Western Europe, with its Eiffel Towers and Amsterdam canals, may beckon as one of the first ports of call for travellers looking to visit this culture-ridden continent. But before your attention strays too far to the west, consider that Eastern Europe boasts its own character, plenty of history and the strongest alcoholic spirits imaginable, not to mention being far cheaper than places like Paris and London. Tour comparison Europe can help you find the best trip!
One of the most magical qualities of Eastern Europe is the feeling that it has so far escaped relatively unscathed from other parts of the continent overrun by tourists, but it is worth your while to take it one step further and explore places that do not pop up on most travel itineraries as readily as others.
1. Bratislava, Slovakia
The capital of Slovakia has a long and interesting history, an abundance of cultural highlights including museums, theatres and galleries, and is convenient to reach from other cities of interest likely to pop up on your itinerary. Bratislava borders Austria and Hungary, so it is unsurprising that the influence of many different cultures is evident to this day.
The Old Town is where you will find most points of interest, including a number of baroque palaces, a scattering of historically significant buildings, and several cathedrals and churches. The Danube finds its way through the city, as does the River Morava, while Bratislava Castle overlooks the metropolis from its atop castle hill. To complete this charming, cobble-stoned picture, the city is home to almost 50 square kilometres of lush public parks, forests and the like.
2. Tallinn, Estonia
Tallinn is a must-see on a tour of Eastern Europe. With spindly cathedrals and a cross-work of red tiled rooves dotting the skyline, a picturesque setting on the shores of the Gulf of Finland, and a UNESCO World Heritage Listed Old Town, this city is one of the region’s most appealing.
The old town is helpfully divided into two sections, both easy to explore on foot. The upper town, called Toompea, is home to Toompea Castle, two monumental cathedrals and plenty of narrow alleys just waiting to outfox your GPS. In the Lower Town major sights include the Town Hall square, several medieval churches, and the city wall and towers.
3. Ceski Krumlov, Czech Republic
Prague has long served as a gateway to eastern Europe, where the uninitiated go for their first taste of this magical side of the continent, but it is far from the only interesting city in Czech Republic. In fact, there are so many cities and towns outside of Prague that have something to offer photo-hungry tour groups it is difficult to choose just one.
The honour goes to Ceski Krumlov, a small city with a UNESCO World Heritage Old Town of its own, yet more of the perfectly crafted, elegantly colourful buildings typical of the region, and an extraordinarily large castle far out of proportion compared with the size of the metropolis that surrounds it. Be sure to stop by the breath-taking, beautifully preserved 17th century baroque theatre within the castle.
4. Riga, Latvia
Another historical centre bestowed with the honour of being named a UNESCO World Heritage site can be found in Riga, Latvia’s biggest city, which was crowned European Capital of Culture in 2014. While it may not be the only UNESCO World Heritage site on the list, Riga does offer its own brand of charm centred round its mixed architectural styles of Art Nouveau/Jugendstil and 19th century woodwork.
Cheaper flights out of major European cities have given Latvian tourism a boost, but Riga for now remains a comparatively less popular destination and is therefore, an ideal place to experience Eastern Europe at its best.
5. Bled, Slovenia
You have probably seen the gasp-worthy vista of the Assumption of Mary Pilgrimage church perched on a small island in the midst of turquoise-blue water, framed by trees and snow-dusted mountains, that makes Bled an absolute must-visit. This beautiful image and the health properties said to be gained by swimming in the lake’s mild summer waters have attracted travellers since the 19th century, but something has kept the city of Bled from exploding into the next Dubrovnik, making it a very appealing option.
Along with the lake visitors can marvel at Bled Castle, which offers exceptional views across the valley, and taste the region’s customary vanilla and cream pastry.
6. Poznan, Poland
Warsaw and Krakow are the traditional go-tos for any visitor to Poland, but if you’re looking to add an extra dose of Poland, Poznan is an excellent option. The city is one of Poland’s oldest and biggest, and was an important part of the country in the 10th and 11th centuries. It was even briefly the capital of Poland during the 13th century, and has held on to that shining moment of glory with the upholding of ‘The capital city of Poznan’ as its official title.
Today Poznan is one of the country’s most significant centres of education, trade, sport, technology and tourism, which means visitors can enjoy a mix of history and modern success all on one map. Much of the city was reconstructed after WWII, but it is still home to a mix of architecture worth an Instagram post or two.
7. Brazov, Romania
Situated in the ever mysterious Transylvania region, Brasov offers a central location ideal for hosting weary travellers on the road between Bucharest, the Black Sea, the churches of Maramures, and the monasteries of northern Moldavia. But it is much more than simply a stopover – Brazov is home to a well-preserved historic centre of its own.
Brazov’s centre features points of interest like The Rope Street, the narrowest street in the country; several churches including the Gothic Biserica Neagra, or ‘The Black Church’; medieval city gates; and Tampa, an inner-city hill offering outstanding views.
Author’s Bio: Courtney Gahan is a serial expat, traveller and freelance writer who has bartered with Moroccan marketeers, seen the sun rise at Angkor Wat and elbowed her way through crowds on NYE in NYC.