If you’ve ever driven anywhere in Europe, you’ll know that the roads are interesting, the people lovely and the sights abundant. But, like with most places, there’s something to be said about going off the beaten path a little bit.
Last year I road-tripped through Poland and the Czech Republic, and a few years ago I did similar in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia. The people you meet and the things you can see when visiting these countries are incredible and I’d recommend them all. But you can go off the beaten path in the regular tourist sports of France, Spain, Germany and Italy too.
As much as I love Paris, Venice, Berlin and Barcelona, they’re better suited to short breaks rather than a stop on a road trip.
Here’s some advice on finding the best off-the-beaten-path spots.
Choose big cities you haven’t visited
It’s rare I’ll go back to the same place twice and the joy of a road trip is that you can visit so many new and wonderful places during your holiday. Try and pick somewhere new. For example, Dubrovnik was a wonderful city to have visited on my Croatia road trip, but would I go there again? Probably not. Next time, I’ll probably drive to the Bosnia and Herzegovina capital Sarajevo.
Search for both chains and independent hotels
Road trips can get expensive very quickly, especially if you are hiring a car and not taking your own. While my preference is often to book an Airbnb, the market has changed and owners are now offering their once-affordable apartments and rooms at hotel prices. You can still find a gem, of course, but it’s worth looking at the hotel offerings too. For example, the Hotel Century Old Town Prague – MGallery by Sofitel gives you four-star luxury in the most beautiful part of Prague for around £110 per night. Or there’s the Hotel Mama Shelter Prague, which gives you trendy rooms for around £60 per night.
The good thing about going for a hotel is you, usually, know what you’re going to get. Plus you get amenities such as linen changes, fresh towels and someone on reception to give you insider knowledge to the place you’re staying.
Read more: How to plan a road trip on a budget.
I’m very guilty of just going off exploring on my own but you can miss some of the local charm of a place this way. I’m not saying you should get an open-top bus tour in every city you visit (although, those are great) but perhaps seek out a walking tour. I love the Airbnb experiences that will take you around the local foodie spots or the chance to sample local coffee.
Search around for tours that fit with your interests. It’s a great way to see more of a place that you might not just stumble upon yourself.
Do your research
If you want to see things tourists don’t usually see, you need to do your research. Think beyond famous local landmarks and look for eateries, lesser-known churches, historical sites and markets. When I was in York, a shopkeeper advised that instead of going into York Minster, we visit a little church nestled at the back of the highstreet behind some shops. It was old, cool and has been well worn by the feet of its parishioners over the years. A beautiful little sanctuary tucked away in a busy city.
Finally, don’t beat yourself up if you are drawn in by the big sights in a city, or the countryside retreats everyone goes to. There’s so much to see in these places and we can’t be off-the-beaten-path all the time. Start small and speak to people as they’ll share with you the best places to go.
Most of the time, though, the wonderful parts of a trip will take you by surprise. When in Brno, my partner and I were walking back to our apartment and we heard music coming from a little cafe in the basement of the building. We decided to go in. We essentially gate crashed a small live music event where everyone knew one another and only one person spoke English. They gave us food and welcomed us as friends. The man playing Czech songs on the guitar was fantastic and, to this day, my favourite travel experience was singing Delilah in English while everyone else sang in Czech.
What’s been your stand-out travel experience?