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Most of us love to travel, but even more of us struggle to find the time to do more than one or two city breaks each year. For those of you looking to pack as much as you can into a short time, here’s an easy way to visit five border-hugging European countries in one week!
Your first stop-off on your week-long jaunt is Krakow, in the south of Poland. The country’s second largest city with a population of just over 750,000, Krakow is one of the most popular stop-offs for both backpackers and city breakers alike – mostly thanks to its great value. After you’ve finished strolling around the Market Square and checking out the Cloth Hall, you’ll want to pay a visit to Krakow’s main attraction, Wawel Castle, with its medieval history and museum attracting visitors in their thousands daily. Thankfully for most, you won’t need to break the bank here, with a 400ml glass of beer easily accessible at the equivalent of 90p/€1.
Top tip: Head for one of Poland’s famous Pijalnia Wodki I Piwa bars for some of the cheapest, no-frills drinks you’ll find in Europe.
Krakow or Auschwitz, Poland
On the second day of your trip, providing you’re relatively hangover-free, you might want to hop on an arranged tour to the Auschwitz concentration camp and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Visits to both sites are extremely harrowing but are definitely worth doing during your time in Krakow. These tours do leave rather early (between 7:30–8:30 am), but if you book an all-day trip, your guide will pick you up from your hotel and transport you to both sites, returning you to your hotel around 4 pm. It’s around a 1.5-hour drive from Krakow to Auschwitz, and tours also include a guide once you get to the sites, giving you further insight into the horrific genocide that millions of Jews endured.
If you opt against Auschwitz, there are various free walking tours in Krakow led by informative, local guides that will show you around the city when you are restricted on time. The tours are free but are based on tips, so make sure you have enough cash to tip what you feel the tour was worth.
Finally, should you have time, take a guided tour of Wieliczka Salt Mine, where you can visit a series of underground tunnels with chapels and saline canals. The Salt Mine is the product of many generations of Polish miners and is a UNESCO-recognised monument.
Brno, Czech Republic
Day three will see you make the very inexpensive journey via FlixBus across the Czech Republic border to Brno. In total, your trip from Krakow to Brno comes in at around five hours but usually includes a change in Katowice, close to the Polish-Czech border, so that you can stretch your legs.
This little-known Czech city is in the shadow of Prague – they even have competitions to see who can build the most incredible monuments – but is increasing in popularity by the year. If you’re looking for a Czech experience but don’t fancy the crowds of the capital, Brno is for you. This rather hilly city has a stunning cathedral, an astronomical clock which fires out a marble for spectators to try and catch at 11 am every day and a castle you can get lost in, which also has a set of eerie tunnels to explore beneath it. If you’re here in the summer months, you may even be lucky enough to catch a performance in the courtyard.
As it’s just a one-night stay, there are a number of free walking tours in Brno should you wish to cram a lot of sightseeing into a couple of hours. There’s even a running tour for the more sporty travellers!
Hopping back on the trusty FlixBus, a 105-minute journey will see you in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia! Though slightly pricier than the previous countries you’ll have already visited on this trip, Bratislava is famed for its Old Town, which is home to some of the liveliest bars and clubs you’re likely to encounter in Eastern Europe.
Hanging over the city is the beautiful Bratislava Castle, and while it may not be the original, it’s still the city’s centrepiece. Bratislava Castle dates back to the 9th century, but having been destroyed in a fire in the early 1800s, today’s castle is a 1960s rebuild. It’s noticeable from almost all parts of the city, thanks to its lofty, protective position and its bright white walls.
Bratislava, only claiming independence from Czechoslovakia in 1993, boasts the River Danube flowing freely through its centre, meaning there are opportunities for river cruises and picture-perfect moments too.
Bratislava’s close proximity to a few borders means it’s very handily placed for a day trip to Vienna, the capital of Austria. Famed for notable residents Mozart and Beethoven, Vienna is every bit as illustrious as you’d expect. A short, one-hour train journey sees you arrive at Vienna Central Station, which is conveniently near The Belvedere, one of Vienna’s top tourist attractions.
Consisting of two stunning baroque palaces, gardens, fountains, the Palace Stables and the Orangery, The Belvedere is also a museum, art gallery and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We can’t think of anything better than spending a warm summer’s day on the palace grounds.
It should be said that Vienna is considerably more expensive than anywhere else on this itinerary, so, dependent on your budget, you may want to stay here or head back to Bratislava before moving on. Whatever you decide to do, there are some wonderful free things to do in the Austrian capital! You also cannot visit Austria without trying some chocolate.
For the final leg of the trip, FlixBus is your friend once more! Plenty of great value bus routes run from Vienna and Bratislava to Budapest, so you’re covered either way. Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is one of the most beautiful European cities you’re likely to visit – not just on this trip either.
Though we’ve only pencilled in two days at the end of the week, you’d do well to extend your stay or return at a later date as there’s just so much to do! As we’re pushed for time, the Budapest City Sightseeing Bus is a great way to get your bearings – and saves you money too. The purchase of a 48-hour ticket allows you to visit as many of the main sights as you can cram in, as well as the ability to hop on and off the bus as you please. Some tickets also include a boat ride where you can catch a glimpse of Gellert Hill and Parliament while you sail along the River Danube.
Budapest comes alive by night, with a number of boat parties and bar crawls on the agenda pretty much every single night of the week. You don’t need to come here on the weekend! The crown jewel of Budapest’s party scene is their famous ruin bars. We’d suggest hitting Szimpla Kert first, before finishing your night at Instant. The latter is the largest ruin pub in the city and closes at 6 am – serious party animals only.
Day seven sees a more relaxed vibe to some city exploring. While one of Budapest’s top attractions is their ruin bars, right up there at the very top is their thermal spas – with Széchenyi Medicinal Bath one of the most visited. We trust you partied hard last night, so you’ll probably be up for a spot of relaxation in these baths, heated by natural thermal springs.
Széchenyi sits on the edge of Budapest City Park, which also houses its famous zoo, Vadjahunyad Castle, an ice skating rink and also sits alongside Budapest’s famous Heroes Square, or Hősök tere. This part of the city holds particular historical significance with its symmetrical statue complex featuring many important Hungarian leaders and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Construction of this UNESCO World Heritage Site began in 1896 to mark the 1,000th anniversary of Hungary. City Park is a pretty awesome way to spend a day and conclude your week exploring five European countries.