When you tell your friends that you’re going to Europe many never ask about driving in Europe, they just ask about the plane ride.

” Wow..how long of a flight is that?”
” That’s a long flight…and you do it overnight?”

“How expensive were the tickets?”

It seems the only transportation conversation you have is about the plane ride. No one ever asks how you got around Europe once you got there. And I know the reason. Most people in the United States think it’s bizarre to use ground transportation to travel between two countries. America doesn’t really have trains…so most Americans don’t think to ask about them. And driving…well… Americans do love to drive. But only in a land where
A- You drive on the right side of the road.
– and –

B- All the signs look the same as they do back home.

Depending on where in Europe you’re driving, you could find yourself way out of your comfort zone. But don’t let that discourage you from driving in Europe.

Our experience driving in Europe

Parenthood and Passports - Driving in EuropeAlthough the map shows Frankfurt is about 1″ away from Munich, I promise it takes some time to get between the two cities. That’s why on our recent European adventure we decided to HIRE a car! Yes…we hired a car. In Europe they don’t say “rent” a car, they say “hire” a car. And our experience driving in Europe was…AWESOME!

So here’s how our itinerary went: Frankfurt–> Rothenburg ob der Tauber –> Munchen (Munich) —> Salzburg —> Wien(Vienna) —> Bratislava —> Brno —> Krakow —> Prague

Sure, we could’ve trained it .Europe has amazing rail lines. But this trip was different. You see, we have a little girl (18 months at the time) who is still testing out how loud she can scream. So we felt it would be better for her to exercise her vocals in a car rather than on a train.

It was the best thing we could’ve done.

Highway driving in Europe

There are some things you need to know if you’re driving on the highway.
Roads
The road system is quite good and the highways are just as good, if not better, than what you’ll find in the state.
Construction
There’s a reason the highways are in great shape. They like to do construction on them! You’ll come across a few construction spots and sometimes it can be kind of scary. In America we have concrete walls that separate traffic in construction zones. In Europe sometimes there’s just a small piece of concrete that is a few inches high that separates you from oncoming traffic. Yeah…that was kind of scary. But we managed to survive. With that said, give yourself a bit more time to get to your destination, because you could will hit some stop and go traffic.Parenthood and Passports - Driving in Europe
Border crossings
Driving from one country to another is just like driving from one state to another. You really won’t even know you’ve done it unless you happen to see the small sign next to the road that is usually blue, has some stars on it, and says the name of the country.   Parenthood and Passports - Driving in Europe
Gas stations
Gas stations are easy to find, and there are many that are right on the highway. You don’t have to get off at an exit and drive through town to find them.
The Autobahn
Parenthood and Passports - Driving in Europe
Don’t try this at home.

This is specifically for Germany and Austria: Respect the Autobahn! The left lane is for passing only! Do not, I repeat, do not hang out in the left lane. Not everyone drives lightning fast… actually…only a small percentage do. But chances are you will find them. Americans won’t get this right away. But after a few minutes of driving on the Autobahn you will encounter a driver coming up on you fast. There are no speed limits on the Autobahn when you’re outside of the towns. We didn’t see a single accident, either. There’s no speed limit, yet people know how to drive.

Don’t Litter
This should go without saying. The highways are remarkably clean in Europe. No litter. So keep your trash in the car!
International Driver’s License
It’s best to get an International Driver’s License. These are easy to obtain from AAA. I got mine within about 10 minutes, but you will need to physically go into the office to do so, and there is a small fee associated with it.
Signage

The hardest thing was learning the traffic signs. Most don’t have words on them, only numbers and drawings. Make sure you understand these BEFORE you drive.   Parenthood and Passports - Driving in Europe

Driving in Towns

Here are some things you need to know while driving in a European town (big or small):
Parking

Parking in small towns is pretty easy. Just like in the states.  But parking in Europe is expensive! You’ll pay no matter where you go.Parenthood and Passports - Driving in Europe

City Streets
Parenthood and Passports - Driving in Europe
Pedestrian only area in Munich

There are a lot of one-way streets. It’s best to get a GPS device. And as you approach many of the city centers you may find they are pedestrian areas only. Do your research when booking a hotel, as some of them do not offer parking because, well, they’re located in an area of the city where cars are not permitted.

Other things you just need to know about driving in Europe

  • Your car could likely require diesel fuel, even if it doesn’t look or sound like a typical diesel vehicle.
  • Know your gas pumps! In the states a green pump means it’s a diesel pump. In Europe green means regular gas. Black means diesel!
  • Some countries make you buy a driving pass. They’re call Vignettes. There are plenty of places to buy these when you enter a country.
    Parenthood and Passports - Driving in Europe

Pros and cons to hiring a car in Europe

Pros: You get to see the European countryside, and if you want to stop and snap pictures…you can! You’re on YOUR own time! Not a train’s time. Hiring a car is cheap, at least if you are staying within the same country, and returning the car to the same location. You can get a BMW for Euro 25/day.

Cons: If you are hiring a car one-way, and dropping it off in another city or country, prepare to pay a lot more! On our recent trip it cost us Euro 700 to hire a car for nine days — 350 of that was a one-way drop-off fee. We picked up the car in Frankfurt, Germany and dropped it off in the country next door — Prague, Czech Republic.
For anyone else who has road tripped across Europe, what would you add to this list? Did we miss anything? Leave us a comment and share your own experience or advice.Parenthood and Passports - Driving in Europe

12 thoughts on “Driving in Europe: What You Need to Know”

  1. This article made me laugh because it took me back to my time driving in Europe! Trying to remember to drive on the “wrong” side of the street, remembering KPH instead of MPH, trying to figure out street signs. Such a struggle that was so stressful then but hilarious to think about now!

  2. Although mainland Europe mostly drive on the opposite side of the road to us (I think! I don’t really know, I can’t drive haha) a lot of the rules and little tidbits are very much the same, so as a Brit it was really interesting reading this from an outsider’s perspective.

    1. Most Americans seem to worry about driving in other countries and not knowing traffic laws, etc (at least the ones I’ve talked to)… But we found driving in mainland Europe was pretty much the same as in the states. We had to get used to the metric system, and we had to remember to buy those driving passes at most of the border crossings. The UK was probably the most confusing, though, from an outsider’s perspective. Just getting used to driving on the opposite side of the road took a little effort.

    1. We found the UK the most stressful actually! Just because of the opposite side of the road thing… But it was exciting, and a new experience for us. All of the roundabouts in the UK were another confusing aspect to driving there.

  3. I’ve always been afraid of driving in countries where they drive on the other side of the road. These tips are extremely helpful and eases a little bit of my international driving anxiety. Thanks!

  4. I remember driving around Europe for the first time and learning the left lane rule the hard way haha Great tips in here! And love how they say ‘hire’ a car! Great tip also on the green and black on the gas pump handles. That can be a real doozy!

  5. I’ve driven in a number of countries as I find it a little more freeing than catching public transport, but it’s always good to be reminded of the struggles we have forgotten about. I’ve never found it difficult to change sides of car or road to drive, but things like remembering the correct fuel can be a very expensive lesson, as the couple in Portugal who rented the van before us found out when they put petrol into a diesel engine…
    One thing I would add to your list, as a result of their experience, don’t skimp on insurance! Take full comprehensive coverage if your credit card doesn’t cover it for you!

  6. Oh I miss my roadtripping through Europe days. When I lived in Belgium we drove everywhere. I loved being able to stop whenever I wanted to get a picture of the view.

  7. I have driven in Europe quite a bit, mainly in France, Spain and Greece, and for me that is the wrong side of the road!! It’s quite enjoyable though as I find the roads so much less crowded that in the UK. I guess that Americans will also have an issue if they hire a manual car as all the cars I have had in Europe have been manual!! I prefer manuals but then an automatic was nice when I was doing loads of miles in the US 🙂

  8. We drove in Croatia, Bosnia, and Greece last summer. Thankfully we didn’t run into any problems, but I’d imagine it to be difficult if we had to drive on the opposite side of the road!! I think the biggest issue was finding automatic cars. We’ll be going to Italy next year and can’t decide whether we want to chance it since it’s on the opposite side… yikes!

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