Central Europe Itinerary

Old Jul 11th, 2018, 12:13 PM
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Central Europe Itinerary

I am thinking of a Central Europe trip in August with the family (2 adults, 2 young kids) and need some help figuring out possible places to visit. We have never been to Central/Eastern Europe. This would be an introductory overview trip, in a rushed manner, rather than slow travel which of course is preferable. In each country we are looking to visit 1 major city and 1 other unique smaller city/town/village of interest (so we can perhaps get away from the crowds and commotion of a busy city), which could be unique due to a natural attraction (mountains, lakes, beaches, etc.), history, culture, architecture or food. We are unsure of how long the trip will be, and depending on that might only do part of the trip this time. We would prefer to use trains, but willing to rent cars as well. So far I've gathered:

Czech Republic: Prague (2-3 nights), Český Krumlov (1 night)
Austria: Salzburg (1 night), Vienna (2-3 nights)
Slovenia: Ljubljana (2-3 nights), Lake Bled (1 night)
Croatia: Rijeka/Zagreb (2 nights), Plitvice Lakes National Park (1 night)
Hungary: Budapest (3 nights)
Slovakia: Bratislava (2 nights), Banská Štiavnica (1 night)

Any suggestions on places to visit, time to spend, transport, routes, are appreciated.
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Old Jul 11th, 2018, 01:22 PM
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Too much too fast - trains are great but it takes time between cities - like Salzburg - you get there for a few hours and leave next day - 2 nights for sure if want to see city or just head to Vienna IMO. anyway for lots on trains check www.bahn.de/en - German railways site for schedules for all European trains - booking trains in advance can mean neat discounts - www.seat61.com has loads on doing that yourself online thru national railway sites- general info trains also BETS-European Rail Experts and www.ricksteves.com.
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Old Jul 11th, 2018, 03:36 PM
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I think there is still an overnight train Zagreb-Budapest - if going by train saves daytime travel time and driving back over same route. But picking up a car in one country and dropping it in another can have very steep drop-off charges for so doing.
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Old Jul 11th, 2018, 05:53 PM
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I agree – MUCH too fast!

But you can figure that out for yourselves: Check times (and ways) to get from place to place on rome2rio.com, and realize that each time you propose to change locations, you need add some time on either side (for getting to/from your lodging, checking in/out, packing/unpacking, getting lost/oriented, etc.).

Good luck!
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Old Jul 11th, 2018, 06:02 PM
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I agree with PalenQ, your itinerary is crowded and I think you'd have a much better trip if you streamlined it a bit. Some thoughts, assuming the order you have listed is the order in which you plan to travel:

- Three nights is a good amount of time for Prague and one night in Cesky Krumlov should suffice.
- Going from Cesky Krumlov to Salzburg to Vienna makes no sense - you're zigzagging across Austria and back. Skip Salzburg this trip and devote that time to Vienna (3 nights).
- Bratislava is an easy day trip from Vienna. Unless you have a specific reason for seeing Banská Štiavnica, eliminate that part.
- From Vienna to Budapest is less than 4 hours by direct train. Why not go straight there?
- Budapest to Zagreb is a manageable drive or bus ride. From Zagreb I'd either go south and work your way through Croatia or (my preference) head north to Ljubljana.
- Two nights in Ljubljana should be enough. One night in Lake Bled is too rushed - spend at least two, preferably three, to really get a taste of the area and all the outdoor activities it offers.
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Old Jul 11th, 2018, 06:38 PM
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Originally Posted by bamafam View Post
I agree with PalenQ, your itinerary is crowded and I think you'd have a much better trip if you streamlined it a bit. Some thoughts, assuming the order you have listed is the order in which you plan to travel:

- Three nights is a good amount of time for Prague and one night in Cesky Krumlov should suffice.
- Going from Cesky Krumlov to Salzburg to Vienna makes no sense - you're zigzagging across Austria and back. Skip Salzburg this trip and devote that time to Vienna (3 nights).
- Bratislava is an easy day trip from Vienna. Unless you have a specific reason for seeing Banská Štiavnica, eliminate that part.
- From Vienna to Budapest is less than 4 hours by direct train. Why not go straight there?
- Budapest to Zagreb is a manageable drive or bus ride. From Zagreb I'd either go south and work your way through Croatia or (my preference) head north to Ljubljana.
- Two nights in Ljubljana should be enough. One night in Lake Bled is too rushed - spend at least two, preferably three, to really get a taste of the area and all the outdoor activities it offers.
If this was all going to be in one trip, the direction of travel would be roughly Prague-Český Krumlov-Salzburg-Ljubljana-Rijeka-Plitvice Lakes National Park-Budapest-Banská Štiavnica-Bratislava-Vienna.
There are 2 ways I could go about this. Either Prague-Vienna with fewer stops in between, or do half the trip now and hold off the other half for another time. If I were to do fewer stops, which places to cut out (or add)?
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Old Jul 11th, 2018, 06:44 PM
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Originally Posted by sg123 View Post
I If I were to do fewer stops, which places to cut out (or add)?
None of us can tell you that -- you need to think through your priorities, plot your options on a calendar and map, and make some very difficult decisions. The good news? you will see some wonderful things no matter what you choose.
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Old Jul 11th, 2018, 10:52 PM
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Not to pile on, but I do agree with the others that your itinerary is crowded and rushed.

How "young" are your children? Even Central Europe can be hot and miserable in August, which means you might need down time in the heat of the day.

What are the motivations for your proposed destinations, beyond introductory?

There are numerous ways to base in an area and take day outings to escape the crowds of the larger cities; why spend a great portion of your holiday sitting on trains or buses and checking into/out of hotels? For an introductory visit, perhaps keep it simple with Prague-Vienna-Budapest? Train connections between the cities are easy; and mountains and lakes are reachable within an hour or so train ride (at least from Vienna). Just my €0,02.
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Old Jul 12th, 2018, 05:32 AM
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Prague-Vienna-Budapest with some side trips in the mix, and maybe an overnight in Cesky Krumlov, would be a really nice itinerary and the three cities/countries are quite distinct in feel. You could save Croatia and Slovenia for a return visit. Both countries are wonderful and deserve plenty of time.
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Old Jul 13th, 2018, 06:55 AM
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Yes agree with bamafam about cutting back and in Prague-Vienna-Budapest and Slovakia would be fine.
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Old Aug 1st, 2018, 08:28 AM
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Thank you all for great suggestions. I am now convinced we should skip Slovenia and Croatia and leaving those to a separate trip 2-3 week. So the 2 week trip would be roughly:

Prague (4 nights)
Český Krumlov (1 night)
Salzburg (2 nights)
Vienna (3 nights)
Bratislava (2 nights)
Budapest (4 nights)

That is about 1000km total. I would prefer to do this all by train (no car seats for children and no car rentals), but if there are some particularly beautiful drives with stops I would rent a car.

To quote myself from initial post "In each country we are looking to visit 1 major city and 1 other unique smaller city/town/village of interest (so we can perhaps get away from the crowds and commotion of a busy city), which could be unique due to a natural attraction (mountains, lakes, beaches, etc.), history, culture, architecture or food."

The itinerary above is heavy on the major cities - are there any side trips or day trips that you would recommend?
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Old Aug 1st, 2018, 09:00 AM
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If doing all by train then look into the Eastern European Railpass - valid in all those countries and no need to book trains in advance - consider first class as more roomy - kids either free or half-off depending on ages. check www.seat61.com; www.ricksteves.com and BETS: European East Pass for lots on that pass - must be bought in U.S.
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Old Aug 1st, 2018, 08:03 PM
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Much better! Personally, I would shift a night from Budapest to Vienna, but that's a choice that depends on what YOU want to see and experience.

You can always decide on day trips once you are wherever. IME, having a few good guidebooks will help you prepare for those choices.
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Old Aug 1st, 2018, 09:48 PM
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I, too, might subtract a night from Budapest and add it to Vienna. As I mentioned above there are numerous day outings to allow you to escape into the Vienna Woods and surrounds, the most common of which you will find online or in a guidebook.

For the car-seat set in particular, though, three suggestions:
1. Rather than a potentially long and hot outing to the Zoo (the typical family-friendly outing), consider going up into the vineyards to visit the small petting zoo at Cobenzl, conveniently near a winery where you can sample the fermented grape; then take the mostly shaded short wander (listening for the cuckoos, too!) down into Grinzing for lunch at a traditional heuriger. Most heuriger have play areas for the little ones, too. Also in the Vienna Woods is a summer toboggan run (for ages 3+) that can be reached with public transportation.

2. Further afield, though many of the thermal baths in Budapest do not admit children, a short train ride from Vienna is Baden, the Hapsburg spa town. Its hot springs, mineral and children's pools, plus the sandy beach are family-friendly. In Vienna proper, and easily reachable by U-Bahn, is the Therme Oberlaa (also family-friendly).

3. Even more further afield, it is possible to reach the tallest mountain (2076m) in Niederösterreich (Lower Austria), Schneeberg, which might still have some snow in the shady crags of the peaks in August with public transportation with careful planning. From the base, a cog-wheel train takes passengers to the top, where there is a pram-friendly wander (as well as other trails of various difficulties), cows in the alpine pastures, and several Hütte at which to enjoy traditional food. The temperature is generally 10°C cooler than in the city, and the views are incredible.

Before you settle on Bratislava for two nights, research your itinerary. An introduction to Bratislava can be enjoyed as a day trip from Vienna; trains leave nearly hourly and you would be spared the logistics of checking out/checking in, and so forth.

I hope this is helpful.
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Old Aug 2nd, 2018, 05:07 AM
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I did a day trip by train from Vienna to Bratislava and it was great. Just an hour by train and can take hydrofoils too.
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Old Aug 2nd, 2018, 11:25 AM
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Thank you, this was very helpful. I will probably have 1 less day in Budapest at the end anyway (so 3 days for Budapest). What I might do is add another day to Vienna, and spend only 1 night in Bratislava, then continue on by train to Budapest. Depending on flights I can find, I may start the trip in Budapest and end in Prague. I don't think flying into Vienna or any other airports makes any sense given my itinerary.
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Old Aug 6th, 2018, 03:35 PM
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I've now booked my flight tickets and trying to figure out transportation between these places. I don't think a Eurail pass makes sense for us. We plan to take a bus/shuttle or book a private transfer service/car from Prague to Cesky Krumlov, and then on to Salzburg. For Salzburg-Vienna-Bratislava-Budapest we plan to take trains and can book the trains individually - should we book these ahead of our trip?

Our rough plan:

Prague (2.5 days): Old Town, Town Hall, astronomical clock, Charles Bridge, Jewish Quarter, Tower Bridge, Lennon Wall, Prague Castle, St. Vitus’ Cathedral, Wenceslas Square
Cesky Krumlov (0.5 day): Walk around, castle
Salzburg (1.5 days): Mozart's Birthplace (Geburtshaus) in Old Town, Mozart's Residence, Salzburg Cathedral, Panorama Bus Tour, Marionette performance
Vienna (2.5 days): Belvedere Palace, Vienna Woods (dine at a heuriger), Stephensplatz, Stephensdom, Graben, Vienna Opera, Schönbrunn Palace, Hofburg Palace
Bratislava (1 day): Old Town, Bratislava Castle, UFO Brdige, Presidential Palace, Blue Church
Budapest (3.5 days): Baths, Fisherman’s Bastion, Matthias Church, Budapest Castle, Szechenyi Chain Bridge, St. Istvan’s Basilica, Shoes on the Danube, Parliament

I'm accounting for 0.5 days of travel on days we are moving between places. We don't plan to do all these things above, and will pick and choose depending on our day and interests. We typically walk everywhere in cities, but of course will use public transport for longer trips.

Any tips on things to do (or not do), places to stay, and where to eat and drink (we love food, beer and wine), transportation are greatly appreciated. We don't love museums with little kids, but will do some if recommended. An opera would have been nice, but it looks like August is not the time for Opera in Vienna.
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Old Aug 6th, 2018, 03:39 PM
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For Salzburg-Vienna-Bratislava-Budapest we plan to take trains and can book the trains individually - should we book these ahead of our trip?>

Yes can save tons of money - try www.trainline.com for booking at discounted fares that match individual national railway sites and many say easier to use. You can always get on trains as walk-up basis but you'll pay much more.
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Old Aug 6th, 2018, 06:16 PM
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For your transportation options, consult rome2rio.com -- and be sure to click through the links, as the main site is not sensitive to seasonal variation in schedules.

For accommodations, booking.com

Good luck!
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Old Aug 6th, 2018, 10:29 PM
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"Vienna (2.5 days): Belvedere Palace, Vienna Woods (dine at a heuriger), Stephensplatz, Stephensdom, Graben, Vienna Opera, Schönbrunn Palace, Hofburg Palace"

This will help identify the open (augsteckt'ist!) heuriger in August. This is traditionally the month when many heuriger owners take holiday leave in preparation for the busy September harvest months. In the 19th district, where you'll likely be, do check the hours before planning to drop in. While many heuriger will be open, they may not open until 1600 or later. https://www.wienerheurige.at/de/

For Schönbrunn, try to purchase your tickets online to avoid what can be lengthy queues. And, endeavor to arrive as early as possible to avoid the tour bus crush.

Just my €0,02. I would skip Hofburg if you're going to Schönbrunn. Lots, and lots of dishes; Sisi's apartment; and a bunch of rooms that will resemble those at Schönbrunn. Also, Graben is boring; it's an upscale shopping street (with everything closed on Sundays and holidays) that leads to Hofburg; and, if you are lucky or have a reservation, you can sit for cake at Demel.
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