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Habsburg Central Europe


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Alright, so I’ll start with a region that offers a lot- South Bohemia.  This would be my first area to explore outside of the showstoppers like Prague, Vienna, Salzburg (easily reachable from those), Budapest, and Krakow. Best time to visit is mid-April to May and then the Indian summer in mid-September to mid-October.  The possibility of cold and rain is outweighed by fewer tourists. A few photos below. 

Cesky Krumlov is a popular side trip from Prague but deserves to be more. It will likely be your favorite place even compared to Prague. As a UNESCO site, also the only place with serious tourism loads, so off-peak is better. You’re rewarded by a perfect Gothic and Renaissance town clinging to the Vltava river with cliff side gardens, a huge castle, and a Baroque theater with all the sets still extant. Plenty of small guest houses to choose from and the choice of beer should be local tanked Czech Budweiser (Budvar).

Tabor is for history buffs— the stronghold of the radical Hussites who smashed several Imperial armies and crusades under their indomitable leader Jan Zizka. He turned an rabble of proto-Protestant peasants into a fearsome army complete with armored war-wagons and primitive cannon in the 1400s. The town is well preserved and a network of defensive tunnels runs across the old city.  The tour of them is corny but well worth the moderate price. 
 

The pretty South Bohemian towns of Slavonice and Telc are close to Austria and boast perfectly preserved Renaissance and Baroque architecture.  Slavonice is home to galleries and artist studios and a much better restaurant scene than you’d otherwise expect. The legacy of the Sudeten Germans is very strong here. 
 

Pisek sits astride the Vltava and has one of the oldest stone bridges in the country, a model for Prague’s Charles Bridge.

Ceske Budejovice is the home of Czech Budweiser and a great town square with arcades and a mix of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque buildings. Plus the Czech food scene is great and cheap. 
 

Hluboka nad Vltavou has one of the most visited palaces in the country, a Tudor style recreation with immaculate gardens.  Great coffee and ice cream and souvenir shopping on the main drag down the hill from the palace. 
 

For nature, the Sumava Mountains and Forest (think more Ozarks than Rockies) offers great hiking with streams, meadows, and castles.  Kasperk is probably the best example. 

If you’re into World War II, much of South and West Bohemia was liberated by Patton and the U.S. Army.  There are memorials all over but the best place is Plzen which has a Patton Museum, a monument to the U.S. Army, and a recently renovated synagogue that’s among the largest in Europe.  They make Pilsner Urquell beer there, so you can see if you prefer it to Budvar. It’s technically West Bohemia but easy to get to.

All over— eat roasted meat (pork and duck are always a solid bet), try the local cold cuts and cheese/garlic spreads, and grilled trout. You’re drinking beer here although Moravian whites can be excellent— it’s beer country.  And get a cold glass of Kofola, the local alternative to Coca-Cola.  You need to make sure you drink it on tap.

Cesky Krumlov 

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Telc 

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Hluboka nad Vltavou 

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And one more on this for the day.  My top regional destinations in (rough) order:

1. Prague: It’s popular because it’s fucking awesome.  If I were ranking the prettiest major cities in Europe (ergo the world), Prague is in the top three or five.  The history is unparalleled. It’s still relatively affordable, especially if you steer away from beer on Old Town square or a few other clear tourist scam spots.  The locals speak English, service is good, and there’s everything from clubs to galleries to Michelin starred restaurants. 

2. Budapest: Budapest just has a killer vibe.  It feels more worn, lived in, and exotic thanks in part to their truly inaccessible language. The party scene is amazing if that’s what you’re after.  Do not miss the thermal baths, you’ve failed if you do.

3. Krakow/Auschwitz/Wieliczka Salt Mines: Some people call Krakow the next Prague. It’s not, but these three as a package deal offer all the history and beauty and tragedy you look for in Central Europe.  It’s a university town so it’s got plenty of young people and cool hangouts. It’s still truly affordable and I have a soft spot for Polish cooking.

4. Dubrovnik: I visited before Game of Thrones premiered, in early October.  That’s probably why I have such great feelings about it.  I can’t imagine the chaos with cruise ships in port, though, so you may choose skip it for Split or lesser known towns.  The entire Croatian coast is magnificent. 

5. Slovak Paradise National Park/Slovak High Tatras: You are off the (U.S.) beaten tourist path here but the Czechs and Slovaks know a good thing when they see it.  The reward is amazing Alpine scenery, hikes to include fixed ladders up waterfalls, and hot goulash soup in a mountain chalet.  You can see the Tatras from Slovak Paradise and use the pilgrimage town of Levoca as home base. The High Tatras are like the Alps, except you can capture the entire range in your viewfinder. 

6. Mostar: I am enthusiastic about all of Bosnia but for sheer drama and natural beauty you can’t beat Mostar.  You get all,of the Balkan mixture hear— Catholic, Orthodox, and laid-back Ottoman style Islam. Great burek, plum brandy, and grilled meats.

7. Vienna: It should be higher but the Viennese can be true stuffed shirts and you can feel like you’re in a china shop.  The prices are nuts.  Still— it is magnificent, the museums and palaces are unparalleled. You need to go to understand that this was the seat of a wildly successful empire, one that defined the map of Europe for many centuries. 

8. Cesky Krumlov: See above post, you cannot find a town that better embodies “Central Europe” than Krumlov.  As a bonus, it has great rafting and hiking nearby. 

9. Lake Bled: It’s here because it is exactly as perfect as the postcards make it look.  It’s at number nine because it’s very small and more expensive than Slovenia should be.  Make time to see the nearby caves with castles built into them. 

10. Salzburg: Yes, it is postcard perfect. Yes, it is spotless. Yes, the Alps are right there. Yes, it’s the capital of classical music. Yes , you have to go.  But if anything it’s stuffier than Vienna and the prices will make you choke on your schnitzel. 
 

Honorable mention: Warsaw (doesn’t always wear its charms on its sleeve but it’s a city that fights and is alive and will challenge you); Lviv (kind of a moth bitten and freewheeling Krakow but— there’s a war on now); Sarajevo and it’s Ottoman charms, Orava region in Slovakia for its castles and “West Virginia of Europe” culture. 
 

High Tatras from a cliff in Slovak Paradise:

 

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2 hours ago, 956 Worldwide said:

7. Vienna: It should be higher but the Viennese can be true stuffed shirts and you can feel like you’re in a china shop.  The prices are nuts.  Still— it is magnificent, the museums and palaces are unparalleled. You need to go to understand that this was the seat of a wildly successful empire, one that defined the map of Europe for many centuries. 

10. Salzburg: Yes, it is postcard perfect. Yes, it is spotless. Yes, the Alps are right there. Yes, it’s the capital of classical music. Yes , you have to go.  But if anything it’s stuffier than Vienna and the prices will make you choke on your schnitzel. 

Vienna definitely has that stuffed shirt, imperial city vibe.  It reinforced my belief that inbred royals are good for one thing, and one thing only: beheading.  Still, some amazing museums -- the museum of military history has the damned car and clothing Archduke Ferdinand was in when he was assassinated.  Bullet holes and blood stains included.  Really incredible to see in person.

Salzburg....in high school, a buddy of mine who had lived expat for a while was friends with another family that had been expat with them.  The daughter was our age, really cute, went to boarding school in Salzburg.  He had a crush on her.  She and I spent the summer having a nice little high school summer romance, pissing my buddy off.  Didn't care, spent summer with cute boarding school girl.

That's what I've got for the places you've listed.  I'd love to visit a lot of them.  Not interested in revisiting the girl, though.  She's back in Texas, married and living in the Woodlands, with all of the culture and political sophistication that entails.

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3 minutes ago, Brisketexan said:

Vienna definitely has that stuffed shirt, imperial city vibe.  It reinforced my belief that inbred royals are good for one thing, and one thing only: beheading.  Still, some amazing museums -- the museum of military history has the damned car and clothing Archduke Ferdinand was in when he was assassinated.  Bullet holes and blood stains included.  Really incredible to see in person.

Salzburg....in high school, a buddy of mine who had lived expat for a while was friends with another family that had been expat with them.  The daughter was our age, really cute, went to boarding school in Salzburg.  He had a crush on her.  She and I spent the summer having a nice little high school summer romance, pissing my buddy off.  Didn't care, spent summer with cute boarding school girl.

That's what I've got for the places you've listed.  I'd love to visit a lot of them.  Not interested in revisiting the girl, though.  She's back in Texas, married and living in the Woodlands, with all of the culture and political sophistication that entails.

Strongly disagree on Vienna, at least below the surface.  I spend my junior year abroad there and hung out with the locals.  Thirty years ago I could have directed you to a plethora of alternative/underground/metal-as-fuck places, but I'm sure those are long gone.  However, much like Prague, there's a lot going on outside the touristy inner city.

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2 minutes ago, zlavydra said:

Strongly disagree on Vienna, at least below the surface.  I spend my junior year abroad there and hung out with the locals.  Thirty years ago I could have directed you to a plethora of alternative/underground/metal-as-fuck places, but I'm sure those are long gone.  However, much like Prague, there's a lot going on outside the touristy inner city.

And in all fairness, that was a comment I made to my wife as we were leaving -- I bet I'd like it more if we had more time there and were outside the core.  I'm definitely willing to give Vienna another shot.

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20 minutes ago, zlavydra said:

Strongly disagree on Vienna, at least below the surface.  I spend my junior year abroad there and hung out with the locals.  Thirty years ago I could have directed you to a plethora of alternative/underground/metal-as-fuck places, but I'm sure those are long gone.  However, much like Prague, there's a lot going on outside the touristy inner city.

Theres alternative at Gasometer and Arena. Hell, I saw Neutral Milk Hotel there.

Metal is not as big as hipster/bohemian/“bobo” scene. But really, with the universities spread around the city, its really an outdoor-centric culture, seen in all the countless festivals and activities on the Donauinsel. 

Definitely nobody stuffs their shirts outside of the 1st district. 

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7 hours ago, 4th&Five said:

Thoughts on Bratislava?

I lived in and love Bratislava, but I wrote this  from the point of view of a traveler who won’t have time to engage long-term and do things like get plugged into underground scenes (which also explains my thoughts on Vienna). 
 

Bratislava’s old town is small and without local friends the great pubs and good beer is kind of the same as you’d get elsewhere. It also suffered more than most from some Communist era “improvements” of the Old Town and former Jewish Quarter If you do go, don’t miss Devin Castle ruins outside of town and get a good meal and local red currant wine. You can hike in the nearby Small Carpathians and Slovak wine is really good— some great small winemaking towns just outside the capital like Svaty Jur and Modra.  I can give more recs if you end up there. 
 

It’s amazing for living though and has great accessibility as a home base for the continent. And Slovakia is stunning.  It’s just that I think the central mining towns and castles or northern mountains are more accessible and have the wow factor for a traveler.  Just like I’d absolutely tell people to live in Warsaw over Krakow. 

Edited by 956 Worldwide
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  • 1 month later...

Bumping this one. Finally doing some more internal to Czech Republic travels. Today in Moravian Wallachia (Valašsko) which is about as east as you can get, bumping up against Slovakia.  The towns here are nice, but you come for the spectacular White Carpathian nature.  For World War II buffs, this region saw the aerial Battle of the White Carpathians in 1944, when the Luftwaffe did some serious damage to B-17s and B-24s hitting Czech industrial targets.

Hotel Situation:

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Wood Shingled Gothic Church:

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  • 4 weeks later...

Going on our Danube bike/boat trip in 1 1/2 months.  FWIW.  Yeah I know it's "touristy" but it's a long-planned family trip and we'll be just fine.  I'll chime in here later if I need/want to.  Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary.  I'm Hungarian and Baltic in descent, and actually know some Hungarian (dad couldn't speak English until he was well in elementary school).  Been there/done that for most of the places we're going, but family hasn't.  Should be fun.  Let me know if the river sucks (levels, blockages, etc.).  Rome aftertrip but another thread, plus I got that covered, boy do I.

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On 4/18/2022 at 11:08 PM, 956 Worldwide said:

I lived in and love Bratislava, but I wrote this  from the point of view of a traveler who won’t have time to engage long-term and do things like get plugged into underground scenes (which also explains my thoughts on Vienna). 
 

My wife and I also lived in Bratislava for a year or two. We both loved it and I'm so ready to return.  We were there when the currency was still the koruna. I've heard it's not quite the same slow pace as it was before EU entry. It's not much of a tourist destination...much of it was bombed heavily in WW2 and only a small portion of Old Town remains. The only town I'd add to your excellent write-up is, if you happen to be there in November/December, then it's Goose season and the town of Slovensky Grob (where they've specialized in raising and cooking geese for generations) for dinner can be amazing.

Totally agree about Prague. Despite the throngs of tourists, it's so amazing and I would jump at the chance to live there. Was just thinking that while watching the movie Anthropoid the other night.

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4 hours ago, Chopper said:

My wife and I also lived in Bratislava for a year or two. We both loved it and I'm so ready to return.  We were there when the currency was still the koruna. I've heard it's not quite the same slow pace as it was before EU entry. It's not much of a tourist destination...much of it was bombed heavily in WW2 and only a small portion of Old Town remains. The only town I'd add to your excellent write-up is, if you happen to be there in November/December, then it's Goose season and the town of Slovensky Grob (where they've specialized in raising and cooking geese for generations) for dinner can be amazing.

Totally agree about Prague. Despite the throngs of tourists, it's so amazing and I would jump at the chance to live there. Was just thinking that while watching the movie Anthropoid the other night.

Slovensky Grob hosted what is maybe a top five meal of my life.  When you were there, did they have the restaurants or was it still the era when local women sold the meals out of their kitchens? 
 

My understanding was that the bombing hit mostly the refinery and a bridge and the Old Town was mostly spared; you can still trace the tracks of the walls and most of what’s inside is still old.  The Communists tore down the Old Jewish Quarter that was between the Old Town and Castle hill to build the big bridge. They also really did a number on the old fishing village that was under the castle facing the Danube.

Edited by 956 Worldwide
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8 hours ago, 956 Worldwide said:

Slovensky Grob hosted what is maybe a top five meal of my life.  When you were there, did they have the restaurants or was it still the era when local women sold the meals out of their kitchens?

There were one or two restaurants in SG at the time, but mostly you had to get a recommendation from a local and call someone's house to make a recommendation. I hope that hasn't changed too much. Some Slovak friends took us for dinner on what happened to be American Thanksgiving and to be sure all other Thanksgiving meals have paled in comparison. DEFINITELY top 5 meal for me too! Some other things I loved about Bratislava are the bike paths along the Danube and into the countryside with small pubs serving beer along the way, the small National Theater for symphony, the farmer's market (nothing remarkable shopping-wise but great street food), the xmas market, and the Croatian man who basically ran an entire restaurant single-handed and grilled amazing seafood. Taking empty glass gallon-sized jugs to the winery just outside of town and filling them up to bring home. Great memories. The Slovak people were very nice too - the generation that was in their 20's in particular were very warm, kind people, excited about life. This was ~16 years ago.

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  • 5 months later...

Bumping this up. With a few gems that I got to in 2022.

I did a long hike in the South Moravian hills that ended in Mikulov. This is a wine making region (fantastic whites) and in late summer and early fall you can get burčák (young wine that’s highly fizzy). 
 

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Jindrichuv Hrádec has an amazing castle on a lake. 
 

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Karlstejn outside of Prague is the looming vampire castle that haunts your dreams, especially in winter. 
 

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I have also been trying to add all the UNESCO sites I can to my life list. There’s plenty to see that’s amazing that’s not registers, but any UNESCO site I’ve visited has been worth it. Trebic in Moravia has the largest preserved medieval Jewish Quarter and a Romanesque monastery and basilica; the medieval and renaissance residents refused to let the authorities put a wall around the Jewish quarter. 
 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Not sure if this is the best spot for this as only part of my trip qualifies, but I am doing an Austrian Alps trip this summer (late July/early August) - first time over there.

 

I'm flying into Munich and spending a couple days there, then spending a few days each in Tyrol, Lech, and Furstenau (Switzerland)

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On 7/10/2022 at 10:17 AM, 956 Worldwide said:

Lived there three years. Hit me up if you need recs. 

I guess I missed seeing this post and a few others 'til now. We lived on Vysoka Ul for a year, close to Tatracentrum. We also lived out of a suite at Hotel Marrol's for a few months before that while we were looking for a place, negotiating a lease and then waiting for them to fit it out (it was a new building at the time). We were there pre-Euro but during the time Slovakia officially became part of Schengen.

I met a Slovak woman here in Fort Collins the other day who, as you'd expect, was so nice and lovely to speak with. She had me missing the old farmers market, the loska, the Slovak Pub on Obchodna, and the great day or weekend trips you can take from Brat. She married an American whom she met while working in Brno and that's how she ended up in NoCo.

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26 minutes ago, Brodarious Hamm Sandwich said:

I am heading to Bucharest in a couple months. Not my first time in Romania (was in Cluj last summer), so I kinda know what to expect, but any recs would be appreciated

Stray dogs and gypsies. 
Our local office takes guests to caru cu bere for the traditional dining atmosphere and experience. 

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Right now one of the most eagerly anticipated events in all of the Czech Republic is taking place: the display of the Czech Crown Jewels.  The showstoppers are the 14th century crown of St. Wenceslaus and the skull of St, Wenceslaus himself. 
 

The Czech Crown Jewels are not on ordinary display. They are shown to the public on special occasions about once every five years. They are usually kept under lock in a chamber near St. Wenceslaus Chapel of St. Vitus Cathedral. Seven officials must meet with their keys to unlock the jewels: the Czech president, prime minister, speaker of parliament, senate president, the Prague Lord Mayor, the Archbishop of Prague, and the Dean of the Metropolitan Chapter of the Cathedral.
 

This year’s occasion is presidential elections.  For the first time in 68 years, the jewels returned to the Prague Cathedral for display, as envisioned when the Czechoslovak Republic was created in 1918. The communists displayed them in the palace museum on special occasions.

The crown itself is one of the finest you’ll see in Europe, Charles IV the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia had it made for his coronation, dedicated it to St. Wenceslaus for future Bohemian kings, and it now belongs to the president’s office. It supposedly contains one of the thorns from Christ’s crown in the cross, a gift from the King of France to Charles IV. It is displayed with St. Wenceslaus’ 10th century sword. 
 

Queues start before 5 AM each day for viewing, which runs from January 17-21. I came into a special late night pass that allowed me to have a bit more time without the massive crowds. 
 

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 1/17/2023 at 12:08 PM, Brodarious Hamm Sandwich said:

I am heading to Bucharest in a couple months. Not my first time in Romania (was in Cluj last summer), so I kinda know what to expect, but any recs would be appreciated

Peles Castle in Sinaia, couple hours north of Bucharest was cool. There's a smaller castle next to it called Pelisor. 

Theres the Bran Castle in Bran , the inspiration for Dracula's Castle. 

The Sphinx of Busteni, in the Bucegi Mountains

The Transfagarasan Highway very cool road.

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