Grand Central Europe: July 19 or 21-27
Vienna * Wachau * Bohemia * Prague * Dresden * Berlin
Discover Europe with IAC Journeys in Summer 2024!
Note: Please read the February 2024 IGC Update Email here with important updates and clarifications on how to reserve a spot on the tour!
International Academic Competitions is delighted to announce its first-ever weeklong tour for families which will see us explore Central Europe in Summer 2024! Over the course of a week, we will travel from Vienna to Berlin with stops along the way in the Wachau region of Austria, Southern Bohemia, Prague, and Dresden. Designed to be an optional extension to the 2024 International Geography Championships in Vienna, the tour is open to all families with a child age 8-17, including those who are not participating in IGC 2024. Indeed, prior experience at IAC events at any level is not a prerequisite, but note that you must have a child coming along on the tour to take part in it, as this tour is specifically designed for families with children who are interested in the geography, history, and culture of Central Europe. This being an IAC organized tour, there will be a number of optional academic competitions with a history and geography focus that students (and family members!) can choose to compete in. Students may travel with the parents or guardians of another student, provided that both families have provided permission for such an arrangement.
The tour will be conducted primarily by bus and will depart Vienna on Sunday morning, July 21 after IGC 2024 concludes the previous evening. The tour will conclude in Berlin on Sunday, July 28; families may plan on departing Berlin at any time on that day. Families who are not participating in IGC 2024 may elect to begin their tour with a two-day stay in Vienna beginning on July 19. The tour will not include travel to Vienna or from Berlin; you will need to make separate travel arrangements from and to your home, or wherever you are arriving from and departing to.
IAC staff are scouting out the locations we will visit, and we expect that a confirmed itinerary and cost schedule will be available by mid-March, at which point registration will open. The tour is currently limited to an overall number of 50 participants; there is a chance that this may be increased to 90-100.
To reserve a space, a $300 deposit is required per person. The deposit is refundable in full, minus credit card or wire transfer transaction costs, if a family opts not to take part. The $300 deposit can be paid as soon as registration for the International Geography Championships opens using the same registration form.
Note that some meals will be included, and some will be on your own. In terms of accommodations, we may need to utilize multiple hotels in certain cities. For further questions, please contact IAC Executive Director, David Madden at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bon voyage (or Gute Reise / Šťastnou Cestu if you want to start learning some German or Czech!)
Draft Itinerary (subject to change until registration opens)
Pre-Trip Day 1: Friday, July 19 – Vienna
For families with students who are not competing in IGC, you can join us either with an arrival on July 21, or if you wish to see Vienna with our group, you can arrive on July 19. Our staff will meet you at either Vienna Hauptbahnhof (the main train station) or Flughafen Vienna Schwechat (the main airport) at any time this day. Beginning in the early afternoon, we will organize some events which could include a basic walking tour or a visit to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Later in the afternoon, we’ll have a group outing to the historic Vienna Prater amusement park with its world-famous ferris wheel. We’ll have a relatively early dinner so that you can adjust to the time zone difference if needed.
Pre-Trip Day 2: Saturday, July 20 – Vienna
IGC concludes today, but for families who arrive on July 19, this is the day to fully explore one of Europe’s most historic and magical cities. Vienna has consistently been rated as the world most livable city and you’ll soon see why. We’ll use the clean and efficient public transit system, including the historic trams around the Ringstrasse to make the most of our time, with visits to Schonbrunn Palace, the Hofburg Imperial Court and Treasury, Mozart’s residence and museum, and more. Of course, no trip to Vienna would be complete without a visit to its bakeries and coffee shops, where you’ll get a chance to have Apfelstrudel, Sachertorte, along with the lesser known but delicious Kaiserschmarrn. In the evening, you’ll have time to explore Vienna on your own (the sun doesn’t set until 8:45) and we’ll recommend some spots for dinner, including Figlmüller for the world’s best Wienerschnitzel or the hard-to-pronounce Brezl Gwölb, with authentic Viennese dishes – where your IAC co-Executive Directors David and Nolwenn Madden went on their first date in 2008!
Day 1: Sunday, July 21 – Vienna > Wachau > Česky Krumlov > České Budějovice
After breakfast, we’ll depart for the scenic Wachau region of Lower Austria to the west of Vienna which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its history and outstanding natural beauty. Traveling by bus will allow us to maximize our flexibility with stops at Krems and Dürnstein (where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned). While traveling on the bus today, David will share stories of his experiences living in Vienna for 6 months as an AFS exchange student during his senior year of high school, and explain how you can either welcome an exchange student to your family or participate in AFS exchange student programs in high school or a gap year.
After lunch we’ll continue on to beautiful Melk Abbey before crossing into the Czech Republic. We’ll have dinner in picturesque Česky Krumlov (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site). After dinner, students (and parents and other adults in a separate division!) will have the chance to take part in the Czech Republic Bee – a fun introduction to the history and geography, with questions played outside (weather permitting) on our battery-operated buzzer systems in the historical city center. We’ll then continue on to nearby České Budejovice where we’ll stay for the night.
Day 2: Monday, July 22 – České Budějovice > Tabor > Prague
We’ll explore České Budějovice in the morning before heading for Prague around 11am. During the bus trip today, David will share his experiences of working as an interviewer for Princeton University, and offer some advice on the college admissions process for those who are interested. We’ll have lunch en route in Tabor before arriving in Prague around 4pm. After czeching (sorry…) into your hotel, you’ll have a chance to gain first impressions of one of the world’s most beautiful cities and have dinner on your own. We’ll have an optional evening activity around 8pm (perhaps a small concert featuring the work of Czech composers or a walking tour of the Jewish Quarter) for those who are interested as well.
Day 3: Tuesday, July 23 – Prague
Today we’ll have a full day to explore Prague, including famous sites such as Old Town Square, the Charles Bridge, St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague Castle, Wenceslas Square, and more. After seeing many of the main sites, we’ll have some afternoon activities and tours to some sites that are a bit more eclectic or off the beaten path, such as the Dancing House. You’ll have some time on your own in the late afternoon, while we’ll recommend some traditional and modern Bohemian restaurants featuring the best in Czech cuisine for an early dinner. We’ll then have a Family Scavenger Hunt in the evening – details revealed in Prague!
Day 4: Wednesday, July 24 – Prague > Saxon Switzerland > Dresden
This morning we’ll continue on towards Germany making our first stop at the National Park of Saxon Switzerland (in Saxony, not Switzerland – Switzerland is invoked in the name to describe its hilly and rural character) in the dramatic landscape of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains. We’ll then continue on to Dresden. For a city that was firebombed into rubble in the closing months of World War II (tip: read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five before your trip), Dresden has been amazingly well reconstructed and you will see why it was (and is) known as “Florence on the Elbe.” We’ll visit the Frauenkirche, the Zwinger Palace with the Old Masters Gallery (home to Raphael’s iconic Sistine Madonna), and the Grünes Gewölbe. Dresden was the capital of the Kingdom of Saxony whose kings weren’t as proficient at war-making as the Prussians, but who were second to none in acquiring precious objects for their palaces and Treasure Chambers.
In the evening, we’ll offer a German Geography Bee as an optional competition to those who wish to compete, played outside (weather permitting) along the banks of the Elbe (perhaps one of the answers…).
Day 5: Thursday, July 25 – Dresden > Berlin
We’ll continue on to Berlin this morning, a royal and imperial capital in the 18th and 19th centuries, the central node of much of 20th century history, and a vibrant world city in the 21st. After checking in to your hotel, we’ll dive right in and explore the city with an afternoon tour. Given Berlin’s turbulent history, vast layout (as a city, it covers over 8 times the area of Paris!), and flat topography, getting around by bike is the best way to see the historic center. For those who’d prefer an on-foot option, we’ll offer that as well. You’ll get a chance to see the Brandenburg Gate, remnants of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the Reichstag building, the Holocaust Memorial, and numerous other sites in the district of Mitte, the historic center of the city.
In the evening, we recommend having dinner in Prenzlauer Berg, a trendy upscale district with numerous cafes and restaurants in what was once a neglected part of East Berlin.
Day 6: Friday, July 26 – Berlin
This morning we’ll take a tour of Berlin’s Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district, a raucous microcosm of the city itself, which was located directly on the border between East and West Berlin. We’ll see the largest standing section of the Berlin Wall, which is now the world’s longest public art gallery. We’ll learn about how Berlin became the techno and clubbing capital of the world, inspiring musicians like U2 and Nena. But we’ll also delve into the complicated history and politics of refugees and immigrants in Germany in the heart of the largest Turkish community outside Turkey, and where thousands of Syrians and Ukrainians have also settled in recent years. Of course we’ll stop for a Döner Kebab and some Fladenbrot along the way!
In the afternoon, you’ll have free time to explore Berlin, but we recommend you take advantage of one or two of its many world-class museums. Depending on your interests, you could check out the Neues Museum with its Bust of Nefertiti, the Berlin Wall Museum at Checkpoint Charlie, the DDR Museum with its interactive exhibits on life in the former East Germany, the Neue Nationalgalerie with its 20th century art collection, or the Natural History Museum with its dinosaurs! You may also wish to tour the roof and cupola of the Reichstag building or visit Berlin’s historic zoo, next to the ruins of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church.
In the evening, we’ll play a German History Bee on the lawn in front of the Reichstag with the final match in front of the Brandenburg Gate!
Day 7: Saturday, July 27 – Berlin and Potsdam
Today we’ll take the train and head out of Berlin to Potsdam, where we’ll tour the palaces of Frederick the Great and the Prussian royalty, such as Sanssouci and have a chance to stroll around the gardens of Germany’s (or at least Prussia’s) answer to Versailles. For those who are interested, you can continue on after lunch to see Schloss Cecilienhof where the Potsdam Conference took place in the Summer of 1945 which divided Europe and where the atomic bombing of Japan was approved.
On our last evening in Berlin, we’ll have a family dinner together at Loretta am Wannsee, a beautiful traditional Biergarten on the shores of Lake Wannsee in southwestern Berlin. Families can take part together in a Family Picture Quiz after dinner while enjoying dessert along the lake. Hope you were paying careful attention during the trip, as many of the sites will make a final appearance! David and Nolwenn (who got engaged in Berlin) will also offer some final travel tips, internship tips (David spent a summer as an intern working in the German Bundestag while at Princeton), and IAC competition tips for those who are interested during and after dinner.
Day 8: Sunday, July 28 – Berlin
Families are welcome to depart from Berlin at any point today. We’ll help organize travel to both Berlin Hauptbahnhof (the main train station) and Berlin Brandenburg International Airport as needed. If you are looking to stay on in Berlin, or continue your travels elsewhere in Germany or Europe, just let us know, and we’ll be happy to pass along some additional recommendations on places to see, stay, and eat.