For someone who has done a lot of travel, I’ve seen a surprisingly small amount of Europe. Since we weren’t going home for Christmas, we decided to pick a destination for Christmas and New Years that would feel more like home than what we experienced in Africa. When we found a cheap flight to Europe on Christmas Eve, our trip was set. The plan was to visit some of the Christmas markets that were still open, and visit some historical sights that were on our bucket list.
Below, I’ve outlined our itinerary with recommendations on where to stay, where (and what) to eat and what to do in each location. One thing to note – we rented a car which made it really easy to see a lot in a short period of time on our own schedule. It was very easy to get around and we didn’t have any issues so if this is an option for you, I’d strongly recommend it!
Itinerary, Accommodation & Highlights
December 25th: Colmberg, Germany
Colmberg is a short drive on the Autobahn (shorter if you’re a speed demon like James!) and was our first stop. We knew that we wouldn’t want a big travel day since we took the red-eye, and I have to admit I was a little in love with the idea of spending Christmas night in a castle!
Stay: Colmberg Castle (parking included)
See: neighbouring Rothenburg. While the Christmas market had finished the day before, we had no trouble finding a cute place to have schnitzel and mulled wine.
Eat: Snowball Pastries (Schneeball) are famous in this region
December 26th – Salzburg, Austria
Happily, the Salzburg Christmas market was still on when we arrived and we found our way to some gluhwein and sausages before taking a walk around the old town, and walking up to the Hohensalzburg Castle and fortress. We didn’t pay the admission to go in, but there are some great views from the top.
Stay: Astoria Hotel (parking included)
See: Admittedly we were there on Boxing Day, so there wasn’t much going on apart from the Christmas market. But I could have happily walked around the old town for days. If you’re so inclined, there are also Sound of Music walking tours (we ended up watching it during the one night we were there as James hadn’t seen it before!).
December 27th: Ljubljana, Slovenia
Ljubljana was one of my favourite cities we visited! Our hotel was in a great location, and we spent a few hours walking around the old town checking out different food vendors.
Stay: Allegro Hotel (parking available but not included, though it isn’t attached to the hotel)
See: Walk around the old town, check out the love lock bridge and the dragon bridge. Stop in Bled if possible – when we stopped it was (unfortunately) rainy and grey but it looks absolutely stunning on a clear day!
Eat: there were lots of cute restaurants on the pedestrian street by our hotel (Stari trg). We opted for Vino & Ribe which was small and cozy, with tasty fish and cheap wine.
December 28th: Zagreb, Croatia
We were looking forward to visiting a few places in Croatia (though before you ask, we’re saving Split and Dubrovnik for warmer weather!) but we weren’t sure whether or not we’d be able to cross the border with our rental car. Most countries part of the Schengen states do not have border control, but Croatia is still an exception (for now). Happily, we weren’t asked for any permission letters from our rental company when we headed in. On the way out we needed to show license and registration but otherwise it was super easy.
Stay: B&B Fotic (parking included)
See: Once again, our hotel was in a prime location for exploring the city and, in particularly, the old town. Sadly, it was pouring rain the day we were there. We did walk around for a bit (with umbrellas provided by our hotel) but eventually gave up and went to the movies. Boring you say? Perhaps. But we hadn’t been to the movies in months so it was actually a bit of a treat. And, yes, the movie was in English.
Eat: the pizza at Kascheta was amazeballs. But watch the price of the wine – I accidentally ordered two glasses of $9 AU wine (half our total bill). Oops!
December 29th – 30th: Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
Have you ever seen photos of this place? I’m pretty sure they use an image from here for one of the canned Windows desktop backgrounds. And for good reason, it’s absolutely breathtaking.
Though it looks a little different in winter, it is still beautiful and the crowds are half the size!
Stay: Rustic Lodge Plitvice (parking included). This place was super cute, and affordable.
See: Obviously the big thing to do here is wander through the beautiful cascading pools. We spent most of an afternoon walking around and taking photos.
Eat: after our chilly walk, we drove to Degenija Restaurant which did not disappoint!
December 30th – January 1st: Budapest, Hungary
We decided to spend NYE in Budapest and it was such a good call! The city was so vibrant and lively it was easy to get caught up in the excitement surrounding New Years. Our hotel was awesome (probably the nicest we stayed in during this trip) but didn’t have parking, so we had to spend a little time looking for a lot nearby. Once we were parked and settled into our hotel room, we were able to enjoy the city.
Stay: Karoly Corner Residences (parking not included but quite a few options around). Incredible location and layout, and includes a kitchen if you want to make your own meals.
See: the Christmas market was pretty awesome, so if you’re visiting before/after the holidays I would definitely recommend checking it out. Other highlights included strolling along the Danube, seeing Parliament at night, wandering up Andrassy Avenue through the City Park and visiting the Szechenyi Thermal Baths.
One quick note on the baths – we decided to go to the baths on New Years Eve which is seemingly the busiest day of the year! We arrived around 11, found we would have to wait as it was at capacity, and came back around 2 when we were able to get in. Once inside the scene was almost like a Vegas pool party. People walking around (stumbling around?) with bottles of champagne. We learned afterward that you can actually bring your own alcohol into the baths. That may seem against the idea of going to the baths for relaxation and rejuvenation, but hey, who am I to judge? (and we definitely indulged in a glass of champagne ourselves!)
Eat: I’m sad to say I can’t think of anything that was really a stand-out in terms of the meals we had. We went to Szazeves Etterem (the oldest restaurant in the city) for dinner on NYE and it was fine but not something I would strongly recommend. We did check out For Sale Pub for a drink after dinner and that had a good vibe (though the staff didn’t seem too interested in serving us or other patrons).
January 1st: Bratislava, Slovakia
We arrived in Bratislava in the early afternoon and, it being New Years’ Day, it was pretty quiet. We walked around the main square before finding a place for lunch. Before dinner we did a bit more exploring, but it was mostly just walking around the town.
Stay: Art Hotel William (parking not included, but it’s not difficult to find parking nearby)
See: our favourite thing to do here was strolling along the Danube, with views of the UFO restaurant and the Bratislava Castle. It’s also a great running spot, and the weather was mild enough that I got a morning run in before we left.
Eat: the only meal we had there was at 17s Bar, which had great pizza and cheap beer.
January 2nd – 4th: Krakow, Poland
This was hands down my favourite city on this roadtrip. It was cheap, had delicious food (hello, perogies!) and is rich in history. I can’t wait to go back one day!
Stay: INX Design Hotel (they have parking on site for an additional charge, but will also tell you where to find cheaper parking down the road). This was one of the cheapest hotels, but was in an incredible location (beside Kazimierz), had a gym (small) and a sauna.
See: Krakow really deserves its own blog post but the highlights included – checking out the Wawel Castle (free), a “Krakow during WWII” free walking tour (here), walking around the town square, eating in the Jewish Quarter and, of course, visiting nearby Auschwitz.
Eat: I could have had perogies for every meal, no joke. We couldn’t get over how cheap Poland was compared to the other countries we visited, and were pleasantly surprised when we grabbed a lunch of schnitzel, perogies, pickles and two large beers for about $12 AU at Polakowski (which I am not sorry to say we went to on more than one occasion while staying in Krakow!). Hamsa was also delicious (though pricier than Polakowski) and Dorothy’s Kitchen served up traditional Polish food which was super tasty.
January 5th – 7th: Prague, Czech Republic
Prague was even more beautiful than I imagined. Though the winding one-way streets were frustrating as we tried to find parking around out hotel, once we were settled I loved exploring this incredible city!
Stay: Friday Hotel (parking not included and very annoying to find just driving around. I’d recommend doing some research ahead of time and picking a parking lot to save yourself 45 minutes of driving in circles 😉 ). The location is perfect for exploring the city, and the breakfast was tasty.
See: The Christmas market was still on when we arrived and so our first order of business was to check that out. The market takes place in the Old Town Square, so this also meant seeing the astronomical clock (which was partially covered in scaffolding). We made up our own walking tour to see a lot of the sights (link here). This included Town Square, Charles Bridge, the Lennon Wall, Prague Castle, the Botanical Gardens, the Old Jewish Cemetery and back to our hotel. We didn’t follow this route exactly, if we saw something interesting we would wander off. Other activities of note included seeing a symphony perform at the Municipal House and the Beer Spa, which includes a soak in a bath that has hops and yeast and your very own tap with unlimited beer for about an hour. I have to admit it was pretty fun!
Eat: At Ferdinanda we split a meat and cheese platter, which was just ok (the meat was more like sliced ham instead of the sausage we were expecting!). We had lunch at Restaurant U Jindrisske Veze (we shared the duck which was delicious!) and went back for dinner the next night when we saw that most locals were having smoked ham, served on the bone to carve at your table (this was also a hit at Ferdinanda). In my opinion, the duck was much better but to be honest I don’t really love ham so that probably explains it!
January 8th – 9th: Berlin, Germany
We had finally arrived at our final destination for our roadtrip. In 16 days, we had traveled to 8 countries and 10 cities (you’ve gotta love Europe!). We stayed in Mitte in Berlin, which was a great jumping off point for exploring the city by foot (or Uber when it was too cold!).
Stay: Capri by Fraser (parking available at an additional cost). I can’t recommend this hotel enough. It’s surrounded by museums and walking distance to Alexander Platz, where you can catch a train directly to the airport. As if that’s not enough, each room has a kitchen should you wish to make your own meals, the hotel has free laundry (a major bonus for backpackers) AND you get free Ferrero Rochers. I mean, come on. And all this for less than $100 AU per night (when using Booking.com).
Do: Walk along the East Gallery of the Berlin Wall, take a moment to pause at the Holocaust Memorial, visit the Topography of Terror, a museum built on the land which held the Gestapo and SS headquarters during WWII and take in the beautiful views from the top of the Berlin Cathedral.
Eat: Berlin has a great food scene, and few of our favourites were House of Small Wonder for breakfast and Momotaro Tavern for lunch or dinner (their burgers are to die for!). Bonanza Coffee Roasters does a great cup of coffee in a similar style to Melbourne – if you’re looking for a pour over look no further.
And now for the nitty-gritty…
We were bracing ourselves for an expensive few weeks, but in the end it wasn’t as bad as we thought. Now, we didn’t do anything crazy expensive, but we also didn’t hold back when we wanted to go out for a nice dinner and all the hotels we stayed in were comfortable and had great reviews (no hostels for us). So you could definitely do this much cheaper. We used booking.com or Cheap Tickets for almost all our accommodation, which certainly helped (particularly since Cheap Tickets always has discounts on top of the advertised price, often 16% less). Do your homework and look up promotion codes – it’s definitely worth it.
Here is the daily cost breakdown by category – keep in mind this is for two people. I have excluded our flight into Frankfurt from Addis Ababa as well. Costs are in AUD (roughly the same as CAD).
Total cost per day was around $310 AU. Not too insane, considering all that we did in that time!
Tips / things to know before going
- A rental car will make your life a whole lot easier BUT it also comes at a cost. We knew the cost of the car going on, and also knew that we were going to have to pay fuel but were unprepared for the cost of parking/vignettes/tolls/other fees associated with driving a car around Europe. Our total spend on these costs alone was roughly $300. We wouldn’t have changed any of our plans, but it still would have been helpful to have that information ahead of time.
- Speaking of the vignettes, you will need to get a new one every time you enter a country. Most are priced out at one week or less as the lowest option, so even if you are just passing through you will still get hit. Some countries allow you to purchase your vignette online, but they are always available at the border.
- As mentioned earlier, booking.com or Cheap Tickets are a great way to save a little cash when booking accommodation. Most hotels will also include breakfast which is a nice bonus, and often meant we weren’t even hungry for lunch.
- Prices differ dramatically from country to country so don’t expect to have the same budget when you move from one to the next.
- Most SIM cards in the EU are now roaming-free, so we picked ours up in Austria and used it throughout our trip without any problems.
Any other questions? Things to add? Comment below 🙂
— Catie xx