12 Days - Winter (northern Hemisphere)
Fascinating, dynamic Eastern Europe! The cities once governed by Hapsburg kings are both highly civilised and exotically different. Each of the ones we will visit on this tour has its own flavour: Prague with its medieval bridges and quaint houses, Vienna more rich and opulent but always able to enjoy a song and a waltz, and Budapest, sitting astride the romantic Danube river. You will feast on this tour, both metaphorically and literally. But that isn’t the end of it! We could not resist adding in a touch of Scandinavia, starting you off in snowy, sparkling Helsinki, where the indoor warmth, clear air and bright lights will give you a new love for winter.
You can directly join this programme, or add this on to our Winter Russia programme.
If you do this prior to Christmass there are the fantastic Chistmass markets to indulge during the evening.
Day 1 - Helsinki
Arrive in Helsinki, a city built on 315 islands and frequently called the city of the sea. Architecturally, it is a mixture of old and modern, with the Senate House and Great Church on the one hand, the art deco railway station, designed in 1918, on the other. Helsinki is the political, commercial and cultural heart of Finland, home to the University, the National Museum of Finland, the Opera, and several theatres presenting works in both Finnish and Swedish.
After settling in to your hotel, take a walk to the brightly lit, nearby Three Blacksmiths Square, which gets its name from the statue donated to the city in 1932. On the northern side of the square is the Old Students' House (1870), once the student union building of the University of Helsinki but now a restaurant and events site. On the southern side is Stockmann's department store, a 1930s emporium in German style and almost as big as the Parliament building. "Under the Stocka clock" makes an easy rendezvous.
The city's main thoroughfar Mannerheimintie, which leads off the square, has separate lanes for pedestrians, cyclists, linden trees, cars and trams. We walk, shop, and dine.
Day 2 - Helsinki
Next morning there is a guided half-day introductory tour, leaving you free in the afternoon to perhaps organise our own "3T" Tour on Tram No. 3, which for less than 4 Euros will take you on a figure 8 through Helsinki (in either direction) - past Market Square and the harbour, where vendors of fresh produce and quality crafts hawk their wares and a late lunch of fresh salmon and salad will cost about 10 Euros. The tram also goes past the Opera House, the railway station, the Natural History Museum, the Rock Church and Senate Square, crowned by its imposing Lutheran Cathedral and University Library.
After your tram ride, you might sample that institution revered by every Finn, the traditional sauna. Most hotels have private saunas, but at the Cafe Tin Tin you can sauna and dine all in one place. Sauna rates are under 15 Euros.
Day 3 – Helsinki-Vienna
Fly Helsinki-Vienna and transfer to your centrally situated hotel. Vienna is a city of pleasures at many levels: the bourgeois tastes and domestic comforts of the Biedermeier period; the new Jugendstil which at the turn of the 19c gathered up the baroque past and wove its ornaments and curlicues into the leafy tendrils and curving lilies of art nouveau; the cosy coffeehouses tucked into narrow streets opening onto vast palaces and majestic squares; and the music of Hayden, Mozart and the two Strausses. Yet all of this is available in a remarkably compact area, which also offers cake, coffee and local wine in delightful locales.
Your sightseeing begins in the afternoon, with an orientational city sights guided tour- an excellent way of seeing the grand façades of the Opera House, the Art Museum, the Hofburg Palace, the Parliament, the Town Hall and the University as they tower over elegant commercial buildings, heroic squares and charming parks.
After thiis tour you make your way towards the roof and steeple, visible from almost any point, of St Stephen’s cathedral or Stefandom. The great church begun in Romanesque style but rebuilt during the Gothic period is a reminder of Mozart’s association with this part of the city, where he was a parishioner. Near here he composed The Marriage of Figaro and The Magic Flute, and is constantly remembered through performances of his music, several statues, and the ubiquitous chocolates. All around Stefanplatz. in the busy street called Kärnterstrase that leads down to the Opera, or in the part called Graben, noted for its medieval Plague Column, are elegant, brightly lit shops of every kind. We shall have to tear ourselves away in order to enjoy our à la carte dinner in a typical restaurant, paying according to our individual choices.
Day 4 - VIenna
Morning free. Perhaps return to the area around the Stefandom to eat some delicious open sandwiches at nearby Trzinski’s, accompanied by the traditional ‘pfiff’ – a tiny glass pot of beer.
The afternoon is devoted to the Hofburg, the winter residence of the Hapsburg emperors. Composed of ten buildings of baroque magnificence, it can only be selectively sampled in this one afternoon; we will try to include some of the royal apartments, the porcelain and silver collection, and the Palace Chapel. Unmissable however is the exquisite Court, now the National Library, designed by Fischer von Erlach.
The evening is free, to allow perhaps a meal in Vienna’s oldest coffee-house, the Hawelka, or seats at the Opera for those who have booked. Those who haven’t, and don’t mind standing, can always try the cheap Stehplätze.
Day 5 - Vienna
This morning you visit the famous Spanish Riding School, where the baroque ceiling and galleries are as spectacular as the high-stepping, highly trained horses.
The afternoon is at leisure: some may have a museum in mind or the art gallery (Kunsthistorische); others may want to shop. Those who prefer to continue their architectural exploration of this beautiful city could spend some time around Karlsplatz, which exemplifies two of the main styles and periods of Vienna’s grand past. There is the baroque splendour of the Karlskirche (St Charles Church, designed by Fischer von Erlach in 1716) and its piazza; and then, in total contrast but at the same locale, the decorative Jugendstil (art nouveau) of Karlsplatz Metro station. This leap to the turn of the century can be continued by a visit to the remarkable fin-de-siècle art gallery known as the Secession, or sometimes, ‘the gilded cabbage’. The walk incidentally takes us past the Australian Embassy.
Day 6 - Vienna
The luxury of another free day offers several possibilities: visits to sumptuous palaces such as Schönbrunn, the Hapsburg’s answer to Versailles, or the Belvedere, from where Archduke Ferdinand set off on his historic journey to Sarajevo; or to galleries like the Kunsthistorische, or the smaller but famed Albertina. Those who like church architecture could take in the superb Augustiner Chapel near the Hofburg, while people who prefer chocolate cake can indulge in afternoon tea at Sacher’s. Nor should we forget the short chamber concerts always available around 5pm, usually in a church, although we do have to be ready to catch the evening train to Budapest.
Day 7 - Budapest
Your first morning offers a guided tour of this capital of a country whose history was for a long time as much Magyar as Hapsburg. Annexed to Austria under one monarch, Franz Joseph, in 1867, it gained an expensive independence after WW1, losing two thirds of its territory and population. During WW2 it was allied with Nazi Germany, until invaded by Soviet Russia. The 1956 uprising against Soviet domination was unsuccessful, and Hungary only achieved a new independence after the fall of the Soviet Empire in 1990.
The orientation tour will take you up to Varhegy, on the residential hill (Buda) side of the city, and to the Matthias cathedral, where the Magyar kings were once crowned. A statue of Hungary’s first king, Stephen, stands outside in the large square that gives an excellent view of the wide and leisurely curves of the magnificent Danube and, over on the other side, of flat, commercial Pest. Going down from Buda, we cross the river back to Pest, built largely in the largely nineteenth century and famous for the oldest underground railway (1896) on the Continent.
The afternoon is free to explore some of the sites we caught sight of during the morning. Buda Castle contains the National Gallery and Historical Museum, where the orb and crowns of the Hungarian kings are on display. The streets around the Varhegy or Castle district invite a picturesque stroll. Down in Pest, the Vajdahunyad Castle contains replicas of real buildings in a variety of historical styles, while the Mucsanok Gallery shows local and contemporary art.
For dinner, it is not hard to find a restaurant complete with gypsy violinists as well as goulash. It’s also worth trying for tickets to the magnificent Opera House.
Day 8 - Budapest
A free day, but some suggestions: Budapest is famous for its thermal and medicinal springs, which make it a city of spas, baths and swimming-pools. One of the most elegant are the Gellert Baths, housed in a remarkable art nouveau building, the dazzling white Gellert Hotel, on the left bank of the Danube. It would be a pity not to try the curative effects of the waters, but coffee on the hotel terrace is also a possibility. An attractive alternative are the Baths on Margaret Island, in the middle of the river.
An imperative stop is the Gerbeaud confectionery, dating from 1870. Situated off the large square, Vorosmartyr ter, it serves cakes, bon-bons, delicious ice-cream, and excellent coffee.
Day 9 - Budapest-Prague
Next morning you take a wonderful train trip across to the Hungarian border, brushing the tip of Slovenia, and continuing westwards through the enchanting Czech countryside to arrive in the fairy-tale city of Prague, where you transfer to your hotel.
Day 10 - Prague
A half-day guided orientation tour takes up the morning, but the centre of Prague is for pedestrians only, so you can spend the afternoon in and around the heart of this medieval Czech-Gothic and baroque city, the capital of the feudal state of Bohemia settled in the 5c by Slavs. Bohemia came under Hapsburg domination around the middle of the 16c, though it tried to oppose their policy of autocracy and centralisation by many unsuccessful revolts. The Czech Lands were united with Slovakia after WW1 to form Czechoslovakia, which was occupied by Germany in 1938, then by Soviet Russia in 1948. The Prague Spring was another unsuccessful revolt, but the Czech Republic finally found liberation and independence under the poet and statesman, Vaclav Havel.
Dancing Buildings Prague
Day 11 - Prague
Although this is a free day, if you don’t have your own plans you may want to cross the Voltava river to head up to Prague Castle, an ancient cultural treasure-house. One essential is the gallery in St George’s Convent, devoted to Czech Gothic art, especially hand-painted and carved Madonnas from the 14c; another is St Vitus’ Cathedral and the repository of the Bohemian Crown jewels. The Loreta Convent houses a treasury of diamonds and gold, as well as a replica of the Nazarene house said to be carried by angels to Italy in the 13c. The Stahov Monastery flaunts rococo churches and two magnificent libraries, as well as the Museum of Czech Literature, with its memories of Kafka.
One of the delights of this walk is the descent back to the river, down the 16c Golden lane, with its charming little houses set into the side of the hill.
Day 12: Depart Prague.
Start any day based on 2 persons travelling.
AU$3250 per person twin share. Single rate on application.
11 nights accommodation 3* with breakfast daily.
Transfers as detailed
Guided sightseeing as detailed
Rail (2nd class) Vienna/Budapest/Prague
Local guided tours as mentioned
Local taxes for the above inclusions
The order of some sightseeing may have to be changed due to the final dates you select for the tour.
We can vary the above to more suit your other plans. For example you could start at Vienna as Day 1. Naturally the price would be reduced if you don't start at Helsinki.
International Airfares. You can organise your own international flights or contact us to do this.
Internal Europena Airfares - these are done at the best prices available at the time of booking.
Moscow and St Petersburg in winter.
This tour (Hapsburg Cities in Winter) is designed to follow or preceed our Moscow and St Petersburg in winter tour. You can add the Russian cities before this tour. See outline..
Evening theatre and music performances.
These costs will be as and when booked.
Note regarding Rail travel: