Driving Information for Various Europe Countries

{ Continued From “Self-Drive Tour Experiences In Europe” }

Knowing Important Facts about the Country

It is easy to drive into almost every country in Europe when they are all connected and separated only with customs border or sometimes, no customs at all. However, because they are different countries, it means they do have different traffic laws. Thus, we need to do thorough research on every country we are driving into or passing by. Do not assumed them to be all the same. Read my previous tips on renting a car and self-driving in Europe, if this is the first page you landed. 

Here are some important information for the countries we had driven in:

Driving in Austria

Driving in Austria proved to be the most satisfying experience, with its nice scenery along our journey where mountains, alps, villages and towns are aplenty. Out of the countries we travelled, Austria had the most tunnels so it was another memorable experience to remember.

Like most European countries, speed limits on the Austrian Autobahn (aka highways) are usually between 120 and 130 km/h. However, traffic enforcement is known to be stricter in Austria than in other European countries so do watch out for the traffic police and speed cams. Also note the lower speed limits on smaller roads and when driving through towns (this applies to all countries too). I received a speed ticket costing 30 EUR one month later and I believed it was during our driving in Austria, as I remembered seeing a camera flash while on the autobahn at night. So remember to stay within the limits!

Autobahns in Austria also tend to have more rest stations that other countries, so it’s convenient to find a place to rest when the driver’s concentration is dropping or when we just need a toilet break. We especially liked the rest station located at Tauernalm, where we could oversee the Austrian Alps. Dar loved the place too as he enjoyed the playground located just outside the Landzeit Restaurant.

Prior to getting on the Austrian Autobahn however, the toll ticket/vignette is a must so we made sure we got one from petrol stations in Austria (or border towns in other countries) before getting on the autobahn. We had a scare of not being able to find an opened petrol station quite early in the morning so if possible, get the ticket earlier (you can request the cashier to punch it for use at a later date).

If caught without a vignette, one will have to pay a hefty fine, especially when Austria is known to have strict enforcement of its traffic laws. It only costs 8.30€ for a 10-day pass (this is the shortest duration available) so there’s no point trying to save a few dollars on this. If you are lucky, you may even still find a valid toll ticket pasted on the windscreen of your rental car left by the previous hirer!

By the way, petrol is generally cheaper in Austria than in Germany, so we made sure to top up our tank before returning to Germany.

The Austrian towns we’ve driven around in (i.e. not just passing by) were Innsbruck and Salzburg, and the experience there was okay. There wasn’t too much traffic and driving around was smooth. We had to find an underground garage to park though since road-side parking was full.

Driving in Italy

No toll ticket is needed when driving on the Italian Autobahn, as tolls were collected by toll stations (paid either through staff at the stations or through machines). You collect a ticket at the start of the autobahn, and use that ticket just before you leave the autobahn to calculate the tolls (similar to Malaysia). Other than that, driving on the Italian Autobahn was not unlike the other Autobahns.

Driving in the towns could prove to be tricky though, with drivers being more impatient in comparison. I remembered being honked at just because I was a little slow when turning in towards a petrol station. 🙁

Pumping petrol in an Italian town for the first time (Mestre, near Venice) proved to be a tedious task for foreigners — It was around 9 – 10 am on a Sunday morning and the first few stations we came across were not manned and only payments using the respective petrol cards were accepted. It took us four attempts before we finally found one which accepted cash (in Euro) through a machine.

Driving in Slovenia

Like Austria, toll tickets are required to travel on the Autobahn. If you are going into Slovenia from Austria, you should be able to buy it from the petrol stations along the Austrian Autobahn when you are nearing Slovenia (for our case, after we passed Villach). The cheapest option would be 15.00€ for a 7-day vignette.

At the petrol station in Slovenia which we had patronised, a lady approached us and offered to clean our windscreen. This seemed to be a free service offered by the petrol station and as a sign of appreciation, drivers would usually give them a tip (50 cents or more).

Driving in Croatia

When we were at Croatia on the last day of June 2013 (one day before it joined the EU), the currency used there was Kuna. In order to get hold of the currency, we stopped at the first petrol station we came across after entering Croatia and withdrew the required amount of cash from the ATM (be sure to activate your ATM cards for overseas withdrawal prior to your trip).

Like in Italy, tolls are made via the toll stations and charges are dependent on your entry and exit locations on the autobahn.

Croatia was the only country in Europe which we had encountered an ambushed traffic police car, which was parked behind some vegetation along a popular road near Plitvice Lakes National Park. Fortunately, vehicles from the opposite side started flashing their headlights to warn us so we made sure our vehicle was within speed limits.

Driving in Czech Republic

Driving in Czech Republic’s Autobahn was a breeze, as traffic volume was low in our case (was on a Saturday). Roads were pretty straight and well maintained so everything went smoothly.

You do need a toll ticket/vignette (at 310 Koruna or Kč for 10 days) and we got ours at the first petrol station we came across in the country. There was also money exchange services provided (Czech Republic uses Koruna as currency) but note that the rates were poorer than within Prague itself.

Unlike Austria and Slovenia, Czech Republic’s vignette require the driver to write the vehicle license plate number on both parts of the tickets (yes, it comes in two parts). One of it has to be pasted on the right side (we usually paste it on the left for other toll tickets) and the other kept safely in the vehicle. Traffic police will inspect both parts of the ticket during inspection.

Driving In Prague was a little tricky and in our case, we encountered problems when locating our accommodation. We had a hard time finding our destination despite already passing it twice and we even doubted our GPS’s accuracy. Fortunately, we finally managed to find the place after returning to the same location.

Along the way, we also met another couple whom had lost their way too, so it seemed Prague is an easy place to get lost. Therefore, be sure to do sufficient research about your destinations (print maps, photos of the place etc) before driving there.

Prague has a reputation of frequent car thefts too so as far as possible, find accommodation with private car parks or look for secured garages.

Driving in Germany

Last but not least — Germany!

Germany’s Autobahn is famous for one main reason — many parts of it have no speed limit! That said, it doesn’t mean that there is no speed limit on all of the German Autobahn, as speed limits are still imposed on steep downhill or curvy roads, road works and roads near the entry/exit points. So be sure to watch for the road signs closely in the midst of speeding on the Autobahn.

As with other Autobahns, always keep to the rightmost lane when not overtaking, especially when there are only two lanes available. There are many vehicles travelling at high speeds on the left lane (I noticed Porsche and Audi cars especially) so unless you are one of them, stay off that lane except when overtaking (I had to overtake vehicles often as there were many slower-moving trucks on the right lane).

Road works are frequent on the German Autobahn (second on our list would be Austria) so the estimated arrival time at your destination provided by the GPS would usually be delayed. Two lanes are usually still present at road works areas, but the left lane would be narrower than usual so avoid that unless you are confident of overtaking other vehicles in a narrower lane.

Conclusion

As long as you follow the general guidelines and advices above, nothing should go wrong during your Europe road trip. Along our trips, we saw several accidents on the autobahn (mainly on the German’s and Austria’s Autobahns) so risks are still present. The risks as a foreign driver are even higher so vigilance is even more crucial to ensure you and your passengers arrive at the destinations safely in one piece.

(Read about our Road Trips to Italy, Slovenia/Croatia and Legoland Deutschland)