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Four weeks in central Europe

It's the last day of my four-week trip in central Europe. It's 9pm here, and I head to the airport at 3:30 in the morning, so I am planning to more or less stay up til then so I can try to get some sleep on the plane home.

I'm not going to do a complete trip report; I've blogged about the trip on my travel blog (link in my profile). But I will give some thoughts, impressions, and a few reviews.

I flew Seattle -> Frankfurt -> Prague on Lufthansa. I paid extra for some legroom, and I think it was worth it, but the seat where I was sitting didn't have an operational entertainment system. (I contacted Lufthansa and asked for a partial refund for the extra cost of the seat. They said no.)

I arrived in Prague on March 31. My itinerary:

  • Prague: 4 nights
  • Dresden: 5 nights
  • Berlin: 5 nights
  • Warsaw: 3 nights
  • Krakow: 4 nights
  • Wroclaw: 2 nights
  • Torun: 1 night
  • Gdansk: 3 nights (including tonight, which probably doesn't count)

If I could do it over, I'd want one more night in Wroclaw and in Gdansk, and maybe one night fewer in Dresden. (I did 3 day trips from Dresden; one to Saxon Switzerland, one to Leipzig, and one to Gorlitz. I should have skipped Gorlitz.) So maybe add a night to the trip overall. No where did I feel I stayed too long. I was hurt by the fact that my two days in Wroclaw were Easter Sunday and Monday, and everything was closed, including many restaurants outside the main square.

This is the first time I went to Europe in April. Most of my previous trips have been in May. The weather was spectacular! It was sunny almost the entire time. I only had rain one morning in Berlin and one afternoon in Warsaw. In Prague and Dresden the daytime highs were in the upper 60s (F), which I consider perfect travel weather. Then it got really cold in Berlin, with a few days that never got much above 40. It warmed up gradually after that. Yesterday and today it was in the upper 70s in Gdansk.

But don't for a minute imagine crowds will be small in April. If there are this many tourists at this time of year, I hate to think how bad it will get in May, June, July, and August! In Prague and Krakow there were a lot of American tourists; otherwise, most of the English I heard had non-US accents, and many were not native English speakers. Also a lot of Polish tourists seem to visit the places I visited in Poland.

I used a company called JayWay Travel to plan the trip. They did all my bookings (lodging, train, transfers, and guided tours in each city except Torun). They worked with me to plan the overall itinerary, consulted with me about scheduling train travel, and gave me options to add some additional tours. I also booked several tours and day trips on my own.

I attended two orchestral concerts at the Rudolfinum in Prague. Superb venue and performances! Highly recommended. Also went to Semperoper in Dresden, Deutsche Oper in Berlin, and National Opera in Warsaw. All brilliant!

The day trip I did to Saxon Switzerland I wrote about elsewhere in this forum. To the company's credit, they refunded 25% of the cost of the tour. Whether you go on a tour or on your own, Saxon Switzerland and Bohemian Switzerland are beautiful, and in a trip that was almost entirely cities, it was a welcome getaway.

More in the comments

Posted by
1425 posts

continued...

I also really loved Leipzig. It was great seeing the Bach sites, but I did a self-guided walking tour as provided by the TI there, and it was great!

I was very disappointed by the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. My favorite part was the Islamic art. I don't find it that interesting to see a lot of artifacts. The panorama was better than the main museum, IMHO. The other museum I visited on Museum Island was the Alte Nationalgalerie. I liked it better.

My favorite museum in Berlin was the Gemäldegalerie at the Kulturforum near Potsdamer Platz. I spent four hours there. I didn't get to a lot of art museums on this trip, but that was a real highlight.

I did a tour to Potsdam with Original Berlin Walks. To be honest, I didn't love Potsdam. It was very cold that day, so maybe that has something to do with it.

In Warsaw I did a "Behind the Scenes" tour by Communist Minivan. This kind of thing wouldn't normally appeal to me, but it was really excellent!

JayWay arranged private guides in a few of the cities. The guide I had in Wroclaw was one of the best guides I've had anywhere. I am hoping to get his contact info, and if I do, I will pass it on here.

Best lodging was in Dresden. I stayed at Neumarkt Apartments (https://www.aparthotels-frauenkirche.de/aparthotel-neumarkt-en.html). Highly recommended. And excellent breakfast.

In Torun, there are ruins of a castle. Rick sort of barely mentions it in his guidebook. You can enter (for a charge; I didn't), but you can also see it better than the way Rick describes. Is it just me, or does Rick have a bias against ruins in favor of things that have been preserved or renovated? Personally, I love exploring ruins.

My favorite non-art museums: it's a tie between the POLIN Museum in Warsaw and the Solidarity Center in Gdansk. The Oskar Schindler Factory Museum in Krakow was also very good. Malbork Castle would also be up there (I went this morning), except it was so mobbed with large groups being led by loud-voiced guides in echo-y rooms, it was hard to move from place to place or hear the audioguide. Both Malbork and the Solidarity Center use location-based audio guides, so they play automatically as you move through the exhibit.

All told, this was a fabulous trip. I recommend all the places I visited. But apparently, the whole world already knows about them.

Posted by
1969 posts

Hi Lane - thanks for your trip report. I love your choice of cities, some of which I'm trying to work into my own next trip to Central Europe. I'll check out your blog for more insights. So glad you had a great time!!

Posted by
662 posts

I love this report and can't wait to see the blog. I recently posted a question about driving trips in Europe and you've given me some ideas. Thanks for taking the time to write it on your last night!

Posted by
2871 posts

Thanks Lane for your detailed trip report. Poland is on the radar for a future trip. Looking forward to your upcoming blog. We will be in Prague this fall. We will research the concert venue.

Posted by
11266 posts

Thanks for this report. Just curious - what put you off about Goerlitz?

Posted by
19160 posts

Yes, I's like to know, too, because I have often recommended it.

Posted by
1425 posts

Harold and acraven: nothing really put me off about Gorlitz. I just didn't find it worth the time to travel there. A few interesting buildings. I went for a walk on the Poland side, and it was interesting how there wasn't even a "Welcome to Poland" sign on the pedestrian bridge. But that would have been more meaningful if I weren't going on to spend 2 weeks in Poland later in the trip.

A lot of people told me 5 nights was too many in Dresden, but with three day trips it was barely enough. I would rather have spent that day in Dresden and visited one of the museums I ended up not having time for.

Posted by
11266 posts

"nothing really put me off about Gorlitz. I just didn't find it worth the time to travel there."

Thanks for explaining. It just goes to show we all experience places differently. I really enjoyed my day trip to Goerlitz. But I've been to many other touted places that I didn't feel were worth the trip, so I understand perfectly.

Posted by
253 posts

Thanks for the report and your blog is great! Love the bits of history. I like knowing about what I'm seeing when I look at pics, not just "here's a castle or something". It's very well done. And helpful since I'm planning a trip to Poland. Been debating about whether to add a day in Gdansk or spend a night in Torun, which sounds nice but not exciting. It sounds like that's the impression you got? Anyway, you've given me some ideas so thank you!

Posted by
503 posts

Hi Lane and thanks for your great report. Did you travel by train between the cities and did you find the travel time OK?
I, too, love to travel in the Spring, April and May because the cooler weather is wonderful as I don't tolerate heat very well anymore.
I will check out your blog to read and get tips as I'm planning a trip to Poland next year. And, you're correct, the crowds do not dim just because it's Spring rather than Summer!

Posted by
12400 posts

Thanks for the report. April in Berlin I expect it to be cold, ie under 50F

Not surprising at all that you ran into crowds in April in Krakow and Gdansk. My visits to those cities were in July.

I never saw any sort of "Welcome to Poland " signs either, it isn't done, whenever I was in Frankfurt an der Oder or Küstrin-Kietz and crossed the bridge to go over to the Polish side...very enlightening and interesting culturally and historically seeing the Polish side of the Oder. I have not done this in Görlitz, ie, crossing over.

Posted by
1425 posts

KC: I would agree, Torun was very nice but not exciting.

lisa: I did all my intercity travel by train. Travel times were all fine. The longest trip was 6 hours (Berlin to Warsaw). I could have been a little more efficient with time spent on trains if I'd done Berlin to Wroclaw to Krakow to Warsaw to Torun instead of Berlin to Warsaw to Krakow to Wroclaw to Torun. But that would have meant being in Warsaw for Easter Sunday and Monday, and I thought as long as I have to be somewhere for the holiday, Wroclaw would be a better choice.

Fred: I think you could safely expect April to be below 50F for most of the month in all the places I visited. It just happened that for the most part it was very pleasant except the second week of the trip, which is when I happened to be in Berlin. Overall I think the temperature was above normal most of the time.

The guide I had in Wroclaw was Mateusz Kornacki. You can Google him if you want to find him and see if he's available. Lot's of reviews on TA. He is also mentioned briefly in an article on Wroclaw in the New York Times from April 2010 (https://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/25/travel/25next.html). His company, What's Up Wroclaw, is no longer in operation from what I can tell. (EDIT: that's not correct; his company still exists. See post below.)

Posted by
681 posts

Thanks for the report. I haven't been to the area so it was great to read about it. Glad you had a great time.