Above: Exterior of the Primatial Palace in Bratislava, Slovakia - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
"Although Vienna now rules over a country only slightly larger than South Carolina, it still feels like the capital of an empire. The atmosphere is elegant and serene, miraculously unperturbed by the traffic and tourists of the 21st century..."
Click here to read more about Andrew Harper's trip through Mitteleuropa.
Arrive in Vienna and check into your hotel. Take a moment to refresh and unpack.
Have a traditional Viennese dinner on the glassed-in patio of Plachutta. I recommend sharing some Tafelspitz and Wiener Schnitzel.
See the highlights of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, one of the world’s greatest art collections. The Bruegel paintings are particularly enchanting, and I always seek out Arcimboldo’s amazingly creative portraits.
Cross the Ringstrasse and tour the old quarter. Wander down Tuchlauben, with its high-end retail shops, and stop in Judenplatz to see the moving Holocaust Memorial. The nearby Hoher Markt is the oldest part of the city.
Gothic St. Stephen’s Cathedral is usually packed with tourists. To avoid the crowds, head into the treasury (Domschatz) immediately to the right after you pass through the main entrance. From the organ loft, you’ll have sweeping views of the entire interior of the cathedral.
Have a light lunch at the Palmenhaus, set in a barrel-vaulted conservatory overlooking the Burggarten.
Nearby is the Hofburg’s Schatzkammer (Imperial Treasury). The 10th-century imperial crown is the most famous object, but don’t miss the birdbath-size agate bowl from Constantinople or the throne-cradle of Napoleon II.
Relax with a slice of torte and a Melange at Demel.
In the afternoon, visit either the excellent Museum of Applied Arts or the undulating Kunst Haus Wien, home to the joyously colorful (but never saccharine) watercolors of Hundertwasser.
For some early 1950s “Third Man” ambience, pause for a Melange at Café Prückel.
Dine tonight in Vestibül, a popular traditional restaurant attached to the Burgtheater.
Take a private tour of the Palais Liechtenstein, which houses masterpieces by Rembrandt, Raphael, Rubens and many others. There’s a leafy café to the right of the entrance.
Depending on your mood, take the rest of the day to shop in the old quarter, visit the Leopold Museum’s unparalleled collection of Schiele paintings, tour another wing of the Hofburg or relax with a good book in a café.
Silvio Nickol is an expensive choice for dinner, but is worth it for extravagantly delicious cuisine and audacious wine pairings.
Make an excursion to Schönbrunn, the summer palace of the Habsburg court. Tour the interior and grounds, and do not miss the flawless apple strudel in the Café Restaurant Residenz Schönbrunn.
After an early dinner at the Bristol Lounge, one of Vienna’s most beautiful dining rooms, take in a performance at the renowned Staatsoper or Musikverein.
Transfer one hour by car or train to Bratislava, and check into the Arcadia Hotel.
Take a walking tour with a guide, or simply take a walk yourself. Meander through the car-free main square, and walk to the cathedral, where 11 Hungarian monarchs were crowned.
Take a break at Pinot u Bruna, a wine bar on Rudnayovo Square directly behind the cathedral, or Café l’Aura, which has inviting outdoor seating where the square intersects Panská.
Walk up lively Ventúrska, a pedestrian street lined with bars, cafés and restaurants.
Stop wherever the mood strikes, and continue up to the onion-domed Michael’s Gate, the only remaining medieval city gate (climb to the top for sweeping views of the old quarter).
Return to the Arcadia, just two blocks from the tower.
Dine tonight at the cozy and traditional Slovak Pub.
Continue to explore Bratislava, visiting the Mirbach Palace, with remarkable stucco ceilings and memorably expressive Messerschmidt busts, and/or the Pálffy Palace, which has more modern and contemporary art.
Lunch at historic Modrá Hviezda, either in the wood-beamed front room or the atmospheric vaulted cellars in the back, dug into the hill under the castle.
Continue ascending to the castle for panoramic views of the Danube, the Old Town and the block housing of the communist-built Petržalka neighborhood (those with interest in Bratislava’s communist past should consider booking a “Post-Socialist City Tour” with Authentic Slovakia, conducted in a vintage Škoda).
Visit the interior of the castle if you must, or descend the hill and stop inside one of Bratislava’s most stylish new bars, Le Šenk Craft Beer Café.
Return to the Arcadia and relax in its mosaic-tile spa.
Dine on Italian cuisine at KOGO, with outdoor seating on Hviezdoslavovo Square, Bratislava’s Las Ramblas.
Make an excursion to Devín Castle, perched on a cliff just outside Bratislava overlooking the Danube.
More ambitious travelers should consider visiting one or two of the lesser-known castles nearby. Pajštún and Plavecký castles can be visited on a long half-day tour. Both are in spectacularly picturesque ruins, with no ticket booths or guards (or guardrails) in sight. Both also require 30- to 60-minute uphill walks.
In the afternoon, visit the Primatial Palace, with lavish interiors and vibrantly colored 17th-century tapestries.
Alternatively, wine lovers should visit Národný Salón Vín. Each year, the cellar is stocked with curated selection of Slovakia’s “100 best wines,” all of which are available for tasting, and none of which are exported to the United States. Each of the eight we tried was well-crafted and delicious.
Or simply relax in one of Bratislava’s many outdoor cafés or beer gardens. Starosloviensky Pivovar on Vysoká draws a mostly local crowd to its shady garden in back.
Have dinner at UFO, a surprisingly stylish restaurant in a saucer perched over a Danube bridge. The views at sunset are sensational, and the new-Slovak dishes we tried lived up to the setting.
Have a driver take you up Andrássy, Budapest’s Champs-Elysées, to see Heroes’ Square and the elegant City Park.
Alternatively, stop in the House of Terror, in the former headquarters of the secret police. The exhibits, which are more like art installations, reflect on the fascist and communist regimes that ruled Hungary in the 20th century.
Just south is the Párizsi Department Store, where you’ll find the Alexandra Book Café, set in a flamboyantly grand Renaissance Revival ballroom. Try the walnut torte with marzipan frosting.
Dine tonight at Aszú, which focuses on the wine and cuisine of the Tokaj region.
Explore Buda with a guide today, crossing the Chain Bridge on foot and ascending Castle Hill by the funicular.
Tour the National Gallery, focusing on its striking collection of 19th- and early 20th-century Hungarian works (note especially the darkly luminous works of Mihály Munkácsy).
Head inside the colorfully Gothic Matthias Church, again going up to the treasury for fine views of the interior.
Lunch in the lush garden of Pierrot. In inclement weather, opt instead for Alabárdos.
Do a wine tasting in the House of Hungarian Wines, or simply have a couple of glasses in the café in the Fisherman’s Bastion just behind the equestrian statue of St. Stephen. The views of the Danube and Pest are extraordinary.
Have a light dinner in the hotel’s restaurant.
Meet a guide from Taste Hungary in the Central Market Hall for a fascinating and thoroughly delicious culinary walking tour. We tried everything from pickled baby watermelon to lángos to Esterházy torte.
Alternatively, explore the heart of Pest. Váci utca is the main pedestrian street, but I prefer walking along Kecskeméti leading to Károlyi utca and Ferenciek tere. Be sure to stop in Centrál Kávéház, my favorite café in Budapest.
Have dinner at opulent Onyx, where I recommend the “Hungarian Evolution” tasting menu (a vegetarian menu is also available).
Return home, or continue into the unspoiled Hungarian countryside.
Those interested in wine should consider spending a few days in Tokaj, one of the world’s greatest regions for white and sweet wines.
Alternatively, head south to Hertelendy Kastély, a wonderful château surrounded by orchards and wheat fields. You can use it as a base for day trips, or better yet, just stay on the property. Go for a horseback ride, take a cooking class, shoot clay pigeons or relax in the well-appointed spa.
By Hideaway Report Editor
Hideaway Report editors travel the world anonymously to give you the
unvarnished truth about luxury hotels. Hotels have no idea who the
editors are, so they are treated exactly as you might be.