Three of the most beautiful cities I’ve visited on my European travels are easily attainable on the same itinerary: Prague, Vienna, and Budapest. Each one of the iconic and historic cities is steeped in centuries of architectural styles, cultural institutions, and the arts.
Though I visited Prague many years ago (discovering Vienna and Budapest more recently), I still recall walking across the Karluv Most (Charles Bridge) during different times of the day, admiring the quality of light bathing the city, as well as a stop at Old Town Square for a serious photo op at the medieval Astronomical Clock.
After delighting in this curious clock, I took a good look around and noticed a mix of architecture, from Gothic to Art Nouveau, as varied as the colours of the buildings themselves.
Old Town quarter is even lovelier all lit up in the evening with the Clock tower and Gothic spires of the Týn Church in the background, creating a fairy-tale like atmosphere. Find a café on the street and soak it all in!
Prague also has a great pilsner tradition, and I enjoyed my fill of Budvar (the original Budweiser) at a few atmospheric pubs around the city with some newly-acquired travel friends. Service is very efficient, but be prepared to down large beer jugs with cheap but high quality pilsner. You might check in at Zly Casy beer garden or Pivovarský klub beer ’boutique’.
The birthplace of pilsner awaits your visit.
Vienna is filled with stately buildings, cafés, and museums; modern art fans shouldn’t miss MAK (Museum of Applied Arts). For an entire day of museum-hopping, the MuseumsQuartier Wien is one of the largest art and culture complexes in the world, combining historic buildings from the 18th and 19th century with contemporary museum architecture. Take advantage of one of several cafés in the courtyard during spring and summer.
Another great reason to visit Vienna: 2015 celebrates 150 years of the Ringstrasse, marked by several celebrations and exhibitions throughout the landmark year.
Some of the city’s key beauties include Schönbrunn Palace, the Opera House, and St. Stephen’s Cathedral. You’ll also marvel (as my husband and I did) at the insanely colourful and crazy Hundertwasserhaus. Get your Sachertorte fix at Hotel Sacher, opposite the Opera House.
We were amazed by how Budapest caters to Western dining and lodging tastes. Before our arrival, thoughts turned to a run-down, outdated capital city, however once we settled into our centrally-located hotel, we headed to nearby Vörösmarty Ter to discover a city that fuses the Old World with the modern. You can find a mix of each in both Buda and Pest. Yes, the city is divided – literally – by its name and the Donau river.
The Chain Bridge separates the two main parts of Budapest, each side offering a different experience. The entire city is one huge outdoor museum, so don’t forget your camera and good walking shoes.
On our many walks through town, we discovered some wonderful old coffee houses, several dating to the mid-19th century. Café Gerbeaud is one such place, located in Vörösmarty square, its white corinthian columns and gold lettering leading you into a stately room complete with chandeliers and an amazing array of desserts. Gerbeaud is considered one of Europe’s finest traditional coffee houses.
For a true Budapest bath house experience, consider the popular Gellert Hotel, then get out to City Park via the old Russian style metro system and check out the Széchenyi Baths (Széchenyi fürdő) containing 18 pools, 15 of them spring-fed thermal pools. Once inside and on your way to the changing rooms, take a peek into some of the most incredible massage rooms dating to the late 1800’s with pieces of equipment that appear to have never left the building.
There’s no photography allowed, however I did capture the above photo of the domed ceiling at the entrance, right before I noticed the “No Photography” sign.
For all the sights I covered on my journeys, I recently discovered that Trafalgar Guided Tours and Vacations offers travellers authentic and unique tours, hitting both the highlights and the hidden treasures that each destination has to offer. In Vienna, for example, get a private insider’s visit at Vienna’s Habsburgs royal collection of art before it opens to the general public.
Trafalgar Guided Tours takes care of the details for a hassle-free vacation, so you can enjoy more touring and less planning. They also take care of bag porterage and offer express check in at hotels.
Local historians will guide you through each city’s gems for a deeper appreciation of what you’re seeing. Some restaurants are even closed during a Trafalgar group visit, for a cooking lesson or family meal. Accommodations are also more unique, avoiding sleeping in one chain hotel after the next. Visit the website for itineraries and for more information.
This article was produced in partnership with Trafalgar Guided Tours and Vacations.