From Germany and Poland to Austria and Hungary, discover how many countries there are in Central Europe. Here’s everything you need to know.

If you’ve been reading my latest series on Europe’s different regions, then you’ll already understand it’s no easy task dividing the continent into distinct areas. History, politics, culture and even religion have shaped the way we see Europe, and there’s some serious overlap between east, west, north and south. In Central Europe, things get even trickier, as many of the nations within this zone can also be placed in other geographical zones within Europe, such as Western or Eastern Europe. That’s why, as you read the following article about how many countries there are in Central Europe, you’ll notice some overlap.

Central Europe traditionally includes the eight countries of Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. However, the inclusion of other countries like Slovenia and Croatia can depend on different definitions used by scholars, political organisations, and cultural historians. The fluidity in defining Central Europe arises from historical shifts, such as the changes brought by the fall of the Iron Curtain and the enlargement of the European Union, which have continually reshaped the understanding of the region’s boundaries.

In this article, I delve into the different interpretations of Central Europe’s geographic and cultural boundaries, exploring why the number of countries included in the region can differ and examining the criteria used to define this pivotal part of Europe. Keep reading, to find out more.

How many countries in Central Europe?

Central Europe does not have a universally agreed-upon list of countries. The number of countries included in Central Europe can vary depending on the criteria used by different organisations, scholars, and geographical frameworks.

Typically, the eight core countries that are almost always included in Central Europe are:

  1. Germany: The largest and most economically influential country in the region, Germany’s central location and historical significance make it a pivotal part of Central Europe.
  2. Poland: Situated to the east of Germany, Poland has a history intertwined with many Central European neighbours.
  3. Czech Republic: Often considered the heart of Central Europe due to its geographical position.
  4. Slovakia: Shares cultural and historical ties with neighbouring Czech Republic and Poland.
  5. Austria: Historically the centre of the Habsburg Empire, it has significant historical and cultural connections throughout Central Europe.
  6. Hungary: Another key player in the historical landscape of Central Europe, particularly during the Austro-Hungarian Empire era.
  7. Switzerland: Although sometimes associated with Western Europe, its central location and linguistic diversity (German, French, Italian) often include it in Central Europe.
  8. Liechtenstein: A small country with close ties to both Switzerland and Austria.

Other countries that are sometimes included, depending on the definition, are:

  • Slovenia: Culturally and historically linked with Central Europe, especially through its past in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
  • Croatia: Occasionally included due to historical connections and geographical considerations.

The variation in the list arises from different interpretations of what constitutes Central Europe. Some definitions are based on cultural and historical ties, such as the influence of the Habsburg Empire or the Holy Roman Empire. Others rely on geographical criteria, considering countries situated in the central part of the European continent.

Political considerations also play a role. For instance, during the Cold War, the Iron Curtain divided Europe into Eastern and Western blocs, with some Central European countries falling under Eastern Europe according to the political alignment of the time.

So, while there is a core group of countries consistently identified as Central European, the exact list can vary. The differences arise from historical, cultural, and geopolitical perspectives, leading to a flexible and sometimes contested definition of the region.

Map of Europe detailing the countries in Central Europe. Photo credit:

Where is Central Europe, exactly?

Central Europe, as a geographic region, is defined by its location in the heart of the European continent. Its boundaries are not strictly defined and can vary based on cultural, historical and political perspectives. However, there are some generally accepted geographical delimitations.

  • Northern Boundary: The northern boundary of Central Europe is often marked by the Baltic Sea, which separates it from Scandinavia. Countries such as Germany and Poland lie along this northern boundary.
  • Southern Boundary: To the south, the boundary is commonly drawn at the Alps and the northern Adriatic Sea. This places countries like Austria and Switzerland firmly within Central Europe while separating them from Southern European countries like Italy.
  • Western Boundary: The western boundary is typically considered to extend to the borders of France and the Benelux countries (Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg). Germany and Switzerland are often the most westerly countries included in Central Europe.
  • Eastern Boundary: The eastern boundary is perhaps the most fluid and debated. It generally extends to include Poland and Slovakia, reaching the Carpathian Mountains and sometimes incorporating parts of Ukraine. This boundary can also shift to include the western parts of Belarus.
  • Transitional zones: Some countries fall into transitional zones, where they are sometimes considered part of Central Europe depending on the context. These include Slovenia and Croatia. Slovenia, for example, is geographically situated between Central and Southeastern Europe and shares cultural and historical connections with both regions.
  • Geographic Features: Central Europe is characterised by diverse geographic features, including the North European Plain, the Central European Highlands, the Alps, and the Carpathian Mountains. Major rivers such as the Danube, Elbe, and Vistula flow through this region, providing natural boundaries and significant historical trade routes.
The Carpathian Mountains mark the eastern edge of Central Europe. Photo credit:

Read more: How Many Countries Are in Europe? Everything You Need to Know.

Where does Western Europe begin?

Western Europe is generally defined as the region that lies to the west of Central Europe. The boundary between Western and Central Europe is not strictly geographical but is influenced by historical, cultural, and political factors. Here is a more detailed explanation of where Western Europe begins in relation to Central Europe. As you can see, there’s inevitable overlap between the two regions:

  • Germany: Western Europe begins west of Germany. Germany is often considered a transitional country, with its western regions sometimes included in Western Europe, while the rest is firmly Central European.
  • Switzerland: Although Switzerland is sometimes considered part of Western Europe due to its Western European cultural and linguistic influences (French, German, Italian), it is geographically central.
  • Austria: Austria is firmly in Central Europe, with Western Europe beginning to its west.
  • France: France is the primary country marking the beginning of Western Europe. Its eastern borders with Germany, Switzerland, and Italy delineate where Western Europe starts relative to Central Europe.
  • Benelux Countries: The Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg (collectively known as the Benelux countries) are considered part of Western Europe. These countries border Germany and are west of the central European region.
  • Geographic Features: The Rhine River is often considered a significant geographical marker. West of the Rhine is traditionally seen as Western Europe, while east is Central Europe.
  • Cultural and Historical Factors: The historical divide of the Roman Empire into the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire also influences the delineation, with Western Europe being the region influenced by the Western Roman Empire.
The River Rhine is where Western Europe traditionally begins. Photo credit:

Read more: How Many Countries in Western Europe? Everything You Need to Know.

Where does Eastern Europe begin?

Eastern Europe begins to the east of Central European countries like Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. It includes countries such as Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova and the European part of Russia. The Carpathian Mountains and the Danube River serve as significant geographic markers. The historical influence of the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War and cultural ties to Byzantine, Ottoman, and Russian empires play crucial roles in defining the region.

Here’s a more detailed explanation:

  • Poland: Eastern Europe begins to the east of Poland. Poland itself is sometimes considered part of both Central and Eastern Europe due to its location and historical ties.
  • Czech Republic and Slovakia: These countries are firmly in Central Europe, with Eastern Europe beginning to their east.
  • Hungary: Like Poland, Hungary is considered a Central European country with historical ties to Eastern Europe, particularly during the Cold War era.
  • Belarus: Located to the east of Poland, Belarus is firmly in Eastern Europe.
  • Ukraine: Situated to the east of Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary, Ukraine is part of Eastern Europe.
  • Russia: The European part of Russia starts east of the Eastern European countries and extends to the Ural Mountains, which are often considered the geographic boundary between Europe and Asia.
  • Balkan Peninsula: Countries like Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Albania are sometimes included in Eastern Europe due to historical and political contexts, although they are geographically part of Southeastern Europe.
  • Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania): While sometimes included in Northern Europe, these countries are often considered part of Eastern Europe due to their historical ties with the Soviet Union.
  • Carpathian Mountains: These mountains form a natural boundary between Central and Eastern Europe, running through parts of Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine, and Romania.
  • Danube River: The Danube flows from Central Europe into Eastern Europe, providing a natural boundary through countries like Hungary, Serbia, and Romania.
  • Historical Division: During the Cold War, Eastern Europe was defined by its inclusion in the Eastern Bloc under Soviet influence. This political history still influences contemporary definitions.
  • Cultural Influences: Eastern Europe has been influenced by Byzantine, Ottoman, and Russian empires, differentiating its cultural and historical development from that of Central Europe.
The River Danube dived Central Europe from Eastern Europe. Photo credit:

Read more: How Many Countries in Eastern Europe? Everything You Need to Know.

Where does Northern Europe begin?

Northern Europe begins to the north of Central Europe, encompassing countries on the Scandinavian Peninsula (Norway, Sweden), Finland, Denmark, Iceland, and the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania). The Baltic Sea serves as a key geographical marker, separating Northern Europe from Central Europe. The region is characterised by its Viking heritage, historical trade alliances, and modern political and economic cooperation.

Here is a detailed explanation of Northern Europe’s boundaries in relation to Central Europe:

  • Baltic Sea: The Baltic Sea serves as a natural boundary between Central and Northern Europe. Countries bordering the Baltic Sea, such as Germany and Poland, mark the transition from Central to Northern Europe.
  • Germany: Northern Europe begins to the north of Germany. While the northern part of Germany is geographically close to Northern Europe, Germany itself is generally considered part of Central Europe.
  • Scandinavian Peninsula: This includes Norway and Sweden. These countries are often the core of Northern Europe due to their geographic location and cultural ties.
  • Denmark: Situated to the south of Norway and Sweden, Denmark is part of Northern Europe and acts as a bridge between Central and Northern Europe.
  • Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are often included in Northern Europe due to their location on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea and historical ties with Scandinavia.
  • Scandinavian Mountains: These mountains run through Norway and Sweden and are a defining geographical feature of the Scandinavian Peninsula.
  • North Sea: Located to the west of Denmark and south of Norway, the North Sea also serves as a boundary and connection point for Northern European countries.
The Baltic Sea is the most northerly boundary of Central Europe. Photo credit:

Read more: How Many Countries in Northern Europe? Everything You Need to Know.

Where does Southern Europe begin?

Southern Europe begins to the south of Central Europe, with the Alps and the Adriatic Sea serving as natural boundaries. Core countries include Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Malta, and parts of the Balkan Peninsula. The region is characterised by its Mediterranean climate, the influence of the Mediterranean Sea, and a cultural history rooted in ancient civilisations. The Pyrenees, Apennine, and Balkan Mountains are significant geographical features, and the region is united by shared cultural and historical ties, particularly those related to classical antiquity and Mediterranean culture.

Here is a detailed explanation of Southern Europe’s boundaries in relation to Central Europe:

  • Alps: The Alps form a significant natural barrier separating Central Europe from Southern Europe. Countries like Austria and Switzerland lie to the north of the Alps, while Italy is to the south.
  • Adriatic Sea: The Adriatic Sea separates the Balkan Peninsula from the Italian Peninsula, marking a boundary between Central and Southern Europe.
  • Mediterranean Sea: The Mediterranean Sea is the dominant geographical feature of Southern Europe, providing extensive coastlines and influencing the climate and culture of the region.
  • Pyrenees Mountains: These mountains form the natural border between Spain and France, marking the transition from Western Europe to Southern Europe.
  • Classical Civilisations: Southern Europe is the cradle of ancient civilisations such as Greece and Rome, which have profoundly influenced Western culture, philosophy, art, and politics.
  • Mediterranean Culture: The countries of Southern Europe share a Mediterranean culture characterised by shared culinary traditions, architectural styles, and historical connections.
  • Religion: Southern Europe has been historically influenced by Christianity, particularly Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, shaping its cultural and religious landscape.
The Alps divide Southern Europe from Central Europe. Photo credit:

Read more: How Many Countries in Southern Europe? Everything You Need to Know.

A brief history of Central Europe

Central Europe has a complex history shaped by its central location on the continent and its role as a crossroads of various empires, cultures, and political influences. Here’s a brief overview:

Ancient and Medieval Periods

  • Roman Empire: Central Europe was partially under Roman control, with significant Roman settlements in modern-day Germany and Austria.
  • Migration Period: Following the fall of the Roman Empire, the region experienced significant migrations and invasions by Germanic tribes, Huns, Avars, Slavs, and others.
  • Frankish Empire: In the early medieval period, much of Central Europe was part of the Carolingian Empire under Charlemagne. The Treaty of Verdun in 843 divided the empire into three parts, laying the groundwork for modern European states.

Holy Roman Empire

  • Formation: Established in 962, the Holy Roman Empire encompassed much of Central Europe, including modern-day Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, and parts of Italy and Poland.
  • Feudal Structure: The empire was a complex patchwork of semi-autonomous territories, including kingdoms, duchies, and free cities.
  • Reformation and Thirty Years’ War: The Protestant Reformation began in Central Europe with Martin Luther in 1517, leading to religious conflicts like the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), which devastated the region.

Read more: What Are the Nordics? Everything You Need to Know.

Habsburg Monarchy and Austrian Empire

  • Habsburg Dominance: From the late Middle Ages, the Habsburg dynasty became a dominant force in Central Europe, ruling over Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, and other territories.
  • Austrian Empire: In 1804, the Austrian Empire was established, later becoming Austria-Hungary in 1867, a dual monarchy that lasted until World War I.

Read more: How Many Countries Are there in Scandinavia? Everything You Need to Know.

Modern Era

  • Napoleonic Wars: The early 19th century saw the reorganisation of Central Europe under Napoleon, leading to the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806.
  • 19th Century Nationalism: The 19th century was marked by rising nationalism, leading to the unification of Germany in 1871 and the struggle for independence by various ethnic groups within the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
  • World Wars: Central Europe was a major theatre in both World War I and World War II. The aftermath of World War I saw the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the creation of new nation-states such as Czechoslovakia and Poland. World War II resulted in significant border changes, population shifts, and the division of Germany.

Read more: Where Are the Baltics? Everything You Need to Know.

Cold War and Post-Cold War

  • Iron Curtain: After World War II, Central Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain, with Western countries aligning with NATO and Eastern countries becoming part of the Soviet-dominated Eastern Bloc.
  • Fall of Communism: The collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of communist regimes in 1989-1991 led to significant political and economic transformations. Countries like Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic transitioned to democracy and market economies.
  • European Union: Many Central European countries joined the European Union in the early 21st century, further integrating the region into the broader European framework.
Vienna was the centre of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which shaped Central Europe. Photo credit:

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How many Central European countries are in the European Union?

These countries are part of the core group commonly identified as Central Europe and are all full members of the EU:

  • Germany: A founding member of the EU and a key economic and political player within the union.
  • Poland: Joined the EU in 2004, part of the significant eastward expansion that included several Central European countries.
  • Czech Republic: Also joined the EU in 2004, aligning itself more closely with Western Europe politically and economically.
  • Slovakia: Became an EU member in 2004, having separated peacefully from the Czech Republic in 1993.
  • Austria: Joined the EU in 1995, strengthening its ties with Western Europe.
  • Hungary: Another member of the 2004 expansion, integrating further into European political and economic structures.

These countries’ membership in the EU reflects their integration into the broader European political and economic landscape, highlighting Central Europe’s significant role in the union.

Central European countries are prominent members of the EU. Photo credit:

How many Central European countries are in NATO?

As of 2024, the following Central European countries are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO):

  • Germany: A founding member of NATO since 1955, Germany plays a crucial role in the alliance, particularly in the defence of Europe.
  • Poland: Joined NATO in 1999, significantly strengthening the alliance’s eastern flank.
  • Czech Republic: Also became a NATO member in 1999, enhancing regional security cooperation.
  • Slovakia: Joined NATO in 2004, contributing to the alliance’s strategic depth in Central Europe.
  • Hungary: Became a member of NATO in 1999, alongside Poland and the Czech Republic, marking a significant post-Cold War expansion.

These countries’ membership in NATO underscores Central Europe’s strategic importance in the defence and security architecture of Europe, particularly in the context of historical and contemporary geopolitical challenges.

Many Central European countries are also members of NATO. Photo credit:

So, how many countries are in Central Europe?

In conclusion, the number of countries considered part of Central Europe can vary depending on the criteria used, such as geographical location, cultural ties, historical context, and political affiliations. Generally, the core countries almost universally included are Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. Additional countries like Slovenia and Croatia may also be considered part of Central Europe in broader definitions.

This variability in defining Central Europe highlights the region’s complex identity, shaped by its central position on the continent and its role as a crossroads of diverse empires, cultures, and historical events. Understanding the fluid boundaries and the factors that contribute to different interpretations of Central Europe provides a deeper appreciation of its significance in European and global contexts.

FAQ: How many countries are in Central Europe?

Here’s an FAQ on the topic, ‘How many countries are in Central Europe?’:

Q1: What countries are universally considered part of Central Europe?

A: The core countries almost always included in Central Europe are Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

Q2: Why is there no definitive number of countries in Central Europe?

A: The number of countries considered part of Central Europe varies because it depends on different criteria such as geographical boundaries, historical context, cultural ties, and political affiliations. This leads to various interpretations and definitions.

Q3: Are there other countries sometimes included in Central Europe?

A: Yes, other countries like Slovenia and Croatia are sometimes included in Central Europe, depending on the context and criteria used.

Q4: How do historical factors influence the definition of Central Europe?

A: Historical factors, such as the influence of the Holy Roman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the political alignments during and after the Cold War, play a significant role in defining Central Europe. These historical ties affect which countries are included.

Q5: How do geographical features impact the boundaries of Central Europe?

A: Geographical features such as the Alps, the Carpathian Mountains, and major rivers like the Danube help to delineate the boundaries of Central Europe. These natural landmarks often serve as dividing lines between Central Europe and its neighbouring regions.

Q6: How many Central European countries are in the European Union (EU)?

A: The Central European countries that are members of the EU include Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary.

Q7: How many Central European countries are in NATO?

A: The Central European countries that are members of NATO are Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.

Q8: Why might some countries be considered part of both Central and another European region?

A: Some countries, like Slovenia and Croatia, have historical, cultural, and geographical ties that span multiple regions, making them part of Central Europe in some contexts and part of Southeastern Europe in others. Their inclusion depends on the specific criteria being used.

Q9: What is the significance of understanding the different definitions of Central Europe?

A: Understanding the different definitions of Central Europe is important for appreciating the region’s diverse cultural heritage, complex historical background, and strategic geopolitical position. It helps in recognising the multifaceted identity and the dynamic interplay of the nations within Central Europe.