Solidifying any kind of travel itinerary can be difficult, especially when there are so many places seemingly worth visiting. This is most definitely the case when traveling across Central Europe. So many cities, so little time.
This brief guide will help you choose between the four major capitals of Central Europe – Vienna, Budapest, Prague and Bratislava. All so very different, but all amazing in their own right. We have no doubt that you would enjoy a visit to any of these cities, but if you're having trouble choosing which one to visit on that oh-so-short itinerary, then read on.
First thing's first, let's talk about the geography of these countries.
Vienna is in Austria. Budapest is in Hungary. Prague is in the Czech Republic. Bratislava is in Slovakia. These countries are located in a cluster, and many of the countries' borders are shared.
Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava are all closely bunched up together – so they are easy to tick off if you want to see all of them in a short amount of time.
Prague is a little further away from the other cities, but is still reachable from Vienna and Bratislava via a 3.5-hour drive or a 4+ hour train ride.
However, if you're particularly tight on time, those 4 hours will count for a lot. Prague is located the furthest away from Budapest – approximately a 5 hour 15-minute drive away or a 6.5-hour train ride.
Generally, visiting Prague and Vienna will work out better for you if you're also visiting Western Europe (for example, Germany, Switzerland, Italy), and visiting Budapest and Bratislava will work out better if you're visiting Eastern Europe (Romania, Bulgaria) or the Balkans (Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina).
You enjoy clean, classically beautiful architecture.
You don't mind spending a little more on your holiday.
You're interested in culture, art and music.
You're visiting during Christmas time.
You love visiting castles and palaces.
Safety is of the highest importance to you.
You enjoy partying and exploring unique bars.
You're a creature of the night.
You enjoy vast, dramatic views.
You're looking for a more offbeat, unique experience.
You're looking to learn about a unique culture and history.
You're looking to visit thermal baths.
You're a little tight on your spending budget.
You like your cities slightly run down and rough around the edges.
You're looking for a romantic getaway.
You like your cities pretty and having a fairy tale-like quality.
Compact and easily explored by foot.
You're a fan of Disneyland and conventional-looking castles.
You're shorter on time.
You don't mind sharing the city with millions of tourists.
You're very short on time.
You enjoy exploring cute cafés and shops.
You enjoy walking through narrow, winding streets at your own pace.
You prefer a more relaxed holiday.
You really enjoy compact cities very easily explored on foot.
You prefer your cities quieter and less frequented by tourists.
You're not big on sightseeing and prefer to soak in the atmosphere and vibe of a city.
Which One Should You Visit? - Our Opinion
We thought Prague had just the right mix of beautiful architecture and postcard-perfect views. Almost everything was walkable. We felt safe at all times. It still had a ‘big city vibe' without losing its Old Town charm. Prague felt like walking around in a fairy tale, and we would come back in a heartbeat. Yes, it's a little touristy, but there's obviously a good reason for that.
Vienna was a great city. It virtually ticked off everything from the “What Makes a Great City” list. Stunning palaces? Check. A plethora of attractions? Check. Safety and cleanliness? Check. Efficient public transport? Check. So what was missing? Well, Vienna lacked a certain ‘X Factor' that the other three cities had. Don't ask us how – we just felt that way somehow! Everything was almost too pristine and proper that it suffered in the fun department.
Bratislava was a well needed rest break during our busy Europe trip, but it was hard to place this city much higher than number three on our list. Although it kept our intrigue for a full day, we couldn't imagine exploring for another day in this city. Still, it's an underrated destination in Europe and if you have the time, you should definitely pay a short visit.
Budapest is a beautiful city but it just fell short, compared to the others - in our opinion.
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