How Not to Do Budapest, Vienna and Prague
A couple autumns ago, my boyfriend and I tried to fit Budapest, Vienna and Prague into a single 3 day weekend and we failed horribly. First off, a day in each of these locations is way too little time to explore it. Secondly, less than a day is an even worse way to see a place. But at least I learned my lesson.
I flew into Budapest from London to meet up with my boyfriend and even that didn't exactly go smoothly. If you're not a UK or EU citizen and you fly with RyanAir, you HAVE to do a visa check before you board your flight. It's in very small print on your plane ticket and can potentially make you miss your flight if you're not observant. I was unaware of this and completely disregarded having to get this done, but I was lucky that when I boarded, they were lenient in my case, but I doubt not everyone would be so lucky.
When you arrive into Budapest, the cheapest option to the city is taking a bus from the airport to a metro station and then taking that into the city centre. Thankfully I did this with no problem (but was over an hour late meeting the boyfriend, who almost thought I hadn't made it) and I found him. If you're meeting someone in Budapest, don't offer to meet them on top of Castle Hill if you're short on time. I had NO idea that this was on an actual hill and that to get there you either have to shell out money for the funicular or walk up a very windy, dirt road to the top. Offer to meet them on the waterfront and walk or ride up together.
Ideally, you'd have multiple days in Budapest and you wouldn't be like us, rushing to meet up and then only having a couple more hours of daylight, all used to find our Airbnb in a part of the city that seemed closer on the map than it really was. By the time we found it, we were both so incredibly tired that we took a nap and woke up to it almost getting dark. We debated whether or not we should go try to see the city at night (which I had heard was beautiful), but ended up being so tired that we only could go get some food and return to the flat to eat and fall asleep so we could get up early for our train to Vienna.
I feel thankful that I at least got to see part of the city, but in the future, I'd know to set aside at least an entire weekend to make sure I can see all that Budapest has to offer. If you're ever heading to Budapest, don't do as we did or you'll miss out on the city's greatest aspects.
Sadly, the Vienna portion of our trip was severely disrupted due to the fact that I was uneducated about trains. We had woken up early in Budapest to catch a train to Vienna, but when we got to the train station, none of the machines had tickets available for Vienna. It was all just other locations in Hungary. After lots of frustration, no information booths anywhere in sight and missing a train because I wasn't sure if I was allowed to buy a ticket on board, we ended up having to go to a different train station and waiting in a long line to buy a ticket for a much later train that made our arrival time into Vienna at about 6pm when it was already dark. Based on this, it's hard for me to even claim that I've been to Vienna, because I'm not sure if you can count walking around for an hour in the cold, dark night as "visiting" a city. Needless to say, I took almost no photos there and then we had to get up early to leave the next morning on a train to Prague, where I ran into the same problem with the ticket machine.
The moral of this story is that you should purchase your inter-country train tickets IN ADVANCE. It's hard to do it at train stations unless you buy it from a ticket desk, which not all stations have. I have since learned that Loco2 is a great site to buy train tickets from, especially if you're country hopping and don't have a rail pass. In more recent trips, it has saved my trip from having a repeat of this disaster.
Prague is also a city that deserves so much more time than it got from me. I'm thankful that I at least got to experience daylight there, as well as a sunset over the Charles Bridge that gave me the satisfaction I needed after a long weekend of mishaps. Prague might be the only part of this trip that I actually got to experience some things without feeling cheated out of time (even though more time would've been ideal).
If you're limited on time and you're only going to do ONE thing in Prague, make sure it's that you walk on the Charles Bridge during the golden hour and enjoy the sun setting over the water and the rays of light hitting the buildings with an illumination that makes you nostalgic for olden times. There's obviously so many things to do and see in Prague, but this is pretty much mandatory.
Other than that, eat lots and lots of filling Czech food and indulge in a culture that encourages sausages, potatoes, bread and beer as a daily meal. This is not a great city for vegetarians. Enjoy a leisurely time in Prague, because I think it's a culture that enjoys its food and an ease of life. I only wish I got more than a few hours of sunlight to experience that.
My recommendation for a trip for Budapest, Vienna and Prague is to do it over the course of a week if you're a bit short on time, but never in a weekend. If you only have a weekend, choose just one and explore it, or else you'll be so rushed for time that you wont get to enjoy any of the locations to their full potential. But these three cities are quite easily navigable by train and make for a great trio of places to enjoy. Don't be like us and rush them.