vienna, budapest, and prague - detailed itinerary

  Vienna Budapest Szentendre Prague

Austria Home



Travel Notes



Back to top
Day 1 - Vienna
Arrive in Vienna, check into your hotel, and get your bearings with a stroll down the pedestrian-only Karntnerstrasse. If you’re travel weary, nab a table on a café terrace, order coffee and a pastry, and watch the world go by – it’s a great way to drink in Vienna’s ambience.

If you’re up for some sightseeing, head for Stephansdom. Just look for its Gothic spire. There’s been a church on this site for more than 800 years. And the present structure was rebuilt in the 14th and 15th centuries. The church was damaged by the Turkish siege of 1683 and World War II bombings, but it was restored and reopened in 1948.

Today, the church is the spiritual heart of Vienna. It contains some superb stonework and woodcarving. Particularly impressive are the stone pulpit carved by Anton Pilgrim and the wooden Wiener Neustadt altarpiece.

You can tour the catacombs and take a guided tour of the church, though English tours are infrequent. You’ll do fine on your own with a guidebook. Just don’t enter when there’s a mass in progress.

For sensational views all the way to the Vienna Woods, climb the 343 steps of the south tower to the viewing platform. You’ll get great photos and work off that pastry. If you’re not up for the climb, the north tower has an elevator. The views aren’t as good, but you’ll conserve your strength.

Outside the cathedral, Stephansplatz is one of the city’s liveliest squares. During the season, buskers entertain the crowds around Graben and Brauners strasses.

Vienna is blessed with great public transportation – in fact, riding one of Vienna’s historic trams is as essential as riding a cable car in San Francisco. So while you’re in Stephansptatz, visit the Vienna Public Transportation Information Center and pick up a map, a multi-trip transportation pass, or the Vienna Card, which includes 72-hours worth of free public transportation and discounts to many of the city’s attractions.

If time permits, taking a tram around the "Ring" is a great way to get oriented. Built in the 1860s to replace the city’s medieval walls, the Ring is a three-mile long boulevard encircling historic Vienna. Most of what you’ll want to visit lies inside the Ring, and almost all the sights are visible from either the Number One or Number Two tram.

The Number Two tram circles the city counterclockwise, on the outer tracks, so it’s the best for sightseeing. If you stay aboard, the complete loop takes about 30 minutes. But you can hop off anywhere along the line – just press the exit button next to the door – another tram will come along in five minutes.

When you’re worn out, head back to your hotel to relax and freshen up before dinner.

Dining out is one of the great pleasures of visiting Vienna. With smoky coffee houses, convivial wine gardens, bistros-style beisels, and palatial dining rooms in palace hotels, there’s something for everyone

For a truly memorable dinner, it’s hard to beat the Sacher Hotel Restaurant. For many, it’s the highlight of a visit to Vienna. Noted for it’s tafelspitz (boiled beef), and the world famous Sacher Torte, the dining room is lovely and the service world class. Dress up, put on your party manners, and take your big wallet.

If you’d like to sample another Viennese institution but don’t want to break the bank, try Figlmuller. This historic tavern serves the best weiner schnitzel in Vienna – which is saying something. The 500-year-old dining room gets packed with tourists and locals looking for outstanding and affordable Viennese cooking. Sharing one of the long tables and benches is part of the experience.

Those who don’t want to change out of their jeans – especially those who enjoy wine – should try Augustinerkeller. Although the music gets a little loud, as do the patrons, you’ll get great spit-roasted chicken or roast pork and one of the city’s largest selections of wines by the glass.

There’s lots to do here after dinner. Vienna is one of the world’s great music cities. Perhaps, the greatest music city. Opera and classical music lovers will likely have several performances to choose from during even a brief visit. The four state theaters run from September until June, but there are less frequent performances all summer.

Culture vultures should pick up Wien Monatsprogramm or Falter from their hotel concierge. These periodicals contain comprehensive listings of all the performances in town. If you’re really serious, you can purchase tickets about a week in advance. But there are as many as 600 standing-room-only tickets available at the box office shortly before a performance. See our Travel Notes for details.

Everyone who visits Vienna should see the Opera House, so even if you’re not an opera fan, consider attending a performance there. Chances are, you’ll enjoy it more than you expect to. And afterwards, you can duck into the Sacher café for a slice of Sacher Torte.

Strauss and Mozart are performed nightly somewhere in Vienna, often in beautiful surroundings, such as at the Hofburg or Schonbrunn Palace. Your hotel concierge should be able to make arrangements for you with a couple of days notice.

If you’re planning to attend a concert while you’re in Vienna, take nice clothes. The Viennese dress for these world-class performances and so should you.

Even if you’re not a classical music fan, you’ll still have lots of choices in Vienna. Volksgarten is an entertainment complex offering everything from oom-pah bands to techno-disco. And jazz buffs will enjoy Jazzland or Miles Smiles.

Day 2 - Vienna
Many visitors to Vienna have two "must-sees" on the agenda: the Spanish Riding School and the Vienna Boy’s Choir. Since both these are seasonal and require a little advance preparation, if they’re on your list, schedule the rest of your sightseeing around them.

The Lipizzaner Stallions perform at the Spanish Riding School on Sunday mornings and every other Saturday roughly from March through June and then again from September through mid-December. You can order online, write or fax in advance for tickets. See our Travel Notes for details.

In addition to the performances, the School also has training sessions open to the public Tuesday through Saturday mornings from mid-February to June and from the end of August to the middle of December. You don’t need to purchase tickets in advance to attend a training session, but people start queuing up early for the 10AM show. If you think you can be satisfied with a 60-minute experience, show up after 11AM and you won’t have to wait at all.

Horse lovers in Vienna off season can get their fix at the Lippizaner Museum. The museum documents the 400+ year history of the Spanish Riding School and shows a 45-minute film of the horses in action. Chances are, you’ll also be able to see the horses in their stables.

The Vienna Boys’ Choir performs Sunday morning and some Friday afternoons in the Imperial Chapel at Hofburg Palace from January through June and then again from mid-September until the end of December. For tickets, you’ll need at least two months’ lead time. But the first 60 to line up before a performance can stand inside for free.

Schonbrunn Palace also takes a little advance planning. The palace is seven miles from Vienna and you can take either the Number 58 tram from Westbahnhof or the U-4 to Schonbrunn. Because Schonbrunn is rivaled only by Versailles, it’s thronged with visitors, particularly on weekends and in the morning.

To avoid the crowds, make your reservations online. You’ll receive a confirmation email to use to pick up your tickets at the box office. Pop for the more expensive Grand Tour ticket and you’ll be able to go anywhere that’s open to the public. Do this, and you won’t have to wait in line. If you arrive early, explore the magnificent gardens, the Palm House, or the Coach Museum.

Your admission will include a set of headphones with English descriptions of everything you’ll see, so don’t bother with an organized tour.

Built between 1696 and 1712 by the von Erlachs for Emperor Leopold I, the 1,400-room palace was extensively redesigned by Maria Theresa in the 1740s.

Highlights of the palace include the Round Chinese Cabinet, the Vieux-Laque Room with its splendid lacquer panels, and the Great Gallery, one of the grandest reception halls in Europe. Plan on half a day for your visit.

When it’s lunch time, drop into one of Vienna’s atmospheric cafes. Or grab a sausage from the corner Wurstelstand.

Spend the other half day visiting some of Vienna’s fantastic museums. There are so many, you’ll need to pick and choose, based on your interests.

Those interested in the Jugendstil – the Austrian flowering of art nouveau – and the Vienna Secession should visit the 19th- and 20th-century galleries in the Upper Belvedere Palace. It is closed on Mondays.

There are dozens of Gustav Klimt’s here, including The Kiss, Judith, and other significant paintings. Egon Shiele is also well represented.

The Lower Belvedere Palace contains the Museum of Baroque Art and the Museum of Medieval Austrian Art.

Klimt fans should also go to the Secession Building, a couple of blocks from the Opera. With its gold-leaf, filigree globe, the building itself is a Jugendstil masterpiece. But Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze is the real reason to visit. It’s also closed on Mondays.

The Academy of Fine Arts displays work by Rembrandt, Botticelli, and Rubens. The highpoint here is the Last Judgement by Hieronymus Bosch.

The Museum of the History of Art (the Kunsthistorisches Museum) is the repository of the art treasures collected by the Hapsburgs during their 600 year reign. Egyptian and Greek treasures, and works by Durer and Brueghel dominate, but virtually all European masters are represented here – including Titian, Velasquez, Caravaggio, Raphael, Rubens, Giorgioni, van Eyck, and van Dyck.

One of our favorite museums in Vienna is the Museum of Applied Art. This striking, dramatic museum contains several hundred thousand objects – works on paper, metalwork, ceramics, tapestries, furniture, and textiles. Don’t miss the display of chairs silhouetted and backlit against parchment, the Beidermeier furniture, or the Weiner Werkstatte collection.

If you don’t have plans for the evening, head out to one of the Heurigen or wine taverns on the outskirts of the city. Serving new wine and traditional meals accompanied by Austrian music, the heurigen provide a country village setting 30 minutes from the city. Most have outdoor gardens or terraces and you can usually choose between a cold buffet or a hot meal.

Grinzing is the most popular – and consequently most touristy – district. You can reach it by taking the Number 38 tram. Good choices there include Alter Klosterkeller im Passauerhof, Altes Presshaus, and Ginzinger Hauerandl.

For better wine, take the U-4 U-Bahn line to Heiligenstadt and head for Mayer, where Beethoven once lived, or Zimmermann. In Neustift am Wald, reached by the Number 41 tram, try Fuhrgassl-Huber or Zeiler am Hauerweg.

Day 3 - Vienna
Vienna has several open-air food markets, so start your day there. The biggest is Naschmarkt, but Rochusmarkt and Brunnenmarkt are also worth a visit. All three open early in the morning and are closed Saturday afternoons and Sundays.

You can pick up great picnic supplies if you’d like to dine al fresco in one of Vienna’s lovely parks.

Those who didn’t get their fill of opulence can visit Vienna’s other Imperial Palace, the Hofburg. Begun in the 13th century, this 2,600-room complex was the Hapsburgs’ winter residence for 600 years. Your time will be best spent touring the Imperial Apartments.

Even if you’re not interested in seeing another palace, consider going to the Schatzkammer or Imperial Treasury. The 21 rooms here contain the most fabulous collection of jewels in the world. The Imperial Crown – dating from 962 and covered with diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and sapphires – the sabre of Charlemagne, and the throne/cradle of Napoleon’s son are just a few of the priceless treasures here.

Depending on your interests, you may also want to visit the Neue Burg or New Castle at the Hofburg, where there are collections of arms and armor, musical instruments, and artifacts from Ephesus.

After observing the Hapsburg lifestyle, you can observe the Hapsburg after-lifestyle at the Kaisergruft or Imperial Crypt. Located in the Kapuziner Church behind the Opera, the crypt contains the remains, actually some of the remains – the hearts and entrails are elsewhere – of 138 Hapsburgs, including Maria Theresa. The most impressive tomb is that of Franz Joseph.

To see the final resting place of Beethoven, Brahms, Strauss, and Schubert, visit Zentralfriedhof, Vienna’s central cemetery. With more than two-and-one-half million graves, the graveyard contains many spectacular monuments.

If you’re active, you’re probably ready for some exercise. The Lower Danube Cycle Trail goes from Vienna to Naarn and passes medieval villages, vineyards, and the occasional castle. On sunny days, this makes a wonderful outing. You can rent bikes at train stations or at several bike shops near the Danube Canal, which is the waterway that flows through Vienna. Some of the companies will even deliver bikes right to your hotel and pick them up later.

Modern art lovers can combine their bike ride with a visit to Hundertwasser Haus. Created as a reaction against the sterility of modern architecture, Hundertwasser created this municipal apartment complex in the mid-1980s. It’s whimsical, colorful, and unlike anything else. You can rent bikes near the entrance.

To experience the beauty of the Danube without breaking a sweat, consider a day cruise on the river. During the summer, ninety minute cruises leave every hour or so between 10AM and 4PM.

Hikers will find plenty of trails – and breathtaking views – in the Vienna Woods, just outside the city. A leisurely, three-hour downhill stroll takes walkers from the Kahlenberg summit at 1,600 ft. through vineyards and forests to the village of Nussdorf. Take the U4 subway to Heiligenstadt. Then take the 38A bus up to Kahlenberg.

Reward yourself with some wine in one of the Heurige or wine taverns before taking the D tram from Schatzgasse back to town.

For dinner, give yourself a break from schnitzel with Italian food from A Tavola or Aioli.

Or if the weather’s fine, join the throngs of Viennese at Prater, the city’s amusement park since 1766. For great views, ride the Ferris wheel built in 1896 and featured in Orson Welles’s film of Graham Greene’s The Third Man. Then find an outdoor café that looks good and enjoy the festive atmosphere.

Austria Home



Travel Notes



Back to top

Day 4 - Budapest
There are two ways to travel to Budapest: rail or hydrofoil on the Danube. The train takes a little over three hours; the 8:38AM departure arrives in Budapest at 11:28PM.

During spring and summer, the hydrofoil leaves Vienna at 9:00AM and arrives in Budapest at 2:30PM. The river winds through some beautiful scenery, past villages and farms, so cruising is a pleasant way to go.

Despite having made tremendous strides in the past several years, Budapest remains more challenging for western travelers than most European cities.

First of all, there’s the language. Magyar is spoken – and understood – by virtually no one outside Hungary. And as a Finno-Ugric tongue, it’s totally unrelated to anything you may have taken in high school.

You won’t be able to make heads or tails of either the written or spoken word – which makes it harder to find your way around.

Ask the concierge at your hotel to print the address of your destination on a piece of paper and show it when you need help finding your way. The Hungarians are very warm and will generally go out of their way to help you. Especially if you make any attempt at Magyar.

Public transportation in Budapest is generally less pleasant than elsewhere. Crowded, dirty and not very well maintained, the subway and busses get you where you want to go. But by the time you get there, you’ll want a shower.

Cluster your sightseeing in one area at a time. And invest in a taxi ride from your hotel.

Lastly, pollution is a real consideration here. If you have any respiratory problems, consider staying up above the smog in the Buda Hills.

Fortunately, Budapest is one of the least expensive cities in Europe, so you can stay in one of the best hotels in the city for less than a middle-of-the-road hotel elsewhere.

Given all that, Budapest is a wonderful destination. Fascinating, historic, and beautiful, it offers a culture virtually unrelated to those of its neighbors. And it’s less westernized than most places – which is a big part of its appeal.

Today’s Budapest was once three distinct cities: Buda, Pest, and Obuda. Pest is on the right bank of the Danube, called the Duna in Budapest; Buda and Obuda are on the left.

Once you get settled into your hotel, head for Vaci Utca, the city’s main pedestrianized shopping promenade. Always bustling and filled with stylish shops and cafes, Vaci Utca is the best place to take the city’s pulse.

At the northern end, near Deak Ferenc ter, you’ll find Gerbeaud’s coffee house. The most famous of Budapest’s patisseries, Gerbeaud’s has been creating sensational pastries at this location since 1870. Dine inside in the beautiful art nouveau dining room, or nab a table outside.

At the other end of Vamhaz Korut, the Central Market or Kozponti Vasarcsarnok is well worth a visit. The largest of Pest’s five market halls, this splendid structure opened in 1897 and was completely renovated 100 years later.

A soaring space of iron and glass, the hall itself is beautiful. And packed with hundreds of stalls selling everything from the ubiquitous Hungarian peppers to embroidered shirts.

If you still have a some strength, walk back to the Elizabeth Bridge (Erzsebet hid) and duck into the Inner City Parish Church. There’s been a church on this site since the original was built in the 12th century on the remains of a Roman fortress. The present structure contains Gothic, Baroque, and even Moorish elements.

When you leave the church, you can stroll the Danube Promenade (Belgrad rakpart) to the Chain Bridge. Otherwise, head back to your hotel to relax a little before dinner.

With its liberal use of pork fat and sour cream, Hungarian cuisine is a little rich for American tastes. And vegetarians will have a particularly hard time.

Generally speaking, the more expensive the restaurant, the easier it is to find something healthy to eat. If you’re there in summer, never pass up an opportunity to eat tomatoes or cucumbers. They are the most flavorful in the world.

For the best meal in Budapest, head to Gundel. Legendary since 1894, the restaurant was bought by George Lang of New York’s Café des Artistes and received a multi-million dollar makeover in the early 1990s. The art nouveau palace in City Park near the zoo, the carefully manicured gardens, the Zsolnay porcelain and sterling silver flatware, the extensive wine list, and the French-influenced preparations make an evening here very memorable. Reservations are a must.

You can enjoy some of Gundel’s strengths for a lot less at Bagolyvar. Set in a stylized castle, Bagolyvar offers better than usual home cooking and better than average service in charming surroundings. It is next door, actually kind of attached to, Gundel.

Closer to the Danube, Cyrano, named for the dining room chandelier which was used in the movie Cyrano, offers inventive international entrees prepared with a lighter touch. You’ll need reservations here, especially to dine on the lovely fountain-splashed terrace.

Up the stairs from Cyrano, Cosmo, under the same ownership, is ultramodern and also has an attractive terrace.

There’s lots to do in Budapest after dinner. The Hungarian State Opera House is one of the most beautiful in the world. And probably the least expensive. You can attend a performance here for just a few dollars. The season runs from September through May, but there are also performances during the Summer Festival. For more information, pick up a copy of Budapest Week or Budapest Sun, the two English-language weeklies.

Music lovers will find a vibrant performing arts scene with everything from string quartets in historic palaces to smoky jazz caverns. Check the papers or ask your hotel concierge for the latest hot spots.

Day 5 - Budapest
If you didn’t visit the Central Market yesterday, you might consider having your breakfast there. In addition to great pastries and cheeses, you’ll get an early-morning dose of Hungarian culture. And if there’s a spa in your future, pack your bathing suit so you can visit the baths later in the day.

Unless it’s Monday, when the museums are closed, head for Castle Hill. Rising dramatically from the Danube, the limestone precipice was first settled in the 13th century. Today, the Royal Palace and the reconstructed medieval city known as the Castle District is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

To get to the top of the hill, you’ll need to cross the river if you’re staying in Pest. Walk across the Chain Bridge, the enduring symbol of the city that was built in 1849, destroyed during World War II, and rebuilt in 1949.

The bridge, which is lit every night, is one of the most beautiful in the world. And the view of the Danube and Parliament from the bridge is simply breathtaking.

Once you cross the Danube, cross Clark Adam ter, the square named for the builder of the Chain Bridge, and take the Funicular up the hill. Be sure to take plenty of film. The two-minute ride provides incredible views as it whisks you up the side of the hill.

One of the first things you’ll notice in the Castle District is the beautiful brass knockers and door numbers on the surrounding houses. Despite its historic importance, this is a living neighborhood where many of Budapest’s citizens make their home.

Much of the area was leveled during the siege of 1944-45 and painfully reconstructed after the war. Today, it’s closed to automobile traffic – only guests of the Hilton Hotel and taxis can drive there. But if you get tired, you can take a horse-drawn carriage to your destination.

The first building you’ll see on your right is Sandor Palota. Beautifully restored, it was the Prime Minister’s residence from 1867 to 1944. Don’t bother going inside – it’s a cheesy wax museum. But do check out the frieze by Anton Kirchmayer on the façade.

The Royal Palace complex to your left includes the Hungarian National Gallery, the Budapest History Museum, and the National Library.

Few buildings have been destroyed and rebuilt as many times as the Royal Palace. The first castle was destroyed by the Tartars in 1240. Subsequent buildings were ruined by the Mongols, the Turks, and the Hapsburgs, before the last incarnation was leveled during World War II.

The Hungarian National Gallery houses centuries of artwork by Hungarian artists; artwork by non-Hungarian artists is displayed at the Museum of Fine Arts in Outer Pest.

Art lovers will enjoy a visit here. Although the holdings here are so vast, you’ll need to pick and choose. The collection of 15th- and 16th-century "winged" altarpieces is outstanding. But most visitors will favor the paintings from the mid 19th century to the early 20th century.

Like most things Hungarian, these paintings reveal a national style unique to the Magyar culture. And like most things Hungarian, they are little known – or appreciated – outside Hungary.

Hungarian-flavored genre painting, Romanticism, Impressionism, and Symbolism are all impressive. Of special interest is the work of Hungarian masters Mihaly Munkacsy, Karoly Lotz, Viktr Madarasz, Laszlo Paal, Jozsef Rippl-Ronai, and Tivadar Kosztka Csontvary.

The Budapest History Museum – also known as the Castle Museum – contains a fully restored Renaissance Hall, a nice collection of 15th-century Gothic statues, and artifacts documenting Budapest’s 2,000-year history.

The National Library is kind of like the Library of Congress. It receives a copy of every published Hungarian book or journal and everything published outside the country that concerns Hungary. There are more than 4 million documents here.

Once you’ve finished exploring the Palace complex, head north (with the Danube on your right) to Holy Trinity Square, Castle Hill’s main plaza.

When you’re ready for lunch, there are several choices in the neighborhood. For a quick, inexpensive bite, try Onkiszolgalo, a self-service cafeteria across from the Hilton Hotel. To find it, go inside the archway and up the stairs.

Café Miro on Uri utca is hip and fun. And you’re more likely to find a table there than at Ruszwurm Cukraszda, a charming cafe in business since 1827, but mobbed with tourists.

If you want an outstanding lunch, and you don’t mind paying for it, try Alabardos on Orszaghaz. Enjoy nouvelle continental specialties inside the 15th-century building or in the courtyard.

A short stroll from Holy Trinity Square toward the river will bring you to the Church of Our Lady, better known as Matthias Church. The church, which is magnificently decorated with polychrome geometric ornamentation by painters Karoly Lotz and Bertalan Szekely, has an interesting history. King Matthias Corvinus was married here twice. Franz Joseph was crowned here in 1867. And Liszt performed at the Coronation.

The stained glass windows are glorious. In summer, organ concerts are held in the church most Friday nights.

From Matthias Church, continue toward the river until you come to Fisherman’s Bastion, a Romanesque terrace built in 1905. Pay the small admission to go out onto the terrace – the view is well worth it. You’ll see the Danube, the Chain Bridge, Parliament, and the entire city of Pest laid at your feet.

Depending on your interests, there’s still lots to see in the Castle District. There are small museums devoted to everything from music to military history, to catering, to telephones. There are towers, gates, and squares. So even if you’re museumed-out, spend a little time exploring the side streets with their photogenic medieval buildings.

No visitor to Budapest should miss a trip to the baths. So if you’re worn out, treat yourself to a spa treatment. Or if it’s warm and sunny, just go for a dip.

There are several good baths to choose from. But for history, glamour, and art nouveau splendor, none can compete with the Hotel Gellert. The easiest way to get there is to take a cab from the Hilton or Holy Trinity Square.

The Gellert was built in 1918 and it is one of the finest flowerings of art nouveau in a city blessed with many fine examples. The Gellert offers so many options, the admission booth can be a little daunting. It’s hard to decide what you need to purchase. Although a locker is included with your admission.

Inside, there’s a gorgeous mixed sex pool and separate facilities for men and women. Massages and hydrotherapy are available. Or you can just soak in the thermal waters. Outside, there’s a huge pool with a wave machine and lots of sun decks.

Don’t feel intimidated about not knowing the drill. Just relax and watch the locals.

After a full day of sightseeing, a trip to the Gellert can be just what the doctor ordered. You’ll see people – and body types – you never knew existed. And it’s especially fun watching the kids, many of them over 60, in the wave pool.

Allow enough time to lose track of time and you’ll leave feeling completely recharged.

For dinner, try Muzeum in Pest next to the National Museum, or Lou Lou.

If you’d like to hear some traditional music, avoid the "gypsy" tourist traps and try an open-air venue instead. The Dominican Couryard at the Hilton on Castle Hill often has a violinist, a guitarist, or a trio starting at 8:30PM. And the outdoor stage at Margaret Island has concerts and folkloric performances. See Budapest Week for details.

Budapest is home to a large expat community of Brits and Americans, so if you’re longing to hear your native tongue, pop into one of the city’s British or Irish pubs. Becketts Irish Bar and John Bull pub are probably the best of the batch. And serious beer lovers should visit the Belgian Brasserie, where they have Chimay, Duvel and Hoeggarden.

Day 6 Budapest
Spend the morning exploring some of the museums on the Pest side of the Danube. There’s more than you can reasonably see in a few hours, so choose the ones that are of most interest to you.

One of our favorites is the Museum of Applied Arts. The building itself – designed by Odon Lechner in 1896 as part of the Millennial Exhibition – is part of the attraction.

Vaguely Oriental, Islamic, and Persian in style, the building is an interesting interpretation of Hungarian Jugendstil. The roof is covered with Zsolnay ceramic tiles from Pecs and the light, airy interior is crowned with a beautiful stained glass dome.

The museum hosts traveling exhibitions and has a good permanent collection of furniture, textiles, metalwork, and ceramics. Lovers of the Art Nouveau movement will enjoy the Applied Arts Museum enormously.

The Hungarian National Museum is about a half mile walk in the direction of central Pest. Ferenc Szechenyi donated his vast, private collection to the state in 1802. In 1832, the collection of Miklos Jankovich was added and the Palatine, Archduke Joseph, convinced the Diet to fund construction of a museum.

The building was designed by Mihaly Pollack, noted for his neo-classical buildings, and completed in 1837. From its inception, the museum and its contents have been symbols of Hungarian nationalism. And over the years, the museum has been the scene of demonstrations of rebellion and revolution.

Highlights here include the Royal Crown – which was returned to Hungary in 1978 by the United States which had stored the crown since the end of World War II – a Turkish commander’s tent, and Renaissance church stalls with beautiful marquetry.

A few blocks walk from the National Museum, the Donany Synagogue is the largest in Europe. Built in the Moorish style in 1859 by Viennese Architect Ludwig Forster, the synagogue has been meticulously restored, thanks in part to the fund raising ability of movie star, Tony Curtis. Curtis, whose parents emigrated to American in the 1920s, was knighted by the Hungarian government in 1996.

Seating 3,000, Dohany Synagogue is gorgeous and well worth a visit. The Monument to the Holocaust Victims is in the rear courtyard. The Orthodox Synagogue nearby is currently being restored. All are closed on Saturdays.

When it’s time for lunch, stroll down Karoly until it does a dog-leg at Deak ter and becomes Andrassy ut, the city’s main boulevard. Built to recall the Champs Elysee, Andrassy ut is filled with stylish boutiques and cafes. You should have no trouble finding some place to eat.

Your first stop on Andrassy ut should be the Post Office Museum. Don’t worry if you’re not a stamp collector – it’s the building and the apartment that houses the museum that are worth the trip. Once the home of the Sexlehner family, the ornate interior with its frescoed walls and elaborate moldings will take your breath away.

Down Andrassy ut on the opposite side of the street, the Hungarian State Opera House, built in 1884, is one of the most opulent buildings in Budapest. The splendid interior was decorated by Karoly Lotz and Bertalan Szekely. Liszt composed a piece for the grand opening, but was prevented from playing it because it contained musical references to an anti-Hapsburg melody. Gustav Mahler is among the conductors who have performed here.

You’ll need to take a tour in order to see inside the Opera House. They are available at 3PM and 4PM. If you have time to burn, visit the beautifully restored New Theater (Uj Szinhaz) across Andrassy ut on Paulay Ede. Originally the Parisiana nightclub, it was built in 1909 and remodeled in 1920. The result is a fabulous melange of Jugendstil and Art Deco.

After you’ve toured the Opera House, if time and energy permit, stroll down Andrassy Ut toward Heroes’ Square. Turn right on Nagymezo utca, known as Budapest’s Broadway because of the number of theaters there.

The Ernst Muzeum, at no. 8, is in an interesting Jugendstil house designed by Odon Lechner. A couple of short blocks toward Heroes’ Square and you’ll come to Liszt Ference ter, a pedestrianized zone that is now home to some of Budapest’s trendiest bars and restaurants.

Find a terrace that strikes your fancy, plop and enjoy something cool to drink. If you see a place that looks good for dinner, make reservations for later. Competition here is stiff, so quality is pretty high.

If you’re up for some after-dinner entertainment, Fonó Budai ZeneHáz in south Buda is one of the best places in town for live music. Alternating jazz, blues, and traditional folk, Fono has a non-smoking section – a rarity in Budapest. And in summer, there’s a garden stage.

Austria Home



Travel Notes



Back to top

Day 7 - Szentendre
Spend the day according to your interests. If you’d like to get out of town, breathe some fresh air, and get a glimpse of Hungarian rural life, cruise up the Danube to Szentendre. Although thousands of tourists flock here each year, the town retains a bucolic allure that’s the perfect antidote to Budapest. Besides, it’s really pretty.

Narrow, cobblestone streets wind past colorful houses, walled gardens, and charming squares in this Baroque village on the Danube. More than 150 craftsmen and artists work here, and you can tour many of their studios. And the view of the red-tiled roofs from the churchyard at the top of the hill is truly special.

Getting there is half the fun. The 90-minute cruise along the river is scenic and relaxing.

Those with an interest in ancient history can go to Obuda to visit the ruins of the Roman city of Aquincum, which flourished in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. You can wander around the Civilian Town and its 15,000-seat amphitheater on your own. It’s no Pompeii or Ephesus, but you will see the remains of this city of 40,000 and its infrastructure. There’s also a museum.

To get there, take the HEV suburban railroad from Batthyany ter to Aquincum.

If you prefer to stay in town, there’s still lots to see and do. Head for Heroes’ Square where Andrassy ut meets City Park. During the communist era, the Square was the site of countless military reviews and parades.

The colonnade here features statues of the 14 Hungarian heroes. And they’re very dashing fellows, indeed.

On the north side of the square, the Museum of Fine Arts boasts one of the finest art collections in Eastern Europe. Much of the collection belonged to the fabulously wealthy Esterhazy family; the Hungarian state purchased it in 1871.

There are more than 2,500 paintings on display. And most of the world’s great artists –including Rembrandt, Titian, Raphael, Van Dyck, Goya, El Greco, and Manet – are represented. For the most part, the paintings aren’t best of breed. But the museum seems less crowded than any major museum in Europe. So art lovers should have an enjoyable visit.

The building on the south side of the Square is the Mucsarnok which exhibits modern art.

If the weather’s fine, you might want to explore City Park, built for the city’s Millennial Exhibition of 1896. Vajdhunyad Castle is the most interesting attraction here. Architect Ignac Alpar was commissioned to create recreations of architectural styles from across Hungary on an artificial island in the park.

Originally intended to be a temporary exhibit, Alpar’s creation was so popular it was rebuilt in stone after the Exhibition. A replica of Jak Cathedral represents Hungarian Romanesque. The Baroque structure now serves as the Museum of Agriculture. And there are Renaissance and Gothic buildings as well.

But the highlight here is the replica of Vajdhunyad Castle in Transylvania. Since so much in Hungary has been destroyed and rebuilt, these recreations are very much like the originals, except for context.

If you haven’t eaten in the park yet, Bogolyvar is a wonderful choice for lunch. Robinson’s, on a small lake, is very pleasant, although recent reviews indicate that the quality here may have slipped somewhat.

Those who enjoyed the baths at the Hotel Gellert can experience Europe’s largest spa, the Szechenyi Baths, right in the middle of City Park. There are indoor and outdoor thermal pools, steam rooms, and sun decks.

Another alternative is to visit Margaret Island (Margitsziget). In the middle of the Danube between Buda and Pest, Margaret Island is the city’s most attractive park. There are several old churches, a Dominican convent, and a sculpture garden.

But most people come to Margaret Island to enjoy Palatinus Strand, one of the largest outdoor thermal spas in Hungary. With three thermal pools, a huge swimming pool, a wave pool, and a water slide, Palatinus Strand can accommodate 10,000 bathers at a time. To share the experience with fewer people, avoid weekends and hot, summer days.

For your last night in Budapest, take a taxi up into the Buda Hills to Udvarhaz. With incredible views of the Danube, Parliament, and the Chain Bridge from the inner dining rooms and lovely terrace, this place is hard to beat. Hungarian violins and excellent food all contribute to a memorable evening out.

Austria Home



Travel Notes



Back to top

Day 9 - Prague
It’s a pleasant 8-hour train ride from Budapest to Prague. If you get restless, or don’t have eight hours to burn, it’s a 1-hour flight.

Those who travel by train can spend the day planning their sightseeing and enjoying the scenery of Slovakia and the Czech Republic. You’ll arrive in Prague in time to enjoy a late-afternoon orientation stroll before dinner.

Prague is a favorite destination for many travelers. Miraculously, the city emerged from the 20th century’s wars unscathed and today it is the best preserved Baroque city in Europe. When you look out over the city from Hradcany Castle, one thousand years of history is laid at your feet.

It’s not just that Prague is gorgeous – which it is. Prague is vibrant, exciting, ebullient, and intoxicating. It’s compact enough to fully explore on foot. There’s more accessible culture than you’ll know what to do with. And compared to some of Western Europe’s capitals, it’s still relatively inexpensive.

If you don’t fall in love with Prague, you’ll be in the minority. Bear this in mind when the hustlers at the train station try to shoe-horn you into their friend’s "cab." Just be sure to use a real cab – it will have a roof lamp that says "Taxi" – and agree on the fare before you get in.

And do give your lunch or dinner check a close look. Unfortunately, some Czech waiters believe that American tourists can easily afford to pay two or three times the price of a meal, and they’ll adjust your bill accordingly.

After you get settled into your hotel, walk to Old Town Square (Staromestske Namesti). As the variety of architectural styles will attest, this has been the heart of Prague since the Town Hall was built in the 13th century.

There’s lots to see in Old Town Square. At the northwest corner of Staromestske Namesti, the Baroque Church of St. Nicholas was completed in 1735. Also from the 18th century, the Kinsky Palace on the east side of the Square once housed a school attended by Franz Kafka.

South of the Palace, the Church of Our Lady before Tyn dominates the square with its huge, black spires. Completed in the 14th century, the church was the main Hussite church in Prague from the 15th to the early 17th centuries.

On the south side of the square, you’ll see a series of beautiful Romanesque houses, starting with the Storch House, which is decorated with a painting of King Wenceslas on horseback. The houses, are named after their signs. Look for At the Stone Ram, At the Golden Unicorn, At the Storks, and At the Red Fox.

When a crowd gathers in front of City Hall, check your watch. Chances are, it’s near the hour. The astronomical clock on the Old Town Hall puts on an extremely popular morality play, every hour, on the hour, from 8AM until 8PM.

To really get your bearings, and to see why Prague is called, "the golden city of a hundred spires," climb the steep steps of the Old Town Hall.

Reward yourself for the climb with something to drink at one of the squares outdoor cafes. Give yourself time to enjoy Prague’s palpable energy.

Check out the flyers advertising upcoming entertainment. Or pick up a copy of Test the Best at the Tourist Office. On any given night in Prague, you can choose from dozens of affordable performances of classical music, jazz, performance art, magic lantern shows, and English-language theater.

Find a performance that strikes your fancy and make your dinner plans accordingly. The musicians may not always be world class, but the venue – a historic church or hall – will usually make up for any shortcomings.

You’ll need to go to a pub at least one night of your visit. You really won’t have experienced Prague if you don’t.

The most well known – and consequently the one with the most tourists – is U Flecku. Why go here if it’s packed with tourists? It has the best beer, and you can’t get it anywhere else.

Besides the great beer, there’s a oom-pah band, a nice garden terrace, and a convivial atmosphere. Sure, it’s a little hokey. But chances are, you’ll have fun anyway.

For a mellower experience, try U Maleho Glena or U Medviku. And even if you’re not a beer drinker, have a beer. Czech hops are the best in the world, so Czech beer is outstanding. And the Pils style, similar to an American lager, is light and refreshing even to non-beer drinkers.

For a more civilized dinner, try Avalon Bar & Grill. With its sophisticated ambience and California cuisine, Avalon is a nice counterpart to Slavic cooking.

Vinarna U Maltezskych Rytiru (Knights of Malta) is another good choice in Mala Strana.

Day 10 Prague
If it’s not Monday, when the Royal Palace is closed, spend the day exploring Prague Castle. Those in good shape can hike up the hill, enjoying the sights along the way. Or you can conserve your strength by taking the A metro to Hradcanska or the Number 22 Tram.

The "castle" is really a complex that includes a number of structures. And it’s massive. You could spend all day wandering around. But there are really only four sights that should command your attention.

The Square (Hradcanske Namesti) leads to a series of courtyards lined with what are now government offices, including that of Vaclav Havel. The Changing of the Guard takes place here daily at noon.

Also in the second courtyard, the Picture Gallery of Prague Castle contains painting from the Renaissance and Baroque periods, including work by Rubens, Tintoretto, and Veronese.

As you enter the next courtyard, the soaring spires of St. Vitus Cathedral rise above you. The cathedral was begun in 926, though most of the present-day Gothic church dates from the 14th century. You won’t need a ticket to enter the church, but you will need one to climb the spire. The combination ticket includes admission to the Castle’s other attractions.

The cathedral contains 21 chapels, most with brilliant stained glass windows. The loveliest of these is the Chapel of St. Wenceslas. Encrusted with semi-precious stones and decorated with frescoes from the 14th to the 16th centuries, the chapel is atop St. Wenceslas’s grave.

Other highlights inside the church are the art nouveau stained glass window by Alfons Mucha, the Rose Window above the main portal, and the Royal Crypt which contains the graves of many Czech monarchs including Charles IV.

When you leave the cathedral, be sure to take a stroll around the outside. Above the Golden Portal, once the main entrance to the church, there’s a beautifully restored 14th-century Venetian mosaic of the Last Judgement. Also note the gargoyles and buttresses supporting the church.

Behind St. Vitus Cathedral, the Old Royal Palace was the seat of the Bohemian princes for more than 700 years. The highlight here is Vladislav Hall, the scene of indoor jousting tournaments. In fact, the stairways leading to the hall were designed to accommodate riders on horseback. Vaclav Havel was inaugurated President here.

Upstairs, are the New Land Rolls. The rooms are decorated with crests and coats of arms dating from 1561.

When you leave the Royal Palace, St. George’s Basilica is across the courtyard. The oldest Romanesque building in Prague, the church was established in 973 as the first Bohemian convent. It was reconstructed in the 1960s to house the National Gallery’s collection of Czech Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque paintings.

Also inside the castle walls, the small, brightly painted cottages of Golden Lane were once the homes of 17th-century goldsmiths. Franz Kafka stayed at No. 22 in 1916. Today, the street is one of the most picturesque in Prague.

There are several other things worth investigating in the area, depending on your interests.

Art lovers will enjoy the Sternberg Palace Art Museum of the National Gallery. Also known as the European Art Collection, this museum features six centuries of art from throughout Europe. Work by Brueghel, Picasso, El Greco, Durer, Cranach, and Rousseau is exhibited. The collection is particularly strong in 19th- and 20th-century French, German, and Austrian art.

Those who enjoy the outdoors, can wander through several oustanding gardens. On the north side of the castle walls, The Royal Garden was created in 1535. Sixteenth-century buildings decorated with sgraffito dot the grounds. One of the best kept gardens in Prague, it is best in spring.

Less well known, and preferred by many, the South Gardens are reached by the Bull staircase, just south of St. Vitus Cathedral. Nestled beneath the castle’s south walls, the Paradise Garden and Gardens of the Ramparts provide marvelous views of the Mala Strana district below.

When it’s time for lunch, head down Nerudova to Mala Strana, the "Little Quarter." You’ll pass lots of cafes en route. And there are several, including the previously recommended Avalon, near St. Nicholas Church off Little Quarter Square.

After lunch, you can explore Mala Strana. The large Baroque church dominating the quarter is St. Nicholas Church, not to be confused with the church of the same name on Old Town Square. There are often evening concerts here and at the Lichtenstein Palace across the Square.

Begun in 1703, St. Nicholas Church is an excellent example of High Baroque. The interior is covered with frescoes and features an elaborate pulpit and high altar. The beautiful dome depicts the Celebration of the Holy Trinity and the spectacular organ was played by Mozart in 1787.

The Little Quarter is a great place to just wander, so spend some time strolling the narrow streets from Little Quarter Square to Maltese Square to Grand Priory Square, investigating whatever catches your eye. If you get lost, just head back toward Mostecka which leads to the Charles Bridge.

When you’re tired, Kampa Island is a nice spot for a drink. On the banks of a small tributary of the Vltava known as the Devil’s Stream, Kampa is known for its pottery markets. Today, most of the island is a park, formed from several old palace gardens, and there are several cafes there.

Relax, and figure out your plans for the evening. Then, at sunset, stroll across the Charles Bridge (Karluv Most).

If the opportunity to attend a performance at Smetana Hall in Municipal House, the Estates Theater, the Rudolfinum, or the National Theater presents itself during your stay, go. These venues are so spectacular that it won’t matter what you see.

Smetana Hall is at the center of what is arguably the most beautiful art nouveau building in the world. Painstakingly restored and named for the Czech composer of The Moldau – the German name for the Vltava River – Smetana Hall is the home of the Prague Symphony Orchestra.

The Estates Theater staged the premiere of Mozart’s Don Giovanni in 1787. Mozart himself conducted the orchestra. The theater was restored in 1991 and was featured in Czech director Milos Forman’s Oscar-winning film Amadeus.

Dvorak Hall in the Rudolfinum is one of the standouts of 19th-century Czech Neo-Renaissance architecture, as is the National Theater.

If high culture isn’t in your immediate future, try something completely different: Laterna Magika, the original black light theater company. Combining dance, mime, music, and multi-media effects, Laterna Magika performs on the New Stage of the National Theater.

Another pioneer in the genre is Ta Fantastika. In fact, many think this troupe is the best of the batch.

For dinner, Circle Line Brasserie, below Avalon on Mala Strana Square, V Zatisi, and Bellevue (formerly Parnas) are all excellent, white-linen restaurants. To spend a little less, try Reykjavik for fresh seafood or U Patrona.

Day 11 - Prague

Prague prospered at the turn of the century and is, consequently, one of the best – arguably the best – Art Nouveau cities in the world. Spend the day exploring the Art Nouveau treasures of Stare Mesto (the Old Town) and Nove Mesto (the New Town).

Josefov – Prague’s Jewish Quarter – was a walled ghetto for centuries. During the 16th and 17th centuries, nearly half the population of Prague lived inside the ghetto walls. Then, in the 1780s, Emperor Joseph, for whom the quarter is named, eased the restrictions confining the Jews and the ghetto walls were torn down.

In 1897, all but a few historic buildings were torn down and replaced with new buildings, most of which were in the Art Nouveau style. Today, Josefov offers a fascinating blend of Art Nouveau and Jewish history.

Six historic sites make up the "Jewish Museum" and can be visited with one ticket. All are closed on Saturdays.

Originally built as a private house of prayer for Mayor Mordechai Maisel, Maisel Synagogue was rebuilt after the fire of 1689. Today, the Synagogue contains 16th- to 20th-century treasures from throughout Bohemia and Moravia, ironically collected by the Nazis.

The Pinkas Synagogue has been rebuilt numerous times since its founding in 1479. Inside the Synagogue, there’s a memorial to the Czech Jews imprisoned in Terezin concentration camp. Particularly touching are the pictures drawn by the children interned at the camp.

One of the most fascinating places in the quarter is the Old Jewish Cemetery. Since this was the only place in Prague where Jews could be buried, there are more than 100,000 graves in the tiny yard. As many as 12 tombs are stacked one atop the other, the oldest dating from 1478.

Just outside the cemetery walls, the Museum of Decorative Arts contains one of the largest collections of glass in the world. There are also beautiful furnishings, including Gobelin tapestries and Meissen porcelain.

The Old-New Synagogue isn’t so new. Built around 1270, it’s the oldest Synagogue in Europe. The Gothic structure has interesting five-rib vaulting and contains many historic artifacts.

Among the many Art Nouveau buildings in the quarter, there’s an interesting example of Cubist architecture at No. 7 Elisky Krasnohorske.

When you’ve finished exploring Josefov, walk back to Old Town Square and take Celetna Street to the Powder Gate. Once part of the Royal Route, Celetna is lined with beautiful Baroque facades.

The Powder Gate was one of the 13 original entrances to the Old Town. It is so named because it was used to store gunpowder during the 17th century.

Next to the gate is Municipal House, surely the most beautiful Art Nouveau structure in the world. Exquisitely restored in 1997, Municipal House is breathtaking in its beauty. Tours are available several times a day and are a must for any fan of the style.

Inside Municipal House, there are several conference rooms, halls, and performance spaces, including Smetana Hall, one of Prague’s leading concert venues. Perhaps the loveliest is the Mayor’s Hall, decorated with incredible murals by Alfons Mucha.

If it’s lunch time, there are a couple of restaurants in Municipal House.

Be sure to walk the circumference of the building so you can see the details of the exterior. Also in the neighborhood, the Pariz Hotel on U Obecniho domu is another masterpiece of the style.

Na Prikope is the main pedestrian street leading from the Powder Gate to Wenceslas Square, the lively heart of Nove Mesto or New Town. Many of the buildings here were razed and rebuilt in the 19th century.

The scene of many 20th-century protests, Wenceslas Square is a bustling nerve center of the city. It’s great for people watching.

On the Square, Hotel Europa was completed in 1904. Though it could benefit from a complete overhaul, it’s in pretty good shape and well worth popping into for a look around.

Two blocks from Wenceslas Square, the Mucha Museum is also a must for Art Nouveau lovers. It exhibits paintings, drawings, posters, pastels, and personal effects of the artist.

When you’re worn out, find a café and watch the world go by.

For a truly romantic evening, rent a rowboat with a lantern and go for a leisurely paddle down the Vltava. The twinkling lights of the city above create an unforgettable panorama that’s absolutely magical.

Wind up the evening with dinner at Kampa Park under the Charles Bridge.

Day 12 - Prague
Spend your last day in Prague doing whatever you enjoy. There are dozens of churches here worth visiting. In the Old Town, St. James Church is a Baroque stand out. The Church of the Sacred Heart in Vinohrady is a post-modern style influenced by Austrian Otto Wagner. And the Church of St. Thomas in the Little Quarter has a fine Baroque interior.

If you’d like to enjoy the outdoors, head to one of the city’s markets for picnic supplies. Havel’s Market, two blocks from Wenceslas Square, is the most popular in town. It opens at 8AM every day but Sunday.

There are several great picnic spots in Prague. Vysehrad is the quietest and has the best views of the city. The legendary seat of ancient Czech royalty, Vysehrad towers over the Vltava south of Nove Mesto.

The park is dominated by the 11th-century Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. And the 19th-century cemetery contains the graves of Bartok, Smetana, and Mucha.

To get there, take the C Metro Line to Vysehrad station.

Another good choice is Petrin Park, west of Mala Strana, the Little Quarter. The orchard covered slopes here rise to a height of 900 feet, providing spectacular panoramas. Consequently, the climb is rather steep. Or there’s a funicular that will take you to an Observation Tower.

If you prefer not to picnic, try Letna Park, across the Vltava from the Jewish Quarter. There’s a lovely café and summer beer garden with great views of the city in the Hanavsky pavilon, originally constructed for the Paris World Exhibition of 1878.

To get there, take the No. 17 tram to Pravnicka Fakulta, then cross the Cechuv Most bridge.

Save some time this afternoon for shopping. The side streets radiating from Old Town Square are particularly appealing. Crystal, antiques, glass, and old books are top quality here. Try the Globe Bookstore.

For your last dinner in Prague, splurge at the Opera Grill or the fabulous Francouska in Municipal House.

After dinner, treat yourself to one last stroll across the Charles Bridge.

Day 13
Transfer to the airport or rail station for your journey homeward.