Grand Imperial Cities with Great Rail Journeys
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destinations go in and out of fashion, but there are some locations and
itineraries that keep on drawing holidaymakers year in, year out. And this year, Great Rail Journeys celebrate 35 years of
one of their most popular itineraries, Grand Imperial Cities.
13-day escorted holiday links Vienna, Budapest, Prague and Berlin, four cities
that have between them seen significant changes in the lifetime of the tour. When
the holiday first ran in 1983, Berlin was still divided by the infamous Wall
and none of these elegant destinations had yet experienced the full force of
the city break boom. But whilst visitor
numbers may have increased over the decades, so too has the tourist offer, with
new attractions and excursions ensuring that every visitor enjoys each city to
visited one of the destinations or want a shorter trip? Then do as I did and tailor-make your own
itinerary with GRJ
Independent to include quality hotel accommodation, excursions, and
non-rail connections. I chose an early
morning flight with Wizz Air to Budapest
for the start of my 5-night trip, travelling on by rail to Prague and Berlin,
before heading back across Europe to Brussels to pick up Eurostar to London-St
is a stunner in any season, but there’s something very magical about a winter
visit when darkness falls early and the glorious buildings along the Danube are
bathed in golden light. Cosy up in a
historic café over a slice of scrumptious gateau and, if you travel in December,
there’s the added bonus of the Christmas market, repeated also in Prague and
package with GRJ Independent included entrance to the lavishly decorated
Matthias Church in Old Buda; a river cruise past the Gothic Parliament building
and Fisherman’s Bastion viewpoint; and an 11km-ride on the unique Children’s
Railway. Built in 1948 to take
youngsters to an activity camp in the hills, it is now a regular service,
staffed by 10 to 14-year-olds, though not- it’s important to point out - as
liked the Art Deco atmosphere of the Hotel Continental in Pest which has been
through various changes of use, including a public baths, before becoming a
4-star hotel. The city centre location,
close to Europe’s biggest synagogue and Pest’s main shopping streets,
inevitably involved a bit of street noise, but nothing my trusty ear plugs
two nights in Budapest, I arrived at the city’s imposing station entrance for
the 6.5 hour journey to Prague, my first class carriage offering a front seat
view of the changing countryside through Hungary, Slovakia and finally into the
Czech Republic. Here, the 4-star
Courtyard by Marriott Flora was outside the city centre but well situated on a
quiet street next to a modern shopping mall and metro station.
which point, a couple of tips. Resist
any temptation to take a large suitcase. I found luggage storage on Continental trains was almost exclusively
overhead and whilst there was always some kind gentleman willing to do the
honours for me, there are steps up to the trains to negotiate too. People don’t dress up here and smart casual is
fine for restaurant evenings, so you don’t need a lot of clothes. Just comfy walking shoes and a few
mix-and-match combinations. A separate
holdall or backpack is perfect for all these small items you want to keep close
or use on the train.
Prague – or Praha in Czech – is a town that’s easy to explore on foot, the Old Town Square with its eclectic mix of beautiful buildings divided by the Vltiva river from the vast Castle complex that includes St Vitus Cathedral and St Wenceslas Chapel. Charles Bridge, the oldest and most famous river crossing, is thronged with pedestrians, buskers and street stalls but an essential destination for any visitor with some great photo opportunities over the river. And if, like me, you’re an Art Nouveau fan, take a peek inside some of the period hotels and cafes, and don’t miss the Mucha Museum dedicated to the internationally famous Czech artist Alphonse Mucha.
city on my GRJ Independent tour was Berlin, just over four hours by train from
Prague. Two nights at the delightful 4-star
Maritim Hotel gave me time for a half-day guided coach tour of the main sites
including the Reichstag building, the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie and
a decorated section of the infamous Berlin Wall. As our guide pointed out, the Wall is rarely
as high as people imagine – the difficulty was not escaping over it but through
the open section behind it, under the scrutiny of armed guards.
was moved to see the locations of chilling events that unfolded during my
lifetime but Berlin is also a very upbeat city with a vibrant cultural scene
from concerts to cafes, restaurants to nightspots. I chose to spend my free time exploring some
of the fabulous collections on Museum Island – home to five vast museums – and
indulging myself in the café at Rausch, world’s biggest chocolatier. Another day and I’d certainly have been
browsing the extensive shopping areas, especially KaDeWe – the Berlin
equivalent of Harrods.
return journey involved a change of trains in Cologne with lunch on board as we
sped through Germany towards Belgium for our Eurostar to London. On the way home, I thought back over my
taster trip and three very different cities that once stood at the heart of
historic empires. I’d only spent a short
time in each, but it had been a great introduction and travelling by rail was a
relaxing way to combine them all. I’ll
definitely be going back to try them in a different season and am determined to
stay for longer next time.
13-day Grand Imperial Cities escorted group tour starts at £1,895 to include
guided tours of Vienna, Budapest, Prague and Berlin, plus excursions on the
Danube and The Children’s Railway.
travelled on a 6-day trip with GRJ Independent, prices starting from £875 to
include 5-nights 4-star hotel accommodation, all internal rail, and selected
meals and excursions.
more information visit www.greatrail.com
or call 01904 734 812.
Travel Advisor recommends Great Rail Journeys.
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