Steeped in history, culture, and architectural beauty, here are four cities well worth exploring on a Central Europe vacation.
Krakow is Poland’s most beautiful and popular city. It has a convenient location near the borders of Czechia and Slovakia and makes for an easy stopover between Prague and Budapest. The city is centred on the largest medieval town square in Europe, in the middle of which you’ll find the Cloth Hall. In one corner of the square you’ll find the twin-towered St. Mary’s Basilica, a 14th-century Gothic church featuring an impressive wooden-carved altarpiece that is one of Poland’s most prized national treasures. In and around the square, you’ll find several restaurants and bars that are worth visiting.
The other centrepiece within the city is Wawel Castle, which overlooks the Vistula River from the heights of Wawel Hill. You’ll find a museum with a Leonardo da Vinci exhibit within the castle. The walk up to the castle makes for a nice and picturesque stroll. For the coolest sites in town, head to the Jewish Quarter, where you’ll find remnants of the city’s Jewish community as well as the hippest bars and restaurants.
Outside of Krakow, you’ll find two essential landmarks. To the west lies Oswiecim, the lovely Polish town that was home to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, where over a million Jews lost their lives during the Holocaust. Visiting the remains of the concentration camp is by no means an uplifting experience on a Europe vacation, but it’s an essential act of remembrance. The other nearby landmark is the Wieliczka Salt Mine, which used to be one of the largest salt mines in Europe. Visitors can delve hundreds of meters below the surface to tour corridors and see its impressive sites, including St. Kinga’s Chapel, an entire church sanctuary carved out of the salt.
In the 2018 edition of CNN Travel’s World’s Most Livable Cities, Vienna finally unseated Melbourne at the top of the list. It doesn’t take long walking the streets of Vienna to realize just why this is the case.
Awash with gorgeous palaces, world-class museums, picturesque parks, and a first-rate café culture, Vienna is a charming city to explore on an Austria vacation. The grand palaces of the Habsburg Emperors remain the city’s most treasured landmarks. Foremost among them is the Schonbrunn Palace, their 18th-century summer palace. Its opulent state rooms, rococo design, and enormous gardens demonstrate the lavish imperial style. The Baroque Hofburg is the other most famous palace and houses the President of Austria. You’ll find several museums in and around the Hofburg, including the Albertina, the Natural History Museum, and the Art History Museum. Head southeast of the Hofburg to find the Schloss Belvedere, home to the paintings of Gustav Klimt, one of Austria’s most celebrated painters.
Of course, Austria is about more than museums and imperial palaces. It also played host to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig von Beethoven, whose impacts continue to loom largely over the city. You can experience their legacy at the landmarks dedicated to their lives and work, such as the Mozart Museum, where Mozart composed The Marriage of Figaro, and the House of Music, which details the city’s enormous musical history. You can even watch productions of their greatest operas at the Vienna State Opera, one of the world’s most famous opera houses.
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