This month we are looking at a large Table from the International section of the timetable which crosses Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Table 60 provides a summary of the principal trains on this route but more detailed tables for each section can be found in Tables 840, 1100, 1150 and 1175. The 1291 kilometre route can be completed in one day by using the single direct EuroCity service, named Hungaria, which leaves Hamburg Altona at 06.36 and arrives at Budapest Nyugati at a reasonable 20.19. However, with four capital cities and some beautiful scenery to explore, it is worth breaking the journey at one or more of the stops.
The Hungaria is one of the oldest express trains still in operation, but today uses Hungarian Railways’ latest air-conditioned coaches, including a restaurant car and seats with power sockets and free Wi-Fi. The train departs from Altona, a smaller terminus station, 10 minutes west of Hamburg Hauptbahnhof. The short hop affords some interesting views of this fine city before the train heads out into pretty countryside and forests of eastern Germany. The train arrives in Berlin Hauptbahnhof in under 3 hours, leaving plenty of time for a leisurely breakfast and sightseeing in this bustling capital city where there is always something going on. It’s possible to walk between the main sights, or if you have a Eurail Pass valid in Germany, you can use the S-Bahn metro lines around Berlin for free.
You can re-join the train at either Berlin Hauptbahnhof or the smaller Südkreuz station where we depart for Dresden. The historic Dresden Hauptbahnhof was built in 1898 but like much of the city, it has been extensively redeveloped in recent years to rectify wartime damage and neglect. The station has a unique layout on two levels. The main station building and terminal platforms are located centrally on the lower level, flanked by through tracks on either side raised on viaducts. The classic view of the city’s baroque spires, towers and domes, is from the banks of the river Elbe but there are equally stunning vistas from the spire of the cathedral or the Residenzchloss (Royal Palace) which now houses five museums.
After a change to a Czech locomotive we leave Dresden and head towards the border. This part of the journey through the hills of the Elbe Valley to Děčín has some of the finest scenery on this route. Walkers and climbers keen to explore the area can stop at the frontier station of Bad Schandau to gain access to Saxon Switzerland national park which straddles the German/Czech border. The two countries work together to manage and protect the entire region of sandstone cliffs, steep canyons, and heavily forested slopes.
We now arrive in our second capital city, beautiful Praha. First stop is Praha Holešovice in the north of the city which is connected to the centre by the metro, however most passengers disembark at the art nouveau station of Praha hlavní nádraží which is just a short walk from the main attractions in Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square. This city attracts thousands of visitors every year to its maze of cobbled lanes and hidden courtyards, keen to experience its famous beers, art and fairy-tale architecture. The city is served by an efficient, fast and clean public transport system including metro lines and trams to transport you easily around the main attractions.
The next stop is the second largest city of Czech Republic, Brno. Home to experimental architecture, such as the Unesco-protected Vila Tugendhat, the city also has several more ghoulish attractions such as the fascinating crypt in the Capuchin Monastery or the notorious prison inside the spooky hilltop Špilberk Castle. Brno also has its fair share of vibrant cafes and bars, many picturesque buildings, churches, squares, sculptures and fountains making it a worthwhile alternative to avoid the tourist hordes in Praha.
Last week we were in Brno in the Czech Republic from where we now depart, travelling south-east towards Břeclav, located at the border with Lower Austria on the Dyje River. From Břeclav there is an easy connection over the border into Austria to Vienna (Wien) and Graz. Those that have travelled directly from Hamburg on the 06:36 EC service will have just under an hour to wait for the 17:55 RJ service into Austria meaning you can squeeze yet another capital city into your journey (on top of the four on the main route) and arrive in Vienna in time for an evening stroll and dinner.
Travellers choosing to continue on the Hungaria service, now head towards the Slovakian border at Kúty before arriving into capital city number three, Bratislava. Fans of the Slovakian capital will argue that this is a better stopping off point than Prague, having just as many highlights but without the crowds. The pretty historical city centre is very compact and cosy, and it is easy to walk from one side to another in a few minutes, so it is a perfect location for exploring in just a day or two. The cobbled streets are packed with lovely cafés and traditional restaurants, whilst in December be sure to indulge in the aromas and flavours of the traditional Christmas market in the hlavné námestie (main square). The market is much more traditional and less overtly commercialized than others in the region. There are many baroque palaces and notable churches to explore as well as the prominent Bratislava Castle on the hilltop where there are some great views over the city and the Danube river.
This month we are looking at Table 60 which crosses Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Table 60 provides a summary of the principal trains with more detailed services in the country sections. The entire route can be completed in one day by using the single direct EuroCity service, named Hungaria. But, with four capital cities and some beautiful scenery to explore, it is worth breaking the journey at one or more of the stops.
For the last part of this journey, we depart Bratislava hlavná stanica and head towards our final border crossing at Štúrovo. The section of the journey leaving Slovakia offers some lovely views across the Danube towards Hungary. The train passes through some pretty little villages and hillside vineyards as we make our way towards our final destination, Budapest.
The grand capital city of Budapest is a popular destination for millions of tourists every year keen to enjoy its indulgent spas, fairy tale architectural sites and cultural attractions. The Danube divides the city into its two parts; the photogenic old district of Buda on the west bank and the more modern and commercial Pest on the east bank. Exploring the city is easy on foot, but those with limited time should consider the Budapest Card (€22,00 for 24 hours) which grants unlimited travel on public transport and discounted or free admission to museums and baths. There are also plenty of sightseeing tours available by bus or, for some unique views of the city from the river, opt for a boat tour. Other highlights in the city include a trip on the Castle Hill funicular (dating back to 1870) which climbs slowly to the pedestrianised district of Old Buda for some spectacular views from Fishermen’s Bastion or why not simply relax in one of the many grand thermal spas? It’s also worthwhile taking a walk along the famous Chain Bridge, the first permanent link between Buda and Pest, for picture perfect views of the enormous, iconic parliament buildings.