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Moon Prague, Vienna & Budapest
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- Flexible itineraries for multiple days in Prague, Vienna, and Budapest that can be combined into a longer trip
- Must-see highlights and unique experiences: Admire Prague's intricate Gothic architecture, stroll the grand halls of Schönbrunn Palace, and climb the winding staircases to a magnificent view at Fisherman's Bastion in Budapest. Relax to classical music where Beethoven composed his masterpieces or in the healing waters of a natural thermal bath. Cycle alongside ruined castles, vast vineyards, and the banks of the Danube in Wachau Valley. Wander through the largest art history museum in Austria, studying ancient Egyptian frescoes, Renaissance and Baroque paintings, and various antiquities. Get into the holiday spirit at an Easter or Christmas market filled with handcrafted gifts, street food, and spiced wine
- Savor local flavors: Sip a Mélange in a cozy Viennese coffeehouse or a foamy pivo in a sunny beer garden. Snack on hearty sausage, classic schnitzel, or peppery goulash. Satisfy your sweet tooth with flaky honey cake, rich Sachertorte, and cinnamon sugar trdelník
- Ideas for side trips from each city, including Liberec, Danube Bend, Lake Balaton, and the Kutná Hore Bone Church
- Expert insight from Budapest local Jennifer Walker and Prague local Auburn Scallon
- Full-color photos and detailed maps throughout
- Helpful resources on COVID-19 and traveling to Prague, Vienna, and Budapest
- Background information on the landscape, history, and cultural customs of each city
- Handy tools such as visa information, Hungarian, German, and Czech phrasebooks, and tips for traveling with children or as a senior, solo female travelers, and LGBTQ+ travelers
About Moon Travel Guides: Moon was founded in 1973 to empower independent, active, and conscious travel. We prioritize local businesses, outdoor recreation, and traveling strategically and sustainably. Moon Travel Guides are written by local, expert authors with great stories to tell—and they can't wait to share their favorite places with you.
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DISCOVER Prague, Vienna & Budapest
17 TOP EXPERIENCES
Planning Your Trip
IF YOU WANT…
The Best of Prague, Vienna & Budapest
Drinking in Central Europe
BEST CITY ESCAPES
Prague, Vienna, and Budapest offer travelers a rich tapestry of history and culture.
Before World War I, all three cities resided within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and traces of the crumbled Habsburg dynasty, still linger in the decadent palaces and wide boulevards lined with extravagant buildings. Central Europe echoes the “World of Yesterday,” with its gilded opera houses, grand hotels, and the wood-paneled cafés perfumed with percolating coffee and freshly baked cakes. Against this historic backdrop, modern (futuristic, even) innovations, from cryptocurrency-friendly cafes to eye-catching public art installations, are a delightful contrast.
Life is slow, even reflective, and flows with the seasons; locals flock to the beer gardens perched up in Letná Park in Prague escaping the summer heat, and as the leaves rust when fall arrives, the Viennese drink “this year’s wine” in the Heurige beside the city’s vineyards overlooking the Vienna Woods, and when the temperature drops in December the scent of spiced hot wine winds round the cities’ Christmas markets. Music, art, and literature lovers can follow in the footsteps of giants, whether it’s visiting Dvořak’s grave in Prague, Freud’s favorite café in Vienna, or Liszt’s apartment in Budapest.
17 TOP EXPERIENCES
1 Admiring spectacular architecture, from Prague’s dramatic Gothic monuments to colorful art nouveau in Budapest to Habsburg grandeur in Vienna.
2 Soaking in one of Budapest’s thermal baths.
3 Discovering the vast complex of Prague’s Vyšehrad, which is no less impressive (and much less crowded) than the Prague Castle.
4 Listening to classical music in Vienna, the city where Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss, Schubert composed and conducted.
5 Drinking a pálinka or Unicum in a ruin bar, or kert, in Budapest’s Jewish Quarter.
6 Taking in views over the Danube from Budapest’s Fisherman’s Bastion.
7 Boating or cycling through the Wachau Valley, where ruined castles, vineyards, and rolling hills line the banks of the Danube.
8 Following in the Habsburgs’ footsteps at Schönbrunn, their summer palace in Vienna.
9 Wandering through the “bone church” at the Sedlec Ossuary, which contains the artfully arranged bones of more than 40,000 human skeletons.
10 Sipping a foam-topped pivo (beer) in one of Prague’s beer gardens.
11 Losing yourself in centuries of art at Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum.
12 Exploring Prague’s outer neighborhoods, where you can still get a taste of the undiscovered vibe the city was once known for.
13 Sipping a Melange in a cozy booth within a classic Viennese coffeehouse.
14 Watching the sunset over a spire-filled skyline in Prague.
15 Escaping city life on a hiking trail through the Vienna Woods.
16 Sampling local wine, from the spicy “Bull’s Blood” in Hungary’s Valley of Beautiful Women to local vintages in rustic wine taverns or Heurige.
17 Browsing the stalls and enjoying a warm drink al fresco at Prague’s Christmas and Easter markets.
Planning Your Trip
Where to Go
Since regaining independence in the Velvet Revolution of 1989, Prague’s architectural beauty, fairy-tale atmosphere, and affordable nightlife have secured the Central European capital a prominent place on travelers’ lists. Postcard-worthy sights like the Charles Bridge, St. Vitus Cathedral at the Prague Castle, or the church spires and Astronomical Clock of Old Town Square draw significant crowds to admire (and photograph) their beauty. Prague’s surrounding neighborhoods still hold plenty of undiscovered character to contrast the typical tourist experience of the historical city center. Head to hilltop Vyšehrad complex for peaceful sightseeing, enjoy a night of culture inside the old-world glamour of Prague’s theaters and concert halls, and pair any activity, any time of day, with a nice cold pivo (beer).
Day Trips from Prague
For a quick trip, head north to Liberec to visit the mountaintop Ještěd tower and embrace the summertime vibe at the reservoir, or reconnect with nature on a hike through the forests and sandstone rocks of Bohemian Paradise. The eastern town of Kutna Hora holds an impressive collection of churches (including one decorated in bones). Free-flowing fountains of mineral springs draw a quieter crowd to the western spa town of Karlovy Vary. Combine a river rafting adventure with a visit to the picturesque castle of South Bohemia’s beloved Český Krumlov. Venture further east into South Moravia to discover the diverse architecture and lively nightlife scene in Brno or pair local wines with stately chateaux in Mikulov, Lendnice, and Valtice.
Once the heart of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Vienna still bears the grandeur of the Habsburgs with its grand palaces, the Spanish Riding School, and extravagant parkland. Trace the footsteps of Gustav Klimt, then while away the hours in Vienna’s world-class art museums and galleries. Music aficionados should make pilgrimages to Mozart, Beethoven, and Strauss’s former homes before taking in an opera at the world famous Staatsoper. Visit Freud’s former home, ride a 100-year-old Ferris wheel in the Prater, and round up the day people-watching in one of Vienna’s classic cafes.
Day Trips from Vienna
Nestled in the Alps, Salzburg—home to both Mozart and the Sound of Music—is just two hours from Vienna. Closer to the capital, you can sail up the Danube as it winds through the Wachau Valley where castles and monasteries dot the landscape, or hop on a train to Bratislava, Slovakia to add another country to your itinerary. Mauthausen Concentration Camp is a poignant reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust. Right outside Vienna are the Vienna Woods, where you can visit the fairy-tale Liechtenstein Castle just outside Mödling, or relax in the spa town of Baden bei Wien.
A tale of two cities, Budapest is divided by the Danube River with spectacular vistas wherever you look. See sights like Buda Castle on Castle Hill, then spend some time soaking in one of the many thermal baths. By night crowds flock to the famous ruin pubs in the Jewish Quarter. Ride back into history on the Children’s Railroad, the retro train operated by children, as it chugs up into the Buda Hills, or head over to Memento Park, where communist statues go to die. Once you’ve seen the sites and ate your fill of goulash, delve deeper by visiting one of the city’s hundreds of caves or ride a boat up the Danube to one of the Danube beaches.
Day Trips from Budapest
It’s easy to escape Budapest for the day. Take the train down to Lake Balaton, Central Europe’s largest lake, where you can explore the magical peninsula of Tihany, stroll the promenade in Balatonfüred, or sunbathe and party down in Siófok. Alternatively, you can sail down the Danube Bend, hike up to the citadel at Visegrád for stunning views over the Danube, or explore the former Serbian community-turned-artists-colony in picturesque Szentendre. Get on the bus for a couple of hours to the city of Eger in north eastern Hungary, famous for resisting an Ottoman siege at its historic castle and also famous for its spicy red wines served down in the evocatively named “Valley of Beautiful Women.”
When to Go
There is no right or wrong time to embark on a journey through Central Europe. Prague, Vienna, and Budapest are beautiful year-round, with plenty to offer throughout the seasons.
High Season (June-August and December)
Summers can be scorching (sometimes rising above 40°C/104°F) and often come punctuated with flash storms. But this is when you can sail along the Vltava River, sunbathe on a beach beside the Danube, or grab a picnic in a leafy park. Skip July and August if you want to avoid the crowds, especially in Prague or Budapest, when the Sziget Festival is in full swing in the latter. December, when the Christmas markets set up shop, is also a busy time in each city.
Shoulder Season (April-May) and (Sept.-Nov.)
If you’re outdoorsy, spring and fall may be your best bet. You get to escape intense temperatures of the summer months and the dreary cold weather of the winter. In the spring, cherry and apricot blossoms burst into bloom, and in the fall, the trees paint the landscape with a palette of rusty colors. Culinary and wine festivals take over the public spaces of the towns and cities—like the wine festival in Buda Castle—so if you’re a foodie it’s a good time to visit, with fewer crowds than you’ll experience in summer or December.
Low Season (Jan.-Mar.)
Winters can dip down to subzero temperatures (as low as -15°C/5°F), yet Central Europe is at its most beautiful in the snow. When the temperatures plunge, you can escape the chill in a museum or a cozy café with its own curious cast of local characters. Going off season can be easier on the wallet, as hotels often have rooms available at lower prices, but many outdoor attractions close down or operate with limited opening hours.
Before You Go
Passports and Visas
Travelers from the United States, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand do not need a visa to enter the EU for visits lasting under 90 days. To enter Europe, all you need is a passport that’s valid at least three months after your departure from the EU. (A visa is required for travelers from South Africa.) UK travelers should check for new regulations post-Brexit.
Once you arrive in Central Europe, you can usually cross the borders without having your passport or ID checked. However, in some instances, like the Budapest to Vienna train, you may need to show your passport to the border control.
In general, it’s a good idea to purchase tickets for museums in advance, as you can save a lot of time skipping the lines when you arrive. Usually, you can do this before you set out in the morning—just ask your hotel to print out the ticket before you go.
However, there are some reservations that are worth making before you even get on the plane:
Prague’s Strahov Library only allows a limited number of visitors per year, so book as early in advance as possible if that sight is on your wishlist. Outside Prague, a tour of Vila Tugendhat, Brno’s UNESCO-protected jewel of modern architecture, requires three to four months of advance notice to experience.
It’s a good idea to book tours for the Third Man Tour of the Vienna Sewers, which run one English language tour a day, or the Spanish Riding School in advance.
Book your ticket for the Hungarian Parliament before going. Spots are limited and fill up quickly in high season.
GETTING TO CENTRAL EUROPE
You can get to Central Europe by flying into Prague, Vienna, or Budapest directly, although there are more frequent international flights to nearby destinations like Frankfurt, Munich, or Berlin. Vienna International Airport (VIE, Wien-Flughafen, Schwechat, tel. 01/7007-22233, www.viennaairport.com) has the most long-haul connections out of the three cities, including many cities in the US and Canada. Václav Havel Airport Prague (PRG, Aviatická, tel. 02/20-111-888, www.prg.aero) has a few seasonal connections to the US and Canada, and Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport (BUD, Budapest, tel. 01/296-9696, www.bud.hu) has a couple of transcontinental flights to Toronto, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. If you’re coming from Australia, New Zealand or South Africa, you will have to change at a larger airport like Dubai or Istanbul before flying onto Central Europe. You can also get direct flights to the main airports in all three cities from London—and you also have the option of flying into Bratislava as well.
TRAVELING BETWEEN PRAGUE, VIENNA, AND BUDAPEST
Once you reach Central Europe, traveling between the three cities is pretty straightforward. Europe has excellent rail connections, and you can go direct between Prague, Vienna, and Budapest directly.
Since Budapest and Vienna, and Vienna and Prague are fairly close to each other, it’s not worth flying between the cities (it’s expensive and the trains will probably get you there in the same time or less if you factor in check in and security checks). If you really have to take a plane, Austrian Airlines (www.austrian.com) does connect Vienna with both cities. Czech Airlines (www.csa.cz) runs regular flights between Budapest and Prague.
The Best of Prague, Vienna & Budapest
These three cities—and the appealing day trips beyond them—each offer a unique slice of Central Europe.
Some international travelers will need to go back to Prague at the end of their trip for their flight home. However, if you can book two one-way tickets, it would make more sense to fly back home from Budapest.
DAY 1: PRAGUE
Get an overview of Prague’s cultural landscape with Art Nouveau paintings in the morning at the Mucha Museum and an evening of dance, opera, or classical music at one of Prague’s ornate theaters. Walk through the historic city center and have a drink at Letná Beer Garden to round out the afternoon, followed by an evening at the theater.
DAY 2: PRAGUE
Stroll through the peaceful Wallenstein Gardens, find the John Lennon Wall, and spend an afternoon inside the Prague Castle complex. Then give your feet a break and treat your stomach to a decadent dinner of Czech cuisine before crossing the Charles Bridge under the stars.
DAY 3: DAY TRIP TO LIBEREC
After a one-hour bus from the Černy Most station to Liberec, hop on tram #3 at Fugnerova to Horní Hanychov and follow signs to catch a cable car to Ještěd Hotel and TV Tower. Have lunch at the retro-futuristic restaurant and take in the mountaintop view.
Cable car down again and jump on tram #3 to Mikyna for quality coffee. On a rainy day, hit the nearby Lázně Regional Art Gallery. If the sun is shining, head southeast to the Liberec Reservoir where you can sip Svijany beer on the lawn or circle the one-mile path around this semi-secluded body of water.
Around 5pm, walk about 15 minutes to the center to admire the exteriors of the Liberec Town Hall, FX Šalda Theatre, and David Černý’s sculptural bus stop. Radniční Sklípek serves traditional Czech meals underneath the town hall. Catch the last bus back to Prague at 9pm.
DAY 4: PRAGUE LIKE A LOCAL
For a taste of life outside the city center, start with brunch in the Karlín neighborhood before discovering the far less crowded castle complex of Vyšehrad. Join the locals walking along Náplavka and get a taste of modern architecture at the Dancing House and history at the National Monument to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror. Return to Karlín for dinner, drinks, and innovative entertainment at Kasárna Karlín.
DAY 5: PRAGUE TO VIENNA
Spend a last morning soaking in Prague before boarding a 4-hour train to Vienna and settling into your hotel.
DAY 6: VIENNA
Explore the Hofburg and St. Stephen’s Cathedral, taking time for a quick schnitzel before seeing Klimt’s iconic The Kiss at the Belvedere. End your day with sunset views from the Riesenrad, the historic Ferris wheel in the Prater.
DAY 7: VIENNA
View avant-garde art at the Secession, followed by a bite and browsing at the stalls of the Naschmarkt. After lunch, explore the former Habsburg residence of Schönbrunn Palace. End your evening with live music in the Gürtel, a trendy nightlife district that occupies the arches under the elevated U-Bahn rails.
DAY 8: VIENNA LIKE A LOCAL
See some of architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s most spectacular buildings, along with the stunning art nouveau St. Leopold Church by Otto Wagner. Grab a Käsekrainer, a sausage filled with cheese, at one of Vienna’s iconic sausage stands, drink coffee with the locals, and finish out your day with nightlife at a local hidden bar, like Tür 7.
DAY 9: DAY TRIP TO THE WACHAU VALLEY
Hop on a train heading to Melk from the Westbahnhof. After an hour’s journey, you will already see the striking, orange Melk Abbey on the hill in front of you as you exit the station. Follow the signs up the hill to the abbey and spend a couple of hours exploring, then head down to town for lunch.
Take the Wachau Cruise ferry departing at 1:45pm from Melk down the Danube through the Wachau Valley. Get off at Dürnstein and hike up to the famous ruins of Dürnstein Castle and then take the bus on to Krems an der Donau. Get the train back to Vienna to Wien Franz-Josefs-Bahnhof (1 hour).
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- On Sale
- Mar 15, 2022
- Page Count
- 536 pages
- Moon Travel