Timeline: July 28-August 8, 2019
If you haven’t already, you can check out my previous posts on our trip timeline here:
- EuroTrip 2019: The Final Itinerary
- EuroTrip 2019: Kicking Off the Trip in Madrid, Spain!
- EuroTrip 2019: Our 2 weeks in Portugal!
- EuroTrip 2019: 2 weeks in Spain, with Whitney’s Mom!
- EuroTrip 2019: France and Luxembourg
- EuroTrip 2019: Belgium!
- EuroTrip 2019: Netherlands & Germany
- EuroTrip 2019: Poland & Czech Republic!
As Jared mentioned in his most recent article, we originally hoped to be able to spend about 5 days in each of these countries (Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary), plus about 5 days in Slovenia. Unfortunately we had to change our plans though due to Visa restrictions in the Schengen region. We ended up spending 5 days in Vienna, Austria, 5 days in Bratislava, Slovakia, and only one day in Budapest, Hungary, while we had to skip Slovenia for this trip.
We felt 5 days were good amounts for Vienna and Bratislava. Most people probably could see what they needed to see in Vienna in 3-4 days, and in Bratislava in 2-3 days. But, because we had such a long trip, we were pretty tired at this point, so spending a few extra days in these places gave us more time to relax. Unfortunately, one day was much too short in Budapest, but we made the best of it! It’s definitely a place we will have to go back to and explore more in the future.
Let’s go over some of the highlights of these cities and what we did there!
What a beautiful city! We didn’t know much about any of the places we were visiting in Eastern Europe. But going there after having visited much of Western Europe, we felt they were really under-rated! Vienna had a lot of beautiful architecture, much like Paris or London, but with a smaller city feel.
While in Vienna, we did a lot of sightseeing in the historic center, including doing our usual free walking tour. We saw many beautiful churches, the Hofburg palace complex, the Opera House, and of course St. Stephen’s Cathedral. We strolled through the famous Naschmarkt and took in all the colors, scents, people, and variety of goods. We also made a sad attempt at renting City Bikes, which resulted in much humiliation and crying on my part, because I’m really no good at riding a bike, much less in a busy city. I’m pretty sure I’m giving up on bikes forever at this point.
A little outside of the city, we also explored the Schonbrunn Palace, which was the summer palace of the Habsburg family. We opted not to pay to go inside the palace, because we have already seen several others, including the inside of the Palace of Versailles and Buckingham Palace, which you really can’t top. We did enjoy seeing the outside of the palace and the beautiful gardens.
Of course we tried some local food and wines while we were there. We also delighted in a wonderful free breakfast at the hotel everyday and a nearby Lidl. It’s the little things, ha! And to be honest, we spent a lot of time being lazy at the hotel room! Did I mention we were getting tired at this point in our travels, about 10 weeks in?
There’s probably a lot more we could have seen and done in Vienna, including taking part in some of the arts. But alas, we did not. Maybe next time!
Some people we talked to said we were crazy for plotting 5 full days in Bratislava, instead of spending more time in Budapest. They were probably right, but we already had it booked and got a great deal on the hotel nights (only 40,000 Hilton points for 5 nights!), so we weren’t keen on changing it. And, while we were to find out that Budapest was indeed an amazing place with lots to explore, we reveled in the slow-paced, small city vibes of Bratislava! It was actually just what we needed for this point in our trip. Not too much to see, not too much to do, after 10 weeks of go, go, go – yes please!
The historic downtown of Bratislava was small but charming. We did a free walking tour there and learned some of the ancient and more recent history of the country. We used the public transportation to get around town and went up to the Bratislava Castle to see the outside and the gardens, plus a cool view overlooking the city.
Another day, we took the bus to a suburb called Dubravka, and then did a hike from Dubravka to a small mountain called Devinska Kobyla for some pretty views overlooking the river, and across the river Austria! From there, we hiked down to the next town called Devin. There we saw a Medieval castle and walked around the quaint town, before catching the bus back to Bratislava. This was a much needed day spent in nature and exploring a small town! We enjoyed getting a little taste of Slovakia outside of the capital city, but we wish we had been able to go to some of the National Parks in other parts of Slovakia. We learned from other travelers that there is amazing natural beauty in other parts of Slovakia!
We stayed at a nice hotel in Bratislava and got to take advantage of the hotel gym, sauna, and pool! We spent a significant amount of time lounging around the hotel, catching up on sleep as well as some work for the websites. We also took advantage of free hotel breakfast, as well as free welcome drinks (champagne) on the patio one day! We love when we have free hotel perks using our rewards status (in this case with my Hilton Honors card).
While in Bratislava, we also tried local Slovokian food and beer which was very good. One evening we wandered around and found live music in the small downtown area and enjoyed a couple beers outside while listening. In addition to the local food, we had some really good Turkish kebab there, as we have had in many other European cities (usually very cheap, lots of food, and very tasty!)
When it was time to head to Budapest for our brief 24 hour stay there, we had quite the ordeal with transportation and thought we would never get there! First, we went to get the local public bus from our hotel to the international bus station for our bus from Bratislava to Budapest. But, the bus was late and we realized that there was a wreck blocking traffic in the direction we needed to go. So we had to make haste and get an Uber to the bus station. But then, after worrying we would miss our bus to Budapest, it ended up being over an hour late! Finally on the bus to Budapest, when we arrived there was much confusion about the Budapest public transport. We bought a 24 hour pass, but then realized that where we were staying was outside the city center, and the local transport pass was not valid for our zone! So, we had to buy a separate ticket after all!
Finally, we arrived at our hotel in Budapest, a few hours later than anticipated, and very exhausted from all the transportation mishaps and the high heat! We were about to give up on Budapest and just stay at the hotel until the next day when we left for Croatia, ha! But we decided against it, and made our way out to go to the city center. Well, we realized that in Hungary they use a different currency than the Euro. So, we were hoping that for the brief 24 hours we were there, we could just get by with using our credit cards and not have to get cash. But, alas, we came to another road block. The train station where we needed to get the train to the city center didn’t take cards, only cash! So, we had to venture around to find an ATM then return to the train station! Finally after all of this, we did manage to make it to the city center in the early evening!
Despite all the hassles of the day, we’re so glad we didn’t skip Budapest! It ended up being such a beautiful city! The architecture was amazing, and again reminded us of parts of Western Europe, like London and Paris, but smaller. The Fisherman’s Bastion area was a major highlight, with such beautiful architecture and amazing views. The Hungarian Parliament building was amazing, both during the day and at night! It reminded us of Westminster Palace in London, and it was positioned so beautifully along the riverfront. We climbed and climbed and climbed so many stairs to reach the Fisherman’s Bastion from where the train dropped us to the West (before we knew there was an elevator!), and then we went down to riverfront level, before climbing stairs upon stairs upon hills upon stairs to get back up to the Buda Castle (before realizing that you could have accessed it from the Fisherman’s Bastion while you were already up there!). Ha! We also walked across the pedestrian bridge from the “Buda” side to the “Pest” side, and back again to the Buda side later. We ate ice cream shaped like a rose and the local Hungarian street food “langos.” What an exhausting but fun first half-day we had in Budapest!
The next day, we did a free walking tour of the city, which actually covered a lot of the same ground as we’d covered on our own the day before. But of course it was nice hearing some of the history from a local. We finished with delicious and hearty Hungarian food for lunch, before we headed back across town to pick up our stuff from the hotel and then catch our bus to Croatia, and out of the Schengen region!
We had an awesome time during this part of the trip. Vienna, Bratislava, and Budapest were all really nice cities! As I mentioned, if you were planning your own trip, you’d probably want to spend more time in Vienna and Budapest and less in Bratislava, but for us Bratislava was a nice break! We really enjoyed the more laid back week and a half in Eastern Europe before heading into our final busy 3 weeks in Croatia and Italy!
Stay tuned for our next couple posts about our amazing adventures in beautiful Croatia and Italy!