Walk along the former site of the Berlin Wall or take a tour of the Reichstag in one of Germany’s most dynamic cities. Berlin is a haven for arts and culture, and the food is remarkably international (still, try the traditional currywurst). It’s a great entry point into Central Europe, particularly when it comes to understanding the divided history of the continent. Splurge on a room at the Hotel am Steinplatz, which has a prime location for sightseeing and walking around the east and west parts of the city.
Attend an opera at Vienna’s famed Opera House, which was built in 1869. The Austrian city is filled with dozens of museums, including art collections, a museum of Jewish history and an incredible Natural History Museum, which is unlike anything you’ll ever see due to its massive, detailed collections. Visit during the holiday season to explore the massive Christmas markets, which fill every corner of town, and be sure to reserve a table at one of Vienna’s acclaimed restaurants, like Steirereck or ef16.
Prague, Czech Republic
Select a hotel near Prague Castle, located on one side of the Vltava River. It’s an ideal location for strolling through the Czech city, which features ornate architecture and a compelling history. Visit the Astronomical Clock, which first clicked the time in 1410, and climb up to the top of Petrin Hill to get a sky-high view of the city’s red rooftops. No visit is complete without an evening out at the Strahov Monastic Brewery, which serves local brews and massive plates of meat and potatoes.
Located a short train ride away from Vienna, Bratislava is one of Europe’s less crowded cities to visit. It’s perfect for a weekend, with a few museums, interesting antique shops and a hilltop castle. The food is notably good, ranging from traditional eateries like Modra Hviezda to cool modern spots like Urban House. Consider booking a room at Grand Hotel River Park. It’s slightly outside downtown, but the penthouse spa with river views is worth every penny.
Budapest has been growing in popularity in recent years, largely because it’s affordable and just as lively as Europe’s more touristy cities. Ascend to Buda Castle or pay a visit to the Parliament building, being sure to reserve a ticket in advance. Go for a soak in the famed Széchenyi Thermal Bath, one of Europe’s largest spa complexes. Because Budapest has extreme weather, with hot summers and freezing cold winters, it’s best to book a trip for the spring or fall. If you do go in the summertime, make sure the hotel has air conditioning.
Stroll through Warsaw’s Old Town to see the Royal Castle and Market Square, which is surrounded by open-air cafes. Science lovers will enjoy the Copernicus Science Centre, which features interactive exhibitions, and the Wilanów Palace attracts visitors all year. The city is remarkably cheap, especially for American visitors, so it’s worth booking a slightly nicer hotel, like Hotel Bristol, and reserving a table at high-end eatery N31.
Dubrovnik is best known as the home of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” which uses the city as its fictional King’s Landing. But even non-fans will enjoy the seaside city, which is known for its Croatian wines and historic Old Town. Indulge with a room at Villa Dubrovnik, a five-star hotel that’s often known as Europe’s most romantic resort, and be sure to pay a visit to Banje, the city beach, to lie in the sun. Plan a mid-week visit in the spring or fall to avoid crowds.
Lake Bled, Slovenia
Lake Bled is a picturesque town in Slovenia marked by a crystalline lake and a quaint downtown. It’s great for hiking, camping and watersports in the summer and for skiing in the winter. Be sure to walk around the lake, which takes about an hour, and hire a pletna, a traditional wooden boat, to carry you to Assumption of Mary Church, which is located on an island in the center of the water. Look for online hotel deals and book ahead when visiting in the busier summer season.
The Elbe River connects Hamburg to the North Sea, lending a somewhat Scandinavian feel to the German city. It’s a relatively posh destination, known for shopping, nice hotels and high-end bars – perfect for a weekend or short stay. The hotels can be pricey, especially during busier tourist times, so look online for deals or consider booking an Airbnb. For a memorable evening out, don’t forget to grab a drink at Le Lion, a famous cocktail bar.
The southern Polish town of Oswiecim is notable for its proximity to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, a former Nazi concentration camp that draws thousands of visitors every year. It’s most easily accessed from Krakow. The town also features other sights, including the Zamek Muzeum and the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Admission to Auschwitz-Birkenau is free, but it’s recommended to pay for a guided tour. Follow the rules and behave with respect when visiting the site.