Day by Day Itinerary

When you travel to Eastern Europe, you’ll peer behind the former Iron Curtain and find a region and people who are an integral part of contemporary European life. This is a vibrant world with its own deeply ingrained character and a 2,000-year-old cultural heritage that bridges the gap between the East and West. We’ve built into your Eastern European itinerary rare opportunities for you to meet the people where they live, work, and play. Dine in the home of a Polish family, meet with the son of an Auschwitz survivor, and learn about Hungary’s political past and present during a discussion with a university professor.

Berlin Budapest Expand All
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    Travel to Eastern Europe today for your flight to Berlin. Please refer to your individual air itinerary for exact flight times.

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    Arrive this morning or afternoon in Berlin. A Grand Circle representative will meet you at the airport and assist with the transfer to your hotel, where you'll meet your Program Director and your fellow travelers (including those who took our Berlin, Germany pre-trip extension) and enjoy an orientation walk in the area surrounding your hotel.

    Gather with your travel companions this evening for a Welcome Drink, followed by a Welcome Dinner in your hotel.

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    Discover the city that once represented the Cold War and is now the face of the rebirth of Eastern Europe on an included city tour that will introduce you to Berlin's rich history and vibrant present. You'll visit the Brandenburg gate, a symbol of triumphant spirit which is perhaps Berlin's most recognizable landmark. You'll also discover Checkpoint Charlie, the most famous crossing between the two German states, and a powerful symbol of the divide between East and West.

    The spirit of modern Berlin is also well-represented in the new Reichstag building. The original structure was badly damaged by the Soviets during the battle for Berlin at the end of World War II. The reconstructed building now features an impressive glass dome on top of the building, to represent the openness and transparency of the German government for the modern age. You'll see the Reichstag building from the outside during your tour. 

    The afternoon is yours to explore on your own, or you may want to visit Potsdam, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, during an optional tour. You'll discover Glienicke Bridge, better known as the “Bridge of Spies” during the Cold War. Then visit the Cecilienhof Palace to discover the important role Potsdam played during the post-World War II era. Stalin, Truman, and Churchill met here to determine how to deal with a defeated Germany. You will also enjoy a walk through the gardens at Sanssouci Park, which offers a large selection of flowers across the sprawling landscape. The cost of this optional tour includes dinner.

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    After breakfast, transfer by train to Warsaw.

    We arrive in Warsaw late this afternoon and settle into our hotel for our three-night stay.

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    After breakfast this morning, set off on a half-day Warsaw city tour. Once a vibrant and glorious capital, Warsaw suffered heavy damage during World War II, and the Nazis virtually destroyed it after the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. Its rebirth and rebuilding since the end of the war is inspirational, as you'll see on your visit to the historic reconstructed Old Town, surrounded by 14th- and 15th-century walls. Located on the left bank of the Vistula, the "Queen of Polish Rivers," Old Town's narrow, winding streets, charming houses, churches, and cobblestone marketplace will enchant you. Your walk will be enhanced by the fact that the Old Town is closed to all traffic except pedestrians and horse-drawn cabs.

    You'll travel down the Royal Road, from beautiful Lazienki Park to the Royal Palace, and stand before the Heroes of the Ghetto Memorial, a large but simple slab of dark granite in the heart of the World War II Jewish ghetto.

    The best way to peer deep inside a culture is through its people—this is a belief that Grand Circle takes to heart. That's why we've arranged for you to be welcomed into a local home in the area near Warsaw for a unique opportunity to see how the Polish people really live, and to get acquainted with a local family as you break bread and share conversation with them during an intimate dinner in their home.

    Your visit will give you invaluable insight into the daily lives of this region. During this exclusive cultural exchange, you'll witness firsthand the proud traditions of generations past, gain an appreciation of the importance of family in this culture, and perhaps look into the eyes of Poland's future in its young adults and children. And, of course, a highlight of your visit will be a delicious, traditional home-cooked meal, and maybe even some of that famed Polish vodka.

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    This morning, meet with the son of a former Auschwitz prisoner to learn about the strength and courage of a concentration camp survivor. Then the day is yours to relax or explore—or a little of both. You may want to revisit places that you saw on yesterday's city tour. Maybe you'll enjoy a bird's-eye overview of the city from the towering Palace of Culture and Science. From here, you can gaze across the Vistula River at the Praga, a former artisans' district.

    Ask your Program Director for suggestions on where to dine on your own tonight. Warsaw is teeming with kawiarnia (cafes), which move outdoors in the summer. You may want to find one where you can enjoy your evening meal.

    Or, in the early evening, you can attend an optional Chopin piano recital with dinner, enjoying the music of Poland's best-known and most beloved musician.

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    After an early breakfast, travel to one of Eastern Europe's cultural capitals, Krakow, during a 200-mile transfer that takes a full day (including stops). During the transfer, you'll pause for a visit to the shrine at Czestochowa. Religion and spirituality are an integral part of Polish society—deeply felt and solemnly celebrated. You'll experience this for yourself during your visit to the 14th-century Jasna Gora Monastery in Czestochowa.

    Once a year, tens of thousands of pilgrims walk from Warsaw to Czestochowa to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption. It's a nine-day journey, one that dramatically symbolizes the religious devotion of the Polish people. What draws them is the legendary “Black Madonna,” a Byzantine painting of the Virgin Mary that is housed in the hilltop Jasna Gora Monastery. The portrait, which is attributed to St. Luke, has several levels of significance to the Polish people. It became the eternal symbol of Polish nationalism in the 17th century when a small band of soldiers and monks successfully defended the sanctuary against a Swedish assault. Additionally, the portrait is said to have miraculous powers. The slashes on her cheeks are believed to have been wrought by a would-be thief who became enraged during his attempted theft when the painting mysteriously grew heavier and heavier, forcing him to leave it behind.

    You'll find yourself among a community of devout Poles of all ages and classes, the monastery's religious populace, and the bustling market with religious statues, rosary beads, and mementos.

    Please note: The shrine of Czestochowa is one of the most visited religious sites, so travelers should expect large crowds and there is a chance you may not be able to see the Black Madonna, particularly during pilgrimage.

    Upon your arrival in Krakow—the seat of Poland's oldest university and the capital of the country until 1596—join your Program Director for a vicinity walk to familiarize yourself with the area around your hotel.

    Gather with your fellow travelers for dinner this evening and enjoy included entertainment during a folk performance.

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    In the fifteenth century, the legendary astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus studied at the University of Krakow, fostering a love of science, mathematics, and philosophy that would help to fuel his subsequent revolutionary scientific breakthroughs. You'll learn more about Krakow's role in the Scientific Revolution during a Krakow in the Age of Copernicus exclusive Discovery Series lecture this morning.

    You'll then have the opportunity to explore Krakow's seven centuries of architecture during an included city tour. In 1978, the city was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s full of cathedrals, churches, and sacred art. Krakow survived World War II with little damage, and the city center stands today much as it did during its medieval days. You’ll visit Market Square, the center of city life for more than 700 years. Admire the elegant plaza ringed with churches and regal medieval buildings, with the enormous Draper’s Hall market as the focal point. You'll also explore the Old Jewish quarter of Kazimierz, and stroll through its narrow streets.

    This afternoon, enjoy free time to make your own discoveries, perhaps taking in one of the city’s many fine museums.

    Or, join an optional tour to the Wieliczka Salt Mines this afternoon—working mines that have been in operation for more than seven centuries, producing about 700 tons of pure salt per day. These fascinating mines are considered one of Europe’s great wonders and are protected by UNESCO as a historic monument. Here are more than 2,000 caverns of underground beauty on nine main levels—breathtaking chambers, galleries, and salt lakes. After exploring the mines, end the day with a typical Polish dinner in a local restaurant, accompanied by a sample of Zubrowka, the famous Polish vodka. Please note: This optional tour involves extensive walking inside caves that are not brightly lit. You’ll descend into the caves by elevator, but later on there will be steps (always going down). You'll return to ground level via elevator.

    Dinner is on your own this evening.

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    This morning may be an emotional one, as you visit Oswiecim, better known to Americans by its German name of Auschwitz. This is the location of the State Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau, set on the site of the largest of the World War II concentration camps as a memorial to the millions of Jews, Gypsies, and “enemies” of the Nazi regime who were killed here. Grand Circle Foundation has donated generously to assist in the expansion of this educational center.

    You’ll visit the infamous concentration camp at Auschwitz and make a brief stop at Birkenau, often referred to as Auschwitz II. This was one of about 40 satellite camps built around Auschwitz.

    You'll then return to Krakow and spend this free afternoon at leisure.

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    Enjoy a full day to discover the treasures of Krakow on your own. Or, join us for an optional full-day tour to Zakopane, a lovely town in the foothills of the Tatra Mountains. Zakopane offers a look into the richness of Polish folk culture, as well as some of the region's most striking wooden architecture. Once there, you’ll enjoy a tour of the town known as the “winter capital of Poland,” including a horse-drawn carriage ride through the village streets, as well as the forests of nearby Tatra National Park. You might also be tempted to try some local delicacies, like oscypek—a rustic, smoked cheese usually made of sheep’s milk—over dinner, which is included with the cost of the optional tour and is accompanied by colorful folk entertainment.

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    After an early breakfast, begin your transfer to Prague, stopping en route in the Czech city of Olomouc for lunch. Upon arrival at your hotel in Prague, enjoy an orientation walk, followed by a Welcome Drink.

    Dinner tonight is included.

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    After breakfast, set off this morning on a tour of the city, soaking in the spell cast by palaces, churches, and museums in this “City of a Hundred Spires.” Prague’s regal beauty spreads on both sides of the winding Vltava River, connected by 16 picturesque bridges. Like Rome and San Francisco, the city is built over a series of hills and its varied architecture spans many centuries.

    Enjoy time to discover Prague on your own this afternoon. Tonight, enjoy an included dinner with accompanying polka dance entertainment.

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    After breakfast at your hotel, enjoy an exclusive Discovery Series lecture discussing the Czech Republic's current economic and political situation, as well as a historical overview to put it into context.

    Then, spend the morning and early afternoon exploring at your own pace followed by an included tour of Sychrov Castle, an 18th-century aristocratic residence built in Neo-Gothic style. Dinner is included at a local restaurant tonight.

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    After an early breakfast, begin your day-long ride to Budapest (about 300 miles). You’ll stop for an included lunch in Bratislava. The capital of Slovakia, Bratislava has a history dating to Celtic and Roman times. Though the Czech Republic and Slovakia were united as Czechoslovakia for nearly 75 years, they each have distinctive personalities, languages, and landscapes. You’ll get a taste of Slovakian fare during lunch here, along with a lovely walk with your Program Director in the Old Town of Bratislava.

    After checking into your hotel in Budapest, enjoy a Welcome Drink. Dinner is on your own this evening.

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    After breakfast, enjoy an exclusive Discovery Series discussion of Hungary’s Political Past & Present, led by a professor from Budapest University. Then, embark on a tour of Hungary’s lovely capital, situated on both sides of the magnificent Danube River. In Buda, on the right bank of the Danube, you'll view a grand panorama of the entire city and visit Matthias Church, where the Hungarian kings were crowned. Cross over the Danube bridges and see how the imposing Parliament Building dominates Pest, on the other side of the river.

    From the Elisabeth Bridge, the tour takes you to Heroes Square, with monuments to all the Hungarian kings.

    Your afternoon is free to explore on your own. Perhaps you’ll want to return to Vaci Utca, the shop-lined, pedestrian-only street where you’ll find excellent Herend porcelain, peasant embroidery, and other souvenirs of Hungary. Or you may want to visit Castle Hill, encircled by ramparts that protect the massive castle complex. Destroyed during World War II, the palace has been restored to its original splendor and is now a vast museum complex where remains of the original structure are displayed.

    After dinner on your own this evening, regroup with your fellow passengers for a scenic evening cruise down the legendary Danube River.

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    You have the full day at leisure to explore Budapest on your own. The city was made for walking, and you may want to stroll along the Danube. You can visit the 19th-century National Museum, perhaps Budapest’s most famous monument.

    This evening, join your fellow travelers for a special Farewell Dinner.

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    • Meals included:

    After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight home. Or begin your optional extension in Vienna, Austria.


Traveler Reviews

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Questions and Answers

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Questions and Answers

Want to know more about one of our vacations? Now, when you post a question, travelers who have been on that trip can provide you with an honest, unbiased answer based on their experience—providing you with a true insider’s perspective.

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Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.

Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

Currency Cheat Sheet: Submit

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect


  • 5 locations in 16 days

Physical Requirements

  • Not accessible for travelers using wheelchairs or scooters
  • Travelers using walkers, crutches, or other mobility aids must travel with a companion who can assist them throughout the trip
  • You must be able to walk 1.5 miles unassisted and participate in 2 hours of physical activities each day, including stairs


  • Daytime temperatures range from 35-79°F during touring season
  • June-August are the warmest months, with occasional thunderstorms and rain
  • March-May and November-December weather can be unpredictable and change quickly within a short period of time


  • Travel over uneven walking surfaces, unpaved paths, hills, stone and wooden stairs, and cobblestones


  • Travel by 49-seat motorcoach, train, and tour boat


  • Meals will be based on the local cuisine, with limited options for vegetarians

Travel Documents


Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.


U.S. citizens do not need a visa for this trip.

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then your entry requirements may be different. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your vacation, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Program Directors and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips


Main Trip

  • Andel's Hotel Berlin

    Berlin, Germany | Rating: Superior First Class

    This modern, Superior First-Class hotel includes three restaurants, spa and fitness center, and relaxation terrace, plus panoramic views of Berlin on the twelfth and 14th floors. Each of the 557 rooms and suites features a telephone, TV, high-speed Internet access, coffee- and tea-making facilities, minibar, safe, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • The Westin Warsaw

    Warsaw, Poland | Rating: Deluxe

    Located in the heart of the city, the Deluxe Westin Warsaw is within walking distance of Warsaw's Old Town, Market Square, and many verdant parks. Hotel amenities include a fitness center, spa, and restaurant, featuring international cuisine. Each air-conditioned room includes satellite TV, telephone, safe, and private bath.

  • Radisson Blu Krakow Hotel

    Krakow, Poland | Rating: Deluxe

    The Radisson Blu Krakow Hotel is near the Philharmonic Cracovia, Main Market, and Royal Castle Wawel. This Deluxe hotel offers a coffee shop, bar, and restaurant featuring a breakfast buffet and specialties from the Krakow region. Other facilities include a fitness center and sauna. Your air-conditioned room includes a minibar, TV, and hair dryer.

  • Clarion Congress Hotel

    Prague, Czech Republic

    The Superior First-Class Clarion Congress Hotel, conveniently located by public transportation and within easy reach of the city center, features modern amenities including a wellness and fitness center as well as on-site restaurants and bars. Each air-conditioned room offers high-speed Internet access, telephone, TV, minibar, safe, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Courtyard by Marriott Budapest City Center

    Budapest, Hungary | Rating: First Class

    Located on Blaha Lujza Square in the city center, this First-Class, 235-room hotel is within walking distance of many local cafes and features an on-site restaurant and health club. Your air-conditioned room includes a refrigerator, flat-screen cable/satellite TV, high-speed Internet access, safe, and private bath with hair dryer.


  • Andel's Hotel Berlin

    Berlin, Germany | Rating: Superior First Class

    This modern, Superior First-Class hotel includes three restaurants, spa and fitness center, and relaxation terrace, plus panoramic views of Berlin on the twelfth and 14th floors. Each of the 557 rooms and suites features a telephone, TV, high-speed Internet access, coffee- and tea-making facilities, minibar, safe, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • ARCOTEL Kaiserwasser

    Vienna, Austria | Rating: Superior First Class

    Located across from the Vienna International Centre, and featuring convenient access to public transportation, the Superior First-Class ARCOTEL Kaiserwasser is just a ten-minute subway ride away from the center of Vienna and St. Stephen's Cathedral. Amenities include a fitness center, bar, and restaurant. Each of its 282 air-conditioned rooms features complimentary wireless Internet access, flat-screen TV, telephone, minibar, safe, and private bath with hair dryer.

Flight Information

Flight Options to Personalize Your Trip

You can choose to stay longer before or after your trip on your own, or combine two vacations to maximize your value.

  • Extend your vacation and lower your per day cost with our optional pre- and post-trip excursions
  • Choose our standard air routing, or work with us to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline, applying frequent flyer miles if available
  • International airport transfers to and from your ship or hotel, including meet and greet service, are available for purchase
  • Stay overnight in a connecting city before or after your trip
  • Request to arrive a few days early to get a fresh start on your vacation
  • Choose to "break away" before or after your trip, spending additional days or weeks on your own
  • Combine your choice of Grand Circle vacations to maximize your value
  • Upgrade to business or premium class

The air options listed above may involve additional airfare costs based on your specific choices.

Or, when you make your reservation, you can choose our standard air routing, for which approximate travel times are shown below.

Partner since: 2005
Total donated: $489,600

Keeping Alive the Lessons of the Holocaust

Grand Circle Foundation is proud to work with historic sites around the globe. We contributed to the UNESCO World Monuments Fund, as well as smaller preservation organizations—when you travel with us, you are helping us change lives in this historic and irreplaceable site.

State Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau

Partner since: 1995 • Total donated: $439,000

Just by traveling with us, you help us ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust endure. During World War II, more than one million people died within the Auschwitz network of concentration camps. Today the State Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau serves as a resource for Holocaust research and education, as well as a memorial to those who lost their lives here. Foundation donations have helped in the renovation and creation of an education center. The museum’s Deputy Director Krystyna Olesky says of the Foundation's continued support, “We are greatly indebted. With your help, we are educating future generations.”

Alan and Harriet Lewis founded Grand Circle Foundation in 1992 as a means of giving back to the world we travel. Because they donate an annually determined amount of revenue from our trips, we consider each one of our travelers as a partner in the Foundation’s work around the world. To date, the Foundation has pledged or donated more than $97 million in support of 300 different organizations—including 60 villages and nearly 100 schools that lie in the paths of our journeys.

Read More

What Makes This Trip Unique

Exclusive Discovery Series Events

  • Home-Hosted Dinner. Get acquainted with a local family in Warsaw and learn about Polish traditions and local lore.
  • Auschwitz discussion. Meet with the son of a Polish concentration camp survivor to learn about his father's story.
  • Krakow in the Age of Copernicus discussion. Learn about Krakow's role in the Scientific Revolution.
  • Czech Republic's Political & Economic Past & Present discussion. Learn how the political and economic histories of the country have affected today's society.
  • Hungary’s Political Past & Present discussion. Discover the forces that shaped the nation during this presentation led by a Budapest University professor.

Enjoy the opportunity to visit 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites

  • Potsdam
  • Historic Center of Warsaw
  • Historic Center of Krakow
  • Wieliczka Salt Mines
  • Auschwitz-Birkenau
  • Historic Center of Prague
  • Banks of the Danube
  • Buda Castle Quarter

10 Reasons to Experience The Best of Eastern Europe—in the Words of Our Travelers

We often find that the best endorsements of our discovery-rich vacations come directly from our travelers. From the history-steeped cities to powerful WWII landmarks, here are some memorable experiences our travelers shared from our Eastern Europe tour.

Krakow, Poland
"Krakow is an incredible city. The old town is the best for great restaurants and we tried to dine at most. The beer is top notch too!""
A 12-time traveler from Ridgefield, WA

Program Directors
"There aren't words enough to describe what a marvelous group leader Tomas is. We had a large group that he kept well organized, fun, and excited about every country we visited. I've made a number of trips with Grand Circle and OAT, and Tomas is one of the BEST program directors EVER!"
A 17-time traveler from Blowing Rock, NC

Local history
"I enjoy 20th-century history and found this trip right up my alley ... Among the spots I chose to visit on my free time were the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising in Warsaw, Schindler's Factory Museum of the German Occupation in Krakow, and the House of Terror Museum in Budapest."
A 12-time traveler from Fullerton, CA

Berlin, Germany pre-trip extension
"I took the Pre-Trip in Berlin. That was a good decision because it allowed visits to the museums on Museum Island and the Pergamon with the Gate of Ishtar and the other museums. Also allowed us to see all of the other important sites in Berlin."
A 5-time traveler from Schertz, TX

Home-Hosted Dinner
"The home visit in Poland was a very special evening as the family was warm and charming, the food excellent, and the Polish vodka a real treat."
An 8-time traveler from Chester, CA

Budapest, Hungary
"Budapest, located on the banks of the Danube, is a beautiful, elegant city and reminded me of Paris ... we had a cruise on the Danube at night, which was magical. The city, bridges, and monuments were lit up and it was incredibly beautiful."
A 9-time traveler from Columbia, SC

Jewish experience
"Our visits to Auschwitz-Birkenau and various Holocaust memorials were extremely emotional and meaningful for us as Jews. Also, during our free time, we were able to visit many synagogues in Krakow, Prague, and Budapest – this was another highlight of our trip, even though sad, because due to the Holocaust, almost all of the synagogues are now museums. These memories we will carry with us for the rest of our lives."
A first-time traveler from Lake Worth, FL

Zakopane optional tour
"For me, one of my personal highlights of the entire trip was spending a day and a night in the ski resort border city of Zakopane, Poland. It had snowed the night before and the distant mountains were covered; the view was memorable, and coupled with the chalet-type houses, it was a wonderful diversion from the big cities."
A 6-time traveler from Greenwood, IN

Prague, Czech Republic
"Prague was all what every travel magazine describes, old and gorgeous, its clock-watching square in the city center crowded with people from every corner of the earth."
A 4-time traveler from Indio, CA

Wieliczka Salt Mines optional tour
"The visit to the salt mines was fascinating. The 190-feet descent on a rickety, small, dark elevator, that held fewer than a dozen people in close quarters, was intimidating at first but in the end it was something that we could laugh at."
A 4-time traveler from Weaverville, NC

For reservations and information on our Eastern Europe tour, call us toll-free at 1-800-221-2610

Berlin: Destined to Change

Discovering the ever-evolving German capital

by Max Krafft for Grand Circle

Berlin would be a challenge to sum up neatly even if it wasn’t a city in near-constant flux.

As the second-largest city in Europe and a German state in and of itself, Berlin would be a challenge to sum up neatly even if it wasn’t a city in near-constant flux. To the casual eye, this sprawling metropolis can seem unruly or chaotic, a hodgepodge of architectural styles, a patchwork of parkland and seemingly unplanned city blocks. Certainly, when I stepped out from the Hauptbahnhof (Berlin’s main train station) for the first time, I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the place … almost like my first visit to New York.

A humble beginning

Berlin wasn’t always such a big place, having begun as one of a pair of 13th-century fishing and trading towns (the other being Colln) that faced each other across the Spree River. The two merged in 1307 under the collective name Berlin, and from that point, the city simply never stopped growing.

By the start of World War I, Germany was the most powerful industrial nation in Europe, with Berlin as its hub. But following its defeat, Germany was in crisis. With its territory diminished, its emperor abdicated, its people facing burgeoning unemployment, and its treasury burdened by mounting debt, Germany welcomed a new, liberal, democratic government, with its capital located—naturally—in Berlin: the Weimar Republic.
The “Roaring Twenties” of the Weimar Republic are widely viewed as Berlin’s golden age. It was the rise of the Bauhaus in art, design, and architecture; and the blossoming of cabaret culture. But this golden age was not without its dark side. Labor strikes were common, unemployment was endemic, and the Nazi Party was gathering strength, culminating with Adolf Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor in 1933.

War, division, and new beginnings

Berlin was transformed from a free-spirited, international city to the capital of the Third Reich. The Jewish population of the city—which had previously numbered around 170,000 and been an integral part of Berlin’s culture—was decimated during this time, and the city itself was eventually laid to waste during the intense Allied bombing campaigns and Soviet invasion that finally brought an end to World War II in Europe.

Following the war, the allied powers divided Germany into four sectors—the Soviet Union controlling the east, the United States the south, Britain the west, and France the north—and the city of Berlin was divided similarly, resting as an island in the midst of the Soviet sector. Their fragile alliance soon dissolved with the start of the Cold War, and the USSR first attempted to blockade the entire city of Berlin—then divided it in half.

Berlin remained completely divided—with East Berlin becoming increasingly impoverished under Soviet rule while West Berlin facing ever-present threats—for almost 40 years. Finally, following a rapid series of changes in Soviet Bloc countries, increasing pressure from the West, and a mounting desire among Berliners to make their city whole again, the wall came down in 1989, and in 1990 the two halves of Berlin—and Germany—became one.

This reunited city has celebrated a new era of economic and cultural growth—with gleaming skyscrapers springing up in Potsdamer Platz, historical sites restored to their former glory, and a thriving youth culture that hearkens back to its Weimar-era golden age. But, again, it hasn’t come without cost: Debt following the fall of the Berlin Wall has been staggering, a precarious economic position that, coupled with the city’s resurgent popularity led Berlin’s mayor, Klaus Wowereit, to quip that Berlin is “poor, but sexy.”

Discovering modern Berlin

You might not be able to experience all that Berlin has to offer in a day (or even a month), but a short stay should be enough to get you caught up in its zeitgeist. A good place to begin your discoveries of this eclectic and energetic city is in the middle, literally. The Mitte district (German for “middle”) is the historical center of the city and was the heart of East Berlin. There, you’ll find the city’s greatest concentration of historical sites, as well as modern shopping districts, popular cafes, and countless museums and galleries.

One of the first things to see is the famous Brandenburg Gate, which hearkens back both to Berlin’s Prussian past as a walled city in the 18th century and its more recent history, the site of President Ronald Reagan’s 1987 speech challenging the Soviet Union to “tear down” the Berlin Wall.

The Brandenburg Gate also marks the beginning of Unter den Linden, one of Berlin’s oldest and most beautiful avenues, named for the linden trees that line its sides. Stroll down this street for a few blocks and you’ll come to Friedrichstrasse, a major street made famous for its Weimar-era cabarets, then bisected by the Berlin Wall, and now rebuilt into a bustling thoroughfare. Turning south here will bring you to the site of Checkpoint Charlie, site of one of the tensest standoffs between Allied and Soviet forces during the Cold War. Continuing south will take you to Berlin’s Jewish Museum—opened in 2001, this museum serves not only as a memorial to those killed or driven out during the Holocaust, but as a celebration of Jewish culture in Germany throughout its history.

With a busy day of touring behind you, you’ll appreciate the many opportunities Berlin provides to eat and relax. Grab a currywurst or a doner kebab—two fast foods invented in Berlin, the former being pork sausage with curry sauce and the latter a shaved lamb sandwich created and popularized by Berlin’s Turkish residents—with a bottle of local beer. Or sit down for a lavish gourmet meal at one of the city’s twelve Michelin-starred restaurants. It may be worth asking if the restaurant you’ve chosen takes credit cards, as Berlin is still largely a cash-only city—fortunately, ATMs are everywhere.

Photos From Our Travelers

On location in Europe

Here’s how Grand Circle travelers have captured moments of discovery, beauty, friendship, and fun on previous departures of our The Best of Eastern Europe vacation. We hope these will evoke special travel memories and inspire you to submit your own favorite Grand Circle Travel trip photos.


Five-time traveler Eric Mauer of Woodland Hills, California, dances with the locals in Krakow, Poland.

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How to submit your photos:

Please submit individual photos in jpeg format to:

Please be sure to include the name of your Grand Circle vacation, along with the travel dates. Tell us where you took the photo and, if you’d like, tell us why. And don’t forget to include your name and contact information.

Please note: By submitting a photo, you (i) represent and warrant that the photo is your original work created solely by yourself and does not infringe the intellectual property rights of any party; (ii) grant to Grand Circle LLC and its affiliates a worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual, transferable, irrevocable, non-exclusive and fully sublicensable right and license to use, in any and all related media whether now known or hereafter devised, in perpetuity, anywhere in the world, with the right to make any and all commercial or other uses thereof, including without limitation, reproducing, editing, modifying, adapting, publishing, displaying publicly, creating derivative works from, incorporating into other works or modifying the photo and (iii) hereby release and discharge Grand Circle LLC and its affiliates, officers and employees from and against any and all claims, liabilities, costs, damages and expenses of any kind arising out of or relating to the use by Grand Circle LLC of any photo submitted.