Eight days, four countries, six people….yes I’m crazy! Javi and I planned a whirlwind trip through Eastern Europe for my family this winter. We traveled through Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava and Prague and tried to visit as many attractions as humanly possible. In retrospect I think 2 nights in Vienna and 1 night in Bratislava are enough. I wish we could have spent a bit more time in Prague and Budapest—they have so many interesting things to see!
The easiest and cheapest ways to travel through Eastern Europe
Travel by train: I purchased all of our train tickets ahead of time using the OBB website. It’s possible to purchase tickets the same day you’re traveling but as we approached the holidays I noticed some of the trains started to fill up. We were on a tight schedule and needed to coordinate check-in for our Airbnb rentals (get $35 credit here) so it was necessary to reserve everything ahead of time. Keep in mind it costs extra to reserve a specific seat on trains in Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary—when you’re boarding be sure to grab a seat without a name (usually there’s a name card that will appear above a seat if it’s reserved). The farther from the food cart you go the less reserved seats you’ll find.
Travel by bus: The cheapest travel option between these cities is to go by bus. My friend recommended using FlixBus—he commented that sometimes the buses ran behind schedule but overall he had a good experience. When I compared prices however, train tickets were only a little bit more expensive so we went with the trains instead.
The best time of year to visit Eastern Europe
We chose to travel through Eastern Europe in December because everyone could get off work/school and flights were cheaper (we got $20 flights from Spain to Budapest with RyanAir). That being said…it was EXTREMELY cold…colder even than the Arctic Circle! I would definitely suggest visiting these countries in summer or spring if you want to get the most out of your time there—we had to stop every few hours to warm up inside a coffee shop or museum and it gets dark very early in the evening.
Travel highlights from Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava & Prague
Each city provided a unique and unforgettable experience – I’ve listed my favorite activities from each destination below. I’ve also included our exact travel itinerary at the end of this post to help you plan your own trip.
Budapest: Széchenyi Bath House
There are several bath houses in Budapest, but Széchenyi had the best online reviews. I reserved our entrances several weeks in advance and booked three couples massage packages for the six of us (the couples package is cheaper than purchasing an individual massage); our package included a 70 minute massage and locker to store our clothes while we enjoyed the baths.
The entire experience was fun (it reminded me of the Hammam Baths here in Andalusia) and my favorite part was bathing in the thermal pool outside at night.
Vienna: Sisi Museum
Elisabeth, a.k.a. “Sisi”, was a royal diva and imperial badass during her time as the Empress of Austria. I really enjoyed learning about her life at the Sisi Museum and getting a first-hand look at her personal belongings and quarters in the royal palace. Do not miss this museum when you’re in Vienna!
Bratislava: Walking Tour
I knew nothing about Slovakia or Bratislava before this trip. For this reason, taking the Free Walking Tour with a local guide was a great decision. Not only did we learn about the biggest attractions of the city, but our guide shared lots of interesting information about Slovak culture, traditions, history and their interesting rivalry with the Czech Republic.
Prague: The Black Theatre
If you’re looking for something a little different (i.e. super random) then check out a show at the Ta Fantastika Theatre (Black Theatre). We weren’t really sure what to expect…but the show proved to be quite entertaining. It was fun seeing a family owned and operated production—and they serve beer in the lobby!
Itinerary: 8 days in Budapest > Vienna > Bratislava > Prague
NOTE: if you plan to use Airbnb click here for $35 credit!
Budapest (2 nights)
- Check-in to rental Airbnb
- Getting to flat from airport – Taxi from airport is 25€ – Bus 450 HUF = 1.50€
- Vorosmarty Square – Christmas Market
- WAMP Design Fair
- Szimpla Kert – famous ruin bar
- Café Gerbeaud!
- Tip Top Roof Bar
- Sirius Tehaz (teahouse)
- Try mulled wine (forralt bor)
- Local dishes to try: fisherman’s soup, fried fish, potato salad in vinegar, stuffed cabbage, beigli (traditional Christmas pastry with walnut or poppy seed),
- Parliament Tour – 10 am English / 10:15 am Spanish – Parliament Metro line 2 to Jewish Synagogue. Astoria a Kossuth tér (Parlamento)
- Shoes on the Danube Bank (monument)
- Fisherman’s Bastion (great viewpoint!) Metro line 2: Kossuth tér (Parlamento) to Batthyánytér
- Matthias Church
- Castle of Budapest 10:00 -18:00 hrs museums.
- Hero’s Square, ice skating and castle near bath house
- Széchenyi Bath House – show up by 4:30PM (massage 5:30pm)
- Metro: get metro on other side of bridge. Vörösmarty tér (al lado en el rio esta la princesita de budapest. Escultura famosa) hasta Széchenyi fürdö, línea M1 (yellow metro line).
- Thermal baths + 70 min massage
- Bring your own towel / flip-flops – or rent for 4.6k HUF/17 USD
- Indoor thermal pools open till 7pm/outdoor pools till 10pm
Budapest to Vienna (2 nights)
- Morning – breakfast or lunch at the central market (leave luggage in lockers at train station)
- Fakanal –You can also have your first meal of the day here since they serve breakfast: scrambled eggs with sausages costs 790 HUF. Soups: goulash or Fishermen’s soup: 890 HUF, Main dishes (beef stew, roasted goose thigh, stuffed bell peppers: 1 700-3 200 (without sides).Or try Kolbice, that is said to be the original Hungarian street food: grilled sausages served in a peculiar, cone-shaped bun with various toppings
- Opera tour, St. Stephen’s Church 2 €
- Shopping on Vaci Utca street
- Keleti Station 24 minutes walking from Synagogue
- Train (Budapest-Keleti to Wien Hbf)
- Check-in to Vienna Airbnb
- Christmas Market – until 10:00pm – Rathausplatz
- Lipizzaner Horse Show at 11:00am – pick up tickets at box office (at least 30 min before)
- Hofburg Palace (Sisi Museum) Herrengasse, metro line U3
- National Library 7 €
- Royal Crypt 5 €
- Opera Tour (15 minutos desde el piso) guided tour 14:00 o 15:00 – must call to reserve
- Hundertwasserhaus (apartments & museum) take tram: Hetzgasse, line 1
- Prater: oldest theme park in the world – free entry till 9:30pm
- Metro: Praterstern, líneas U1 and U2.
- Tram: Praterstern, líneas 5 and O.
Vienna to Bratislava (2 nights)
- Schönbrunn Palace & museum
- Train – (Wien Hbf to Bratislava hl.st.)
- Check in to Bratislava Airbnb
- Main train station is only 10 minute walk to flat
- Free Tour 11 a.m. Hviezdoslavovo namestie by the Statue of Hviezdoslav outside the U.S. Embassy
- Blue Churche / Saint Elisabeth’s
- Street statues of old town
- Old Town Hall
- Saint Martin Cathedral
- UFO restaurant
- Devin Castle
Bratislava to Prague (2 nights)
- Morning go to Prague
- Train – (Bratislava hl.st. to Praha hl.n.)
- Check in to Prauge Airbnb
- Visit castle & church – free to walk around the groups
- Mala Strana (Prague Castle, Saint Vito Cathedral, Saint Nicolas Church, Gold Street – tram 21 or 91 to Pražský hrad stop)
- Old town: Charles Bridge Old Town Square, Tyn Church, Towers, Wenceslas Square + shopping
- Free Walking Tour – 10am (BRING TICKET – be there 10 minutes early) Free Tour of Prague starts at the Old town square in front of the Cartier shop and Czech tourism office centre, on the corner of Pařížská and Dlouhá street, next to St. Nicholas church. Just look for the team in red SANDEMANs NEW Europe T-shirts!
- Jewish quarter Metro: Staroměstská (6 sinagogues + cementary)
- Black Theater (BRING TICKET) Ta Fantastika next to Charles Bridge: Karlova 8, Stare Mesto, Prague 1
Katie, nice summary of your trip. Useful information and suggestions. Thanks for sharing.