Let me start by saying this information also applies for those wishing to do this route the opposite way around by starting in Vienna and ending in Budapest. The only reason I opted to begin in Budapest was simply because it worked out cheaper and the flight times were better.
This route is good for you if…
You’re strapped for time but want to experience a marriage of countries, endless culture and truly inspiring architecture. This route delivers that from start to finish.
It’s not often you’re able to explore three capital cities so close to each other. In fact, it’s a nice bit of trivia to know Vienna and Bratislava are Europe’s closest capital cities with a distance of only 67 km between them. The River Danube flows through the cities which also makes travelling by boat an easy option.
Break-Down of train journeys
- Budapest Keleti Station – Bratislava (Duration: 2h 45m, price: 17 Euros)
- Bratislava – Vienna/Wien Hauptbahnhof (Duration: 1h, price: 12 Euros)
- Vienna/Wien Mitte – Airport (Duration: 15m, price: 14 Euros)
I thought the price I paid for the tickets between Budapest and Bratislava, and Bratislava and Vienna was superb value, and if you ask me, in stark contrast to the purse-shrinking cost of travel within the UK. If I factor in affordability and my desire to see more of Eastern Europe, I’ll definitely be planning more train journeys for my future travels.
During this trip I met a group of guys who were travelling from Budapest by train to Zagreb on a 7-hour train journey. We kept in touch and one of them sent me a text message to say it was a really scenic journey and well worth the time. On another occasion, I learnt from a Ukrainian living in Bratislava that he occasionally takes the overnight train to Lviv for 25 Euros – I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to hop on a train so quickly!
If you’d like to explore these possible routes then I suggest starting your trip in Vienna before moving in an easterly direction.
Budapest – Bratislava – Vienna: Would I recommend this journey for solo travellers?
Without a doubt, yes! When you’re travelling solo and don’t have another person to rely on if you’re lost, or need reassurance that you’re heading in the right direction, it can feel daunting, but this trip is super straightforward. It doesn’t require any change of trains en route and all stations are within walking distance from the city centre.
It’s reassuring to know that each city is simple to navigate but for different reasons. In Budapest you can mark your current location against the city’s three very large bridges so it’s easy to gather your bearings; Bratislava is quite small so it’s hard to get lost and you can reach everywhere by foot; finally, Vienna has an excellent metro system so you can get from A to B really easily.
In terms of safety, I found the people in each place helpful and friendly, and at no point did I feel uncomfortable. I met some lovely people along the way, including a kind-hearted girl called Agnes in Budapest who showed me around the city and fed me gelato, and in Bratislava I met an artist called Jozef who took me to see the beautiful ruins of Devin Castle and we also went berry picking!
Recommended length of nights in each city
It obviously depends on what your interests are and how much time you have to play around with, but generally speaking I suggest the following:
Budapest: 3 nights
Bratislava: 2 nights
Vienna: 3 nights
If you have another day going spare I would suggest spending it in Vienna, especially if you like museums – Austria’s capital is a mecca for art and undoubtedly one of Europe’s most elegant capital cities. Though if you’re concerned about your budget, spending longer in Vienna might not be financially viable, so in that case choose Budapest which is a crowd-pleaser no matter what your interests are. On the flip side, if you need to reduce your itinerary by a day then take it from Bratislava since it’s much smaller than Budapest and Vienna.
Grounds of Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna
Should you book your train tickets in advance?
I didn’t, I just rocked up at the train station and hoped for the best. Trains between all the cities run quite frequently so you shouldn’t have to wait too long after buying your tickets.
In England I try to book longer train journeys in advance because it works out much cheaper but I don’t think it makes that much difference this side of Europe. Plus, you don’t have to worry about missing pre-booked trains, the flexibility to leave and enter a place at whim is a freedom you want to have if you prefer moving from place to place depending on your mood and surroundings.
Things you can do in each city
I’m going to make this section more comprehensive once I’ve had time to gather my thoughts. However, here are a few highlights to give you an overall impression and hopefully liven your interest.
- Marvel at the Parliament Building’s gothic architecture. It will leave a huge impression on you. If I close my eyes, I can still see it vividly.
- Head to the Citadel for panoramic views of the city.
- Enjoy Buda Castle and National Gallery.
- Stroll along the Danube and pay homage to the war memorial, ‘Shoes on the Danube Bank’.
- Visit St. Stephen’s Basilica.
Further reading: The Beautiful Buildings of Budapest
- Explore the pretty Old Town with its cobbled streets and narrow alleyways.
- Day trip to Devin Castle.
- Walk across the UFO bridge.
- Check out the Blue Church.
- Visit the Slovak National Gallery.
Further reading: 10 Interesting Things to Do in Bratislava (Besides Drinking!)
- Visit Schonbrunn Palace and its exquisite gardens.
- Explore the city’s museum quarter (Leopold Museum is a must for lovers of Egon Schiele and Klimt!).
- Enjoy the Opera or head to one of the city’s theatres.
- Relax along the canal or one of the city’s many parks, there’s even one named Sigmund Freud Park!
- Capture the multicoloured splendour of Hundertwasserhaus, an unconventional building with uneven floors, unique windows and a rooftop garden – needs to be seen to be believed.
If you have any questions about this train journey, Budapest – Bratislava – Vienna, let me know in the comment box below and I’ll try my best to answer.