Driving through east / central Europe to Greece

Hi, Planning with my family to spend 4 weeks in Europe this July. After 2 weeks in Bavaria and Austria, we hope to drive through Central Europe (E75 primarily) to Greece, spend 1 week in Greece, then return via same route for our departure from Frankfurt. Please help me by pointing out flaws in the plan and and suggestions would be appreciated: - Route would take us from Austria through Hungary, Serbia, Macedonia, then Greece. Rental agencies don't allow cars to be taken out of EU, so we're planning to do a lease / buyback program with Peugeot. All eastern Europe countries are okay except Albania and parts of Serbia not controlled by the Republic of Serbia. (I assume this means Kosovo, which we should be able to avoid) - Distance is approximately 1000 mi (1600 km). We wouldn't be sightseeing on the way down - just driving direct. Is two days completely unreasonable to allow to make the trip? Three days? - I've heard we'd be required to buy some sort of windshield sticker to drive in the center/eastern Europe countries. How does this work? In which countries is it required? - We'd plan to take 4-5 days for the return drive to leave extra time for sighseeing along the way. Any recommendations or thoughts. I appreciate your thoughts. Please be nice!

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9131 posts

I'm not certain about all the countries on your route, but at least Austria requires a vignette sticker. You can buy it at the border. If you enter the country on an Autobahn, there will be a border station where you can buy it. If on a secondary road, there's usually a petrol station just over the border that sells the vignette. Unlike Switzerland, where you can only buy stickers that are valid for the entire calendar year, Austria sells vignettes that are valid for shorter intervals of time, and thus, cheaper.

Posted by Angela
Sammamish, WA
403 posts

You don't say which days of the week you are planning to drive, but one thing to keep in mind is Sunday closures. In that part of the world, especially smaller towns and such, much will be closed on Sundays, including gas stations. viamichelin.com is a great place to verify driving times. They tend to be a bit "optimistic," but it's helpful for plotting routes and estimating driving time. I just tried it and it came up with 11:41 to drive Budapest to Salonica.

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2176 posts

Sunday closures don't affect, usually, highway gas stations. The European countries requring vignettes in Europe are Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Moldova, Romenia, Slovakia, Slovenia. So you will end up with at lest 4 stickers upon returning :)

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
1972 posts

Phillip: I too used to travel as far as possible and see as many cities as I could in a 2 week trip to Europe. When gasoline went to $9.00 a U.S. gallon, I saw the light. Now, I'll stay 4-5 days in one place, do day trips by rental car and move down the road to the next city/region. When you get in less industrialized countries, traveling long distances are just too difficult due to poor roads. Hungary to Greece is like this. And so much of Greece's great tourist sights are on islands. Sometimes it's time to turn the car in and fly on one of the budget air carriers. We now always fly open jaw into one city and out of another. Backtracking to an airport is inefficient and expensive.
Remember that there's no way you can take all the countries have to offer. There's just so much history, art, food and culture that your brain can soak in on one trip. Europe's best when taken a little more slowly.

Posted by Philip
Denver, Colorado, United States
5 posts

@everyone - appreciate the helpful information. @david, thank you for the lecture. You're making some assumptions about the type of traveler I am and the type of vacation we're arranging. We're planning four weeks to take in Bavaria (1 week), Innsbruck and Vienna (1 week), and a villa or apartment in Greece (1 week). An extra week thrown in for travel between points. An open-jaw ticket was prohibitive for a family of four, and the best "budget" airfare RT between German and Greece I could find would end up costing nearly $2000 US for my family. Fuel costs to drive RT, even assuming $10 US / gallon, would be around $500. My question then, is it unreasonable to plan 2 days to drive between Vienna and Greece? If so, then we'll scratch the Greece plan and spend the extra week visiting Hungary or Prague. (Why fixate on Greece you ask? My 10 y/o daughter will be studying Greek mythology in the coming year and specifically requested it)

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
2391 posts

If you come here asking for advice, that's what we provide. You might not like the advice you get, but I thought it was pretty valid... An open-jaw ticket was prohibitive for a family of four, and the best "budget" airfare RT between German and Greece I could find would end up costing nearly $2000 US for my family. Fuel costs to drive RT, even assuming $10 US / gallon, would be around $500. My question then, is it unreasonable to plan 2 days to drive between Vienna and Greece? If so, then we'll scratch the Greece plan and spend the extra week visiting Hungary or Prague. I highly suggest you revisit your planning and your math. Gas will be a lot more than $500 and you don't factor in tolls, parking, meals and overnight hotels. Even with a family of 4, discount airlines should be very competative to driving that far. And I have to believe there are plane tickets to be had for less than $500 each. 2 days worth of essentially non-stop driving would work, but that's a long time to sit in a car for a family of 4... How long do you plan to be in Greece and where would you go? It's a big country and the various ancient sites are remote from one another. And you certainly don't want to drive in Athens. Most people treat Greece as a destination, not a side trip.

Posted by Philip
Denver, Colorado, United States
5 posts

Douglas - you are correct, I asked for advice and received it. I do appreciate it! I did bristle a bit at the assumption that we're trying to squeeze in as much of Europe as possible in a short time. We're not. As for Greece, probably 8-9 days. Only plan to visit the Peloponnese peninsula, and our hope is to rent an apt or vacation rental in/around Navplion for a week and use this as a base to explore the area. Athens will be a day trip, parking the car and taking public transportation in/out of the city.

Posted by James
Frisco
1801 posts

Each to their own taste and everyone can be equally correct. My taste is that you will be racing through the best of Europe and spending too much time in regions totally reconstructed in the 20th century at one end and a place I enjoyed very little at the other end. But, be what it is. would suggest you abandon the car at Vienna and take trains in short segments with one or two day layers along the way so you can see some of the drive through country. From Budapest you might be able to pick up a driving service that will get you most of the way at a reasonable price and I know of some first class bus services as well.

Posted by David
Seattle, WA, USA
1414 posts

I think that the root of the challenge for you here is that you are trying to do two trips - Germany/Austria, plus Greece (in a relatively short time-frame, and with a family of 4, on a budget). Not saying it can't be done, but there are obviously some challenges - connecting the two hunks of your trip being one of them. An open-jaw ticket was prohibitive for a family of four, and the best "budget" airfare RT between German and Greece I could find would end up costing nearly $2000 US for my family. I'm wondering if you have that right. I'd suggest you take another, perhaps more careful look at open jaws flights. Many people mistakenly end up with crazy high prices for what they think are open jaw tickets, when what they've priced is something else (maybe two one-ways). And even if tickets from A>B, then back home from C>A cost more than flying A>B and returning from B>A (after a "side trip" B>C, C>B), you need to factor in all the costs of making your way from B>C and back. Those costs include transportation, lodging, food, etc. AND they also include the lost time. Often (usually?) the monetary costs are actually less if you go open jaws, but even if open jaws ends up costing a little more, it can "buy you" extra days on your trip. In your scenario, you are talking about a minimum of a week for the drive-through. Unless the area you're traversing is really of interest to you (more of interest than other places you could spend that week +), you need to balance the cost and time saved. In your case, you would have a week or more of additional, usable time for your trip if you skipped the big drive. How much is that worth to you? My guess is that you can find an open jaws option that costs less than $2K for the 4 of you. If it were me, I'd look again. Hope that helps.

Posted by Philip
Denver, Colorado, United States
5 posts

Thank you all for your thoughtful and insightful responses and suggestions. Obviously there are many ways to skin a cat. In this case, after considering both options and spending hours (literally) searching for budget airfare and calculating driving costs / times, we've decided to dump the leased car and fly sort of a reverse open-jaw to Greece and back. I found a reasonable fare from Vienna to Athens, then from Athens back to Frankfurt to pick up our return flight back to the states. Now we'll rent a car one-way from Frankfurt to Vienna. The net cost will probably be a few hundred $$ more, but considering it saves 4 full days of driving, I'd say it'll definitely be worth it. Now, any suggestions for a nice weekly villa on the Peloponnese coast? :-0