We spent 3 days in Berlin, 4 days in Prague, 4 days in Vienna, and 8 days in Paris. When visiting Eastern Europe, it is practical and wise to do Berlin-Prague-Vienna-Budapest since it is only a couple of hours train ride from each other. You can also start from Budapest and travel your way up. We didn’t add Budapest on this trip because we wanted to spend more time in Paris but highly recommend that you do. Unlike other past trips, this time we weren’t into Michelin-Starred, haute cuisine, or best restaurants in its category. Most of our dinners were spontaneous with no advanced reservation.
Day 1 Los Angeles to Berlin
Christmas Eve Departure Los Angeles to Berlin
We flew business class on Swiss LX41 from Los Angeles to Zurich, then Swiss LX970 Zurich to Berlin.
Check-In: Hotel Adlon Kempinski
We arrived in Berlin on the evening of Christmas, we were again reminded that Europe is so cold, and I noted to myself to invest in a Canada Goose or Moncler coat if we ever go in the winter again. We checked into our room with a nice view of Brandenburg Gate, one of the best landmarks in Germany, partially why we chose to stay at this hotel aside from its central location and famous history before World War II. Hotel Adlon Kempinski has the best breakfast buffet on this trip with superfood options and a counter full of big barrels of loose leaves tea. Hotel Adlon Kempinski Reviews
View from our room of the national symbol, the surviving gate of Germany, that divided East and West Germans during the Cold War.
Dinner at Essenza
With the help of the concierge, we were lucky to secure a last-minute dinner reservation at Essenza on Christmas to call it a night and walked around the city to see the festive holiday lights and spotted so many beautiful Christmas trees.
Arkaden Christmas Market illuminating at night.
Trying to check off as many places as possible with our short time in Berlin.
Christmas Garden Berlin
Christmas Garden Berlin was the most Christmas thing we did on this trip, but it was underwhelming. Once you enter the trail, you cannot go back but must trek the dirt path around the garden to finish. There were a lot of Christmas lights and illuminated decorations along the way, but it was mediocre and nothing like the photos advertised on their website. It may be a better fit for families and small children for the cute little photo opportunities, but I wouldn’t travel this far to go here. Real-life experience is far from depicted in these beautiful photos. Things you need to know; it’s about 30 minutes from the center, and if you get an Uber, there may not be one to take you back to the city. The good news is you can download FREE NOW APP that works just like Uber and available in more than 30 cities in Europe including Berlin.
A crossing border that separated East and West Berlin during the Cold War.
Holocaust Memorial in Berlin
The official name is Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, near Brandenburg Gate. It’s a thought-provoking and evocative memorial to be taken seriously represented by a maze of rectangular concrete slabs of varying height.
Reichstag Building and Kaefer Rooftop Restaurant
We made a reservation at Kaefe Rooftop to kill two birds with one stone, having afternoon tea before heading to the Christmas Garden and as a way to get inside the parliament building since the restaurant is located on top of the Reichstag building. Although free to enter the building, you would need to book a ticket to be allowed in. Security was tight and took a while to get through; remember to bring your passport and proof of reservation or admission ticket.
Back silhouette of a man under a black umbrella approaching the glass dome-lit parliament building. The night was falling and raining, but the view was still fabulous. The glass dome was a true architectural masterpiece, you can walk up the spiral ramp to the top for 360 view of Berlin. Once you start, you must reach the top before you can go down. Kaefer Rooftop Restaurant Reviews
Dinner at Restaurant Le Faubourg at Sofitel Hotel
We wanted to eat at the hotel restaurants, but they were either fully booked or weren’t open. So, our concierge recommended and helped make a reservation at Le Faubourg, a cozy French restaurant. Restaurant Le Faubourg Reviews.
The Best Christmas Markets in Berlin
Traditional Christmas markets in Europe is not to be missed because the atmosphere is nothing quite like it elsewhere in the world.
Festive hot wine, roasted chestnuts, grilled hot dogs and sausages, made-to-order crepes, and authentic artisan gifts, from mugs to candles to figurine to wooden toys, something to add to your travel souvenir collection. Christmas markets originated in Germany and so many of them to choose from in Berlin alone.
- Christmas Magic at Gendarmenmarkt
- Winter World and Christmas market at Potsdamer Platz
- Christmas Market at Alexanderplatz
- Christmas Time at Rotes Rathaus
- Winter Dreams at Alexa
- Christmas market at Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
- Christmas Market at Charlottenburg Palace
Outside of Berlin
- Lucia Christmas Market at Kulturbrauerei
- Christmas Market in Spandau
Dinner at House of Small Wonder Berlin
There is another branch in New York. House of Small Wonder Berlin is known for brunch and recently open for dinner as well. Since we can’t fit a brunch into our schedule, we came here for dinner instead. Coming after dark, the spot is hard to find because you would be confused after being dropped off in front of a tall corporate building. We were a little lost but eventually discovered a side entrance.
As soon as you open the door, you will find a hipster garden feel interior with plants, spiral staircase, and cute little wonders as you make your way up. If you want to take great photos with your phone, better come here for brunch to take advantage of the daylight.
Most items on the dinner menu are Japanese inspired. I highly recommend Chicken Liver Pate Brûlée and Mentaiko Spaghetti which reminded me of codfish roe noodles in Macau m. Reservation is only accepted for dinner. Brunch is first-come, first-served. House of Small Wonder Berlin Reviews
Day 5 Berlin to Prague by Train
Origin: Berlin Hauptbahnhof Station Destination: Praha Hlavní Nádraží Station Duration: 4+ hours We took the train from Berlin Hauptbahnhof to Praha Hlavní Nádraží station. Both stations are the central railway in their city. Even though English is the most common language in Berlin, it’s the least English friendly city I have been too. There was little or no sign of English at Berlin station. Check-In: Buddha-Bar Hotel Prague
Buddha-Bar Hotel is in Old Town also known geographically as Prague 1, the main area with a high concentration of accommodations and restaurants. It was the most modern and trendy in comparing to other 5-star hotels in the same area. Everything was close by and takes no more than ten minutes to walk to the Christmas Market in Old Town Square, Charles Bridge, and Old Tower Clock. Right across the corner is a convenient store we love going to stock up on water bottles. Buddha-Bar Hotel Prague Reviews Dinner at Divinis, Upscale Italian Restaurant Awarded Michelin Bib Gourmand, which means exceptional good food at moderate prices, it lives up to its rating in care and execution although it is not truly authentic Italian food.
I love the open kitchen concept and the upscale restaurant is very intimate, warm, romantic and inviting. Divinis Restaurant Reviews
Christmas Tree in Old Town Square in Prague
Buddha Bar Hotel is 5 minutes’ walk from the Christmas Market in Old Town Square, and not a day we didn’t pass through and not stop for a hot drink, apple cider a favorite, or try Czech street foods like roasted chestnut, sausage, and Trdelnik.
The food in Prague is relatively inexpensive and diverse in cuisine in central Prague and from exotic meats like venison, rabbit, and deer to vegetarian and vegan options.
Prague Astronomical Clock
Located in Old Town Square, beautiful medieval astronomical still operating, since 1410, to this day. Third oldest in the world and the largest clock I have ever seen, and the best instrumental clock in the world. It can tell you time in four different ways, show you the movements of the sun and the current moon phase, and performance on the hour throughout the day.
Charles Bridge, a historic bridge started construction in 1357, crosses the Vlta River and connects Old Town and Mala Strana Square, also known as The Lesser Town.
The Lesser Town
Best Viewpoints in Prague
Prague is a walkable city, and so much can be seen and done in one day to experience Prague, and one of the best ways is to see Prague is from above.
- Old Town Bridge Tower
- Lesser Town Bridge Tower
- Old Town Hall Tower
- Castle Hill
Prague Municipal Library
Infinite spiral of spellbinding book, the “Idiom” book tower at the Prague Municipal Library is worth sightseeing. It is free, takes about 5-10 minutes of your time depending on the crowd, and make a great artistic or silly photo opp.
Designer Shopping on Parizska Street
Parizska street, the most prestigious street in Prague, is the equivalent to Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles and put up the best Christmas light.
Dinner at InterContinental Prague Zlata Praha
This hotel rooftop restaurant view looks breathtaking on the website, but we made the mistake of coming here at night. I could hardly see anything but a pitch black. For brunch would have been better or during sunset. Zlata Praha Restaurant Reviews
Fred and Ginger, also known as the Dancing House, on a gloomy overcast day, bus passing by and bystander crossing the street.
The Dancing House is a nickname for Fred and Ginger, an interesting building designed by Frank Gehry, the same architect who designed the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. You can see the commonality of non-traditional design in both of the buildings. The Dancing House houses office spaces, Luxury Suite hotel, apartments, a restaurant, and a glass bar. The architectural building is a site for the avid photographer. If you aren’t, there is not much to go out of your way to come here unless you make plans to have lunch, dinner or cocktail on the top of the building. I heard the view is worth it.
Besides Old Town, Christmas Market opens daily at Wenceslas Square. We came to check it out but with the market set up in the center of the square, it does not seem picturesque portrayed in photos at all, probably nicer in the summer when the green grass comes out to play and no obstruction view of the National Museum.
Luxurious New Year’s Eve and Fireworks At Mlynec Restaurant
Mlynec, modern Czech restaurant, is one of the most popular places to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Prague:
- welcome drink
- a six-course tasting menu with wine pairings
- a midnight toast
- fireworks by the river with stunning views over Charles Bridge
- live music during dinner
- DJ and all night long open bar and a buffet
I decided on Mlynec because it fits all my criteria. Dinner, fireworks, and most importantly, close enough to walk back to our hotel, Buddha Bar, in strategically chosen comfortable booties, at the end of the night. Catching a ride will be tough on the drunkest night of the year. Are you looking for more ideas on where to watch fireworks on NYE in Prague? Here is a list to consider.
- Hergetova Cihelna
- Kampa Park
- Villa Richter
- Hotel Hoffmeister
- Prague Steamboats
- Petrinske Terasy
- U Cisaru
Day 9 Prague to Vienna by Train
Origin: Praha, Hlavni Nadrazi Train Station Destination: Wien, Hauptbahnhof Train Station Duration: approx. 4 hours The cheapest ticket we found for this route is on goeuro.com for 25 euro per person, and flexible cancellation policy. When the price is affordable, we will always choose premium class over economy. It’s quiet, has comfortable seating, and the ease of storing luggage close to our seats or within our sight is very important to us.
Check-In: Park Hyatt Vienna
This is our fifth Park Hyatt hotel and the elegant and understated luxury design is consistent throughout the world and you can trust that Park Hyatt Vienna resides in a fabulous location, situated in the heart of Goldens Quarters, a luxury shopping area in Vienna’s Old City. We were checked into an ADA room, but I didn’t recall booking this room. After coming inside from the harsh cold, I was just happy that I had a warm place to keep toasted. I was oblivious and did not think to ask to be moved. In hindsight, the room should be only reserved or saved for those requiring assistance. Park Hyatt Vienna Reviews
The Bank Brasserie & Bar
Gorgeous setting to have daily breakfast inside what used to be a bank.
We tried the buffet once, but it wasn’t worth it. Park Hyatt buffet never failed us but this one is our least favorite. We ordered a la carte from the menu instead and enjoyed it much more.
We didn’t have any real agenda except for spontaneous sightseeing with friends, tasting classic Viennese dishes for lunch, and touring Hofburg Palace.
On a raining winter day, posing with Miss VN International, Van Khuong Hua, outside of Hofburg Palace.
The palace is a set of buildings with three museums, and an admission ticket includes entry to all three museums.
- The Imperial Apartments
- Sisi Museum
- Imperial Silver Collection
You can do an audio guide or guided tour. My recommendation is the audio guide to move at your own pace.
Tasting Classic Viennese Dishes at Lugeck
By hotel recommendation, we came to Lugeck to experience classic Viennese dishes. A Figlmuller restaurant, the home of the Schnitzel, but more modern with a lot of tables and seating. The original Figlmuller is a 1-minute walk away, a more authentic and cozier atmosphere but it’s smaller and quite a wait during peak hours. You must give either one a try.
Classic Viennese Dish to try:
- Wiener Schnitzel with potato salad
- Veal liver and mash potatoes
- Viennese soup pot with vegetable
My favorite dish was the soup, perfect for a cold winter day. Lugeck Restaurant Reviews
Day 11 Day Excursion From Vienna
Admont Abbey Library
If you are heading to Hallstatt, then you should make a quick stop at Admont Abbey Library.
It’s the most gorgeous library I have ever seen. I was blown away in admiration of the elegant Baroque architecture, ceiling frescos, and wooden sculptures. The library is 70 meters long containing 70,000 books and resembles the fairy-tale elaborate library portrayed in Beauty and the Beast. Adult admission is 11 euros with a 40-minute tour, but you can opt-out and roam on your own.
If you are going directly, Hallstatt would be a three hours’ drive from Vienna. We saw snow, we saw mountains, and we saw swans in the lake, where all dreams really come true at this picture-perfect fairytale village.
With two hours to explore, we stayed on the ground level and didn’t climb up the hills. If you want to fully enjoy the scenery, drive yourself here or stay at least one night. We booked a day tour on Viator and had two hours to explore.
Famous Traditional Cafes In Vienna
It’s not a trip to Vienna until you hit some of the best traditional cafes. They are considered typical institutions of Vienna with over 100 years of history and have inspired great poets, philosophers, and artists of all time.
Our favorite is Cafe Central in service, food, and elegant setting inside Palais Ferstel. It was worth waiting in the snow for half an hour to get in. We also visited Cafe Damel, Cafe Sperl, and Cafe Hawelka recommended by the locals but it was quite packed. Here is a list of traditional cafés in Vienna you should check out as a first-time visitor.
- Cafe Central
- Cafe Griensteidl
- Cafe Gerstner
- Cafe Damel
- Cafe Hawelka
- Cafe Mozart
- Cafe Sperl
Day 13 Air France VIE to CDG Nonstop
We flew from Vienna to Paris on Air France nonstop.
Check-In: InterContinental Le Grand
Room with a view of Opera Garnier at Intercontinental Paris Le Grand
The weather forecast calls for raining oranges, generally cloudy, mild wind, 40 low to high degree week long. This is one of the hotels we stayed many times in Paris because it is centrally located and a great way to redeem IHG Reward Night. InterContinental Le Grand Paris Le Grand Review
Cafe de la Paix
Hotel breakfast is served at Cafe de la Paix, which was complimentary during our stay at InterContinental Le Grand. Cafe de la Paix is a historic site in French history located near Opera and visited by many famous people. The area is bustling during rush hours; it’s nice to sit at the terrace for a summer afternoon breaks to watch people. Café De La Paix Reviews
Italian Food at Pink Mamma
One of my favorite Italian restaurants in Paris. It is a trendy, photogenic, 4-story restaurant part of the Big Mamma group, perfect setting for group or couples. I think you can request for reservation for a group of 10-30 people otherwise you must get in line 30 minutes to an hour before the opening time to secure the first seating. Each seating, approximately, based on my headcount, could fill up to 100 seats. And that is not counting those who arrive later to join their friends in the line. Margherita pizza and truffle pasta are my favorite. Ober Mamma and East Mamma are the other two locations owned by the same company and served the same menu. I have been to all of them, and Pink Mamma is the best. Not only is it gorgeous but it could seat most people. Pink Mamma Reviews
Chestnut Cream Soup with Truffle at Angelina
Slow Sunday in Paris, most businesses were closed. We have been to Angelina tea house multiple times and finally tried their famous thick hot chocolate and seasonal chestnut cream soup with truffle. Angelina Reviews
Notre Dame Cathedral and Hotel de Ville
Took the walking route to Notre Dame Cathedral, 30 minutes from our hotel, sightseeing back and forth and took photos of the city before twilight.
Dinner at Gallopin
Then dinner at Gallopin. The scallops and the accompanying mashed potatoes were good, but not so the mashed potatoes that came with my husband’s dish. They were differently made or not from the same batch. The escargot is pretty much standard everywhere in Paris. There was a delightful dessert called Baked Alaska flambé, ice cream covered with meringue, their signature dessert, but I resisted getting it.
The crowd is a mix of French professionals in business suits and a few tourists.
Palais Garnier aka Paris Opera
A magnificent place to take photos outside and inside of the opulent opera without a massive crowd in January. We must have lucked out because I heard people waited in line before the opening time in the summer. The admission is 12 euros.
Galeries Lafayette Glasswalk
Glasswalk 16 meters above the ground. We came here to see the Christmas tree and luckily it was the last day before the tree went down. Nevertheless, the architecture is amazing without the Christmas tree. It’s free and only a few people are allowed on the Glasswalk at one time.
Cafe Pouchkine at Madeleine
One of the hot spots for tearoom at a fabulous location, Madeleine Plaza. A great alternative to Laduree without a wait. We went here for late tea and sweet pastries until it was time for dinner.
Dinner at Comptoir De La Gastronomie
Popular among locals and tourists, Comptoir de la Gastronomie is a casual restaurant we dine every time we visit Paris to satisfy a foie gras appetite, where you can find the dish made in all forms: carpaccio, seared, or pate. Carpaccio and seared are our favorites. Along with classic French dishes like escargot, onion soup, and duck. Comptoir De La Gastronomie Reviews
Montmartre and Sacre Coeur Basilica Walking Tour
A walking tour in Montmartre never gets old. Some of the popular sights:
- Sacre Coeur Basilica – the obvious reason to come to Montmartre. Sitting on top of the hill, it is magnificent up close and offers some of the best views of Paris.
- Place du Tertre – artists gather here to paint illustrations of the neighborhood. You can also get your portrait done.
- Le Mur des Je t’aime – it’s a black wall with “I Love You” written in 300 languages. It is located at Place des Abbesses
- La Maison Rose – it’s a pink house restaurant that became an iconic site for photos thanks to Instagram.
- The Sinking House – not really sinking but with a few photography tricks, it certainly looks sinking.
Cafe de Flore
Cafe de Flore, a famous and legendary cafe in Paris frequented by famous figures.
Dinner at Le Cocottes Bistro
Pasta risotto with squid in a dutch oven
Le Cocottes is a modern French fare serving food straight from the oven to the table in Staub cast-iron cocottes. The salad starter in vinaigrette dressing was refreshing, and I very much enjoyed the octopus’s risotto. Le Cocottes de Christian Constant Reviews
Check-In: Plaza Athenee
A chill and relax day since we need to check into Plaza Athenee which is very close to Champs-Elysées for our last 4-night stay. So, we just walked around the surrounding area, light shopping on Avenue Montaigne, and an impromptu dinner on Champ Elysées. Hotel Plaza Athenee Reviews
Avenue Montaigne is a shopping paradise for people wishing to burn their wallets or window shopping in fantasy. Every designer house you can think of. It’s quiet and less touristy than Champ Elysées and department stores if you are serious about getting your shopping done. Even if you are not into shopping, the Avenue is worth a stroll on its own as the short walk from Champ Elysées takes you to the view of the Eiffel Tower at Trocadero place. You can also start from Trocadero and walk to Champ Elysées.
L’Alsace On Champ Elysées
Came here by accident after seeing the sign “Moules Marinières et Frites €15.90”. It looked like a tourist trap, but we ordered mussels and onion soup. That cannot be bad, right!? We liked it. By the way, French doesn’t call “French onion soup” for one obvious reason because we were in France. “Onion soup” it was. One order of mussels was more than enough for me. I could only finish 1/3 of the pot, and I ate 30 pieces to give you an idea of the humongous portion. It’s in the corner of the street next to Five Guy.
View of Eiffel Tower at Trocadero
A day of scouting photo location with views of the Eiffel Tower, we found some hidden streets, but one cannot really go wrong with Trocadero. We came here in the afternoon and managed to capture some beautiful photos despite the crowd. Do you want a list of all the locations to view the Eiffel Tower?
Bouillon Chartier Restaurant
Left: Chartier Bouillon entrance tucked inside from the street. Right: Bustling soup kitchen filled with French local and tourist diners.
The food is not exceptional but offers unbeatable prices (e.g., hot soup for 1 euro), traditional comfort French cuisine, founded in 1896 and classified as a national heritage site. And became a tourist attraction. We came here in 2013 with my sibling from the hotel’s recommendation but we didn’t know then of its fame and history, and now came back to relive the experience.
Left: Chartier menu in English and French on the other side, Middle: waiter writes the order and bill right on your table mat, Right: wooden armoire regulars once stored their utensils.
Unlike last time, this time we were seated at the same table with another couple. They eventually finished dinner, and another couple was soon filled in. The host will seat you to any open seat. If you go in as a couple, most likely you will be sitting with another couple because there are a lot of tables for four, and chances of having your own table are high if you have more than three people in your party.
Left: hard-boiled eggs and herring filet for starters. Right: pollack steak and sea bass.
It is an authentic Parisian restaurant as you will hear French-speaking left and right. It is a great cultural experience to see the waiter at work, dine in 19th-century style, and taste traditional comfort French food. It’s the equivalent to Vietnamese poor’s man food if you know what I mean, but not as tasty. Bouillon Chartier Restaurant Reviews
Dinner at Jean-Yves Le Chef Masterchef Private Home
French and Asian fusion social dining experience at a Master Chef private home. The winner of Masterchef France Web Edition 2012, Chef Jean-Yves’s goal is to bring open-minded people around the world to the same table and discover new tastes and make connections with other foodie travelers. Fun and interactive, he explained each dish, how to appreciate it, and quizzed our flavor sense. When he returned to the kitchen to prepare the next course, we carried on endless conversations with fellow diners, two other couples from London and Dublin, mostly about travel and food, the weather, and a lot about Brexit. The dinner includes four courses with wine pairing. Our favorite dish was the starter butterfly roll and ravioles with ingredients acquired from various Southeast Asian countries. First time having Vietnamese sake (rượu đế) with the prettiest macaron, everyone favored the alcohol concoction, and he graciously gave everyone second.
Wall photo framing of the chef’s mascot
The Chef is up for a challenge and invited us to give him two ingredients to cook next time we come to Paris. He mentioned durian as one possible ingredient. Durian is an exotic fruit that smells like gas to those with tremendous hate or sweet and creamy delicious to those who love it, and I belong to the latter group. It would be interesting to see how he incorporates durian into different dishes and not just in desserts. You can learn more about Chef Jean-Yves and how to book here.
Yellow Vest Movement in Paris
Much of central locations were in lockdown due to the yellow vest movement showing general discontentment against President Emmanuel Macron over living costs caused by the increase in fuel taxes. No cars could enter and luxury shops on Champ Elysees were boarded up to avoid looting and glasses broken into. Tourist attractions and businesses were shut down for safety concerns and albeit possibility of violence erupted, it felt like we have the whole city to ourselves walking leisurely around empty streets with no cars around in the main tourist area.
Flying Home Paris to Los Angeles
Checking out at Hotel Plaza Athenee Paris early morning.
Finally, it was time to go home. The day before was pretty much a wrap up of our trip as we had to wake up in the wee hours for a 6 AM flight. We flew on Swiss again, from Paris to Zurich then from Zurich to Los Angeles, business class on both legs. Swiss LX647 CDG to ZHR Swiss LX40 ZHR to LAX