Central Europe Road Trip Destinations from Prague
This is a Central Europe road trip destinations guide to my favorite off-beat places.
Prague has become the most popular tourist destination in Central Europe, with over 7 million visitors a year, ranking 5th in all of Europe. With a world-class international airport and incredible proximity to many of the crowning jewels of Central Europe, it makes for the perfect starting point to explore this region of Europe.
When God created Europe, he must have been a big fan a of road trips. How else can you savor so much ethereal beauty? A Central Europe road trip lets you relish the paradisaical beauty of the region with all your senses. You can travel at your own pace. Stop wherever and whenever you want. You can change your plans at any moment, and still, you’ll find beauty wherever you decide to go. While I had been road tripping through Europe for the last two decades, in 2018 I traveled a bit differently. I did a 4 months budget solo travel in Europe, where I traveled from offbeat Western Central Europe, to the more unexplored Eastern side. Here are my recommended Central Europe Road trip destinations.
- Lille, France
- Innsbruck, Austria
- Zell am See, Austria
- Kolpa River, Slovenia
- Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
- Zagreb, Croatia
- Belgrade Serbia
Lille, Northern France
France needs no introduction when it comes to attracting foreign travelers. Unfortunately, most tourists don’t go beyond Paris and visit Northern France. Just one hour away from the home of Eiffel Tower lies “France’s best kept secret” Lille, an under-the-radar city has always remained in the shadow of the glamorous capital. It was once a part of the ‘Flemish Flanders,’ a region comprising of modern day Northern France, Belgium, and Holland. Right from architecture to cuisine, everything reminds you of Lille’s Flemish roots. And, why not. After all, the fourth largest city of France only became French in 1667. Today, it’s a mélange of French and Flemish culture served with a generous topping of medieval old town, art museums, elegant shopping arcades, unique cuisine, and an active nightlife.
Here’s why Lille needs to be on your Western to Eastern Central Europe road trip radar.
- Ideal Location: Very few places can boost of the connectivity like Lille has – 1 hour from Paris, 30 minutes from Brussels and 1.5 hours from London.
- Flemish Food: It’s a sin to visit Lille and not try its trio of classic Flemish entrees – Carbonnade (beef braised in dark beer), Waterzooi (chicken, cream, egg, carrots, leeks, onions, and celery) and Pot’je vleesch (boned rabbit, veal, pork, and chicken). Also, one place that is on every foodie’s wish list – Méert, a legendary pasty shop that has delighted kings, viceroys, generals and gourmands since 1761.
- Beer Culture: Although France is renowned for its wines, Lille is a hub of France’s beer culture. A perfect place for pub crawls and microbreweries.
- Youthful vibe: Lille is the second most popular cities in France when it comes to attracting students from all over the world, which results in a very vibrant and lively atmosphere.
- Design city of Europe: Lille is the first French city to be designated as the Design Capital of the World for 2020. The caveated award is given to cities that use design and people-centric methods to boost economic, social, cultural and environmental development of an area.
- Historic : Place du Général de Gaulle (Grand Place), Eglise Saint-Maurice Church, Rang du Beauregard, Cathédrale Notre-Dame de la Treille, La Piscine in Roubaix and the Vieille Bourse or “Old Stock Exchange”
- Museums: Palais Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts Museum), Musée Louvre-Lens, Lille Métropole Musée d’Art Moderne, d’Art Contemporain et d’Art Brut, Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse, Maison Natale Charles de Gaulle (Charles de Gaulle Museum), Musée d’Art et d’Industrie André Diligent
- Flemish cuisine: Les Compagnons de la Grappe, De la vielle bière Goudale, Le Barbier qui Fume, A l’Huitererie
- Pastries and waffles: Méert and Les Merveilleux
- Bar/brewery: Celestin’s Beers and Bistro St So
- Luxury : Rue de la Grande Chausseé and rue Masurel
- Annual flea market: Grande Braderie de Lille
- Luxury: L’Hermitage Gantois and Best Western Premier Why Hotel (luxury),
- Mid-range: Hôtel de la Treille and Grand Hotel Bellevue
- Budget: Hotel Brueghel, Hotel du Croise
- Hostel: Gastama
It’s almost impossible to find a city as exceptional and diverse in appeal as Innsbruck, the capital of Tyrol (Tirol). No other city comes close to Innsbruck when it comes to city adventures and mountain encounters. Whether you love hiking boots or heels, alpine adventures or cultural pleasures; Innsbruck will delight you with its all-encompassing attractions. Hemmed by the majestic Alps, it doubles up as an Alpine playground as well as a showcase of Habsburg Empire inheritance. Here world-famous Imperial buildings stand alongside modern international structures. Innsbruck is an ideal city to visit in all seasons for all kind of activities – skiing, snowboarding, hiking, cycling, shopping, food and culture.
- Nature and adventure: Nordkettenbahnen (Innsbruck’s majestic Nordkette mountain range), Bergisel Ski Jump
- History and Culture: Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof) and Altstadt (Old Town), Hofburg (Imperial Palace), Schloss Ambras(a medieval fortress-turned-Renaissance palace), Hofkirche (court church), Triumphal Arch, and Maria-Theresien Strasse
- Nearby attraction: Swarovski Kristallwelten (Swarovski Crystal Worlds)
- Tyrolean cuisine: Gasthaus Anich, Goldenes Dachl Restaurant
- International cuisine: Ristorante Rosengarten (Italian), Kai (Japanese), Victoria’s (Thai and sushi), Ludwig (American diner) and Himal (Nepalese)
- Pastries: Konditorei Munding and Café Sacher
- Bars/Beer garden: Stiftskeller
- Modern shopping: Rathausgalerie and Kaufhaus Tyrol shopping centres
- Fresh produce: Innsbruck’s Market Hall and farmers’ markets
- Luxury: Grand Hotel Europa
- Mid-range: Penz Hotel and Goldener Adler Hotel
- Budget: Hotel Weisses Kreuz
Zell am See-Kaprun, Austria
Situated midway between Innsbruck and Salzburg, Zell am See- Kaprun, is all-year-round travel destination offering visitors a 400-kilometer-long hiking trail network. There’s something for everyone, from easy family trails around the Lake Zell to challenging hikes on the majestic Kitzsteinhorn. Zell am See-Kaprun is one of those places where you could ski on the Kitzsteinhorn glacier in the morning and watch the same mountain shine in the golden dust as you soak yourself in the healing spa waters.
- Nature and adventure: Kitzsteinhorn glacier, Schmittenhöhe mountain, alpine mountain reservoirs (Wasserfallboden and Mooserboden), Grossglockner high alpine road
- History and Culture: Kasternerturm (oldest building in Zell am See), St. Hypolith’s Church (11th Century), Stadtplatz
- Nearby attraction: Salzburg town
- Austrian cuisine: Mayer’s restaurant, Steinerwirt, Einkehr, Erlhof, Areitalm
- International cuisine: Der Sonnberg (Vietnamese), Villa Crazy Daisy (Italian)
- Zell am See’s town centre: home to several boutique shops and supermarkets
- Luxury: Salzburgerhof, Tauern Spa Kaprun, Grand Hotel, and Volvo Ice Camp (igloos) and Hotel Tirolerhof
- Mid-range: Erlhof Hotel, Verwöhnhotel vötters
- Budget: Der Schmittenhof, Zur Burg
Kolpa Valley, Slovenia
Slovenia is considered to be the greenest country in Europe. And, within this pint-sized nation lies the Kolpa Valley that is mostly unknown to the outside visitors. Kolpa Valley gets its name from the 292-km long border river flowing between Slovenia and Croatia. Snaking through the south easternmost part of Slovenia, it forms a 113 km long natural border between the two Balkan nations. Being the warmest and cleanest river in Slovenia, it becomes a hotbed for water activities like swimming, stand-up paddle-boarding (SUP), kayaking, rafting, canoeing and fishing. Along the river and in its vicinity, there are numerous hiking and biking trails. The natural beauty of the region makes it an ideal destination for glamping and active holidays. In addition to natural beauty along the Kolpa, you can also enjoy the rich cultural heritage, exciting history and, most importantly, the hospitality of the friendly locals of Bela Krajina.
- Nature and adventure: Izvir reke Krupe, a limestone spring river in Semic with great views. Perfect picnic spot
- Nearby attraction: Metlika, Ljubljana, Plitvice and Zagreb
- Gostilna Müller: Must visit place for traditional Slovenian food. Must try their big bowls of soup and generous portions of schnitzel and fried squid.
- Gostišče Veselič: Order the ornate pogača accompanied
- Homestead Farm Zupančič: family style food with big plates of grilled trout, lamb, potatoes polenta and salad
- Domačija Kuzma: The riverside mill owned by a family since 1909 is a great place to unwind and indulge in Rakija (home-made brandy) tasting. They serve types of rakija – one distilled with seven herbs and the other infused with chili and rosemary.
- Berryshka: Great for Chocolate and Liqueurs tasting
- Big Berry Kolpa River Resort: Big Berry takes glamping to a new level by combining luxury lifestyle camp activities at Primostek with visits to local restaurants, artisans and food producers throughout the Bela Krajina region. This unique approach to glamping allows visitors to connect with both nature and the community.
Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
Plitvice Lakes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a verdant maze of trails, bridges, woods and meadows encircling the 16 sparkling turquoise lakes and over 90 crashing waterfalls. Besides the famous upper and lower lakes, the Lika county region is an ideal adventure playground for various activities that can be enjoyed throughout the year. You can bike the forest trails or hike the mountain peaks, ride a horse or swoosh through a zip line, buggy ride or ride the waves. The possibilities are endless when you travel from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes. All you need is an adventurous spirit and curious mind.
- History and culture: Birthplace of Nikola Tesla, the town of Udbina and Gospic in Lika county, which have been military frontiers in many important wars
- Nature and adventure: Upper and lower lakes, Beware of the Bear Zipline, Barac Caves, Gacka springs at Majerovo vrilo, Rastoke historic houses
- Nearby attraction: Zagreb, Zadar, Split and UNA national Park in Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Konoba Čemu Priša, Gospic: Must visit place if you want to try traditional Croatian food, Peka, which is cooked under fire.
- The National Restaurant Lička kuća: Great place to sample local Lika delicacies.
- Grabovac Restaurant: set in the newly opened hotel – Holiday Park Macola – is good when you are looking to grab a drink with your friends or family.
- Bistro Konoba Kum, Rastoke: famous for western and traditional Croatian dishes
- Highlanders Pub, Gospic: good to try their new lemonades, beers and cocktails
- Kun Lun: Good for Asian food, especially Chinese
- Hotel Jezero: located right in the central zone, the hotel provides an excellent service in a peaceful environment within affordable budget.
- Hotel Plitvice: Situated in the heart of the park, the hotel is considered one of the best architectural designs among public buildings in Croatian architecture.
- Hotel Grabovac (mid-range): This small three-star hotel with 31 rooms is 10 minutes away from Plitvice Lakes National Park, 15 minutes from the Baraćevi caves and 20 minutes from the Rastoke village and its mills.
Zagreb is the unspoiled version of loved-to-death Prague. It has everything you dream of in a European capital city – good connectivity by flight, train and bus, appealing attractions (where you won’t fight to click a picture), decent restaurants, active nightlife and even good shopping (although you won’t find throw-away bargains here). Zagreb, the pocket-size city, is made for strolling where beauty, beers and breakups co-exist. It is impossible to not fall in love with Zagreb’s medley of contemporary and ancient.
- History and culture: Mark’s Square, Lenuci Horseshoe, Mirogoj (cemetery and open-air sculpture park), Kamenita vrata, Lotrscak Tower, Trg bana Jelacica, Croatian National Theatre, Funicular (world’s shortest cable car used for public transport), and Lotrscak Towers (best preserved tower that fires Gric cannon everyday). There are plenty of galleries and museums with many exhibitions and events taking place at any given time. Must visit the unique Museum of Broken Relationships, displaying personal objects of ex-lovers telling their story.
- Nature and adventure: Medvednica, Maksimir and Botanical garden
- Nearby attraction: Plitvice Lakes
- Cafes: there are numerous good cafes in the main square and Tkalciceva ulica in the Upper Town.
- Bars and clubs: Grab a beer at Tkalčićeva,Optavina or Petar Peradovic Sqaure. Don’t leave Zagreb without trying Strukli at Hotel Dubrovnik’s café. Also, do try innovative nibble food in an informal, five-table dining room at Mali Bar
- Must-visit: Don’t miss ‘Dolac Market’ Zagreb’s largest farmer’s market functional since 1930
- Luxury: Esplanade Zagreb, Hotel Dubrovnik (located in the main city square), Le Premier,
- Mid-range: Hotel President Pantovcak, Hotel Jägerhorn (oldest hotel opened in 1827), Palace Hotel, Double Tree by Hilton, Sheraton
- Budget: Swanky Mint Hostel, Chillout Hostel
Once the headquarter of communist Yugoslavia, the Belgrade is not your regular European ‘postcard’ city, but a gritty capital destroyed and rebuilt over 40 times. As you traverse from one part of the city to the other, you see its chaotic past hugging a brighter future: socialist blocks standing between modern masterpieces, and Habsburg remnants contrasting with Ottoman ruins. Belgrade is a city where the Sava and Danube Rivers congregate. As you dig deeper, you find a city with the tumultuous past but a cradle of cool.
- History and culture: Belgrade Fortress (where over 115 battles have been fought), Museum of Yugoslavia (having more than 200,000 artefacts showcasing the fascinating turbulent history of Yugoslavia), St-Sava church (the world’s second biggest Orthodox church, Marshal Tito’s mausoleum, National Assembly, City Council, Republic Square with monument to Prince Michel, and buildings of National Theatre and National Museum. Pass through Knez Mihajlova pedestrian street and reach Kalemegdan park (viewpoint at the confluence of Sava and Danube river) and Zemun district.
- Nearby attraction: Western Serbia (Zlatibor, Uvac canyon, Mokra Gora, Tara National Park), Eastern Serbia and Novi Sad.
- Cafes / bars / clubs: Savamala district and Belgrade Waterfront area
- Must-visit: Don’t miss ‘Mala Fabrika Ukusa restaurant, Bohemian street of Skadarlija (Tri sesira restaurant), Manufaktura and Novak Djokovic restaurants
- Luxury: Crowne Plaza, Saint Ten, Square Nine
- Mid-range: Hotel Tesla, Royal Inn
- Budget: Play Hostel
Hope these 7 offbeat Central Europe road trip destinations inspire you to explore this region a bit more. If you have any questions about visiting any of these Central Europe destinations, please leave a comment below and we’ll be sure to answer them. For your Central Europe road trip car rental needs, we highly recommend Auto Europe for the best deals.
If you want to experience a European road trip in the comfort and privacy of your own vehicle, but don’t feel like driving yourself, contact Martin at European Transfers at 00420 775 744 447 —he can provide chauffeured driven road trips across Europe.