A vacation to another region of the world is always a wonderful cultural experience, no matter if you’re planning a solo trip or if you’re planning a family vacation.
Central Europe is a popular tourist destination that captivates travelers. The compact size of the region and the ease of public transportation means that travelers can visit several countries throughout their trip. The countries that make up this region offer beautiful scenery, Old World architecture, and rich cultural experiences.
There is so much to see and do in Central Europe that travelers will want to do careful research to determine where they want to go and what they want to see. To fully explore a larger city, such as Prague or Budapest, travelers will need at least three days. And in addition to exploring the larger cities, most travelers will want to check out a smaller town or village to get the full experience of what Central Europe has to offer.
Planning a trip to Central Europe
To start planning a trip to Central Europe, you’re going to want to look at your budget and visit travel websites. This will allow you to begin planning an itinerary. Most people that travel to Central Europe will want to plan for at least 10 to 14 days. This will allow them to explore at least two capital cities and a few smaller towns.
Decide when you want to travel. Central Europe is beautiful both in the winter and summer, but each season has different pros and cons. The hot weather of summer is perfect for those that want to enjoy some time in the water during their travels, but summer also comes with larger crowds. Winter is less crowded and getting the chance to visit a winter market is a wonderful experience, but cold temperatures and snow could put a damper on traveling.
Once you have an idea of where you would like to go and what time of the year you want to travel, start planning transportation options several months in advance to get the best deals. Look at flights in and out of several different cities; some Central European countries offer cheaper flights than others. Consider how you’re going to travel while in the region and how much that will cost you. Plus, start thinking about what hotels you want to stay at.
Knowing your budget and having a rough itinerary will help you plan a smoother trip. You should firm up your itinerary closer to your actual travels.
Traveling in Central Europe
When it comes to traveling in Central Europe, tourists have several options. Travelers that live near the region can always drive their own cars, but those that are flying in will have to rent a car, hire a private driver, or rely on public transportation.
Renting a car gives travelers the freedom to stray from their itinerary. If they get to a location and decide they want to spend an extra day there, having their own form of transportation means they won’t be dependent upon a private driver or public transportation. The downside to renting a car is, that if you’re not familiar with the area and the routes, you’re at great risk of getting lost.
Hiring a private driver is a good option for those that want the chance to get a quick snooze while they’re traveling and that don’t want to use a crowded bus or train. Private drivers will be familiar with the area, which is particularly useful for those that are planning some smaller day trips — for those that need help planning these trips, here are some of the best one-day road trips to make in Central Europe.
Public transportation is plentiful in Central Europe, which makes it easy to travel from country to country. It is usually cheaper than renting a car or a private driver. The downside to public transportation is that it might not go to remote smaller towns, plus you have to adhere to a timetable.
Prague often ranks high on the list of places to visit for those with a limited amount of time to explore Central Europe. Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic and is referred to as the Heart of Europe. Those that get to visit Prague experience impressive historical architecture, attend wonderful festivals, and enjoy delicious cuisine.
Architecture in the city is a mix of Baroque, Gothic and Renaissance styles. Historical locations to visit include the Old Town Hall, the Astronomical Clock, Charles Bridge, and the Old Town Square.
Those that visit Prague will also want to check out the Prague Castle, which is the largest castle complex in the world and dates back to the 9th century. Due to the large size of the castle, most people take several hours to explore it. There are also churches and museums located within the complex. It is possible to explore the complex on your own, but there is also the option for a guided tour.
The festivals found in Prague will vary upon season. While festivals are held all year long, one notable festival is the Prague International Music Festival. The Prague International Music Festival starts in May and is a celebration of world music. All genres of music can be enjoyed at the festival. Visitors that go during the winter months can enjoy the Prague Christmas Market, which runs from late November to early January. There are plenty of vendors, local cuisine, and Christmas music to enjoy.
Those that are lucky enough to have enough time to visit multiple cities in Central Europe will often choose another large capital city, then drive straight through to the next one without stopping to explore other locations that are along that route.
A good alternative to spending six or seven hours in the car or on the train, however, is taking the time to explore one or two of the towns or villages that are along that route. Taking a half a day (or even a full day) to do some sightseeing not only gives you the chance to stretch your legs, but it also allows you to visit parts of Central Europe that you would otherwise overlook.
A smart traveler will work these sightseeing destinations into their itinerary instead of randomly choosing a town to stop at. While getting out to stretch is always nice, some towns or villages might have more to offer than others. Look for locations that offer some sort of interesting attraction, whether it is a natural landmark, historical building, museum, or something else that piques your interest.
If you’re traveling with kids, taking a sightseeing route can be more bearable. Instead of having to listen to your kids repeatedly ask “Are we there yet?” for eight hours, breaking up the journey into smaller chunks will give them the chance to run some of their energy off. Plus, it also allows them to see that Central Europe has more than just large cities.
Prague to Budapest
While there are many sightseeing routes to take in Central Europe, Prague is a popular starting destination. Many people choose to head to Budapest, another well-known capital city, after Prague. Prague to Budapest is about a six-hour car ride or seven-hour train ride. To add some additional sightseeing to this route, consider stopping in Bratislava, Cesky Krumlov, or Hallstatt.
Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia, but it often gets overlooked because of how small it is. Bratislava’s small size means that it is easy to explore the key attractions in less than a day. Palaces, churches, and castles are in abundance. The whimsical St Elizabeth’s Church and fortified Bratislava Castle are popular tourist destinations.
Walking around the historic center of Bratislava is another popular way to spend a few hours. Many of the buildings in this area have historical significance. Monuments and plaques in the area help education about historical events and figures. Plus, there are boutique shops to explore and outdoor cafes to dine at.
Bratislava also has several museums and galleries, including the Slovak National Gallery and the Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum. The Slovak National Gallery is home to exhibitions that include both modern and classical art, including some of the busts created by sculptor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt. The Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum is more focused on modern art exhibitions. Kids, on the other hand, might appreciate stopping at Bibiana, which includes hands-on exhibits.
Prague to Saltzburg
Saltzburg, which is located in Austria, is another popular location to visit after Prague. Saltzburg is only about four hours away from Prague by car, however, there are several sightseeing destinations located along this route. Just like when traveling from Prague to Budapest, tourists might want to consider stopping at Bratislava, Cesky Krumlov, or Hallstatt.
Cesky Krumlov is a small, photogenic town located in the Czech Republic. This medieval town managed to escape the bombings of World War II, allowing it to remain carefully preserved in history. While some people manage to spend multiple days exploring everything the town has to offer, those with limited time will want to head to the Cesky Krumlov Castle. The castle has many unique features, including a moat filled with bears and a Baroque theatre. The theatre retains original stage machinery, scenery, and props. The theatre only gets used a couple of times a year now, but visitors can still take a guided tour of the area.
The small village of Hallstatt, on the other hand, is located in Austria. This village is nestled between a lake and the Alps, making for some breathtaking scenery. Some people come here simply to walk around and take photos. Those who are looking for more of an adventure, however, can tour the tunnels of the salt mine. Hallstatt salt mine is the oldest in the world. Another favorite destination in Hallstatt is the Waldbachstrub Waterfall, though it is a bit of a hike to get there.
Prague to Vienna
Austria’s capital, Vienna, is another popular location to head to after Prague. Great food, beautiful historic libraries, a plethora of museums, and the Schönbrunn Palace are among the reasons people add Vienna to their travel list. Vienna is only a little over three hours from Prague by car and a little over four hours by train. The route, however, does allow visitors to stop by Bratislava, Cesky Krumlov, Hallstatt, Kutna Hora.
Located in the Czech Republic, Kutna Hora is a small town with plenty to see. It isn’t as popular as a tourist destination as some of the other places listed, which means that it is usually less crowded.
One of the highlights of Kutna Hora is Barborská street, which leads to Saint Barbara’s Church. The street is lined with statues and overlooks the town, river, and forest. Upon reaching the end of the street, you can enter Saint Barbara’s Church. Construction in the church started in 1389, but it wasn’t complete until the end of the 19th century. There are plenty of architectural features to admire within the church, including beautiful hand-painted stained glass windows.
After exploring Barborská street, many tourists choose to head over to the nearby Sedlec Ossuary. While this small chapel looks ordinary on the outside, going inside will reveal human bones that have carefully been arranged into decorations and furnishings. It is estimated that the skeletons of between 40,000 and 70,000 people were used. It doesn’t take long to walk through Sedlec Ossuary, but it is a sight that tourists won’t want to miss out on.
If you’re considering a trip to Central Europe, you will want to carefully plan your itinerary. While most travelers will want to spend several days exploring a capital city, you also don’t want to miss out on the chance of exploring a smaller town or village during your travels.
Smaller towns and villages have plenty of charm and cultural experiences waiting to be discovered, plus they are a nice break from the hustle of a larger city.