Schonbrunn Palace Gardens, Vienna, Austria ©MDHarding
At the start of each year, we like to sit down to do a rough plan of where and when we would like to travel too. Taking into account the best time of year to visit, what's the weather going to be like? Is it a local holiday or perhaps there is a festival taking place. We like to avoid the crowds and see beyond the tourist hotspots, all those hidden gems that only locals know about.
Like most years this year was no exception, we had a few places that were on the travel list! There are always more places than perhaps you might have the time off work to visit or budget.
Lucky we were able to group some countries together although the cities weren't as close together as I would have liked, to have been able to take advantage of surface transportation.
Drum roll....these were Krakow (Poland), Kyiv (Ukraine), Bratislava (Slovakia), Vienna (Austria) and then finally to the Hungarian capital city of Budapest.
We Travelled to five countries in two weeks. Here's how you can do it too!
Five Countries In Two Weeks
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Main Square, Krakow, Poland ©MDHarding
As you can imagine this trip took a lot of planning, with lots of components, some compromises and care. You don't want to be booking accommodation for the wrong city on the wrong dates or even worse a flight on the wrong date.
It's a good idea to get everything down on a piece of paper first. Listing the destinations, what you would like to see and do and perhaps accommodation you have been recommended. Now comes the tricky part, bringing everything together with the dates and flights. We could only fly into and out of two airports from Edinburgh, these are Krakow and Budapest. Then we had to find the best ways to travel to the other cities and join everything up. Accommodation came next and finally, the best part looking into the variety of must-see and do's. I always like to take it a stage further and check where the accommodation is in relation to the airport and what the best way to get there is.
"Failing to Plan is planning to fail" - Unknown
"A goal without a plan is just a wish" - Unknown
"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your own wild and precious life?" - Mary Oliver
We opted to take backpacks on this trip as we were travelling on local transport, walking short distances and some accommodation only had stair access. Also in autumn, the climate is fairly mild so we didn't have to pack heavy winter jumpers and also we're not travelling through different climates.
Top Tip: I always find you can get in and out of airports much faster with a backpack.
Ticket From Krakow Airport To City Centre ©MDHarding
Based in Edinburgh, Scotland the first leg almost always consists of a flight, and in this case, it was no different. Edinburgh to Krakow, Poland is a short 2 hours 40-minute flight. The flights tend to be almost always the most expensive part of any trip. We booked those a few months ahead of time. Flying Easyjet into John Paul II International Airport only 11km from the city centre. The transfer by train is 30 minutes.
Discovering a traditional small hotel in the heart of the city, which was only a 10-minute walk from the train and bus station. Perfect for exploring and reaching from the airport. B & B La Fontaine here we come.
For more accommodation options for all budgets and dates, I can highly recommend Booking.com I love the flexibility that Booking.Com offers with cancellable, pay on arrival or pay now options.
Krakow is famous for its Pierogi dumplings, beer and historic old town. Outside there is the large Wieliczka Salt Mine with its underground chapels, chambers and lakes, many like to visit Auschwitz and there is also the possibility to take a day trip to the highlands to see the Tatra Mountains and enjoy a spa at Zakopane.
Top Tip: We stayed for three nights and almost four full days to explore. Accommodation providers are generally good and will store your luggage for free until you can check into the room and also kindly store on the last day, so you don't need to lug it around while sightseeing.
After all, that planning, packing and post-flight, it's nice to relax!
Exploring the old town with its fire breathing dragon at Wawel Castle, walk along the walkway of fame, shop inside Cloth Hall, and eat at a recommended restaurant.
The hotel suggested restaurant Ariel located in the Jewish quarter - Kazimierz.
The ancient district of Kazimierz was officially founded as an island by King Kazimierz the Great in 1335. In 1495 Jews were expelled from Krakow and made their home over the river in Kazimierz. Today it is very trendy with indie galleries, vintage clothing shops and hip cocktail bars. The main square has a number of outdoor seating restaurants including Ariel, named after one of the four archangels from the Old Testament, which offers a traditional Polish/Jewish menu including a vegetarian dish of delicious potato pancakes with vegetable sauce. Worth a visit!
Set off early to Wieliczka Salt Mine. We took the local minibus from the bus station and got our visitor ticket on arrival. It's a must-see! The incredible works of art that are carved out of salt and the underground clear blue lake. Returning later by train. We enjoy exploring and having an adventure, as well as our own time frame but if you prefer you can book to go on an organised tour which includes entry fees.
Get Your Guide has some amazing organised tours while visiting Krakow including these ones to Wieliczka Salt Mine.
After a day trip, it's always great to not have to walk too far and get something fresh, delicious to eat with super service. We decided to do just that and dine at one of the amazing restaurants in the Main Square. It's a bit more expensive but the food was amazing and sitting outside on the square with Cloth Hall illuminated was beautiful.
Traditional Wooden Houses in Zakopane, Poland ©MDHarding
A bus ride away from Krakow is the highlands, with the beautiful Tatra Mountains. Known in the winter for skiing, in the autumn it is idyllic with its autumnal fall colours. We booked our bus tickets in advance via the Flixbus website. It was an early start, as we wanted to make the most of our day visit. The Bus takes 2 hours 30 minutes from the bus station and drops you in the centre of Zakopane. We planned to take the cable car to the highest viewing point - Gubałówka Hill, but it was still going through its annual maintenance service. Inside there were taxi vans! Everyone was rounded up and taken on the steep winding road up to the top. The view breathtaking, air so crisp and clean. At the top, we stopped to take it all in while having a warming hot wine. Soon it was time to make our descent. The weather so glorious and scenery to be enjoyed, we opted to hike back down.
At the foot of Gubalowka Hill is the market with many traditional crafts, from slippers to hats and much more! A little further on is the start of Krupówki Promenade, it's like the main street with many shops, cafes and restaurants.
We didn't venture to the thermal baths, an excuse to re-visit (wink).
It is possible to book day trips in advance that include options for the cable car, a visit to one of the thermal spas, such as Chocholowska and guided tour.
Travelling On To 2nd Country - Ukraine
Subway Art ©MDHarding
We set off late afternoon returning to John Paul II International Airport by train to catch our UIE flight to Kyiv Zhuliany International Airport (IEV). The flight was landing early evening and already it was dark outside. The flight had been delayed, so we decided to take a taxi to the Amarant Hotel.
The hotel was quiet, modern and pink! After check-in and freshen up, it was time to find a quick bite to eat. The hotel had complimentary wifi and with the help of google maps discovered a pizza place only 10 minutes walk away. When you're tired, it's dark and your in a strange city with a language that's totally alien to you, it's the simple things in life that are a welcome relief.
There are other accommodation options available in different locations.
Kyiv Subway Tokens ©MDHarding
After a good nights rest, it was time to explore! The hotel reception kindly provided us with a map and directions to the metro station. On the way, we discovered a supermarket, many coffee shops and bakeries. Oo the fragrant fresh coffee and a fresh pastry was a must.
Just around the corner is the metro station. Wow, Ukrainian is a challenge to get your head around. To cover all eventualities we had a business card from the hotel and took a photo of the metro station name. Now to get metro tickets!
Ukraine has one of the least expensive public transport systems In the world! At only 8 pence per journey. There is no ticket but tokens. You go to the counter (normally a grumpy lady) and ask for the number of tokens you would like. We did a rough calculation of journeys per day for the two of us and away we went, entering our first token to get through the barrier under the watchful beady-eyed guard.
The best way to see and get your bearings of any new city is the Hop on Hop off City Tour Bus. Well, all I can say is don't rely on the one in Kyiv. It turned out to be a ghost bus!
The city is easy to walk around and we saw things that possibly we wouldn't have seen via the tour bus, like the amazing artwork by local artists and enjoy a traditional chicken Kyiv dish at Za Dvoma Zaytsyamy ( meaning After Two Hares).
St Andrews Church, Kyiv, Ukraine ©MDHarding
Breakfast at the local bakery, tube to Blue Church, Sculpture park, subway & street art are all a must-see. The City park a large elongated green space where you can also see the Dnieper River is very beautiful with views over some parts of the city, woodland areas, and even grand buildings.
Christmas Ornament Factory, Ukraine ©MDHarding
Visiting the Christmas factory was lots of fun! The kind staff at the hotel hadn't even heard of it, but we managed to get there. It takes over an hour to reach by taxi and then one hour thirty minutes inside visiting the traditional glassmaking, colouring and skilled painting before painting a Christmas bauble ourselves. Then it was time to visit the gift shop. Wow, there are baubles of all shapes and sizes, colours and even some collectors editions too.
After leaving it was interesting trying to find the bus stop. Instead a local pointed us to the bus station and we had arrived just in time, as a small bus was just about to depart. It was already dark when we got off at the last stop by the subway station. We made our way back to the hotel, en route stopping for a delicious pizza.
Here are some other activities you might like to do while visiting Kyiv;
Discover more about the city of Kyiv in the A To Z Travel Blog - Ukraine
Travelling On To 3rd Country - Slovakia
Lviv Chocolate, Kyiv, Ukraine ©MDHarding
After being recommended the Lviv chocolate, we made a beeline there to make the most of our last morning in Kyiv. Our Wizz Air flight from Kyiv Zhuliany International Airport (IEV) to Bratislava Ivanka (BTS) 1 hour 50 minutes didn't depart till later so we decided to take advantage of the late checkout, go and enjoy the chocolate before taking a taxi back to the airport.
The Park Inn By Radisson Danube Bratislava is located just across from the Danube River. We were lucky to have been upgraded and given a room with both castle and river views. It's really easy to jump on board the airport bus and transfer to the tram or bus, that stops directly opposite the hotel. Please buy your tickets before getting onboard local transport. If caught without one you have to pay a hefty fine.
For more accommodation options visit Booking.com
Man At Work, Bratislava, Slovakia ©MDHarding
Bratislava is really small you can practically walk around the city in one day! The statues are a must-see from Man At Work to Schone Naci the only silver statue of a real existing person. The legend goes that he loved a woman that did not love him back and was so disappointed that it drove him mad. He was often seen handing out flowers to random women on the street.
Bratislava Old Town, Bratislava, Slovakia ©MDHarding
As we walked back through the old town we spotted the traditional Konditorei Kormuth. The interior is so quirky with Renaissance paintings and frescos. There are also antiques from the 16th - 19th century. Not forgetting the large glass cabinet that is full of sweet delights including torte, cakes and much more. The menu starts with a 10 Euro pp patisserie selection including a hot drink (tea, coffee or hot chocolate) and a cake, torte or ice cream. Yum!
Would you like to read more about Bratislava? Discover the Blue Church, KGB themed bar and UFO building with An Orcadian Abroad - I didn't Expect Bratislava To Be So Pretty.
Alternative options to explore in and the surrounding areas of Bratislava include;
Schonbrunn Palace Garden Room, Vienna, Austria ©MDHarding
Day trip to Vienna, Austria. It was a lot of fun but there is so much to see and do. One day doesn't cover it but it was a really nice introductory taster trip and at only one hour away from Bratislava. How could we resist!
We woke up early that morning and booked the bus via Regiojet website. I love this bus company! Not only is it super comfortable but they also offer complimentary teas & coffee's, there is also a lovely host onboard to assist with any questions.
The bus departs in the small station opposite the hotel! On arrival, we went directly to the metro station and bought a day pass for the local transport. It's really easy to get around Vienna.
There is also the option to take the catamaran along the Danube between Bratislava and Vienna but it takes some time more and is also more expensive.
We took the opportunity to visit St Stephen's Cathedral, Belvedere Palace and Schonbrunn Palace. The palaces are incredible but my favourite parts have to be the gardens. Schonbrunn Palace has a huge garden both at the front and back with sculptures, a maze and garden rooms.
Here are more must-visit attractions in Vienna;
5th and Final Country Budapest
Hungarian Parliament Building ©MDHarding
Only time for a takeaway breakfast as it's another early start, conveniently the bus departs across the street to the bus station, connecting to the Flixbus to Budapest. Its a short bus ride, at only two hours.
On arrival, the weather was bad (raining cats and dogs)so we decided to take a taxi from the bus station to the hotel. The taxi drivers were having a laugh with there prices. So we opted to take a Bolt similar to Uber cars. Within two minutes the car had arrived and we were off to the Hotel Mediterran for a two-night stay on a bed and breakfast basis.
The small independent 3* hotel was just over the bridge in Buda, it's conveniently located for public transport, nearby to the Fisherman's Bastion and Buda Castle. The room was very comfortable, clean with minibar, t.v and coffee & tea facilities. There is even a sauna!
We were recommended Aranyhid Etterem Pub just a five-minute walk from the hotel with a range of warm and homely comfort food.
Fed and watered it was time to go and explore. We purchased a local transport ticket valid for a few days including the ferry too (the ferry is not included on weekends and public holidays).
I love walking around cities at night they are so atmospheric with grand buildings illuminated. This city is no different from the Fisherman's Bastion, Hungarian Parliament Building and Buda Castle.
Central Market Hall, Budapest, Hungary ©MDHarding
Early start to make the most of our full day exploring the city. You can't visit Budapest without taking a trip on the River Danube. It was a challenge to find the departure pier for the ferry. It is pier 8 stop Petofi ter (Erzsebet hid). The line is both 11 & 12 taking you both south and north along the river. We departed at the island (not really an island as joined to the mainland). With it's beautifully manicured gardens, woodlands and landscaped water features.
As lunchtime was fast approaching we walked back to sample the recommended restaurant Mazel Tov. Wow, it's like a conservatory inside with many lush green plants and glass roof. The Middle Eastern food was delicious. We discovered it was really popular and were lucky to get a table. Recommend booking in advance.
Did you know you can visit a 900-year-old market? The Central Market Hall is a restored neogothic hall with two floors filled with groceries, traditional Hungarian paprika products, cakes, and souvenirs on the first floor.
Fisherman's Bastion, Budapest, Hungary ©MDHarding
Our flight is super late making the most of our last day in the beautiful city before flying back to Edinburgh with Ryanair.
A few more things on the list that we thoroughly enjoyed was climbing to the top of Stephen's Basilica for the 360-degree views of the city. There can be long queue's and it also closes for an hour for lunch. Recommend getting there early.
If you are ready for lunch Bestia Restaurant is a one-minute walk from the entrance. It has a selection of dishes available. The vegetable soup was delicious.
Have you tried Vegan ice cream? One of our highlights was trying the delicious ice cream also shaped like a Rose flower at Gelarto Rosa Bistro. There are six flavours to choose from. Highly recommend mango, strawberry and chocolate. Yum!
The final stop was a visit to Buda Castle and Fisherman's Bastion with its fairytale towers and viewing terrace. Wow, the 19th-century fort is a must-visit. It's open all year round, day and night. The balconies are free with a fee for top two turrets.
Top Tip: Earlier and later flights are generally less expensive, make the most of your city break and travel for less!
Here are other highlights you might like to see and do while you visit Budapest;
We travelled to all five countries, including flights, accommodation 3 & 4*, buses, taxis, metro for less than £1000. Find out the travel saving tips we use and how to get more for your hard-earned money in my new book - How To Get The Best Travel Deals: Love Travel? You Will Love This Book.
Hope you enjoyed reading and inspired to do your own multi-centre holiday. Until next time happy travels:) x