Central Europe has quite quickly become one of the most popular regions to travel on the continent. Central Europe travel is met with the same ease as those countries further to the west but can offer some more offbeat and budget-friendly destinations. Most of the countries comprising this region were under Communist regimes until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, giving it a unique history and culture.
For the purposes of this Central Europe travel guide, we will be concentrating on the countries of Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland. While Austria is definitely considered to be Central Europe, neither of us have travelled extensively outside of Vienna so cannot give an accurate depiction of the country. Also, if you’re after travel information on Croatia, Slovenia, or Serbia, be sure to check out our Balkan travel guide which will lead you to all of the information we have on those respective countries and the region as a whole.
When to go
Similarly to the rest of the continent, the best time to travel to Central Europe is in the shoulder seasons of April to June and September to November. July to August can get very crowded in Central Europe so you’ll likely have to plan and book your trip much more compared to travelling in the shoulder seasons where cities aren’t as busy. Another advantage of the shoulder season is that lets you experience some of the great student towns in the region when the students are actually around!
There are some advantages in travelling during winter, with many cities in Central Europe having world Christmas markets as well as some fantastic and affordable skiing.
Despite all of these countries being in the European Union, only Slovakia uses the Euro. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland all still use their own currencies. Luckily though, unlike travelling the Balkans, these currencies are easier to exchange outside of their respective countries if you do get stuck with some leftover money after leaving!
You will notice that in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland some shops and restaurants will accept Euros in the tourist areas however it’s best to avoid paying in Euros as they will always give you an inferior exchange rate.
Planning a Central Europe budget can be a daunting task, however, the region tends to be noticeably less expensive when compared to Western Europe. It is very easy to travel in this region while maintaining even the most strict of budgets, while there is ample opportunity to spend top dollar should you wish.
Accommodation costs can range from about €15 / night for a dorm bed to about €40 for a private room in a locally run guesthouse or hostel. Transport between cities by bus or train doesn’t tend to run more than €25 for a longer, international bus ride. Food, again, can vary depending on your budget. If you plan on only cooking your own meals or relying on street food, you can eat quite well for no more than €5 – 10 / day and prices will generally increase from there, depending on your habits.
One thing you can absolutely do on the cheap anywhere in Central Europe is drink! The Czech Republic especially is famous for its pilsners and, outside of Prague, you can grab a pint for €1.50. In most countries in Central Europe, a bottle of local beer in the shop will often time cost less than a bottle of water. Although these prices are enough to turn the strictest teetotallers into alcoholics, please make sure to drink pace yourself and drink responsibly! No one likes a drunk tourist.
The most convenient way to get around Central Europe is to use the extensive train network. In peak season it’s worth booking a couple of days in advance for popular routes such as night trains. During your Central Europe travel, it’s worth also considering getting around using buses as whilst less scenic and comfortable than trains, they can be significantly cheaper. Finally, BlaBlaCar – a shared ride sharing service – can also be a cheap option to find rides to nearby cities.
Accommodation is widespread throughout the region and finding a place to sleep is easy when it comes to Central Europe travel. Most capital cities have dozens of budget accommodation options making it a fantastic area for any backpacker. As for smaller cities, most have at least one hostel and, if not, Airbnb is always a viable option. If you haven’t used Airbnb before, click here to get £25 off your first stay!
One thing to keep in mind with your Central Europe itinerary, is if you happen to be travelling in the high season (June-August), make sure you book a bed at least a week in advance. Many of the capital cities get quite popular in the summer months and demand for accommodation, obviously, surges with this.
Polish, Czech and Slovak are all Slavic languages that have common words and phrases with Russian and many Balkan languages. The Hungarian language, however, has completely different roots to its neighbours and can, therefore, be quite difficult to pronounce and speak for western language speakers.
English is widely spoken in Central Europe, particularly by the younger generation, and you generally shouldn’t run into much trouble communicating, particularly in larger and student cities. As always, locals will appreciate if you learn a few words of the local language and it will go a long way to enriching your Central Europe travel experience!
All countries in Central Europe have deep Christian roots, however, their modern-day observance varies dramatically. Poland is one of the most religious countries in Europe, with a large majority of Poles identifying themselves as Catholic. Slovakia and Hungary also both have Catholic majorities with Protestant minorities and in the case of Hungary, there is also a significant Jewish population – one of the largest in present-day Europe.
In the Czech Republic, the largest majority of people identify themselves as having no religion, however, there are still Catholic and Protestant minorities.
One of the highlights of Central Europe travel is sampling the local cuisine. Generally speaking, food varies little between the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia, but Hungary, due to its Magyar rather than Slavic influence, has its own unique cuisine.
Dishes like pierogi (delicious potato and cheese dumplings), potato pancakes, cabbage leaves stuffed with minced meat, kasha, sauerkraut, all topped with sour cream are commonplace throughout Central Europe, though they may be called by different names depending on the country.
Hungarian cuisine is defined by paprika and peppers, with notable dishes including chicken paprikash, goulash, and the popular street snack of langos. Food in Hungary can be quite a bit more flavourful and spicy compared to the rest of Central Europe so it can be a welcome break from the bland world of boiled potatoes!
Safety isn’t something to worry too much about during your Central Europe travel as long as you exercise some common sense. The most trouble you’re likely to encounter is in the nightlife areas of larger cities such as Prague, Krakow, and Budapest. Avoid walking home drunk or flashing around valuables and read up on common scams that are prevalent in these countries. One example is if a pretty woman convinces you to go into a specific bar and makes you buy her drinks, then you might be left with a huge bar bill that a couple of local “enforcers” will make you pay!
Another thing to consider when travelling in Central Europe is travel insurance. We personally used World Nomads however it’s important to read the policy details to ensure it’s right for you. Click here to get a quote from World Nomads.
Central Europe Travel: Country by Country
Currency: Czech koruna (€1 = 26 CZK)
Religion: Majority have no religious affiliation
- Prague – Czech capital famous for its beautiful Old Town, Prague Castle and bustling nightlife
- Olomouc – the undiscovered gem of the Czech Republic with a beautiful Old Town, large student population and few tourists
- Brno – second largest city in the Czech Republic and capital of Moravian culture
Currency: Hungarian Forint (€1 = 303 HUF)
Religion: Majority Catholic with Protestant and Jewish minorities
- Budapest – Hungary’s amazing capital with enough attractions and things to do to keep a traveller occupied for days.
- Pécs – undiscovered city in the south west of Hungary with a large student population and beautiful Old Town
Currency: Polish Zloty (€1 = 4.3 PLN)
Religion: Catholic majority
- Krakow – Poland’s most popular city for visitors with a beautiful medieval Old Town and famous nightlife
- Wroclaw – a lively city with a large youthful population meaning there are plenty of cool things to do
- Poznan – a less touristy Polish city with an interesting city centre and near Wielkopolski National Park
- Warsaw – Polish capital that was largely destroyed during WWII with a number of interesting museums
Religion: Catholic majority with Protestant minority
- Bratislava – Slovak capital with a number of castles and churches to explore in the Old Town
- Ždiar – small town in the Tatra Mountains which is a perfect base for hiking and skiing
Central Europe is one of the best regions to travel on the continent. Met with the ease of travel in the EU and Schengen-area countries, but still with a unique culture and history set alongside some of the most beautiful cities and towns in the world — Central Europe travel can be one of the most rewarding experiences ever. While the region certainly is growing in popularity, there are still so many undiscovered places and it is very easy to get off the beaten track!
Do you have experience with Central Europe travel? Are you planning a trip? Ask a question or leave a comment below!
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