Eastern Europe is perfect for a road trip. Destinations are close enough to drive, while enjoying the most beautiful areas in Europe along the way. This East Europe itinerary of two to three weeks brings you to the charming towns, impressive mountains, beautiful lakes and picturesque palaces of the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia and Austria. This blog gives you detailed information about each destination and the exact itinerary for this Eastern Europe road trip.
Read more: If you’re looking for more road trip inspiration, read about the 20 most beautiful road trips in Europe.
Why visit Eastern Europe?
Eastern Europe is one of the most underrated travel destinations. The popular countries in Western Europe like France, Italy and Spain are well known to travelers, but people seem to be less interested in the more eastern countries of Europe. Let’s change that! Central and Eastern Europe is home to the most charming towns – perfect for a European city trip as well – historic buildings, stunning palaces, impressive nature and warm culture. We believe this area is too big and has too much to offer for just one road trip. Each country would be worth a trip on its own. But if you’d like to combine the best of each, this 3- to 2-week itinerary for East Europe might be a perfect fit.
Why a road trip?
You can easily travel around Eastern Europe by public transport. In fact, I traveled around Eastern Europe for weeks by train with an international train ticket called Interrail. But I’d choose a rental car over public transport, as it gives you more flexibility. You don’t have to plan your trip according to a train schedule, you can make some great stops along the road and also easily visit beautiful destinations outside the big cities.
Read more: the best train routes to travel Europe by train.
It’s good to know that most countries in Europe are part of the European Union, making it easy to cross the border without any checks slowing you down. Check the rental conditions in advance to see if you’re allowed to take your rental car across the border. Also, make sure to arrange your car insurance directly with your booking. Car insurances usually work for every country around Europe, as insurances have to be in line with the European Union regulations.
We always prefer to book a rental car with Discover Car Hire, as insurances are usually included and you won’t be surprised by any extra costs when picking up your car. With Discover Car Hire, you can easily check if you can cross the borders in the ‘Rental Conditions’ under ‘Geographical restrictions’. It’s usually allowed to drive your rental car in other European Union countries, but upon previous request with your booking or against extra payment. Make sure to check this when booking.
This road trip itinerary starts in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. It has an international airport and many car rental companies are based in Prague. You’ll return to Prague from your last stop in this Eastern Europe itinerary (Salzburg in Austria) to return your car and fly back home.
What is the best travel time for Eastern Europe?
Eastern Europe can get quite cold in winter, so summer is the peak season for this region. Spring and autumn work for Eastern Europe travel as well, but we’d prefer the warmer summer months.
We’d recommend you to spend at least 3 to 2 weeks in Eastern Europe. Our East Europe itinerary would work for 2 or preferably 3 weeks. If you have less time, we recommend choosing the first or last part of this itinerary. And if you have more time? Add some extra stops to this itinerary in each country, as there is so much more to visit than included in this road trip.
3 to 2-week itinerary for the perfect Eastern Europe road trip
This Eastern European road trip itinerary takes you to the biggest highlights and lesser-known destinations in two to three weeks. If you have less time – perhaps about a week – consider focusing on the first party and visit the Polish destinations or visit Central European destinations like Prague, Vienna and Salzburg.
Stop 1: Prague in the Czech Republic
Start your road trip in beautiful Prague. The Czech capital is one of the most beautiful road trip destinations in Europe, so you can imagine I’ve visited this gem several times. The charming streets and historic buildings keep me entertained each and every time.
The highlights of Prague:
- The Old Square and City Hall with the oldest working astronomical clock in the world.
- Prague Castle high above the city with beautiful views and the palace and churches to visit.
- The iconic Charles Bridge with dozens of statues and at least as many street vendors.
- The John Lennon Wall with graffiti art, once a protest in communist times, and the lovers bridge with thousands of love locks.
- The library of the Strahov Monastery, not far from the Prague Castle.
Stop 2: Wroclaw in Poland
Wroclaw may not be one of the more popular destinations in Poland, but definitely worth a visit on this road trip. Everything about this historic city is charming, picturesque and romantic. Wroclaw is crossed by many big or smaller rivers and canals, has more than a hundred bridges and consists of many islands. One of the most famous islands is Ostrow Tumski, or translated: ‘Cathedral Island’, so you know what you’ll visit here. When walking around Wroclaw, you’ll probably also notice the many, many gnome statues on the streets. These little gnomes have been slowly taking over the city since 2001 and you can find them now all over the old town. Use this gnome map to will find the best gnome statues, while exploring the old center of Wroclaw.
The highlights of Wroclaw:
- The Market Square with its colorful buildings, one of the largest squares in Europe.
- Ostrow Tumski (‘Cathedral Island’) with the most beautiful churches and buildings from the twelfth century.
- The Tumski bridge with thousands of love locks.
- The light show of the Wroclaw Multimedia Fountain.
- The gnomes of Wroclaw in the old city center (map).
Stop 3: Warsaw in Poland
The Polish capital has historic streets, beautiful squares and stunning buildings. We’re lucky we can still enjoy all of this today, as the city was almost completely destroyed in the Second World War. The old center (‘Stare Miasto’) of Warsaw was rebuilt after the war using old photos. In fact, the Polish people succeeded well enough to get the Warsaw old city on the protected UNESCO World Heritage List.
The highlights of Warsaw:
- The Palace of Culture and Science, one of the tallest buildings in Poland and from Stalin’s time.
- Old Market Square with its colorful houses and Mermaid statue, the symbol of Warsaw.
- The Castle Square with the Royal Palace and King Sigismund Column.
Stop 4: Krakow in Poland
My favorite city in Eastern Europe is Krakow, so I just had to include this gem on this road trip itinerary. The town itself has a picturesque old center, located around a huge central square. You’ll visit churches here and enjoy the beautiful architecture. From Krakow, you can also easily take a day trip to the former Nazi camp Auschwitz and to the underground salt mines Wieliczka, both highly recommended.
The highlights of Krakow:
- The Main Square with tourist horse carts, the Cloth Hall and Town Hall Tower.
- The historic Wawel Castle.
- The Jewish Quarter with coffee shops and restaurants.
- Schindler’s List filming locations (find them here).
- Buy a Cracow pretzel from a street cart and taste a local zapiekanka (pizza roll).
Stop 5: the Tatra Mountains between Poland and Slovakia
From Krakow it is only a short drive to the Polish-Slovakian border. This mountain area is the perfect place to enjoy Eastern European nature. On the border are the Tatra Mountains located. It’s the perfect destination for beautiful mountain hikes, while staying in authentic mountain huts. The most famous town in this area is Zakopane in Poland. It is a popular winter sports destination and has many characteristic houses. From Zakopane you can take the ski lift up to bring you to the start of a beautiful mountain one-day hike.
The highlights in the Tatra Mountains:
- The mountain village of Zakopane.
- Popradské pleso, a glacial lake at an altitude of almost 1500 meters.
- The Bachledka Treetop hike high above the treetops.
- Mountain lake Morskie Oko, not far from Zakopane.
Stop 6: Budapest in Hungary
On to the Hungarian capital Budapest, on the river Danube. The Danube divides the city into two parts: Buda and Pest. You will probably stay in Pest, but also visit Buda once or twice. Though Pest is rather flat, Buda is built on hills, creating beautiful views over the city, such as from the Gellertberg. The Buda Castle, one of the city’s popular attractions, is also located in this part of Budapest. The Hungarian capital has beautiful architecture, impressive churches and beautiful streets, but is also one of the more modern cities in Eastern Europe. The ‘ruin bars’ are extremely popular, located in empty buildings in the city. The best known is Szimpla Kert, hailed as the best bar in the world.
The highlights of Budapest:
- The Budapest Parliament, where you can take a tour to see the most beautiful halls.
- The ‘ruin bars’ like Szimpla Kert.
- The historic bathhouses, with Széchenyi outdoor baths and art nouveau bathhouse Gellert being the best known.
- The Grand Market Hall to try local dishes and buy souvenirs.
- The historic Chain Bridge, the oldest bridge crossing the Danube.
Stop 7: Zagreb in Croatia
The capital of Croatia is our next stop. Zagreb is built on a hill and consists of two parts: Gornji Grad (top) and Donji Grad (bottom). The upper part is the old Zagreb with historical buildings and colorful facades. Donji Grad is home to the modern part of the city with modern restaurants and bars.
The highlights of Zagreb:
- Saint Marcus’ Church and Zagreb Cathedral.
- Ilica train between below and above Zagreb, perhaps the shortest funicular in the world.
- The Dolac farmers market, where locals come to shop every day.
- The Mirogoj cemetery just outside the city, one of the most beautiful cemeteries in Europe.
Stop 8: Lake Bled in Slovenia
The best known and most photogenic destination in Slovenia is Lake Bled. In the middle of the lake is a picturesque island with a church in the center. You can row to the island yourself by renting a boat or let someone else row you to the island in a gondola or bigger ‘ferry’ boat. I once spent a family holiday at the like as a teenager and rowed myself to the island in our inflatable boat myself and my little cousin to attend a church service. An unforgettable experience! Bled Castle is the other main highlight at the lake. It’s high up on a hill, offering beautiful views of the lake.
The highlights of Lake Bled:
- A boat trip to the island.
- Bled Castle with a view over the lake.
- The lush green Vintgar gorge nearby with walkways and waterfalls.
- A day trip to the capital Ljubljana.
Stop 9: Salzburg in Austria
The last stop of this Eastern Europe itinerary is the mountain town of Salzburg in Austria. This ancient city is packed with royal palaces and castles and other historical monuments, against a picturesque backdrop of snow-capped peaks. The old town – Altstadt in German – is the most beautiful part of Salzburg and is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Wandering around the charming old streets like the Judengasse is one of the best ways to enjoy Salzburg, spotting its many authentic signs on the houses and colorful facades. The most popular tourist attraction is the Mirabell Palace from the seventeenth century with its stunning palace gardens. The fountain in the garden may look familiar to you, as it was used in the film classic The Sound of Music. The film was mostly shot in Salzburg.
The highlights of Salzburg:
- The cable car up into the mountains for a mountain hike and beautiful views.
- The yellow Hellbrunn Palace with its zoo and park.
- The classic Mirabell Palace, famous for its beautiful gardens.
- St. Peter’s Cemetery where the last scene of The Sound of Music was shot and the famous composer Haydn and Mozart’s sister Nannerl are buried.
- Visit Mozart’s birthplace to learn more about the composer.