The Best Road Trips in Central and Eastern Europe
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I’m back with another best road trips in Europe post – and this time, we’re venturing east! With the help of fellow travel bloggers, I’ve put together a list of the best road trips in central and eastern Europe (including the road trips in the Balkans).
If you’re new here, I’m basically covering the whole world in this ‘best road trips in…’ series. You can check out the other installments in the series by clicking here.
But without further ado, let’s dig into the best road trips in Central and Eastern Europe. This post also includes the best road trips in the Balkans, the Baltics and the Mediterranean countries.
The Best Road Trips in Central Europe
Poland – Warsaw, Krakow, Wroclaw, Torun, Gdansk
Poland is a wonderful destination for a road trip, and a hugely popular destination for travelers in the last few years. In a 10-day trip, you can cover major highlights and a range of experiences that will give you a great glimpse into the history and culture of this eastern European country.
Start by flying into Warsaw, Poland’s capital. Warsaw’s Old Town has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bombing during World War II left much of the once-beautiful city in ruins, but it has been reconstructed using contemporary architectural styles. Apart from Old Town, don’t miss Powazki Cemetery with its many sculptures, the monument to the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Presidential Palace. In the Old Town, famous sights include the Royal Castle, Market Square, and the Barbican.
From Warsaw, travel south to Krakow via Czestochowa, home to the Black Madonna. Krakow is a beautiful Polish town. Visit Market Square, St. Mary’s Church, and the famous Wawel Castle. Old Town Krakow is stunning so you’ll want to set aside time to do a walking tour to savor the beautiful architecture and people watch in the largest medieval square in all of Europe.
From Krakow, travel to Auschwitz, to tour the former concentration camp, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A guided tour here will greatly enhance your experience. Next, travel to Wroclaw, with its beautiful Old Town. Market Square has stunning architecture. A walking tour to take in all the sights of Old Town is a must.
From Wroclaw, drive to Torun, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the birthplace of Nicolas Copernicus, the famous astronomer. Torun is one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe, and a walking tour will let you experience the charms of this beautiful town.
Finally, drive to the port city of Gdansk. Gdansk has a beautiful Old Town as well, almost entirely rebuilt after the destruction caused by Allied bombing in World War II. A walking tour is the best way to experience the sights in Old Town Gdansk. You can also visit Westerplatte, where the first shots of WWII were fired.
Drive back to Warsaw to complete your road trip through Poland. On the way, stop at Malbork Castle, the largest castle in the world.
By Dhara from It’s Not About the Miles
Slovakia – Bratislava, Nitra, Banská Štiavnica, High Tatras, Trnava
Slovakia is so small you can take a road trip around the entire country that’s as long as a drive from San Francisco to Portland. Start in the capital, Bratislava, where an impressive castle straddles the first Carpathian Mountains hill. Eastward, go back to Slovakia‘s earliest history in Nitra, the capital of a 9th century dukedom.
Nestled in forested hills of Central Slovakia, the old mining town of Banská Štiavnica is a UNESCO treasure where you can only walk up or down hill. Nearby Banská Bystrica is best known for the WWII Slovak National Uprising Museum, housed in an architecturally interesting split-in-half building. Stop by the caves of the Slovak Karst before you arrive in Košice, the metropolis of Eastern Slovakia, boasting a gorgeous Gothic cathedral, easternmost of its kind.
Northwestward, take a hike or a cable car up a mountain in the High Tatras, an alpine national park and Slovakia‘s greatest pride. Zipping west down the freeway, take detours to see Orava and Strečno castles perched on rocky hills overlooking beautiful river valleys. Turning southward, in Trenčín deciphser a Roman-era tablet on a rock wall and take a covered medieval staircase to another impressive castle, with a romantic story to boot. Buy some sweets at a street market in a historic university town of Trnava, and close your Slovakia road–trip loop where you started, in Bratislava.
By Peter from I ♥ SLOVAKIA
Czech Republic – South Bohemia
South Bohemia in the Czech Republic is the perfect area to explore on a road trip. With castles, chateaus and fairytale-like towns scattered all over the region, you can spend a few days exploring what this underrated part of Central Europe has to offer.
Starting in Cesky Krumlov, one of the most picturesque towns in Europe. Some people say it’s like Prague but in miniature, and it’s becoming extremely popular with tourists. Its historic centre has been designated UNESCO World Heritage, with its medieval streets, quaint houses and grand castle. It’s definitely worth spending a day or two here before setting off.
Half an hour away is Ceske Budejovice, the largest city in South Bohemia and an absolute gem of a place. Its pastel-coloured square, with its historic baroque fountain, is one of the largest in Europe. It is famous for being the home of the original Budweiser beer, and a brewery tour is a must do here.
The next stop would be Pisek, a medium sized town that boasts the oldest bridge in Czech Republic, older than Prague’s famous Charles Bridge. The relaxed atmosphere of this town makes it perfect for a stroll along the river and through its squares and streets lined up with picturesque baroque townhouses.
Pisek is also a great base to explore Zvikov and Orlik Castles and Bechyne Chateau. Zvikov is often called the ‘King of Czech Castles’ and it sits on a spectacular position on the confluence of the rivers Vltava and Otava. It is one of the most haunted places in the Czech Republic. Orlik is more a chateau than a castle, a centuries old mansion that overlooks the Orlik water reservoir. And Bechyne is a Renaissance style chateau in the village of the same name, with incredible views over the confluence of the Luznice River and the Smutna Stream.
The road trip ends in Tabor, a city with tons of history with high importance for Central Europe. Getting lost in its charming narrow streets and exploring the Medieval Underground Tunnels are a must thing to do here.
By Teresa from Brogan Abroad
Road Trips in the Balkans
Slovenia – Ljubljana, Kobarid, Triglav National Park, Radovljica, Maribor, Portorož
Slovenia is one of the most hidden gems in Europe. With its beautiful nature, it’s perfect for outdoor lovers. You can go hiking, mountain biking or rafting over one of the bluest rivers in the world. It’s a really small country so it’s perfect for a road trip. In one or two weeks you can visit all the highlights to get a good impression of all the different regions.
Fly to Ljubljana for a short city trip and rent a car to start your road trip. From there you can drive to Kobarid, which is close to the border with Italy. Go camping (or glamping) at Kamp Koren and enjoy the beautiful hiking trails in the area. Don’t miss the hidden Kozjak waterfall! Closeby you can even go rafting on the famous Soča river.
Triglav National Park is a place you can’t miss on your Slovenia route. Visit the Tolmin Gorge, the ski slopes of Kranjska Gora, Bohinj lake and the impressive Peričnik waterfall. From there it’s only a small drive to the famous (and somewhat touristic) Lake Bled. Make a quick stop in the old town of Radovljica to enjoy the local life and for learning how to make gingerbread.
If you’re a wine lover, then the city of Maribor should be on your route as well. It’s home to the oldest vine in the world and is one of the largest wine-growing regions of Slovenia. It’s a creative city with a young cool vibe.
Tired after all the outdoor activities and wine tastings? Dive into the spa and wellness world of Terme Olimia. Here you can relax in total tranquility for one or two days. Just enough to continue your back to the west side of Slovenia. Visit the beaches and harbor of Portorož, make a stop at the Lipica Horse stables to learn more about the Lipizzaner horses and don’t forget to dive into one of the biggest caves in the world at Postojna.
By Denise from Inhetvliegtuig
Albania – Tirana, Shkoder, Komani Lake, and into Montenegro!
A good road trip itinerary is the route north from Tirana through many traditional towns to Shkoder. Shkoder is home to the 2000-year-old Rozafa Castle which has survived the Romans, Byzantine and Ottoman empires. This mountain top relic now welcomes visitors at little to no charge to meander through its modestly maintained grounds with spectacular views over Skadar lake.
You can then continue east following the winding road along the Drin river to Komani lake to experience peace and tranquillity of the mountains. Alternatively, head west to the coast, crossing the desolate border at Muriqan to reach the Montenegrin beaches of Ulcinj. Ulcinj comes alive with party goers in summer. The beaches mixed with the deep history and a range of food options make this a relaxing midway point before returning to Tirana.
Road Trips in Eastern Europe
Romania – Transfagarasian Highway
Cycling the Transfagarasian Highway the weekend before it was officially open for the summer and immediately after an International Drift Rally was an amazing experience in developing an understanding of the human capacity to manage
experiences which may be considered impossible, or at the very least undesirable or crazy.
The route, already infamous for its construction and its visually staggering steep twists and turns has, in recent years, gained more international fame through the increase of tourism in Eastern Europe and the continued growth of car culture, front lining the mass appeal of this incredible road.
The road itself winds up through an incredible set of steep-sided, natural amphitheaters, comprised of forests, meadows, and rock traversing the stunning Carpathian Mountains in central Romania. The road is open for a short period of time in the summer
and is entirely dependant on the weather. The Pass, at a height of 2,042 metres (6,699 ft) is entirely at the whim of
Mother Nature. The beautiful Bâlea Lake is located on the Pass, just before the Bâlea Tunnel, the longest road
tunnel in Romania at 884 m (2,900 ft) and is well worth stopping to see.
There is a small hotel beside the lake and assorted accommodation can be found approximately 1/2 way up each side of the Highway, should a hike to one of the nearby waterfalls and an overnight stop seem attractive. Wind, rain, thick fog, snow (which
covers the road for much of the year) and the numerous hairpin bends make it a challenge for all travellers regardless of the time of year. Perhaps you will go on a clear day, perhaps visibility will be 10m ahead …
Regardless … the Transfagarasian Highway is a stunning, iconic and interesting route containing a range of natural diversity that should to be missed and if there is fog and rain on one side of the Pass it is entirely possible that the opposite side of the mountains will be bathed in sunshine with clear vistas as far as the eye can see!
By Rae from Wide Eyed Views
Bulgaria – Belogradchik, Magura Caves, Baba Vida castle
A road trip in Europe is always a great idea: Beautiful nature, mountains, lakes, a lot of history and amazing highways can be found. Well, at least the latter is not the case in Bulgaria – which makes it a true adventure for a road trip in Europe.
Starting in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia, you can head to Belogradchik, the Magura Caves and the Baba Vida castle, which are located
next to the border to Romania. This would be feasible in a day, apart from one thing: The Bulgarian highway. Despite having a tempo limit of 140 km/h, the streets are mostly tight and in a “pretty bad” condition.
Therefore the road trip takes a bit more time than expected – but is absolutely worth it. While Belogradchik is an absolutely stunning place – the Magura Caves are absolutely fascinating, containing within them over 10,000 years of history.
Other great spots to visit on your Bulgaria road trip include Plovdiv and the surrounding wine region, beautiful Ruse which is known as the Vienna of Bulgaria and the Black Sea coast. While the highway is hard to tackle at times, beautiful spots like Varna, located on the Black Sea and the medieval town of Veliko Tarnovo which is bursting with history make all the potholes worth it.
A road trip In Bulgaria might not be the perfect choice for everybody, yet, there are several amazing options for road trips or day trips from Sofia – especially if you like to travel to some places that have not yet been discovered by millions of tourists.
By Michael from Msc Gerber
Road Trips in the Mediteranean
Whilst bucket list tickers head to the Greek islands of Santorini and Mykonos, the island of Crete is the destination of choice for clued in road-trippers. As the largest of the Greek islands, its size and sheer variety of things to see and do is incredible. Plan a road trip based on archaeological sites, beautiful beaches, traditional villages, or combine them all together for the ultimate road trip in Crete – the possibilities are endless!
A logical starting point for a road trip in Crete would be the main city of Heraklion. Here, the Minotaur’s lair at Knossos can be visited before jumping into the car, and driving in a roughly clockwise direction around the island.
Following the coastline, the road tripper has a wealth of places to choose from in front of them. If you’re wondering what to do on a road trip around Crete, beaches will probably spring to mind first. But whether you’re after caves, beaches, old towns or ancient ruins, Crete delivers.
Popular cave sites include: Dikteon Cave and Lasithi plateau where according to myth Zeus was born, Milatos Cave is home to a mini church and was the site of a dramatic story between locals and Turkish invaders in 1823! Matala Caves are man-made and were used as tombs in the Roman times.
There are lots of beaches that you can visit on your Crete road trip, each stunningly beautiful. They include Diskos Beach, Elafonisi and Triopetra Beach, and Frangokastello with its Venetian castle. You can also take a boat to Spinalonga Island; an abandoned islet with lots of interesting stories.
If history and culture is more your thing, check out the Historical Sites of Gortyna and Phaistos, which are ruins harking from Ancient Greek history. And Chania Town is a worthy lunch stop, with a 14th century Venetian harbour, beautiful houses and waterfront restaurants.
By following a clockwise direction around the island, the road tripper will eventually end up back in Heraklion.
A road trip in Crete is ideal for anyone who has visited Greece before, and would like to get to know the country a little better. Being able to get to off the beaten path locations, and check out places only the locals know about guarantees memories that will last a lifetime!
By Dave from Dave’s Travel Pages
Greece – Pelponnese Peninsula
A road trip around the Peloponnese peninsula is one of the classic Greek adventures and an awesome way to get a taste of this beautiful and diverse Mediterranean country. It has everything Greece has to offer, from stunning beaches, sparkling rivers, and waterfalls and remote mountain ridges to charming villages, ancient cities, and medieval castles and forts. There isn’t just one right way to plan the trip and the exact itinerary will depend on your time frame, but sticking to the coast with short detours to inland is probably the best choice.
After visiting the ancient sites at Corinth, Mycenae and Epidaurus at the entrance to Peloponnese the road continues south towards the three “fingers” of the peninsula, Laconia, Mani, and Messinia. They are roughly equal in size but each has its own unique charm, natural beauty, and history. The highlights of Laconia in the east include Monemvasia, a picturesque medieval island town, and Elafonisos, a tiny little island off the southern coast with amazing, white, sandy beaches.
Mani is the wildest one thanks to its dramatic landscape of barren mountains, rugged coast and violent past full of blood feuds and vendettas. The region is scattered by picturesque fortified tower-house villages while the southern tip of the Mani peninsula at Cape Matapan is considered one of the possible entrances to the underworld! Messinia in the west is a complete opposite with its golden beaches, medieval castles, lush gorges full of streams and waterfalls and never-ending olive groves. It is the perfect place to slow down and relax for a couple of days.
Following the western coast of Peloponnese to the north, you’ll reach Patra, the 3the largest Greek city. After exploring its lively center, a medieval castle and a multitude of museums, cafes, and shops, you’ll have a decision to make. Either return to Athens along the mountainous northern coast of Peloponnese or cross the impressive modern bridge at Rio and continue your adventures through the Greek mainland.
By Helena from Just for One Summer
Baltics Road Trip
A road trip is the best way to see the Baltic countries: Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Our recommended route will take you to all three capital cities and along beautiful coastal routes. Ideally, you’ll want two weeks for the trip, but you can do it ten days if that’s all you have. We started in Lithuania, but you can easily reverse it and start in Estonia.
Spend a few days exploring Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius, before picking up your car. It’s a great city with a multitude of unique churches and some incredible viewpoints. Drive west just over an hour to Kaunas, Lithuania’s second biggest city, and spend one to two nights there. There are plenty of things to do in Kaunas and it’s soon to be a European cultural capital city. From Kaunas, continue west until you reach the coast. You can stop at Klaipeda for some beach time and venture out onto the Coronian Spit, but we drove on until we reached Liepāja in Latvia (which in total took about three and a half hours).
Located on the western coast of Latvia, Liepāja has a great beach as well as access to one of the most interesting places we’ve visited – Karosta, an old naval base. We recommend spending two days in Liepāja so you can fully explore. From there, drive north up to the tip of Latvia and stop at Cape Kolka. To get there, you’ll drive about three hours along a pretty abandoned road with thick forest on either side. There’s an entry fee, but we think it’s worth it to stand at the tip of Latvia with waves crashing around you. Next, drive southeast about two hours to Latvia’s capital city, Riga. With its Art Nouveau buildings and the biggest market in Europe, you should spend two to three days here.
And finally, onto Estonia! If you’d like, you can stop at the popular beach town, Parnu, which is about two and a half hours from Riga. We went a bit further, and stopped in Haapsalu, which has a spa. Either way, you don’t need more than one night in either. Your final stop is the capital of Estonia, Tallinn (about an hour and a half from Haapsalu). Known for its city walls and an an old town atop a hill, you need at least two full days to take it all in.
By Sarah from Travel Breathe Repeat