Central Europe, once a cut-off half continent because of Communist rule, has blossomed in the last 25 years as one of the hottest spots for tourism. Among the destinations in Central Europe, Prague and Budapest continue to dominate the landscape as top travel destinations.
The Czech Republic is home to 10 million people, one million of which live in Prague. Hungary also has 10 million people and two million of those live in Budapest.
Why visit these destinations? Among the top reasons are history, the progressive mindset, architecture and the cultural experience. Good to know: These are not destinations for first-timers to Europe. They are best suited for seasoned and independent travelers.
Prague, while incredibly historic, oozes a young, vibrant energy. It is often called the Paris of the East for its beauty and museums. While English is widely spoken in the city center, it can be a bit more challenging on the outskirts, which is why this destination is not ideal for first-timers to Europe. The top landmarks in Prague include the Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, the Astronomical Clock and Old Town Square.
It is recommended that travelers spend two days in Prague’s castle district, which is like a town within a town. Here travelers will find the castle, the cathedral and a ton of free sights. Recommended: Visit Golden Land, a stretch where all the goldsmiths used to live. Today there remains a monastery and a brewery (the Czech Republic consumes more beer than any other destination in the world).
Dining in Prague is a must if you like anything that goes with beer. There is a pub o every corner. Top sellers include potatoes, schnitzel, pastries and noodles. Street food is also delicious in Prague. For tipping, the international standards apply. Translation: 10 to 12 percent. In the Czech Republic it is also okay to round your bill up.
Where to Stay
The Best Western Pav, near the Charles Bridge and Old Town is a 3-star hotel that is great for budget-minded travelers. Something slightly more upscale is the Best Western Premier Hotel Royal Palace, on the castle side of the river. The InterContinental Prague is one of the city’s best hotels, and is great for river cruisers. Be sure to upsell rooms that have river views. The Sheraton Prague Charles Square Hotel is near the Charles Bridge, and in 2009 added a new section that combines the history of the hotel with a modern atmosphere.
From Prague it is a 7.5-hour train ride through Budapest. The journey is incredibly scenic, however if that is too long of a stretch to sit still, consider making a stop in Bratislava on the way. Bratislava is half the size of Prague, but is jam-packed with the same amount of history and culture. Bratislava is also a one-hour train ride from Vienna, which is another option to consider.
Budapest, compared to Prague, is about 10 years behind when it comes to tourism. That said, much of the city is consider a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is a crossroads of Europe and has been for centuries. Budapest is Hungary’s largest city. It is divided by the Danube and is known as the city of spas. (Tip: Check out Szechenyi Bath, a thermal bath with 15 indoor baths and three outdoor pools. A day pass is $20.) Other sites to see are the castle district, the Royal Palace, Fisherman’s Bastion, Heroes’ Square and the Chain Bridge.
Where to Stay
The InterContinental Budapest sits right on the Danube and is great for river cruises. It is very close to outdoor shops and restaurants.
The Millennium Court Budapest is a 4.5-star hotel near the shopping of Vaci Street and the Central Market.