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I'm thinking about planning a trip where I drive though every country in Europe. I know that there are people who have driven though every state in the US. There is information online about their plans, the trip, and the time it took. However I can't find much about this kind of thing in Europe.

I'm looking for strategies, other people's attempts, or successes. Driving is not necessary a requirement either, taking the train for some of it would be fine, possibly preferable.

So how would I go about it? Is there a prefered place to start? What constraints do the existence of connections (roads, trains, ferries) impose?

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The first issue you will encounter is how to define “country” and “Europe”. Do Transnistria or Kosovo count? Are Turkey, Russia or even Kazakhstan (on account of the small – by Kazakh standards – area West of the Ural river) part of Europe? It's a lot messier than US states and some of these countries have been created less than 20 years ago. –  Relaxed Nov 25 '13 at 17:19
I would be fine to only visit 30 of them; Starting on the west cost and working east till I hit 30. –  QueueHammer Nov 25 '13 at 17:57
@QueueHammer What the must-see countries? Start on the west coast can be either Norway or Portugal... –  Bernhard Nov 25 '13 at 19:11
How do you define "visit"? Just putting the feet over a border or more? –  PERSONA NON GRATA Nov 25 '13 at 19:41
what kind of answers are you looking for? –  Geeo Nov 26 '13 at 8:45

5 Answers 5

up vote 6 down vote accepted

OK, I am going to give it a try. Unlike, say, going overland to India, I don't know driving-through-every-country-in-Europe to be a thing. Unless I am wrong about that, I doubt you will find much information addressing that directly or that there could be one correct answer to this question.

Consequently, any route or plan someone could come up would be just as valid as any you could draw yourself. To reach 30 countries, you will certainly want to include small countries and you need to go beyond the EU (but if you include Ukraine, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Andorra and maybe Serbia you can reach 30 easily – I assume you won't drive to Malta or Cyprus). If you just look at a map, you will see that in the Benelux, along the Baltic coast or the Danube, you will find many countries close to each other.

A couple of things to realize (beside the points already made in the comments):

  • Distances are small, at least in Western and Central Europe. There are many places where you would need a conscious effort to be able to drive a whole day without crossing borders. In most parts of Europe, the main road network is good and speed limits are higher than in the US. Inside the EU, borders are usually easy to cross (in the Schengen area, you won't even need to stop for a police check, you just drive through). So if you spend your time on the road and don't want to stop to see anything specific, it's often possible to drive through four-five countries in a day.
  • Getting a car might be more hassle than in the US. People here order their cars, wait for them, sometimes go to the factory for a special delivery ceremony (no kidding). Even for used cars, it's not unusual to have a test drive, sign some papers and come back two weeks later when the paperwork is done. Some countries have huge taxes on new cars that also influence the used car market, yearly taxes, tolls on roads and high taxes on petrol. It's certainly not impossible to buy a car cheaply and quickly but it's not that usual. To visit many countries, you also need to make sure your insurance covers all of them (standard contracts usually cover many countries, though, certainly in the EU). OTOH, no worries with customs in Europe, even in Turkey, Russia and beyond. Unless you want to go all the way to Iran, a “carnet de passage en douane” is not required anymore.

Alternatively, if you want to consider the train, you can have a look at Is there a good website to plan a trip via trains in Europe? and search past questions on this site to find more info.

I am probably forgetting many things but I hope this helps you a little.

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Ther is peugeot-openeurope.com that might help her –  andra Nov 25 '13 at 22:26
I think it could be helpful even though there is no real question to answer here. –  Vince Nov 25 '13 at 22:26
Getting a car is a ritual only if you plan to buy it. You can rent it in ten minutes. –  mouviciel Nov 26 '13 at 8:20
@mouviciel What do you mean by “ritual”? I discussed buying because I assumed someone from the US might consider that a cheap and easy solution without knowing what it usually entails in Europe. Renting is obviously an option but might be expensive. –  Relaxed Nov 26 '13 at 8:32
I mean the very first part of what Wikipedia says about it: A stereotyped sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects: i.e., what you describes indeed. –  mouviciel Nov 26 '13 at 8:36

From a mathematical point of view, computing the optimal route is actually rather interesting. The shortest route between all European capitals is a classic case of the traveling salesman problem, and here's one potential solution:

enter image description here (courtesy u/OmgU8MyRice on r/MapPorn)

Which comes out to 22,151 km, but it omits Iceland (tut tut) and you need to fly between Ankara and Northern Cyprus (not sure there's any way to get a car across from TRNC to Cyprus?) and then to Greece as well (no more ferries on this route?).

Solving this for any point in each country, though, get hairy fast. Instead of solving TSP for 44 cities, which already means 44! = 2.6*10^54 aka 2.6 septendecillion possible routes, you'd need to construct a list of every possible border crossing between each country pair and then modify TSP to require visiting only one point in each country. Sounds like quite a challenge!

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(+1) The bit between Paris and Berlin must have a dozen capitals in less than 5000 km… –  Relaxed Nov 26 '13 at 10:37
Isn't the point of travelling to see as much as possible? we'd like to know the longest route through Europe ;) –  Vince Nov 27 '13 at 17:44
You forgot Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. –  mouviciel Nov 27 '13 at 19:37
I see you don't believe Northern Island, Scotland, or Wales are countries. d-: –  hippietrail Aug 12 at 12:00
@mouviciel: And Abkhazia, Nagorno Karabakh, and South Ossetia. –  hippietrail Aug 12 at 12:03

Annoyed already pointed out some good thoughts. Some more from my side on top of that.

What you have to consider is that the distances in Western Europe are larger (Spain, France, Germany and Italy are rather large countries) but the distances in Eastern Europe can be more troublesome despite being smaller (quality of infrastructure, visa requirements, Cyrillic font, lower quality of GPS maps etc).

The question is really if you want to do a "As many countries in as little time possible" or a "I want to see something significant every country, and do not care about time", or anything in between. Each time, as you can imagine, your trip will look vastly different. I can only tell you that there is so much to see along the way, that the faster you go, the more you waste money and time in the process. There might be more value to see Rome AND Paris in the same week for some people than to see only one of them for a week, but to see 5 countries in a week clearly is leaving the travel aspect and moving more into racing, where the completion of the trip is the accomplishment and not what you have seen. Everyone has to decide for themselves.

There is (as far as I know), no 'famous' challenge like this in Europe. The issue is a bit that the landscape in Europe is changing faster than in the USA, with countries splitting and re-uniting, with the EU expanding and with the economic changes in Europe there are always countries who claim to be a part of Europe despite many people saying that they are not, and others who try to distance themselves while most people would consider them a part of Europe.

So let's assume that you just want to see the biggest capitals in Europe with a bit of flexibility (such as Hamburg instead of Berlin etc):

  • For the first 9 countries, you could do northern Europe and Skandinavia: London, France (Lille or Paris), Brussels, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Copenhagen, Malmö, Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki (with a ferry). Car and or train exists for the whole route.
  • Then, the next round, 9 more countries, you can go through Eastern Europe: Helsinki, Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Minsk, Warsaw, Prague, Vienna, Maribor, Zagreb
  • The last large round of 9 more countries could be the southern part of Eastern Europe: Zagreb, Budapest, Kosice, Lviv, Chisinau, Bucharest, Sofia, Bitola, Tirana, Rome.
  • The last batch of 3 countries to the east coast would be then: Rome, Geneva, Barcelona, Lisbon

While there are some really logical steps in there (Spain-Portugal) there are certainly others that are completely arbitrary an can be done in 50 different schedules. Countries can be changed, different cities chosen. It can be argued for example if Belarus is a country you want to visit or if Portugal is a good place to end the trip for example.

But good thing with traveling through those rather large cities is that train connections exist for most of these, and you can do most of the traveling without planning a long time ahead, since you will most likely be able to find a seat in a train and a hotel 2-3 days ahead of arrival. The biggest risk that you have is when you want to travel in very fast or special touristic trains in high season or rush hour or stay in business hotels when there are big fairs or conferences in a city.

You can rent a car, but be aware that the price including insurance can be quite hefty for such a long time. But there is definitely no issue picking up a car in one country and dropping it off in another as long as you rent with one of the large companies. And if you plan to visit places outside the large cities, a car very quickly becomes a necessity, since a lot of countries in Europe do not have an extremely good infrastructure when it comes to countryside locations.

As another alternative, you could also try to see a possibly large diversity in Europe. While how to achieve this is of course VERY subjective, one could do this by ethnicity. There are more than 60 according to Wikipedia and more than 30 with more than a million people, so I am sure you can chose many countries to visit, but would go only to one among Germany, Austria and Switzerland for example, but spend more time in the UK & Ireland since there are Scots, Welsh and Irish people.

So as you can see, it really comes down to what you want to achieve. If you narrow down what type of trip you want to have, I am sure you will have some more concrete questions and get more targeted answers.

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The last batch can include Vatican City (by foot), Monaco, San Marino and Andorra. –  mouviciel Nov 26 '13 at 8:18
(+1) Defining “ethnicity” is opening a whole can of worms but even disregarding the diversity within Germany (there are some significant North-South and East-West differences, several religions, and a few minorities) and lumping Swiss Germans together with all German speakers, you can still find several other languages in Switzerland. –  Relaxed Nov 26 '13 at 8:38
@annoyed You are right. I simply used the Wikipedia definition as an example. I did not try to define it myself. Anyone cna pick anyone's else's definition of however one wants to group people in Europe. –  uncovery Nov 26 '13 at 9:09
You wouldn't want to leave out Luxembourg, once your are in Belgium. –  gnasher729 Aug 11 at 23:21

Although I love @jpatokal's answer. I composed a route I would follow to reach thirty countries. It includes easy giveaways, like Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican.
It also includes some interesting areas where border crossing itself is quite interesting such as Baarle-hertog/Nassau and the Vaalserberg. Also "Border cases" (pun intended) such as Helgoland and the Faroe Island (they are part of Germany and Denmark respectively, but are special cases.)map

P.S. You need to reach Helgoland by parking in Wilhelmshaven and taking the ferry.
P.P.S: I made it a round trip from/to Dublin. Google doesn't recognize the ferries between the Amsterdam and Newcastle and between Scotland and Ireland

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You missed the obvious final step across from Ireland to Scotland, and I'm not sure why you avoided Wales... –  Rory Alsop Nov 26 '13 at 16:08
@RoryAlsop You are so right. I edited the question, do note however that Google maps doesn't recognize the needed ferry connection, making the screendump of the map less accurate. –  andra Nov 26 '13 at 16:47
Spain, Portugal & Andorra?? –  Prashanth Dec 10 '13 at 4:51
Beware that if you travel along the coast through ex-Yugoslavia, you go through Bosnia for 9.5km. Car insurance often doesn't cover Bosnia. –  RemcoGerlich Aug 12 at 12:17

I would definitely point out the visa part, especially if you are not a US citizen, it might be a bit tricky - the Schengen area has its own visa type (partly covers the EU, but not completely, for example Romania is part of EU but not part of the Schengen area, and Switzerland is the same story but the other way around), and Russia also. Might be also that Belorussia or some Balkan countries require their visas (Kosovo can be an issue, for example).

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