a walk in the Vienna Woods and heuriger visit, Melk abbey and the Wachau valley, Schonbrun palace, and Albertina museum. The Hofburg palace tour I had done before in my student days so it wasn't a high priority (it's now packaged as "Sisi tour" which was certainly not the case back in '83). Also of course there is the whole music scene in both cities, which is great, but didn't do that -- we tend to be early to bed early to rise people after long sightseeing days. And back in the day I had done the standing room at the Vienna Opera thing for two full performances (Marriage of Figaro and Rite of Spring, as I recall).

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A question. “Traditional Hungarian” was difficult for me to enjoy, heavy, lots of beef, goose. Was your dining experience better than what I describe? Same for the other Central European countries? Honestly, this has kept us from returning to that part of the world.

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Yes, central European food does tend to be rich and heavy, although flavorful. We did enjoy it, but I think the way to do that, is to have it in moderation. If we had food like that for lunch, we didn't do it for dinner too, and vice-versa. For example, the day we dined at the Hungarian restaurant, I had just had a nice salad at a cafe for lunch. And if having heavy main courses, no hearty appetizer too. We definitely did want to sample the classic local cuisine under the "when in Rome" theory, but cities like Budapest and Vienna have a full range of other restaurants too -- Italian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, sushi, you name it. There's no law that says you have to eat nothing but wiener schnitzel and rich cakes in Vienna, or pork with paprika and sour cream in Budapest.

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Thank you for this trip report. I'm planning to go to these places next year, so I've bookmarked your review to re-read. I saw Prestige Hotel on a YouTube video recently and had noted it down as a possibility. Glad to hear it was a good experience.