Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Planning a Road Trip in Europe: Ideas, Tips & Advice

Road trips and driving on holiday in Europe




Road Trips in Europe

(For my actual road trips across various parts of Europe, and photos, see the road trips and links at the end of this page)

There’s just something about waking up in a totally different place every morning, and heading where the wind takes you...

Road trips and car hire are a fantastic way to get about in Europe and see a variety of diverse places in a modest amount of time. Whether you’re hoping to experience a taster of different countries, see different sights, or eat different foods, planning a road trip is the best way to enjoy a range of experiences. It is the best way to do what you want, when you want.
The general main points which are important to remember when planning or going on a road trip are as follows:
-          Cities are fun to visit but save the proper city break for just that – a city break. The traffic can be stressful and it can be expensive to park. There can also be very hefty fines for venturing into off-limits city centres like Florence. That said, if you are just planning to visit for the day, it doesn't hurt to park the car on the outskirts of a city and walk or use the public transport. If you’re hoping to see just a small selection of sights, a day visit is very feasible in most European cities. Just ditch the car first and things get a whole lot nicer.

-          If you're hiring a car make sure the hire car company knows if you're driving between countries Most companies like Hertz just require you to let them know so they can give permission. Some companies require that you have written permission, and some may charge extra. Just make sure they know where you're planning to take the car that you've hired.

-          The drive back home can be a pain, brighten it up with stops on the way back. If you’re travelling back the same way, a good way to make use of your time is to visit some of the places you liked best on the way. This way you can have something to look forward to on the return journey, and you can cut this out if you find something even better.

-          Don’t book every hotel/campsite if you don’t need to. If you’re travelling outside of peak season and you don’t have too strict a budget, try to find places to stay along the way. If a place is nicer than you thought, you can stay longer. If there is better snow or sun further South, you can travel further South without having to stick to a strict plan. If you do have pre-booked accommodation try to leave spare time to find it because you will most certainly get lost. Take the phone number with you in case this happens, and remember to use the country's telephone code when dialing from your mobile phone.

-          Have a high point destination before you turn back. Aiming for a main destination at the halfway mark before you start journeying back again is a great way to pace your journey. You also get that wonderful sense of achievement when you reach it. It could be a certain resort, an island or even part of a country. Just have a clear enough idea of what you’re aiming for.

-          Create a rough plan of your journey before you go. Visit viamichelin.com and calculate rough journey times and distances so that you can plan your time efficiently. Allow extra time for scenic routes and de-tours. If you are on too much of a tight schedule it will feel more like a chore than a holiday.

-          Don’t stay on the road too long. At the risk of sounding patronising and irritating, don’t drive tired. Driving conditions and etiquette vary considerably across in Europe, and concentration is paramount, especially if you're going anywhere in Italy of course. Obviously you’re going to be more tired towards the end of your journey but try to know when to stop because it can be too easy to keep going until you’re practically falling asleep. Try to limit yourself to a sensible amount of time and stick to it, cutting this short if you need to.

-          For an adventure, leave the Sat-Nav at home. This one is a source of disagreement between myself and many of my friends! Sat-nav is admittedly easier if you are trying to find a certain address, so if you have pre-booked a hotel, taking it along or hiring it is certainly more sensible, just for the sake of your temper if nothing else. However if you are after spontaneity and adventure, the source of this is certainly not a navigating robot which plans every route and does all the work for you.  The choice is yours. I never said adventures and holidays were the same thing…

Additional Tips and Information about Road Trips in Europe

The EU allows free passage between the countries belonging to the European Union so you don't usually need to stop at any customs between these countries. Toll roads and traffic laws vary across Europe so take a map with the various speed limits etc. There are some countries in Europe like Switzerland where you won't get stopped on a back route into the country but if you're using a motorway they want to sell you a vignette - a tax sticker allowing you to use the motorway. In Austria and Slovenia you can buy this for a small period of time, like a week, but in Switzerland you have to buy a yearly one (costing usually no more than 30 British Pounds). Switzerland uses the Swiss Frank but you can usually pay in Euros for the Vignette.

Most European countries require you to carry things like spare bulbs, high visibility waistcoat, and a warning triangle but check the specific laws before you travel. Fines can be high in countries like Italy, and you may have to pay on the spot so don't risk it. Around winter time snow chains or snow tyres may also be manadatory in some countries, including Scandinavian countries. Snow socks are useful to carry also, for a more temporary method of gripping the road in the snow, however they are extremely hard to fit if your wheels are too big for them. I speak from experience! 

  My Best European Road Trips

Road Trip to Swiss Alps from the UK

Road trip Europe - Swtizerland - winter, icy lake

Pros: Stunning alpine scenery at destination and very pretty along the way. Travel through France's unique and historic Alsace region - colourful beamed buildings and great gastronomy. Not too far from the UK or too long on the road if you have at least 10 days. Toll-free motorways if you travel from the UK via Calais/Dunkerque and into Belgium via Charleroi and Namur. 

Cons: Switzerland is expensive. Also you need to buy a year's vignette for around £30 to use the Swiss motorways.

Timescale: Approximately 10-12 hours driving time to the Valais region in Switzerland from the Calais port in the North of France. With 10 days you will have time to stop in many different places along the way and have 2-3 nights in one place, on at least two occasions. 

Highlights: Alsace-Lorraine - Colmar and Strasbourg with quaint and pretty colourful beamed buildings and canals. Swiss alpine scenery and castles. Outdoors pursuits in the Alps. Swiss raclette and rostis. French cuisine in general.  

Road Trip to Croatia from the UK (Through Austria)

Road trip Europe - Croatia - waterfalls
Pros: Stunning mountainous and waterfall scenery at destination and along the way.  Toll-free motorways on over half of the route, mainly in Germany. Passing through diverse range of countries. 

Cons: Vignettes required for motorways in Slovenia and Austria. 

Timescale: Approximately 18-22 hours driving time to the Croatian town of Split from the Calais port in the North of France. With 14-16 days you will have time to stop in many different places along the way and have 2-3 nights in one place, on at least two occasions. 

Highlights: Alsace-Lorraine - Colmar and Strasbourg with quaint and pretty colourful beamed buildings and canals. Austrian alpine scenery and fantastic gastronomy. Outdoors pursuits in the Alps. Slovenia's natural beauty, Croatia's Plitvice lakes and waterfalls, the glittery and unspoilt seaside resorts of Croatia's coast and islands.

Road Trip to Corsica From the UK (Through the Cote D'Azur)

Pros: Stunning diverse mountainous and alpine scenery at destination and along the way. Travel through France's unique and historic Alsace region. Prime beach resort locations. Very sunny and warm on French riviera in summer. 

Cons: French motorways are nearly all toll-paying. Corsica's roads are very winding and generally the infrastructure is very underdeveloped, making it difficult to get around. Journey times are long. Make sure your hotel is close enough to the sights you don't want to miss. 

Timescale: Approximately 12-14 hours driving time to Cannes from the Calais port in the North of France. With 12-14 days you will have time to stop in many different places along the way and have 2-3 nights in one place, on at least two occasions. 

Highlights:  Swiss/French alpine scenery and castles. Cote D'Azur and atmospheric city of Nice (especially the old town). Outdoors pursuits in the Alps and along the Cote D'Azur. Glittering French Riviera culture. French cuisine in general. Rugged natural beauty of Corsica including various natural freshwater pools and waterfalls for swimming in.

Road Trip to Isola D'Elba in Italy from the UK

Road trip Europe - Italy Liguaria

Pros: Stunning diverse sights and activities along the way. Alpine and Mediterranean climates. Range of cultures and scenery. Good specific end destination to aim for and pace the journey. You can include the Italian lakes also. Lake Maggiore and Lake Como are pretty much on the way, and great and beautiful alternatives to popular and often crowded Lake Garda. 

Cons: French and Italian motorways are nearly all toll-paying. Elba is an island so book ferries in advance if possible. Moby and Tolemar are the two companies serving Elba. Elba is a tiny and popular island, and in high season driving (and parking) a car on the island can be a stressful experience. 

Timescale: Approximately 14-16 hours driving time from the Calais port in the North of France to the port of Piombino (which is where the ferries for Elba leave from). With 14-16 days you will have time to stop in many different places along the way and have 2-3 nights in one place, on at least two occasions. 

Highlights:  Swiss/French alpine scenery and castles.Cote D'Azur and atmospheric city of Nice (especially the old town). Monaco and Monte-Carlo. Outdoors pursuits in the Alps and along the Cote D'Azur. Glittering French Riviera culture and the contrast over the border with the more rustic Italian Riviera. French and Italian cuisine in general, particularly Tuscan cooking. Natural beauty of Elba and the dramatic coastlines. Crystal clear waters of Elba's coast. 

Road Trip through Lapland: From Tromso & the Norwegian Fjords to ICEHOTEL in Sweden

Road trip Europe - Arctic Norway and Sweden - ICEHOTEL Foyer

Pros: Stunning wild and rugged Arctic scenery and one-off experiences like Northern lights, midnight sun and icehotels. Unique and remote places, unspoilt wildernesses. Dry climate which makes the cold much more bearable, even pleasant. Everyone speaks English. Guaranteed snow in winter. Long skiing seasons. Wonderfully clean in every way. 

Cons: Very expensive, driving in winter can be difficult unless you're used to it (although all hire cars have winter tyres with metal studs). Long journey times and very little civilization between far apart main towns and villages (although this is part of the appeal). Very cold in winter, lots of mosquitoes in summer. 

Timescale: Approximately 6-7 hours driving time to Kiruna in Sweden from Tromso in Norway. With a week you can have at least 3 nights in both Kiruna and Tromso each, or add in an extra night to stop along the way (perhaps in Narvik). However ensure you book your accommodation as civilization is scarce and many hotels close for the winter, or even the summer. 

Highlights:  Icehotel near Kiruna, northern lights, snowmobiling (mainly winter months only), midnight sun (summer only - check dates as they can change slightly). Husky sledding, sledging, abundance of snow, remote and unspoilt mountain scenery, skiing at lower altitudes on mainly shorter but varied pistes. 

Text and Images Copyright © Lise Griffiths, 2012
All Rights Reserved


  1. Preparing my trip here. Take a quick look! ;)


  2. Wow, I've checked it out and it looks like a fantastic mix! So many of the places you're seeing are on so many people's lists! Road trips around the Alps are extremely picturesque. I'm more than happy to give you advice on the places you've chosen - if I can help, I will :)

  3. Europe has several interesting places for a sight-seeing trip. Driving around in the cities you mentioned can make up a memorable holiday.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Nice post. If you are fond of travelling around the places then you may take help from the detailed road maps. In my last Spain trip I used the Spain Road Map to find my way out there. Hope so that I will also be able to find a detailed map of Europe to plan my trip well.

  6. Very useful tips shared... This blog is very helpful for all who is planning for there Europe trip. Thanks for sharing important tips on how to plan a trip to Europe.

  7. Wow! This could be one particular of the most beneficial blogs We’ve ever arrive across on this subject. Actually Great. I am also a specialist in this topic so I can understand your effort. Hotels Frankfurt-Oder


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