Budapest's Chain Bridge, Lion statue, and Buda Castle at night

Spires in the Snow with Topdeck Travel

Despite this post being nearly three years late, I wanted to make a record of my Spires in the Snow tour experience because it was one of the first legs of my winter backpacking around Europe. The itinerary for our 2015 Spires in the Snow tour was two nights each in Budapest (Hungary), Krakow (Poland) and Prague (Czech Republic) – with guided tours of the Wieliczka Salt Mines and the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

Outdoor baths at Schizenyi
A steamy start

Budapest (Days 1-3)

Bustling down Kiraly street and into Wombats Hostel for our 3pm meeting time, I was immediately greeted by other equally bewildered faces, then soon afterwards one very energetic, if slightly frazzled tour leader. Parking the bus coach had been problematic in inner Pest but they’d finally found a quick loading zone so it was time to jump aboard.

Diving headfirst into a tour of Budapest’s famous landmarks was fitting for the five of us who also needed to make quick acquaintances with the larger group – already onboard for the extended version of our tour.

Chain Bridge lit up at night
Lit Chain Bridge

Flying through town we greeted statues of famous leaders at Heroe’s Square, then rounded back to take in Chain Bridge, and Buda Castle at dusk.

Before a traditional Hungarian dinner of Goulash (vegetarian option for me), wise words from our tour leader reminded us of the brevity of the next five days – something along the lines of “in two days we’ll be half way through the trip and in another two it’ll be all over, so no shyness here. Get in there and get to know each other”. And so we did.

Our first free day was mostly spent splashing about in the warm waters of Széchenyi thermal baths, inhaling freshly baked cinnamon sugar chimney cakes, and getting down at Instant ruin bar. Then before we knew it, it was time to hit the road for Poland.

Kraków (Days 3-5)

Travelling through Slovakia’s cold open countryside, there wasn’t much to see until we hit Kraków. A walking tour around Wawel Castle and the old town introduced us to this eastern European hub, and it’s harrowing history.

The next day was ours to explore – most of us choosing to take in tough stories at the museum of Oskar Schindler’s factory before being wowed by Wieliczka Salt Mines. Think you’ve seen enough cathedrals in Europe? Wait until you’ve seen one carved entirely out of underground salt!

History hanging heavy on our hearts, it was a good mid point in the trip to catch up on some sleep before Prague. Our accomodation was a little out of town at the Quality Hotel System Krakow West.

Leaving Krakow, it was suddenly eerily quiet in the coach as sombre thoughts started surfacing through the scrawny forests of Poland’s misty countryside. Of course part of the reason we were in Poland was to pay our respects at Auschwitz-Birkenau. I was very happy to be amongst friends for this experience.

Topdeck tour group crossing Charles Bridge
Walking tour of Prague old town

Prague (Days 5-7)

Waking from a nap on the outskirts of Prague to the party tunes we’d become so accustomed to on the coach put us in a more light hearted mood again. As usual our tour leader told a few stories about our new destination before arriving at our accomodation for our final two nights; Plus Prague.

Christmas decorating the streets, we tinsle-toed across Charles’ Bridge into Prague’s old town square. Huddling under blankets, sipping mulled wine, we waited for the Astronomical Clock’s hourly performance.

After perusing the precious ornaments and edibles at the market, the whole team got together to take on the last two nights of tour – dancing until the dawn in a myriad of mood lit scenes.

Chowing down on a big breakfast with the group, then it was time to wave goodbye to the coach, and the friends we’d made. After a whirlwind tour like this, I needed a day or two to recover, but couldn’t be happier I’d chosen to get to know Eastern Europe in such an immersive and social way.

Topdeck’s Spires in the Snow tour is a great trip for those new to group travel, or if you only have a short amount of time. The seven day itinerary allows you to get comfortable with the people in your group, while not posing too much of a commitment of time or money if you are worried group travel might not be for you. Plus you’ll get to tick off some seriously cool bucket list destinations with a new group of friends.

Cheers to the next one!

Prague old town in the rain
Moody mid-winter views

Want to know more?

How much free time is there?

For those wanting to take in the sights and experiences of each destination in detail, you may enjoy having an extra night or two booked either side of your tour in the starting and ending cities. Being on tour can be quite full on, especially if you want to fully immerse yourself in the fun group atmosphere and unique night life, so an extra day or two should cover you for any other must do’s.

What should I pack?

Being on tour was a little more luxurious than my regular backpacking style. Between dining out and exciting night life, I didn’t always feel my best in my admittedly warm, but rather unstylish merino thermal tops.

Learn from my mistakes, see my Packing Essentials for the Ultimate Euro-Trip.

Nikki in front of Chain Bridge and Danube River
Diving into Eastern Europe

Will there be snow?

If it’s snow you’re after, give yourself the best chance by booking well into winter. Despite joining this tour in early December, I did not see snow on my travels until after the new year when I was further north in Stockholm, but each year is different.

For more information or to book a tour you can visit the Topdeck Travel website.

See also 9 Styles of Accommodation to Add to Your Bucket-List.

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