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Five of the best weekend getaways from Vienna

Vienna is undoubtedly a great place to live, but that doesn't mean you don't want to escape the city sometimes.

Blue church bratislava
Bratislava's famous Blue Church. Photo by Vesna Middelkoop on Flickr

Thankfully, it’s brilliantly central, so it’s easy to make a short trip to other parts of Europe by car or public transport – here are our top picks for weekend getaways from the capital.

Bratislava, Slovakia

Slovakia’s beautiful capital sits on the River Danube and is full of history and glorious scenery to explore – it’s surrounded by vineyards and mountains – plus a very lively nightlife scene.

Don’t miss:

  • Hlavne nam (main square). This pedestrian-only spot in the old town is a great place to start your exploring as it’s the hotspot for the city’s cafe culture and is surrounded by a variety of impressive buildings in an array of architectural styles
  • Bratislava Castle. It doesn’t get more fairytale-like than this. Perched on a hilltop, the castle has been rebuilt in Renaissance style, but you can climb the original 13th-century Crown Tower for expansive views of the city, or explore the history museum inside the castle or the baroque gardens
  • Blue Church (officially the Church of St Elizabeth of Hungary). They weren’t kidding around with the name. Straight out of Wes Anderson’s imagination (had he been born a lot earlier), this art nouveau church is a vision in baby blue

Getting there:
It takes an hour whether your drive or get the direct train or shuttle bus.

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

cesky krumlov through an arch

You’ll need your camera (phone) at Cesky Krumlov. Photo by Jason M Ramos on Flickr

This infinitely Instagrammable walled town is pleasingly compact, so the best thing to do is wander around, taking in all the history and art. Interestingly (we thought), Krumlov translates as ‘crooked meadow’, after a bend in the Vltava river that bisects the town.

Don’t miss:

  • The Old Town. It’s on the Unesco World Heritage Sites list for good reason – wander around and get transported back to medieval times via gorgeous buildings and a maze of teensy lanes
  • Cezky Krumlov Castle. Founded in the 13th century, this magnificent fortification is the Czech Republic’s second-largest historic building and has elements of various architectural periods, from Gothic to Renaissance. Head up the bell tower for some of the best views in town
  • Take a boat down the river. It’s a great way to experience the beauty of the town – you can pick one up right by the castle or go on one of the many organised trips

Getting there:

If you’ve got a car, it’s a lovely drive and only takes three hours. Alternatively, the quickest journey by public transport takes about three to three and a half hours, but it varies a lot by day and time. 

Budapest, Hungary

budapest

Budapest has got it all going on. Photo by Zczillinger on Flickr

Looking for an enchanting city destination with lively nightlife, plenty of music festivals, cultural events, parks, and more sightseeing opportunities than you can throw a goulash at? Then Budapest’s for you.

Don’t miss:

  • Castle Hill. Wander around this historic plateau that overlooks the Danube and explore its varied and magnificent medieval architecture. Head to the neoclassical Fishermen’s Bastion for some of the best views in the city
  • The thermal baths. There are plenty of spas to explore and unwind in in the city, but with its extravagant art nouveau furnishings, mosaics and sculptures, the Gellert Spa is a prime example of Budapest’s historic natural hot spring spa culture
  • The ruin bars. Just as you’d expect, these are bars in derelict buildings. They’re unmarked, so hard to find, but the eclectic decor and lively vibes are well worth sticking around when you do. The vast Szimpla Kert ruin bar in the Jewish Quarter is where it all began and is still going strong

Getting there:

It’s about two hours 20 minutes by train or two and a half hours by car.

Cieszyn, Poland

historical building in cieszyn

Beautiful historical buildings are all around in Cieszyn. Photo by Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose

One of the oldest towns in the country, it’s divided into two parts – a Polish and a Czech side. So, as you’d expect there’s lots of colourful history to immerse yourself in, plus quirky – and affordable – cafes and pubs to take a break in.

Don’t miss:

  • The beer. Head to Cieszyn Brewery, which used to make beer exclusively for royal consumption
  • Three Brothers Well. There’s a huge amount of fascinating history in this small town and this well serves as a reminder of the tale of the town’s founding by three brothers, Bolko, Lesko and Ciesko. After a long period of separation, they were reunited here in 810. They were said to be so happy (‘cieszyć się’ in Polish) to have found one another again that they founded the town
  • The town even has its own joyous flower – the cieszynianka has vibrant lime-green leaves with yellow centres

Getting there:

It’s about four hours’ drive from Vienna or five-six hours by train.

Maribor, Slovenia

view of maribor

The Maribor area is famous for its wines. Photo by Daniel Thornton on Flickr

Slovenia’s second-biggest city often gets overlooked in favour of the capital, Ljubljana, but this charming place is well worth a visit for its history, breathtaking surrounding scenery and, yes, all the wine.

Don’t miss:

  • Glavni Trg (Main square) This is a good starting point for wandering around the compact city centre and into the cobbled streets of the old town – check out the Maribor Town Hall and the monument dedicated to victims of the Plague in the 15th century
  • Visit the Old Vine House on the riverfront and discover the world’s oldest grape vine. It’s 440 years old and not just still standing, but still producing grapes. You can explore the country’s winemaking history here and, of course, taste some of the wines from the region
  • Pyramid Hill – If you want to see the whole of Maribor spread out before you, then take a 20-minute stroll up this reasonably gentle small hill that’s studded with vines

Getting there:

It takes three hours by car or by the direct shuttle from the main bus terminal. Trains take around three and a half hours.

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TRAIN TRAVEL

REVEALED: The best websites for cross-Europe train travel

Planning to travel by train across Europe but not sure where to start? Here are the best websites to help make it happen.

REVEALED: The best websites for cross-Europe train travel

Travelling across Europe by train is quickly becoming the preferred mode of transport for many people – mostly due to environmental concerns.

For others though, making the switch from cars or planes to trains is not so simple.

With planes, there are well-known websites like Skyscanner and Expedia, which makes it easy to find cheap flights. As well good connections across the continent from most major airports.

Then there is the convenience of travelling by car, which can be hard to beat – especially for those living in more rural areas. 

So what are the options for trains? Are there websites like Skyscanner but for train travel? And where can you find cheap tickets or the best routes?

Here are the websites you need to know when planning a trip across Europe by train.

Seat 61

The Seat 61 website provides tips on how to travel comfortably and affordably by train, while aiming to help visitors to rediscover the “pleasure, romance  and adventure of the journey”.

It includes an introduction to train travel in Europe, as well as an extensive search feature to find trains by starting location.

For example, The Local searched for trains from Salzburg to Italy and found routes to Venice, Milan, Florence, Rome and Naples, including on Nightjet sleeper trains.

The guide then describes the features of the Nightjet service, such as air conditioning, showers and room service all useful information for any newbies starting out with train travel.

Seat 61 is run by Mark Smith, a train enthusiast and former manager at the UK Department of Transport.

READ MORE: Discover Austria: 19 ways to make the most of autumn this year

Trainline

The Trainline is an international platform focused on train travel. The company is based in the UK but has extensive coverage of train travel in 45 countries across Europe.

The aim of the Trainline is find to the cheapest tickets for a selected route. Most of the time, this means booking in advance.

The site also highlights some great offers, such as €7 tickets between Barcelona and Madrid, and Paris to Amsterdam from €20.

As an added bonus, the search function on the Trainline is very user-friendly and allows people to search by location, as well as add extras such as railcards or return tickets.

The Trainline can be accessed via the website or app.

Rail Europe

Rail Europe is a leading distributor of European train tickets. The website covers 25,000 destinations and 11,000 routes across the continent.

The search function on Rail Europe works in a similar way to other websites and users can view tickets by destination to get the best price. It’s also possible to purchase railcards direct from Rail Europe.

Additionally, the site includes a useful overview of the latest ticket releases and sales, such as special offers on journeys between Paris and Geneva.

Users can pay for tickets in Euros, Sterling or Dollar (US, Canada and Australia) on the website or the app.

Rail Europe is headquartered in Paris but was founded in New York in 1932.

READ ALSO: Ryanair to raise flight ticket prices in Austria

Interrail

The Interrail Pass is a railcard that is available for residents in Europe. For people that live outside of Europe, they can purchase the Eurail Pass.

The passes are aimed at backpackers, or anyone spending time travelling across Europe.

The Interrail website has details about the different passes on offer under the umbrella of Interrail, like the Global Pass, One Country Pass and the German Rail Pass

For example, prices for the One Country Pass for Spain start at €182 for three days of travel within one month. Or you can pay €235 for five days of travel within one month.

Whereas the Global Pass starts at €251 for seven days of train travel in one month, but goes up to €677 for a three month unlimited travel ticket.

Interrail or Eurail Pass holders can buy tickets and make reservations via the desktop website or the Rail Planner app.

Omio

Omio is a travel platform where you can book train, bus and flight tickets. It has a free app to download or users can search and book on the website.

The Omio site has a dedicated section just for train travel. It even highlights 28 routes in Europe that are faster by train than plane – as well as the amount of carbon dioxide saved on the trip.

Examples are London to Brussels, which takes just two hours, or Frankfurt to Cologne in one hour.

There is also a handy FAQ section with information about booking train tickets in Europe, baggage conditions and travelling with pets.

At the time of writing, The Local found a ticket from Zurich to Vienna on Omio for €60 (when searching for dates two months in advance).

Do you have other suggestions for websites we should add to this list? Let us know in the comments section below or email [email protected]

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