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Central Europe Trip Advice

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Good Evening All,

I wanted everyone's opinions on a trip I'd like to book in May 2016. I'm very interested in 4 cities (Krakow, Prague, Vienna & Budapest) and I'd have 14-16 days to spend on this trip. For people that have been to these cities, here are the questions I have:

- Is this too much to pack into this trip? Would I feel rushed in 16 days spending 3 days in each city?
- If yes, which city would you remove from the itinerary? I'm 32 and really want to make this trip due to the nightlife, history and amazing architecture. I'm leaning toward taking out Krakow and focusing on the other 3.
- Am I missing any other cities in central Europe that are must see?
- Any other tips would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks!

Mike

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    You're asking a subjective question. I can give you my subjective answer, but you're going to get a variety of opinions. Who's to say my opinion is relevant to you at all? We may have different travel styles.

    I did Prague-Vienna-Budapest some years ago in nine nights (four in Prague, two in Vienna, three in Budapest). That was about right for me. I loved Prague, found Budapest interesting and challenging...but can't say I loved it...and thought Vienna was pleasant but not a place I'm dying to visit again (I've since been back to Prague).

    I visited Krakow on another trip and loved it. I would rank it just below Prague out of the four cities you list. (Third for me would be Budapest, fourth Vienna.) However, I had zero interest in night life. I imagine you can find it in all of these cities, though.

    What about Berlin and Dresden? Both are known for their night life. Both cities were largely flattened during World War II but are still vibrant and interesting. I've been to both of them, too. Neither was a favorite, but some people here rave about both of them.

    The problem with Krakow and those other three cities is that it is time consuming to connect. There are no affordable direct flights as I recall between Krakow-Budapest and Krakow-Prague. You can take a train/bus combo between Krakow and Prague; there's a long night train option between Budapest and Krakow. If you have the time, though, you can probably pull it off. But Prague-Vienna-Budapest are very easy to combine together by train if you can do an open jaw into Prague/out of Budapest or vice versa.

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    I would also add that I loved Poland. Besides Krakow, I saw Wroclaw, Torun, and Gdansk (a long train trek from Gdansk south to Krakow). The countryside between them is not especially pretty, but all of these places are interesting - and cheap, if it matters. I think I liked all of these Polish cities better than Vienna or Budapest. Conventional wisdom would say there is more of cultural significance in Vienna and Budapest than other Polish cities (besides Krakow), but as an upside, they are much less touristy (besides Krakow which is now very touristy).

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    Before I submit my subjective response, I will suggest that you plot the travel logistics for this itinerary in order to give you a sense of how much "real" time you'll have for sightseeing, and identify your "must see" in each destination, which may differ from a guide book's "must see."

    We live in Vienna, and have visited each of the other cities many times. If I were doing this trip as a sampler for Central Europe, I wouldn't drop any of the cities, knowing that I wouldn't see everything in every city. Krakow is the outlier for transportation connections, but in my opinion only, it would be a shame to skip. An architectural tour of Nowa Huta, for example, might be a highlight for you. In Prague, the castle complex and Strahov Monastery impressed us, as did an outing to Vysehrad. In both cities the Jewish Quarters met our expectations, but your interests may be different.

    In Vienna, especially, you should focus on your "must see" and not follow the guide book suggestions. It is very easy to become Imperial-ed out with the frothy, crowned structures everywhere. Select your art museums wisely (in my opinion only, the KHM can take an entire day; the Albertina is expensive and not always a great value; the Leopold is more interesting than the MUMOK, etc...) There are also many DIY walks provided by the Vienna Tourism office (wien.info) to satisfy your interest in architecture. As for a cultural experience, it really doesn't get more Viennese than to take a walk in the vineyards at the northern edge of the city, then sit for a Grüner Veltliner and Aufstriche at a heuriger (wine tavern) before heading back to the imperial center.

    We have never had a bad time in Budapest. The castle complex warrants time, but we also enjoy Obuda and its charming mix of communism and old Budapest. The thermal baths architecture, the ruin pubs, and the markets are all worth exploring, at least for us.

    As part of your cultural immersion, take time to enjoy the cuisines of each city, as well. May is a great time for local and regional food festivals, where you can escape the tourist parade of pierogis, gulash, and schnitzel that tends to dominate the tourist cuisine.

    To us, Vienna is the stuffy, formal, ball gown former capital of an empire that commands a certain decorum, but under that crust it is more than possible to enjoy the city. Budapest is the comfortable jeans-and-a-sweater kind of city. Prague and Krakow are like good friends that we don't see very often, but always have a good time with when we visit.

    I hope this has been helpful. Happy Travel Planning!

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    I think a lot depends on if you have 14 days or 16 days and if this is really time on the ground or you have to deduct the day you land and the day you depart.

    If you actually have 16 full days (17 nights) on the ground what you want is doable - but you ned to carefully plan transit ASAP.

    However if you have 14 days total and due to arrival and departure days you really have only 12.5 days - the first het lagged - on the ground you really will need to cut something.

    For me Prague and Budapest are the most fascinating of the cities. Possibly since I have been to Vienna many times it seems sort of triste and it doesn't have any lingering romans of P and B - esp when I was first there shortly after the wall fell. Although Vienna has numerically the most major sights to see/do. And while I love Krakow I felt more affinity for Prague due to my family history.

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    Don't underestimate Vienna, as fourfortravel points out. Around 1900 it was the most vibrant cultural and scientific centre in Europe. Google at Otto Wagner and you'll see what he has done to the cityshape. And in the 20s and 30s they had the most ambitious housing projects of the whole continent. Google at Karl-Marx-Hof and Rabenhof to see what marvellous things they've done.
    Kraków is one of the finest cities in Poland, but a day or two will be enough to experience it all, including Nowa Huta.
    Torun is not to be missed, if only for its riverside setting. Wroclaw is also not bad, not bad at all.
    There is enough in Prague to keep you busy for four whole days. Don't forget the National Gallery, if only for its elegant modern building of the 1920s.

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    I've been to all four, and my favorite is Budapest - more relaxed and diverse than Vienna but with plenty to see. My inclination would be to drop Prague, since it was already overcrowded when I was there in 2004, but in terms of logistics it makes more sense to drop Krakow.

    You need to lay the trip out on a calendar, with the transport times included.

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