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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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The six most spectacular train trips in Austria

With its mountain peaks and crystal-clear lakes, Austria has more than its fair share of stunning scenery to fall in love with. And travelling by train can give you the chance to take the views in properly without any distractions. Here are Austria's most scenic train routes.

The six most spectacular train trips in Austria

Semmering rail line in winter

You’ll get epic views whether you travel in summer or winter, but the snow adds to the romanticism. Photo by Miroslav Volek on flickr.

Semmering Railway
Built between 1848 and 1854, the 41-kilometre-long Semmerling line was made a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1998 and it’s easy to see why: it runs through some jaw-droppingly beautiful scenery between the mountain towns of Semmering and Gloggnitz. It was a huge technical achievement for its time, not least because of the hefty gradient of the line. It was also the first European mountain railway to have a standard gauge track.

You’ll see glorious mountains, obviously, plus huge viaducts – 16 of them, if you’re counting – and 15 tunnels, including one whopping 1,430-metre-long one, and over 100 bridges, as well as plenty of lush forests and deep valleys.

semmeringbahn.at

Mariazeller Bahn

Clear skies are made for scenic train rides. Photo by flightlog on Flickr

Mariazell Railway
Remember we mentioned gauges above? Well, the Mariazell Railway is a narrow-gauge route – built like that because it was a difficult terrain for trains to cross. Running from St Pölten in Lower Austria to Mariazell in Styria, at 84km-long, it’s Austria’s longest narrow-gauge line.

The mountain section (Bergstrecke) of the line is the most picturesque. Get on at Laubenbachmühle where this starts and enjoy the train’s climb to its peak of 892m above sea level in Gösing where you’ll have gorgeous panoramic views and a glimpse of the 1,893-metre-high Ötscher mountain. Stay on board to see viaducts, reservoirs and deep gorges, in particular glimpses of the wild Erlauf gorge.

Want to really make the most of those views? Book a panorama carriage, which gives you super-comfy seats and unobstructed views of the scenery unfolding as the train trundles along. 

mariazellerbahn.at

Perfect peaks and lush valleys await. Photo by Schnitzel_bank on Flickr

Arlberg Railway

The Arlberg raiway is one of Europe’s highest – it climbs to 1,310 metres above sea level at its highest point. It goes up at a fair tilt, too and is one of the steepest passenger lines out there.

Connecting Innsbruck and Bludenz (on the Swiss border), it’s the only east-west mountain line in Austria. Visual delights include the Tyrolean Trisanna Bridge near the hilltop castle Wiesberg, snow-peaked mountains, the 6.6-mile-long Arlberg tunnel, and verdant valleys and forests at the Arlsberg pass  – go at sunset/sunrise and look to your right for the best views.

arlbergbahn.at

Schafberg Railway

There are – unsurprisingly – a lot of steep railways in Austria and this one is no exception. This is the steepest steam cog-railway in the country and has been running between St Wolfgang in Salzkammergut up to the 1,783-metre Schafberg mountain since 1893.  

It’s a gorgeous journey up the mountain with the views getting better and better the higher you go. At the top, you’ll have (weather-permitting) clear views over Salzkammergut’s glittering lakes, as well as the soaring peaks of neighbouring mountain ranges, such as the Höllengebirge.

schafbergbahn.at/

Tauern Railway
If you’re heading to Venice by train, then this is the most scenic route to take and it’s worth the trip in its own right, too. You’ll pass stunning valleys and gorges as the line winds its way up the High Tauern mountain range of the Central Eastern Alps.

The best views are on the right-hand side of the train when you’re heading in this direction, so try to get a window seat if you can.

oebb.at

Are you even in Austria if your train doesn’t pass a field of cows? Photo by Schnitzel_bank on Flickr.

Zillertal Railway
There’s always something rather romantic about travelling by steam train and the traditional Zillertal locomotive with its wooden carriages is no exception. It putters gently by the side of the Ziller river along the 32-kilometre stretch between the towns of Jenbach and Mayrhofen, giving you ample opportunity to take in the views as you pass picture-perfect villages and gorgeous valleys surrounded by mountains. 

If you’ve got your heart set on the romanticism of steam trains, make sure you check which train you’re getting as the steam-powered engine doesn’t run as frequently as the faster diesel one. If you haven’t pre-booked, get there early to make sure you get a seat as it can get very busy.
zillerbahn.at

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