Planning a three week road trip itinerary for Europe
There’s nothing like planning your next big road trip and the last few years have given me a real taste for the open road. Last summer saw me working to convert a van into an awesome camper for an epic three week road trip around Europe and while I’ve shared a few posts on where we visited, I wanted to explain the route we chose. It can be so intimidating to plan a big trip, especially when you have to think about camping spots, food, fuel and lots of other factors. But honestly, taking a road trip is one of my favourite ways to travel and it’s super cost effective if you’re traveling on a budget. I’ve taken road trips all over the world and I’ve found it to be one of the most fun, and affordable, ways to travel.
When it comes to traveling Europe, it’s a perfect way to explore when so many countries are so easily accessible. At the time of my trip, I was living in Germany, so it seemed a perfect opportunity to take our van on an epic trip to lots of new countries and cities we had never visited before. We wanted to choose a blend of city and countryside, of lakes and mountains, to ensure we had the best possible experience. It still remains one of the best road trips I’ve ever done and I can’t recommend the route we took enough. We ended up traveling just under 3,600km in a loop through Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, even spending a night in France along the way.
Our three week road trip itinerary
Hamburg – Saxon Switzerland National Park – Dresden – Prague (800km, 3 days)
This stretch was one of my favourites but also included a lot of driving. We drove seven hours overnight from Hamburg to Saxon Switzerland National Park and arrived there for sunrise, after a kip in the van, we headed out exploring and spent a day in the park. We found a place to park up for the night and slept at the park, before spending some time hiking and exploring. Once we had seen everything, we headed to Dresden. An afternoon was a perfect amount of time to see all the sights in Dresden and to catch some afternoon sunshine before driving to Prague.
Prague – Vienna – Attersee – Salzburg – (830km, 4 days)
We spent a full and busy day exploring Prague and while we could have easily spent longer there, it was enough time to see the sights and enjoy the city. We spent another night at a campsite just south of the city, but enjoyed cocktails with friends who were also visiting there. The next day, we took a lazy drive to Vienna, stopping off to see some sights in the Czech countryside. Then we spent the next day walking around beautiful Vienna in the sunshine and gorging ourselves on Viennese desserts and pastries. After a lazy afternoon by the river, we hit the road and arrived late at night in Attersee where we camped out by a lake and spent much of the next day sunbathing and picnicking by the water. A slow afternoon drive to Salzburg to check out the city before heading on to Munich.
Munich – Zugspitze – Neuschwanstein Castle (210km, 5 days)
It was a packed itinerary until now, but our goal was to get to Munich where we were visiting family and had a place to stay for a few days. Cue parking up the van and heading out on bikes exploring the city of Munich from the gardens and the architecture, to the breweries and food markets. After that, we headed on our way towards the border of Germany, Austria and Switzerland where the mountain ranges stood, and we visited Zugspitze. Taking cable cars up into the mountains where there was snow at the top, but it was 30 degrees down at the base. We spent an afternoon there before camping for the night and heading the next morning to Neuschwanstein Castle – best to get here early to beat the crowds.
Neuschwanstein Castle – Liechtenstein – Zurich (350km, 3 days)
Leaving behind the beautiful castle, it was time to take an unplanned detour through Liechtenstein which turned out to be the best part of our trip! A tiny country and easy to road trip in a day, it’s perfect to add to your itinerary. We drove to Vaduz and then through the winding mountain roads (read about our day in Liechtenstein here). Then we headed on to Zurich where we spent an afternoon walking the lakes and city, trying delicious hot chocolate and cheese fondue.
Zurich – Basel – France – Black Forest – Frankfurt – Hamburg (1070km, 4 days)
From Zurich, it was a few hours to Basel and well worth planning this charming city into your trip. Plus you can easily head over the border and into France from here, we actually spent a night in France on our trip. Just a few hours is plenty to see Basel and indulge in a few treats from the various chocolate shops around. We camped for the night at a beautiful lakeside campsite – definitely look out for these and try to book in advance as they get very booked up during the summer months. The next day, after a few hours by the lake, we drove to the Black Forest where we headed to Triberg for the waterfalls and some Black Forest Gateaux. We spent the night camping at another lovely campsite before starting our drive to Frankfurt the next day, taking a slow drive and stopping off at lakes to swim along the way. Our final day was spent driving the long stretch back up to Hamburg – this could easily be broken up by stopping along the Fairytale Road to see castles along the way.
How can this road trip itinerary work for you?
The beauty of this road trip itinerary is that it can so easily be changed and modified to suit you. In our case, we had a fast paced journey at the beginning with lots of driving so we could spend more time relaxing in southern Germany. But you could easily spend more time in Prague and Vienna, and spend just a day or two in Munich before heading to Switzerland. You could even skip one of the countries to spend more time in the ones that you’re most excited to explore.
The beauty of a road trip is that the world is your oyster, you can chop and change your route, you can plan it out completely, you can make it up as you go along. It’s up to you! We planned out a lot of our route before we went, we had names saved for campsites just in case, but we also changed a lot of our route along the way. We ended up staying at totally different campsites, we even sneakily free camped in a few spots, and we added in a few extra places along the way.
If you fancy combining the open road with a boat holiday or yacht charter, you could extend your trip and book Zizoo boat rental across several European destinations, including Croatia, Greece, Spain, France, Italy and many more. It could be the perfect way to take a break from driving, while still enjoying a relaxing holiday.
What do you need to know for this route?
- Remember to pick up a Vignette / Toll Sticker for Austria and Switzerland, it is important for the motorways or you can get fined. Pick one up online or at the border (service stations).
- Stock up on food and fuel in the cheaper places – avoid buying in Switzerland and Liechtenstein where everything is more expensive.
- Make sure you have Swiss Francs as well as Euro, you can pay in Euro in Switzerland but it does make things more expensive on your road trip.
- If you haven’t booked a campsite, call ahead to ask if they have space. In summer it gets busy, and while we never had much of a problem finding a place to stop, you don’t want to drive far to find out there’s no spots free.
For those who work while traveling and require safe browsing whether they’re on the road, or staying in hotels, I’d suggest using a virtual private network (VPN). Nobody wants their banking info or credit card numbers to get stolen by hackers when they’re on holiday, so protect yourself against risk. For more information about how VPNs work and which one is the best one for you, check out this beginner’s guide: https://proprivacy.com/
Have you been on a road trip around Europe? Which countries would you like to visit? What are your best road trip tips?