Tips when Planning Your Europe Road Trip
• Unlike toilets in America, toilets in Europe are pay-to-use. If you ask me, clean stalls, adequate soap and toilet paper are worth paying a dime for. Pay toilets average around 0.50 to 1 EUR.
• Germany remains one of the most cash-intensive societies in Europe as well as across the world. From gas stations and parking garages, to cafes and museum passes, cash is the preferred and sometimes the only method of payment. So, remember to carry plenty of cash and change during your Europe road trip.
• If you are renting a car in Germany, make sure your rental company permits you to drive into other parts of Europe (such as the Czech Republic).
• During your Europe road trip, you may encounter some countries where vignettes or toll stickers are required for driving. These can be purchased at border crossings, gas stations and some post offices.
- To drive on the highways in the Czech Republic, you will need a vignette. The cheapest one costs 310 CZK, and is valid for 10 days. (you can always drive the country roads for free)
- To drive on Swiss highways, you have to purchase a vignette at the border. They cost 40 CHF and are valid for a year. (you can always drive the country roads for free)
I traveled to 7 countries during my Europe road trip: Germany, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic. I visited a total of 30 cities in 13 days, hectic but highly prudent in terms of quality experiences, time management and budget allocation. Each of these 30 cities in Europe are unique and captivating in their own way. But like any other trip, it’s all about prioritizing time and resources. I have detailed my entire Europe road trip experience in this post, as well as provided in-depth recommendations and travel tips.
- Starbucks in Germany | So Much Better than America
I started my Europe road trip in Germany. After flying into Flughafen Frankfurt (Frankfurt Airport), we rented a car at the airport and went on to explore the city of Frankfurt. The financial hub of Germany and home to the European Central Bank, Frankfurt’s attractions include its historical center Romerberg, the majestic Kaiserdom St. Bartholomaus, and Europe’s first suspension bridge, the Eiserner Steg.
Burg Rheinstein, Germany
Also known as Rheinstein Castle, this historical structure is roughly an hour’s drive from Frankfurt. Built around 1316-1317, the castle was in a dilapidated state, until it was bought and renovated in the late 19th century by King Frederik of Prussia.
Burg Rheinstein is located up a small hill. It is a pretty steep climb to the castle entrance, but the hike is only about 5 minutes. However we must have arrived too early because the castle was still closed. And since our next stop in our Europe road trip was Belgium, I didn’t have much time to wait around either. I had to be content with observing the external facade. It’s nothing fancy like some of the castles in Bavaria, but it’s worth visiting if you are in the Frankfurt area.
Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
Also called “The Gibraltar of the North”, Luxembourg is a small country in Western Europe surrounded by Belgium, France and Germany. Made primarily of the dense Ardennes forest, the capital Luxembourg City is famous for its fortified medieval old town situated on steep cliffs.
- Luxembourg City | Capital of the Grand-Duchy
The European center for major institutions and cultural landmarks, Brussels radiates historical majesty, quirky vibes, as well as modern cityscapes. At the center of it all is the city’s medieval core, the Grand Place, easily one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. In fact, grabbing lunch or a pint of beer at Grand Place is one of the major highlights of taking any Europe road trip.
- Highlights in Brussels | Grand Place
Known famously as “The Venice of the North”, Bruges has emerged as a prime tourist destination in Europe. At any given time of the year, you will find throngs of people sailing the old waterways, indulging in delicious Belgian chocolate, or purchasing fine lacework from the Waalstraat district. The place is gorgeous and a definite stop on any Europe road trip, but crowded as hell.
I had a passing glance at this small university city on the southern tip of the Netherlands. The two main attractions in Maastricht are the Dinghuis (Town Hall) and St. Servaas Church. Other than maybe grabbing a breakfast coffee to keep you going, I wouldn’t suggest spending too much time here. The rest of Europe is waiting for you!
The world famous Aachen Cathedral is not to be missed on a Europe road trip. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was constructed by Emperor Charlemagne, and is one of the oldest cathedrals in Europe. In fact, it served as the seat of coronation for 31 German kings and 12 queens.
As soon as I entered the Aachen cathedral, I was gobsmacked by the absolute opulent feast in artistic Biblical piety. You immediately get a sense of how faith, church and congregational celebration played a key role in the Holy Roman Empire and Middle Ages. I mean, you have got to see the interior of the cathedral with your own eyes. The murals with their intricate designs and gold leaf work are too exquisite for me to actually describe in words. All I could do was stare and stare in pure amazement. The octagonal dome, the huge marble columns, the mosaics inlaid with gold and semi-precious stones. Everything is just beautiful.
You cannot visit Aachen on your Europe road trip, without seeing Cologne. Once the tallest structure in the world, the Cologne Cathedral or the Kolner Dom is still one of Europe’s most prominent landmarks. This place is so massive, I could see it even before we entered Cologne.
When you actually stand in front of the cathedral, you realize how small you really are. It also made me wonder at the architectural ingenuity of the builders, in terms of getting the dimensions right and balancing structural components. Considering there were no data software programs and modern day cranes back then, it’s quite amazing how they managed to achieve such a feat!
The inside is no less astronomical. With the third largest church interior in the world, the Cologne Cathedral can house more than 20,000 people. That’s a lot of people!
P.S. Try craning your neck to look up at the ceiling. See how long you can keep that up. Mine started to hurt in like 10 seconds.
Divided by the Rhine river, Dusseldorf is one of Europe’s major commercial centers in terms of banking, consulting, and telecommunications. It’s average income makes it one of the best earning cities in Germany. But when it comes to major sightseeing options, I wouldn’t say Dusseldorf scores particularly high on my Europe road trip. If you are walking along the Rhine promenade near the Burgplatz, you will come across the two main attractions in a matter of minutes.
There is the historic Rathaus, the oldest parts of which dates back to the mid 16th century. You can also see the famous equestrian statue of Jan Wellem, the Duke of Julich-Berg who was responsible for transforming Dusseldorf into a prominent cultural center in Europe.
Nearby is the St. Lambertus Basilica, the oldest building in Dusseldorf. This medieval church houses the bones of St. Apolinaris, the city’s patron saint.
Kinderdijk Windmills, Netherlands
The 19 monumental windmills in the province of South Holland are the largest concentration of old windmills in the Netherlands. Built in 1738 and 1740, the Kinderdijk windmills are a fine exhibition of hydraulic engineering from the Middle Ages, and were a definite stop on my Europe road trip.
The windmills make for such amazing postcard pics, and I am definitely planning on having these photographs mounted in my home. They’ll make an excellent memory of my Europe road trip adventures! Once you get here, you’ll know exactly what I mean. I took a stroll around the fields, but you can also hop on some bikes and enjoy the pristine environment. There is a souvenir shop and museum on site, but both are expensive and I would recommend focusing on the windmills themselves.
Zaanse Schans, Netherlands
This residential area in North Holland brings the 18th and 19th centuries back to life. It’s a great opportunity to stretch your legs, and enjoy the idyllic and refreshing countryside.
Complete with barns, wooden houses, windmills, and livestock, the Zaanse Schans falls on the ERIH, the European Route of Industrial Heritage. Hence, why we decided to stop here on our Europe road trip. P.S. This place officially has the biggest hens I have ever seen!
There are many stores selling souvenirs, local handmade trinkets, freshly prepared cheese, and other produce. You will need at least 2 hours to walk along the trails, and check out the various sights and exhibitions. I highly recommend the free Klompen workshops, which demonstrate how the world famous Klompen (whole feet wooden clogs) are manufactured.
Spending an entire day in one of Europe’s major cities can seem too less a time. Where do I even begin? From exploring the Rijksmuseum and Anne Frank House, to strolling through the De Wallen district and colorful Bloemenmarkt, Amsterdam has so much to offer visitors. But when more adventures lie ahead on your Europe road trip, it’s all about prioritizing time!
- Travel Amsterdam | See & Do
Many travelers to the Netherlands are familiar with the Bollenstreek or the “Bulb District”, famous for its spectacular colorful fields of tulips. However, the longest tulip route in Europe is actually found in the Noordoostpolder region of the Netherlands. That’s where we headed first thing in the morning as we continued our Europe road trip.
Stretching over 100 kilometers long and with nearly 2,500 acres of tulip fields and gorgeous farm gardens, Noordoostpolder is one of the most beautiful and colorful routes in the world.
If you want to skip the crowds and enjoy some peace and quiet while strolling through the tulip fields, aim for Emmeloord. You just have to follow the Tulpen Route. When I visited during spring, there was not a soul in sight. It was just me and the tulips, and I quite enjoyed the natural serenity. A must-do on any Europe road trip.
Once a member of the medieval Hanseatic League, Bremen is still one of the most important cities in northern Germany. The ornate Gothic town hall, the statue of Knight Roland, and the iconic Dom St. Peter are one of the many reasons why I stopped here on my Europe road trip.
- 5 Great Reasons to Check Out Bremen, Germany
As was the case of many days on our Europe road trip, the weather was cold and rainy the day we visited Hamburg. Nevertheless, this major port city in northern Germany had me literally on my feet the whole day. There is just so much to see, including the acoustically advanced Elbphilharmonie, the historic Speicherstadt, the gothic church St. Nikolai, and the pedestrian-vehicle tunnel, Old Elbe.
- 8 Reasons to Visit Hamburg
Lübeck is a wonderful little port-city located near the Baltic Sea in northern Germany. The medieval capital of the Hanseatic League, Lübeck is a 12th century treasure consisting of more than a 1000 historical buildings. The old merchant homes and spired churches are the first thing you see when you stop here on your Europe road trip.
- Travel Lübeck | Historic Cities of Germany
Sanssouci Palace and Park, Potsdam, Germany
I was pretty excited for this stop on my Europe road trip. Located only 30 minutes from Germany’s capital Berlin, the city of Potsdam may not generate as much excitement as its next door neighbor. But it is home to the Sanssouci Palace, Germany’s answer to France’s Palace of Versailles.
- Potsdam Sanssouci Palace | Travel Germany
The turbulent history of Europe is reflected acutely in the capital of Germany, Berlin. The city played center-stage during the two World Wars, the reign of the Nazis and the Holocaust, the Cold War, the reunification of Germany, and the birth of the European Union. I love the historic, intellectual and artistic vibes of this city. Everything is so alive here, whether it be the past, the present or the future. Berlin was definitely one of my favorite cities on my Europe road trip, and I wouldn’t mind moving here in the future!
- Travel Berlin in One Day
Dresden is easy to overlook when focusing on the major hubs on your Europe road trip. But do not do that mistake. Dresden is home to unique treasures such as the jewels of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, the gorgeous Elbe Valley, the Furstenzug porcelain tile mural, and the opulent Zwinger Palace.
- Why Dresden Should Be in Your Bucket List
Prague, Czech Republic
There are many reasons why I love this fairy-tale European city. “The City of a Hundred Spires” is characterized by its Old Town Square, complete with colorful baroque buildings, Gothic churches, and the Astronomical Clock. Together with the saint-lined Charles Bridge and the gigantic Prague Castle, Prague preserves the medieval history of Europe. That’s why no Europe road trip is complete without Prague.
- An Evening in Prague, Czech Republic
Nuremberg stands out in Europe as a result of its dark past. The Bavarian city was once the epicenter of the political activities of the National Socialist Party. If you’re thinking that this grim reality is all that there is to this city, you’re wrong. Nuremberg has other fascinating stories which may surprise you, making it a definite stop on my Europe road trip.
- Nuremberg | Top 7 Points of Interest
Munich is a definite must on any Europe road trip. The city is extremely popular for its annual Oktoberfest celebrations. People from all over Europe and the world come to the Munich’s beer halls, including the famous Hofbrauhaus. Don’t forget to catch the Glockenspiel show in central Marienplatz. Figures representing characters from the 16th century perform a 12-minute-long twirling dance on the tower balcony of the Neues Rathaus.
- My Munich Travel Guide
Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
No Europe road trip is complete without visiting Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Located above the village of Hohenschwangau in southwest Bavaria, Neuschwanstein Castle brings storybook illustrations to life. With its towers, turrets and frescos, Neuschwanstein is one of the most popular castles in the world. In fact, the castle attracts more than 1.5 million tourists every year!
- A Tour of Neuschwanstein Castle
Zurich represents the world of the elite and the wealthy in Europe. A global center for banking and finance, the city is marked by waterfront promenades, luxury boutiques, international fashion labels, museums and art galleries, as well as a flamboyant nightlife. If your Europe road trip is anywhere as extensive as mine, you would be better off not indulging in frivolous spending here. Zurich is expensive!
- Travel Zurich on the Cheap
One of the most culturally rich cities in Europe, Basel is a unique mixture of French, German and Swiss roots. Located on the banks of the River Rhine, Basel boasts gorgeous views and is an art lover’s paradise. Whether walking through the cobbled streets of the Alstadt or exploring the gorgeous Basler Münster, Basel is a must-see if your Europe road trip takes you through Switzerland.
- The Best of Basel | Travel Switzerland
This thriving university city at the foot of the Black Forest is known as Germany’s warmest city as well as its most eco-friendly. With more than 2000 hours of annual sunshine, Freiburg didn’t disappoint us when we stopped here on our Europe road trip. The city is especially popular with day trippers for its picturesque bächle (canals), cobblestone streets, gabled medieval houses and the Gothic Münster.
- Freiburg im Breisgau | Travel Germany
Nestled near the German border, Strasbourg is an amalgamation of French and German influences. Whether in awe of the Gothic masterpiece Cathedrale Notre Dame, or strolling through the lanes of Petite France, you cannot help falling in love with Strasbourg. Don’t forget to stop here on your Europe road trip for some Kugelhopf at tea-time!
- My Strasbourg City Guide
The thermal baths of this small town in the Black Forest led to Baden-Baden becoming a fashionable spa destination in 19th century Europe. As you walk along the Oos River on the park-lined central promenade, don’t forget to check out the 2000-year-old Roman Bath ruins. Apparently the Romans also appreciated the rejuvenating effects of the thermal spring water here during their ‘Europe road trip’.
Stuttgart is a great stop on your Europe road trip if you are a car enthusiast. The city serves as the headquarters for car manufacturers like Porsche and Mercedes. Mercedes used to offer free factory tours, but that isn’t the case now. So I decided to go with Porsche. I strongly recommend reserving a spot at least a month in advance, since these tours tend to sell out fast.
Located in Porscheplatz, Porsche has a massive complex. Visitors have to pay for the underground parking (no exceptions for booking a tour). You have to also deposit your belongings in a locker before the tour. Tours are usually conducted in groups of 20 and are around 2 hours long. Guides are available in both German and English, and they take you through different levels of the car manufacturing plant.
Germany is very big into automation. While that usually entails robotic arms putting together or taking apart parts of a car, I was super thrilled to see completely mobile robots on the factory floor. Pulling loads to the next station, catching the elevator, even beeping if you are in the way… talk about science fiction coming to life!
The facility also has a museum, and offers Porsche Drive, where visitors can rent and drive their dream Porsche. A fancy break from your regular rental car during your Europe road trip? 🙂
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
Rothenburg ob der Tauber’s well-preserved medieval old center brings the Middle Ages back to life. No wonder tourists from around the world flock to this fairy-tale dream town in Europe. Watching the sun set against the lush Bavarian countryside over an intimate dinner with my husband was one of my most romantic experiences on this Europe road trip.
- Rothenburg ob der Tauber | Germany’s Fairy Tale Dream Town
When leaving Rothenburg ob der Tauber, driving along the Romantic Road in the direction of Wurzburg is a great way to explore the Bavarian countryside. I absolutely loved this route on our Europe road trip!
The Wurzburg Residence with Court Gardens and Residence Square is the star attraction of the city of Wurzburg. Designed by Balthasar Neumann between 1687 and 1753, the palace is one of Europe’s most exemplary examples of Baroque architecture. During World War II, almost 90% of this World Heritage Site was destroyed. Rebuilding efforts cost around 20 million euros.
Today the Wurzburg Residence is open to the public. While entering the palace requires a fee, walking through the gardens is completely free (and I never skip on anything free). Such beautiful arrangements and a complete riot of color!
From Wurzburg, we drove back to Flughafen Frankfurt to catch the flight home. And that concludes my Europe road trip itinerary! 7 countries, 30 cities, 13 days!