Last time we were in Switzerland we mostly covered Western European countries which were within easy reach from Geneva, Switzerland in terms of time and cost. We did plan a Central Europe tour which didn’t work as we had to cut short our trip when our onsite project got over. Nonetheless, we had 19 countries crossed out from our bucket list with our little one during our 18 months in Switzerland.
A year later we got a second chance to visit Switzerland which was a short trip just for a couple of weeks. It was Chhavi’s mid-year school vacation and we decided to grab this opportunity to make another trip to Europe. We extended our stay by another couple of weeks and planned an epic central Europe trip covering 5 countries – Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, and Germany.
Here is the detailed Itinerary of our trip to Central Europe and the cities we visited on the trip:
Our first stop on the trip was the majestic city of Vienna. We took an evening flight from Geneva to Vienna. There is a good frequency of trains and buses from the airport to the city center. We had booked the hotel ‘Novum Hotel Congress’ which is at a walkable distance from the Vienna main railway station. So getting to the hotel from the airport was easy. And as we reached Vienna late at night we had our dinner at the train station which has several restaurants and eateries.
Day 1 – Vienna Sightseeing
We had booked a Hop On Hop Off (HOHO) bus tour to explore Vienna. Public transport is also a very good option to explore the city. We boarded the HOHO bus from the main train station opposite our hotel. The first stop on the route was the majestic Belvedere Palace complex we just clicked pictures to save time for Hofburg Palace which we visited later in the day. Next stop was the magnificent Karlskirche or the St Charles Church close to Karlsplatz. You can explore the church and head to the Naschmarkt, a huge local market. When we visited the market was closed as it was a national holiday. We crossed the Karlplatz Station to the other side which opens up to view of the Vienna Opera. You can take a guided tour of the building or the best watch one of the iconic opera performances.
The Old Town area of Vienna is lined with cafes and restaurants and has 3 main churches the St Stephens Church, the St Peters Church, and Neoclassical St Michael Church. Infront of the St Michael Church is the entrance to the Hofburg Palace. There is so much to explore here. Imperial Hofburg Palace Museum comprising of Sisi Museum, the royal apartments, and the Imperial Silver Collection. The square Heldenplatz in front of the Hofburg Palace houses several monuments and museums including Spanish Riding School, the Imperial Treasury, and the Neue Burg. If you have time left for the day and if you are looking for more museums, across the street from the Heldenplatz is the Museumsquartier which has some important museums.
Day 2 – Vienna Sightseeing
For the first half of the day 2, you can choose either of the guided tours of the Burgtheater, the Vienna City Hall or the Austrian Parliament Building. When you are around the Vienna City Hall do not miss a visit to the impressive Neo-Gothic building with a richly decorated facade, which is about 10 minutes walk from the City hall. After lunch head to the summer residence of the Habsburg, the magnificent Schonbrunn Palace and explore the royal apartments and the impressive Baroque garden. Later in the evening, you can make a visit to the Prater.
If you are traveling with kids you cannot miss a visit to Prater, a large public park which has over 250 attractions including Giant Ferris Wheel, Madame Tussauds, a Planetarium and numerous adventure activities. You can end your day and the Vienna city tour at one of the restaurants or clubs on the beautiful Danube Island.
Read the detailed Vienna Itinerary: 48 Hours in Vienna – Top Things to do and See
Tip: Most of the Central Europe Itineraries include a visit to the beautiful city of Prague in the Czech Republic. We had already visited the city before so we skipped it on this trip. If you want to include Prague City there is good connectivity of buses and trains from Vienna to Prague with a travel time of around 4 hours. You can then head from Prague to Budapest (6.5 hours journey) or Prague to Bratislava (Around 4.5 hours journey) depending on your next destination of interest.
Day 3 – Bratislava Sightseeing
We boarded an early morning bus from Vienna to Bratislava. Vienna to Bratislava is an about an hour journey. We booked a room at the Freddie next to Mercury Hostel & Apartments which allowed check-in only in the noon. We dropped our luggage and headed to the bus station to take a bus to the Bratislava Castle. We explored the castle and walked down into the Old Town area. Our first stop was the St. Martin’s Cathedral. If you walk further straight you can walk on the bridge Most SNP. We had wonderful views of the bridge and the River Danube from castle hence we skipped this part and entered into the Old Town.
Explore the Michael’s Gate, visit the small ‘Museum of Trade’ in Biela street and walk into Hlavne Namestie the main square of Bratislava. The square is surrounded by several important buildings and iconic statues. The buildings in the square include Town Hall, Primate Palace, and a couple of churches. Also must visit here is the iconic Blue Church an exemplary Art Nouveau style blue building about a 10-minute walk from the Old Town. End your day with a visit to Devin Castle or Slavin Monument or both if you have enough time.
Day 4 – Budapest Sightseeing
We were in Bratislava only for one day. The next morning we took a bus to our next city, Budapest. Bratislava to Budapest was close to 3 hours journey. Budapest has a very good network of public transport comprising of trams, underground trains, and buses. We took an underground to The Cream Hotel we booked in the prominent square of Deak Ferenc Ter. We checked into the hotel dropped our luggage and headed to the Market Hall, the top Budapest attraction which is just 10 minutes walk from the hotel. The street is lined with hotels and restaurants where we had an early lunch.
After exploring the Market Hall we hiked up to the Gellert Hill to the Citadella. We also visited the other major attractions of Budapest the Matthias Church, Fisherman’s Bastion and the Buda Castle. We waited until dusk at the Buda Castle and enjoyed the view of the city of Budapest illuminated in golden lights.
Day 5 – Budapest Sightseeing
We started our day 2 of Budapest Sightseeing with Danube River Promenade we visited the ‘Shoes on the Danube’ memorial and the Hungarian Parliament, one of the most beautiful buildings in Budapest City.
There are numerous statues along the river promenade which is fun to explore. Later we took a metro to Heroes Square known for the 36m-tall pillar topped with Gabriel the angel and two colonnades behind the pillar adorned with statues of Hungarian heroes. Also must visit here is the large City Park which is located behind the Heroes Square. The green landscape is a must visit if you are traveling with kids, the park has a botanical garden and a zoo too. Also must visit here is the Vajdahunyad Castle which features several interesting architectural styles. The second half of the day we visited St. Stephen’s Basilica and the neighborhood of Ruin Bars. The other things to do in this neighborhood are the Sasz-Chevra Synagogue, street food court called Karavan Budapest and the Dohany Street Synagogue. End your day with a cruise on the Danube and enjoy the city illumination from the boat.
Read the detailed Budapest Itinerary: 48 Hours in Budapest – Top Things to Do and See
Day 6 – Eger Day Trip from Budapest
On our third day in Budapest, we planned a day trip to Eger from Budapest. Eger is a small historical town couple of hours from Budapest. The town is small but charming with lots of historical buildings, churches and a couple of museums to explore. Once in the town, we collected a map from the information center in the bus station and started our sightseeing with the magnificent Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Apostle next to the bus station. The next stop has to be the Dobo Square which is the main square of the town. The square is surrounded by numerous restaurants where we had our lunch. After lunch we visited the most important attraction of the town is the Eger Castle which sits on a hill overlooking the town of Eger. The Eger Castle has several permanent and temporary museums displaying exhibits about the history of the town and Hungary.
The other things to do in Eger are exploring the numerous Baroque buildings, visiting the thermal bath and the Wine Valley which is said to be home to around 200 wine cellars.
Tip: Instead of heading from Budapest to Ljubljana you can add in another country here – Croatia. Budapest to Zagreb is about 5 hours journey which a very good frequency of buses. When in Zagreb you can plan or book a day tour to Plitvice Lakes National Park. The bus from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes National Park takes about 2 and half hours. And then head to Ljubljana, Zagreb to Ljubljana is little more than a couple of hours. But the main point here is you would need to hold a valid dual or multiple entry Schengen visas to enter, stay and transit in Croatia. We skipped Croatia and headed straight to the city of Ljubljana in Slovenia instead.
Day 7 – Budapest to Ljubljana and Ljubljana Sightseeing
Budapest to Ljubljana was the longest bus ride on our Central Europe tour. We had started early morning and reach Ljubljana by lunchtime. Budapest to Ljubljana is close to 6 hours. We checked into the Hotel Center Ljubljana, had a quick lunch in one of the restaurants and wandered around the lovely city center of Ljubljana exploring the bridges spanning the Ljubljanica River.
The city is small and compact and packed with historical buildings, churches, monuments and numerous cafes and restaurants. A couple of hours walking around the city center was enough for us to fall in love with this wonderful city. We spent our evening by the riverside promenade watching the reflection of the illuminated city in the calm waters of Ljubljanica.
Also Read: Top 11 Things to do in Ljubljana Slovenia
Day 8 – Lake Bled and Bohinj Day Trip from Ljubljana
Lake Bled one of the top things to do in Slovenia is a popular day trip from Ljubljana. There is a good frequency of buses from the Ljubljana main bus station to Lake Bled. The main draw for the tourists to Lake Bled is the island church or the Church of the Assumption of Maria which sits amidst the Lake Bled in a picturesque setting. We wandered around the lake clicking pictures of the island church and the castle perched on the hill. There is also a possibility to visit the island church, you can hire one of the traditional Pletna boats. After spending enough time around the lake we hiked to the Bled Castle which takes around 15 minutes. The terrace of the castle offers great views of the island church and its surrounding. The castle has a museum, souvenir shop and a restaurant where you can buy something to eat while you take in the views of the lake.
Another popular activity at Lake Bled is to hike to the viewpoint Ojstrica which offers breathtaking views of Lake Bled and the island church which we skipped. We next boarded a bus from Lake Bled to Lake Bohinj which is half an hour bus ride. We had a quick lunch in one of the restaurants at Lake Bohinj. There is nothing much to do here, you can just wander around the Lake Bohinj and take in the surrounding views. There is a small church next to the Lake Bohinj which has some remarkable paintings in the interior which you can visit.
Day 9 – Piran Day Trip from Ljubljana
Piran is a small coastal town some couple of hours bus ride from Ljubljana, the Slovenia capital. The first thing you will notice about Piran is that it is a choc-a-bloc of houses in a maze of narrow alleys. The major point of interest in Piran is the beautiful Tartini Square which is dominated by the statue of popular violinist and composer Giorgio Tartini. The square is surrounded by historic buildings, churches, cafes, souvenir shops and museums. We did a guided walking tour of Piran with the Portoroz and Piran Tourism which was a wonderful experience.
The guide walked us through the narrow lanes and alleys which we wouldn’t have been able to explore it on our own. If you are visiting with kids do not miss a visit to the Aquarium and Shell Museum which is next to the Tartini Square and the Museum of Underwater Activities. A short climb to the top of the bell tower of the St George Cathedral offers a breathtaking view of the Tartini Square, the town rooftops, and the surrounding blue sea.
Day 10 – Ljubljana Sightseeing and a Bus to Munich
We started our day with a visit to the central market of the city. We were amazed at the variety of flowers at the market. Some of them we were seeing for the first time and the roses in varied shades of red and yellow were awe-inspiring. There is also a flea market which sells clothes, handicrafts, meat and dairy products. Next to the market is a funicular station which takes you up to the historic Ljubljana Castle. Alternatively, you can hike your way up the hill, to the castle. The hike offers wonderful views of the city. The castle has several museums and a chapel you can explore, one can also take a guided tour of the castle and climb the Outlook Tower of the Ljubljana Castle for wonderful views of the city.
We later visited Metelkova which is the most interesting and quirky attraction in Ljubljana. The neighborhood is full of unique and quirky street arts, sculptures and murals. Metelkova also has several bars and pubs and is a bustling hangout. We clicked enough pictures and headed to the bus station to board a bus to our next destination – the city of Munich in Germany.
Day 11 – Munich Sightseeing
Ljubljana to Munich was another long bus ride with a journey of 6 hours journey. We reached hotel late, had a quick dinner and called it a night. Next day morning we started our city sightseeing from the Old Town of Munich which can be easily explored on foot. The Old Town has some exemplary architectural buildings to explore and lots of cafes and restaurants if you want to take a break. There are several branded shops if you want to go shopping. There are two main squares in the Old Town Odeonplatz and Marienplatz. Odeonplatz is surrounded by Hofgarten a Renaissance public garden, Munich Residenz a 14th-century former royal palace, a magnificent Theatine Church and the most interesting Munich point of interest the Feldherrnhalle which is an open loggia inspired by the Loggia Dei Lanzi in Florence.
Marienplatz is the most important square in Munich which houses the stunning buildings of Old Town – the Old Town Hall and the New Town Hall, the Mary’s Column and several important churches. From Old Town, we walked to the Viktualienmarkt which is a huge food market and also has a beer garden. Walking further we came across the beautiful medieval gate Isartor. You can spend your evening at the English garden which is about 10 minutes walk from Odeonplatz.
Day 12 – Nuremberg
On our second day in Munich, we planned a day trip to the historical city of Nuremberg. We walked all the way to the Old Town from the bus station, the first stop on city sightseeing was a huge handicrafts market called Handwerkerhof. The market sold handicrafts and local products from shops housed in half-timbered buildings. The Old Town has some remarkable churches like St. Lorenz Church, Frauenkirche and St. Sebaldus Church which are major Nuremberg attractions. The city is famous for the half-timbered houses which you will find in plenty when wandering through the Old Town.
We did a guided walking tour of the Old Town with Nuremberg Tourism which was very informative and fun interaction at the same time. Opposite to the Frauenkirche or the Church of Our Lady in the square is the huge local market Hauptmarkt which sells, fruits, vegetables, spices and local food specialties. Hauptmarkt is also famous for the Nuremberg Christmas Market, a traditional market with over 200 stalls. Also must visit here is the imperial Nuremberg castle which is one of the beautiful castles to visit in Germany. The castle is a complex of buildings and sits on a hill overlooking the city. The castle houses a museum on the history of the castle and the role of Nuremberg in medieval times. We were here only for a day so if you another day we recommend you visit the Nazi Party Rally Grounds and Courthouse where the World War trials were held.
Day 13 – Nymphenburg to Geneva
On our last day in Munich, we visited the Baroque palace of Nymphenburg which is some half an hour drive from the Munich city center. The palace once served as the summer residence of the Bavarian rulers today is open to the public as a museum and is surrounded by beautiful landscaped baroque gardens. We did a tour of the palace which started at the Grand Hall decorated with breathtaking paintings and stucco works and moved onto the royal apartments, and rooms which are decorated with frescoes and numerous artworks.
Apart from the main palace, there are two interesting museums housed in the pavilions outside the main palace – MarstallMuseum (Chariot Museum) and Nymphenburg Porcelain Museum. While MarstallMuseum displays a wonderful collection of ornate carriages used by the royal family the Porcelain Museum displays a collection of beautiful porcelain items and table centerpieces. Also must do is the tour of the palace garden which has several baroque palaces and pavilions. The garden palaces are closed in winter from October to March.
There are two types of tickets – Combination ticket includes the palace, the Marstallmuseum and Porcelain Museums and the garden palaces or you can buy tickets to individual attractions.
Day 14 – Geneva Sightseeing
We took a flight from Munich to Geneva, there are also plenty of buses running from Munich to Zurich about 3 hours journey and from there it is another 3 hours train ride to Geneva. We were in short of time hence we choose to take a flight. Geneva is the first international city we visited with our daughter and she was only 6 months old when we first landed. We believe the Swiss city of Geneva is one of the best cities to visit with kids. With over a quarter of the city covered with gardens and parks, Geneva is known as the ‘City of Park’. There are over 30 museums dedicated to art and history of the region. The most interesting museum is the Patek Philippe museum on the evolution of watchmaking and the most popular activity is to take a guided tour of the UN.
The Old Town of Geneva with 2000 years of history is one of the top places to visit in Geneva, the car-free area has quaint cafes, prominent museums, and several historical buildings. You can also go boating on the Lake Geneva and explore the scenic vistas in and around the city of Geneva.
Day 15 – Day Trip from Geneva
You can spend another day in Geneva and plan a day trip to one of the breathtaking locations of Switzerland. There are several day trips from Geneva which can be reached by a couple of hours train ride. If you ready to put in more hours then you can visit the resort town of Interlaken in Switzerland which will take you a little more than 3 hours and needs a train change at Swiss capital Bern. Interlaken is surrounded by gorgeous lakes, quaint villages and numerous surreal locations of Switzerland. You can also plan a day trip to the lovely French towns of Annecy and Yvoire which will take about an hour.
Tip: We were based out of Geneva hence we had to take a flight back to Geneva. Alternatively, you can take a flight/bus to Zurich. Explore the city of Zurich on the first day and on the next day head to one of the several breathtaking locations in Switzerland on a day trip from Zurich. If you love crossing out countries from your list then you can plan a day trip to Liechtenstein, one of the tiny countries in Europe which is a couple of hours drive from Zurich and about an hours train ride from Zurich to Balzers in Lichtenstein.
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