What is not to like about road trips? Just picture the feeling of being free to stop wherever you want. To take detours to cute towns. To see spectacular landscapes fly by outside the window as you drive. Europe is as made for epic road trip adventures. And Central Europe in particular, where distances are short, historical sites are countless, and the scenic landscapes are everchanging.
14 days, 4 countries, and 6 destinations
If you knew me, you would not question where I got my love for road trips from. I was not even born yet, the first time I participated on my parents’ honeymoon road trip to Germany. Throughout my childhood and teenage years there we spent numerous holidays driving through Denmark, Germany, Austria, and Italy. The last time I joined a family tour through Europe was in 2006, and after more than a decade of travels either solo or with friends, it was finally time for another family holiday in 2019.
We were five people divided on two cars that started the journey from Norway with the overnight Fjord Line-ferry between Bergen in Norway and Hirtshals in Denmark and continued fast forward to the German border without any stops. Our route the following two weeks was made by my adventurous 75-year-old father and would take us to six different destinations in Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, and Poland.
Destination no. 1: Celle, Germany
After a full day of driving, we reached Celle. A cute German town known for its more than 400 half-timbered buildings, the oldest one dating as far back as to the 1520’s, and the Renaissance and Baroque style castle.
We spent the evening admiring the oldtown and eating pizza at the only restaurant open. It was my second visit to Celle, and one night here was enough. Back in the car next morning, we continued south off the autobahn (motorway) and stopped for lunch in the small town of Bad Sooden-Allen.
Perk of road trips: Scenic detours and stopping wherever you like.
Destination no. 2: Nürnberg, Germany
Next destination was new to us all, and the only one of places we visited where I really wished I had more time. Luckily restaurants stayed open longer in the evenings here than in Celle, and we got a proper Bavarian dinner experience in an old cellar just next to the gothic St. Laurence church.
To maximize my time in Nuremberg, I got up early for a run around the old town. One of my favourite travel hacks is to get up early and witness the city waking up. I also must admit that I was also on a quest for the highly instagrammable (probably not a word, but I am sure know what I mean) street Weissgerbergasse. After running up and down quite a few streets and alleys, the narrow street was winding up between the colourful half-timbered houses right in front of me. Adding the soft morning light and it was a picture-perfect moment which off course ended up on Instagram.
When it was time for us to leave Nürnberg the weather changed, and it started to pour down. Perfect timing to continue our drive towards Hallstatt in Austria, where we had planned to spend a total of 5 days.
Destination no. 3: Hallstatt, Austria
If you at some point have driven through Germany, you know the feeling when you suddenly see the mountains lingering the far distance. The Alps are getting closer! And we were heading right into them. Hallstatt is an extremely charming town nestled between the Hallstätter see and the massive Dachstein mountains. If you have been following any travel related Instagram account the last few years, you cannot have missed seeing it there. It is no wonder why this town was an inspiration for Arendelle in Disney’s Frost movie.
In 1997, Hallstatt was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, not for its beauty, but for its extensive salt mining history. The salt mines here are the oldest in the world and have been operated for 7000 years. We spent a rainy day exploring the history, which included a funicular ride up the mountains, getting the eagle’s eye view of the town from a skywalk, and a very interesting, guided tour into the salt mines.
Perk of road trips: You always have a car available for exciting daytrips
While most visitors only spend a day here, there is plenty of activities and sights to fill your time if staying longer. You can go hiking on signposted trails directly from the town centre, explore the pretty lake by boat, or let the Dachstein Krippenstein gondolas take you high up into the alps. And why not spend a day to explore Mozarts’ birthplace, Salzburg?
Destination no. 4: České Budějovice, Czech Republic
As mentioned earlier, distances in Central Europe are short. Only a couple of hours drive from Hallstatt you find the border to the Czech Republic, and that was where we were heading next. As my father had visited Prague several times the previous years, he wanted to get out of the tourist track and found the fairly unknown South Bohemian capital České Budějovice to be a more interesting destination for our days in the Czech Republic. Was he correct? As someone who has yet to explore the Czech capital, I would not have been disappointed by stopping by Prague either. That said, České Budějovice is a vibrant, beautiful city perfect for a few days to experience a less known part of the country.
We spent the evenings strolling through colourful streets and alleys, dining on the main square, and enjoying a night cap by the river.
Solo day trip: Český Krumlov
While the rest of the family spent day two in the Czech Republic visiting the famous Budweiser Budvar Brewery, I ventured off on an excursion on my own. Being a (social) introvert used to travelling solo, it is no secret that group holidays can be somewhat challenging at times. Finding pockets of time to get out on adventures on my own is my way to keep sane and continue to be a good travel companion to the rest of the group.
As the sun rose above the city, I made my way along the wide avenues to České Budějovice bus terminal. Just over an hour later I found myself in the middle of the fairy tale town of Český Krumlov, and I could tick another World Heritage Site of my list. Český Krumlov is a real treat for everyone into medieval towns, castles, and narrow colourful streets. It is by far more touristified than its brother České Budějovice, but well worth a day trip. The day was spent walking. Up and down, into the castle hovering above the old town, through the pretty park next to the castle, crossing the river, and back up. The whole time trying to picture what life here was like in the Middle Ages.
I got back to České Budějovice in time for dinner, refreshed and ready for more family time.
Destination no. 5: Jelenia Gora, Poland
The following morning, after a quick climb up the Black Tower to see the main square from above, we were back in our cars heading towards our first Polish destination still not aware what an eventful drive this would be.
Road works can be a hassle on every road trip, but usually it only means queuing. This day, on the other hand, it meant our GPS taking us on a scenic tour on narrow rural roads in the mountains between Poland and the Czech Republic. Not just past farms, but straight through pretty farmyards. Off course we lost touch with the other car, and we have still no idea where we were that day. The only reason we suddenly could tell we were getting closer to the border, was that my winter sport-loving father recognized the ski flying hill in Harrachov.
Perk of road trips: You get to experience places outside the beaten track
Not long after we drove into the pastel coloured and somewhat rustic city centre of Jelenia Gora at the foot of the Karkonosze National Park which is spread across both countries. While the other got their keys to a two-bedroom apartment right on the old market square, I walked 1 kilometre to the nearest of the two hotels I could find online. As I strolled through Jelenia Gora’s old town, I remembered why I fell in love with Poland on my solo train holiday there the year before. Poland to me is colourful, decorated buildings and welcoming people.
Although Jelenia Gora is not as grand as Krakow, Wroclaw, or Gdansk, it definitely had its charm and good atmosphere.
Destination no. 6: Szczecin, Poland
Two days later I got out of the car for the last time on this road trip. At least for the last time outside of Norway, more on that below. I checked in to our Szczecin hotel for three nights, the others for only one. Our last night together was spent strolling along the river Oder and a typical Polish dinner on the Hay Market Square.
Still off the tourist track, Szczecin, unlike Jelenia Gora, had the busier and more modern charm of a large seaport. Most of the old town was lost during second world war and replaced with after-war architecture, but there were still traces from its interesting past to be found here and there. On warm July days I soon learnt that the riverbank was the place to be. After checking out the interesting sights I could find, I spent hours along the Oder. Walking, eating, people watching, and reading. My introvert mind was at peace!
The perfect ending to our Central Europe road trip
Landing in Bergen, I soon realized that I arrived at the same time as my family’s ferry from Denmark. While the three others stayed put in Bergen where they live, I joined my father on the last 100-kilometre drive back to Voss. A perfect ending to our 14 days holiday which left us with just as many memories as my childhood road trips in Europe.
All our destinations in one map:
Have you road tripped through Europe? If yes, what is you favourite thing about it?