Tirelessly topping poles and quality of life indexes, Vienna should be the deal breaker visit on any guided tours to Europe. Austria’s capital is a spread of vermillion rooftops and white buildings. Sky and houses playfully switch places – an azure reflection in a shining window is exchanged for the trespass of an occasional dome or spire which pierces the skyline. Vienna sculpts yet more reflection into its gardens, with its glassy lakes and sparkling fountains. Grand palaces yawn across acres of cultivated grounds, and there are over one hundred art museums and sites commemorating the great composers who filled its venues with thundering genius. Vienna is the Mecca of the arts and no-one with a faithful interest in the city could visit without a trip to its state opera house. With climbing marble staircases and stratified crimson balconies, lofty chandeliers and its own magnificent production company, anyone who hasn’t received an invite to a Viennese ball will relinquish their resentment once the opening act has rung the walls of this venue with poignant, electrifying song.
If Vienna’s cultural slant is toward the artistic, Prague leans in the direction of historical and political interests. The Charles Bridge dates back to 1357 and has been ravaged by floods, scored by war and battered by traffic. In spite of this it refuses to fall, and today its gleaming statues are still polished for the luck the bridge seems to have thrived upon. Prague’s ancient castle is the biggest in the world, and its gardens resound with echoes from its singing fountain. Lennon bridge, stamped with tributes to its namesake, represents the iconic singer’s impact on the city, or more his tenure as patron of idealistic peace. A hanging Freud statue drops from one of the buildings, in a state of perpetual irony, and an elaborate working astronomical clock charts perfect time, as well as other, less comprehensible measurements.
Budapest is a city synonymous with beauty, and its centre is acknowledged as a World Heritage Site. Riven by the peaceful Danube, the unusual cityscape yields to over 80 thermal springs, around which some tranquil baths have been built. A funicular railway draws crowds uphill to Buda Castle, a stronghold which thoughtfully provides a wine cellar of over 50 varieties to be sampled when the charms of its history can no longer be imbibed. Cruise down the River Danube, or head to its Jewish district, an area most vibrant during its summer festival between August and September. For something a little more sobering, the House of Terror documents the atrocities committed in the name of the dictatorial regimes which governed the city during the 20th century. A stroll through Margaret Island city park will then source some peace in which to ponder, or rattle its pathways in a quirky bringo cart if you’ve brought children. If not, cycles, electric cars and even roller blades can be rented to make its verdant pathways accessible to all.
Vienna, Prague and Dudapest captures the elegance of central and eastern Europe with their stunning architecture, historic buildings and centuries of the finest art and music.