Central Europe has quite quickly become one of the most popular regions to travel on the continent. Travelling in this dynamic region is met with the same ease as those countries further to the west but can offer some more offbeat and budget-friendly destinations, which is why this Central Europe travel guide is necessary. Most of the countries comprising this region were under Communist regimes until the early nineties, giving it a history and culture that is unique to its more western counterparts.
For the purposes of this Central Europe travel guide, we will be concentrating on the countries of Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland. 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.
Central European Countries
Central Europe can be an ambiguous term that has a few definitions in the region. While many may consider the countries of Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to be “Eastern Europe,” it is far more politically correct and polite to refer to them as “Central Europe” instead.
Regardless if you want to visit Austria or any of the four aforementioned countries, there is no denying that you’re bound to have a wonderful time exploring this gorgeous and historic area of the continent.
If you already know where you want to visit in this incredible region, then make sure to browse our country-specific articles and guides.
Planning a Central Europe Route
A typical route through Central Europe covers the capital cities from Vienna to Prague to Krakow to Budapest. And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with this itinerary, it does skip over all of the smaller cities and towns and lovely natural areas that lie in between these metropolises.
If you’re attempting to map out your ideal itinerary, then this Central Europe travel guide is here to help! Whether you want to find the perfect multi-country route or are trying to narrow down which cities you should include or not on your trip, browse the articles below to help you plan the ultimate Central European adventure for your own travel style!
Places to Visit in Central Europe
The goal of this Central Europe travel guide is to help you plan the perfect trip to Central Europe and to get the most out of every destination that you visit. There are so many incredible places to see, dynamic cities to explore and beautiful nature to lose yourself in.
If you’re wondering where to go in Central Europe and what to do while you’re there, you’re in luck. We’ve explored the region in-depth and don’t plan to stop any time soon.
We’ve traipsed all over the most popular cities and have ventured further from the tourist trail, all in the hopes of providing you with a holistic view of the region.
If you’re looking for a detailed city guide or just want some inspiration on our favourite destinations in the region, have a look at the articles below to kick-start your planning.
Best Time to Visit Central Europe
Any Central Europe travel guide needs to discuss the best time of year to visit the region and this one is no different. Like pretty much everywhere else on the continent, Central Europe experiences five distinct seasons.
The winters can be cold and snowy where the summers are hot and muggy. Spring and Autumn tend to both have more mild weather, but can be rainy and chilly at times. You might also experience some beautiful and unseasonably warm days if you travel during these times of year as well.
If you’re planning on travelling to Central Europe during the summer, keep in mind that the months of July and August can get very crowded in Central Europe so you’ll likely have to plan and book your trip further in advance.
Summers can also get very warm in most Central European cities, and it’s rare to have air conditioning in your accommodation. If they have the means, many locals tend to flock to the mountains or seaside during particularly warm spells, so these areas can also be quite crowded.
Arguably the best time to travel to Central Europe is in the shoulder seasons of April to June and September to November. During these seasons, the weather is milder and the tourist crowds are considerably fewer.
Read More: The Essential Guide to Visiting Prague in Winter
Often, as well, accommodation and attraction prices can be reduced. Because there is less demand in general, you will also have a bit more room to be flexible in your itinerary. Another advantage of the shoulder season is that it lets you experience some of the great student towns in the region while the students are actually around!
There are some advantages to travelling during winter, with many cities in Central Europe having world Christmas markets as well as some fantastic and affordable skiing — especially in the High Tatras in Slovakia.
While the weather is very cold, travelling to Central Europe in winter is easily the cheapest season to visit the region. Because the tourist demand is low, accommodation and attractions costs will likely be discounted, but you may find that some things do not operate during the offseason.
All in all, there is no absolute answer for the best season to travel in Central Europe, but if you want decent weather combined with a lack of tourist crowds, then visiting the region during the shoulder seasons is probably your best bet.
Cost of Travelling to Central Europe
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 be quite affordable if staying in hostels or in a private room of a locally run guesthouse or hostel.
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 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, in many 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 pace yourself and drink responsibly!
Currency in Central Europe
Despite all of these countries being in the European Union, only Slovakia and Austria use the Euro. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland all still use their own currencies: Koruna, Forint, and Zloty respectively. This can make it tricky when trying to remember the exchange rate for each country, but using a mobile app like XE that you can also download offline if you don’t have a local SIM or international data plan can help.
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! It is, however, good practice to try and make sure you use all of the coins because these are nearly impossible to exchange.
Also, avoid changing money in either the airport or a busy tourist centre because the exchange rate in these places is usually poor and you will end up losing a significant amount of money.
We suggest only withdrawing a couple of days worth of cash at a time in order to avoid having to exchange anything. Make sure you have a debit card without ATM or foreign transaction fees and this will also end up saving you some money.
ATMs are prevalent throughout Central Europe, even in the more rural areas so you shouldn’t have a problem. Many places also have credit card facilities, but it is always good practice to carry at least some cash on you just in case the place you’re visiting doesn’t accept cards.
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 almost always give you an inferior exchange rate. It would also probably be best to avoid these places altogether, as they tend to be tourist traps.
Central European Cuisine
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, buckwheat groats, 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!
Transportation in Central Europe
The most convenient way to get around Central Europe is to use the extensive train network. It’s worth booking in advance for popular routes such as night trains as tickets can be considerably cheaper. 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.
To book buses or trains, we recommend looking at Omio where you can see timetables and routes available and book the best one for you. Booking buses through Flixbus can also be a great option as they have numerous affordable routes throughout Central Europe.
If you plan on using the train a lot during your trip to Central Europe, it can be worth looking into purchasing an Interrail pass or a Eurail pass depending on what your country of residence is. BlaBlaCar – a ride-sharing service – can also be a cheap option to find rides to nearby cities.
If you’re wanting to visit a more rural or off-beat destination while travelling in Central Europe, then it can be worth renting a car. While the bus and train networks reach most places throughout all the countries in the region, the farther off the tourist trail you get the transit becomes more infrequent.
Rather than be at the mercy of erratic bus and train timetables, it can be a better value for your time to have your own means of transport. However, if you’re sticking to the bigger cities in Central Europe, a rental car isn’t really necessary.
If you choose to rent a car, we recommend searching on Rentalscars.com to find a great deal across car rental companies. To save money on car rental insurance, we also suggest to buy excess insurance through iCarHireInsurance which offers policies for a few dollars per day – a fraction of what you’d pay from a car hire company!
Public transport in cities is extensive, affordable, and relatively easy to navigate. It can be helpful to stop by the tourist information office in whichever city you’re visiting and pick up a paper map. While this may seem outdated, sometimes popular navigation systems like Google maps don’t have accurate information about all of the public transport routes available to you.
Finally, if you want to spend your days sailing along the Danube, there are a number of different river cruise options.
Accommodation in Central Europe
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’re travelling on a higher budget, you will also be spoilt for choice in Central Europe. Most areas have some fantastic accommodation options, ranging from chic boutique hotels to family-run B&Bs.
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.
If you’re planning to visit Budapest while on your Central European adventure (and you should!), then it can also be tricky to figure out which side of the city best suits your needs. Have a look at the article below to help you make the best decision.
Is Central Europe Safe to Visit?
Personal 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!
Like most everywhere else in the world, taxi scams can also be somewhat common in Central European cities, so it is always a good choice to download a ride-hailing app like Uber or Bolt (research in advance what is the most used in your destination) to ensure that you’re not overcharged on your trip.
Another thing to consider when travelling in Central Europe is travel insurance. World Nomads offers flexible and simple travel insurance policies with coverage for more than 150 activities that you can buy or extend while on the road.
If you’re travelling long-term or are looking for a simple, affordable travel medical insurance option, then SafetyWing is also an excellent option.
Language in Central Europe
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. The native language spoken in Austria is German.
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. However, as you venture away from bigger tourist centres, the language barrier might become a slight issue. In more rural areas, English isn’t as widely spoken as in the cities.
A helpful tip to combat this is to use the Google Translate app which even allows you to download languages offline. As always, locals will appreciate it if you learn a few words of the local language and it will go a long way to enriching your Central Europe travel experience!
Religion in Central Europe
Most 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.
Because of the strong Catholic influence, you might find that many shops, restaurants, and attractions are closed on Sundays. Be aware of this and plan accordingly and it shouldn’t hinder your Central Europe trip in the slightest.
In the Czech Republic, the largest majority of people identify themselves as having no religion, however, there are still Catholic and Protestant minorities.
Hopefully, this Central Europe travel guide will help you to plan the ideal trip to the region for your travel guide. The countries of Austria, Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia all have so much to offer visitors and they are very much worth exploring in depth.