What city should I visit in Europe?
August 5, 2008 6:30 AM   Subscribe

I am going to Europe for about 12 days at the end of August. I am spending a few days in each of Prague and Vienna, and looking for a third city to go to. Which one should I choose?

I'm not against Budapest, but people with whom I share travel sensibilities say I should go elsewhere. I need it to be easy to travel between this city and the other ones I am going to, either by bus or by those inexpensive airlines. I'd love it if it used the Euro, but this is not necessary. I'd like to spend about 3 days wherever it is.

People have, with no real level of detail, recommended Athens, Istanbul and Croatia. (Also Poland, but I do not want to go to Poland.) I'm not tied to these options, nor am I against any of them (except Poland).

Things I like: cities, museums, beaches (but not so much lakes).
Things I don't like: clubbing and associated items.
I am not hugely social.

I will be alone, I'm a 30 year old woman, I speak English and French and can get by in Spanish, so mostly I'm going to be working off guidebooks and dictionaries. Hostel or inexpensive hotel recommendations would be lovely. (I know hostels are full of people who will be out all night, but I am a sound sleeper.) I'm happy to hear recommendations for what to do or where to stay in Prague and Vienna as well.

Please do not recommend I spend longer in Prague and/or Vienna. This is not, for various reasons, an option.
posted by jeather to Travel & Transportation (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My comments are based on the fact that 3 days is a short time and that you have two major cities on your to-do list.
1) Athens, Istanbul, and Croatia all seem annoyingly far for a 3-day trip, especially at the current cost of Europe.
2) If you like cities and museums I can't believe you're coming this close to Munich and not going. But Munich is another monster-city, which might require taking time out of Budapest or Vienna to really appreciate.
3) Have you considered some of the smaller cities between-ish your two bases (e.g. Brno, Bratislava, Salzburg)? That's time-value.
4) It doesn't necessarily fit your cities and museums protocol, but you might consider doing part of the inter-city journey on the Danube. (There's an afternoon's-worth between Melk and Krem in Austria, I kid you not, but you can go longer if it might be your thing.)

(Also, I liked Budapest much much more than Vienna, but maybe you're more into museums and opera than I am.)
posted by whatzit at 6:47 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

In between Prague and Vienna, drop into Ceske Budejovice for a day. Really pretty town, and it's the home of the *original* budweiser! Which of course is extra delish straight from the aging tanks.
posted by notsnot at 6:52 AM on August 5, 2008

I'd probably recommend against Croatia because of time constraints. One of the joys of Croatia is island-hopping down the coast from Split to Dubrovnik. But due to ferry timetables and such its not practical for a short stay. Likewise, Dubrovnik is pretty but not enough there to fill three days.

Istanbul is on my short list of cities everyone should visit. Here's a recent ask metafilter thread.
posted by vacapinta at 6:56 AM on August 5, 2008

Budapest. Forget what they told you. It's great.
posted by Succa at 7:11 AM on August 5, 2008

Venice or Florence?
posted by kaarne at 7:13 AM on August 5, 2008

You might consider a trip to Italy and spend a few days in Tuscany, quick access to Florence, Pisa, Siena and such beautiful places as San Gimignano the medieval Manhattan.

Excellent food, amazing landscape, packed with culture and great architecture and very friendly people, the beach isn't too far away and it's quite easy to get around with the bus or trains. Outside the touristy areas people usually don't speak a lot of English, but with some basics in French and Spanish and a dictionary you'll manage.

You can get there from Vienna with the night train in 10-11 hours (I checked bahn.at, unfortunately they don't seem to have an English website). Tickets are 90 Euro (single seat 2nd class) to 190 Euro (couchette) with several options in between (shared couchette, etc.). Flights will be quite expensive, I'd guess ~400-500 Euro as most of the cheap tickets are gone months in advance.

As far as accommodation goes - you'd be there during main season, so hotels usually are quite expensive, especially in Florence, but there's a good amount of hostels and small guesthouses around.

The downside: In August Italy is packed with tourists and it can be really, really hot with temperatures from 30-35°C during the day and 20°C at night, so if this is an issue I'd suggest locations north of the Alps.

That being said - for pure patriotic reasons I have to suggest Munich, though if you already have been in Austria and the Czech Republic, going to Bavaria would be a bit redundant. Still - lovely city, great museums and architecture , excellent public transport to get around and a good hub for visiting surrounding spots in Bavaria.

Downside: it's pretty expensive (especially hotels, restaurants and bars) and the weather in August hasn't really been that great in the past years.
posted by starbuckzero at 7:26 AM on August 5, 2008

Best answer: Unless you didn't pick Prague and Vienna yourself, I see no reason not to go to Budapest which is fairly much in the same style and is usually part of the popular "triangle" tour.

Anyway, you like cities, museums and beaches and you get by with Spanish. I'd say Barcelona. Great architecture, great for walking around aimlessly, lots of museums to visit and Barceloneta which can be reached by subway. There are cheap flights there from Vienna.

Regarding Prague, don't miss the Strahov Monastery Libraries.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 7:39 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you don't mind a bit of a trip, Zagreb is a wonderful place to visit. It has a lot to do but isn't as "touristy" as some of the other places you might consider (at least, it wasn't the last time I was there.)
posted by Rangeboy at 8:06 AM on August 5, 2008

Three days is pretty short, but you could fly to Split, in Croatia. You should be able to get cheap, round trip tickets from SkyEurope.com from Vienna / Bratislava to Split.

Split is on the mainland coast of Croatia. The town itself is pretty nice. It has several hostels and some beaches, as well as shopping and mid-sized city amenities.

You could also stay on either Brac or Hvar, two islands close to Split (I estimate 30-45 minutes by ferry). Both islands have some nice beaches. Hvar is more touristy, has more nightlife, and more society/VIP visitors. Brac is quieter, and I don't know whether it has hostels, but you can get a private apartment for a reasonable rate (30-50 per night).

I went to Split/Brac early last summer with a good friend. I enjoyed the trip so much that I went back down to Croatia with my girlfriend at the end of last summer. I'm sure I'll go back again.
posted by syzygy at 8:09 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Do what I do when going to Prague and Vienna, go to Salzburg (one of my top 5 places in Europe) or Munich.

In fact, stay in Salzburg, day trip to Munich or\and day trip to Fussen, Mad King Ludwig's Castle. The Fussen area of Bavaria is beautiful.
Stay in Salzburg, attend a Mozart concert, hire a van tour and see Berksgarden (sp?) and the surrounding towns, they are very eye-opening. Take a trip to a Salt mine, the slides are more fun than you'd expect!

Not to keep gushing, but I prefer Salzburg\Bavaria area to Vienna a lot.
The people are great.
posted by torchredraider at 8:11 AM on August 5, 2008

Munich! What a city! The real deal biergartens, Viktualenmarkt where everything a person might ever want to eat is sold, the best Weisswurst on the planet, the Glockenspiel. The traffic-less streets of downtown, the street performers. Spectacular. IMO perfect place to explore by yourself. I would give a lot to be plopped downtown for a day (or a week) with nothing to do but explore and eat.

Also very expensive...
posted by Patapsco Mike at 8:18 AM on August 5, 2008

Budapest is beautiful. A very sophisticated city. Fantastic museums. No beaches, but a couple of famous giant public pools that will let you get sun and water. It's fairly inexpensive and getting there by train couldn't be easier.
posted by Nelson at 8:23 AM on August 5, 2008

Are you positive about Poland? When studying abroad in the Czech Republic for a semester, I visited Krakow three times because I loved it so much. Cheap, great architecture, surprising amount to do there and it felt very safe.

Budapest was fantastic too, so please don't write this one off. The museums were amazing, architecture was stunning, and the baths were wonderful (I think I paid about $8 for an hour massage). It won't be quite as easy as in Vienna or Prague to get by with just English, but you'd be fine if you had a good guidebook. Very inexpensive too.

Berlin is also an absolute must-see, and I seem to remember it wasn't so far from Prague, maybe 5-6 hours.
posted by susanvance at 8:58 AM on August 5, 2008

I would have expected more love for Berlin than we've had so far. It's one of the most impressive of the European cities (IMHO) with world class museums and you can be there from Prague in under 5 hours (and back in 4 hours 32 minutes, they're very precise on the DB site!) for a max of 113 euros return fare. The train journey is also high on the list of scenic trips through hills and forests, especially on the Czech side of the border.

Berlin even have a beach bar season, with I assume faked beaches.

Previous AskMe tips on Berlin visits here, here and here.

I have to admit to not being terribly impressed with Vienna when I visited.
posted by biffa at 9:42 AM on August 5, 2008

3 days in Slovakia is a good option. Bratislava is conveniently a short train ride away from Vienna (and a bit of a longer ride from Prague, but it's still in the neighbourhood), and you can easily spend three days there if you don't feel like exploring the rest of the country.
posted by cmonkey at 9:52 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

If I were in that position, I'd look into a boat ride down the Danube to Budapest. Or I'd go to Berlin or Krakow, both cities I like much more than Vienna, to be honest. Munich is lovely too, but expensive.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:30 AM on August 5, 2008

Oh god, I hated Budapest. I got mugged there three times in one day as a woman traveling and I can't say enough about not going there. Sorry for all the Budapest-lovers; I am biased. A dude on the street tried to stab me in the eye, so I have bad memories of it there. I also thought it was one of the ugliest cities I've ever seen, and I've traveled to 22 countries, so it's not out of ignorance that I'm saying that.

I second Patapsco Mike about Munich. It's lovely, there are many cool museums (there is a miniature toy museum housed inside a bridge, of all things); home of the Hofbrauhaus; the Glockenspiel and the countryside is beautiful. I had the best time there and the people were super-friendly.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 10:53 AM on August 5, 2008

I love Budapest, that's where I'd go. It's a very safe city, and as a woman traveling alone, I can't say that I've ever heard of anyone being mugged really - and I know lots of people (mostly women) who have studied there for a year or two, and none has ever had a problem. I've probably spent about 200 days there and never once felt threatened.

I also think it's a beautiful city, and it's full of great things to do and see. It's very easy to reach from Vienna as well.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 11:00 AM on August 5, 2008

Best answer: From what you've said, Barcelona definitely. I take students to various European cities and it's always the favourite, easily ticking all of your criteria. If you go, it's worth the open top bus tour, La Sagradia Familia, anything Gaudi, breakfast at the market off La Ramblas, and a train to Sitges for your day at the beach.
posted by the-happy-manager at 11:14 AM on August 5, 2008

Response by poster: Barcelona: I have a trip planned to France and Spain. Barcelona is up there on my list, but I have a friend currently in Prague, so next time (unless there are some amazingly convenient flights).
Berlin: I spent time in Berlin a few years ago and absolutely adored it. I just want to give other cities that same chance. But it's probably the European destination I most enjoyed. (I also don't want to change my marvellous memories.)

Budapest: I had it all planned! And then my three closest friends all said not to bother. I don't actually have anything against Budapest, but I trust my friends. Though I will look into the trip down the Danube, reconsider Krakow, and look most closely at Istanbul, because I've wanted to go there longer than almost any other place on the planet. I'll also consider Bratislava, which hadn't occurred to me.

I think I'll end up making my decision based on transport options, given that my dates in Prague are not flexible.
posted by jeather at 12:03 PM on August 5, 2008

Berlin has great museums but no beaches that are not on lakes. It is cheap. I usually recommend it on general principles, but it may not be right for you. Croatia is cheap and is beautiful, but all the beaches are stone, not sand.
posted by creasy boy at 12:26 PM on August 5, 2008

Nearly forgot -- since you will be in Prague, try to take a half day and go to Kutna Hora. The Ossuary there, a small church constructed completely out of human bones, is an absolutely incredible sight you won't get anywhere else.
posted by susanvance at 12:31 PM on August 5, 2008

I suggest Bucharest or Zagreb. Bucharest is an amazingly bizarre, alien city stuck between about three different cultures/time periods. Really fascinating. The food sucks though. Zagreb is pretty cosmopolitan. I think you'd have fun in either.
posted by spicynuts at 12:54 PM on August 5, 2008

Oh by the way...I flew from Budapest to Bucharest for 50 dollars. I'm sure there's a similar flight from Prague.
posted by spicynuts at 1:09 PM on August 5, 2008

I did Vienna-Budapest-Prague-Vienna for a 9 day trip. Took trains between the places, never more than a half day's travel.
posted by sandmanwv at 1:51 PM on August 5, 2008

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