Eastern Europe is still relatively unexplored by most holidaymakers, who continue very much to focus their attentions and affections on the likes of Amsterdam, Spain, Portugal and France. The fabulous attractions and locations strewn across Eastern Europe continue to pass them by, and this is a pity because there is a world of pristine natural wonder right on the doorstep which, once experienced, is never forgotten and usually repeatedly returned to.
One of the best ways of seeing these incredibly beautiful environmental and cultural treasures is by road. This is not only great fun for independently minded travellers but also allows them to see a great range of different landscapes and cultural gems in the course of a single journey. Plan ahead and compare car hire from a few sources to get the best deals before setting out.
The fact that the different countries of Eastern Europe have their own rules and regulations just adds to the sense of excitement. Countries like Hungary and Poland have excellent roads and good stopovers en route for accommodation and refreshments, so the driving itself is no more of a problem than it would be in France of Germany.
If you’re only interested in seeing a couple of cities like Bucharest and Krakow then the local public transport is perfectly good, but for packing a lot of different cities and landscapes in a car is pretty much essential for getting around at your own pace. Hiring a car is particularly popular in Prague at the moment, where the city can be used as a base for exploring the hinterland with its picturesque medieval towns and villages.
Your insurer will tell you whether you’re covered for certain countries or not, and whether you require some sort of additional proof. In some countries like Ukraine you’ll need an ICMV (International Certificate for Motor Vehicles), and in several other Eastern European countries you’ll need an International Driving Permit, so it’s sensible to think ahead and do some research, otherwise you may get stuck before the trip really begins.
In Macedonia, Hungary and Serbia, visible car damage is noted officially on entry, but if it is only spotted later as you’re on the road there they may assume that you’ve been involved in an unreported accident and impound the car. Get any damage signed off at the border entry point.
In Ukraine, Slovakia and Montenegro you can’t drive on the motorways and other major roads without a so-called ‘eco-permit’, and this is usually linked to the size of the engine, whilst in Belarus it is illegal to drive a car that’s too dirty, believe it or not.
Generally speaking, the farther eastwards you go the more novel the driving regulations will seem, but also the more beautiful the landscapes.
One of the best ways to start exploring this part of Europe by road, if you’re new to it, is to take a round-trip that begins in Germany, in Cologne, and that takes in Berlin, Vienna, Munich and Krakow in a lozenge-shaped route and ends up back in Cologne before flying home. If you time this trip for over the Christmas period you’ll be able to experience the wonderful Christmas markets and the winter landscapes of Germany and Poland on roads that are excellent all year round.