A Taste of Eastern Europe: The Vienna Loop
|Iconic Central Europe: Prague's Charles Bridge (courtesy, Czech Republic Tourism)|
After the Iron Curtain fell, tourists flooded East European cities like Prague in the 1990s to discover an enchanting old-world Europe of cobblestone streets, Baroque palaces, and finely preserved medieval churches—not to mention lower prices than the familiar stomping grounds of Western Europe. And while the costs have started to creep up—especially in Austria—the region still offers plenty of low-cost, high-return attractions.
From the gateway city of Vienna, this route connects some of Eastern Europe's most alluring and ancient metropolises while village-hopping the Moravian countryside, tracing the Danube River, and touring the region's forests and lakes. The flavors on the fringe of the East are somewhat exotic, but on this ten-day loop through the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary, you just might acquire a taste for them.
Day 1: Austria
City of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and Haydn, Vienna proudly bills itself as the world's music capital. To sample of the city's classical music scene you must choose between three major opera houses, the Vienna Boys' Choir, and two great concert halls: the more traditional Vienna Musikverein (Bahndorferstr. 12; +43.1.505.8190; www.musikverein.at) or the avant-garde Vienna Konzerthaus (konzerthaus.at)—just be sure to arrange for tickets ahead of time.
Vienna is also home to other sights and experiences, like rich coffee and sinfully delicious pastries, the imperial vestiges of the Habsburgs, and art nouveau museums. See the work of resident Gustav Klimt at Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere (Prinz Eugen-Str. 27; +220.127.116.117.0; www.belvedere.at), the Habsburgs' Imperial Palace, and their lavishly ornate Baroque summer residence, UNESCO-listed Schoenbrunn Palace (+43.1.811.130; www.schoenbrunn.at). Finally take a breather at Cafe Landtmann (Dr. Karl Lueger-Ring 4; +18.104.22.1680; www.cafe-wien.at), the coffee shop where Sigmund Freud sipped his java. Or for something further from the trodden tourist path, hit up the Globe Museum (Herrengasse 9; +43.1.534.10.710), which reopened last fall with more than 380 historic globes on display, or go to the Prater, a popular amusement park with a Ferris wheel, games, and people-watching. In short, Vienna could swallow your entire vacation—but remember, you've only just begun.
Day 2: Vienna to Cesky Krumlov (125 Miles)
Drive three hours northwest of Vienna to the UNESCO World Heritage City of Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic. Built around a 13th-century castle with courtyards, salt cellars, an old pharmacy, and a brewery, this medieval city has been brilliantly preserved and is an ideal introduction to the Czech Republic, with quaint restaurants, good pubs, and postcard-perfect cobblestone streets. Situated on the Vltava River, it also lends itself to outdoor explorations. Canoe or raft down the calm waters of the river or rent a mountain bike to spin through the city center, the castle gardens, and the empty countryside beyond the palace walls.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication