3 Week Central Europe Itinerary For Active Travelers
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A trip to Central Europe offers travelers an opportunity to step back in time. It’s a region where ancient history and modern culture collide, awakening the curious corners of the mind, pushing you to explore as much as possible.
That being said, in this 3 Week Central Europe Itinerary, we’re covering a number of countries and cities that provide an immersive travel experience. It’s an active itinerary that will take you through 4 countries and at least 8 cities. Each provides an opportunity to be wowed by scenery, witness ancient history, expand your palate and discover unique culture.
While this Europe itinerary is designed for 3 weeks, feel free to extend or shorten your stay in the locations we recommend. In addition to recommended stops, we’ll be covering flights and transportation, recommended hotels and activities.
Getting To Central Europe & Getting Around
For the sake of this particular itinerary, flying into Geneva makes the most sense given the direction of the route. You’ll be heading West to East, although you could of course reverse the stops. This direction is an enjoyable experience that allows for an evolution of language and culture. You can take a look at the current best flight deals into Geneva and get flight deal notifications with Airfarewatchdog.
We designed this itinerary for active and adventurous travelers. It’s our recommendation that you rent a car for the majority of this trip, as opposed to taking a bus, train or other form of transportation. This will give you the flexibility to explore at your own leisure, and also go a bit off the beaten path and have a more immersive travel experience. Search for the best rental car rates for your travel dates with Expedia here. The only exception to this would be taking a train from Vienna (Wien) to Prague, as it’s a lengthy ride. Given the amount of car travel you’ll be embarking on, spending the last leg of the trip on the train was a relaxing way to wind it down. Book a cheap train ticket with GoEuro.
1st Stop: Geneva, Switzerland (3 Days)
Switzerland is a stunning and interesting country. It’s a wonderful first stop in Central Europe because you’re going to experience a multitude of languages, cultures and sights.
Geneva is one of the most beautiful regions in the country, between stunning Lake Geneva, the terraced UNESCO World Heritage vineyards and the quaint snow-capped mountain villages and towns — you’ll be hard pressed to find a more diverse assortment of beauty.
It’s also the region in Switzerland where French is spoken more than German. As you continue to travel East, you’ll notice that the local languages spoken will change. In fact, if you venture through the Ticino region, you’ll even hear some Italian.
We recommend staying in Geneva for about 3 days. This gives you enough time to explore the city, the lake, the reformation wall, the museums, and of course, see the famous Jet d’Eau water fountain. In addition, Geneva also serves as a good home base to take day trips to other near by areas. In particular, we highly recommend driving to visit Lavaux — the famed wine growing region that is so impressively beautiful, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.
Things To Do Near Geneva
- Walk Around Lake Geneva
- See The Reformation Wall
- The Birthplace of the United Nations
- Visit the Lavaux UNESCO World Heritage Vineyard Sites
- Witness the Jet d’Eau Fountain
Where We Stayed in Geneva
Located right along the shores of Lake Geneva, the Kempinski offers an unparalled 5-Star experience. Easy access to the ferrys and tram stops make it an ideal home base for navigating the city from a lakeside perspective. The rooms are sleek, clean, modern and upscale. Views from the hotel include but are not limited to the Jet d’Eau fountain and the French Alps in the distance. Take a look at hotel prices for your dates here on Expedia.
2nd Stop: Grindelwald, Switzerland (4 Days)
Grindelwald is an ideal second stop as you continue progressing East. It’s within the now relatively popular Jungfrau region of Switzerland, by the Bernese Alps. Given its proximity to several other beautiful and exciting destinations, as well as its affordable accomodation, we recommend using it as your home base in Jungfrau.
The village of Grindelwald itself is gorgeous. You can sit outside your hotel surrounded by snow-capped mountains while sipping on a glass of Chasselas wine. While we were recently there, we even encountered an avalanche in the distance as the sun was setting!
We recommend spending 4 days here. On the first day, take some time to explore the village itself. In the Winter, this is a popular ski destination. In the Spring and Summer, it’s the perfect village for hiking and witnessing the nearby waterfalls.
On your second day, head about 30 minutes Northeast outside of town to Lauterbrunnen, and hike around the waterfalls that careen off of the cliff faces throughout the valley.
On the third day, drive about 30 minutes Northwest to Interlaken (German for “Between Two Lakes”). This is one of the more famous resort towns in Switzerland. It’s a town that quite literally sits between two lakes — Brienz and Thun. Surrounded by mountains and dotted with dense foliage, there are beautiful meadows and glaciers near by. The two lakes themselves are colored with a deep emerald blue hue, unlike anything else in the world. This is the perfect region for hiking.
Things To Do Near Grindelwald
- Hike Around Grindewald and Witness the Eiger Mountain
- Hike Around Lauterbrunnen
- Explore Interlaken
- Helicopter Skydive in Interlaken
- Explore the Village of Spietz
- Explore the Lakeside Town of Brienz
Where We Stayed in Grindelwald
One of the more pleasant experiences we had while visiting Switzerland, the Sunstar offers an assortment of room options at affordable price points. I was blown away that you could walk out the back of the lobby and sit within just a couple hundred yards of the Swiss Alps. The staff were incredibly courteous, the rooms were comfortable and practical and the hotel even has somewhat of a wine theme to it. I had some of the best Chasselas in Swizterland while staying at the Sunstar. Take a look at the best prices for your travel dates here on TripAdvisor, one of our partners.
3rd Stop: Zurich, Switzerland (2 Days)
This cosmopolitan yet medievil city is a must stop when traveling through Switzerland. Just approaching Lake Zurich alone as it shines in the sun and you emerge from Old Town, with the snow-capped mountains beset in the background, are reason enough to make a stop.
Take a stroll by the lake, enjoy a glass of Swiss Chasselas or Blauburgunder wine and take in the crisp alpine air, or stroll through the back alleyways of Old Town with its cobblestone corridores and quaint shops and restaurants. If you’re in more of a spending mood, take a leisurely stroll down Bahnhofstrasse, Zurich’s world famous (yet expensive) shopping street. You can also take a boat cruise across the lake, or explore the city by bicycle. If you’re looking for a sweeping and stunning view of the city, stop by Lindenhof Hill.
Zurich has more to offer than its beautiful views and upscale shopping scene. There’s a bohemian side to this city creeping up (in a good way) within Zurich’s Industrial Quarter. Venture on over to Frau Gerold’s Garten, which is pretty much a small neighborhood constructed out of shipping containers. There are several bars, shops and eateries here that offer a completely unique perspective of Zurich.
Things To Do in Zurich
- Walk the Limmatquai Promenade
- Go Wakeboarding on Lake Zurich
- Take in a view of the city from Lindenhof Hill
- Explore Altstadt (Old Town)
- Explore Grossmünster Church
Where We Stayed in Zurich
This was by far the most practical hotel we stayed at while in Switzerland. Not only were the staff incredibly friendly and accomodating, especially with helping to navigate the city, but the hotel is conveniently located across the street from the tram. It made waking up and traversing the entirity of Zurich in just a couple of days incredibly easy.The 24Hours Hotel Zurich West is also one of the most affordable hotel options in the city for what you get.
The rooms are also large, very clean and very cute. The staff went so far as to write me a hand written happy birthday card and leave me with treats in the room while we spent the day out exploring. 100% highly recommended, a must stay. Take a look at the current best rates the 25Hours Hotel here on TripAdvisor.
4th Stop: Munich, Germany (2 Days)
As you continue to progress along your route, Munich makes for an ideal stop while en-route to Austria. It’s positioned not far from Germany’s Southwestern border.
As you drive towards Munich (also known as München in German), we recommend stopping at Neuschwanstein Castle — the same castle that inspired Walt Disney to create Sleeping Beauty. Among other attractions worth visiting for a couple days are the Allianz Arena, Marienplatz, and the Deutsche Museum. Take some time especially to explore Marienplatz, Munich’s most well-known square and its architecture.
We feel that two days in Munich is enough to explore the bulk of the “must-dos” in the city as well as sample some of the essential cuisine, though feel free to increase the duration here as you see fit.
Things To Do in Munich
- Stop by Neuschwanstein Castle
- See the Allianz Arena
- Walk Marienplatz
- See the Deutsche Museum
Where We Stayed in Munich
This was a gem of a find to stay at for a brief stint in Munchen. It’s conveniently located not far from Marienplatz, just about 5 minutes. It’s also a short walk from the famed Viktualienmarkt farmers market. The rooms are very modern, the breakfast buffet is high-end and free, and they have one of the best wine bars in the city attached to the hotel, aptly dubbed — “Grapes.” See current rates on TripAdvisor for the Cortiina.
5th Stop: Hallstatt, Austria (3 Days)
I’m not sure how many of you are history and archeology buffs like I am, but as I was walking towards the skywalk above Hallstatt, I looked to my left and this beam of light starting shining on a hill where they uncovered over 5,000 Celtic graves (pictured above), many several thousand years old. But this isn’t just any grave site, it’s one of the most significant finds in Europe. It wasn’t the skeletons they found here that are so interesting, it’s what was buried with them.
This site was a special place because of the salt rocks mined just beneath the Alps here, and these salt rocks were traded and mined for over 7,000 years, as far as Asia. Because of the natural resource here, the Celts became wealthy, and were buried with their riches. In some cases they were buried still sitting in their chariots with their armor and weapons. I came to Hallstatt specifically to see the history for myself. I even wandered around the forest and mountain streams here looking for artifacts (sshhh). I still get chills looking at this photo because of the moment and the exact positioning of the light.
Long story short, Hallstatt is one of the most significant historical sites in Central Europe. But aside from the history and archeology, it’s also an incredibly pleasant place to explore and take in the views. This is a hikers paradise, a history buff’s dream, and for those who enjoy a good glass of Grüner Veltliner, one of the best places to enjoy Austria’s most famous white wines with a view.
Things To Do in Hallstatt
- Take a Tour of Salzwelten (The Salt Mine)
- Hike Around The Town
- Have a lake-side schnitzel meal and glass of Gruner Veltliner
- Walk the Hallstatt Skywalk
- Take the Funicular Above the Town
- Tour the Hallstatt Museum for Celtic Archeology
- Walk Old Town
- Rent a Small Boat on the Lake
- See the Hallstatt Ossuary
Where We Stayed in Hallstatt
Accomodation is relatively scarce in Hallstatt, given its increasing popularity and small stature of a town. We found extreme comfort and a remarkable view at the Hallstatt Heritage Hotel. The rooms were large and clean, and the staff were attentive. Keep in mind that this hotel maintains two buildings, which are a hundred or so yards apart. Depending on the room you receive, you may be positioned lakeside, or slightly more inland in town. However, both buildings are upscale. The breakfast buffet is located by the lakeside building and is included. Here are the current rates for the Heritage Hotel on TripAdvisor.
6th Stop: Vienna, Austria (3 Days)
I wasn’t fully sure what to expect when I visited Vienna (also known as Wien in Austria). I knew from guidebooks and my Instagram feed that it was certainly one of the more iconic locations to stop at in Austria. What I didn’t know was how impressed I would be by it.
After checking into my hotel, the 5 Star Sans Souci and receiving several dozens of recommendations from the concierge, I was immediately overwhelmed. Unfortunately I only had 1 day to traverse Vienna. I quickly found out that this was a mistake, which is why I’m recommending that you all stay in Vienna for at least 3 nights.
Vienna is a white city, from it’s quaint cobblestone back alleys to its wide angled streets, the buildings themselves offer dramatic views to digest. The wealth of this place becomes obvious within minutes. But it’s not just its modern wealth that makes Vienna so iconic, this is also a medievil place, with ancient archeology just beneath the modern streets.
Among some of the best things to do in Vienna, be sure to marvel at St. Stephen’s Cathedral, walk by Schonbrunn Palace, the explore the Museum Quarter and definitely either see a performance or take the guided tour of the State Opera House (Staatsoper).
Things To Do in Vienna
- Visit St Stephen’s Cathedral
- Walk the Schonbrunn Gardens
- Witness the Architecture of the Rathaus Town Hall
- Visit the Museums in the Museum Quarter
- See a show at the Opera House
Where We Stayed in Vienna
Arguably the most upscale experience we had on this Europe trip was our stay at the San Souci Hotel in Vienna. This 5-Star property was incredibly accomodating and comfortable, with a generous front-desk staff willing to divulge all of the city’s secrets. The rooms themselves are complete with high-cielings, and everything from the molding to the bedding is luxururious. You can even watch TV directly in your mirror. It’s a 3 minute walk from the Museum Quarter and conveniently located by the Hofburg Imperial Palace. A complimentary champagne breakfast buffet is also included.
The best part? It’s not as expensive as you might think. Take a look at the current rates for the San Souci on TripAdvisor.
7th Stop: Prague, Czech Republic (4 Days)
“The Golden City” as it’s often referred to and we like to call it, is one of eclectic culture, architecture, cuisine, nightlife and history. As you traverse this bohemian atmosphere (which happens to be one of the top 5 most visited cities in Europe currently), you’ll fall in more love with it every corner you turn. From navigating the Old Town square and witnessing Prague’s Astrological Clock — for which mentions go back as early as 1410 — to exploring the world’s most beautiful library — the Klementinium — you’ll be in awe.
For a detailed breakdown of how to best navigate Prague, the best things to do throughout the city, in addition to trying Czech beer and wine, take a look at our Essential 4 Day Guide to Exploring Prague here.
Things To Do in Prague
- Visit Castle Hill
- Walk Staré Mesto (Old Town Square)
- Walk The Jewish Quarter
- See a String Quartet at the Klementinium
- Tour the Klementinium Library
- Walk and Visit The Charles Bridge
- See The Dancing House
- See the John Lennon Wall
- Eat at Hotel U-Prince
Where We Stayed in Prague
Don’t let the fact that the Magestic Plaza is a Best Western fool you. This upscale property is elegant and located just a couple of kilometers from the Charles Bridge. The rooms are somewhat rustic, yet elegant, comfortable and clean. Staying here will also get a complimentary champagne breakfast buffet. Checkout TripAdvisor for the best prices for your travel dates.
Questions, suggestions? Let us know in the comments! Note that this itinerary is more of a high level guide to help you plan a perfect route through the above 4 countries. We go into more specific recommendations within our city travel guides.
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