Have you ever felt the urge to grab your ticket and your suitcase and head somewhere new, taking what you can carry and leaving the rest behind?
Cue the sound of a record screeching to an abrupt halt as you remember all your life’s commitments. But just because you have plants to water, water bills to pay, a dog to feed and a whole host of contracts to fulfil doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a globe (or at least, continent) trotting trip full of adventure and discovery.
One of the most affordable, efficient and exciting ways to do just that? By high speed train, of course. And to see the most culture, culinary curiosity, architecture and intrigue in the shortest amount of time, we think that Central Europe has it all.
But where exactly to alight on your tour of the area? If you’re considering exploring Central Europe by train, here are 6 must-see stops.
Prague, Czech Republic
We’re beginning our high-speed rail tour of Central Europe in one of the area’s most iconic capitals, Prague in the Czech Republic.
As one of the most well-connected cities on the continent in terms of transport links, it’s the perfect place to start; it’s accessible and easily walkable, where you can still get a taste of medieval Europe, the bohemian and the hipster, or scratch the surface on something altogether more salubrious.
Prague Main Station is just a fifteen minute stroll from the city’s Old Town and its famous beer halls, as well as the city’s emblem, the Charles Bridge. Even closer to the station is The State Opera, home to the country’s much revered classical music scene. If time is on your side, you simply have to catch a show here!
Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
Hey, we realise we’re taking the long way round on our high speed rail tour of Central Europe, but we couldn’t spend time in the Czech Republic without checking out the magnificent Cesky Krumlov, a town in the South Bohemian region of the country. A single, direct train (České dráhy) runs daily from the Czech capital, and whilst it’s not high-speed, it’s well worth the trip.
The main attraction of this historical town is without doubt its defining 13th century castle, which towers above the town and its Vltava River, and has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its maintenance of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture.
Named by Lonely Planet as being ‘’one of the most picturesque towns in Europe’’, this Prague-in-miniature simply has to be seen to be believed.
Spend a night here soaking up the atmosphere before returning to Prague the following day and continuing your train tour of Central Europe.
Time is of the essence. We’ve a train to catch and a deadline to meet, so we’re taking the Prague to Berlin train, to explore Germany’s capital next. The EuroCity bullet train takes a remarkably swift four hours from station to station (perhaps inspiring the iconic album in Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy?), with three running daily. If you take the early departure (at 7am) you’ll alight at Berlin Central Station, or Hauptbahnhof, well in time for lunch.
And what a lunch you’ll have, as Berlin boasts one of Europe’s most thriving and exciting dining scenes. Indeed, in recent years the city has started to gain a serious reputation in the fine-dining world for intricate, ultra-modern takes on traditional German delicacies, and we’re very much here for it.
Perhaps the finest realisation of this vision is at chef Marco Müller’s 3 Michelin starred Rutz, which uses sustainable practices and progressive cooking techniques to get the very most from local produce, all infused with that Berlin swagger; do check it out if you have the means!
Do also check out these tips for those travelling to Berlin for the first time to help you plan this stop of your high-speed rail tour with precision.
Of course, Berlin isn’t the only must-see stop along the railways of Germany.
Just two hours south of the Grey City by train, Dresden, the capital of the German state Saxony, is renowned for its stunning architecture and artistic splendour. Famed for being the residence of royals and aristocrats in the not-too-distant past, Dresden still has the feel of an opulent, luxurious city; it’s sometimes referred to as the Jewel Box due to its grand designs in baroque and rococo styles.
The majority of the city’s key sites are just a short stroll from Dresden’s Central Station, with the Frauenkirche, one of Europe’s largest church domes, twenty minutes on foot, and the city’s huge Old Masters Picture Gallery – Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister – just a further five minutes onward.
We could spend several days in Dresden soaking up the culture, but it’s onwards to Austria we go. Trains run from Dresden to the capital Vienna every couple of hours, taking around six in total.
Alternatively, you could start your tour of Central Europe in Berlin and work your way south, through Dresden, then into the Czech Republic; the train from Prague to Vienna takes around four hours.
Anyway, regardless of how you tackle the logistics of the transport on your train tour, you’ll want to leave ample time to explore Vienna, one of Europe’s great capital cities. From checking out pieces by Monet, Picasso and Klimt at the Albertina Museum to sampling a cup of Austria’s UNESCO protected coffeehouse culture, there’s just so much to see and do in Vienna. Just remember to save room for some of the city’s legendary pastry and confection!
Often overlooked, the city of Bratislava is a lovely, must-see city while you are high-speeding your way through Central Europe. From Vienna to Bratislava, the high speed train takes just over an hour, meaning you’ll find yourself in the Slovakian capital in no time!
The city has been through many dramatic changes over the years, but it has remained the cultural, political, and economic centre of Slovakia, and is one of the area’s true ‘hidden gems’.
Pitched along the Danube River and bordered closely by both Austria and Hungary, Slovakia’s capital Bratislava is something of a Central European cultural powerhouse.
Known as the Little Big City, it boasts baroque palaces, a glorious, looming Renaissance castle that overlooks the city, cathedrals and churches aplenty, and a mediaeval, pedestrianised Old Town. All of this refined, atmospheric architecture and a tight knit city centre make Bratislava the ideal city to end your Central European railway tour.
Visit the Bratislava Castle and St. Martin’s Cathedral, a former place of coronation, before exploring the city’s gorgeous parks and gardens, which are dotted all around Bratislava. Our favourite has to be Sad Janka Kráľa City Park, which sits on the banks of the Danube and is the oldest public park in Central Europe. We’ll see you reclining on the grass?
If you’re keen for more of the same, but this time in potentially sunnier climes, then check out our tips on seeing Spain by train. You won’t regret it!