Budapest is an easy drive for a weekend getaway from Vienna. The downtown area is chock full of restaurants, and after dark, becomes quite the hot spot for nightlife.
Both sides of the Danube river provide beautiful views.
Everything is available by the light rail and easy walk.
Some parts will be appreciated by the kids because of the resemblance to Disneyland, or is it the other way?
More photographs can be seen at my travel website.
Hrad Karlštejn is a castle located in the village of Karlštejn, which is about a 40-minute drive from Prague. It is open to visitors daily except Monday; exact opening times vary by season. Entry to the castle is with a guided tour only (CZK 270/$13.75, kids under 6 years free), and English language tours are available. Once you complete the tour you are free to wander around the castle walls, etc. at your leisure.
The courtyard of the castle contains a snack hut that sells hot drinks and a few basic snacks, and there are a few stands set up where vendors sell Czech specialties such as honey products (including honey hot cocoa – yum!) and smoked cheese. In early afternoon a trio in medieval costume also set up shop to play some old-fashioned music, but I do not know if this is a regular thing. And yes, the castle does have clean, indoor WCs available to use for CZK 10.
When you arrive in the village there is a parking lot with a few souvenir shops. You have to park here and either walk the 2.5 km path up to the castle, or pay for a taxi or horse-drawn carriage to drive you up. Since I was 8 months pregnant when we visited, I insisted we pay the 400 CZK ($20.25) for the taxi to take us to the top. We walked back down, however, and I can report that the path is an easy walk: it is paved, the incline is not so steep, and it is lined with souvenir shops and restaurants so you have many opportunities to pause and rest.
We opted to have our meal at Restaurace U. Karla IV, which is the last restaurant that you come to before you reach the castle gate. We chose this one because it accepted credit cards, but it turned out to be a fantastic choice. First, it had a children’s play area complete with an IKEA play mat, table and chairs, and toys. Second, it had a “dungeon” (what looked like an old kitchen, but it was recessed in the wall and gated off), which kept our childrens’ imaginations going. Third and last, the food was terrific. Long story short, I ended up racing to eat my food because both my kids were also eating my lunch as fast as they could. And normally we have to coerce our kids to eat their meal!
Overall, this was a great day for our family. The castle was in very good shape and the tour was so interesting that even our 4-year old son was engaged. The tour guide was super-friendly and not bothered at all when our son started peppering him with random questions about the castle. The kids had a lot of fun exploring the castle walls after the tour, and the walk back down to the village was actually quite nice. I highly recommend this as a day trip from Prague.
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The Famous Insider Walk
Daily Walking Tours in Berlin
“Walk by Insider Tour” is a great way to get a feel for the city of Berlin. No reservations required — just show up, rain or shine, at one of the two meeting points (it is the same tour, no matter which point you start from). The fee is 12 Euro (we paid 9 Euro after a discount from the Berlin Welcome Card for Berlin public transportation).
The tour is four hours, with a short 20-minute coffee break. You see many of the sites, including the Brandenburg Gate, the longest remaining stretch of the Wall in Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the site of Hitler’s bunker, and more.
Our guide was Barnaby, and he was excellent. He had moved to Berlin from London 10 years ago. He had intended to stay for only 6 months, yet he is still there. He has studied a great deal of the history of the city and feels it is his calling to share the story of the city with all who want to learn.
The Famous Insider
St. Stephan’s Cathedral, aka Stephansdom, is the seat of the Roman Catholic diocese of Vienna and an important historical landmark. The cathedral is open for visitation throughout the day, but guided tours are only offered between services. The visitor can choose an all-inclusive tour (warning: the only English-language cathedral tour is Monday-Saturday at 10:3o), or can pick and choose which parts of the cathedral they want to see a la carte.
We visited the cathedral today and chose to do the tour of the catacombs (Euro 5 per adult) and climb to the top of the south tower (Euro 5 per adult). The catacomb tour was in both English and German, and handouts in additional languages were available at the beginning of the tour. The tour lasted about 30 minutes and shed some light on the more macabre parts of Vienna’s history: for example, visitors view a room where the walls are made of skeletal remains that were cleaned and stacked by inmates as part of their prison sentence.
Photography was not allowed during this tour, as the catacombs continue to be used primarily as a cemetery. The tour guide was very enthusiastic about the topic and was willing to answer any questions, so if you are shameless about asking questions (as I am) you can learn a lot beyond the canned spiel. The tour was well worth the price.
Next for us was the 343-stair climb to the top of the cathedral’s south tower. The staircase was very narrow (and two-way), made of stone, and spiraled the entire way to the top. I personally would not have attempted to do this climb with either my young children or parents, and it is definitely not handicap-accessible. (There is an elevator to the top of the bell tower, though, so stroller- or wheelchair-bound people can still get to the top of the cathedral.)
View from the top
When you get to the top of the tower, you are rewarded with amazing panorama views of the city. There are signs over the windows orienting you to the compass points, and each window has a telescope to enhance viewing (Euro 0,50). There are also German-language signs that give additional history of the tower itself, as well as a somewhat tacky souvenir stand. Again, I thought this experience was well worth the price.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
- Visit the cathedral’s website for complete details of the guided tours.
- Read the Wikipedia article on the cathedral for additional background on the building and its history.
Are you looking for a place to host a unique birthday party for your child who is interested in knights, musketeers, and/or pirates? Then consider Vienna’s military history museum. The museum offers birthday parties for children aged 7 through 12. The parent of the birthday child works with the museum to develop a theme, and the museum will provide costumes and a special tour of the museum based on the theme. Invitations to send to the guests, snacks, and “small surprises” for each child are also included. The birthday event lasts 2 1/2 to 3 hours and the cost is 169 Euros for 10 participants, 10 Euros per additional child (maximum 12 children).
The “Happy Birthday Castle”
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