Recommendations for Budapest -> Krakow -> Berlin itinerary in early July
June 17, 2013 4:12 PM   Subscribe

Doctor Girlfriend and I are taking a trip to Central Europe in a couple weeks, flying into Budapest and then making our way over the course of 10-11 days to Berlin to meet friends. We're planning on spending most of that time in Slovakia and Poland. Our only definite stops are Budapest, Krakow, and Berlin, and we definitely want to do some hiking in the Tatras somewhere in there. But aside from that, we don't have firm plans. Anyone been in that area, and have some recommendations on awesome places to see/stay/eat/drink/listen to music? We tend to like stuff that's not super tourist-trap-y or packaged.

We're late 20s (her), mid-thirties (me), in reasonable shape but not hardcore. As in, yes to hiking, no to mountaineering. (I do really want to see an ice cave, though.) We have a mid-range budget; we've both done the shoestring-hostel thing, and we're kinda over it, although we do still like the social aspect of hostels and like to meet other travelers. But we're definitely not luxury travelers. Neither of us speaks any of the local languages, sadly.
posted by crookedgrin to Travel & Transportation around Slovakia (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Széchenyi baths (fürdo") in Budapest.

Also in Budapest, I recommend a restaurant called St Jupat, just off Moscow Square to the northeast. Traditional Hungarian food in large quantities. So much grease. Altho be warned: the bowl of barley is actually literally just a bowl of cooked unseasoned barley. There is no secret.
posted by PMdixon at 4:49 PM on June 17, 2013

I've been in this part of the world a couple of times. It's a great place, dense with culture and history. Will you have a car? You should decide if you mostly want a nature trip or you'd rather see cities. My travel is mostly city-oriented, so that's my bias below.

Budapest is awesome. Plan at least a couple of days there. Great museums, food, history.

Slovakia: Bratislava is a nice city. It also felt a little like Budapest's little brother. Totally neat place to visit but if it's a short trip, maybe redundant. I wish we'd spent a night in Banksá Bystrica in Slovakia. Looked like a really cute and fun little town and the Slovak Uprising Museum there is fascinating. In the Tatras, the Grand Hotel Kempinski was amazing, but it's in the "luxury traveller" category. The whole area around Štrbské Pleso is really beautiful up in the Tatras, definitely would spend a couple of nights there if you're in to hiking and mountains. Good local trains too; should be easy to plan a one way hike.

Poland: Kraków is great, of course (but skip the obligatory salt mine tour). Wrocław is also a pleasant town. Beware that Poland roads and traffic are as terrible as they say.

Czech: Prague is a fantastic city, you could easily spend a week there alone. I'd either dive into it or skip it entirely, save it for another trip.

Germany: Dresden is amazing. Really beautiful, and an important symbol of German Reunification.
posted by Nelson at 5:18 PM on June 17, 2013

I stayed at the Green Bridge Hostel for a few days in 2005. It may meet your inexpensive but not-too-hostelly criteria. While I was there I went caving - the hostel arranged it and it was a little touristy but a lot of fun. I also went for a massage at the baths that PMdixon mentioned.
posted by balacat at 5:18 PM on June 17, 2013

I came into second the Széchenyi baths in Budapest. If you enjoy swimming and/or hot tubs, steam baths, saunas, etc, they are brilliant. I could have spent the whole day there. There may be tourists (I was one), but they are outnumbered by the locals and it didn't feel touristy at all, just awesome and luxurious (but at a price a student could afford).

I can also say that the hostel in downtown Bratislava is pretty good. It's a regular hostel, but they may have private rooms. The staff speak English (not so common in Bratislava - take a phrase book if you don't speak Slovakian), and the attached restaurant is very good (and, again, at student prices).
posted by jb at 5:47 PM on June 17, 2013

There are a lot of good suggestions at this previous question; my advice from there stands (seconding PMdixon's recommendation of St. Jupát).

Depending on the type of music you like, there are likely to be a lot of different good answers on where to hear music; for blues back when I lived there in '01, the place to go was Old Man's Music Pub, out on Akácfa utca (it's a little ways off the major roads, so a block of the walk to it's a bit sketchy and dark). No promises that it's the same now as it was then. A38 and Zöld Pardon are also quite popular venues for popular music; if you want an idea of who's playing where and when, grab a PesiEst (a free publication) at a metro station; it's all in Hungarian, but you can flip to the live music listings (almost all of which will be bands you've never heard of --- you may have to let your fingers do the walking on the internet to find something you like). It your tastes incline more towards classical music, well, there's the National Opera, among other prospects.

The last time I visited, I stayed at the Golden Park Hotel, a quite cheap place right near Keleti pályaudvar (so, right near metro and other transit lines, as well as major streets). It was shabby but not unpleasant, so if you're going a step up from hostels but aren't fussy, it's not a bad place.
posted by jackbishop at 6:21 PM on June 17, 2013

Will you have a car? Since you have a limited amount of time transportation may be a factor.

Budapest: take the commuter train to Szentendre. It's a little kitschy but rather lovely and good place to stroll around of an afternoon. A little further out of town is Esztergom, which is the heart of Hungarian Catholicism and has a pretty spectacular cathedral. Visegrad is on the way between Esztergom and Budapest and there's a fantastic ruined castle there. (Last time I was in Hungary I got to Visegrad too late to make the climb--approx. 2 hours--so have only seen the castle from afar. Would welcome your photos!)

Poland: Let me count the ways! This is such a fun place to visit. I lived in Krakow 10 years ago and while it's becoming more touristy, the sights are still well worth seeing. Since you mentioned caves, I can firmly recommend the Wieliczka salt mine--it's touristy, okay, but it is awesome and well worth the trip. Also a little way out of town is Ojcowcki Narodowy Park and the castle at Pieskowa Skala. The locals pick fresh wild strawberries in the surrounding forest and sell them in paper cups; they're pretty much the best thing you ever tasted.

In Krakow itself there are the usual museums and galleries. The Czartoryski museum is particularly fine. And there are all the Holocaust sights which you'll have plenty of opportunities to explore if that interests you. I took a regular evening stroll along the Vistula to clear my mind after work and found it very soothing. Definitely check out Wawel hill and the castle. If you like music, there are free/low cost concerts almost nightly around town, particularly classical music, which is offered is many churches. Enjoy culture and architecture at the same time!

Mountains: Zakopane is the standard destination for the Polish side of the Tatras. Try the gofry! And the local smoked cheese. Zakopane gets VERY crowded in the summer so be aware of that. Also be sure to dress warmly. If you're up for serious hiking, head out to Morski Oko for breathtaking views. Slightly less intimidating mountains are the Beskidy on the Poland/Slovakia border.

I would be remiss if I left off my favorite place in Poland, Gdansk! You can hit the beach in Sopot or visit the WW2 sites on the Westerplatte. There are many excellent restaurants there, and the old town has been beautifully restored. You can also visit the shipyards where the Solidarity union was founded. Not far from Gdansk is the Malbork castle, which for all the world looks like a movie set.

This is just off the top of my head. I might post again if I think of more. How many days are you planning to be out there?
posted by orrnyereg at 10:28 PM on June 17, 2013

The Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin is a wonderful museum of contemporary art. One of my favorite places.
posted by R. Mutt at 5:19 AM on June 18, 2013

I've only been to Krakow, last in 2009:
Ha, I'm glad someone else spoke up in favor of the salt mine tour. I also enjoyed it. (Where else can you hear the tour guide say, "Feel free to lick the walls, but please do not lick the statues."?)

Seconding Wawel, both the castle and the cathedral. Both are interesting. Don't miss the trip up the bell tower in the cathedral.

Are you planning to to go Auschwitz? Expect for it to take up most of the day, and for it to be soul-crushing, so don't make plans to go anywhere afterward. (I know that sounds obvious, but in terms of time managment, it's not something people always think about.)

An alternative is go to spend a day in the old Jewish quarter, Kazimierz, and go to the small-but-interesting Galicia Jewish Museum and the Old Synagogue.

I had a delicious breakfast at the honey-themed restaurant Pasieka.

A lot of the guidebooks talk about the cafe Dym, which was crowded and unfriendly and very, very smoky, and the English-language bookstore Massolit. I disliked them both. (Massolit is always portrayed as a bookstore-cafe, which it isn't. It's a bookstore with three tables in it. And not even a very good bookstore.)

My favorite cafe/bar was Cafe Szafe, about 10 minutes' walk off the main square. My husband and I were almost always the only tourists there, although the folks behind the bar were friendly. It's sometimes smoky, but has a very cool vibe.

I stayed in an apartment, but a friend stayed at the the Palac Bonerowski. Aside from the super-hilarious name, it was gorgeous and amazing. It's where I would stay if I was feeling flush and was going back. (I don't think it's *that* expensive; you can apparently pick up a room for about $200 US—worth it if you can manage it into your budget.) It's right on the main square and it's literally an old palace.
posted by purpleclover at 6:21 AM on June 18, 2013

I'm back!

I concur about Dym. There's a nice place called Camelot on ul. Sw. Jana not far from where I used to live with good coffees and a nice menu. They also frequently have music in the basement. I also recommend the pastries at Hawelka, particularly the one in the Cloth Hall, which sells these AMAZING plum strudels (strudel sliwkowy).
posted by orrnyereg at 4:10 PM on June 18, 2013

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