Winter Trip through Eastern, Central & Western Europe – Part 1

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Last winters, my friend and I did an amazing Euro trip covering 6 cities in 20 days. In this article, I would try to capture some of the best parts of the first half of this memorable holiday.

The highlights of this trip were the European Christmas markets (Christkindlmarkt as they are called) that I believe should be on every avid traveller’s list if visiting this wonderful continent in winter. The cities are decorated with twinkle lights, sound of carols, aroma of freshly baked ginger bread and chocolate cookies. It took me to a different world. Vienna, Budapest, Prague & Munich have some of the most beautiful Christmas markets. If time permits one can visit Salzburg, Nuremberg and Augsburg to see snow covered Christmas markets. These markets open by mid-November and are open till Christmas Eve in most of the places. They are famous for Gluhwein (mulled wine/hot wine), ginger breads, cheese, marzipan, crepes, fries, cinnamon rolls, hot chocolate and more. Wurst (sausage), best served with mustard sauce is not to be missed. You will find variety of stalls selling Christmas ornaments and beautiful gifts, which you can buy for family and friends.

To give an idea about our trip plan, we booked flight tickets well in advance to avoid last minute rush and higher ticket fares. We took flight from Mumbai to Vienna via stop over at Abu Dhabi and from Vienna we went on to travel Budapest – Prague – Munich – Amsterdam – Paris.

Vienna

Vienna-1

Vienna’s famous Christmas Markets are Rathausplatz, Stephansplatz, Museumplein and Schonbrunn Palace. Riding the two-horse carriage through these markets was one of the highlights. I recommend taking a ride in Tram nos. 1 & 2, which loop around Vienna’s Inner Stadt on the city’s ‘Ringstrasse.’ You can hop on anywhere on the ring in any direction. The round trip passes by many of Vienna’s most impressive buildings including the Rathaus (city hall), the Burgtheater (National Theater) and the Parliament. Discover the Vienna Woods; visit the Mayerling hunting lodge, as well as the Cistercian Abbey of Heiligenkreuz, constructed in 1133. Soak up a scenic boat ride on the Seegrotte, the sight of largest subterranean lake in Europe and on your way back, check out the Liechtenstein Castle. Before you wave a big goodbye to Vienna, head to Bermuda Triangle for a good pub-crawl. If interested in nightlife, Flex is a famous nightclub here that is located between two underground stations, Schottenring and Augartenbrucke. Prater Dome is another classy discotheque with waterfall, where 5 different dance floors turn into one big nightclub as the night progresses.

Stepheplatz-Vienna

We did a day trip to Budapest from Vienna. Travel time is 3-4 hours each way by bus or train. Tickets can be as cheap as 19 euros one way if booked well in advance.

Budapest

Fishermans Bastion-Budapest

Of all the places we visited I loved Budapest the most. Buda & Pest are two parts of the city divided by Danube River. A beautiful panoramic view of Budapest is seen from the top of St. Stephen’s Basilica, Gellert Hill or Fisherman’s Bastion. Budapest is home to 80 different geothermal baths like Rudas Bath, Gellert Bath & Szechenyi Bath. Other places to visit are Vajdahunyad Castle, Heroes Square, Budapest Eye Ferris wheel, Hungarian Parliament, Vaci Street and Freedom Square. Walk across the ‘Chain Bridge’ connecting Buda & Pest (yes, it is the same bridge which is shown in the Hindi movie Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam). Those who cannot make it to Paris can go for a stroll at Andrassy Avenue – the Hungarian Champs-Elysees. I strongly suggest trying the local food in Budapest like Goulash Soup and Potato Pasta topped with sour cream or cheese. Try sausages in corn dipped mayonnaise at KOLBice. Budapest is also known as the party capital of Hungary, so don’t miss out on attending famous thermal bath parties. There are different seasonal bath parties. Summer bath parties are held in outdoor pools of Szechenyi Spa Baths. Fall, winter and spring parties are in warm outdoor pools of Lukacs bath. You can choose to celebrate your New Year’s Eve at one of these bath parties. 

Heroes square - budapest

After visiting Vienna and Budapest we headed to Prague. Bus or train is the best available option to travel from Vienna/Budapest to Prague and it is a 4 hours journey each way.

Prague

Prague Castle

Prague is the serene and peaceful medieval picturesque city of Eastern Europe. Take a day trip to Cesky Krumlov, Karlovy Vary (Hollywood movie Casino Royale fame) and also to Kutna Hora if you have time. Experience the spookier side of Prague on a 3-hour Ghost walking tour. Stroll the lanes of the Old Town as darkness gathers, and hear about the shadowy figures and fables that still hang like a pall over the lamp lit streets. Visit the astronomical clock on the Old Town Hall for the ‘Procession of the Apostles.’ Enjoy the Christmas markets at the Old Town Square. Cross the Charles Bridge before heading to Prague Castle. Visit John Lennon Wall and Love Lock Bridge at the Lesser Town. Put your grumbling stomach to rest by trying some Czech Bramborak (potato pancake), hot honey, Becherovka (local Czech drink) and of course, the Czech beer. Also keep Karlovy lazne on the list. It is a well-known five-storey nightclub in Prague and the largest club in Central Europe. For a unique experience visit Absinth Bar cum Museum in the Old town of Prague, called Absintherie. Variety of cocktails and absinthe are available here. End your trip in Prague with some lovely souvenirs as your lifetime memories.

Prague-1

We continue with the travel story of Munich, Amsterdam and Paris in the next article.

Plan your trip to these beautiful European Destinations.

Author: Rikita Parikh (Guest Travel Blogger)

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