If you’ve surfed around Treksplorer at all you’ll already know this: I love Central Europe.
From the first moment I set foot into Germany on my first trip there, Central Europe captured my heart and refused to let go. I’ve since visited every country in the region (except Liechtenstein), multiple times in many cases. On every new journey, I discover a new side to Central Europe, something that managed to escape me to the first time around.
It doesn’t take much digging to uncover the diversity of Central Europe. Within a single day of travelling, you could easily thumb through 5 or more phrasebooks to make yourself understood.
Central Europe’s most popular destination is undoubtedly Germany. From beer-soaked evenings in Munich or a jaunt through history in the capital of Berlin to the dense backwoods and medieval towns of Bavaria, there’s something for every taste.
Nearly every major destination in every Central European country seems to be on the up-and-up.
It’s obvious that the likes of Prague, Budapest, Vienna, and Krakow are already spoken for. But even cities like Ljubljana, Zagreb, Gdansk, and Bratislava are slowly gaining the attention they deserve among travellers.
Why Treksplorer? Founded in 2011 by Ryan O’Rourke, Treksplorer provides travel recommendations and advice to millions of readers every year. Our content is rooted in our writers’ firsthand experiences, in-depth research, and/or collaborations with other experts and locals. Read more about our editorial policy.
When to visit Central Europe?
Like much of continental Europe, figuring out the best time to visit Central Europe is not necessarily a simple task. Truthfully, you could make a case for visiting Central Europe at anytime of year. There’s no single season where the weather is so miserable that you should completely write off a trip here.
That’s not to say there aren’t some times that are more optimal than others.
The tourism high season throughout Central Europe undoubtedly hits during the summer months when school holidays begin throughout Europe and North America. While the weather is generally warm and sunny, the higher tourist numbers tend to drive up the prices for airfares and accommodations significantly.
Personally, I prefer visiting Central Europe during the spring and fall shoulder seasons, particularly late May and September. During both of these months temperatures are warm and rainfall is relatively low (although in Central Europe it’s always a possibility!). Crowds are also smaller and prices lower than in the peak seasons.
Another pleasant time to visit, if you can tough out the cooler temperatures, is in November and December. Central Europe is absolutely magical at this time of year, especially as snow begins to lightly dust the ground and rooftops. At this time, the Christmas Markets are also out in full force, showcasing the European holiday spirit at its finest.
Not sure when to go to Central Europe? Here are a few guides to help you plan your trip:
- Best Time to Visit Czech Republic: A Complete Weather Guide
- Best Time to Visit Germany: A Complete Weather Guide
- Best Time to Visit Poland: A Complete Weather Guide
- Best Time to Visit Slovenia: A Complete Weather Guide
Where to go in Central Europe
In a region as widespread as Central Europe, it’s hard to pin down exactly what you’ll discover. Even with some common threads running between Central European countries, there’s no single thing that binds the entire region together.
From classic European city breaks like Vienna and Budapest to relaxing pebble beaches along the Dalmatian coast in Croatia, Central Europe is a place that’s bound to capture your heart instantly.
It’s possible that no country captures the spirit of Central Europe better than Austria. And that shouldn’t come as a huge surprise considering it once stood as the heart of an empire that covered much of the region. Then again, with its small stature, it’s hard to imagine that Austria was, in its heyday, the second-largest country in Europe, dwarfed only by Russia.
The centuries of Habsburg imperial power left Austria with an architectural legacy that’s among the finest in the region. Cities like Vienna and Salzburg are veritable open-air galleries of Art Nouveau, Baroque and Gothic European styles.
Even if you instantly fall in love with the cities here, you’ll quickly realize that Austria’s main draw is in its quieter moments. Whether you’re strapping on a pair of skis to carve its world famous pistes or a pair of hiking boots to meander through quaint villages buried in alpine valleys, there’s hardly a better place to experience the Central European outdoors than Austria.
Not sure where to start planning your trip to Austria? Here are a few guides to help you along the way:
- One Day in Vienna: A Complete Itinerary
- Best Things to Do in Vienna: Top Attractions & Places to Visit
- Where to Stay in Vienna: The Best Hotels & Areas for Travellers
As much as I love plying through the continental heart of Central Europe, there’s hardly a more meaningful travel experience than ripping down the outstretched fringes of the region in Croatia.
In many ways, Croatia is the ultimate Central European destination. From the classic Habsburgian grace of Zagreb to stunning coastal towns like Hvar and Trogir, you won’t often see diversity like this elsewhere in the region. (At least not outside of its neighbour Slovenia.)
As much as the average person likely has yet to dream of travelling here, Croatia’s certainly no longer off the beaten path in Europe. Long before HBO filmed the Game of Thrones’ King’s Landing in Dubrovnik, this country was well on its way to becoming a regional travel powerhouse. Simply try to secure yourself a room nearly anywhere in Croatia during the summer months, and you’ll know that you’re not likely to be alone around here.
Not sure where to start planning your trip? Here are some resources from our Croatia Travel Guide:
- One Day in Dubrovnik: A Complete Itinerary
- Things to Do in Dubrovnik: Top Attractions & Best Places to Visit
- Where to Stay in Dubrovnik: Top Areas & Hotels for Travellers
- One Day in Hvar: A Complete Itinerary
- Things to Do in Hvar: Top Attractions & Best Places to Visit
- Where to Stay in Hvar
- One Day in Split: A Complete Itinerary
- Things to Do in Split: Top Attractions & Best Places to Visit
- Where to Stay in Split: Top Areas & Hotels for Travellers
- One Day in Zagreb: A Complete Itinerary
- Things to Do in Zagreb: Top Attractions & Best Places to Visit
- Where to Stay in Zagreb: Top Areas & Hotels for Travellers
Visit the Czech Republic and it’s hard to dream of a time when this country wasn’t on the radar of travellers. Once sleeping behind an Iron Curtain, beyond the reach of all the most intrepid adventurers, Czech Republic’s now become one of Central Europe’s most popular places to visit, driven in large part by its magical capital Prague.
As incredible as Prague is, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Throughout the Czech Republic, you’ll encounter everything from small riverside towns frozen in time to ancient spa towns that once relaxed kings and queens.
Not sure how to start planning your Czech Republic trip? Here are a few resources from our Czech Republic Travel Guide:
- 24 Hours in Prague: A Complete Itinerary
- Things to Do in Prague: Top Attractions & Places to Visit
- Best Day Trips from Prague: Top Recommendations
- Where to Stay in Prague: The Best Hotels & Neighbourhoods
Let’s just get this out of the way: I absolute love Germany. Ever since I first laid eyes on the country, I knew it would be a lifelong love affair. Germany was the first non-English speaking country I visited, springing forward an interest in foreign languages that keeps me smiling to this day.
As European destinations go, I’m hard pressed to think of one that’s more appealing than good ol’ Deutschland. Berlin is one of Europe’s—nay, the world’s—most interesting cities, less for its outward appearance than for its unrelenting attitude.
Travelling to other German cities like Munich, Hamburg, Nuremberg, or Dresden presents a far different experience, one that’s perhaps more pleasing to the average traveller while still maintaining an edge that keeps things interesting.
And, of course, who could forget what lies outside the major cities of Germany. Whether you’re watching dark legends come to life in the Black Forest, fairytales playing out in front of your eyes at Neuschwanstein Castle or carving up the slopes in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the experiences you’ll encounter while visiting Germany are varied, blissful and not to be missed.
Want to start planning out your Germany adventure? Here’s a handful of useful resources from our Germany Travel Guide:
- 24 Hours in Berlin: A Complete Itinerary
- Things to Do in Berlin: Top Attractions & Best Places to Visit
- Best Day Trips from Berlin: Top Recommendations
- Where to Stay in Berlin: The Best Hotels & Neighbourhoods
- One Day in Cologne: A Complete Itinerary
- Things to Do in Cologne: Top Attractions & Best Places to Visit
- Where to Stay in Cologne: The Best Hotels & Neighbourhoods
- One Day in Dresden: A Complete Itinerary
- Things to Do in Dresden: Top Attractions & Best Places to Visit
- Where to Stay in Dresden: The Best Hotels & Neighbourhoods
- One Day in Frankfurt: A Complete Itinerary
- Things to Do in Frankfurt: Top Attractions & Best Places to Visit
- Where to Stay in Frankfurt: The Best Hotels & Neighbourhoods
- One Day in Hamburg: A Complete Itinerary
- Things to Do in Hamburg: Top Attractions & Best Places to Visit
- Where to Stay in Hamburg: The Best Hotels & Neighbourhoods
- 24 Hours in Munich: A Complete Itinerary
- Things to Do in Munich: Top Attractions & Best Places to Visit
- Where to Stay in Munich: The Best Hotels & Neighbourhoods
Long a favourite imperial crossroads between East and West, Hungary looks & feels the part of Central Europe’s most fringe state. Lacking the dramatic alpine scenery of its neighbours, Hungary isn’t a destination that will immediately knock you out of your train seat while rolling in, but one that will soon make a strong impression—whether good or bad.
As much as it caught me off guard (not necessarily in a good way), Budapest is admittedly among Europe’s most striking cities. The architectural palette is varied, swinging seamlessly between Gothic and Baroque with some old Ottoman & Roman anomalies thrown in for good measure.
Throughout much of Hungary its much of the same. Smaller and lesser-known cities & towns like Szeged. Kecskemét, Győr & Pécs offer similarly appealing visuals that stack up with some of Central Europe’s most unexpected experiences.
Not sure how to start planning your trip to Hungary? Here are a few resources:
- One Day in Budapest: A Complete Itinerary
- Things to Do in Budapest: Top Attractions & Best Places to Visit
- Where to Stay in Budapest: The Best Hotels & Areas for Travellers
- Why I Didn’t Love Budapest (And Why I’m Willing to Give it Another Chance)
The true heart of Central Europe lies in Poland. While it’s often overshadowed by its neighbours or passed through on a whim, slowing down and digging into Poland is one of the region’s most satisfying experiences.
The country’s cultural centrepiece of Krakow is hardly a stranger to fame. With the rising fortunes of the neighbouring Czech capital of Prague, the Old Town of Krakow has benefitted from the overflow. To many travellers, Krakow is the finer of the two options, slightly more intimate than the Czech capital and no less appealing.
Other Polish destinations like the gritty capital of Warsaw, the graceful Hanseatic cities of Gdansk and Wroclaw, and the Tatra mountain escape of Zakopane round out just some of what awaits you in this fascinating country.
Getting jazzed to launch a Poland trip? Here are a few planning resources from our Poland Travel Guide to help you out:
- 24 Hours in Krakow: A Complete Itinerary
- Things to Do in Krakow: Top Attractions & Best Places to Visit
- Best Day Trips from Krakow: Top Recommendations
- Where to Stay in Krakow: The Best Areas & Hotels for Travellers
Easily one of Central Europe’s most underrated countries, Slovakia enters most European itineraries accidentally rather than purposefully as little more than a quick stopover on a typical Prague/Budapest/ Vienna/Krakow run.
Perhaps that’s what makes this small country such as gem: Going in with near-zero expectations, you’re bound to let Slovakia surprise you.
Even if its namesake castle looks more like a princess bed than a regal royal residence, Bratislava is as charming as any small capital in the region. Whiling away a day or two here, wandering through its warren of cobblestoned alleys in Old Town, is as a perfect an introduction to Slovakia as you’ll find.
Anyone with a little adventure in their blood, however, will tell you that Slovakia’s best experienced outdoors. Home to the southern half of the High Tatras, central Slovakia is a hiker’s dream. The area teems with brilliant alpine trails, hiding waterfalls and lakes among its forested slopes that’ll take your breath away, while, in winter, the Tatras become one of Central Europe’s top skiing destinations.
Getting ready to plan a trip to Slovakia? Here are a few planning resources from our Slovakia Travel Guide to help you out:
- One Day in Bratislava: A Complete Itinerary
- Things to Do in Bratislava
- Where to Stay in Bratislava: The Best Areas & Hotels for Travellers
Not long ago the diminutive Central European nation of Slovenia was among Europe’s best hidden gems. I’m sad to announce that the days of having this little nirvana all to ourselves might officially be over.
No country in Central Europe has surged in popularity more in recent years than Slovenia. (And, trust me, it’s not because of Melania Trump.)
Whereas much of Central Europe allures wth its cities, Slovenia flashes its natural assets to grasp your attention. Mind-blowing alpine scenery, deep gorges carved out by mighty rivers, and emerald glacial lakes await the outdoors adventurer on any a visit to Slovenia.
And if that’s not enough, simply glance at the graceful streets and bridges of Ljubljana under the summer sun or watch Lake Bled wake with a light mist hanging above and it’ll be enough to convince you that Slovenia’s a place you can’t miss.
Want to plan a trip to Slovenia? Here are a few resources from our Slovenia Travel Guide to help you out:
- Things to Do in Bled: Top Attractions & Best Places to Visit
- Top Reasons to Visit Lake Bled
- Where to Stay in Bled: The Best Hotels for Travellers
- Things to Do in Ljubljana: Top Attractions & Best Places to Visit
- Best Day Trips from Ljubljana: Top Recommendations
- Where to Stay in Ljubljana: The Best Hotels for Travellers
Mountains aren’t exactly uncommon throughout the continent, but if there’s any country that captures the European alpine spirit better than Switzerland, I’ve yet to imagine it. And like their namesake nutty cheese, it’s best you leave a few holes in your Central European itinerary to throw in at least a couple days to dazzle at the breathtaking scenery of this lovely landlocked country.
Although Switzerland is understandably famous for its natural attractions and small alpine villages soaked in folklore, its urban charms are perhaps most shocking. Switzerland’s largest city, Zurich, is as cool as European cities come, sprinkled with a Germanic flair that provides a striking counter-balance to the French influences of the country’s western half.
To the south, many visitors are surprised when the harsher tons of German morph into suave sounds of Italian. Elsewhere in the country, you may find yourself scratching your head as Romansh, a lesser-known Romance language descend from Latin, makes its way into your ears.
All in all, visiting Switzerland puts some of Europe’s most stimulating scenes front-and-centre—all within a compact package where mere hours can transport you across the entire country.
Want to plan a trip to Switzerland? Here are a few resources from our Switzerland Travel Guide to help you out:
- One Day in Geneva: A Complete Itinerary
- Where to Stay in Geneva: The Best Hotels & Areas for Travellers
- One Day in Zurich: A Complete Itinerary
- Where to Stay in Zurich: The Best Hotels & Areas for Travellers
Transportation in Central Europe
By air: There are a ton of options for getting to Central Europe from international destinations. For flights originating outside of Europe some of the most popular gateways include Berlin, Warsaw, Prague, Vienna, and Zurich.
As with most of Europe, getting around Central Europe is hardly a problem. Throughout the region, public transportation is plentiful and efficient, getting you from point A to point B relatively quickly.
By train: The best way to travel around Central Europe in undoubtedly by train. Express services between major cities are often both quick and comfortable. For the convenience and comfort, however, you will often pay more. If you’re planning to spend the bulk of your time in countries like Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, you should consider purchasing a European rail pass like the Eurail Select Pass or Central Europe Triangle Pass.
By bus: In some Central European countries like Croatia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland, you may find buses to be quicker and more convenient than trains. It’s impossible to create a hard-and-fast rule here as it varies on a case by case basis. In general, the further east and the further south you venture in Central Europe, the more likely it is that buses will provide the better transportation alternative.