Once you’ve scoffed your share of croissants in Paris, explored Venetian canals by gondola, had the mandatory selfie outside Buckingham Palace and drank your way through a glass of sangria in Madrid, you may be left wondering what else Europe has to offer. Western Europe has such a well trodden tourist trail but why not consider heading east of the continent?
Whether it’s because of pop culture, a lack of media coverage, or the Iron Curtain still casting its long shadow, Eastern Europe has been long neglected and ignored by the tourist industry. It doesn’t always ignite the imagination of travellers in the same way as its westerly neighbours, which is bonkers because it offers some of the most breathtaking, romantic and majestic locations on the planet.
Honestly, Eastern Europe is a treasure chest of travel opportunities, which is why more and more people are visiting every year. Between the grandeur of cities like Budapest and Prague, the unrivalled beauty of Slovenia’s Lake Bled, and the picture-perfect islands along the Croatian coastline, there is a multitude of reasons to go.
Not only home many of the continent’s best-kept secrets, the cost of travel, food and accommodation is also substantially cheaper than elsewhere in Europe. Plus, you get to enjoy it all without the hoards of tourists.
Eastern Europe is extremely underrated but, trust us, it won’t stay that way for long.
20 11. Some Of The Most Picture-Perfect Cities In The World
If a mix of ancient spires, labyrinthine allies and Medieval architecture sounds like your thing, you will fall in love with the cities of Eastern Europe.
There are the big-hitters like Budapest and Prague as well as lesser known gems, such as the fairytale kingdom of Old Town in Riga, Latvia, or the Medieval quaintness of Talinn in Estonia.
Game of Thrones fans can get a taste of King’s Landing by visiting its filming location in Dubrovnik, Croatia. And we promise, you won’t be disappointed visiting Bosnia & Herzegovina - the Old Town in Mostar is a dream.
19 10. The Best Music Festivals You’ve Never Heard Of
From mammoth events to alternative parties in incredible locations, Eastern Europe should be on any music lover’s festival radar. Sziget Festival in Hungary is one of the most iconic multi-genre festivals on the international stage. There’s Pohoda in Slovakia, Dimensions in Croatia, and Romania’s Electric Castle, an incredible showcase of EDM, reggae, dub and rock.
Serbia’s most famous music festival, EXIT Festival, has been drawing in crowds from across the continent for years, and Positivus Festival, hosted in the woodlands of Latvia, attracts huge international artists for its headline acts.
Forget Glastonbury and Tomorrowland and venture into the unknown for your next festival experience.
18 9. Fairytale Castles To Bring Us Back To Childhood
Once upon a time, knights and damsels held court, well-dressed aristocrats danced in grand ballrooms, and fierce battles were waged along stone walls. Visiting castles transports you to the world of fairytales and if anything, the castles of Eastern Europe should reignite your imagination.
From stark, foreboding fortresses to opulent palaces, these magnificent structures dot the landscape throughout the region. Hundreds of years old, these castles have survived wars, fires, dozens of generations, and have stood the test of time. Their individual stories are all unique and offer intrigue for visitors from the world over.
17 8. Go East For Half The Price
Travelling to Europe can be notoriously expensive. London, Paris, and Barcelona are not kind on the wallet, charging high prices for food, accommodation and attractions. Yes, Moscow has been one of the world's top most expensive cities over the past several years, but most of Eastern Europe is still relatively cheap to travel through.
Visitors can still eat, drink, stay, shop, and be entertained for much less than you can in Western Europe, according to the 10th annual City Costs Barometer from Post Office Travel Money.
16 7. You’ll Enjoy A More Authentic Experience Off The Tourist Trail
Eastern Europe was closed off to the world for such a long time and this lack of Western influence is evident throughout. Grandmas still sweep their doorsteps with handmade brooms, food is foraged in the forest, folk costumes are still worn in some regions, and centuries-old traditions are still performed with pride.
Sure, you'll find some McDonald's here and there but the region’s tourist industry is still relatively fledgling, and though this does mean it can be a little rough around the edges, it has major advantages too. You won’t have to suffer the tedium of mass tourism.
15 6. Planes, Trains, And Automobiles - Getting Around Is Easy
Eastern European cities generally have good public transport. There are good metro networks in Moscow and St Petersburg, Warsaw, Prague, Budapest, Sofia, and Bucharest. In general, buses are slightly cheaper and slower than trains but a better alternative in Albania and Bulgaria and in remote regions. Plus, advance reservations are rarely necessary.
Trains are the most comfortable way to make long overland journeys and are, largely, quite efficient. All major cities are on the rail network.
Under the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe was a mysterious place that few Westerners entered, especially as tourists. Now, visas are less difficult to obtain or totally unnecessary in most cases.
14 5. A Melting Pot Of Architectural Styles
In Poland, you can enjoy the same mixture of modernism and classicism you’d find in Germany or France. In Warsaw, you can enjoy a modern city that combines looming skyscrapers with restorations of pre-war structures.
In Poland’s southwest, you can find Krakow, the most picturesque city in the country, and Riga has the largest and most impressive showing of Art Nouveau architecture in Europe – gargoyles and goddesses adorn more than 750 buildings along the stately boulevards.
But Eastern Europe isn’t all fairy-tale kingdoms, winding lanes and gingerbread houses. From Slovakia’s Soviet-era oddities to Bratislava’s brutalism, the concrete functionalism of the communist era still looms large. Ugly or visionary? You decide.
13 4. Beach Lovers Rejoice!
Twenty years ago the idea of taking a beach holiday in Eastern Europe might have seemed ridiculous. Now, travellers are beginning to discover the amazing coastline Eastern Europe has to offer. The Balkans, in particular, has beaches to rival those of any other Mediterranean country such as Greece or Italy, but often without the crowds and at budget prices.
The Adriatic Coast of Eastern Europe boasts crystal clear, azure waters, forest and mountains rising up from sandy beaches and friendly beach bars. By swapping a beach holiday in Sardinia for one in Bulgaria, travellers might save as much as 40 per cent.
12 3. Hiking Trails That Will Leave You Breathless
When it comes to beautiful hiking trails, Eastern Europe will amaze you. Expect awesome views of varied mountain landscape and lush forests in the Kriváň Peak and Važecká Valley, Slovakia. This challenging trail is open only during the late summer/early autumn months. Climbing the High Tatras Mountains towards the peak of Kriváň takes about seven hours.
A one-day hike, ideal for beginners or kids, is Karlštejn and the Bohemian Karst in the Czech Republic. The 11 miles can be hiked in about six hours and the walk uphill is easy, with quarries and cliffs that will take you to a quiet monastery below a cliff wall.
11 20. Let Your Taste Buds Do The Exploring
A tomato is just a tomato, right? With some of the most fertile lands in Europe, so much of the produce in the region is as fresh at it comes and that’s reflected in the flavour. From the Mediterranean influences of Balkan cuisine, to the rich stews of Polish cuisine, to the dark breads and blini of Russian cuisine, Eastern European food is hearty and varied.
You’ll find more than your share of goulash in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary and be sure to try a Polish pierogi or ten. These boiled dumplings are perhaps the ultimate in comfort food, with their mixture of starchy dough and savoury meat or vegetable filling.
10 19. The Weather Might Be Better Than You Think
Eastern Europe weather varies by region and by country, especially when it comes to countries and cities that are further north or south in latitude. But it’s this variation that makes the region a versatile travel destination - you can ski, you can sunbathe, you can enjoy crisp Alpine air on a gorgeous day in spring. Just choose the right place at the right time for your itinerary.
During the summer, you can expect high temperatures and long evenings, especially on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast. Cities such as Budapest, Prague and Krakow will also enjoy balmy temperatures this time of year, but expect big crowds. Prices drop off in winter, though some locations can be brutally cold. For example, the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius can reach temperatures -25 C in December, January, and February. In short, do your research beforehand.
9 18. From Street Art To Master Works - Explore Eastern Europe's Creative Side
Western Europe doesn't have the monopoly on incredible art and some of the continent's best galleries can be found in the East. The Hungarian National Gallery, in Budapest’s Buda Castle, is bursting full of works from hundreds of artists. Its focus on local art offers a real insight into the country’s visual representation in culture. The National Gallery in Prague offers a wide range of art spanning centuries, and the Art Museum of Estonia and Royal Castle in Warsaw are also well deserving of your time.
But the region’s art is not confined to its museums. During the last decade of the 20th century, art found its way into public spaces with breathtaking murals and sculptures. Belgrade’s Savamala neighborhood is adorned with graffiti art. Łódź, a city in central Poland with a rich industrial heritage, is probably one of the most alternative and creative places in Europe.
8 17. A Wealth Of Wilderness
France and Germany boast beautiful villages and manicured farmland, but if it’s untamed wilderness you’re after, look to the East.
Romania is home to the best countryside in Europe, with rolling hillsides courtesy of the Carpathian Mountain range, and large animal populations due to a decades-long ban on hunting. Slovakia also boasts pristine wilderness in the Tatra Mountains.
On the border between Poland and Belarus is the Bialowieza National Park, the last remaining temperate primeval forest in Europe, where you can spot European Bison in their natural habitat.
In the middle of Croatia is the beautiful Plitvice Lakes National Park, a forest reserve known for its series of 16 remarkable terraced lakes connected by waterfalls. And this is just a snapshot of what's on offer.
7 16. Meet The People Of The East
During the twentieth century, Eastern Europeans suffered. Their many struggles are well documented. So if there’s one characteristic that all Eastern Europeans share, from Hungary to Montenegro, from Slovenia to Ukraine - it’s toughness. But in addition to resilience, they're also friendly and more than a little curious about foreigners. They can be incredibly hospitable and it’s not unusual to be openly welcomed into people’s homes and invited to try traditional cuisine. Many people will go out of their way to ensure you enjoy your time in their country.
6 15. Are Travellers Out of harm's way?
Popular culture would have us believe that Eastern Europe is a dangerous place, but travelling in these countries is as safe as travelling in Western Europe. Whether the destination is Ukraine, Croatia or somewhere in the middle, exercise the same caution you would in any unfamiliar city and keep valuables secure from pickpockets.
Corruption is a problem in Bulgaria, Romania, and Russia and visitors should be skeptical about policemen who stop you and demand payment for fines levied for bogus charges. If confronted with a policeman demanding cash on the spot, you should insist on going to the nearest police station to pay.
5 14. A Variety Of Culture
Each country in the region has unique cultural traditions, national influences, and historical experiences. This is the heartland of Orthodox Christianity and the religion leaves its mark on many aspects of cultural life, particularly in Russia and Ukraine. Roman Catholic, Muslim and Jewish communities add their own influences, and there are still pagan traditions felt in the Baltics.
For a full-on immersive cultural experience, folklore festivals, such as the Baltic Folklore Festival and Bulgaria’s Rose Festival, offer a fascinating glimpse into ye olde Europe.
4 13. Hit The Slopes Without The Crowds
If value for money and fewer people sound attractive, then Eastern Europe might be the right ski destination for you. The region offers many advantages - you’ll save money on lift passes and ski rentals and the slopes are less crowded, so you’ll spend less time waiting in line for the lifts and spend more time doing what you love.
Donovaly in Slovakia is Eastern Europe’s best destination for families, as it offers one of the largest ski areas dedicated to children and beginner skiers. In Bulgaria, Borovets is one of the most modern centres in the region, with sophisticated apres ski bars and lounges.
3 12. Miscommunication & Other Fun Language Challenges
English is understood, to some extent, in major cities and towns by many people, but you can’t rely on it being understood throughout the region - in fact, it is not widely spoken in Eastern Europe. So perhaps the greatest challenges you will face while travelling are the language barriers. But rather than this being a negative, it just means that all those little things like catching the bus, buying a meal and conversing with locals become more of an adventure. Miscommunication might be a common occurrence in Eastern Europe, but it makes for great travel tales later.
2 2. Eastern Europe Lives And Breathes History
The tendency to ignore Eastern Europe in favour of Western Europe is a holdover from the Cold War. Until 1991, the Soviet Union controlled everything from the Bering Strait to the Rhine. But exploring Soviet-era Eastern Europe is not even half the story.
Head even further back in time and explore the ancient ruins in Sofia and Plovdiv, Bulgaria, or the remains of Diocletian's Palace in Split, Croatia. Look on in amazement at St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow's Red Square, a legacy of Ivan the Terrible's brutal reign, or go to the spot last spot of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo. The region is bursting with vital and fascinating stories to tell from its colourful and complex past.
1 1. Museums That Will Give You The Feels
From the remarkably well-preserved Roman amphitheatre in Pula, Croatia, to the heartbreaking Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland, Eastern Europe has museums that commemorate and celebrate the history, art and science of the region.
The Varna Archaeological Museum in Bulgaria exhibits some of Europe’s oldest artefacts, whereas the Museum of Zakopane Style in Poland has a more low-key focus - the fine woodworking craft of the early Zakopane architects of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. So whether you’re interested in delving into grand historical narratives or take joy in more niche and unusual subjects, make sure a museum visit or two is on the agenda.
references: eturbonews, thespruceeats, traveltips.usatoday, festicket, ndependent.co.uk