Prague, Vienna, Budapest – a trip worthy of the most worldly explorers, those looking for a way to see the best of Central Europe. Consider the following itinerary for those planning a trip to visit Central Europe.
While there is ample room to spread out this trip from a five-day excursion up to a week, this Central Europe itinerary can serve as the solid foundation for a plan to see the best sights in these cities and explore some of the best amenities.
This trip takes you along a journey, a Prague, Vienna, and Budapest itinerary based on times and booking accommodations currently available. Yet, these could change.
Make sure to use this as itinerary planning advice, but make this trip your own. Maybe you wish to stay in the city center, explore a Danube River cruise for a longer period, or take on one of the nearby beautiful cities in the region – each trip will look a little different than the next.
Look at the options for visiting tourist attractions as well as the many small holes-in-the-wall towns and local destinations that make exploring Central Europe enjoyable. You will find that you can easily hop on a train station just about anywhere and see a wide range of the region.
What We Cover
- First Stop: Arrive in Budapest (1-2 Days)
- Exploring Budapest
- Best Food in Budapest
- Where to Stay in Budapest
- Leaving Budapest
- Second Stop: Arrive in Vienna (2-3 Days)
- Exploring Vienna
- Best Food in Vienna
- Where to Stay in Vienna
- Leaving Vienna
- Third Stop: Arrive in Prague (2-3 Days)
- Exploring Prague
- Best Food in Prague
- Where to Stay in Prague
- Last Stop: Leaving Prague for Brussels
First Stop: Arrive in Budapest (1-2 Days)
I’m basing this itinerary on a trip I took from Amsterdam recently. As such, this itinerary starts in the Dutch Capital. I flew from Amsterdam Schiphol to Budapest’s Ferenc Liszt International Airport, then traveled to my hotel to get a layout of the land.
To see the very best of Budapest, you’ll need one to two days, but you could easily make it a long weekend. Arriving in Budapest by 11 a.m. is ideal if you don’t want a crazy early start and still want to make the most of day one.
That said, you could arrive earlier than this if you’re confident of keeping jet lag (if traveling from overseas) in check or if you’re desperate to see as many sights as possible.
Here are some recommendations for seeing the city over the next day or two. If you’re looking to take in as many landmarks as possible, I highly recommend hopping on a sightseeing tour so you can get to know Budapest more intimately later!
Buda Castle and Matthias Church
These first two are absolutely essential to experience for first-timers. Everyone visiting Budapest plans to spend some time at Buda Castle, and most visit earlier in the day. I’ve found your best bet is to visit in the afternoon if you prefer fewer crowds.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Buda Castle is a grand sentinel that oversees the city from the beautiful Castle Hill district.
Buda Castle incorporates a unique blend of architectural styles through the ages, constantly built upon, added to, chopped, and changed between the 13th and 20th centuries. Architectural buffs, take note!
Be sure to check out Matthias Church, which is also on Castle Hill and is technically part of the castle complex. Named for St. Matthias, this church was originally laid down nearly 1000 years ago and is one of the most important religious sites in Hungary.
Szechenyi Thermal Baths
Budapest’s famous baths offer the perfect relaxing way after a long day. There are saunas, aqua fitness, aerobics, and a gym. The baths, built in 1913, are quite beautiful overall and attractive even if you don’t plan to get in the water.
If you fancy a dip, you can buy your tickets beforehand. I actually bundled my tickets with a free interactive Palinka spirits-tasting tour, which made for a fun few hours.
Hungarian Parliament Building
This building’s architecture is impressive from the start, blending Baroque, Gothic Revival, and Renaissance elements. Also known as the “House of the Nation,” it’s even more impressive if you can drive past it in the evening hours. There are a few bus tours that will pass this splendid structure.
It’s better still if you can see it from the Danube. I took this Budapest City Highlights Evening Cruise, a fabulous way to end my first night in Budapest. The Parliament building was the last stop on the cruise, the cherry on the cake.
Speaking of cruises…
Budapest Candlelit Dinner River Cruise
The River Danube is one of the most remarkable rivers in the world, carving through some of the most astonishing locations in Europe, one being Budapest. This candlelit evening cruise, accompanied by light music, is a fantastic way to celebrate the city and your trip whilst soaking it all in.
It’s the perfect excuse to, well, push the boat out. Dress up, meet new people, or enjoy a quiet evening with someone special.
A top spot for exploring the city on foot is Heroes’ Square. Walk through the square and notice the numerous monuments present here, which tell the tale of over 1,000 years of the region’s history.
Just a stone’s throw from the Buda Castle District, this UNESCO World Heritage Site also hosts the Museum of Fine Arts and the Palace of Art, so arty types will want to make a beeline here.
Central Market Hall
The Great Market Hall was built in 1897 and is a charming experience for history lovers and shopaholics alike. When you visit, give yourself several hours to spend here looking at the shops and numerous vendors.
This is one of the best places to try Hungarian street food and traditional classics in town. Be sure to try the Magyar Tojasos Metelt (yummy Hungarian Noodles) and Kolbasz sausage (similar to Polish Kielbasa). Speaking of Hungarian food…
Best Food in Budapest
Hungarian cuisine is some of the most diverse in Europe. Hungary is where Eastern and Western tastes collide, and Budapest is the best place to experience this clash of cultures.
But if you have the time to explore Budapest’s culinary scene, these are some of the best bars, cafes, and restaurants in town:
- Salt: A Michelin Star restaurant in Hotel Rum.
- Rumor: Another Michelin Star restaurant.
- Szimpla Kert: One of my favorite Ruin Bars in the Jewish Quarter.
- Duchess: A rooftop bar at Matild Palace Hotel.
- Kollazs Bar: Found in the Four Seasons Gresham Palace Hotel.
- New York Cafe: The Hungarian deserts and espresso are the best in the city, and don’t get me started on the decor! You can find this in the New York Palace Budapest Hotel.
- Deryne Bistro: It offers amazing breakfasts until 4 p.m.
Where to Stay in Budapest
There are a dozen options that are worthy of your consideration, but our recommendation is to stay at the Continental Budapest Hotel. When you step inside, it’s almost like the city’s noise vanishes.
This is an extremely prestigious hotel, one that offers all of the modern updates and conveniences you need but with the touches of its former glory as a Hungarian Bathhouse.
This swanky 4-star hotel has 272 rooms, and the deluxe and executive rooms and suites are ideal for those who want a king-size bed, balconies to the city center, and free wireless internet access.
Your hotel offers lots of benefits. If the journey was long, consider taking advantage of the onsite amenities, including:
- Private guides you can book to explore the city
- Ticket reservation services for all of the activities you want to participate in
- Reservations for sightseeing tours
- Rentals for bikes, cars, and baby carriages
- Postal services
- Transfer services
The hotel offers several restaurants worth trying out. That includes Araz Restaurant, a more formal, fabulous location with breakfast and dinner served each day.
Reservations are recommended. Book them when you arrive for the day.
The Courtyard Roof Garden is a part of the wellness center on the roof of the hotel. It’s a relaxing location with an indoor pool and beautiful views of the surrounding city. There is also a massage facility there.
The next step on your Central Europe itinerary is to head to Vienna. If you have a little more time to spend here, check out the Old Town area, explore the local parks, and stop at any shops downtown for last-minute souvenirs.
I left Budapest from Keleti Train Station. I took the 9:40 a.m. train and watched the stunning views of this incredible city shrink into the distance.
See Related: Prague vs Budapest: What’s the Difference?
Second Stop: Arrive in Vienna (2-3 Days)
Vienna is one of the world’s most beautiful and historically significant cultural hubs, so it gets very busy around peak tourist seasons. So, you’ll want to choose a hotel prior to arrival (check out my recommendation below).
On a Budapest-Vienna-Prague whistlestop tour, two to three days is the optimum amount of time to see the best Vienna has to offer. That said, you could easily spend a week here and still find new things to do!
There’s so much to do and see in Vienna. My best advice for this part of your Central Europe tour is to get a feel for the city, take a walking tour, or explore the art and music district. Here are some must-see locations to pick and choose from:
St. Stephen’s Basilica
St. Stephen’s Basilica has to be seen to be believed. It’s truly mesmerizing and one of my favorite sites in Vienna.
This house of worship, built in the early 12th century, is stunning from an architectural perspective, matched only by its interior beauty. It’s this near-ethereal aesthetic that epitomizes Vienna for me.
These walls have a lot of history and are worth a tour. You can take a free tour of the church during various times of the day, or you can stop by on a guided walking tour.
Vienna Grand Danube River Cruise
Another river cruise down the Danube is in order when in Vienna. You know how I feel about the Danube, so obviously, I had to see what Vienna looks like from this ribbon of water. Planning for my first day, I found a cruise that offered lunch and booked tickets for the 1:00 p.m. slot, right after hitting up St. Stephen’s.
This was a capital decision. The city’s riverfront area is just as magnificent as Budapest’s (if not more), and the two-course lunch wasn’t too shabby either.
Another essential stop for first-time visitors to Vienna is Schönbrunn Palace. Built in 1696, Schönbrunn Palace was the Hapsburg summer residence. The palace gardens and grounds are some of the most beautiful in Europe.
Seriously, this place is a shutterbug’s dream destination. You’ll find gorgeous water features, beautiful flower beds, Roman follies, and Vienna’s Tiergarten, also known as Schönbrunn Zoo, the world’s oldest continuously operating zoo, home to over 750 species.
You’ll want to carve out at least a few hours to see it all. Book some Schönbrunn Palace tour tickets ahead of time, and explore the zoo, visit the apartments of Maria Theresa and Emperor Franz Joseph, as well as the hall where a young Mozart once performed for them, aged just six years old!
Museum of Fine Arts
If you haven’t guessed by now, Vienna is a place of great beauty. It’s the main reason I keep coming back. And to no one’s surprise, I’m sure, the beauty doesn’t start and finish at Vienna’s architecture – it also extends well into the artistic delights you can find beneath the surface.
Known as the Kunsthistorisches Museum (literally “Art History Museum“), this elegant location (a work of art in its own right) takes about two hours to explore. You’ll see a showcase of Austria’s most famous artworks throughout the centuries.
There’s also a wide range of historical art pieces here, including ancient Egyptian and Greek pieces from Titian, Velasquez, and Rubens.
Seen one palace, seen ’em all? Not on your life! Once the main palace of the Habsburg dynasty, Hofburg is virtually a city within a city and truly provides the full royal experience for visitors. Today, it’s the home and office of the Hungarian president.
This huge palace complex sits on the edge of the Innere Stadt, one of the best locations for seeing the city’s most intimate historic elements and delightful architecture. The Swiss Court, the oldest portion of the Hofburg Palace, is definitely worth your time, and I’d highly recommend touring the imperial apartments too.
Looking to find some souvenirs or a place to find great grub? You certainly will want to spend a couple of hours shopping at this famous market in the Widen District. Naschmarkt is an open-air market and a haven of activity for locals and tourists alike.
It’s a true treasure and one of the most charming shopping destinations in Central Europe. There’s also no shortage of great beer and street food to sample here, so arrive hungry!
Haus der Musik
Beauty isn’t just in the eye of the beholder but also in the ear. Vienna is arguably the most sacred city in the world of music, and there’s no better place to learn about the city’s contributions to music than the Haus der Musik.
The House of Music, is where many of history’s most famous composers spent a good chunk of their lives, including Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Strauss, and Mahler. Many lived here, composed their works here, and performed here too.
With numerous exhibits to showcase the history here, it is well worth paying this place a visit, especially if you have kids with you.
Best Food in Vienna
Austrian cuisine is some of the best food you’ve never tried. When you visit Vienna, you must sample the local fare. Before you hop on the train, grab a place on a Vienna food tour or check out these outstanding locations:
- Pramerl & the Wolf: An excellent Michelin-star restaurant where you’ll spend a bit more for the tasty cuisine crafted by Wolfgang Zankl.
- Café Sperl: Enjoy the Apfelstrudel and a melange when you visit this location. You will want to enjoy this café first thing in the morning while enjoying the view of tourists passing by.
- Mayer am Nussberg: This location is perfect for a glass of wine, a meat and cheese platter, and a view. Restaurant Purstner: This is perhaps one of the best Austrian restaurants in the region.
- Habibi & Hawara: This buffet-style location is noted for its authentic Middle Eastern and Austrian foods.
- Nei am Prater: This location is perhaps the best rooftop experience in the city. The Israeli food is very good, and the cocktails are perfect for an evening out.
Where to Stay in Vienna
A fantastic recommendation to add to your Central Europe itinerary is the Hotel Am Konzerthaus Vienna. There’s quite a lot to love about this hotel. It’s in the city center, amid various music and art houses.
You can easily take a walking tour of multiple attractions, including The Vienna State Opera, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Musikverein, and Belvedere Palace. The famous Ringstraße Boulevard is also close by.
The hotel itself offers a wide range of options, including larger rooms with air conditioning, satellite TV, and a mini bar with free mineral water to enjoy. Each room comes with free tea and coffee.
There is 24-hour room service available and free internet access. The 24-hour front desk is a great choice.
During your stay, explore these amenities of your hotel:
- Apron: A fantastic restaurant with an international menu of choices ideal for dinner.
- Bistro: For lunch or cocktail hour, stop in at Bistro. It’s a good option for those looking for simpler international cuisine.
- There’s also a bar onsite.
- A full fitness center is available for working out.
- Concierge services are available to help with booking experiences and trips.
See Related: Day Trips from Vienna, Austria
If you’re like me, you can then take the 7:10 a.m. Train Wien Hbf at the train station to take the penultimate leg of your Budapest, Vienna, and Prague trip.
Third Stop: Arrive in Prague (2-3 Days)
When you arrive in Prague, it is easy to feel as though you have stepped into another world that offers a different take on history – and to a certain extent, it does. I like to think Budapest and Prague are two sides of the same coin, and you might see what I mean if you visit both cities.
Both are historically significant cities where cultures collided; both were largely spared the ravages of World War II and communism. Both are home to a wealth of fascinating landmarks and incredible architecture, and both have an bopping nightlife.
But where Budapest exudes might, magnificence, and majesty, “The City of a Hundred Spires” looks like it comes from the pages of a storybook. Prague is the perfect place to end this multi-city itinerary purely because it is utterly gorgeous.
To make the most of a visit to Prague, you’ll need two or three days. A good Prague itinerary should include some of these culturally important locations and fun activities to round off the trip.
Prague Castle Complex
Did you know that Prague is home to the largest ancient castle complex in the whole world? Well, now you do! In the Hradcany neighborhood, this enormous castle, which dates to 870 AD, has long been the home of Bohemia’s kings and today is the official home of the Czech Republic’s President. The sheer scope and scale of Prague Castle is staggering and can be a bit much to take in.
In which case you might benefit from booking a tour of this enormous castle. During this complex tour, you’ll learn about culturally significant locations such as the Old Royal Palace, St. George’s Basilica, Powder Tower, the Golden Lane, and St. Vitus Cathedral with stunning stained glass windows.
I’d also recommend taking a cruise along the Vltava if you want to truly understand how big this place is. This Prague cruise I found on GetYourGuide, will also take you by the next attraction on this list.
Crossing the Charles Bridge is a must, partially because of the next destination on this itinerary but mostly because it’s an architectural delight and a remarkable piece of engineering. This bridge, built in 1357, has a lot of history to it but also a lot of fascinating local superstition.
A series of 30 statues lines this magnificent Gothic bridge. Each one depicts a different Christian saint or figure of significance. Bring your camera and check all 30 off!
See Related: Virtual Walking Tour of Prague
Old Town Square and the Prague Orloj
The cobbled streets around the Old Town Square are home to great bars and pubs if you need refreshment. As you explore the Old Town Bridge Tower and Square, you’re sure to notice the 14th-century Astronomical Clock.
The Astronomical Clock (or Prague Orloj) is the oldest functioning Astronomical Clock in the world and is a real spectacle. I’ve made sure to visit it every single time I’ve been to Prague.
The clock comes to life every hour, with statues of the 12 Apostles springing out for a procession across the front of the clock. This is one place you do not want to forget a camera, and if you can, snag some tickets for a self-guided tour of the clock and see how it (literally) ticks!
When you visit Prague, you are sure to see many Roman Catholic Churches. Still, you might be surprised to learn that Prague also has a fascinating Jewish history stretching back centuries. The Jewish Quarter isn’t just one of the most fascinating parts of the city, but also one of the most beautiful.
It’s still a bit of a secret that many tourists don’t know about, but it’s one of my favorite parts of Prague. If you’re pressed for time, consider booking a walking tour of the Jewish Quarter, which also makes a stop at the famous and moving Jewish Cemetery. I’d also recommend stopping by the Jewish Museum, which tells the story of this neighborhood and Prague’s Jewish population.
So you’ve seen Old Town; how about New Prague? Located in Prague’s New Town, the world-famous Wenceslas Square has been a gathering site for centuries and the scene of some of Prague’s most historically significant events.
Reflecting this storied past, the square is home to the National Museum as well as various architecturally stunning buildings, many of them built in the 14th century. It’s also the home of the Prague Christmas market during the winter months!
Czechia is a fascinating country with one of the most intriguing national histories of any country I’ve had the good fortune to visit. The Prague National Museum is the best place to learn about this country and its story.
The National Museum is the oldest in the Czech Republic, established in the early 1800s. This huge museum is home to thousands of artifacts dating back hundreds of years, all part of Czech history and culture.
Even Roman artifacts from the Bronze and Early Iron Age shed light on what life was like thousands of years ago in this part of Europe.
Bernard Beer Spa with Beer
Prague has some pretty great places to eat (which I’ll get onto next), but in terms of food and drink, Prague is renowned for its beer. After all, Czechia is the home of lager! There are tons of incredible bars, pubs, and beer gardens in Prague to enjoy beer, but it is hard to overlook this fun spin on the national beverage at Prague’s Bernard Beer Spa.
Founded in Humpolec, a mid-point between Prague and Brno, the Family Brewery Bernard is one of my favorite Czech breweries, known for their signature Bohemian lager. At Bernard Beer Spa in Prague, you can bathe in the stuff, known for its high-quality ingredients. It’s quite lovely, and you can even get a massage as part of your “treatment.”
Best Food in Prague
As you work to conclude your Central Europe itinerary, you will certainly want to enjoy some great places to eat in Prague. While in the Old Town Square area, stop by some small vendors along the street or consider a Prague foodie tour. You might also want to try these locations:
- Krcma: This is one of the most traditional restaurants in the city in the Old Town area. It’s ideal for lunch while touring the area. Try the roast pork, and don’t mind the dungeon-like feel of this location.
- U Parlamentu: Stop in for dinner here and enjoy their buttery spaetzle. A big portion of food is nearly always in store here. This is another location in the Old Town area, but it is better for dinner.
- Nase Maso: This is a good location for sampling local meats and enjoying a sandwich in the city, but it’s also fantastic with rich flavors for dinner.
- Parek v Rohliku: Your Prague itinerary needs to have this location in it if you enjoy hot dogs, as these are quite different and definitely more decadent overall.
- U Kunstatu: You can easily find a beer in Prague, but this is one of the best options. The patio is beautiful, but the area is a bit more hidden, making it a quiet destination.
See Related: Best Things to Do in Prague with Kids
Where to Stay in Prague
There are tons of fabulous hotels in Prague, but Moods Charles Bridge is the best choice for those who want elegance and exceptional amenities without breaking the bank. This location first opened in May of 2018 and, since that time, has been one of the most talked about hotels in the city.
It is right in the historic portion of the city and just about 250 meters from the Charles Bridge itself. This is a 4-star, luxury boutique hotel with lots to offer.
The high-end details throughout this hotel will enhance your Prague itinerary – just being here gives you lots to do! You can choose from superior, deluxe, junior suites, and family suites, though the best option could be the executive room, thanks to the balcony and the view. Here are some of the fabulous things to do at the hotel:
- Use the concierge to book all the trips, tours, and meals you want to enjoy in the city.
- The hotel has a full fitness center, which is good for morning workouts before hitting the city.
- The hotel offers a full bar to explore, open 24 hours a day. Stop in for a cocktail, a Pilsner, or just a lemonade.
Last Stop: Leaving Prague for Brussels
Your trip ends with a flight out to Brussels at 11:50 a.m., but you can always make your Prague-Vienna-Budapest trip a bit longer. Consider adding another day to your Central Europe itinerary to see Brussels itself.
If you do, make reservations to stay at the Mechelen Novotel Centrum hotel, which you can reach by car from the train station (or airline if you are flying in).
Despite having a shared history, each of these cities and their parent nations is unique, and I can’t pick a favorite. And if you have 5-7 days, you don’t have to either.
A whistle-stop tour through Budapest, Vienna, Prague, and the surrounding areas allows you to explore the best of Central European history, exceptional food, and culture. From staying in lavish hotels to exploring the city’s top destinations, I can tell you firsthand there is much to love about this Central Europe itinerary.