Culture Trip brings you City Loops, Done Differently – the trending multi-destination routes for 2020 with a twist. Deep-dive into the culture of a destination and discover how to get the most out of your itinerary, from what to see and do to what to eat and where to stay.
In lieu of flying, take to the Interrail (for Europeans) or Eurorail (for non-Europeans) to get around Europe in the most efficient fashion. The rail networks span some 28 countries, but the best way to approach European travel is to break it up into bite-size chunks.
Sign yourself up for a whistle-stop tour of Central Europe, with stops in Berlin, Kraków, Prague, Vienna and Budapest. Plan to travel out of peak seasons – with late May and September being ideal – to forgo crowds and inflated prices.
Modern-day Berlin bears the scars of its turbulent past. Graffiti now colours the Berlin Wall’s remains, while in stark contrast the Neoclassical 18th-century Brandenburg Gate stands as a reminder of the Cold War and a symbol of unity. In proper Berlin style, eat your way through schnitzels and currywurst in the day, before heading out to the city’s world-class clubs for an evening of techno and hedonism.
Take a walking tour of Berlin’s street art
Graffiti and street art, along with galleries and museums in the hundreds, are what springs to mind when we think Berlin. Expressions of such creativity seem to cover every inch of this city. On this four-and-a-half-hour tour, discover the works of over 50 street artists and learn the methodologies that go into creating these colourful works, before taking to the walls of an abandoned factory with a spray can.
It’s always a good time for wine. Enjoy a tipple at Pane e Vino, which houses a selection of over 150 bottles. The food comes highly recommended too – the pasta is made in house, and the menu changes on a weekly basis. Plus, it’s just across the road from the Friedrichstadt Palast theatre, making it a great pit stop before an evening of entertainment.
Slap bang in the centre of Berlin, Generator Berlin Mitte is a well-linked hostel within arm’s reach of numerous landmarks and art institutions. For shopping, there’s Friedrichstraße and Hackescher Markt, while the KW Institute for Contemporary Art is less than five minutes by foot, and the 386-metre-tall (1,266 feet) Berliner Fernsehturm (Television Tower) is 20 minutes by foot. The hostel (which was formerly two 19th-century office buildings) reflects its artsy surroundings, with works from Sebastian Preschoux and Thierry Noir lining the walls. Other highlights include a ‘chill-out’ library, female-only dorms and an al-fresco terrace.
The former capital of Poland (since replaced by Warsaw), Kraków is a city of great history. This 13th-century merchant town is home to Europe’s largest market square, with a UNESCO-listed Old Town at the centre of it. Palaces, churches and the Royal Wawel Castle make for some of the city’s leading sights.
Explore the city’s 600-year-old trading halls
Historical Landmark, Natural Feature
Accompanied by an expert local, spend half a day exploring the city’s architecture and browsing the world’s oldest shopping halls for bargains. The Gothic and Baroque Wawel Castle and Polish Gothic St Mary’s Church are awe-inspiring landmarks on this tour, with the Renaissance Cloth Hall a Medieval masterpiece.
The clue is in the name at this Kraków institution: it’s all about food, wine and art. Polish cuisine is whipped up in its open kitchen, with selected wines from around the world on the drinks menu and the graphics of young Kraków artists on the walls. Consider it a feast for the eyes and ears.
Opposite the main station and close to the Cloth Hall, the 102-room PURO Hotel makes it easy for you to get out and explore. Design-led, with light-flooded rooms, it’s a modern alternative to the surrounding old-world architecture.
Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, stands apart from other European cities with its sea of terracotta roofs and spires that lend it the name ‘the City of a Hundred Spires’. Split your time between exploring its architecture and indulging in sumptuous Czech cuisine: like fruit dumplings, mažený sýr (deep-fried cheese), and chlebíčky (open-faced sandwiches).
Learn about Prague’s history at Prague Castle
Built in the ninth century, Prague Castle (the official office of the President) boasts over 10 centuries of history. Coming in at 7.1 acres (17.3 acres), it’s also the largest ancient castle in the world. Explore its spectacular Baroque and late Renaissance architecture over a tour lasting around two and a half hours, beginning at the historic Charles Bridge that crosses the Vltava river.
Pilsner Urquell is Prague’s most popular beer, and there’s a reason for it. Discover the secrets of Pilsner with a guided tour that takes you through the brewery museum, the brewing plant and the cellars. Tours always end with a couple of free beers. Before you take the one-hour ride back, stock up on products and souvenirs at the factory shop or take a tour of the historic underground tunnel network that runs under the city.
Stay at Augustine Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel
Boasting a 13th-century library, and built between the baroque St Thomas Church and an active monastery (four monks live there), Augustine, a Luxury Collection Hotel, is a place of rich character and history. It’s located just a stone’s throw away from Charles Bridge in the Lesser Town, with all 101 rooms individually furnished; a handful were designed by British hotelier and interior designer Olga Polizzi in 2009.
For nine years in a row, Vienna has been recognised as the city with the highest quality of living. This is primarily thanks to its swathes of green spaces, great public transport and safety, along with its architecture. Much of the city’s skyline was created by influential Austrian architects Otto Wagner and Adolf Loos.
Enjoy the city’s classical music
If there was ever a place to listen to classical music, it’s the city that two of the world’s greatest classical composers, Mozart and Beethoven, called home. Enjoy an evening of music in St Anna’s Church with pieces from the aforementioned composers, along with Haydn and Schubert, performed by a string ensemble.
Serving farm-to-table Austrian meat prepared on a charcoal grill, as well as European delicacies like French oysters and Bavarian prawns, Dstrikt Steakhouse in the Ritz-Carlton, Vienna, is for real foodies. The cut comes with a choice of twelve knives, and you can have the beef tartare exactly how you want it, as Dstrikt Steakhouse offers a large selection of sauces and side dishes.
Situated about 11 minutes from the Wien Praterstern Bahnhof train station and Vienna’s historic centre, Hotel Nestroy Wien is ideal for those who are keen to avoid spending ages in transit. With contemporary furnishings and free Wi-Fi, it’s all you need for a couple of nights’ stay.
The capital of Hungary is built to be enjoyed at a slower pace, despite the hordes of stag-doers who flock to the city. Take your time to soak up the medicinal benefits of its fabled hot springs, its artistic heritage in the Hungarian National Gallery and its Baroque-style architecture like Buda Castle.
Situated in the heart of Budapest City Park, the Széchenyi Baths are one of Europe’s largest thermal bath complexes. Built in 1913, the spa houses three large outdoor pools, 10 inside plunge pools, massage rooms, saunas, steam rooms and even a beer bath. Open all year round and popular not least due to its opulent Neo-Baroque style, Széchenyi is best experienced with a full-day, skip-the-line ticket, which can be booked in advance.
Recommended by the prestigious Michelin guide, Arany Kaviár Restaurant is the place to go for a spot of fine dining. The vegetarian-friendly restaurant puts a spin on traditional Russian dishes – preparing carefully selected seafood through contemporary methods. For caviar lovers, there’s a separate menu with over seven iterations, including Iranian beluga caviar and Siberian malossol caviar, that’s served in the traditional way with blini, russian smetana, boiled egg, butter and onions.
As you will have done in Prague, opt for opulence in Budapest. The five-star Corinthia, with its royal Art Deco spa and three restaurants boasting Hungarian, Asian and international dishes, is an indulgent destination. You’ll find the fabled, UNESCO-protected boulevard Andrassy Avenue and its Neo-Renaissance mansions just 320 metres (350 yards) away from the hotel.