While the cities of Central Europe offer nonstop entertainment, it's in the region's forests, on its lakes and rivers, and atop its mountains where you'll find some of the biggest thrills – and lungfuls of fresh air.
General tour companies include the following:
Bird & Animal Watching
The countries of central Europe may not be the world's premier destinations for wildlife watching, but there are a few good sites – especially in Hungary.
- Birds of Europe by Lars Svennson
- Central and Eastern European Wildlife by Gerard Gorman
- Birding in Eastern Europe by Gerard Gorman
Cycling allows you to get up close to the scenery and the local people, keeping you fit in the process. Most airlines and long-distance bus companies transport bicycles. Note that bicycle theft can be an issue in cities. In the mountainous regions it can be heavy going, but this is offset by the dense concentration of things to see.
Keen hikers can spend a lifetime exploring Central Europe's many trails. The mountains in Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, Slovakia and Poland, especially, are criss-crossed with clearly marked paths and offer rewarding challenges for everyone from beginners to experts. Ramblers Holidays (www.ramblersholidays.co.uk) offers single-country hiking tours in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Poland and Hungary.
- Public transport and cable cars will often get you to trailheads.
- Lodging and basic meals are often available at hikers' huts (may be a dorm-filled shack or hotel-like chalet).
- For high mountain hiking, July to early September; in lower ranges and forests, May through October.
Red-white-red marker You need sturdy hiking boots and a pole.
Blue-white-blue marker Indicates the need for mountaineering equipment.
Skiing & Snowboarding
Central Europe is the continent's ski capital. Ski resorts in the Swiss Alps offer world-class facilities – and vistas that are incomparable in the region – but they are also the most expensive. Austria is generally slightly cheaper than Germany and Switzerland. A general rule of thumb is that the further east you travel, the less expensive the skiing.
- Ski season runs early December to late March; at higher altitudes it may extend an extra month either way.
- Snow conditions vary greatly from year to year and region to region, but January and February tend to be the best (and busiest).