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On the tailend of another chaotic year, a reprieve from the intensity of our daily routines had us seeking a vacation that will transport us to another world altogether. So, this festive season, we decided to venture to Eastern Europe’s magical Christmas markets. Join our team as we make our way through Budapest, Vienna and Prague soaking up all the sights, sounds and smells along the way.
A landmark on Szechenyi Istvan Square at the foot of the historic Chain Bridge, Gresham Palace is prestigiously placed close to business, culture and fine boutiques. With the original details now breathtakingly restored – including sweeping staircases, stained glass, mosaics, ironwork and soaring wintergardens – Four Seasons has reinvented this architectural jewel as a grand, vintage hotel with 21st Century infrastructure.
Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest has 179 guest rooms, including 17 suites, reflecting the grandeur of the Hotel's exalted locale and all the beauty of the Art Nouveau period. Views are sensational, ranging from intimate interior courtyards to the sparkling Danube River, the Buda Hills or the city. Original architectural details, including vaulted ceilings, merge effortlessly with modern-day convenience. Guestrooms feature cable and satellite TV, complimentary toiletries, down duvets and pillows, hair dryer, in-room movies, in-room safe, make-up mirror, private stocked bar/refrigerator, thick terry bathrobes, twice-daily housekeeping service, wireless and computer modem jack, fax hook up, high-speed e-mail and Internet access, multi-line telephone, voice mail and more.
In 1876, the Hotel Sacher Wien was opened by Eduard Sacher, son of the creator of the Original Sacher-Torte and soon achieved worldwide renown as a meeting place for the nobility, international high-society, politicians and artists. Today, Hotel Sacher is a Viennese institution, comparable to St. Stephan’s Cathedral or the Vienna Boys’ Choir. As the only luxury hotel in Vienna which is privately owned and run, it is important to the families Gürtler and Winkler to maintain traditions and keep the unique and personal ambience with old-world charm of the former Habsburg monarchy. Located directly across the Vienna State Opera and along Vienna’s main elegant pedestrian zone Kärntner Strasse, it is just minutes away from the Hofburg Imperial Palace with its Spanish Riding School and from all other culturally important attractions.
With an eclectic blend of architectural styles, Four Seasons Hotel Prague opens the door to a vibrant and unexpected experience that mirrors the city itself.The spirited and caring team, together with the hotel’s unrivalled location, allow you to discover the unique and magical charm of Prague. Overlooking Charles Bridge and Prague Castle on the banks of the Vltava, baroque architecture, 21st-century comforts and intuitive Four Seasons service unite in an atmosphere of true luxury - amidst the storybook streetscapes of the historic Stare Mesto. Close to Prague's business district and principal attractions, including stately riverside promenades, breathtaking architecture, café-lined squares alive with music and culture, and countless churches, concert halls and museums.
Hit the ground running with an authentic Hungarian Christmas market experience (with mulled wine in hand, of course!) Day 1
Take in the stunning views of Budapest from Fisherman's Bastin with a coffee in hand from a 200-year old café Day 3
Enjoy a vibey dinner at Déryné Bisztró as your finale in Budapest Day 4
Enjoy a walkthrough of Belvedere Palace followed by a stroll through the quaint Christmas market just outside the musuem Day 6
See the Prague Castle before checking out the nearby markets Day 9
Dine in style at Kampa Park with views of the Charles Bridge as you recount some of your fave moments from this epic trip Day 10
This morning, you’ll be landing in ‘The City of Baths’ to kick off your weeklong adventure. For the duration of the trip, you’re going to be taken care of by our partners on the ground, Boutique Journeys. This Budapest-based organization was founded by two female best friends who turned their strong bonds and shared passion for meaningful experiences into a thriving business. You’ll be in great hands every step of the way with their team.
Your transfer from the airport will whisk you to Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest, your home for the next three nights. Get cozy in your beautiful new digs on the ‘Pest’ side overlooking the Danube and iconic Chain Bridge. Opt to either shake your jetlag with a spa treatment at the hotel’s renowned facility or hit the ground running with some sightseeing! Your incredible location at Four Seasons gives you the chance to really dive into the destination without having to walk too far from the Gresham Palace. In fact, the hotel is sandwiched between two of the main Christmas markets in the city.
The most beautiful, oldest and internationally acclaimed Budapest Christmas fair is the one on Vörösmarty Square in the heart of the city. The second largest is at the St. Stephen’s Basilica, only a few minutes’ walk away. No matter which one you choose, the festive Christmas markets showcase young and old talents of Hungary who really make their handcrafts with love and care. It’s all about carrying on the traditions refined over decades including glass blowing, knitting, wood carving, candle making, pottery, leather goods, lace work and traditional Hungarian embroidery. After you’ve gotten a lay of the land (hopefully with a mulled wine or two!), it’s time to freshen up for dinner.
After a long day of travel, you may prefer to eat dinner close to home which makes KOLLÁZS – the traditional Hungarian restaurant at the Four Seasons Budapest Gresham Palace – the perfect spot for this evening. The very talented local chef, Arpad Gyorffy, whips up recipes that come from her grandmother like goulash, chicken paprikash, bone marrow and duck leg with cabbage. And for the wine enthusiasts, or ‘bor’ as it’s called in Hungarian, feel free to sit back and relax as the team brings you four or more varietals so you can begin experiencing a taste of the twenty two different wine regions.
After your phenomenal Four Seasons breakfast, it’s time to meet up with your guide for the morning. In partnership with Boutique Journeys, your SmartFlyer travel advisor has specially matched you to a local who’s aligned with your unique set of interests, whether those include history, architecture, gastronomy or a combination of it all. This expert will be your key to seeing the city in a highly customized and interactive way without ever wasting time navigating your next move! The length of your tour is up to you, but it’s recommended to book half a day for each side of the city, which could either be split over two days or combined into one.
Your tour will begin at your hotel on the ‘Pest’ side of the city where your guide will bring you short walk from the Four Seasons to St. Stephen’s Basilica, the largest church in Budapest. Here you’ll discover Hungary’s most sacred relic, The Holy Right, which truly has to be seen to be believed. Take a stroll through the pedestrian heart of the city, from Vörösmarty Square to Váci Street passing by beautiful landmark buildings, cafes and shops. Visit the Great Market Hall or Central Market Hall “Nagycsarnok,” the largest indoor market in Budapest where stalls offer a huge variety of vegetables, fruit, cheese and meat.
Make your way through Szabadsag Ter or Liberty Square, the largest and most representative square in the downtown area. The square has a big park in the middle, popular among locals year-round but specifically in the winter for its ice-skating rink (the largest in Europe). From there, you’ll be guided to City Park to admire the Vajdahunyad Castle, a replica of the Transylvanian castle of the same name. Architecture geeks will love that the castle was built to showcase the various styles found in Hungary including Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque.
Head back to the hotel to rest up a bit before dinner. Some of our favorite spots in town for Hungarian to consider tonight are Monk’s Bistro, Evidens Bistro and Costes. If you’re in the need for any last-minute bookings, we recommend checking in with the concierge team or taking advantage of the Four Seasons app. You can send them a quick message and someone on property will reply within moments!
Ready to get moving? If you want a bit more active start to your day, chat with the concierge to inquire about the run up to the Citadella. They can arrange for someone from the property to guide your run or show you the route so you can do it solo. Either way, get ready for some serious elevation climb! But trust us, it’s so worth it for some of the most beautiful views of the city. Bonus points if you can get up there before 8am when all the tour buses begin rolling in. On your way down, be sure to check out the stunning statue representing the joining of Buda and Pest.
This afternoon, you’ll link back up with your local guide for a tour of the other side of the river. Cross the historic Chain Bridge to the hills of Buda, starting with the Castle District. The historic building on the Danube waterfront in Buda, known as Várkert Bazár has recently reopened after thirty years. Admire the National Gallery housed in the beautiful Royal Palace, then pass by Sándor Palace and Disz Square. Take in the stunning views from the Fisherman’s Bastin before popping into the gothic masterpiece that is St. Matthias Church. Take a stroll along Lord’s Street with its charming and colorful medieval buildings.
If you’re in need of a caffeine pick-me-up, stop by the most storied café in the region, Ruszwurm, which has been open for nearly two hundred years. Be sure to try one of their divine pastries! After you’ve soaked up all the old town charm, meander over to the Jewish quarter to discover some more of the country’s rich history. While the area is known as a hotspot for bars, its Bohemian scene is thriving both day and night. We highly recommend lunch at Mazel Tov, an urban garden tucked away in this bustling neighborhood before checking out design shops in the region like Printa.
For a livelier night out, combine a casual dinner at the markets and a ruin bar tour. Walking around the Christmas markets, you can enjoy mulled wines and taste some Hungarian delicacies like töltött káposzta (pickled stuffed cabbage) and halászlé (fish soup). Before departing, be sure to check out a Christmas concerts on the stages of the markets! If you’re up for it, circle back to the Jewish Quarter where all the ruin pubs are concentrated. The grand dame of the scene is Szimpla Kert. Located on Kazinczy Street, it used to be the home a factory and was set to be demolished before it was converted into a bar that became the it spot in the 7th district. Other favorites includeInstant and Fogasház.
Perhaps today (particularly if you went on that ruin bar tour) you’ll be craving a slower start, so take the morning at leisure. Maybe even enjoy a relaxing room service breakfast while looking over the Danube from your suite! Keeping in the theme of R&R, today is the perfect chance to experience a thermal bath. There are 118 springs in Budapest, providing 70 million liters of thermal water a day. With so many bath houses to choose from – Széchenyi Medicinal Bath, Gellert Thermal Bath, Rudas Bath and Veli Bej being the most highly recommended – it’s best to discuss what you’re looking for with your SmartFlyer travel advisor.
It’s up to you if you’d like to have a guide escort you to the baths or go it solo. Should you want to go to the baths on your own, you’ll still be well looked after by Four Seasons who will send you with a robe, towel, slippers and shower amenities. Upon arriving to the baths, you can opt to just go for the thermal waters or add on a massage, sauna or other therapeutic service. Plus, most of them have both indoor and outdoor sections, so you can oscillate between them all. Since you’re visiting in the winter, the outdoor sections heated from 26°C to 36°C are especially satisfying.
Head back to Four Seasons to freshen up for your final night in Budapest. Your reservation this evening is over on the ‘Buda’ side, so be sure to enjoy your ride over the beautiful Chain Bridge, laden with history as it connects what once was two separate cities. You’ve been booked for a table at one of the hottest restaurants in the city – beloved by locals and visitors alike – Déryné Bisztró. Settle into this chic spot which isn’t only great for couples thanks to its sexy, romantic vibe but also fun for families due to its miniature facilities (just check out the ladies room and you’ll know what we’re referring to!). Red meat lovers will be in heaven here as they have some of the finest cuts, from wagyu to aged rib eye; or, try the wild boar paprikash for something more traditional. Just don’t forget to save room for dessert, they serve up some true Hungarian delicacies.
There’s lovely live music at Déryné, but if you’d like a grand finale elsewhere, there are a couple great spots for a performance. If you want to feel like a hip, bohemian local, get into Brody Studios (the Four Seasons concierge can help you reserve a space). Or, for jazz fans, the Opus club is your spot. And for a contemporary music scene, see what’s going on at Müpa. Get lost in the performance as you soak up your last moments in Budapest’s vibrant scene.
Today, you will be taken by private transfer to Vienna, a drive that typically takes around three hours. If you are interested, we can arrange for a stop in Bratislava for lunch and a walking tour, including a visit to one of the beautiful Christmas Markets in the old town area. Arrival to Austria’s capital will show you how this artistic and intellectual city was shaped by famous former residents including Mozart, Beethoven and Sigmund Freud. The city is also known for its Imperial palaces, including Schönbrunn, the Habsburgs’ summer residence, whereas the Museums Quartier district displays work by Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt and other artists to showcase historic and contemporary buildings.
After checking in at the festively decorated Hotel Sacher Wien and taking some time to freshen up, meet with your guide in the hotel lobby to begin your orientation to the city. As in other European capitals, numerous important places to visit are situated in the historic center of Vienna, encircled within the Ringstrasse, built along the ancient city walls. Make your way to the Hofburg Palace, a complex of stunning palaces and churches from where the famous House of Habsburg ruled their empire from 1278 to 1918. Your guide will take you on a guided tour of the amazing Imperial Treasury, the most important treasury in the world. Here, in the oldest part of the Imperial Palace built in the 13th century, visitors will not only find the Emperor’s Crown of the Holy Roman Empire and the Austrian Emperor’s Crown, but also the Burgundian Treasure from the fifteenth century and the Treasure of the Order of the Golden Fleece.
Visit St. Stephen’s Cathedral (yes, another one!) in the heart of the city. The most important religious building in Austria’s capital, St. Stephen’s Cathedral has borne witness too many important events in that nation’s history and has, with its multi-colored tile roof, become one of the city’s most recognizable symbols. Here we’ve arranged for a secret rooftop walk and catacombs tour. Take an elevator ride to the top level and make your way to the viewing platforms to see the special tiled rooftop of the cathedral, the bell and to take in the views over the city. In the South Tower, you can also climb the 343 steps of a tight spiral staircase leading up to the watchman’s lookout 246 feet above street level; it was once used as a fire warden’s station but now serves as an observation point.
Finish what’s been a long day by walking through the Christmas markets of Vienna which are sure to offer an unforgettable experience. The tradition dates back to the Middle Ages when in 1298 Albrecht I granted Vienna’s citizens the privilege of holding a December Market or “Krippenmarkt.” Since then, the character and prevalence of these markets has changed considerably. Nowadays, over twenty official Advent Markets sell a vast array of seasonal gifts and mouth-watering treats, remaining open through December 26 and a few through January 1. The largest Christmas Market in Vienna is the Magic of Advent which takes place in front of the City Hall.
After your Virtuoso breakfast at the Sacher, meet with your guide in the lobby of the hotel and continue your exploration of Vienna. Enjoy a panoramic drive ride along the Ringstrasse, which is home to numerous monumental buildings constructed during the period of Historicism in the 1860s to 1890s. Considered to be one of the most beautiful boulevards in the world, it’s home to many of Vienna’s best-known sights, such as the Imperial Palace, the Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Natural History Museum, the Vienna State Opera, the gothic City Hall and Parliament. Magnificent palaces, extensive parks and important monuments also line the “display window” of the former Danube monarchy. Admire the Secession, with its stunning art nouveau floral sphere design and home to Klimt’s famous Beethoven Frieze.
The revitalized Biedermeier district near the MuseumsQuartier has countless restaurants, cafés and bars with idyllic gardens – often slightly hidden in romantic courtyards. The Vienna Spittelberg, with its small, romantic lanes and the charming Biedermeier buildings is right next to the MuseumsQuartier. Between Breite Gasse and Sigmundsgasse there is a lively bar area, from rustic beer bistros to trendy bars, from fancy restaurants to popular student hang-outs. Most of them entice guests in the summertime with Schanigärten, as the Viennese call their outdoor dining areas. Throughout the festive season you will find objects d’art, ceramics, warm jumpers, rugs and jewelry made of silver, enamel and brass at the Christmas Market at Spittelberg.
Afterwards, visit the beautiful Schönbrunn Palace, situated only 25-minutes from the city center. Schönbrunn Palace is one of Europe’s most beautiful Baroque complexes and has been in the possession of the Habsburgs since 1569. Today, due to its historical significance, its unique layout and magnificent furnishings, the palace is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Over 40 rooms are open for viewing in the Palace and Schönbrunn Palace park is open to visitors all year round and is home to impressive fountains, statues, monuments, trees and flowers as well as the magnificent Gloriette. Approximately 60 exhibitors present handicrafts and original gifts such as handmade Christmas decorations and nativity sets for visitors to admire and purchase right in front of the famous Schönbrunn Palace. The fragrance of freshly baked Vanillekipferl and hot punch fills the air and creates a wonderful atmosphere.
Take a tour of the Austrian National Gallery in the Upper Belvedere Palace. At the heart of the collections at the Belvedere are the works of Gustav Klimt with his golden paintings “The Kiss” and “Judith.” The masterpieces by Schiele and Kokoschka as well as works of French Impressionism and highlights of the Vienna Biedermeier era (Waldmüller, Amerling, Fendi) that you will see here are every bit as impressive as the paintings of Makart, Boeckl, Wotruba, Hausner, Hundertwasser and others.
The Belvedere’s two magnificent palaces, the Upper and Lower Belvedere, were built in the 18th century as the summer residence for the important Prince Eugene of Savoy. He chose one of the most outstanding Baroque architects Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt for designing the palaces. The palaces with their extensive gardens are considered to be one of the world’s finest Baroque landmarks and momentous events have taken place in the Upper Belvedere’s Marble Hall and from here there is a spectacular view of Vienna. Just beneath the museum, explore baroque lifestyle and traditional handicrafts where the popular Christmas Village Belvedere Palace is set against the glorious baroque backdrop of the world-famous residence, one of Vienna’s most beautiful and significant sights. More than 40 festively decorated market stalls offer traditional handcrafted goods, elaborate Christmas decorations and special culinary delights.
Wake up at your leisure for your final day in Vienna. If you’re in the mood to do some exploring, consider checking out Mozart’s old place. Though Mozart lived at a dozen different addresses in Vienna, the only apartment that has survived to this day is at Domgasse number 5. The composer lived at this address from 1784 till 1787. Occupying 1,000 square meters on six levels, the Mozarthaus was opened at this location on January 27, 2006 – the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. Visitors are immersed in the vibrant world of Mozart, experiencing his bounteous genius and creativity, his family, and his friends and foes in Vienna of the late Baroque. Become acquainted with Mozart’s enigmatic personality – an experience par excellence! For brunch, we love Palmenhaus for its bright and airy build alongside delish food.
Visit the unique House of Music which is located in a historic house right next to Kärntnerstrasse. In this very building the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra was founded by Otto Nicolai in 1842. The first floor is devoted entirely to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the second floor marks the beginning of a journey through a variety of sound worlds, from pre-natal white noise and the inside of an organ pipe to the sound of the Tokyo underground railway system. The third floor belongs to the composers of the Viennese classical period. The fourth floor harbors a succession of aural delights and surprises in the form of the “hyper-instruments.” Finally, the fifth floor houses the Divertimento concert hall and a great restaurant, where you can enjoy a unique view over the roofs of the old city and towards St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
The best way to spend active time outdoors in the fresh air in winter is skating artistic sweeps across the ice. Located in the heart of the city between the Stadtpark and Konzerthaus, Vienna Eislaufverein is one of the oldest and largest ice rinks in the world! Consider enjoying a visit here in the early evening as the lights make the place come alive. Then, head to your dinner reservation at Café Hawelka for an authentic Viennese meal before returning to your hotel to have a nightcap. Cozy up in the corner for a glass of red with the iconic Sacher torte while overlooking the festively lit streets below.
This morning, you’ll take the journey from Vienna to Prague for the last part of your magical Christmas adventure. Today, you will be met in the lobby of the hotel and taken by private transfer with our Boutique Journeys friends from Vienna to Prague. This drive normally takes 3.5 hours depending winter road conditions. Upon arrival to the Four Seasons Prague, cozy up to their quaint hot chocolate bar in the stunning sitting area by the fire. Or, opt to relax in your room overlooking the Charles Bridge before heading out to explore!
Venture out to soak up the city, particularly from the vantage point of the Charles Bridge where you’ll be privy to fairytale views of Prague. The wide expanse of the Vltava River flows beneath it, flanked on both sides by elegant building with Prague Castle towering above. Here you are truly in the center of the city. Charles Bridge throngs with people during the day, but for a truly romantic and less crowded stroll, try early morning or any time in the evening. Once you meander over to the markets, Christmas markets are a key ingredient of the festive magic in the Czech Republic, with Prague’s being the most impressive in the country. They light up the city (quite literally) and bring both locals and visitors alike to soak up the truly special winter wonderland setting. The main markets are held at the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square, just a five-minute walk from one another. Plus, there are also smaller markets at Republic Square, Havel’s Market, Kampa Island and in front of St. George’s Basilica at Prague Castle.
After your hearty Four Seasons breakfast, meet with your guide in the hotel lobby and enjoy a tour of the Old Town, starting with a visit to Old Town Square, one of the largest and most beautiful town squares in Europe. Observe the procession of the Twelve Apostles on the Astronomical Clock on the hour, every hour, as a small trap door opens and Christ marches out ahead of his disciples, while the skeleton of death tolls the bell to a defiant statue of a Turk. Next, admire the Dancing House. This pillar of modern architecture in Prague “danced” onto the Rašínovo Embankment in 1996. The project comes from the drawing board of world-renowned architects Vlado Milunić and Frank O. Gehry. Its concept was inspired by the dance skills of the famous film couple – the stone tower symbolizes Fred Astaire and the glass tower, his partner Ginger Rogers. A gallery and a restaurant with a terrace offering a 360° view of Prague can be visited in the Dancing House.
On the right-bank of Prague, the district of Mala Strana, known as the Lesser Town in English, runs alongside the Vltava River and rises up towards the castle that surmounts it. Mala Strana is a true theater of Baroque art at the urban scale with hidden little streets meandering towards spectacular panoramas, sumptuous palaces inhabited by dynamic sculptures adorned with ornamental details, churches with their domes rising up into the sky, terrace gardens embellished with sculptures and fountains. The John Lennon Wall is situated right across the beautiful building of French Embassy near Kampa. It used to be called the “Wailing Wall” and people used it as canvas for their love notes. In the 1980s, after the death of John Lennon, it became the symbol of resistance against the totalitarian Communist government.
Next, take a stroll through the largest medieval castle complex in Europe, the Prague Castle District, Hradcany. Walk through the cobblestone streets of the castle complex and along the way enjoy spectacular panoramic views over the whole of Prague. Observe the Changing of the Guard at the entrance to the Royal Palace. Admire the architecture of St. Vitus Cathedral; the coronation and burial place of the once mighty Czech kings, and for many people the very symbol of Prague Castle. Stroll along Golden Lane which dates from the 15th Century and has a beautiful, old world quaintness about it. It comprises 11 historic houses, inside which period scenes have been created to show the life of the artisans who once worked, ate, drank and slept in them.
Today marks your final full day in Eastern Europe, so get ready for a jam-packed itinerary! Make your way to the Strahov Monastery where we can arrange for exclusive entry into the famous libraries, the Philosophical and Theological Halls. This special monastic collection contains over 16,000 volumes, some which are even 800 years old. The Libraries are closed to the public and visitors normally peek through a door to see these stunning rooms however we arrange for you to go inside with our guide who can actually show you some of the ancient tomes.
If the day of the week falls right (the tour is offered on Mondays and Thursdays), link up with the Four Seasons concierge for their complimentary Christmas market tour. The group convenes at 4pm at the Piazzetta, the terrace out back of the hotel overlooking the river. From here, you’ll get a general overview of the Czech holiday traditions, even getting the chance to take part in a few. Mulled wine in hand, head to the Old Town Square with the concierge. They’ll provide tips and tricks to making the most of your final market experience. Even better, at the end of the tour you’ll receive an entrance pass to skip the line climb to the top of the famous astrological tower.
When timed just right, you’ll be able to catch two timely events happening in the square. First, on the top of the hour, join the crowds gathered beneath the clock to see it strike 5pm. Then, head straight up to the queue and pass by to mount the clock tower. You can opt to take the elevator or walk up. No matter how you choose to scale this impressive structure, prepare yourself for some epic views. There’s no better vantage point of the market with its beautifully lit stalls and bustle of activity. Most impressive of all is the mighty Christmas tree which has been brought in from the forests of the Liberec region. Everyday it’s switched on at 4:30pm and each hour afterwards, the trees lights are set to accompanying music. It’s a truly magnificent light show to see from above and you’ll be right on track to catch it at 5:30pm after your market tour.
For dinner, we recommend a reservation at fine dining establishment Kampa Park. Just across the river from Four Seasons, it’s walkable or a quick taxi ride to this beautiful spot that’s seen its fair share of notable clientele. With a stunning view of the Charles Bridge by night, you’ll have the chance to try one of its many seafood dishes; we especially recommend the scallops and prawns. Of course, accompanying your meal with Czech wine is the ultimate way to celebrate your final soiree.