A summer south-north route pleases parents and teens with historical and shopping stops in Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, and Germany.
By Tina Davis
Traveling with teen girls can be tough. A quick scan of Snapchat revealing a birthday party being missed halfway around the world? Cue 24 hours of sulking and scowls. Ugh!
We found a road trip through some of Europe’s most classic destinations to be a soothing balm for whatever FOMO our girls were enduring. Whether it was shopping in Venice, singing “Sound of Music” in Salzburg, castle-ing in Prague, or even visiting memorials to the horrors of the Holocaust, the whole family was all-in.
After a great visit with grandma and grandpa in England, we flew to Rome to begin our journey. We navigated northward, through Tuscany, Venice, Salzburg, Prague, and finally to Berlin. Each leg of our journey lasted a manageable four hours of driving.
Renting a car in Europe for a reasonable price comes with the same caveats as it does in the U.S. Picking up a rental in one country and dropping it off in another comes with an increased cost. So, we saved by downsizing the vehicle, choosing a stick shift, and dedicating the rental to one driver (my husband, Richard). We also saved by going diesel, and for our route, found Avis had the best price.
The road-trip format was key to making the trip a success with our teens: Each city was a quick hit. No lingering long enough to feel bored or get sick of cathedrals or art museums. We spent 2-3 nights in each city relying on Airbnb accommodations along the way. With so many choices of accommodations within Europe, we found that Airbnb rates were reasonable, the variety of places to stay was fantastic, and the hosts and their communication were wonderful. Airbnb impressed us so much that we vowed to never use a hotel again!
Not unlike we do on a car trips at home in California, we hopped around without having to worry about transit schedules. We stopped to see vistas and towns that looked interesting – and zoomed by the ones that didn’t. Oh, and Richard driving the Autobahn made Richard an especially happy camper 😉
The Good Stuff
The drive from Venice to Salzburg is spectacular. The well-maintained roads led us through the breathtaking scenery and left our driver happy and beholden to the jaw-dropping, majestic backdrop of the Alps.
We stayed in a beautiful Airbnb owned by a lovely couple who greeted us there and showed us how everything worked. They also provided parking for our car at a competitive rate. We stayed in Salzburg for 2 nights, but we would have loved to stay longer to explore the lake district where the Sound of Music tour bus took us.
Our Airbnb rental was conveniently located within walking distance of all the major attractions – Salzburg Castle, The Sound of Music Tour, Mozart’s house, etc. We enjoyed our best dinner at a local Monastery – delicious lager, schnitzel and chips. It’s a real haven for friends and families who enjoy summer nights eating and drinking beneath a canopy of trees al fresco.
Getting to Salzburg Castle can vary by personal preference, but either way is well worth the effort. Salzburg Castle is at the end of a rewarding hike, or a train trip will drop off at the mid-point cutting the distance of the walk by half from there. The views over Salzburg and out to the Alps are stunning. We found the actual abbey from the Sound of Music as well. It sits at the mid-way point of the climb.
The Sound of Music Tour is well worth it if you’ve seen the movie. The tour leads to all the major places from the movie – although most of them don’t allow visitors inside. The gardens from the song “Do a Deer” are fantastic. My kids danced their way through the gardens. The bus tour showed us scenes from the movie while on the way to visiting each spot, just to refresh our minds. Our whole tour bus sang along! We met folks from California – actually all over the US, Australia, England, Asia, and NZ.
Prague, Czech Republic
Another 4-hour drive along a mostly freeway route brought us to Prague. Upon entering Prague, the freeways became a bit confusing making it rather hairy to maneuver. We felt lucky Google Maps could direct us; otherwise, we would have become totally lost.
We stayed in old town Prague, in a lovely open Airbnb loft apartment. It had the most amazing bathroom! The owner’s sister was there to greet us and showed us how everything worked. This loft was within walking distance of the old town square, Prague Castle, Lennon Wall, and the river.
The old town has lovely cobble-stoned streets, but the old town experience was a bit overrated. Prague was super busy at the time we visited and very hot. There was a lovely local art market that spans across the bridge connecting the old town with the town square. Prague Castle has a really cool area inside called Golden Alley – totally worth the visit. That small part of the road oozed will so much history: torture equipment, pottery making, rooms and rooms of weapons and armory, plus crafts.
Prague offers lots of local food to try – things like meat stew, cheese, and a variety of local lager. We stayed here for 2 nights, which was enough.
Leaving Prague on our way north to Berlin, we visited a Holocaust internment camp called Terezín. It was there where Jews were held before being sent to concentration camps in Austria and Germany. The town itself has been kept almost exactly how it was left after WWII – pretty depressing. The guide here was very knowledgeable. We bought our tickets online. The place itself isn’t the most organized, so I suggest buying tickets in advance. It provided an educational place for our kids to see firsthand, offering a bit of WWII history.
We continued onward toward Berlin. Part of the road was a very worn, 2-lane highway which wasn’t fun to drive on. However, the remainder of the route took us on the famous German Autobahn providing us with a much faster and smoother ride.
We stayed just inside the old, East Berlin side of the city for 3 nights, in a converted East German apartment block. It had been fully renovated, but you could still see all the old communist styles they had tried to cover up. Our apartment came with a parking spot – bonus – but wait – one of the 2-level, electronic ones – it was very tricky fitting our wagon on the lower level, but we did manage it!
Our apartment block had added small balconies during the renovation, which offered a relief because there was no air conditioning. In the hot Berlin summer – we really missed the air conditioning. Climate change!
Berlin was interesting. It was very walkable from where we stayed – right by Checkpoint Charlie. This historically significant Checkpoint turned out to be pretty disappointing – just a small station in the middle of the road, manned by actors whom you pay to take photos with. Cars flew by in each direction and folks ran into the center to have their moment recorded at a price.
It was very interesting reading the history of the rise of Hitler at a memorial near part of the Berlin wall that still stands. We also visited the Holocaust Memorial artwork area. We didn’t go under to the exhibition, as the line was too long. You get a feeling of peace and serenity wandering through all the different-sized pieces of stone.
We visited the Brandenburg Gate and German Parliament, but the beautiful adjoining city park was closed due to a festival celebration for the World Cup.
We visited the lake district just outside Berlin. This is where the affluent folks have their summer houses. They are beautiful. The lake is so clear, and it is obviously a popular summer swimming spot with access by train from central Berlin.
Berlin is very cosmopolitan. We ate Vietnamese, Japanese, and Thai food during our time here. It was a nice change after the more carb-loaded food of the previous countries. We enjoyed our time in Berlin, but we probably could have been just as happy with one less day as this was the end of our trip, and we were all exhausted!
Tina Davis – January 2020
Tina’s Australian upbringing taught her to appreciate a good beach, a good run, a good party and a good glass of wine – making her the perfect Northern California transplant. She lives near San Francisco with her husband, two daughters and pup Peso.
© ROAM Family Travel 2020 – All rights reserved
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