Have you got a travel question for our Travel Advocate, Wendy Perrin? We invite you to ask it here. (See “Ask Wendy,” at right.) Here’s the first question that’s come in for Wendy:
We are planning a trip this August with our three sons, ages 11, 14, & 19. We will be visiting Vienna, Budapest, Prague, and Dubrovnik. I would really appreciate your suggestions as to where to visit, sightsee, and relax. Thank you!
Your avid article reader Victoria
Victoria, you’ve chosen four cities whose Old Towns are straight out of a fairytale; you’ll want to spend much of your time just meandering the cobblestone streets and soaking up the Old World charm. But you’ve also chosen four cities that are jammed with tourists in August—especially Dubrovnik, a walled port city that is invaded daily by tens of thousands of cruise day-trippers. I’m sure you’ve already got these cities’ legendary castles and fortresses on your agenda, but here are a few less obvious things I’d try if I were taking my own sons (who are 12 and 10) and trying to escape the August tourist gridlock.
- The Natural History Museum contains the world’s largest collection of meteorites (as well as an “Impact Simulator” that simulates the impact of a meteor on Vienna).
- The Hofburg’s Collection of Ancient Musical Instruments is both eye candy and ear candy: You see and hear unique historic instruments like you’ve never seen or heard before—and the sounds range from bizarre to glorious.
- Every summer there’s a Film Festival at Rathausplatz with plenty of locals, international food stalls, and music.
- Note that a Vienna Card will give you free public transportation, and that some of the city’s museums and attractions sell family tickets covering two adults and up to three children.
- The Central Market Hall is a colorful market where the locals buy their sausages, cheese, and produce. This is where your kids can sample unusual local foods and decide what they like, without your wasting a ton of money in restaurants ordering dishes your kids end up not eating. Get a picnic to take to…
- Margaret Island, an island park in the center of the city with pools, golf carts for getting around, and, in August, an open-air theater with concerts.
- Caving under Budapest sounds like a blast. Or maybe you send the boys on their own while you check out the Gellert Spa?
- Veletrzni Palace is where you can see Czech painter Alphonse Mucha’s can’t-miss The Slav Epic—20 giant paintings that depict the history of the Czech and Slavic people.
- For a quick escape from the city, consider a family bike trip through rolling countryside to Karstejn Castle, a Gothic castle built in 1348, or a day trip to Kutna Hora, a former silver mining town, to see the Sedlec Ossuary, a “bone chapel” decorated with tens of thousands of human skeletons.”
- Note that the Prague Card provides public transportation and entry to 50 of the city’s top attractions.
- Walk the ancient city walls, rated 10th greatest landmark in the world in our 2014 Travelers’ Choice Attractions awards.
- When the cruise day-trippers leave at 5:00 or 6:00 p.m., Dubrovnik turns magical, so you might think about fleeing town by day and returning in the early evenings. One day trip I love is just down the coast to Montenegro and to the smaller, even more charming ancient walled city of Kotor. Climb to the top of Kotor Fortress for the views.
Victoria, if I were you and I wanted to bypass lines, evade crowds, and be super-efficient, I’d connect with Eastern Europe travel specialist Gwen Kozlowski of Exeter International. Gwen is arranging my own trip to Vienna and Budapest next month. She can get your family into the stables at Vienna’s Spanish Riding School to see the horses up close, arrange a family strudel-making lesson at Budapest’s famed Gundel restaurant, get you inside the exquisite library at Strahov Monastery in Prague, or charter a boat in Dubrovnik to take you to the Elaphite islands (think quiet beaches and the deserted former summer homes of 15th century nobles) and to the tiny fisherman’s village of Kobas. Now, that’s what I call both sightseeing and relaxing!