Central Europe, consisting of Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia have come into their own as fantastic vacation destinations, teeming with historic sites, culture, music, art and landscapes. Hidden for too long, these treasures are now easily accessible and Central Europe is eager to welcome you to discover them!
Touring kaleidoscopic Germany can be approached in so many different ways. Cruise the Danube or the Rhine to glide by medieval towns and quintessential castles in the most relaxing way possible, or go high energy, put on your walking shoes, and delve into cutting edge Berlin, picturesque Munich, or the huge harbor city of Hamburg. Discover the grand gardens of Germany, the passion of many a noblewoman or man. The Bavarian Alps in southern Germany offer a tantalizing array of sports and sightseeing – including more castles, of course, and stunning national parks. The scenery is unbeatable whether you’re on skis, a bicycle or your own two feet. UNESCO World Heritage sites are legion; you’ll find some in every region you visit. Eat enthusiastically in Germany; there’s beer and wurst to sample, delectable wines, fabulous breads and pastries, and every region has its specialties, which you wouldn’t want to miss, would you?
Poland is the natural choice for the inquisitive traveler. Visiting the hometowns of its famous sons and daughters would be a fascinating tour; in Olsztyn castle you can see graffiti by Copernicus! Frédéric Chopin, the famous composer, and Marie Curie, winner of two Nobel prizes, are two more illustrious Polish figures. Favorite cities of Poland include Krakow, its stupendous old town practically untouched by World War II, and Wraclow, with 1,000 years of history and despite numerous “changes of management”, a wealth of sites to illustrate its past. Summer or winter, everyone likes visiting Zakopane, a Carpathian jewel. Near Tatra National Park, the town is the perfect base for skiing or summer mountain sports. The less developed Baltic seacoast on the northern end of the country offers as much natural solace, but in the form of shifting sand dunes at Slowinski National Park. If you’re after a wellness break, enjoy geothermal spas in the mountains and balneotherapy near the sea.
The lively Czech Republic is awash in must-sees. The fairy tale skylines and medieval streets of Prague and Český Krumlov are breathtaking; in Brno see a wealth of 19th and 20th century architecture including Art Nouveau and a Mies van der Rohe masterpiece. picturesque castles and villages dot countryside gentle enough for almost everyone to enjoy biking between them. If you’re a cinema buff, tour locations for movies such as “Amadeus” and “Mission Impossible”. Festivals celebrating the arts, history, crafts, food and beer abound and add a wonderful dynamic to your sightseeing. The White Carpathians are a designated UNESCO biosphere reserve for their unique mix of oak and beech forests and the astonishing flora and fauna they shelter. All kinds of outdoor activities are available to help you escape from boredom (if you can possibly be bored here) and to help you work off the soul-satisfying meals including, of course, a local beer. Or two.
Mountainous and green, Austria dazzles the eyes with its scenery, the ears with its music, the mind with its art, and the taste buds with its rather fabulous pastry. Be glad for the ease of caffeine and dessert consumption in Vienna’s famed coffee houses, for touring the museums, churches, and stately buildings in this capital require stamina! It’s no surprise that the seat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire is so saturated. The Schonbrunn Palace, works of Klimt and the Jugendstil movement, the Vienna Boys Choir, the stop-in-your-tracks Opera House and the Spanish Riding School are all here. Feast your ears paying homage to Mozart or Maria (Von Trapp), but check out the modern side of Salzburg, too. Throughout the country, up and down the Tyrolean Alps, skiing and hiking are superb. Visit Innsbruck, an Olympic village, marvel at the creativity on display at the Swarovski Museum, and stay warm in locally crafted boiled wool jacket. The warmest thing you'll find in Austria, however, is the welcome.
Turbulent history and scenic drama give Slovakia all the interest a traveler could want. Bratislava, the strategically placed capital on the Danube halfway between Vienna and Prague, has been a center of commercial and political activity for ages. Scores of Slovakian towns and villages present their stories via beautifully preserved architecture and museums of art and folk culture. Be sure to see the UNESCO World Heritage Painted Wooden Churches, built for different faiths and all decorated with great devotion. Among many stunning castles, Bojnice Castle is one right out of a fairy tale. Not only does it look magical, the International Festival of Ghosts and Spooks is held in it every spring. Where else? The mountains of Slovakia are a paradise for active holidays. You can hike, swim in crystal clear lakes, or expand to bungee jumping in the High Tatras, wood rafting down the Dunajec, Nordic walking, or hot air ballooning in the Velka Raca.
After you’ve climbed Castle Hill, seen the UNESCO-listed view
from both sides of the Danube, attended a performance at the elegant Hungarian State Opera House
and hung out at a café, then can you tear yourself away from bewitching Budapest
? For R&R, head for Lake Balaton
, the largest lake in Central Europe,
to the south for lakeside resorts and to the north if you’d like to do some spectacular bird and wildlife watching.
The Pannonian region towns established by the Romans are still hopping today. The southeast Alföld region is where the legendary Hungarian paprika and much other produce essential to Hungarian cuisine
is grown, each with its own festival. Where the Carpathian Mountains reach into Hungary is an unbelievable concentration of attractions
. You’ll find storybook villages, vibrant craft traditions, caves to explore, mountain sports, most of Hungary’s UNESCO sites
, and wineries producing the famous Tokaj and Bull’s Blood of Eger wines.