Three distinct and captivating cities, each offering a unique history, music, culture and charm. But is it possible to take in all three during a two-week holiday and stay stress free? Absolutely.
By Dr. Elaine Dembe
With meticulous planning and good advice, my husband and I enjoyed an unforgettable experience filled with lasting memories. Here’s how we did it:
Experts agree that paying a little more for amenities and first-class service makes all the difference—and we had to agree. Simple conveniences like private transfers between cities, airports or train stations, using concierge services to assist with restaurant reservations, and seasoned local guides. They also tailor private tours to our interests, with exclusive access and ‘skip the line’ tickets saving precious time and the aggravation of long queues.
Before we left, first class train tickets were reserved in advance on-line as well as premium opera and concert tickets. Stays in hotels that offer a gym, pool, spa services were a must so that we could book massages, exercise and peacefully relax after busy days.
Vienna: City of music
Vienna is a city of imperial splendour, renowned for its magnificent palaces, grand opera houses, and rich cultural heritage. It was the imperial capital of the Habsburg Empire, one of Europe’s most influential royal dynasties. During their rule, Vienna became the centre of power and grandeur as well as a hub of arts, culture, and intellectual pursuits with legendary composers like Mozart, Beethoven, and Strauss calling the city home.
Here, each day starts at a Viennese Coffee House. Treats are bound to include traditional Sachertorte or Apfelstrudel. The rest of the morning is filled with tours of splendid palaces and classical concerts. Afternoons found us taking leisurely strolls through the lush greenery, ponds and picturesque landscape of Stadpark. It’s a mindful walk along the park’s pedestrian boulevards that leads to the gilded statue of Johann Strauss. We missed seeing the Spanish Riding School’s world-famous Lipizzaner horses as the horses were in their summer pastures, but we’ve heard their elegant performances and training sessions are spell-binding.
Another magical spot that’s a must see is Belvedere Palace—full of exquisite art collections and surrounded by magnificent gardens. Therme Wien is a good spot for some ‘me time’ in the thermal pools and sauna. And, time in Vienna wouldn’t be the same without taking in a performance at the renowned Vienna State Opera House. Music is indeed an elixir for the spirit.
A contemplative walk through the beautifully manicured gardens of the Schonbrunn Palace has us finding a peaceful spot to relax and enjoy a picnic. There are regular concerts here as well, which are a delight to take in. And, of course, before we left this beautiful city we managed to fit in a leisurely boat ride along the famous Danube river. With picturesque views of the city’s skyline and a wonderful narrative, it’s worth adding to your itinerary.
Prague: City of a Hundred Spires
In Prague we discover a fairytale-like ambiance and well-preserved medieval architecture, including the iconic Charles Bridge and Prague Castle. Its cobbled streets and picturesque squares create a romantic and nostalgic atmosphere with many of today’s visitors attracted by Bohemian allure and vibrant arts scene.
The heart of Prague is the Old Town Square, a bustling centre with colourful buildings, Gothic churches and the famous astronomical clock, the Prague Orloj. It’s lovely to wander through the surrounding maze of narrow streets and alleys, where hidden courtyards, charming cafes, and artisan shops draw us in. Highlights here revolve around the Vitava River with a visit to the iconic Charles Bridge during off-peak hours, and a peaceful evening boat cruise to take in the illuminated landmarks. Nearby quiet neighbourhoods of Mala Strana (Lesser Town) and Kampa Island Park are most romantic.
Prague Castle with its gardens plus the Golden Lane—a picturesque street of colourful houses inside the grounds—along with a number of the city’s hidden gardens (Wallensteina and Vrtba) are simply delightful. While not the most relaxing part of the trip, a visit to the Jewish Quarter in Old Town was also on our agenda. Our goal was to learn more about the history of the Jews in the city and attend an inspirational classical concert in the Spanish Synagogue performed by leading players from the Prague Symphony.
Budapest: The Pearl of the Danube
Budapest has a more diverse appeal with its blend of historic architecture, thermal baths and a vibrant nightlife. The Danube River flows through the heart of Budapest, dividing it into two parts: Buda and Pest. The Buda side is characterized by its picturesque hills, historic buildings and the majestic Buda Castle which gives us a panoramic view of the city, while the bustling Pest side offers a cultural hub and more modern atmosphere with wide avenues full of business and retail shops, trendy bars and restaurants. Its wide avenues, enchanting neighbourhoods and iconic landmarks like the Hungarian Parliament Building and the Chain Bridge are sure to charm.
We can see our landmark hotel from the dome at St. Stephen’s Basilica and I have to say the Four Seasons Gresham Palace is hard to beat as a home away from home. But, breakfast has to be at The New York Café which has been called the most beautiful coffee house in the world. Besides their amazing food you will be entertained by fabulous Gypsy music even in the morning.
Definitely one of Europe’s most enchanting destinations, Budapest is known as the city of Baths so, as you might imagine, there are plenty of places to try the healing thermal waters. Two that we chose to try: Gallert Baths known for its stunning art nouveau architecture and the Szechenyi Baths, the largest medicinal bath in Europe.
On our last night, we had dinner by the river and paid a visit to both Fisherman’s Bastion, a terrace offering breathtaking views, and Margaret’s Island, a tranquil oasis in the heart of the river where you can stroll through lush gardens, rent a bike or visit the Music Fountain light show where the waters dance to classical music. An absolutely magical last night in a next to perfect time away.
Exhale and immerse
Throughout your holiday, be sure to savour each city’s local cuisine, enjoy regular spa treatments, and take your time to embrace and discover the uniqueness of each city. Remember to prioritize slowing down and thinking about your well-being and comfort by relaxing at some point during each day.
Always have a Plan B
Hotel room not ready? Store your luggage and have a massage, especially after an overnight flight. Options include finding your workout t-shirt and shorts and going to the gym to do light weights along with back and hip stretches, or ask about the lovely gardens or parks. If all else fails, find a neighbourhood cafe for lunch.