This Eastern Europe by train itinerary will take you east to visit five European cultural capitals in a week. You will experience world-class art and architecture as you travel through Budapest, Vienna, Ljubljana and Zagreb. You’ll see hilltop castles and thermal baths along the way. Also, you can take a boat ride on the Danube, visit an underground bunker, enjoy opera, and party in ruin bars. This Eastern European rail itinerary will help you decide which train to take, what they cost, how to book, and what you should see. How long would it take you to visit every country in Eastern Europe? well, let’s say you have 1 week.
Day 1: Budapest
Begin your Eastern European rail journey with a day in Budapest, Hungary. It is located on the River Danube and was once two cities. Buda was on the west bank, while Pest was on the east. You can climb Castle Hill or ride the funicular to see some of the most striking monuments of the city, such as the Royal Palace, Matthias Church, and Fisherman’s Bastion. Also, you will have the best views of the river and Pest.
Enjoy a sauna, steam, and massage in the hot thermal waters of the Neo Baroque Szechenyi Baths. This is one of Europe’s largest natural hotsprings. To see the magnificent Hungarian Parliament lit up, take a sunset boat ride down the Danube. Then party the night away at the ruin bars in Budapest’s 7th District. These abandoned buildings have been transformed into cool courtyard bars and decorated with flea market furniture and colourful lights.
Where to Stay in Budapest: This PestBuda boutique Hotel is close to Buda Castle. The hotel is described as a design hotel, but it doesn’t have the designer price tag. It has 10 rooms and a restaurant that combine historic features with contemporary comforts.
Day 2: Budapest > Bratislava
Next morning, take the EuroCity train to Slovakia for 2 hours and 25 minutes. You will depart Budapest’s Nyugati railway station at 07:40, arriving in Bratislava Hlavna around 10.03. Spend the remainder of the day exploring Bratislava.
Wander around the squares of Bratislava’s Old Town, past palaces, churches, and fountains. The Old Town Hall tower is the oldest standing stone structure in Slovakia. Visit Gothic St Michael’s cathedral. Visit the Church of St Elisabeth, better known as the Blue Church, to learn more about Slovakia’s history.
Day 3: Bratislava > Vienna
Take the Regional Express train to Vienna Hauptbahnhof and head west towards Austria. It takes one hour from Bratislava Hlavna Station to Vienna Hauptbahnhof. You can choose when you want to wake up and train departures are at 16 minutes after the hour. You can also take a quick ferry along Danube between Vienna and Bratislava. It takes around 1 hour 15 minutes.
Austria’s capital city is filled with magnificent buildings. Take a stroll around the Ringstrasse to see the city’s Imperial Palace and Parliament. Visit the City Hall, Votive church, Vienna State Opera, City Hall, City Hall and City Hall. Vienna is known as the city of music. You can visit Mozart’s home and the House of Music museum or get a bargain standing ticket to the opera.
Day 4: Vienna > Ljubljana
Start early to make the 6-hour trip to Ljubljana, Slovenia. Direct EuroCity Emona service leaves Vienna Hauptbahnhof at 07:58. It arrives in Ljubljana around 14.08. This line, which was constructed in 1854, was the first to be built on a mountain railroad. It was also designated UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its remarkable feats of engineering.
Spend an afternoon exploring Ljubljana. The compact capital of Slovenia is beautiful. It has cobbled streets and pavement cafes as well as pastel-painted houses, Baroque churches, and pastel-painted homes. You can take a stroll along the banks the River Ljubljanica which is crossed by 17 bridges including the Art Nouveau Dragon Bridge and Triple Bridge. Take the funicular to Ljubljana’s 15th-century castle, for the best view from the castle tower.
Day 5: Day Trip to Lake Bled
Take a day trip out of Ljubljana to Lake Bled. Enjoy its blue-green waters, island church and backdrop of the Julian Alps. Take the EuroCity express train direct from Ljubljana to Lesce-Bled station at 10:02. Bled’s old city is approximately 4km away from the station, but buses connect the two cities every half an hour.
You can take a boat ride to the island Church of the Assumption of Mary. If you are there in winter, you can ice skate across the lake. Follow the 6km waterside trail around the lake by foot or bike to see the church from every angle. For a stunning view of the lake, climb up to the Bled Castle (12th century) on the hill. Make sure you try the creamy Bled Cake with custard before returning to Ljubljana by taking the 17.51 EuroCity train. It arrives at 18.33.
Day 6: Ljubljana > Zagreb
The final leg of your Eastern Europe train trip will take you to Croatia, where you’ll be arriving in the morning. It takes approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes to travel from Ljubljana into Zagreb. Take the 08.25 EuroCity train to Ljubljana, arriving at Zagreb’s Glavni Kolodvor Station at 10.44. You can store your luggage in the station’s main hallway.
Walk through the streets of Zagreb’s Upper Town. This is the oldest district of Zagreb. It’s home to the Lotrscak Tower (the last 13th-century watchtower), where a cannon’s still fired each day at noon. There’s also St Mark’s Church, with its colourful roof tiled in the Zagreb and Croatia coats of arms. You’ll also find the Museum of Broken Relationships in the Upper Town, which has remnants of broken relationships from around the globe.
Day 7: Zagreb
Spend your final morning in Zagreb. There are approximately 4500 coffee shops in this city. If you are flying home, then the 290 ZET bus connects Zagreb’s Franjo Tudman Airport with the city center. It runs every 35 minutes and takes around 30 minutes to get there.
Do you need more time?
You could also head west to Pula on Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula. There is an indirect train, but the bus ride takes 4-5 hours and is faster. From there you can take a ferry to Venice in Italy. You can also take the 6-hour overnight sleeper train from Zagreb to Split. Split is home to Diocletian’s Palace, which has been listed in the UNESCO World Heritage. From Split you can reach the Dalmation Islands (Hvar, Vis, Brac, Korcula) by ferry. You can also add an additional stop in Graz in Austria, between Vienna and Ljubljana.