The Best 10 Days In Central Europe Itinerary: Prague, Vienna, Salzburg, and Budapest
Here's my guide to spending 10 perfect days in Central Europe. This Central Europe itinerary takes you to the region's most illustrious cities: Prague, Vienna, Salzburg, and Budapest. There's also day trip options to visit Cesly Krumlov and Bratislava Slovakia or Austria's Wachau Valley.
These spectacular Central European cities have emerged from the shadows of superstars like Paris, London, and Rome. They boast rich and unique histories, remarkable architecture, stunning medieval squares, world class museums, and culinary delights. This itinerary takes you to all the must visit sites, attractions, and landmarks in each city.
This Central Europe itinerary begins in Prague in the Czech Republic. From Prague, you'll travel southeast to the elegant city of Vienna Austria.
Then, you'll head to the fairytale town of Salzburg for a couple days. You'll finish up in the exciting city of Budapest, basing yourself in the lovely capital of Hungary for the rest of the trip (unless you decided to extend your vacation!)
Here's a day by day run down of what you'll see:
Day 1: Prague
Day 2: Prague
Day 3: Day Trip to Cesky Krumlov
Day 4: Vienna
Day 5: Vienna
Day 6: Day Trip to Wachau Valley or Bratislava
Day 7: Salzburg
Day 8: Salzburg
Day 9: Budapest
Day 10: Budapest
More Time? Head To Zagreb Croatia
For this road trip or 10 day vacation, you'll have four bases: (1) Prague (3 nights); (2) Vienna (3 nights), (3) Salzburg (1 night); and (4) Budapest (3 nights). You can do this Central Europe itinerary by car or high speed train.
Length of Trip: 10 days or more
Start and End Point: Prague and Budapest
UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Prague Historic Center, Prague Castle, Cesky Krymolov Historic Center, Schonbrunn Palace, Belvedere Palace, Wachau Valley, Salzburg Historic Center, Budapest Castle District, Danube Embankment Budapest
You can make this Central Europe road trip shorter or longer, depending on your available vacation time or personal fast/slow travel pace.
You can also reverse the order and start in Budapest and end in Prague. If you want more time in the cities, skip Salzburg, which is some distance from Budapest.
The Best 10 Days in Central Europe Itinerary
Here's what I think is the best way to explore the classic cites of Central Europe in ten days.
Day 1: Prague, Czech Republic
Dubbed the "City of 100 Spires," Prague is one of the world's most beautiful cities. Prague is synonymous with over-the-top romance and evocative Old World charm. Having escaped the bombings of the big wars, it's a historic and well-preserved wonder.
Because of this, be prepared for crowds. Prague is not by any means a hidden gem in Europe any longer. And Prague has so many must visit attractions.
1. Prague Castle Complex
On day 1, spend your morning visiting the Prague Castle Complex. Located on Hradcany Hill, the UNESCO-listed Prague Castle dates from the 9th century. Czech leaders have ruled there for a 1000 years. The complex is a 1,500 foot long series of courtyards, churches, and palaces.
The old Royal Palace is part of Prague Castle. This was the actual residence of the Czech kings and princes. It still serves as the residence of the Czech President.
Vladislav Hall is a must see beautiful late Gothic hall inside, topped with a vault with intertwined curved ribs. Don't miss the magnificent sculpture of St. George and the Dragon in a courtyard by the southern wall.
2. St. Vitus Cathedral
St. Vitus Cathedral is part of the castle complex. It's the most important religious monument in the Czech Republic. It's a High Gothic and Neo-Gothic creation.
Inside, there are dramatic ribbed vaults. The centerpiece is Alfons Mucha's beautiful 1931 Art Nouveau window. The gallery in the Great Spire offers a beautiful bird's eye view of Prague.
You should also check out what's hidden underground. Below are the uncovered foundations of two earlier churches and the tombs of the Czech kings and religious VIPs.
A door with seven locks protects the entrance to the Coronation Chamber. This room contains the Bohemian Crown Jewels, which are only displayed every 5 years. The most valuable piece is the St. Wenceslas crown. It's rumored to punish by death any thief who puts the crown on his or her head.
3. Charles Bridge
Then, in the afternoon after lunch, stroll across the iconic Charles Bridge. Built in 1357, the bridge has 16 sandstone arches. And it's effectively an open air art gallery, adorned with bronze sculptures of Czech saints in the bridge's pillar columns.
At both ends are fortified towers, part of the city's medieval defense system. You can tour both towers.
4. Old Town Square
The historic Old Town Square is the heart of Prague, were both locals and tourists collide. The square is where many of the main sites and landmarks in Prague are located.
Check out the Astronomical Clock, mounted on the southern wall of the Old Town Hall. If you have time, head into the grand Kinsky Palace. It's a Rococo style palace with a delicate pink and white stucco facade. The palace is home to the National Gallery.
Dominating the eastern side of Old Town Square is the stunning Tyn Cathedral, with intimidating twin Gothic spires. In the upper gable, is a statue of the Virgin Mary with a golden halo. The original Gothic vaulting was destroyed by fire and replaced with Baroque decoration. There are 19 ornately carved altars.
Also step into the opulent St. Nicholas Church, the Czech Republic's most beautiful Baroque building. There are often classical music concerts in both churches.
In the evening, indulge in the unique Czech cuisines. There are dozens of restaurants in and around the Old Town Square. It's a good idea to make reservations. Try the Czech beer. It's cheaper than water!
Day 2: Prague
1. Jewish Quarter
Start day 2 in Prague with a visit to the historic Jewish Quarter, the evocative Josefov neighborhood. The compact Josefov has some of Europe's most important Jewish sights, including 6 synagogues from the 16th and 17th centuries. Together, they act as museums, providing a history of Jewish customs and traditions.
One synagogue, the Pinkas, is now a moving memorial. It honors Czech Jews murdered in World War II. Just behind the Pinkas is Josefov's ancient cemetery, with a jumble of grave stones.
Then, head to Our Lady of Victorious Church. Built in a classic Baroque style, it's home to a statuette of the Christ child. The church is the site of alleged miracles performed after prayers to the Christ child.
Then check out the John Lennon Wall, a hugely popular Prague attraction. When the popular Beatle John Lennon was killed in 1980, the youth of Prague expressed their grief by covering the wall with colorful graffiti.
In Grand Prior Square, you can also admire Grand Prior Palace (a former monastery), the Church of the Virgin Mary, and the monumental Buquoy Palace.
15 minutes away from the square is Petrin Lookout Tower. It's one of Prague's most prominent landmarks, inspired by Paris' Eiffel Tower. You can climb almost 300 steps to the top for jaw dropping views from Petrin Hill.
2. New Town
Then head to New Town Prague. Wenceslas Square is a must see site, created by Charles IV in the 14th century. It once served as an administrative and commercial seat. This square is home to the newly renovated National Museum. It's also pedestrian friendly and filled with shops and eateries.
Charles Square is the largest square in the Czech Republic. The two most notable monuments are the New Town Hall and the Church of Saint Ignatius.
Another marque attraction of Prague's New Town is the Dancing House. Built in 1966, this is the most modern building in Prague. It was designed by Frank Gehry and Vlado Milunic. The restaurant terrace offers a superb panoramic view of Prague.
If you are looking for something to do in the evening, there area loads of options. You can (1) take a tour of medieval underground Prague; (2) take in a concert at Smetana Hall; (3) get literary at the Hemingway Bar; (4) tour Prague Castle or Petrin Tower at night; or (5) take a Vltava River cruise.
Day 3: Day Trip to Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
On day 3, it's time to day trip to the tiny medieval town of Cesky Krumlov. This quaint UNESCO-listed town is a 2.5 hour drive from Prague. Or, you can take the bus or train.
The bus station is walkable from the town center. The train station is 5 minutes from Wenceslas Square. There's also only one train per day, so going by train probably isn't the best option.
You could stay overnight in Cesy Krumlov on day 2 of your itinerary instead of Prague, if you want to see the city early. That way, you take in some of the sites before the day trippers arrive and make the tiny town seems overcrowded.
The best way to admire Cesky Krumlov is to simply stroll around. It's a town made for wandering and head swiveling. There's also a free walking tour that begins at 10:30 am and 2:00 pm daily, given by Wiseman Free Walking Tour.
You should probably purchase the Cesky Krumlov Card. It will give you admission to all the town's major sites: the Castle Tower, the Castle Museum, the Egon Schiele Art Centrum, and other museums and monasteries.
The Cesky Krumlov Castle is the town's impressive main landmark. There are opulent rooms inside, including a beautiful preserved Baroque theater. You can also climb the tower (162 steps) for some stunning views. Or wander in the castle gardens.
The Church of St. Vitus is also quite lovely. Built in the 15th century, the Gothic church is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the town. It often hosts classical music concerts.
Day 4: Vienna
It's a 3.5 hour drive from Prague to Vienna. Or take one of the frequent high speed Railjet trains. With such a long journey, you'll only have half a day or so in Vienna on your first day.
Vienna is such a fancy city, a beautiful open air museum really. It's awash in imperial palaces, grand Baroque architecture, and seriously swoonful museums.
Vienna is the capital of Austria, the birthplace of classical music, and home to the Habsburg dynasty and its rich heritage. The city center is pedestrian friendly, sprinkled with green parks, and crammed with quaint coffee shops.
And Vienna doesn't just bask, unblinkingly, in its quaint fin-de-siècle glory. It's become more hip since the last time I visited, with new and renovated museums, trendy boutique hotels and restaurants, and edgy neighborhoods. It's cooler than you'd guess.
I've written a detailed 3 day itinerary for Vienna, so I won't repeat it all here. On this day, follow the recommended itinerary for day 1.
This will take you to the main sites in the historic center of Vienna: St. Stephen's Cathedral, Hofburg Palace, the Rathouse (Town Hall) and the Opera House. Be sure to stroll around the old town and down Graben street.
Indulge in Vienna's specialty: the Sacher Torte, a delicious concoction of chocolate, cream, and apricot jam. The best places are Cafe Hawelka, Cafe Central, or Cafe Schwartzenburg.
For dinner in Vienna, I can recommend Salonplafond at the MAJK Museum, SIXTA, and Pramerl & the Wolf (Michelen).
Day 5: Vienna
1. Museum Quarter
Vienna is also overflowing with world class museums. In the morning on your second day in Vienna, head to MuseumsQuartier for a cluster of them in a hip square teeming with cafes.
Likely the grandest of Austria's museums, in a sea of riches, is the Kunsthistorisches Museum. Opened in 1891, the Kunsthistorisches is Vienna's Louvre. The museum is one of the world's most impressive fine art museums.
3. Belvedere Palace
After the Kunsthistoriches, my favorite Vienna museum is the Belvedere Palace. The Belvedere Palace is one of Vienna's must see attractions and an important UNESCO site for its showy architectural ensemble.
The Belvedere's a haven of Baroque and Austrian art from the 19th and 20th centuries. Its main claim to fame is the world's largest collection of Gustav Klimt paintings, including the world famous The Kiss.
It also boasts masterworks by Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka, two important Expressionist painters.
4. Schönbrunn Palace
In the afternoon, head to Schönbrunn Palace, outside Vienna. The palace is a UNESCO-listed site and the height of elegance. Purchase your tickets online in advance. Or hop on a guided skip the line tour.
The swishy Renaissance palace was the summer home of the Hapsburg dynasty, the family that ruled the Austro-Hungarian empire for nearly 650 years. You'll want to check out the palace itself and the extensive garden complex. Be prepared to walk.
Of Schönbrunn's 1441 rooms, 40 are open to the public via audio guide or guided tour. The "Imperial Tour" takes you into 22 rooms, including the imperial apartments of Emperor Franz Joseph and famous wife, Empress Sisi.
In the evening, consider taking in a performance at the State Opera House, the Staatsopera. Vienna is also beautiful just to explore at night on a photo walk.
Or relax at a rooftop bar. If you're visiting in the winter, the city is magical and lit up with fairy lights and Christmas markets.
Day 6: Day Trip to Wachau Valley or Bratislava
On day 6 of your Central Europe itinerary, get out of the city. Head to either the small town of Bratislava in Slovakia. Or, for a more pastoral experience, head to the verdant Wachau Valley.
1. Option 1: Wachau Valley
The UNESCO-listed Wachau Valley is the verdant heartland of the Austrian Danube, a 24 mile stretch of pure loveliness between Krems and Melk. It's less than an hour from Vienna. You can visit by driving, biking, or taking the shuttle boats.
Wachau is an impossibly romantic valley overlooked by castle ruins, fortresses, and sleepy medieval hamlets. They nestle amid terraced vineyards and apricot groves.
The Wachau Valley goes from Krems to Melk. A highlight is the adorable town of Durnstein with craggy castle ruins. Here's my guide to visiting the Wachau Valley. It covers all the must visit towns, historic attractions, and landmarks in the Wacvhau Valley.
2. Option 2: Bratislava
Bratislava is the tiny capital of Slovakia. It's a little over an hour from Vienna and a popular Danube River cruise excursion.
Bratislava's vintage-y old town is filled with pastel colored houses, cobbled streets, quirky bronze sculptures, and the world's most adorable pastry shop, Konditorei Kormut.
Be sure to buy some honey at Medovy Obchod in the old town, where you can sample the honey yourself. I purchased some delicious vanilla and wildflower honey, along with some beehive candles and Bryndza cheese.
Bratislava also boasts a unique, almost over the top, blue church, the Church of St. Elisabeth. It's a 10 minute walk from the old town.
Everything about the Art Nouveau church is blue -- the interior (with added punches of yellow), the exterior, and even the tiles on the roof. Pretty isn't usually a word I use to describe churches, but it's apt here.
Even better, Bratislava is crowned with a historic castle, which is really the iconic spot in the town. Perched on a small hill and about a 15 minute hike, the castle is the best viewpoint over the old town. Outside, it's an elegant vision, with Gothic and Renaissance elements. Inside, there's a museum of history.
Day 7: Salzburg
On day 7, you move from Vienna to Salzburg. It's a 3:15 minute drive or 3 hours on the high speed train. Leave early so that you can arrive mid day and have a half day of exploring Salzburg.
Who doesn't love Salzburg? Well, possibly those who are allergic to tourists. Salzburg is indeed very touristy. But there is a reason for that.
Beautiful Salzburg is a dream worth dreaming, set on the fast flowing Salzach River. It's studded with elegant domes and spires and crowned with a doughty clifftop fortress. It's fairytale swoonful, and one of my favorite small cities in Europe.
Salzburg is synonymous with both Mozart and the Sound of Music. Personally, I'm only a fan of the former; Mozart is life. There's so much to do in Salzburg, you could be busy for days.
Take in the regal Residenz and the Salzburg Cathedral in the Domplatz. Make the steep (but short) hike up to the well-preserved 900 year fortress, Festung Hohensalzburg. Or, take a riverside stroll along Elisabethkai.
Day 8: Salzburg
On day 2 in Salzburg, visit Salzburg's #1 attraction, the Schloss Mirabell and its lovely gardens. In 1606, Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich built the grand palace for his beloved mistress, who then produced 15 children in gratitude. Mirabell was given the usual Baroque facelift in 1721.
The interior is exceedingly lavish. The highlight is the Marble Hall, flashy with marble, stucco marble, and gilded stucco. It almost looks like a painting. The hall hosts classical concerts and is a wedding venue -- what a backdrop.
Much of the song "Do Re Mi" from the Sound of Music was filmed in the Mirabell Palace gardens. Hopefully, you're there when the wisteria and cherry blossoms are in their full glory. The garden also offers fantastic views of Hohensalzburg Fortress.
In the evening, drive or take the high speed train to Budapest. The train takes about 5 hours, so you will arrive in Salzburg late.
Day 9: Budapest
Beautifully situated on the Danube River, Budapest has a romantic and exotic reputation. It's a a hot European city break and dubbed the "Paris of the East." Budapest is picturesquely divided in two by the river, with Buda on the west and Pest on the east. It has a sense of expansive grandeur.
Both sides of the city have different personalities and offer different cultural experiences. Buda is charming, classy, and quiet. It's filled with museums, castles, and elegant homes on cobbled streets.
Pest is wilder and cosmopolitan, and where most of the tourist sites and ruin bars are located. Both are beautiful at night, illuminated by lights and cradled by the Danube.
I've written a detailed 3 day itinerary for Budapest. On day 1 in Budapest (day 9 of your Central Europe itinerary), start at the Central Market, where you can grab some breakfast. Cross Chain Bridge and head to the Buda section of Budapest.