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 and briefing, followed by a Welcome Dinner at 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, depart Berlin for Warsaw, traveling by train.

    Arrive in Warsaw late this afternoon. This evening, get acquainted with the area around your hotel on an orientation walk before dinner at a local restaurant.

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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. 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.

    Spend the afternoon at your leisure. This evening, you'll have 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, 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.

    The rest of 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.

    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 and dinner.

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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, learn about current economic and political situation, as well as a historical overview to put it into context, during an exclusive Discovery Series Czech Republic's Past & Present discussion.

    Spend the rest of 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

  • Walk 1.5 miles unassisted and participate in 2 hours of physical activities daily, including stairs
  • 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
  • Program Directors reserve the right to modify participation or send travelers home if their limitations impact the group’s experience

Terrain & Transportation

  • Uneven walking surfaces, unpaved paths, hills, stone and wooden stairs, and cobblestones
  • Travel by 49-seat motorcoach, train, and tour boat


  • 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


  • 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

Customize Your Trip

Whether you choose to take just a base trip or add an optional pre- and post-trip extension, you have many options when it comes to customizing your trip—and creating your own unique travel experience:

Purchase Flights with Grand Circle

  • Choose the departure city and airline that works best for you
  • Depart from one city and return to another
  • Upgrade your air itinerary based on your travel preferences
  • “Break away” before or after your trip to explore independently or re-energize
  • Combine two or more trips to make the most of your value—and avoid another long flight
  • Extend your discoveries with pre- or post-trip extensions

Make Your Own Arrangements

  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline
  • Purchase optional airport transfers to and from your hotel
  • Extend your Land Tour-only Travel Protection Plan coverage and protect the air arrangements you make on your own—including your frequent flyer miles

OR, leave your air routing up to us and your airfare (as well as airport transfers) will be included in your final trip cost.

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 $164 million in support of 300 different organizations—including 60 villages and nearly 100 schools that lie in the paths of our journeys.

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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 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 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 World War II landmarks, here are some memorable experiences our travelers shared from our Eastern Europe tour.

Local history
"My most memorable moment was the history! Not a single event, of course—but the framework for the trip. Learning from both older and younger people who experienced the last events and seeing the pride of where they are now. Experiencing, for example, Independence Day in Poland. Witnessing the traditional pride and the pride of being able to demonstrate in less traditional ways. This is the present in Eastern Europe. A great time to visit these proud countries. It will never be like it is now."
A 5-time traveler from La Conner, WA

Home-Hosted Dinner
"The Polish Home-Hosted Dinner was an exceptional evening. The fabulous food and the family conversation provided wonderful sharing and we got to see firsthand their personal local industry."
A 3-time traveler from Fairfax Station, VA

"Of course, the trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau was painful and somber, but I particularly wanted to visit this site to honor my middle school French teacher who was a survivor of Auschwitz. A group of high school students from Israel were visiting while we were there. Most of them wore Star of David flags as they toured the camp. It was good to see these young people bearing witness to this historical atrocity."
An 8-time traveler from Harrisonburg, VA

Optional Chopin piano recital
"The pianist at the Chopin recital was outstanding. We celebrated my friend’s birthday that night—lovely dinner and candle on the delicious dessert—a special night!"
A 2-time traveler from San Diego, CA

Budapest, Hungary
"Budapest, Hungary in itself is beautiful, memorable and, again, as with the other countries and cities, has worked toward restoring what once was theirs prior to the ravages of war and domination. We sailed on the Danube at night and viewed the beautiful buildings on each bank as well as the beauty of the bridges that had to be rebuilt after WWII. All bridges over the river were destroyed during the War."
A 17-time traveler from Littleton, NH

Local people
"I loved our stop in Gyor, Hungary, and Bratislava ... some of the smaller cities in which we stopped gave us a good view of everyday life and the opportunity to talk with locals.'"
A 3-time traveler from Durango, CO

Berlin, Germany pre-trip extension
"We did the Berlin pre-trip. I would definitely recommend that since you really do not have too much time there. We were able to tour the Parliament building, walk the old Jewish quarter, do several museums and eat like a local."
A 5-time traveler from Quincy, IL

Warsaw, Poland
"Warsaw was a pleasant surprise. Although heavily bombed in WWII, the Old Town in Warsaw has been reconstructed. The reconstructed Castle is a must-see since they hid all the furnishings, the paintings and the tapestry of the Castle, for 50 years, when the bombings first started. Now it has all been restored and it looks spectacular."
A 6-time traveler from Falls Church, VA

Local cuisine
"Try the cold fruit soups, grilled white cheese, the carbonated drink with elderberry syrup, sausages, duck, and the dessert wine made from wrinkled moldy grapes."
A first-time traveler from Martinez, CA

Zakopane optional tour
"I would highly recommend the optional Zakopane trip to see the mountains and countryside. You do get a lot of exposure to folklore."
A 26-time traveler from El Cajon, CA

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

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.

History, Culture & More

Learn more about the history, art, culture, and more you’ll discover on this trip by reading the features below. These articles were collected from past newsletters, Harriet’s Corner, and special features created for Grand Circle by our team of writers.

Berlin: Destined to Change

Discover the unique history and character of Germany’s ever-evolving capital, the second-largest city in Europe.

Read More »

The Preservation of Perfection

Delve into the myriad historical gems that comprise Prague’s spectacularly preserved European cityscape.

Read More »

Going Beyond Goulash

From rich wines to delectable desserts, see how Hungarian cuisine is so much more than its staple dish.

Read More »

History, Culture & More

Berlin: Destined to Change

by Max Krafft, for Grand Circle

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.

History, Culture & More

Prague: The Preservation of Perfection

by Albert C. Doyle from Insider

The citizens of Prague didn’t feel very lucky on the morning of March 16, 1939. In prior months, Britain and France had agreed to Hitler’s demands to cede the Sudetenland, southern Slovakia, and several northern Czech towns. The Czechs had strong fortifications along these frontiers, a well-equipped army primed to fight, and no taste for rolling over. But the Munich accords gave away the very lands where their fortifications stood; they’d been abandoned by the West and were left defenseless. By March 15th, with the Luftwaffe poised to launch an all-out aerial assault on Prague, the Czech army capitulated. Hitler flew to Prague the next day and announced the annexation of Czecho-Slovakia from the top of Prague Castle.

While it was surely as dark a day as any country should suffer, luckily, it did provide posterity with one bright silver lining: namely, the exquisite old city of Prague was never touched by a single bullet or bomb throughout the war, and is now the best preserved of all the great European capitals. We can count it as an unqualified blessing that this lovely wedding cake confection of a metropolis has been conferred down to us with such care.

Today, Prague impresses on a grand scale, not with the granite pomp of Hapsburg cities, but with a Gothic fairy-tale élan. The visitor is constantly charmed by twisty little cobblestoned alleys, crumbling ancient arches, and dusky medieval windows. And unlike many old towns that seem more theme park than genuine, Prague has integrated its centuries with the greatest of ease—its modern incarnation thrives with tremendous verve, arm-in-arm with its evocative timeworn ghosts.

Not many countries can boast a playwright/president (Vaclav Havel) whose best known work is an autobiographical satire of his years working in a communist brewery. Which reminds me: It’s a very strictly enforced law—so I’m told—that all visitors to Prague must drink a pint of pilsner within ten minutes of arrival. So before we start our virtual tour, let’s quickly set about finding ourselves a pivovar, or beer cellar.

I’m not a beer drinker, but I’m not an idiot, either. With respect to the heady sweet suds of the Belgian abbeys, the best beer in the world is Czech—a must-try. Pilsner Urquell is ubiquitous, and deserving of its international fame. But Staropramen, Budvar, Kumburak, and a variety of other ancient logos beckon to the weary-footed traveler from signs above the doorways to many old pivovars that have served beer for the better part of a millenium. A few, such as the endearing U Fleku, are theatrically engaging, but heavily touristed. Try U Sudu, well up into the Nove Mesto (New Town). It is an unforgettable journey into a smoky, subterranean honeycomb of interlocking hobbit holes which cannot possibly have changed much since the city’s most renowned bum’s rush, The Defenestration of Prague.

With beer comes students, and Prague never lacked for them. It was Europe’s greatest city in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, the most populous city on the continent, with as many citizens then as it has today. At its heart was the finest university mankind had ever developed, but later intrigues between schismatic popes and the Holy Roman Empire signaled its demise as a burgeoning academic center. In a power play, 25,000 foreign scholars were recalled, and sent instead to the newly formed University of Leipzig. Prague University never recovered its standing, but its relative obscurity may ironically have saved it from being enlarged, rebuilt, redeveloped, and otherwise swallowed up.

Begin your exploration of Prague by stepping out onto the Carolus (Charles) Bridge, connecting the Stare Mesto to Hrdcany (Castle District) and Mala Stana (The Little Town). The castle looming into the dark skies, the movie set detail of the Stare Mesto, the neoclassical grandeur of the great palaces stretching along the Vltava, the quirky monastic feel of the low-slung medina riverfront of Mala Strana hugging the far bank—perfection!

Prague is called the “City of 100 Spires,” and you can visit a substantial number of them during daylight hours, and quite frequently, in the evening, when string quartets and other classical ensembles will perform works by Chopin, Liszt, Czerny, and Dvorak as well as Mozart, Vivaldi, Brahms, and Beethoven. The modest fees to see the very talented ensembles play in medieval settings are directly responsible for the quite remarkable facelift that the city has undergone over the last 15 years.

I’ve taken you from a pint of pilsner in a subterranean pivovar out to one of the greatest bridges in Europe, and now we have five choices of which way to go. The first impulse might be to turn right back around, admire a few more of the dozens of statues lining the bridge, pass the glorious old Bridge tower, and re-enter the Stare Mesto. The former marketplace now sparkles as the Starometske Namesti, or town square. It is dominated by the extraordinary twin Gothic spires of Our Lady Before Tyn. They, too, are particularly vivid and haunting at night. The Church of St. Nicholas, flanking the square’s north side, also impresses, inside and out. The Town Hall boasts a magnificent belltower with its famous Orloj (Astronomical Clock) on it. Nearby, the Powder Gate, the Municipal House, and the Church of St. James are all worldclass attractions.

Whichever path you take, you’ll see all of these, and more. You can’t miss them. You’ll also see the Castle District of Hrdcany, with the single most prominent feature of the Prague skyline, St.Vitus’s Cathedral, soaring over an impressive suite of palaces and museums. Just across a cobblestoned square, the Loreto Palace is an obvious side visit, with its medieval art and its truly bizarre house of the Virgin Mary (they claim it to be her house, imported from Palestine). The Strahov Monastery and St. George’s Convent are both worth a look as well. And the stroll back down to Mala Strana is unforgettable.

At this point, most tours might conclude. The Old Town, the Bridge, the Castle—we’re done! Unless you slow down—say, wait, not so fast … Aren’t there three other riverside districts? Do yourself a favor and don’t rush back to the bridge too quickly. Instead, perhaps after refreshing yourself with another pilsner, continue wandering up into Mala Strana, Prague’s least explored delight. Peek in a tiny church or two. Meander through some gardens, grab a bite to eat, see the city’s other St. Nicholas church, very nearly as fine as the one on Starometske Namesti. Most importantly, stroll the riverbank a bit. Any New Yorker can tell you that the only way to see Manhattan is from the Brooklyn Promenade—similarly, the finest views of Old Town are from the banks of Mala Strana.

You can then cross the Legli Bridge into the Nove Mesto. The influx of western capital these past 15 years has really burnished the New Town’s former reputation for seediness. For a dozen or more blocks in from the river, the neighborhoods have become quite fashionable, with a great many of the fine Art Nouveau buildings lovingly restored. The dealers and prostitutes have moved elsewhere, and the high-end Hermes-Cartier-Chanel boutiques have found their home. You must also turn to the Nove Mesto for Wenceslas Square, the National Museum, the National Theatre, and the State Opera.

“Some people say a man is made outta mud,” sang Tennessee Ernie Ford. So it is for the infamous nightstalker of the Josefov district, the Golem. According to Jewish legends, the Golem—was made of mud and clay in 1580 by Rabbi Judah Loeb a supernatural (but hard to control) protector against anti-Semitic violence—The Golem’s body is said to lie hidden in an attic of the Old-New Synagogue, though some say it still roams. So behave yourself ‘round there at night. And in the daytime see the Old-New Synagogue, Europe’s oldest, and its excellent Judaica museum. Then you must also visit the disturbing and memorable Jewish cemetery, which was never allowed by either Catholic or Protestant rulers to expand, and which thus shoehorned 12,000 graves into an area the size of a suburban living room, under which well over 100,000 Jews are buried, going down many levels, across many centuries.

There’s still so much more to see … You can admire the gracious Belle Epoque boulevards radiating out from the Synagogue, in a sweeping arc between Starometske Namesti and the river. Ponder the odd sway of the modern Dancing House office building (also called “Fred and Ginger”). If the Orloj (Astronomical Clock) has got you ticking, get your rhythm right at the Metronome, a giant functional metronome occupying a plinth where a statue of Josef Stalin once stood. The views are as dizzying as the young daredevils skateboarding off ramps in the adjoining park. Secret discoveries beckon form every corner of the city, so what’s next? We could go back to where we started, and—aw, geez, look at the hour! Time for another pilsner. Na zdravi!

History, Culture & More

Hungarian Cuisine: Going Beyond Goulash

by Laura Graff for Insider

When you think of Hungarian food, goulash and paprika are likely the first things that come to mind. But did you know that Hungary has thriving viticulture and pastry-making traditions as well?

Gulyas, the Hungarian word from which “goulash” originates, means herdsman, and this dish originated with the cowboys (csikos) who roamed the Great Hungarian Plain (puszta) with their cattle. Originally slow-cooked over an open flame in a cast-iron pot called a bogracs, traditional goulash consisted of onions fried in lard, paprika—a spice made of dried, ground capsicum pepper that first arrived in the Hungarian city of Szeged in the 17th century—meat, water and potatoes, along with perhaps some carrots and parsnips, if they were available.

As this hearty dish made its way back to the towns and villages, different variations were born. Goulash morphed into two popular dishes: a soup, leves, and a stew, porkolt. These days, goulash typically refers to a beef and potato soup, flavored with paprika and onions. Sometimes tomatoes are included but in traditional recipes, there are no tomatoes—the reddish hue comes from paprika alone. The most common variety of paprikash (a variation of porkolt, distinguished by the presence of sour cream) is paprikas csirke, chicken cooked in paprika sauce, and typically served over galuska (pasta dumpling) or noodles.

The “is it a soup or is it a stew?” debate rages on in another of Szeged’s signature dishes: Szegedi halaszhe. In restaurants, it’s called fish chowder, soup, or stew. Among the locals, it’s known as fish goulash, since the flavors of sweet and hot paprika— there are at least six different varieties—are an integral component of this much-loved dish. Since Hungary is completely landlocked, the fish soups of Hungary are made with fresh water fish, such as carp, pike, sturgeon, and catfish from the Danube and Tisza rivers and Lake Balaton, near the Croatian border.

In the vineyards near Lake Balaton grow grapes used to make a nectar-like dessert wine called Tokaji Eszencia. This extremely sweet wine was favored by composers like Beethoven, Haydn, and List, as well as numerous members of European royalty during the 18th and 19th centuries. Another wine for which Hungary is famed is Egri Bikaver, a hearty red wine from the north widely known as “Bull’s Blood.” The legend of this wine dates back to Suleyman the Magnificent’s invasion of Hungary with his Turkish troops. The townspeople of Eger were able to defend their home with such gusto, a rumor spread among the Turks that the wine they drank was mixed with bull’s blood, which gave them strength to fend off the attacks. Typically served with game dishes, Bull’s Blood also pairs well with goulash and paprikash.

And for dessert? You’ll find two of Hungary’s favorites, Dobos torte and Rigo Jansci, in the coffeehouses of Budapest, Hungary’s capital city which straddles the Danube River. Steeped in culinary lore, each confection traces its origins to the end of the 19th century. Dobos torte is a five-layer sponge cake, interspersed with chocolate buttercream (likely a Parisian-inspired innovation), and topped with caramel. It was created by Hungarian pastry chef Jozsef Dobos, and presented Budapest’s National General Exhibition, where Franz Joseph I was among the first to taste it. Dobos kept the recipe a secret for more than 20 years, until he retired.

Rigo Jansci was created by, and named for, a violin-playing Hungarian gypsy who wooed an American heiress away from her husband, the Prince of Belgium. According to the story, he collaborated with a pastry chef to create the cake— spongy chocolate layer cake with rich chocolate cream in the middle—for her.

From the savory to the sweet, and the shores of Lake Balaton to the banks of the Danube, Hungary’s culinary delights are deeply rooted in its traditions—and ultimately delicious. Jo etvayat! (Bon appetit!)

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