> 6 weeks in 2013 - How to go to Israel via Vienna and Prague and come back via Spain

12 Days in Vienna and Prague - the Beautiful Cities Tour


April - May 2013

Flying into Vienna, out of Prague

We had 2 flight changes from San Diego to Vienna... no problem! We had business class all the way thanks to a little planning on using award miles. A "little" planning? 336 days in advance for United award travel.

Best things about Vienna
Beautiful, cosmopolitan, clean city - Disneyland for adults!
Palaces and museums and everyone out in the cafés
Best things about Prague
Walking around looking at the architectural treasures
The Jewish Museum - which is actually all the historic synagogues in the city
Staying in the Jewish quarter
Worst things about Vienna
Tour groups too big for the space at Schönbrunn
Worst things about Prague
Trying to get a seat at a table at the Strahov Monastic Brewery
Would I change anything?
A walking tour of Vienna would have been a good idea to fully appreciate the impressive buildings and landmarks.

Review and pics of the Vienna and Prague Apartments
Vienna and Prague restaurants


A walk on pedestrian Graben street heading toward Stephansplatz
A walk on pedestrian Graben street heading toward Stephansplatz

Vienna Photo Gallery
Vienna set on flickr
Vienna map
Blue Danube apartment
Apartment on the Donaukanal in Vienna

Vienna

Flipkey - River front view apartment, 6 nights in an apartment with a view up and down the Donaukanal in Vienna.

Vienna's a wonderful city to visit, very walkable - especially if you stay "inside the ring". Loved the location of the apartment, we walked by St. Stephen's Cathedral - the heart of Vienna - every day.


Watching an Opera live on the big screen
Watching an Opera outside the Opera House, this one was Werther - in French with German subtitles

Free opera - live on the big screen

Jet lagged the first evening after arriving in Vienna, and we were wandering up to the Opera House to check the tour schedule... why are all these chairs in this big square? What are these people waiting for? OH! an Opera! The performance inside is broadcast live on the big screen outside in the Opera House square. If it's really close to performance time most of the chairs will be full - find a seat, sit down and enjoy a bit of opera like the locals do. When you've had enough just leave, no commitment, no problem.

Kunstkammer rooms of treasures
Kunstkammer rooms of treasures

Fabulous Treasures!

We launched ourselves into the world of the Habsburg dynasty with all the usual museums - starting with the Hofburg Imperial Palace and it's interesting Sisi wing (Empress Elizabeth), followed by the Treasury.

Tip: If you plan on visiting both the Hofburg Palace AND Schloss Schönbrunn, you'll save by buying the "Sisi" ticket for 25,50€. This ticket gets you the Grand Tour at Schönbrunn palace, with the audio guide and a hassle-free entry.

Tip: At the Treasury, we bought the combined ticket that also gets you into the Kunsthistoriches Museum, called the "Treasures of the Habsburgs" ticket for €20 each.

Tip: There's a lot to see in the Treasury, but leave time for the last rooms, they have the oldest treasures and tapestries!

Seeing priceless treasures continued the next day with the rooms and rooms and more rooms of treasures collected by Habsburgs and displayed in the Kunstkammer (part of the Kunsthistoriches museum) followed by art art art in the main part of the Kunsthistorisches Museum. Whew! Tip: After you go into the Kunsthistoriches museum, go to the Kunstkammer info desk where you pick up a free timed entry ticket. We got to the museum just before 11:00, got the audio guide and our timed entry was available immediately.

Sisi dress on the Sisi Trail in the Carriage Museum
Empress Elizabeth dress in the Carriage Museum, on the Sisi Trail

Schönbrunn Palace, gardens and carriage museum

A 20 minute metro ride out to the Habsburg's summer place - Schönbrunn palace, gardens, and the carriage museum. There were hordes of people touring the palace on Saturday, which was NOT unexpected - this is the most visited site in Austria. The tour route takes you through the rooms, most are small, and the tour path is roped off from the furnishings of course. The tour groups of 25-35 people completely engulfed the available space as the guide stopped to explain the room. If you got stuck behind one of these herds you got to listen to your own audioguide 3-4 times until you managed to squeeze through. Most people and groups seemed to do just the Imperial Tour, the Grand Tour ticket (which you get with the Sisi ticket) extends the tour into the apartments of Maria Theresa. The entire tour of the palace only takes about an hour and despite the crowds was well worth it.

The carriage museum (Wagenburg) was an unexpected treat - we had time after visiting the gardens and really enjoyed this museum of beautifully preserved and elaborate carriages of the Habsburgs. The carriage museum Sisi Trail continued the "Sisi" theme with fascinating details of her life explained in the context of her carriages. Overall, the Wagenburg was more interesting than the palace! Plus, no crowds.

Tip: Stop at the huge visitor center just to the left of the entrance and pick up a map. No need to wait in line if you already have the Sisi ticket. BTW: They charge to use the restrooms here.
Tip: There are free restrooms after you enter the Palace building, a long wait for the ladies like usual.
Tip: Inside the entance corridor there were a lot of people standing in lines, but with the "Sisi" ticket in hand, just show the ticket to the person standing before the turnstile. You get your audioguide after going in.
Tip: Have some 2€ coins on hand for the metro - we didn't, and tried to purchase a ticket in a machine with the Chase Sapphire World Mastercard. This ticket machine required a password to verify the credit card transaction and our card didn't have the Chip & PIN (Smart Chip) technology. Chip & PIN is common in Europe but not the US.

Standing room
Standing room at the Spanish Riding School

Lippizaners and the Spanish Riding School

We decided to wing it on Sunday and got to the Spanish Riding School box office about 10:40 to buy standing room tickets. We could see fine from our spot but I wasn't keen on this method, with all us standing room people trying to keep other standing room people from wriggling in front of them. On the other hand, if we'd paid for a seat I would have been very disappointed in the price to enjoyment ratio of the performance. The first half was like a training session we saw for free in the paddock at the riding school in Jerez! So all in all standing room for 23€ was the way to go, the performance was ok, the historic building beautiful, and it was fun to do if you have a couple of hours but I think a walking tour around Vienna would have been a better choice. Here's some more pics of the Spanish Riding School. Tip: After the performance, walk over to the Opera House for a 1:00 tour, it's not far.

Original room inside the opera house
Original room inside the opera house


Opera House Tour

The line to buy a ticket for the 1:00 tour was out the door, but everyone seemed to manage to get into a tour in their language. Great tour of this beautiful and historic building.

Gustav Klimt The Kiss
Gustav Klimt The Kiss at the Upper Belvedere Palace and Museum

Belvedere Palace and then the Naschmarkt

A final day, a final palace in Vienna. Belvedere is nothing like Schönbrunn, it's a museum with some fabulous art set in a beautiful palace. We only paid for the upper palace and audioguide. Saw the room with the Klimt's (featuring Gustav Klimt's HUGE 6x6 masterpiece The Kiss) and everything else and walked through the gardens back to Vienna, with a detour to see the Naschmarkt.

Great Eats: The Naschmarkt has lots of places to eat, we chose a Chinese restaurant called "Yumi" and had the best duck I've ever had. Mango duck. Fantastic.
Vindobona train from Vienna to Prague 1st class
Vindobona train from Vienna to Prague 1st class compartment with comfy leather adjustable seats

Leaving Vienna

Vienna is a wonderful city to visit, easy to walk everywhere, plenty of pedestrian streets - we could easily have spent 10 days here. I can't imagine how people visit in only a couple of days, we did a lot in 6 and barely scratched the surface.

Travel: Train from Vienna to Prague - 4hr 36mins on EC172 "Vindobona"
Tip: You can buy the train ticket for 29€ Euros (39€ 1st class) up to 90 days in advance. On the day of travel it costs 64.20€ - about twice as much. The ticket is called SparSchiene (Rail Savings), no refunds or exchanges, and there are limited numbers available. Austrian Rail Company (oebb.at)

I opted for more comfort and bought 1st class tickets on Jan 30 for our April 30 trip and printed it before we left. Reserving a seat: Seat reservations aren't required, but we were boarding the EuroCity EC172 at Wein Simmering and the only seats left in the 1st class coach were on the single seat side, and one of those seats was facing backward! Sitting backward knee to knee for 4 1/2 hours wasn't a happy idea, fortunately we ended up in a first class compartment with only one other person in it. The first class compartments are in the same coach as the business class compartments. Business class compartments looked great - 4 seats instead of 6. This train on this day from Vienna to Prague was REALLY FULL! I walked the length of the train and didn't see one empty compartment in second class. Or 1st for that matter. Or Business class, or I would have taken a pic! Maybe because the next day, May 1, was a holiday.


Prague Castle
Prague Castle Complex at night
Old Jewish Cemetery from the apartment building stairwell
Old Jewish Cemetery from the apartment building stairwell

Prague Photo Gallery
Prague set on flickr
Prague map

Prague

My House Travel - Maiselova 17 "Mozart" apartment, 6 nights across from the Old-New Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter

If you stay in the Jewish quarter you can walk just about everywhere and still be close to "home". The location of our apartment was perfect, and perfectly quiet at night. The Jewish quarter is full of tourists and tour groups during the day and then - they all leave! Our first night we got right into the swing of Prague with Czech microbrewery samples at the Beer Museum, a first visit to the Old Town Square, and down to the Charles Bridge.

Old Town Clock Tower
Old Town Clock Tower

Sandeman's Free tour and Castle tour

The free tour was a GREAT intro to Prague. Our guide Vivien made the history come alive in a very entertaining way, plus you cover a lot of ground in 3 hours, even with a rest stop at Bohemia Bagel. It was such a good intro we went with Tyjo on the Prague Castle tour directly after. On the Castle tour, you get a tram ticket to go up to the Strahov Monastery where you have another rest stop (Huh? the tour just started!) Oh well. Plenty of time for photo ops on the paid tour, the pacing was much slower than the free tour, but it was good - we saw a bit of the Castle Quarter and the St. Vitus Cathedral plus changing of the guard and a very interesting courtyard with a amphitheater that definitely amplified. Fun! I knew we would be back in the Castle Quarter in a couple of days to see the Lobkowicz Palace, which we did, but ultimately we didn't feel the need to pay for any additional sights in the Castle Quarter.
Tip: What should you tip on the free tour? 500 CZK for the two of us seemed about right. A frame of reference - the Castle tour is 300czk each.

Pinkas Synagogue interior
Pinkas Synagogue, names of the murdered on every wall

The Prague Jewish Museum

The Jewish Museum is terribly sad - and wonderful at the same time. You know the monster Hitler spared Prague because he loved the city, he wanted to live here, and he allowed the Jewish community to collect and store treasures from synagogues because he wanted to have a museum of the "extinct Jewish race" in Prague. Well, the Jewish population was pretty much wiped out in Prague, as well as so many other places. But they survived and persisted and have a community in Prague, that community runs the Jewish museums. The only synagogue that still functions as a synagogue in the Jewish Quarter is the Old-New synagogue, the rest of the historic synagogues in the Jewish Quarter house the various exhibits of the Jewish Museum.

If you have time for only one synagogue, make the the Pinkas. It's the most evocative, especially before any crowds. Upstairs are drawings made by the children in the Terezin concentration camp. The route out takes you through the Old Jewish cemetery. Tip: Get your ticket in advance and go to the Pinkas synagogue before they open at 9:00 a.m. There were people waiting to buy tickets before the ticket seller arrived but we waltzed right in and we were the ONLY people in the museum for about 5 minutes.

Jerusalem Synagogue
Jerusalem Synagogue, Moorish Art Nouveau

We bought the ticket for ALL the sites and visited over 2 days. Tip: The ticket is valid for 7 days so you don't have to try to see everything in one day.

One other synagogue not often visited by tourists is the Jerusalem (or Jubilee) Synagogue. It has beautiful Art Nouveau Moorish architecture and a wonderful exhibit upstairs that shows the postwar history of the Jewish Community of Prague through photographs, documents and film. Another part of the exhibit shows the work being done to recover synagogues in little towns that were destroyed. This synagogue isn't part of the Jewish Museum ticket, but if you go to the Old-New synagogue that ticket gets you a discount to the Jerusalem synagogue.

St. Vitus Cathedral from Petrin Tower
St. Vitus Cathedral from Petrin Tower

Back to the Castle Quarter - Lobkowicz museum and Petrin Tower

Lobkowicz Palace museum is fascinating, how the family lost everything TWICE! The audioguide is narrated mostly by William Lobkowicz and is the best audioguide ever - it's personal! It's his family and his heritage he's talking about. Leaves you wanting to know more about how they recovered their property. A break at the café has wonderful views. We were taking our time and by the time we headed back into the castle quarter everything was closed and delightfully deserted. We saw a bunch of wonderful exteriors and visited the outside of places we missed on the Castle Tour. It's light out very late in May, one of the reasons we love to travel during this month, and after unsuccessfully trying to get a seat at the Strahov Monastic Brewery we decided to go over to Petrin Tower. Terrific view! Glad we weren't encumbered by a beer! A hike down a beautiful path in the Little Quarter and over the Charles Bridge to home.

Municipal House tour - Alfons Mucha room Municipal House tour - Alfons Mucha room

Mucha Museum, Municipal building and Mucha exhibit, Communist Museum

The Mucha Museum visit only takes about an hour, even with the interesting video. It turned out that seeing the Mucha museum early on made the Ivan Lendl collection of Mucha posters displayed in the Municipal House MUCH more interesting. There wasn't any real info on Mucha in the Lendl exhibit, mostly just the names and dates of the posters. Actually, the reason we went to the Municipal House was to tour of the wonderful Art Nouveau interior, the tour highlight a room designed entirely by Mucha. The Lendl exhibit was a bonus!

Museum of Communism
Museum of Communism

The Museum of Communism was really interesting - so interesting we bought the book "Legacy" sold in the museum. The book is described as "...witness to the struggle of a nation" and you can describe the museum this way as well. A sobering look into what it was like behind the iron curtain.

Day Trips went out the window in both Vienna and Prague

In my original Vienna itinerary, I'd penciled in a day trip to Melk followed by a boat ride down the Danube. In the Prague itinerary, an excursion to Kutna Hora. Early in this trip we abandoned these ideas - both Vienna and Prague are such beautiful cities with so much to see and do, and with only 6 days for each city there wasn't any point rushing to go somewhere else.


Leaving Prague

Unexpected surprise! Visiting Prague's Jewish Museum turned out to be a terrific intro to the next leg of our trip - 3 weeks in Israel.

Travel: fly from Prague to Tel Aviv, via Vienna - 5 hours 40 minutes not counting time to and from airports.

Handy Resource List


Vienna

Prague

  • Sandeman's Free Prague Tour - Meet in front of the Czech Tourist office in Old Town Square at 10:45am or 2:00 pm. Tips
  • Prague Castle
  • Lobkowicz Palace - Museum includes wonderful audioguide
  • Mucha Museum - daily 10-6. Dedicated to Art Nouveau Alfonse Mucha.
  • Municipal House - daily, 1 hour tours. Times vary, check the website
  • Jewish Quarter
    • The Museums - The museums are exhibitions housed in 6 historic buildings. You can get a ticket for 6, or add the Old-New Synagogue on for extra.
    • Ticket is valid for 1 visit to each site over a period of 7 days - 300CZK for the 6 sites, or 480 CZK to include the Old-New Synagogue. (Individual ticket for Old-New Synagogue is 200CZK)
    • Summer hours - 9-6
    • Robert Guttmann Gallery - Symbols of Emancipation. Nineteenth-Century Synagogues in the Czech Lands

Weather in Vienna and Prague April/May 2013

We were in Vienna and Prague April 24 - May 6. In late May and early June 2013, extreme flooding in Central Europe began after several days of heavy rain - the worst flooding since 2002.

Time Zone

+9 hours from Pacific Time


Air Canada Executive First - Toronto to Frankfurt
Air Canada Executive First - Toronto to Frankfurt

Forums

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Bitzingers
Bitzinger's


Benvenuto Cellini's The Salt Cellar
Benvenuto Cellini's The Salt Cellar


Middle Ages bronze griffin
Middle Ages bronze griffin


Dragon drinking horn 1560/1570
Dragon drinking horn 1560/1570


Ivory Statue 1693
Ivory Statue 1693


Spanish Riding School Seat Map
Vienna Spanish Riding School Seat Map
CLICK TO ENLARGE
Seat Map with Seat Numbers (PDF)


EuroCity (EC) Trains

EC172 - What's Vindobona? The name of the train! Most of the EC trains have names, a convention that started with the luxury trains of the 19th and early 20th centuries.


OBB Business Class First Class Coach
OBB Business Class, First Class Coach compartments. Coaches are clearly marked inside and outside with 1 for 1st class and 2 for 2nd class.
OBB Second Class Coach
OEBB Vindobona second class coach seats




Mucha Museum
Mucha Museum, Prague


The Beer Factory
Beer was invented in Prague!


The Old New Synagogue
The Old New Synagogue


City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte
Prague Old Town


Terezin concentration camp currency
Terezin concentration camp currency


Astronomical clock
Astronomical clock


Portrait of Infanta Maria Teresa of Spain at the Lobkowicz Palace
Portrait of Infanta Maria Teresa of Spain at the Lobkowicz Palace


Petrin Tower
Petrin Tower


St. Nicholas Church Old Town Square
St. Nicholas Church Old Town Square


Our Lady of Tyn Church
Our Lady of Tyn Church


Art Nouveau
Grand Hotel Europa, Art Nouveau


Art Nouveau
Schwarzenberg Palace


Vienna and Prague Trip 2013

Itinerary Summary
12 Nights in 2013
Trip Diary

 

Trip Costs - Vienna
How much does a 6 day self-guided trip like this cost? (Not including airfare!)

TOTAL: $1,760
Average exchange rate: $1.31= €1

  • Lodging: $901
  • Train to Prague: $105
  • Local transport (Metro): $36
  • Restaurants + Grocery: $455
  • Sights: $263

Trip Costs - Prague
How much does a 6 day self-guided trip like this cost? (Not including airfare!)

TOTAL: $1,582
Average exchange rate:$0.0512= Kč 1

  • Lodging: $1,020
  • Local transport (Tram, Taxi): $61
  • Restaurants + Grocery: $238
  • Sights: $263