When I found out I had been accepted to study abroad in Florence, I immediately made a list of all the places I wanted to visit while I was in Europe. While of course, the “hot spots” such as Paris and Barcelona made the list, I was also really interested in exploring some of the “lesser-known” European destinations. I had heard from friends who had traveled in Eastern Europe, that Budapest was one of the coolest cities they had visited, so naturally, I added it to my list. Having taken a number of European history and politics classes while in college, I knew that Hungary was full of history and unlike anywhere else I had been before which also made it super intriguing. When I started looking into planning my trip to Budapest, I noticed there were so many other neat cities near Budapest, such as Salzburg and Vienna, that I wanted to visit. It seemed like it would be a waste to go all that way and not visit Austria too, so I started looking into how to do all three of them in one weekend and to be honest, I was super overwhelmed about arranging the transit and getting from one city to another. And then, in my lengthy google search planning my study abroad trips when I should have been doing homework, I found a student trip that combined all three cities from Florence. Realizing it would be both less stressful and less expensive to travel with them, I booked the trip and crossed it off my list, knowing I would be on my way to Budapest, Vienna, and Salzburg soon.
A few weeks after arriving in Florence, it was time for my Budapest, Vienna, and Salzburg trip! Out of all of the cities on our itinerary, I was most excited about Budapest. Maybe it was because I knew the most about Budapest in comparison to Vienna and Salzburg, but that somehow made Vienna and Salzburg even more intriguing. As an obsessive planner, it was super nice to just show up and be along for the ride without any expectations of what Vienna and Salzburg would be like.
After our long drive, we finally arrived in Budapest on Friday morning and dropped our stuff at the hostel. We had some much needed time to freshen up before we headed out on our walking tour of Budapest. I really loved having the walking tour first thing when we got there because our professional tour guide gave us an overview of the city and we got to see some of the city’s most popular sights. Having the tour first thing also gave us an idea of the things we wanted to come back and explore on our own during our free time. That afternoon, before we headed to the famous Szechenyi baths (optional add-on activity) we saw the breathtaking Hungarian parliament building, the unique Matthias Church and very somber, but moving, “Shoes on the Danube Bank” Memorial. Our professional guide told us about Budapest’s history during World War 2 and explained that the “Shoes on the Danube” memorial was dedicated to the Hungarians who lost their lives during the Holocaust. As we left the Pest side of the city and crossed the bridge to the Buda, we were greeted with exceptional views of the city and the Danube river. One thing I didn’t know before going to Budapest was that the city was divided into two separate “towns” by the Danube River, Buda and Pest. On the Buda side, we explored the Buda Castle and the beautiful Fisherman’s Bastion which looks like it came out of a fairy-tale and became my favorite place we visited in Budapest. After we had explored the city, almost tirelessly, we went back to the hostel to get out stuff before going to the famous bright yellow Szechenyi thermal baths. I had seen pictures of the baths on Instagram but did not really know what to expect. In reality, it was a building with indoor and outdoor pools of different sizes, temperature, and speeds. Some felt like a peaceful hot tub, while others were cold, and even others were like a hot lazy river. The place was packed, with both tourists and Hungarians, and to be honest, while it was such a cool experience, I tried not to think about exactly how many people had been in and out of the pools before I got in. As long as I could keep my germ-o-phobic self from thinking of that, I was able to relax. After our time at the baths, I opted for the group dinner which was an all you can eat and drink buffet for 2 hours. It was perfect as I was so excited to try a lot of different Hungarian foods and this was the best and most affordable way. If you have never had goulash soup, you MUST try it while in Budapest. We then all got ready to go to Budapest’s hipster nightlife scene of Ruin bars and eclectic pubs!
The next day, we made our way to Vienna, which was only a couple hours drive away. To be honest, I did not really know much about Vienna before we arrived, but once we got there it was clear to see why it was called the “City of Music” and why it had been awarded “The Most Livable City” multiple times in a row. We checked into our hostel and then went to the city center to meet our tour guide for a walking tour of this unbelievable city. With our professional guide we learned why Vienna was known as the “City of Music” and the “City of Dreams.” There was classical music around every corner and the city seemed to be oozing with art. The “City of Dreams” part though was less obvious and is actually because the famous psychologist Sigmund Freud was born in Vienna. We walked around the city seeing the famous Opera House, the Imperial Palace, and of course St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Once the tour was over, we had free time to explore the city on our own and my friends and I decided to go see the Schonbrunn Palace, which was very grande and extravagant. It was easy to imagine Austrian royalty and aristocracy living the life of luxury hundreds of years ago. After exploring the Palace, we found a cozy cafe in the city center where we ate dinner and we all enjoyed true Austrian, wiener schnitzel. Some of our group went out to bars later that night, but my friends and I were too exhausted, so we hung out in a cafe for a little while before going back to the hostel for bed.
The last stop on our 3 city tour was Salzburg! I know I sound like a nerd, but I couldn’t wait to get to Salzburg and do “The Sound of Music” tour Smart Trip offered. Growing up, and even know, my mom loved “The Sound of Music” and for that reason, I have seen it approximately 1 million times. So, naturally, when in Salzburg, I had to do the tour. I have the say, the tour was great and I was geeking out the whole time, but even the people who didn’t really know much about the “The Sound of Music” enjoyed it because it was a great way to see the city in a short amount of time. With the tour, we got to see the exact places where the scenes were filmed and got to pose as if we were Julie Andrews herself. After our tour we had to get back on the bus and head back to Florence. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get more time in the Salzburg because I would have loved to explore the city some more. But, all in all, we had seen so much in one weekend I understood that we couldn’t stay there all day! We headed back to Florence on the super long bus ride, but given that most of us were exhausted, we slept for a good part of it!
Although it was a long and busy weekend, Budapest, Vienna and Salzburg did not disappoint. In the end, I was so glad that I chose to go with a tour group because it was so much less stressful and easier to get between all 3 of the cities! If I had to choose a favorite city of the three, it would definitely be Budapest.