Eight must-see buildings in Budapest!

Parliament

Taking 17 years to build and completed in 1902, this neo-Gothic structure was partly inspired by the UK’s Palace of Westminster.

British politician-turned-broadcaster Michael Portillo memorably described it as “one of the most beautiful legislatures in the world, a cathedral of democracy.”

The best views are from Kossuth Lajos Square (in front of the building), from the river (Parliament is right on the Pest embankment) or from the opposite Buda banks.

St. Stephen’s Basilica

Taking even longer — 50 years — than Parliament to complete, the biggest church in Budapest finally opened in 1906.

During construction the building’s dome collapsed and two of the three lead architects died.

St. Stephen’s Basilica contains the mummified hand — called the “Holy Right” — of Hungary’s founding king-saint, Stephen (István).

The dome is the same height as Parliament — current legislation forbids anything higher, so Budapest isn’t going to get its own version of London’s Shard any time soon.

The church is free to enter, though it costs 500 forints ($2.30) to climb up to the observation deck surrounding the 96-meter high dome (closed from November to the end of March).

Hungarian State Opera House

A lot of building rivalry has gone on in Budapest.

The Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph approved (and partially paid for) the construction of an opera house in the city on the condition it was no bigger than the one in Vienna.

Smaller it may have been but it was far more opulent — the emperor’s reported reaction on seeing it at the grand opening in 1884 was to mutter, “These Hungarians!”

You can visit the ornate building on a tour but, even better, see it while watching an opera or ballet performance.

The opera house is located on Andrássy út (itself a World Heritage Site), Budapest’s grand boulevard full of high-end shops and other magnificent buildings.

Dohány utca Synagogue

Also known as the Great Synagogue, this is one of the largest Jewish temples in the world.

Consecrated in 1859, the Moorish revival-style building is a center of Neolog Judaism, a moderate reformed branch of the religion.

The complex also includes a museum and, in the rear courtyard, a memorial to Jewish Holocaust victims in the form of a weeping willow with the names of the dead and disappeared inscribed on the leaves.

An estimated 565,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered in World War II from a prewar population of more than 800,000.

Széchenyi Chain Bridge

Budapest is a city of bridges, but the Széchenyi Chain Bridge (Széchenyi lánchíd) is the granddaddy of them all — in 1849 it became the first permanent span linking Buda and Pest.

Commissioned by a Hungarian count, after whom it is named, the 375-meter-long suspension bridge was designed by an English engineer and built under the supervision of a Scot.

As with all Budapest bridges, the original was blown up during the siege of the city in World War II — a broadly similar replacement opened to traffic in 1947.

The bridge is at its most spectacular at night, when fully illuminated.

Royal Palace

The Castle District, yet another World Heritage Site (why not just designate the whole town a World Heritage Site?), dominates the Buda skyline.

Although it actually lacks a castle, the Royal Palace, dominating the southern end, is magnificent.

A royal residence from the 1300s to the end of the Hungarian monarchy in the early 20th century, it was rebuilt time and again through numerous sieges and wars.

It now houses the Budapest History Museum, the Hungarian National Gallery and the National Széchenyi Library.

Like the Széchenyi Bridge, the palace looks particularly magical each evening, when floodlights are switched on.

Fisherman’s Bastion

So named because the fisherman’s guild was responsible for protecting this section of the medieval defenses, this isn’t a building so much as a glorified wall.

What you see today was built between 1895 and 1902 to replace the former castle wall and designed to harmonize with neighboring Matthias (Mátyás) Church.

The bastion’s seven turrets represent the seven Hungarian tribes.

They weren’t designed to keep people out, but to provide a vantage point — the panorama they offer over the river (both embankments are — you guessed it — also a World Heritage Site) is breathtaking.

National Theater

Proof that not every Budapest building worth seeing need be more than 100 years old, the National Theater opened on the Pest Embankment, next to the Palace of Arts, in 2002.

The eclectic modern design includes references to much of the city’s historic architecture but also incorporates a lot of glasswork.

The public park in which the theater sits has a sculptured entrance gate in the form of theater curtains, statues of popular Hungarian actors in their most famous roles scattered about and a maze — just in case you’re not tired of walking around.

Budapest is a great city, and we have an amazing trip to take you there, along with many other great cities with our Gay River Cruise – 2015 Gay Oktoberfest & Danube River Cruise! For all of the information on the exciting trip, go here.

This article originally appeared on CNN.

Top 20 Tourist Destinations in Prague

It’s entirely possible to experience the beauty, history and magic of Prague on a whim and without a plan. With every cobble-stoned step and around every corner of the Golden City, there is something to be discovered. However, just like all other capital cities around the world, there are also top attractions, famous sites, key points of interest — tourist destinations, if you will — that should have ample place in your itinerary. What are those top tourist destinations in Prague? Grab a map for marking as we’ve got 20 to share with you!

The view from Prague Castle

1. Prague Castle – Pražský hrad

Last year alone, an estimated 6 million people visited the Prague Castle grounds and encompassing attractions, including St. Vitus Cathedral, Old Royal Palace, St. George Basilica, and the royal gardens. Peruse the grounds for free or purchase a ticket to enter the various other historical buildings and monuments. Be sure to check out the castle (and St. Vitus) lit up at night, props to the Rolling Stones.

2. Petřín Funicular and Rose Gardens – Lanová dráha na Petřín a Rosarium

Take the easy way up Petřín Hill via the historic railway from Lesser Town (Malá Strana). Once at the top, head to the Rose Gardens, meander Petřín park and/or climb to the top of the observation tower (Prague’s “Eiffel Tower”) for incredible views of the surrounding lands.

Traditional Czech food at the Old Town Square from one of the street food vendors

 

3. Old Town Square – Staroměstské náměstí

With rich history and a mix of Romanesque, Baroque and Gothic architecture, stepping into Old Town Square feels like an enchanted fairytale. St. Nicholas Church, Astronomical Clock, Týn Church and Jan Hus’ statue, plus horse-drawn carriages, street performers and tourists aplenty adorn the historic square.

4. Golden Lane – Zlatá ulička

Part of the Prague Castle complex, Golden Lane is a quaint street lined with 11 historical little houses which, throughout the centuries, were home to castle guards, goldsmiths, alchemists and artists, including Franz Kafka.

5. Powder Tower – Prašná brána

Constructed in 1475, the Powder Tower is one of the original 13 city gates to separate the Old Town from the New Town. During the 17th century, it was used to store gunpowder, thereby earning its “new” name. Climb the 186 steps to enjoy views over Old Town.

6. Municipal House – Obecní dům

Next to the Powder Tower, find one of Prague’s most famous and beautiful concert halls decorated in Art Nouveau style. Take a guided tour and visit the grandiose café (Kavárna Obecní dům) overlooking the Republic Square.

7. Prague Main Train Station – Praha hlavní nádraží

While not a traditional or sought-out tourist destination of Prague, the main train station surely hosts a lot of tourists. If you happen to be one of them, take note of the Art Nouveau décor, the original dome and stained glass windows when passing through.

8. National Museum – Národní museum

While the museum extends several locations, the neo-Renaissance historical building at the top of Wenceslas Square is the most recognized. Natural history, science, art, culture and various other exhibitions are housed here.

9. National Theatre – Národní divadlo

Not to be confused with the museum, the theatre with its unmistakable golden rooftop is located on the bank of the Vltava River. One of the most beloved cultural institutions in the capital city, the theatre has a rich history of art, music and theatre performances which continue today.

The Dancing House

10. Dancing House – Tančící dům

The Dancing House’s design (featuring the dance duo, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astair) was a source of controversy when it was built in 1996 as it was thought to clash with the Neo-Baroque, Neo-Gothic and Art Nouveau buildings typical to Prague. Now, the modern structure is well-regarded, filled with offices as well as a gourmet restaurant.

11. Havelská Market – Havelské Tržiště

Czech trinkets and tchotchkes galore, artwork, postcards, even fresh produce to go, Havelská Market is a convenient place near Old Town Square to find a quick Czech gift or souvenir.

The Charles Bridge is often crowded at summer, but the view from the riverside is always picturesque

12. Charles Bridge – Karlův most

Without a doubt, the Charles Bridge is within Prague’s “top 3 tourist attractions”. The 14th century wonder connects Old Town (Staré Město) with the Lesser Quarter (Malá Strana). By day, it’s bustling with artists, local vendors and tourists. At night or sunrise, enjoy more tranquility. Don’t miss the historical Gothic Old Town Bridge Tower (Staroměstská mostecká věž) on the Old Town side of the bridge (climb to the top as you wish).

13. Jewish Quarters – Josefov

Tucked near Old Town Square, formerly the Jewish ghetto, there is remarkable history preserved here. Visit the oldest existing synagogue in Europe, the Jewish Cemetery and Jewish City Hall, and observe monuments which survived Nazi occupation.

14. Clementinum National Library – Klementinum

Prague’s second largest complex (after the castle), the National Library houses an astronomical tower, Mirror Chapel, and Baroque Library Hall. A Jesuit college in 1556, the Charles University Library in 1622 and the National Library in 1781, many astronomers, scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, historians and musicians have gotten their smarts on here. Guided tours and daily concerts.

Wenceslas Square comes alive at night with many restaurants and street vendors

15. Wenceslas Square – Václavské náměstí

Wenceslas Square has been eyewitness to some of the Czech Republic’s most important historical events (including Prague Spring of 1968, the Velvet Revolution, and Václav Havel’s memorial). The historical boulevard in the heart of New Town is today lined with shops, restaurants and clubs.

16. Communist Museum – Muzeum komunismu

Original artifacts, statutes, a reconstructed classroom, interrogation room and historical videos offer a window into the communist era of Czechoslovakia. Ironically, the museum is located along one of Prague’s main shopping streets next to McDonald’s.

The Lennon Wall is often covered in people’s markings and graffiti

17. Lennon Wall – Lennonova zeď

A gritty and colorful haven of creative expression, the Lennon Wall’s origins date back to the 1970s when it was first known as the Wailing Wall, chalk-scribbled with poetry from Czech people. Following Lennon’s assassination in 1980, the wall’s chalk was replaced by colorful graffiti of Lennon’s lyrics and rallies for peace, love and freedom. Today, the wall’s messages and art continue to change daily.

18. Prague Zoo – Zoologická zahrada Praha

Perhaps more local than foreign tourists visit (with more than 1 million visitors annually), Prague Zoo is a favorite attraction set in the green Troja district of Prague. It’s possible to spend a full day at the zoo but the river cruise, Trója Chateau, vineyards and Botanical Gardens nearby are additional highlights.

The Zizkov Tower is most famous for the David Cerny sculptures crawling up the side

19. Žižkov Television Tower – Žižkovský vysílač

Soaring high above the Žižkov district of Prague, the TV tower has earned its fair share of criticism throughout its approximately 30-year history, mainly for its communist era roots and bizarre design. Speaking of bizarre design, David Černý’s crawling baby sculptures were added in 2000. The top of the tower has an observation deck and relaxation “pods”, a gourmet restaurant and luxury accommodation. And fortunately, unlike most other towers in Prague, this one has an elevator!

20. Vyšehrad

Still not overly touristy (but certainly getting there), it’s easy to spend at least a couple of hours here. Inside the stone-walled castle complex, there’s much to explore, including the Church of Saint Peter and Paul, the cemetery where many famous Czechs are laid to rest (Dvořák, Smetana and Mucha), green parks, 360 views of the area, restaurants, cafes and an outdoor beer garden and grill.

Fallen in love with Prague like we have? We’ve got a trip for that! When you book the Gay River Cruise – 2015 Gay Oktoberfest & Danube River Cruise you can also book a 4 day pre-tour in Prague! For all of the details, go here. 

This article was originally posted on Eating Prague Tours

 

Stopover in Bratislava, Slovakia

Take a short trip to the dynamic “Beauty on the Danube.”

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post. 

The Slovakian capital boasts wonderfully preserved medieval architecture and contemporary buildings alongside remnants of its communist past. Having been under the control of many empires and rulers, Slovakia officially gained independence from Czechoslovakia in 1993, making it a very new country in comparison to its European counterparts. Bratislava is an eclectic place that showcases this historical past throughout the city.

The “Beauty on the Danube” is the perfect getaway for a curious traveler wishing to see off the beaten path Europe, something many tourists omit from their itineraries. The city is just a short hour-long bus ride away from Vienna, the Austrian capital known for its classical architecture and music. Alternatively, Bratislava lies along the popular bus route from Prague to Budapest (and vice versa) that virtually always makes a stop in Slovakia to unload and load new passengers. With endless travel possibilities, Bratislava is easily connected to other major points of interest just a few hours away.

It is a very walkable city with a quaint downtown area filled with restaurants, cafes, shops, and other landmarks. Stroll through Old Town to see Bratislava’s medieval culture come to life, while heading up to the city’s impressive castle. Located on a giant hill overlooking the Danube River, the Bratislava Castle dates back to prehistoric times, and was later occupied by the Celts and Romans. It can be easily seen throughout the city, and offers amazing views of the river and the largest communist-era concrete block housing complex in Central Europe. Directly across from the castle is the Slovakian parliament building, illustrating the contrast between modernity and antiquity. Head back down the hill to St. Martin’s Cathedral, the largest church in Bratislava, that showcases both Gothic and Baroque style architecture.

Spanning across the Danube is the interesting SNP Bridge, which contains a flying saucer-looking structure that houses a restaurant named UFO. Offering stunning views overlooking the skyline of Bratislava and the surrounding area, the restaurant is highly rated for its traditional Slovakian and international cuisine.

One great thing for budget travelers is that this city is incredibly cheap! Head over to ORBIS Street Food for a taste of the streets across the world and its infamous Belgian frites. Try some delicious, inexpensive traditional Slovakian food at the Slovak Pub, frequently by Bratislava’s many university students. Hit up Regal Burger for some American comfort food and a local beer.

This is also a perfect destination for nightlife due to its compact nature and variety of bars and clubs to choose from. For an unforgettable night out, go to Subclub, an underground club located in a former Soviet bunker under Bratislava Castle. With a cover charge around €5 and 0.5 liter beers for €1.30, this is one of the most unique venues around to dance to techno, drum & bass, and electro house music.

The city is best discovered by chance, without an agenda. Tourists often assume that one needs to have a massive hour-by-hour itinerary in order to accomplish a checklist. Travelers, on the other hand, strive to get acquainted with a new place in the eyes of the locals. Bratislava is definitely a city for the latter, someone wishing to uncover a hidden gem of Europe at a relaxed pace. Wander through the streets and Old Town area in the hopes of understanding the rich, dynamic past of the city. Everything is relatively concentrated inside a compact area, making “sightseeing” very simple. Slovakians are also very nice and genuinely happy to see foreigners exploring their country. Don’t be afraid to get to know this beautiful, underrated city!

We have the perfect chance for anyone who wishes to see this gem of a city to do just that! Bratislava is part of our Gay River Cruise – 2015 Gay Oktoberfest & Danube River Cruise, which also features cities such as Vienna and Budapest! For more information on this exciting trip, go here.

Gay European River Cruising

If you’ve never tried a gay cruise, here are five reasons it might be for you!

    • There’s no better place to make new friends. Seriously, next to college and summer camp (both of which you’ve probably outgrown), gay vacations offer the best opportunity to share new experiences with new people. Ask any gay cruise veteran the best part about their vacation, and they inevitably say, “Making new friends.” As adults, we don’t have many environments that are conducive for making new best friends. Cruising is one of them.
    • It’s a vacation from planning a vacation. Not that there aren’t options (particularly on the big gay cruises, there are dozens of dining and entertainment opportunities every moment of the day), but the freedom comes in choosing to do what you feel like, when you feel like it, and having it all available without much planning or thinking, and almost all of it without an additional charge.
    • Value. Most guests spend a few hundred dollars beyond the upfront price for drinks, shore excursions, spa treatments and other extras. And some spend thousands. But you can easily go the whole trip without spending an extra dime. Our Oktoberfest cruise includes all Wine and Spirits on board the ship!
    • Variety. If you have Gay-DD, European cruising was made for you. You’ll get to sample lots of different places and cultures. What could be more fabulous than drinking wine in Bordeaux one day, hitting the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao another, and then dancing the night away in Ibiza, all without ever repacking your suitcase?
    • Community. And the freedom to be yourself within it. Whether your freak flag flies toward silly, sexy or serious, there are few experiences as liberating, empowering and supportive as an all-gay environment.

 

GAY OKTOBERFEST IN MUNICH &
RHINE RIVER CRUISE

$1,999 per person – Lower Deck Cabins

Deposit $500 per person due upon booking. A second deposit of $500 per person is due by February 1, 2014. Final payment is due May 17, 2014.

$2,199 per person – Upper Decks

Deposit $500 per person due upon booking. A second deposit of $500 per person is due by February 1, 2014. Final payment is due May 17, 2014.
 
For more information:
http://www.alandchuck.travel/trip/?triID=14