Disclaimer: This is a sponsored article by Eurail. All thoughts and opinions expressed here about the best cities in Europe are entirely our own.
True travel isn’t about getting from point A to point B; rather, it’s about all of the unexpected adventures in between. It would be impossible to control travel – the very essence of it involves surrendering oneself to the unknown and opening up ones mind and heart to the principles of possibility. While it’s wise to plan a blueprint for adventures, the rest should be left to sumptuous spontaneity. If it’s one thing we’ve learned in travel, it’s that the one thing you can always plan for in travel is the unexpected.
When it came time to choose a fall escapade, we knew there was only one place on our mind – Europe. We searched high and low to find the best cities to visit in Europe. There is something special about that time of year where the leaves turn from green to shades of purples, reds, and yellows and the tourists dissipate from the cities of Europe. Autumn in Europe is the time of year when there is a crisp chill in the air that makes you want to cuddle close to your partner and explore Europe arm-in-arm. We partnered with the team at Eurail to create an epic Eastern European itinerary that involved the musical Austrian city of Vienna, the lovely Slovenian city of Ljubljana, and the magical Hungarian city of Budapest — the best cities in Europe.
While we started in Austria, took the train to Slovenia, and then took the train to Budapest, we would recommend either starting in Budapest, then going to Vienna, and then onwards to Ljubljana or vice versa. We spent less than 48 hours in each city, making sure that we took advantage of every single moment we had in these enchanting Eastern European cities. Read on to find out more about the best cities in Europe.
While Ljubljana is the capital city of Slovenia, it has an enchanting and energetic small town vibe. Ljubljana is by far one of the best cities in Europe. The medieval city has cute cobblestone streets and Baroque architecture, all set on the Ljubljanica River. We only had a short amount of time in Slovenia, but we were able to see a large part of the country since it is so small. Within 2 hours of Ljubljana, one can drive to Italy, Austria, Croatia, and Hungary – in addition to the many wonders the country possesses itself. We were lucky enough to have family friends that lived in Slovenia and they took us around to their favorite spots around Ljubljana. Here are our recommendations for 48 hours in Ljubljana:
- Stay at the Vander Hotel: The Vander Hotel is a 5-star boutique hotel located right in the center of Ljubljana. The artistic décor and rooftop pool make this hotel one of the best in the country. In the warmer months, you can also take a dip in their rooftop pool!
- Visit Ljubljana Grad (Ljubljana Castle): This medieval fortress sits at the highest point in Ljubljana. You can hike up to the top of the castle or you can take a cable car to the top.
- Take a day trip to Lake Bled: If you want to feel like you’re in a fairytale, then travel to Lake Bled. Bled is around a 40-minute drive from Ljubljana. This lake is set in the Julian Alps with a medieval castle chiseled into the side of the mountains and a church set on an islet in the middle of Lake Bled. If you’re looking for a unique place to get married, you can tie the knot at the church on the islet.
- Visit wine country: Move over Tuscany, the Vipava Valley is moving in! This wine region, located in western Slovenia close to the Italian border, is by far some of the best wines that we’ve ever tasted. The mixture of the Mediterranean and Alpine climates create fantastic white varietals such as Pinela and Pinot Gris. The red varieties such as Cabernet Savignon and Merlot are delicious as well.
- Dine at Danilo: Take a car about 20 minutes outside of Ljubljana to Danilo, a family run restaurant and one of the top eateries in all of Slovenia. Danilo mixes traditional Slovenian and Istrian dishes with a magnificent modern twist.
Vienna, Austria is known for its musical history, Viennese coffee, and sumptuous strudel, making it one of the best cities in Europe. With its bevy of palaces and beautiful baroque architecture, the capital city of Austria is an astonishingly scenic city. Here are our recommendations for 48 hours in Vienna:
- Stay at Hotel Das Triest: Hotel Das Triest is part of the Design Collection of Hotels and is nestled in hip Freihausviertel district. This hotel has 72 spacious rooms, a heavenly breakfast, Molton Brown toiletries, Bang & Olufsen technology in the rooms, and an incredible view of the city of Vienna. We highly recommend asking for Suite #1 or the Stephansdom Suite.
- Watch an Opera at the Vienna State Opera House: The Vienna State Opera House is one of the most famous opera houses in the entire world. We highly recommend booking a box seat at one of its hundreds of opera performances. Please note that the opera house is closed during the months of July and August.
- Drink coffee and eat strudel at Demel: Demel has been an age-old institution in Vienna since 1786. This pastry shop specializes in chocolate cakes, apple strudel, and delicious coffees. Hot tip: don’t wait for a table in the crowded dining room. Instead, wait for seats at the bar – it’s much quicker!
- Visit the Schönbrunn Palace: This was the summer home of the Hapsburg family – the rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
- Tour Mozart’s House: The Mozarthaus was Mozart’s residence from 1784 to 1787. This building has now been transformed into a museum about the famous Viennese musician.
There is an energy in Budapest unlike any other Eastern European city, making it one of the best cities in Europe. From the monolithic monuments to its bevy of thermal baths, Budapest is a city that will change the way you see the world. The capital of Hungary was once two cities – Buda and Pest, bisected by the picturesque Danube River. It wasn’t until 1873, that the two cities became one. Here are our recommendations for 48 hours in Budapest:
- Stay at The Aria Hotel: The Aria Hotel is by far the #1 hotel in all of Budapest, but don’t just take our word for it. The Aria Hotel was voted the #1 hotel in the world by TripAdvisor! The Aria Hotel is a 5-star musically themed hotel and we stayed in the Jimi Hendrix Suite, which we highly recommend. This suite was just one floor below the amazing High Note Sky Bar, the best rooftop bar in all of Budapest (and we think in all of Europe!)
After your days of touring in Budapest, you’ll want to relax in the Harmony Spa at the Aria Hotel. We utilized the awesome gym, swam in the pool, marinated in the wet sauna, sweat in the dry sauna, and topped it off with a soak in the hot tub! A trip to the Harmony Spa is truly heavenly!
- Visit the Szechenyi Baths: A trip to Budapest wouldn’t be complete without a soak in one of its many famous bathhouses. For the ultimate Budapest experience, head to the Szechenyi Baths, one of the best and largest thermal baths in all of Europe. This bath has 15 indoor baths and 3 outdoor pools. This is a co-ed establishment so make sure to bring your swimsuit.
- Take a night cruise down the River Danube: The city of Budapest comes alive at night and the best way to see the city is via a night cruise on the River Danube. You’ll pass Parliament Building, Fisherman’s Bastion, Buda Castle, and many more historical sites and bridges.
- Have a beer at a ruin bar: Ruin bars are the best places to get drinks in Budapest. These bars, located in the Old Jewish Quarter, were converted from abandoned buildings and warehouses ~2001. Head to the most famous ruin bar of all, Szimpla Kert, a massive two-story pub decorated in a wide variety of artistic decor.
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