Summary : 13 days; Fly Toronto – Munich; Rent car in Munich for 11 days; Drive to Salzburg – Hallstatt (night stay); Hallstatt to Vienna via Melk; Vienna stay 3 nights; Mozart concert; Vienna to Budapest in Hungary – stay 3 nights; Local folk music and dance; Budapest to Bratislava to Prague ( stay 3 nights); Opera; Prague to Munich via Cesky Krumlov; Munich Centrum 4 hours; next morning fly back to Toronto
Medieval and early modern history, architecture, music and food were the key magnets that attracted me to this area. I think it was while I was reading the Ottoman and Hapsburg history that the idea of visiting this place took shape.
How to travel this route : I weighed the options of travelling by train, bus, air and car and decided on the option of car for a few reasons –
- distances are not too much so you dont have to worry about getting tired of driving
- a car gives you the flexibility of deciding your starting time, where you want to stop or take a detour, where you can stay, where you want to eat, on the way
But car can get expensive if you do not book it early enough. A car is absolutely useless in the cities, as driving around to see the sights is absolutely NOT recommended. So you pay around 20 – 35 euros a night to park, while you pay for the Hop on Hop off bus or the transit. Yet, I will recommend a car if, like me you have a family of 4, like the adventure and want control of your schedule.
- Salzburg : Its about 2 hours drive from Munich and famous for being the birthplace of Mozart and for being the setting for the film Sound of Music. Beautiful small city with formidable fortress, alluring domes and spires, nice views of eastern Alps with a river flowing through the city would ideally take a few days but can be packed in half a day if you are not planning to attend the shows.
- Hallstatt : One of the most captivating places I have ever seen. Its a small town with pastel-colored houses around a lake and majestic towering peaks on all sides. We stayed in the Obertraun village close to Ice caves. Dachstein Ice Cave, Mammoth Cave offers great trekking; the 5 Fingers is a look out point where you can walk beyond the cliff edge on a metal platform, needless to say, the view of the village below, the lake and mountains is simply breath-taking. Plan to spend a whole day here.
- Vienna : Historic Imperial city with grand palaces and imposing baroque buildings; Music capital of Europe (western classical music); We stayed in the centre of Vienna, the Stephansplatz, which is I guess what the tourists come looking for – the cobbled stone walkways, bistros and coffee shops, monuments at walking distance, a place where you can wander aimlessly taking in the beauty of surroundings with a coffee or an ice cream in your hand. We took the Hop on Hop off for 3 days to tour the city. Must see places are the following –
- St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom)
- Schonbrunn Palace – takes at least half day
- State Opera House (Staatsoper) – attend a Mozart concert here, its an experience of a lifetime – Expensive$$$
- Belvedere Palace (Schloss Belvedere)
- Hofburg Palace
- Taste the schnitzel
- Budapest : Beautiful city divided into Buda and Pest sides by the river Danube. You can spend hours just walking along the Danube… everyday! The view of the towering Buda castle and the Citadel are amazing from the Pest side, We stayed in Pest, close to the Centrum as it is the touristy area with a busy square. Again, we took the Hop on Hop off bus for the 3 days but you could easily move around using transit. Some not-to-miss places and events I can recommend are :
- Walk along the Danube… in the day and in the night
- Take the cruise … in the day and in the night – 2 cruises are included in the Hop on ticket
- Walk on Chain bridge, a few times
- Walk and explore the Buda Castle – if you are even reasonably fit, I would recommend walking up the castle – halfway up, they have elevators to take you to the top, just in case…
- Taste Hungarian goulash
- Enjoy the folk music and dance program – some have a dinner and dance included
- Don’t miss the Paliament building, especially at night
- Devin Castle near Bratislava : Although only ruins remain now, this castle first built in the 9th century, is a must see place. Perched atop a 200 metre cliff, the castle overlooks the Danube. The views from the top are marvelous. Must see Place
Prague is the quintessential destination for the aimless wanderer who is asking to be surprised, and is pleasantly surprised at every turn.
- Prague : The most beautiful of the 3 cities, Prague has a lot to offer. It was one of the few cities which was not bombed (or not bombed much). A lot of the original architecture has survived and it shows. This is an excellent place to see an Opera or attend a concert as its much more affordable compared to Vienna. Spend time walking around starting from the famous and fascinating Charles bridge built in the 14th century. My recommendation on the must see places in Prague :
- Charles bridge
- Prague Castle
- St. Vitus Cathedral
- Old Town square
- Wenceslas Square
- The National Theatre
- Cesky Krumlov : A very picturesque town on the banks of Vltava river with a towering castle on the cliff. The drive from Prague to Cesky Krumlov takes around 2-3 hours and is very scenic closer to Cesky Krumlov. Plan to spend at least half a day here.