Eastern Europe might not be everyone’s number one travel destination. Communist-era buildings, the conflicts in the 1990s and border disputes in recent years have meant much of the region has been overlooked by potential tourists. But with its patchwork of pretty, pastel-colored old towns, incredible ancient history, excitingnightlife, and nature from sprawling lakes to swooping mountains, Eastern Europe is asurprising delight. Here’s a look at the best places to visit in Eastern Europe.
Vilnius is the Lithuanian capital which comes complete with a particularly beautiful oldtown. This heart of the city boasts Baroque architecture along its cobblestone streets. But you can see more than just Baroque: there’s the Gothic Saint Anne’s Church, the 16th-centuryGate of Dawn, and the Neo-Classical Vilnius Cathedral. Vilnius also contains an array of bars and cafes hidden down charming alleyways and liningatmospheric courtyards. With a large population of students, after night falls, Vilnius becomes a vibrant destination with flowing beer and live music.
Minsk is the Belarusian capital. Completely destroyed during World War II, the Belarusian capital sadly no longer has much in the way of historical monuments or buildings. With that in mind, much of Minsk is actually made up of Stalinist architecture, such asIndependence Square, a sprawling former KGB headquarters, and more recent, very impressive churches. Nowadays, Minsk is a modern city with cool cafes to chill out in with a coffee, restaurants with international cuisine, and interesting art galleries.
This rugged collection of mountains on the border of northern Slovakian is the tallestrange in the Carpathian Mountains. Mount Krivan is the highest peak and is a symbol of the Slovak pride, luring many of its countrymen to climb to the summit. Over a hundred emerald lakes, gushing waterfalls, and Alpine meadows characterize this beautiful region, making it a great place to hike around .In the winter skiers flock to the snow-covered slopes of the High Tatras.
The Bulgarian capital of Sofia sits in the west of the country. Being something of a crossroads for Europe, it has attracted invaders and settlers alike for the past 2,000 years. Its architecture and landmarks reflect the history of the region, including Ottoman mosques, Greek temples, Roman ruins, and Soviet monuments. Despite its age, Sofia is a surprisingly youthful city with a laid-back atmosphere, where it scitizens enjoy relaxing in green parks and strolling along the boulevard. There are plenty of museums for you to delve into, but on the other hand, nightlife abounds, with a plethora of restaurants and nightclubs.
Butrint National Park.
Butrint National Park sits in the south of the little-visited Balkan mystery of Albania, just across the sea from Corfu. It’s got just about everything you could want in a national park – lakes, marshes, grassy plains, wetlands, and even archaeological sites. These include the site of Butrint itself, full of ancient architecture, including a very well preserved Roman-era theatre and a Greek acropolis. Elsewhere, this park boasts remote, rocky islands; one even features a 15th-centuryVenetian fortress.
In the South Bohemia region in the Czech Republic lies Cesky Krumlov. This historic city is a supremely picturesque place to visit; think orange-tiled rooftops and the pretty riverside of the Vltava River, all flanked by green, rolling hills. Made up of Renaissance and Baroque architecture, the town is overlooked by an impressive 13th-centurycastle.It’s a town that should not be missed because of its sheer charm and beauty. Come in summer and stay till the sun goes down to watch the energetic city come alive with bars and restaurants.
This is a vast area northeast of Moscow, Russia, that encompasses a handful of historic Russiancities. The medieval towns form a ‘Golden Ring,’ and due to their significance in the early history of Russia and the Rus tribe who founded it, have been labeled open-air museums. Picturesque country sides filled with cherry orchards, quaint cottages, onion-shaped domes and iconic churches that contain the country’s oldest art make this region a special place to visit.
The Polish capital of Warsaw has had a long, complex history, often marked by war and conflict. It was very much damaged during World War II. However, it has been lovingly rebuilt to its former medieval glory, with brightly coloredtownhouses making for a pretty – if slightly artificial – place to wander around. There’s a mixed bag of architecture across the city, including contemporary cafes and bars to discover. There are plenty of outdoor spaces to enjoy and, with a lot of restaurants, it’s anexcellent destination for foodies.
Set in western Hungary, the holiday destination of Lake Balaton is awash with beautiful beachesa long its shores, as well as resort towns. Flanked by volcanic hills, it’s the largest lake in Eastern Europe, and is thought ofas the ‘Hungarian Inner Sea.’ On the northern shores, you’ll find a medieval fortress, and the oldest medieval town inthe area. If you like wine, you’ll be happy to know that Lake Balaton is famous for its vineyards, which dot the surrounding hills. Windsurfing and sailing are popular during the summer months.
Mostar, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, is famous for its Old Bridge over the Neretva River; in fact, the name Mostar derives from mostari, meaning ‘bridge keeper.’ The bridge was built in 1556 under the orders of the occupying Ottomans, but was destroyed427 years later in 1993 by Croat forces during the Balkan Wars. Though it’s easily reachable on a day trip from neighboring Croatia, to get the most out of your visit to Mostar, the best thing to do is stay overnight. The crowds of daytrippers trickle away, and the restaurants high above the river alongcobbled streets light up.
Situated on the Baltic Sea, Latvia’s capital is a mix of traditional and contemporary lifestyles. It’s an energetic place, where culture combines with the cobblestone streets for an exciting city atmosphere. You can expect intricate Art Nouveau architecture intermingling with Gothic spires in the city’sbeautiful old town, as well as a buzzing central market where you can dive into the city’sgastronomic delights. Sip a cool cocktail or a local beer in one of the many pubs when night falls and the fun begins.
Straddling the borders of Macedonia and Albania, Lake Ohrid wins not one but two accolades of the natural world: it’s one of the deepest, and also one of the oldest lakes in Europe. Most of the lake falls within Macedonia, making this the best place to base yourself to seethe spectacle. The old town of Ohrid itself, for example, is home to old architecture and a maze ofnar row, cobblestone lanes to get lost in. Further south around the lake, Sveti Naum Monastery dates back to 905 AD and is a beautiful building to behold, with views of the surrounding mountains and lake equally stunning.
Plitvice Lakes National Park.
Huddled in central Croatia, Plitvice Lakes National Park is famous for its 16 terracedlakes, all conjoined by waterfalls that spill into a limestone canyon. This lovely area is a playground for people with a sense of adventure, who enjoy hikingamongst fantastic scenery. You can expect boardwalks and hiking trails that wind through limestone rock formations and cliffs, and around the variegated waters of the lakes. That color change is down to the different mineral content of each lake. It’s no wonder that this sublime area was chosen to be Croatia’s first national park.
The capital of Serbia, Belgrade has a long history which involves not only Romans and Slavic tribes, but also Ottomans and Habsburg royals. In more recent times, it was the capital of Yugoslavia. A proud, bold city, Belgrade has an eclectic energy all of its own, with Soviet blocks next to golden age Art Nouveau buildings. It’s also a lively place to be and one of the most hip capitals of Eastern Europe. Spend time sipping coffee in quirky cafes, stroll along the pedestrianized boulevard and hit up one of the packed bars in the riverside quarter.
The Ukrani an capital is an intriguing place – it’s vibrant, it’s historic and it’satmospheric. Founded in the 5th century AD, Kiev is one of Eastern Europe’s oldest cities, and was the center of the federation of Kievan Rus’. There are plenty of places to soak up the history, like at the Pechersk Lavra complex– an important Orthodox Christian church – as well as the Saint Sophia Cathedral, with its breathtaking interiors and golden domes. Elsewhere, the Motherland Monument is a dizzying Soviet marvel in concrete.