With two and a half weeks off work, there was never any doubt that we’d head away to Europe. Up until a couple of months ago, neither of us had stepped foot on the continent, and growing up listening to my parents talk about their travels there, I knew it had to be done. A large part of the reason for our move to Abu Dhabi was to be closer to Europe, so it was always going to be our first stop.
We decided on Central and Eastern Europe for a few reasons. #1, research and advice told us that some of these spots were cheaper than the average European cities. #2, we could get relatively direct flights from the UAE in and out, which was important to maximise our time there… and #3, these were the cities that came to mind when we imagined beautiful snow-covered winter vistas; Italy could wait ’till it’s warmer, bring on the snow in Budapest!
This post is designed as an overview to help those of you thinking of undertaking a similar trip through this part of Europe… details regarding how many nights we spent in each spot, the key things we saw and did there and how we moved about. Keep your eyes peeled for more specific information about each city in the coming weeks if you’d like to see some more detailed posts.
In regard to flights, we arrived on German Wings and were really happy with their service. We were on their inaugural flight (and as such were treated to a free sandwich and snack, yes!) out of Dubai (via Cologne to Berlin) and though they’re a low cost carrier, the staff were friendly and the legroom was fine – we didn’t get a baggage allowance, but we tend to travel carry-on only so that wasn’t an issue.
Flying home, we used Wizz Air and though they are pretty basic, again, the flight was comfortable enough and the price was right. Be warned that when they take you out past the gate in Budapest, you’ll be waiting in a big shed outside – not ideal in freezing temperatures, especially when you’ve taken all your thermals off in preparation for arriving back in the Middle East! It wasn’t a drama, I just wouldn’t get into my warm-weather clothes before getting on the plane next time.
Now onto the itinerary…
Berlin, Germany, 4 nights: We fell in love with Berlin’s combination of old meets new! We visited lots of Christmas markets and soaked in as much of the area’s history as we could. The East Side Gallery (to see what was left of the Berlin Wall), Check Point Charlie, the Reichstag Building (prebook your spot for free, it’s well worth a visit) and more. This city had the most fantastic buzz about it and was a pleasure to visit. We got an all-you-can-use public transport card that we made great use of as Berlin is relatively spread apart. If you’re interested in Berlin, definitely check back as there was much more that we did there!
Prague, Czech Republic, 2 nights: Like a fairytale from centuries ago. Prague’s a relatively small city but a beautiful spot and probably the most affordable on our trip. We had a go at our first ‘escape room’ here and climbed the many stairs up to the Prague Castle and Saint Vitus Cathedral for a stunning view of the city. More Christmas markets and fairy lights made Prague especially memorable.
Munich, Germany, 4 nights: Munich would have been the biggest surprise on our trip; it had a noticeably different atmosphere to Berlin and we both came away a little disappointed by the city if we’re honest. This was largely down to poor planning on our part – it turns out everything shuts right around Christmas!
We did, however, enjoy our daytrip out to Neuschwanstein Castle and wandering around the Englischer Gartens; don’t miss the surfers in the river.
We would happily return to Munich at another time of year and when we do we’ll be sure to stay at one of these Munich city hotels.
Salzburg, Austria, 2 nights: Salzburg is a gorgeous little town, perched either side of the river Salzach. Though beautiful, we didn’t find there to be a great deal to do there, unless you’re a massive Sound of Music fan. There were certainly some historic buildings, but I think we were coming down off our Berlin/Prague high still, if I’m being honest. From Salzburg, we hired a car and drove through some lovely local villages out to Lake Hallstatt which I would highly recommend doing – getting out into the countryside totally turned my thoughts on Salzburg around!
Vienna, Austria, 1 night: Vienna was a lovely little surprise. We only booked one night as I’d been told by some travellers that we were better to spend the time in Salzburg – in the end, I really enjoyed exploring the city though (different strokes for different folks, I suppose). Whilst Vienna is home to many beautiful buildings and we enjoyed paying a visit to the butterfly house, one night ended up being suitable for us. I’m sure we would have found more to do had we planned more time there, but don’t let the idea of only one night there put you off going. PS: We found the most fantastic Airbnb host there, so if you’re planning a trip, let us know!
Bratislava, Slovakia, 1 night: Bratislava was by far the smallest city we stayed in. It didn’t feature a heck of a lot to see and do (though the old town certainly had a charm about it), but we met the friendliest hotel manager who put on an amazing breakfast for us and chatted away about life in Slovakia for a great deal of time. It’s funny how a person can make a place, but in this case he really did.
Budapest, Hungary, 4 nights: Ahhh Budapest! A gorgeous city that combined a similar vibe to Berlin with the quaintness of Prague (but on a bigger scale). We really enjoyed our time here and were delighted to find many of the Christmas markets were still selling delicious hot food, which was exactly what we needed as the temperatures plummeted. We enjoyed looking around Buda Castle and the other historic buildings scattered throughout Budapest, swimming at the traditional baths (in the snow, no less) and seeing our first ever snowflakes! I’d hoped for snow the whole trip so it was a real treat getting it on the second to last day.
Getting between each city was really simple – we used Meinfernbus for the majority of our trips (plus a few inter-city trains) and always managed to pick up bus tickets a few days before on an app on my iPhone. Trains were the same, with the exception of leaving Bratislava, where we were told to purchase them on the day. Though the idea of travelling cross-country by train was very romantic, buses generally ended up being significantly cheaper, at times more comfortable and, for the most part, had free wifi. Honestly though, you can’t go too far wrong either way, especially when our longest journey was five hours and most were significantly shorter.
If you’ve been to any of these spots, I’d love to hear what you thought of them. What other cities and towns in Europe would you recommend we visit next?