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Czech Republic / Hungary / Netherlands / Slovakia

Whirlwind Eastern Europe: Pilsner, picturesque castles and pure fun

Prague Czech Republic

I spent New Year’s exploring Prague and Budapest and found them not only beautiful but also delicious and fun. Both are so different from the other. In Prague you’ll want to wander around the fairy-tale like streets and sip on some Czech beer.

In Budapest you’ll have to visit the market for hearty Hungarian fare to soak up last night’s drinks at the city’s hip “ruin pubs”. If time allows, I would suggest taking trains so you can get a glimpse of the countryside, but maybe we can save time by booking flights. I’d say from Milan you could spend a day in glamorous Vienna before heading to the three other cities you have mentioned. All of these cities offer so much to see that there won’t be too much time for day trips, but if I can find something feasible, we can try and fit that in. Amsterdam will be the perfect way to close off the trip by roaming around the canals, cafes and many bars. Regardless, it’ll be 9 full days of Pilsner, picturesque castles and pure fun…I’m sure!”

Milan Bootcamp

After touching down in Italy’s powerhouse city, Milan, check into your hostel and freshen up. There’s a lot of history to see in Milan, and you might as well make the most of your afternoon here. One of Milan’s biggest attractions, The Last Supper, is tough to get individual tickets to last minute. Most sell out weeks in advance. To get around this, and if you don’t mind paying the €60 price tag, you can jump on a guided tour of Milan with a combined viewing of The Last Supper at 2:30pm this same day. The information to book before it fills up can be found here. Otherwise, there is a €40 tour at 2:45pm the following day which you can find here.

Whether you get to The Last Supper or not, squeeze in some time for Milan’s other star attraction, The Duomo. Open every day with free entry, take a wander around the mammoth cathedral which took two centuries to be deemed ‘complete’.

That evening if you have any energy left, take advantage of “aperitivo” hour. All you have to do is head to one of Milan’s bars around 6pm and order a drink. Depending on the location, your beverage will be paired with an assortment of meats, cheeses, vegetables and/or bread!

Ostello Bello Hostel has good reviews, free Wi-Fi and is in close range to tourist attractions and the Navigli District!

A Day Away

Milan is set in the perfect location in Northern Italy for a multitude of day trips. Pick the one which sounds the most attractive and head out!

To escape some of the city’s air pollution, head north to beautiful Lake Como and the surrounding villages. Trains leave Milan’s Central Station hourly to Como, Lecco, Varenna, Bellana, Colico and the East Shore. Services also run from Cadorna and Garibaldi stations. If you have time, make sure to utilize the ferry network which runs services around the lake including to the picturesque town of Bellagio. For a down-to-the-hour guide on how to see the area in a day, check out this link here.

For something a bit more laid back, head to Bergamo Alta, a beautiful Medieval/Renaissance village sat atop a green hill right at the foothills of the Alps. You can arrive at the city from Milan by bus or train in under an hour. Once you reach the Bergamo station, either catch a bus to the top of the hill or walk the 30 minute steep climb for a bit of exercise. Most of the historical center is closed to traffic and easy to navigate on foot.

That night, after you’ve returned, chill out or explore more of Milan’s apertivo hours. You could also head to the Navigli district were the cafes, bars and restaurants are endless.

Budapest 101

Rise and shine bright and early to catch the 8:10am Wizz Air flight to Budapest. You can book the flight right now for $90 via Skyscanner. (If you aren’t an early riser and can plan on getting back from your day trip in time, there is also a 9:55pm flight the night before for $123.)

After you’ve rested up, get your gears about you. The city is split into two, ‘Buda’ and ‘Pest,’ accordingly. You can either take one day for each, or go on a free walking tour one day, and use another day to relax. These tours have great reviews, and you’ll learn a lot about the city in 2-3 hours. There is a morning tour and an afternoon tour starting at 2:30pm.

If you decide against the tour, stop into the Central Market Hall. On the top floor is a wide selection of authentic Hungarian grub and on the other floors you can browse souvenirs and local products! On Saturdays it is open until 3pm.

That night, round up some hostel friends and make sure to head to a “ruin pub” – an iconic part of Budapest’s nightlife. One not to miss is the expansive Szimpla Kert, an abandoned space turned mad-house of lights, art and bizarre decor.

The Mandala Hostel is a well-loved hostel by guests. Although there is a bit of a creaky floor, it has a great atmosphere, cozy exotic decor and best of all…no bunk beds!

Time to Get Hungary

Будапешт, Сечени, хорошо… #szechenyibaths #budapest

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For you second whole day in Budapest you’ll have an assortment of activities to choose from depending on your mood.

If you haven’t yet, visit Castle Hill. You can take the “funicular” to the top, or walk it. Once there, enjoy the views and take a wander around. Head towards Fisherman’s Bastian next– the only part of castle hill which actually looks like a castle! There’s a little bar inside where you can enjoy a drink and the views if you’d like.

In the afternoon, you may be in the mood to rest your feet. For a truly Hungarian experience, head to the Szechenyi Baths for a soak. A huge complex of Turkish baths dating back to the 17th century, this site is popular with tourists and locals alike. Still, it’s an experience to behold…and part of Hungarian culture! Don’t worry though, this isn’t a nude spa, a bathing suit will do just fine!

That evening, if you haven’t tried much true Hungarian fare, a great place to start is at Hungarikum Bistro. While you need to make a reservation a day or two in advance, it will be well worth it if you do. The prices are very reasonable, the service is super friendly and the food is to die for!

Detour through Slovakia

At this point in your trip, it’s time to make your way towards Prague. You can either take a 6 hour train directly there, or stop off in Bratislava, Slovakia, for one night on the way.

If heading to Bratislava, get an early start in order to enjoy the day exploring the charming Old Town of the small capital. You can pick up tickets at the station the same day and find times here. Trains depart every few hours for around €18 and takes 2 hours and 45 minutes. I’d recommend taking the 9:25am train arriving just in time for lunch!

Once you’ve settled in, take a leisurely stroll around the Old Town and find a place for lunch. After you’ve fully explored, head to the Bratislava Castle.

That evening, chill out at the hostel and get ready for a fun-filled few days in Prague.

Hostel Blues is right in the center, clean, safe and friendly!

Bohemia Bound!

Now it’s time to get yourself to the Czech Republic to kick off 2-3 nights in this fairy-tale capital. From the main Bratislava train station you can catch the EuroCity train at 10:10 am and arrive in Prague around 2pm. You can purchase the ticket at the station the morning of, or online in advance for a slightly discounted price of around €15.

That afternoon, you might want to just be social kick-back. No better time to taste what the Czech’s are famous for– beer! In fact, the Czechs consume more of this frothy stuff per capita than anywhere in the world. The most popular brand is Gambrinus but some argue that Kozel’s Medium is the best. On the other hand, locals from the small town of Pilsen will tell you that Pilsner Urquell is the cream of the crop due to their water quality. Best try them all and decide for yourself!

If you’re looking for something a bit stronger later on, check out the darker side of Bohemia at the Absintherie. This bar/shop/museum-in-one is open until midnight. Looking for a place to head out afterwards? You could always join one of Prague’s famous pub crawls or head out on your own with people from your hostel. Although packed with expats, I’ve always had a grand time at the large and boisterous Chapeau Rouge. There’s both bars and dance floors within the multi-story establishment.

Hostel Santini Prague is steps away from Charles Bridge and Prague Castle. It’s also social, clean and friendly.

Postcard Prague

#thepraguecastle

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Hopefully you aren’t too hungover from last night’s events. Today make sure to tackle some of Prague’s ‘must-see’s.

Stop by the Astronomical Clock in the Old Town which has been tick-tocking since the 1400’s. Every hour, on the hour, a crowd will gather and watch the little wooden saints emerge and spin around. It’s not the most impressive thing you’ve ever seen, but it’s worth seeing. Check out the zodiac signs on the clock face too. Supposedly, they spell out some secret occult mysteries.

The Prague Castle should also be up on your list of sights to see. Although the guards outside make for a great photo op and the cathedral inside is quite impressive, in my opinion, the show stopper is charming Golden Lane. Located inside the castle walls, Golden Lane is the last remaining street representative of typical 16th century housing in the area. What once was the living quarters for castle servants and merchants is now a picturesque cobblestone street lined with tiny colorful houses. They are so little and cute!

Lastly, Charles Bridge is definitely worth a stroll down. Built in 1357, it’s Prague’s most stunning bridge which spans 16 arches lined with 30 Baroque statues. It gets pretty crowded with vendors and tourists, so if you want it all to yourself, try and visit early in the morning or at night!

Dark Prague

For your last day in Prague, it’s either time 1.) to visit things you couldn’t fit in during the other days 2.) just relax 3.) or go see something unique!

If you’ve never been to an ice bar, the one in Prague is a hoot. Drink some vodka from an ice glass and take some photos!

Intrigued by Prague’s darker side? A popular, but controversial attraction, is Prague’s Sex Machines Museum near the Old Town Square.

For something creepy, there’s always the Jewish Cemetery. This tiny square area is full of some 100,000 bodies, all which remain as a stark reminder to the conditions Jews faced in Prague’s ghetto during the 1700’s.

In the afternoon, it’s time to head to the airport to catch the 6:50pm flight to Amsterdam for $109 via Easy Jet. You can book the ticket with Skyscanner. Try and grab it as early as possible, it will most likely rise in price!

Going Dutch

Four hundred year old waterways, museums galore, smokey cafes, the Red Light District…Amsterdam offers so much for a tourist. Since it’ll be hard to squeeze it all in before your flight home, best to prioritize. Most of all, make sure to fully enjoy the end of your whirlwind trip!

Start in Dam Square, the heart of the historic district. From the 17th century palace to the street performers, it’s a mix of old and new. Next, to get a lay of the land, explore Amsterdam on your first day how the locals do– by bike! MacBike is a reputable renter and you’ll be riding in no time. You can also book a guided cycling tour if that’s more up your alley.

Hungry? Take a meal or two to figure out what Dutch food is all about. Here’s a list of recommended restaurants around the city.

Amsterdam is known for its nightlife, so rest up in the afternoon in order to take on the city. Also, it is Halloween of course! Maybe your hostel will have an event going on but if not, check out one of the city’s Halloween pub crawls.

Want a calmer but nonetheless bizarre Halloween? Take a stroll down The Red Light District and see who’s creeping in the shadows. While it’s full of tourists, and normally safe, remember to take care of your possessions. You never know if a pick-pocket is nearby!

The Flying Pig is popular with backpackers but StayOkay in Vondelpark has better reviews.

Culture Tripping

It’s your last full day of the trip, and time to soak in as much more culture as you can before departing home. There’s the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh museum and/or also The Heineken Experience. All very different, choose the one which interests you the most and learn something about Dutch history.

After a visit to the museum(s) of your choosing, relax at one of Amsterdam’s cafes. You can recharge with a ‘koffie verkee’ (milky coffe) and a slice of ‘appelgebak’ (apple pie). Yum! Looking for Amsterdam’s other kind of coffee shop? Here is a list of the 15 best if that’s your thing.

In the afternoon, do some last minute shopping . From flowers to souvenirs, you can find just about everything you are looking for in this list here. Don’t want to shop? Then just relax in one of Amsterdam’s parks.

While no one likes to be hungover on a flight, take your last night in Amsterdam to treat yourself a bit. Want a selection of 50+ Belguim beers? Want to drink organic micro-brews from a windmill? Maybe some people watching with food by the canals?

As the sun sets, it’s time to reflect on the whole journey. Raise a glass and “prost,” because you just traveled through 5 countries in 9 days! Quite the European feat if I say so myself!

Takeaways

Don’t miss the views! Tip: Make sure to head to the rooftop of the Duomo for a view of Milan. On a clear day you can see the Alps!

Legendary Apertivo Hour at Bar Tender For the price of one drink (8-12€) enjoy a selection of pizza, pasta and focaccia… all brought to your table. Food is available until 9, then everything is cleared out for dessert!

Don’t forget to bring a towel to the bath house! The towel rack is either extremely difficult to find, or non-existent, so bring your own towel to the baths in Budapest!

Photo Op! Funny statues dot the Old Town in Bratislava. Make sure to keep an eye out for the “man at work” and get your photo with it! It’s a Bratislava must-do!

Flights! Don’t forget to book your flights to Budapest and Amsterdam with Skyscanner before departing on your trip!

Do you like cooking? If so, pick up some Hungarian paprika while in Budapest! Then make some goulash soup for your family once you get home!

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