Hit the road safely with these five lesser-known European road trips from Romania to Montenegro.
A European road trip offers a mix of diverse history and culture for you to discover all on one enormous landmass. By trading in trains and buses for a set of wheels on your next trip, the world will open up as you can more easily venture to those hard-to-reach castles, caves, or hidden ruins all at your own pace.
In normal times, you could go gallivanting around the popular routes near Berlin, Paris, or Rome. But while social distancing is still necessary, avoid potential crowds and consider taking the road less traveled with these five underrated European road trips.
Although most people focus on Romania’s Dracula lore, there are other endless adventures for road trippers to discover across this beautiful country. Check out the UNESCO city of Sighisoara in Transylvania, known for its colorful fortified citadel and as the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler. Stay a night or two in Casa Dalia, a cute self-catering guesthouse overlooking the lower town with a large terrace perfect for enjoying a glass of Romanian wine or two.
Skip Cluj, Transylvania’s unofficial capital, and instead travel around Romania’s most traditional region, Maramureș, where unique wooden churches and carved wooden gates abound. Base yourself in Vadu Izei at the Pension Casa Muntean, a rustic style guesthouse with traditional architecture and décor where you can get a home-cooked traditional meal or take cooking classes during your stay.
Most importantly, don’t leave the area without seeing the Merry Cemetery of Sapanta and Wood Church of Saint Nicholas in Budesti.
2. Southeast Germany and the Black Forest
Located in southwest Germany, the Black Forest is a mountainous region often associated with the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, cuckoo clocks, and storybook villages. Here, start by visiting the chic town of Baden-Baden, known for its famous healing natural springs that date back to Roman times. With over 30 spas to choose from, the Friedrichsbad Roman-Irish Bath is the best place to soak your tired bones.
For booze lovers, make a pit stop at Monkey 47 Distillery in Loßburg for a tour and to taste their popular gin. Stay the night at Fritz Lauterbad, a modern boutique hotel in Freudenstadt that offers free bike rentals for trips to the nearby trails. In nearby Freiburg, climb the bell tower at Freiburg Cathedral for a great view of the city. And because you can’t forget about all the spectacular fairytale castles, Hohenzollern Castle is well worth the drive. Wander through the halls and take in at transfixing art galleries and exhibitions that will transport you back into time.
Bulgaria doesn’t often show up on bucket lists, so if you’re looking for a place to escape mass tourism, this is the place to be. This small Balkan country can be easily explored by car as you will be spoiled with beautiful cities, charming villages, stunning landscapes, delicious meals.
Start in Sofia, the laid back capital that offers plenty of culture and relaxing parks. Sign up for Balkan Bites, a free food tour that offers local cuisine with a little food history on the side. Then head up to Plovdiv, an ultra-cool bohemian city and one of the oldest inhabited cities in Europe. Next, make a beeline to the ancient theatre of Philipoppol, a well-preserved ancient theater that still hosts live performances during the summer months. Book a few nights in Veliko Tarnovo at Yantra Grand Hotel, a 4-star hotel with a spa that offers a panoramic view of Tsarevets Fortress and the Arbanasi architectural reservation.
Montenegro is a small country in the Balkan Peninsula famous for its spectacular coastlines, historic monasteries, old cites, and national parks nestled in the mountains—all easily accessed by car. Start in the Budva Riviera, a standout city known for its spirited nightlife and sun-soaked beaches on the Adriatic Sea. Get lost wandering around the 2,500-year-old medieval old town that’s full of history and lore like the Church of St. John, which dates back to the 15th century.
Skip the more touristy attractions and instead head up to the hidden oasis of Krapina Village to take a dip in a natural pool under a waterfall or get engrossed by the curious Ostrog Monastery carved into the cliffs of Ostroška Greda. And if you’re a cat lover, be sure to make a detour to the Cat Museum, a quirky gallery in the ancient town of Kotor dedicated to all things cats from writings to coins.
A road trip around Iceland is remarkable, thanks in part to the ever-changing landscape; while on the road, you’re almost sure to spot ice glaciers and lava fields. Bypass the famous Blue Lagoon in Reykjavík and venture out to the Mývatn Nature Baths, for a cheaper alternative. Before you get to this natural spa, stop by Kvernufoss Waterfall, a hidden gem that’s just as grand as Skogafoss Waterfall but much less crowded. Head to Akureyri for a little whale watching, then get some rest at the Sigló Hotel in the once-remote fishing village of Siglufjörður. This stylish and modern hotel built into the fisherman’s marina offers three restaurants, outdoor spas, and a sauna along with a wonderful view of surrounding mountains. While in town, tour Segull 67, a small family microbrewery, and treat yourself to some incredibly good beer.