Whether you choose to take on Eastern Europe on your own, or go with a group (like Contiki’s Eastern Road), you’ll probably find yourself wondering how to make the most of your time there. Here are our picks for the top sights to see (and the things you can safely skip).
Like most countries, you’ll want to take a look at the capital city when you’re here. Bratislava is full of charm, with its old-world architecture and stunning natural landscapes. The city sits where the Carpathian Mountains meet the Danube River (and both provide an equally amazing way to take in a view of the area). There are plenty of historic sites and museums for those into history, and between the opera, the philharmonic, and the numerous music festivals, you definitely won’t be bored in this city. Round out your time in Bratislava with a night at Subclub, the club which is literally underground, located in (what was once) an emergency military storage bunker under the Bratislava castle.
Spend 2 days in this capital city and move on to the next country. While the rest of Slovakia does provide beautiful scenery and plenty of places for you to reflect, it’s not worth spending the time if you’re on a tight schedule. Bratislava is where the action is.
If you’re heading to Hungary in the summer, you won’t regret it. There are dozens of festivals and events, ranging from the Beer Festival in June, to the Festival of Folk Arts in August. One of the best ways to discover all that Hungary has to offer is by taking a river cruise on the Danube. The river passes through or along several different countries in Europe (making it a solid way to explore this continent in general) but none more so than Hungary. Especially worth noting is the way the Danube divides the city of Budapest into its distinct two components, Buda (leans towards the historic) & Pest (leans towards the modern).
There’s plenty to do here and no matter which cities you pick to visit, you’ll find yourself wanting to return. If you want to see the most beautiful part of the Danube River, head up to Szentendre and gaze upon the Danube Bend. Make the most of your time in Hungary by aligning your vacation with the festival of your choice (likely in Budapest), and then work around that.
Eastern hospitality and community values, this is what comes to mind when you think of Poland. This country is an important place to visit, with lots of historical relevance. Warsaw is the most likely city you will visit, with a mix of Communist-era apartments and more modern office buildings. Be sure to visit the Old Town, where Baroque streets were meticulously reconstructed after their destruction in World War II. There is a lively nightlife scene in Warsaw now as well, and you can have a great night out without emptying your wallet. Try out the assorted Polish vodkas while you’re in the area, as you’re not likely to find this variety anywhere else.
While in Poland, it is important to make the time to visit Auschwitz and not rush through it. Fair warning: it is a difficult thing to see, and you will need time to process it. Be respectful and understand that you will likely be in the company of someone directly affected by these concentration camps (if not yourself). For more information, visit their website here: http://www.auschwitz.org.pl/.
Spoiler alert! There are no vampires in Transylvania, but don’t let that get you down. What you WILL find is the amazing Carpathian mountain range, loads of castles and yes, Sighişoara, the birthplace of Vlad Țepeş (aka Vlad the Impaler, aka Dracula). Back to the Carpathians however, these mountains are unlike any other you might find in Europe. In winter, the skiing is cheap and plentiful, and during the summer you can take a guided hike to track wolves, bears, read deer, and lynx.
Don’t limit yourself to just Transylvania on your visit to Romania, though. The capital of Bucharest may not appear to be “all that” on first glance, but there’s loads of hidden charm. This city is changing like you wouldn’t believe – even if you’ve visited recently, it might seem totally different now. A mixture of modern, medieval, and communist architecture weave Bucharest’s history into its unique appearance. Romania is a must-see of Eastern Europe in our books, worth spending a few days here.
Art, cuisine, festivals – these buzzwords describe many places in Europe, but have special weight when referencing Croatia. Local is the standard, whether it applies to the numerous art galleries or the specialty foods, wine, and olive oil produced (and used) within this country. There is a strong sense of national pride, coming from the collapse of communism in the early 1990s, and this shows in their culture.
If you see nothing else while you’re in Croatia, be certain you see Split and the Dalmatian Coast. The sparkling waters and iconic shoreline are a wonder to witness in person. Not to mention, this area makes a great cycling route. All in all, Croatia makes a great destination for every kind of traveller, and you could easily spend a week here relaxing on the beach, hiking and cycling the beautiful natural terrain, and broadening your mind at the many art galleries.
Some think of Serbia as “Croatia, but a little rough around the edges”. It’s not an unjust comparison, but Serbia has a culture and history all its own. Of the Balkans, this country has probably the most youthful population. Expect high energy all the time, especially from the hotspots here (and don’t even get us started on the EXIT music festival!) It only fits that Nikola Tesla, creator of AC current, hails from such a high energy destination. Or is it because of him that Serbia is so energetic? Regardless of the cause, make sure you check out the Tesla Museum in Belgrade. At the very least, you’ll get to see hourly demonstrations of his experiments, some of which are really, really cool.
When you need a break from all this go-go-go, it’s time to relax in Novi Sad. Good thing you’ll already be there for the aforementioned EXIT festival (which is one of the biggest in Europe). Plan your trip around the event of your choice and spend an extra day or two really discovering all the local gems you can’t find anywhere else.
7. Czech Republic
Czech is one of the hottest destinations for modern travellers, though it wasn’t that way as recently as 20 years ago. Prague is an old city with new life bustling about it. Are you a literary fanatic? Kafka has left his mark all over Prague and you too can follow in the footsteps of every tourist eager to see the cafés he frequented, or the building where he worked as a clerk. Or, you could just head to the Kafka museum and spend an hour or two looking at manuscripts, drawings, and diaries… all the good stuff. Beyond the Kafkaesque, there is loads of history to see in Prague, and the legendary nightlife will blow your mind.
While there are more cities in the Czech Republic than just Prague, we wouldn’t blame you if you limited your Czech visit to just the capital. It IS, after all, the largest Czech city, and definitely the one with the most life in our books. If you want to get off the beaten track, then head to Bohemia, just outside of Prague. You’ll find two major beer-brewing areas in Plzeň and České Budějovice.
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Written by Deanna Gregorio, Brand Specialist at travelcuts.