Central Europe hits its prime during the summer months. Germany and Italy are two of the most beautiful countries to visit during this time of year and have some of the most famous road trips in the world.
This is part two of our ultimate list of the best summer road trips in Europe. If you’re looking for suggestions in France or Spain, part one of this series covers some awesome journeys there. If you’re looking for suggestions in the United Kingdom or Ireland, head over to part three.
Marchenstrasse (Fairy Tale Road)
Hanau – Steinau – Kassel – Hamelin – Bremen
Distance: 317 miles (510 km)
True to its name, Marchenstrasse is a road full of the actual settings that inspired many Grimm fairy tales.
Start the Fairy Tale Road at Hanau, the birthplace of the Brothers Grimm. The picturesque state park by the Wilhelmsbad spa complex is located on the outskirts of the town and features English-style gardens, a horse-drawn carousel, and a pyramid in the middle of the creek.
The famous German fairy tale writers, the Brothers Grimm, lived in Steinau for a time and have a museum called the Brothers Grimm House full of exhibits about their life and work, including manuscripts, illustrations, and first editions of their stories.
Kassel’s landscape park Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with an iconic Hercules monument, a symbol of Kassel, and incredible fountains and waterfalls. Grimmwelt is another museum full of fairy tales and their impact on German culture, dedicated to the Brothers Grimm, who spent much of their lives in Kassel.
Remember the Pied Piper? Hamelin is the town where the legendary flutist lured the town’s children away with his flute in the 13th century. There is actually a Pied Piper's trail through the town with landmarks associated with the story.
Finally, Bremen Town Hall is yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site and a stunning example of Gothic and Renaissance architecture. In front of the Hall is the statue of the ancient paladin Roland, erected in the 15th century by the Holy Roman Empire.
Würzburg – Rothenburg ob der Tauber – Augsburg – Neuschwanstein Castle
Distance: 224 miles (360 km)
Love isn’t just in France. This part of southern Germany is so beautiful that it’s been dubbed the Romantic Road. There are so many amazing destinations on this road, we’ve only scratched the surface.
Starting the road with its baroque and rococo architecture and wine is Würzburg. The Würzburg Residence is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular tourist attractions in the hilly town. The best place to view the surrounding countryside is via the impressive Marienberg Fortress located on a hill overlooking the city.
Medieval town Rothenburg ob der Tauber is full of all things cobblestone. Altstadt is its well-preserved medieval town center with cobbled streets, half-timbered houses, and city walls. St. Jakob's Church is also a popular destination that houses the famous Rothenburg altarpiece, a 500-year-old woodcarving of the Last Supper.
One of the oldest cities in Germany, Augsburg has an ancient Augsburg Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of St. Maria and St. Cyprian, that dates back to the 11th century. Watch a puppet show at the Augsburger Puppenkiste, a marionette theater that has been entertaining audiences since the 1940s.
Finally, Neuschwanstein Castle is just one of the castles of Fussen and one of the highlight castles in all of Germany. Right next door is Hohenschwangau Castle, the beautiful land of Bavaria, Lake Forggen, and the town of Fussen.
Mannheim – Heidelberg – Rothenburg ob der Tauber – Nuremberg – Bamberg – Bayreuth
Distance: 232 miles (374 miles)
Castle Road is really a castle circuit that spans nearly 70 castles and palaces. The route we’ve highlighted is almost perpendicular to the Romantic Road and intersects at Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
In Mannheim, we have the baroque Mannheim Palace built in the 18th century and the largest palace in Germany. It now houses the University of Mannheim and a museum!
In Heidelberg, we have Heidelberg Castle, built in the 13th century and was partially destroyed during the Thirty Years' War, later restored in the 19th century. Heidelberg University is also the oldest university in Germany and one of the oldest in Europe, founded in 1386.
In Nuremberg, we have the Nuremberg Castle that dates back to the 11th century and served as the residence of the Holy Roman Emperor. History-lovers can also visit the Nuremberg Trials Memorial in the courtroom at Nuremberg Palace of Justice.
In Bamberg, we have the baroque Neue Residenz palace that was built in the 17th century as the residence of the Prince-Bishops of Bamberg. The is also the Romanesque Bamberg Cathedral built in the 13th century and home to the Bamberg Rider, a statue believed to represent Emperor Henry II.
In Bayreuth, we have two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, both of them operas. Bayreuth Festspielhaus was built specifically for the performance of Richard Wagner's operas and Margravial Opera House is an impressive baroque structure built in the 18th century and one of the most important cultural landmarks in Germany.
Sorrento – Positano – Amalfi – Ravello – Vietri sul Mare
Distance: 40 miles (64 km)
It’s a short trip but it’s Italy’s most unforgettable drive down the coast of Amalfi. The entire coast is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of how spectacular the experience is. Winding roads hug the cliffs of the Tyrrhenian Sea, offering views of sparkling azure water. We’ve listed some pit stops here, but the drive is the real deal.
Start at the popular tourist destination of Sorrento and visit the Piazza Tasso, Sorento’s main square that was named after the poet Torquato Tasso. It is a great place to people-watch and relax at one of the many cafes.
Positano is the first major town where you’ll get real access to the water and beaches. Its two main beaches are Marina Grande Beach and Spiaggia del Fornillo Beach, and there are plenty of boat tours that explore the nearby islands like Capri and Ischia.
If it’s called the Amalfi Coast, there’s got to be an Amalfi town, the largest on the coast. It has beaches like Positano and the Amalfi Cathedral of St. Andrew at the heart of Amalfi. Oh, and lots of lemons, so be sure to have a taste of the lemon cuisine.
Beautiful Ravello has some of the best gardens on the coast. Visit the Villa Rufolo, a 13th-century villa located in the heart of Ravello, and Villa Cimbrone, both with dramatic gardens against the backdrop of the coastline.
Finally, Vietri sul Mare is a small, down-to-earth town at the end of Amalfi Coast with streets of color and the 17th-century Church of San Giovanni Battista located at its heart.
Florence – Pisa – Siena – Chianti – Arezzo
Distance: 142 miles (228 km)
Tuscany is a region in central Italy full of beautiful countrysides and wine, wine, wine!
As the capital of Tuscany, Florence is a natural place to start. Its Uffizi Gallery houses some of the world's most famous artworks by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Botticelli. The Duomo is a stunning cathedral with a red-tiled dome that dominates the city's skyline. The Ponte Vecchio is a picturesque bridge lined with shops that crosses the Arno River. And the Palazzo Pitti is a grand palace that houses several museums and galleries.
Pisa as in the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which is part of the Piazza del Duomo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is a large student population in Pisa too so it's always quite lively in town!
Visit Siena’s town square, Piazza del Campo, home to the Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia. Visitors can climb to the top of the tower for a panoramic view of the city. Siena is also famous for its Palio, a traditional horse race that takes place twice a year in the Piazza del Campo.
We promised wine and the Chianti region delivers. Visitors to Chianti can enjoy wine tastings at local vineyards, explore historic castles and churches, and take scenic drives through the rolling hills and vineyards of the area. Some of the most popular towns in Chianti include Greve in Chianti, Panzano in Chianti, and Castellina in Chianti.
Finally, the city of Arezzo is filled to the brim with Roman architecture: the Romanesque Pieve di Santa Maria church, the Gothic Cathedral of San Donato, the Casa Vasari museum (dedicated to the Renaissance artist Giorgio Vasari), and the Medicean Fortress.