Road Trip: Budapest to Krakow via Kosice

Hungarian Parliament

At this stage is looks fairly certain I’ll be making Budapest my European home base which means I’ll be taking many more road trips in Hungary and around Central Europe. That suits me just fine as it’s one of my favourite parts of Europe and I can’t think of a city better situated to use as a base for exploring.

St Stephen's Basilica

This quick and easy road trip covering three countries takes you from Budapest, Hungary to Krakow, Poland via Kosice, Slovakia. Budapest and Krakow are two of the most popular cities in Central Europe and Kosice gives you a bit of a break from the crowds and a look at a part of Slovakia where few tourists venture.

Budapest

It’s hard to say which is the most striking feature of Budapest. The Parliament is surely one of the most beautiful in the world but Buda Castle and Fisherman’s Bastion are impressive too. Then you have the Chain Bridge which is guarded by lions and unites the two cities of Buda and Pest as it passes over the Danube.

Chain Bridge

Chain Bridge & Buda Castle

The Jewish quarter is one of the more interesting districts. The Great Synagogue is hard to miss and there are many smaller synagogues around too. But it’s the Jewish bakeries, bistros and felafel joints which attract me the most. Not to mention the little cafes which seem to pop up on every corner. The original Szimpla ruin bar is also in the Jewish quarter but I visit mostly for the Sunday farmers’ market.

Budapest's Great Synagogue

I might have a one-track mind but more food related attractions include having coffee and cake in the incredible Lotz Hall at the Alexandra Book Cafe or the equally impressive New York Cafe.

Even on a short visit to Budapest I’d suggest spending half a day at one of the city’s famous thermal baths. Szechenyi is probably the most famous and in my opinion the most beautiful but you could also try Gellert or the recently renovated Rudas.

Szechenyi Baths

Here are a few more tips for the first time visitor.

Side Trips

Close to Budapest:

  • Szentendre – A small historic city only half and hour from Budapest.
  • Visegrad – Home to a castle perched high above the Danube River.
  • Esztergom – You can’t miss the huge basilica on the hill and the pretty baroque architecture.

On the way to Kosice:

  • Eger – Known for its castle, thermal baths and the best Hungarian red wine.
  • Miskolc – Stop to experience the unusual thermal cave bath.
  • Tokaj – Hungary’s most famous wine region.

Kosice

While you could easily head to Krakow via Bratislava (Slovakia) and Brno (Czech Republic), a more interesting, off the beaten path alternative is via Kosice in eastern Slovakia.

Kosice Old Town

I planned to spend three days in Kosice but ended up staying more than 10. It’s hard to say why but it’s just one of those cities where I instantly felt at home.

Walking down the main street I found myself stopping every few metres trying to figure out the period of the architecture. Each building seems to be from a different era and some styles I’d never even heard of before. It definitely challenged my knowledge of European architecture.

Unusual Sights & Architecture

The city does have a bit of an odd feeling to it. After a couple of days I realised it was mostly likely because Kosice doesn’t have a river. It’s not really something you’d think about until you notice it’s missing. Not that it matters. There are plenty of cheap watering holes around town and at €0.27 a beer who needs water?

Kosice Eastern Slovakia

You can get a better idea of things to do in Kosice here.

Side Trips

  • Tokaji Wine Region – Tokaj wine is produced in both Hungary and Slovakia.
  • High Tatra Mountains – Take the Stary Smokovec to Hrebienok funicular.
  • Spiš Castle – 12th century castle. One of the largest in Central Europe.
  • Prešov – Baroque, rococo and gothic architecture line the historic main streets.
  • Bardejov – Well preserved fortified medieval town.

Krakow

Five years might not sound like a long time but I’m sure much has changed in Krakow since I was there last. But even back then you could see all the new, cute cafes opening up and you could go on quirky communism tours or try some dodgy vodka bar hopping.

Much of the fun takes place in the Kazimierz district but it’s still the historic sights which draw in the crowds. As with most European cities you have a beautiful castle on a hill overlooking the city. In this case it’s Wawel Castle with its elegant Crown Treasury and State Rooms.

Wawel Castle

I don’t think there can be any doubt about the power of the Catholic church in Poland as you pass by church after church after church. I can’t think of any city which has more churches per capita. But you don’t have to be religious to appreciate them. It definitely makes for a pretty walk through the old town.

Krakow Apostles

Then there’s the medieval Cloth Hall which dominates Krakow’s massive main square which will be crowded no matter when you visit. It’s worth paying tourist prices to position yourself at one of the local bars or cafes for the ultimate people watching in Poland.

Krakow Cloth Hall & Main Square

Before ending your road trip in Krakow, take a few days to visit the nearby sights. A trip to Auschwitz Birkenau is definitely worthwhile to help give you an understanding of Europe’s not so pretty history.

Side Trips

  • Wieliczka Salt Mine – A little boring as you have to do a tour but the salt cathedral is impressive.
  • Auschwitz – One of the most important and moving historic sights in Europe.
  • Zakopane – Winter and summer resort in the Tatra Mountains.

Can you recommend any other stops on this road trip? Anything I’ve missed?

About Andrea

Andrea Anastasakis is the founder and author of road trip blog Rear View Mirror. She is currently driving her Fiat 500 around Europe. Follow her travel adventures on Instagram.


Comments

  1. Hi Andrea,

    I am travelling to Budapest for 3 days in September, thank you for the info and i love to ‘read’ all your pictures.

  2. Budapest is my favorite city in Europe! I’ve only spent about two weeks there total and am envious of anyone who gets to live there. The only other places I’ve been in the region are Eger and Godollo so I’m looking forward to your upcoming posts!

  3. You just made me super excited about Kosice! I’m going there for few days in July and I really hope to finally see it properly – I was there few times already but always just for few hours. I really enjoy it there but looks like I’ve missed out quiet a lot there!

  4. Hi Andrea. My name is Sheila, from Brazil. Our family will make a trip to Eastern Europe by car, leaving from Vienna to Prague, through Budapest, Kosice Krakow, wroclaw and finally Prague. Then we make the section between Prague and Vienna through Karlovy Vary and Cesky Krumlov. Our doubt is regarding the section between Budapest and Krakow: it is worth sleeping in Kosice and wander down Bardejov and Spis? Is any indication of hotel? The roads are good? There is parking? Thanks for your help and who else have tips.

    • Hi Sheila! Sounds like an incredible trip! Bardejov and Spis are two places I didn’t get to visit and I regret not going. I’ve heard nothing but good things. This post should give you an idea about Spis Castle and that area: http://www.heartmybackpack.com/blog/slovak-paradise-spis-castle/

      I think stay in Kosice if you want plenty of restaurant and cafe options otherwise it might be more convenient to stay in Presov which is small but a nice stopover place.

      I’ve written a little about Slovakia here including hotel recommendations: http://www.rearviewmirror.tv/tag/slovakia-2/

      Enjoy your trip!

      • Thank you very much Andrea. It appears to be a great idea. We will decide and than I tell you. Other thing: We thing is a good idea to get a tour, just for one day, in the big cities like budapest, Prague, Krakow, Vienna and Bratislavia. But we don like that tours with many people, when de guide say what is written on the paper. We are a family of for adults, Do you know people who could walk around with us. If possible historic or arts students ou professionals. Thank you, again. Sheila

  5. I am going to Budapest this september for 6 days from Athens. I have been there 2 times but just in the Budapest area. I am thinking of renting a car andgo the areas you mentioned on the way to Krakow which is about 5 hours+ by car. I love driving in Europe. 5 hours driving is not bad ..its like driving from Washington DC to Connecticut. Is it worth going to Krakow? Thanks.

    • I love Krakow and know a lot of other people who do too. I definitely recommend visiting if you have time.