Prague, Vienna, Budapest: these illustrious capital cities of Central Europe have successfully emerged from the shadow of cities like Paris and London over the last few decades to become well-deserved tourist hotspots.
With their regal beauty, distinct personalities, and storied history, a trip through the cities Central Europe offers an opportunity to see a unique piece of Europe that folds seamlessly into the cultures that envelope it from all sides, and yet the region maintains its own identity that is neither western or eastern, northern or southern.
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How Long to Visit Central Europe
We’ve included 4 cities in this Central Europe itinerary: Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and Bratislava, the lesser-known and yet extremely conveniently located capital city of Slovakia, which we think makes an excellent short addition onto this journey.
I’ve noted the minimum number of days we recommend spending in each city below, and with those numbers in mind, this Central Europe itinerary can be comfortably completed in just under 2 weeks.
However, there is a nearly endless list of incredible destinations at your fingertips once you arrive in the region, and if you have more than 2 weeks in Central Europe, you can easily fill up your extra days, weeks, or months, and we’ll give some suggestions on where else to go below.
Prague: 2 Days
Called the city of 100 spires for its remarkable architecture, Prague is known for being one of the most picturesque cities in Central Europe, and its skyline definitely delivers.
Walking around Prague feels like walking around in a (very crowded) fairytale, and simply drinking in its beauty (and its beer) is an unforgettable experience.
With views like that, spending a couple of days in Prague makes for a perfect first stop on your Central Europe itinerary!
Top Things to Do in Prague
Visit Prague Castle & St. Vitus Cathedral.
Dating from the 9th century, Prague Castle (and the impressive St. Vitus Cathedral that is nestled inside its courtyard) dominate the Prague skyline.
Be sure to visit to see some of Prague’s amazing architectural feats up close, and also to explore a piece of history.
The castle has served as a home to leaders of the Holy Roman Empire, of Bohemia, of the country of Czechoslovakia, and even today it serves as the office of Czechia’s president.
Book your tickets to visit Prague Castle now!
Take in views of Prague from above.
Prague’s skyline is one of its strong points, so be sure to seek out multiple angles on it during your visit!
Our personal favorite view is from the Old Town Bridge Tower, and admiring that view is one of our favorite memories from our first few days in Prague–it boasts an amazing view in each direction and is inexpensive and easy to access.
Stroll across the Charles Bridge.
A stroll across the iconic Charles Bridge is a must-do during any trip to Prague–but if you’d like to experience it without several hundred other people, you may want to consider visiting at dawn.
Check out the Old Town Square.
With its beautiful buildings, central location, and famous astronomical clock, Prague’s Old Town Square makes a great starting point for your visit, and many of Prague’s highlights are within easy walking distance of the square.
Things to Consider in Prague
Prague is not remotely offbeat, underrated, or unexplored.
There seems to be a myth that persists about Prague in travel writing that it is somehow still under the radar… but that is not the case.
While there are offbeat things to do in Prague, it is also small, significantly less expensive than many western European capital cities (looking at you, Paris), and arguably just as beautiful as many of them–so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it is often extremely crowded.
If you can, plan your Central Europe trip outside of peak season–Prague in the summer is a very congested place.
Prague’s taxi drivers are notoriously dishonest.
Luckily, Prague’s public transportation system is more than adequate, and between that and the fact that Uber is available in the city, you can likely avoid using taxis altogether.
Beer really is cheaper than water.
… In other words, kick back and enjoy!
Czech beer is incredibly tasty and incredibly inexpensive, and the food in Prague–especially if you’re traveling in winter–is delicious as well, once you give it a chance.
Where to Stay in Prague
Central Spot Prague Apartments — If you want simple, clean lodging at a budget price and don’t want to sacrifice much on location, Central Spot Prague Apartments is a great option in the city.
Gorgeous Prague Rooms — You can’t ask for a better location than this! Spacious rooms, a perfect location, and a moderate price are a fantastic combination.
Royal Route Residence — A beautifully decorated apartment just steps from the Old Town Square, plus wonderful views–what more could you ask for in Prague?
Vienna: 3 Days
Regal, refined, and stately are the first adjectives that come to mind when I think of Vienna–distinctly different from Prague and yet also incredibly beautiful in its way, the capital of Austria makes a fantastic next destination on your Central Europe itinerary.
Top Things to Do in Vienna
Tour the palaces.
Between Schönbrunn Palace, Hofburg Palace, Belvedere Palace, and the museums they contain, you could very easily entertain yourself for days in Vienna exploring its imperial history alone!
Experience a Viennese cafe.
Cafe culture is strong in Vienna, where coffee and cake is served in elegant, glamorous settings.
Even if you’re a big coffee fan like us, be sure to set aside your caffeination fixation at least once in Vienna to order a cup of hot chocolate Viennese-style, with cream and cinnamon–you won’t regret it, and if you’re anything like us, it just may become one of your favorite things to do in Vienna!
Step inside St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
Dating back to the 14th century, St. Stephen’s Cathedral boasts an impressive Gothic interior, a colorful tiled roof, and–perhaps best of all–beautiful views of Vienna from both its north and south towers.
Visit the Vienna State Opera.
If you’re a fan of the opera–or you’re just curious about it and want to have a glamorous night out–it’s hard to imagine a better city to visit than Vienna! The classical music culture in the city is unparalleled, and the opera house itself is a work of art.
Bonus: Visit Vienna’s Christmas Markets.
If you happen to be planning a late-November or December trip to Central Europe, you can’t beat Vienna’s Christmas markets! The city fills to the brim with them each season, boasting over 20 places to taste delicious snacks, sip hot drinks, and shop for beautiful decor and crafts.
Things to Consider in Vienna
The city is quite spread out–prepare to use public transportation regularly.
While many European capital cities are quite dense and walkable, that is not the case for Vienna: spending a few days there will almost certainly require at least a couple rides on public transportation each day!
Vienna will be the most expensive stop on your Central Europe itinerary.
While Vienna is far from the most expensive city in Europe, it does come with a higher price tag than Prague, Budapest, and Bratislava do. Prepare for a bit of sticker shock after your time in Prague, especially when it comes to the cost of lodging and tourist attractions.
Consider purchasing a Vienna City Card.
Because of these costs, if you’re planning on spending a few days in Vienna and hope to hit several of its highlights, consider purchasing the Vienna City Card–not only does it provide discounts of many attractions, but it includes all public transportation while the card is active, which can add up quickly at 2.4 Euros/ride!
Check rates on the Vienna City Card now!
Where to Stay in Vienna
Hotel Pension Baron am Schottentor — With tons of character and a central location, Hotel Pension Baron am Schottentor is a perfect budget option in Vienna (and yes–budget prices in Vienna are definitely more than budget prices in Prague).
Apartments Spittelberg Gardegasse — Large, bright, and boasting city views, Apartments Spittelberg Gardegasse is perfect for people looking for an extremely central location in Vienna without paying luxury prices.
Small Luxury Hotel Altstadt — If you’re looking for a spacious, beautifully decorated hotel experience, complete with a delicious breakfast and a fabulous location, Small Luxury Hotel Altstadt is the place for you!
Bratislava: 1 Day
Despite being located less than 2 hours by train or 1 hour by car from Vienna, Bratislava is often overlooked on Central Europe itineraries that tend to highlight Prague, Vienna, and Budapest–and that’s a shame.
True, Bratislava isn’t necessarily the showstopper that the other 3 cities are, but it’s charming, extremely inexpensive, easy to access, and offers a chance to get slightly offbeat and experience a European city less visited than the others on this itinerary.
You won’t need long here–but Bratislava is worth the detour.
Top Things to Do in Bratislava
Pay a visit to Bratislava Castle.
Bratislava’s beautiful castle looms over the city, standing high above the Danube River. On a beautiful day, you can see both Austria and Hungary from the castle!
Check out Michael’s Gate.
Dating back to the end of the 13th century, Michael’s Gate was once part of the medieval fortifications of the city. It was originally the smallest of four gates in Bratislava’s walls, but it is the only one still standing today.
Marvel at St. Elizabeth’s Church.
Also known as “the Blue Church” due to its unforgettable blue interior and exterior, this Hungarian Secessionist Church is a must-see spot in Bratislava–no matter how many churches you happen to visit as you make your way through Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and Bratislava, I guarantee that this one will stick out in your memory.
Wander through Bratislava’s picturesque Old Town.
Pastel buildings, winding roads, quirky museums, the main square, the Slovak National Theatre… the majority of the highlights of Bratislava are contained within its Old Town, making it the perfect place to base yourself during your stay.
Separate from any particular highlights, though, is the simple joy of walking around the small city–include some time for wandering during your stop in Bratislava!
Things to Consider in Bratislava
Bratislava is small.
You simply won’t need as long in Bratislava as in Vienna, Prague, or Budapest to cover the major highlights of the city.
If you want to splurge in Central Europe, consider doing it here.
Want to enjoy an upscale meal or attend a theatre performance, but also stick to a budget? Consider saving your splurge for Bratislava, which is the most inexpensive of the cities on this Central Europe itinerary.
Don’t hail a taxi on the street–call ahead instead.
If you’re hoping to save money on taxis in Bratislava (who wouldn’t be?), call ahead and wait for your taxi to arrive–you’ll end up paying far less than hailing a taxi on the street!
Like in most cities around the world, the easiest places to end up overpaying for a taxi are the airport and train station, so be particularly cautious if you want to take a taxi from those spots. If you’re comfortable with it, consider simply opting for public transportation instead.
Where to Stay in Bratislava
Manderla Bratislava — We stayed here on our 2017 visit to Bratislava and were completely satisfied for the price. The rooms were clean and reception friendly–the only downside was that the entrance is tucked into a courtyard and a bit hard to find.
VIP Apartments — A cozy apartment, competitive price, and the convenience of having some of Bratislava’s top attractions right on your doorstep are all available at VIP Apartments.
Hotel Avance — This sleek, modern hotel offers an excellent location, a tasty breakfast, and extremely clean and comfortable rooms.
Budapest: 3 Days
With its stunning views from and of the Danube, its unique thermal baths, and its remarkable architecture–not to mention its delicious food scene and low prices–Budapest is an unforgettable gem of a city, and the perfect finale to your Central Europe itinerary.
Unlike compact Prague and Bratislava, Budapest is worthy of as much time as you can give it, and you’ll never run out of things to do in the city (our longest trip there so far has been two weeks).
Top Things to Do in Budapest
Admire the view from Fisherman’s Bastion.
Popular Fisherman’s Bastion may look a bit like a Renaissance castle, but it was actually built at the end of the 19th century!
Boasting amazing views over the Danube–with the stupendous parliament building front and center across the river–Fisherman’s Bastion is unmissable during your time in Budapest. Just be sure to arrive very early in the morning if you don’t want to contend with the inevitable crowds.
Soak in Budapest’s thermal baths.
Budapest’s thermal baths are like nothing that you will have seen so far in Central Europe and are a completely indulgent and relaxing experience.
Ranging from formal and opulent (Gellert Baths) to popular and photogenic (Szechenyi Baths) to offbeat and less crowded (Rudas Baths), there’s a thermal bath in Budapest for any style of traveler.
Check out the impressive Hungarian Parliament.
Nestled right up against the Danube, Hungary’s incredible Parliament building is known as one of the most beautiful government buildings in the world.
If you’d like to take a tour of the grand and opulent interior, you’ll need to book a tour at least a few days in advance (and possibly more if you travel during the summer).
If you’d rather not fork over the forint, admiring the building up close from the outside is definitely still worth checking out while in Budapest.
Take a cruise on the Danube.
The Danube is one of Budapest’s most distinctive features, cutting beautifully through the city, with Parliament on one side and Castle Hill on the other.
A river cruise–whether an elaborate affair with dinner and entertainment or a simple sightseeing cruise–is the perfect way to admire Budapest’s beauty from a unique angle and appreciate how perfectly Buda and Pest are joined by the river.
This Danube River cruise is well-reviewed and features live music!
Things to Consider in Budapest
If you want to visit the interior of the parliament, you’ll need to book ahead.
As I mentioned above, some advance planning is necessary to tour Hungary’s distinct and beautiful Parliament building–tours are given only at certain times, and to find one that corresponds with your preferred language can be a chore.
If you’d like to tour the interior of the parliament building while in Budapest, we recommend booking tickets as soon as you have finalized your dates.
Shop affordable Hungarian Parliament tours today!
You’ll want to consider a Budapest City Card.
Much like Vienna, Budapest’s sprawling nature and the resulting need to use public transportation makes a Budapest City Card definitely worth considering–and it’s much less expensive than Vienna’s!
Purchase your Budapest City Card now!
Do a little research on Hungarian food before you arrive.
Hungarian food tends to come with long, complicated names that are difficult for English speakers to pronounce… but it is absolutely delicious. Go beyond goulash and paprika (though both are magnificent) and do a bit of research on Hungarian cuisine before you arrive–your stomach will thank you.
Where to Stay in Budapest
Jackquaters — Located right next to Vaci Utca and only 100 meters from the Danube, Jackquaters is the perfect location for anyone visiting Budapest. Budapest highlights like the Chain Bridge and Great Market Hall are within easy walking distance.
Hotel Erzsébet — With Central Market Hall and Vaci Utca at your fingertips, you definitely won’t go hungry while staying at the beautiful Hotel Erzsébet!
Hotel Mika Superior — Not only does Hotel Mika Superior offer beautiful rooms, fabulous service, and a delicious included breakfast, it’s located in the old Jewish Quarter of the city, near the Dohany Street Synagogue and Hungarian Opera House–which is one of our personal favorite neighborhoods to stay in while in Budapest.
More Time in Central Europe?
Central Europe is absolutely packed with cities, towns, and regions that are begging to be explored–no one Central Europe itinerary could hope to cover them all!
If you still have more time in the region after visiting Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and Bratislava, here are just a few of the dozens of options at your fingertips–I have no doubt some of them will have you itching to extend your trip!
Dresden’s city center is so beautiful, you may be surprised to learn that it was completely destroyed at the end of WWII and rebuilt after the war!
Come here for stunning architecture, plenty of beautiful art, and a large helping of interesting history–the Kings of Saxony used to call this city their home, and Dresden remains the capital of the German state of Saxony to this day.
With delicious food, a storied history, and easy access to the Bavarian Alps (there are tons of great day trips from Munich, including to the famous Neuschwanstein Castle!), the capital of Bavaria makes the perfect place to kick off a Germany itinerary.
Kraków is one of my favorite small cities in Europe, and is absolutely worth a detour into Poland!
In addition to the stunning Wawel Castle, beautiful architecture, and competitive prices, Kraków is also the perfect jumping-off point to visiting the insanely impressive Wieliczka Salt Mines (ever stepped inside an underground cathedral carved entirely out of salt?), and the incredibly sad, yet moving and important, Auschwitz Concentration Camp.
Castles, crypts, and caves abound in and around Brno. This city in southern Czechia is perfect for adventure lovers looking to see more of the country while fleeing the crowds of Prague and is also incredibly easy to add as a destination between Prague and either Vienna or Bratislava.
There are far more things to see in Austria than Vienna–and if your Central Europe itinerary has room for another stop, Salzburg makes an excellent choice!
Salzburg is famous for two things: being the filming location for the Sound of Music, and being the hometown of Mozart. Add those benefits to the fact that Salzburg is a small, picturesque city that also boasts amazing viewpoints and an impressive fortress, and it’s easy to see why it’s so popular to visit.
Getting Around Central Europe
Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and Bratislava are all located within an easy day’s travel of each other (and in the case of Bratislava and Vienna, it’s more like a morning’s travel).
The easiest and most relaxing way to complete this Central Europe itinerary is via train–trains run between each of these cities regularly and are easy to use.
If you’re trying to visit Central Europe on a budget, consider buses: Flixbus in particular is a popular and easy-to-use option to get between these cities.
We used it ourselves to travel from Bratislava to Budapest once, and though the bus was a bit late, it was a comfortable and easy ride.
Alternatively, you can look at flights to travel through Central Europe–budget airlines often offer great deals–but for these short distances, you’ll often find that they’re more trouble than they’re worth (and trains and buses don’t charge for luggage).
The Best Time to Visit Central Europe
Each season brings a reason to visit Central Europe: whether it’s flowers and pretty weather in the spring, the warmth and liveliness of summer, the color changes of autumn, or the Christmas markets and snowy castles of winter, you can’t go wrong traveling to Vienna, Budapest, Prague, and Bratislava at any time of the year.
If you have absolute control over when you visit, we would recommend considering a fall trip (think late September through October), when the weather will still be mostly beautiful and the crowds far less than the summer.
Central Europe Travel Tip: Currency Changes
Between Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and Bratislava, only Vienna and Bratislava use the Euro. In Budapest, you will use Hungarian forint, and in Prague, Czech koruna.
The easiest way to access new currencies is to withdraw from an ATM (preferably via a card that does not charge ATM or foreign transaction fees).
Credit/debit cards are widely accepted in all the cities listed on this Central Europe itinerary, but you will want to have cash on hand to pay for small purchases like street food and entrance tickets to local museums.
Some tourist-focused businesses will accept Euros in Budapest and Prague… but the exchange rate will almost certainly not be favorable.
What to Pack for a Trip to Central Europe
Travel Insurance — We always recommend purchasing travel insurance: you never know what will happen during a trip, and having insurance can save not only money, but time and stress in the event that something goes wrong. We use and recommend Safety Wing for trips to Central Europe.
Travel Adaptors for Central Europe — If you’re coming from outside the EU, you’ll want to double-check that you have the right adaptors for your electronics before coming!
Portable USB Charger — This Central Europe itinerary will include plenty of time on trains and buses as you move between destinations–make sure your electronics maintain plenty of charge during that time by bringing along a portable USB charger!
Umbrella — Avoid getting stuck in a rainstorm by bringing along a packable travel umbrella.
Travel Journal — If you want to keep a travel journal, but can’t commit to a huge amount of writing each night, I can’t recommend the One Line a Day Journal enough–I’ve been using it for more than a year now and adore it!
Nalgene — The tap water throughout Central Europe is perfectly safe to drink, and Austria’s taps actually boast some of the most delicious water we’ve ever tasted! Save money and plastic by bringing a reusable water bottle with you on your trip.