On May 5th we embarked on our fourth trip so far this year, it’s actually been a whirlwind year as we’re making good use of the last 15 months before kindergarten starts.
We started the year in Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea. Then a short trip to OKC to check out some apartments, a week long trip to Denver to speak and ski, and now we’ve just returned from Europe .
For this trip, we wanted to do something different. We wanted to incorporate a road trip with the ability to get in a rental car and just drive around and explore.
The last time we were in Europe we did a tour around Switzerland in 2017 with our then two-year-old solely using public transportation. While their train system is amazing, we still found it a little stressful to travel around with luggage and a small child while worrying about which side of the tracks to be on, and if we were getting on the right train.
Having a car this time around has been so much easier, and we’ve explored some incredible sites on a whim that we wouldn’t have otherwise been able to see. Plus, we’ve saved a ton of money not having to book tours to castles just by being able to drive there ourselves.
Below is an overview of where we drove, with the exception of all of the day trips we went on.
We left Seattle on one of the nicest weeks of the year on May 6th, and arrived in Frankfurt on May 7th around 11 am. We spent a few hours walking around Frankfurt like a jet-lagged zombie family before hitting the bed around 6 pm .
The very next day we zipped out of Frankfurt and straight to Eltz Castle, a roughly 1 hour 30-minute drive.
Eltz Castle was like a dream come true. We took the hiking trail option which took us about 15 minutes through some scenic woods before we turned a corner and there she was, in the middle of a forest a beautiful multiple-tiered medieval castle.
Burg Eltz has been in the Eltz family for 33 generations, and has never been sieged due to the family’s political ties and multiple allies.
We arrived early so there weren’t as many people there, and immediately booked an interior English tour. Not all castles in Germany offered English tours, and we were excited they had this option. We highly recommend doing the interior tour, it was fascinating learning about the three different Eltz families who live here.
On the same day, we visited Marksburg Castle, which was more of a fortress used for protection rather than a traditional castle. Marksburg was well preserved and felt rather unchanged from the 13th century. Marksburg was one of the few castles that were not destroyed in the 30 years war or world war 2, so what we saw was not a rebuilt version like many other castles.
From Frankfurt we headed down to Heidelburg, a picturesque town known for it’s castle and old town. We stayed at an Airbnb right in the old town and enjoyed meandering through the narrow streets in the mornings before the day trip tourists arrived.
We decided to take a day trip from Heidelberg to Strasbourg, France since we were less than a two-hour drive away and it was in the EU, which meant no border crossing.
We loved Strasbourg and wandered around town taking photos and enjoying the sites. We had a great lunch and then headed back to Heidelberg.
We used Stuttgart as a home base for several days of castle day trips, and it was a convenient place for us to stay as we made our way around Germany.
Stuttgart is home to the famous Porsche and Mercedes Museums and is known as a manufacturing hub. The city is modern and new and really busy.
Our first day trip was to Hohenzollern Castle, and the castle that we see today is the third castle in that spot after the first two were destroyed.
On another day trip we visited Lichtenstein Castle, a fairy tale castle built high up on a mountain with picturesque views. The castle is quite modern, built in 1840. It was not overrun with tourists, and is one of the smallest castles we saw.
From Stuttgart, our drive to Munich was a little under 3 hours, mostly on the autobahn.
We really enjoyed Munich, it was another great home base for day trips and there was plenty to do around town. We really could have spent more time in Munich, we were not able to make it to the famous English gardens and several other things we wanted to do. Will have to go back to visit.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
Our favorite place in Germany was Rothenburg ob der Tauber, or Rothenburg for short. Rothenburg was mostly spared from the WW II bombing, only parts of the city wall were damaged and later rebuilt. The entire city is surrounded by a wall, which we spent a lot of time walking.
We spent three nights in Rothenburg, and enjoyed the quiet mornings and evenings after all of the day-trippers and tourist groups left.
We had the worst weather on the entire trip in Bamberg, it poured down rain for two full days which made it tough to explore around this UNESCO protected medieval city.
On the rainy days we decided to take road trips outside of town and we followed the romantic road and stopped at castles and sights along the way.
From rainy bamberg we drove to Nuremberg, known for its medieval architecture and many, many churches. Nuremberg was bombed heavily during WW II and most of the old town area is rebuilt.
We toured the Nuremberg Castle, walked around the old town for days and visited many of the churches. We’re definitely coming back to Nuremberg to see the christmas markets, we hear they are the best in Europe.
Burg Wernberg, Germany
When planning this trip, I really wanted to find a way that we could stay in a castle. I googled german castle hotels and found several options, and all were too far out of our way, except for the Burg Wernberg Hotel which happened to be on our route to Prague.
We booked one of their suites for the night, and the room was larger than my first apartment! It had two living rooms and a separate area for our daughter, they even had a special toddler-sized bathrobe and slippers for her.
We spent the day walking through the castle woods and had an amazing dinner and breakfast before heading to Prague the next morning
Prague, Czech Republic
Driving from Germany to Czech Republic was a breeze. We took a longer route to drive through the Czech countryside and arrived in Prague midday. Finding parking in Prague is a nightmare, and there are limited areas for non-residents to park. Our Airbnb host let us know about a company that allows you to book parking online, so we ditched the car for a few days to enjoy Prague on foot.
The first night I booked us another night watchman tour, it wasn’t quite as good as the night watchman in Rothenberg, but it was a great way to see the city and learn about Prague’s history.
Prague is a beautiful city with rich history and so much to see, and it’s extremely busy. After two days of wandering around, we decided to get out of town and visit Prachov rocks, a hiking spot with incredible rock formations that look like something out of a movie. We spent hours hiking up down and around the rocks. We’d go back to Prague just to hike Prachov again.
Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
When researching Prague, I kept coming across blog posts mentioning day trips to Cesky Krumlov as a must-do. I noticed that most all wished they had spent a few days there, so I decided to give it a shot.
Cesky Krumlov ended up being our favorite city on this trip, and we wished we had more time there. We loved the castle, the river rafters, the many restaurants, the free walking tour, and wandering around the narrow streets.
Our last stop on this trip was beautiful Vienna. We ended up driving our rental car from Cesky Krumlov to Passau Germany because it was a significant price difference to drop the car back in Germany versus another country.
So we dropped the car off and took the train to Vienna, and it was an easy ride.
I only scheduled us two days in Vienna thinking we wouldn’t like it, I had this idea that it would be too stiff and proper… I was wrong.
We ended up loving Vienna for it’s laid back and charming architecture.
Tips & Ways To Save
Thinking about planning a road trip through Europe? Here are a few tips and tricks I learned that may help you:
To organize the hotel and flight bookings, I use Travefy, a free program that helps organize confirmations and creates an itinerary that you can share. They also have an app for mobile devices. I was able to add all of our hotel and flight confirmations to Travefy and share it with my husband so we both had everything on our phones.
For the route planning, I used routeperfect.com to help organize where we stayed and to get ideas of the best route. It’s really easy to create the perfect route based on the software’s suggested route.
For longer trips like this, we alternate between Airbnb’s and hotels to wash clothes. The only exception is Asia, where we prefer to stay in hotels because there are laundry businesses everywhere that will was your clothes in 24 hours for less than $5 a load .
Hotels can be pretty expensive in Europe, so I do my best to search for the best deals. We tend to stay with Marriott hotels due to our gold status . American Express had an offer for a $40 credit for spending $200 at Marriott that we took advantage of, and Ebates had a 10% cash back bonus that we used as well. That saved us $180. We also used points and a free night certificate to stay at the Hotel Bristol in Vienna, a $700 savings.
Wifi is available is so many places in Europe, so instead of using SIM cards, we downloaded offline google maps and used that to navigate. Also, the rental car company tried to sell us GPS for $10 a day, we declined and found that it come standard in the car already.
To pay for things we primarily use a no foreign fee credit card, and for cash we use a Charles Schwab debit card at ATM’s. The Schwab card reimburses us for ATM fees. This allows us to take out smaller amount of cash more often.
To maximize our earnings for flights we use either our Chase Sapphire Reserve or our Amex Platinum. For this trip we booked our tickets with Condor Airlines, a partner of Alaska Airlines who we fly the most with. We earned 33,000 Alaska Air miles, plus 21,500 Amex points for the flights.
For ideas on what to do, I look at the tours being sold on tripadvisor and Airbnb experiences. That’s how I learned about Prachov rocks in Prague. Then we drove ourselves and saved a ton of money.
Last but not least, don’t overbook yourself, leave room for spontaneous activities and enjoy.
Where is your favorite travel destination? Let us know in the comments below: