We have been very lucky to travel the world. Of everywhere we have been, Eastern Europe may have been our favorite. People have lived there for thousands of years, the people are friendly, many of the landscapes are beautiful and diverse, and it’s inexpensive (at least compared with Western Europe). So far, we have visited 6 Eastern European countries and loved every one, though each for slightly different reasons.
The Hollywood film industry typically depicts Eastern Europe as the dangerous place where James Bond’s Super Villain rivals hang out. But we haven’t found it any more dangerous than Western Europe or the Americas. We suppose the depictions are more of a legacy cliche from the Soviet era of the iron curtain that has stuck around a little bit longer than warranted.
Croatia: Croatia has gorgeous blue and green oceans, steep mountainous cliffs, inviting islands, and ancient ruins from the Roman empire. It also has some of the most beautiful women and some of the most die hard soccer fans we have ever seen. The locals are friendly and often musical! Oh, and don’t forget the beach parties. Amongst the best we have ever attended.
Czech Republic: Czech Republic may be landlocked, but what they lack in oceans, they compensate for in beer consumption. The Czech Republic also has a number of beer festivals, including: Czech Beer Festival which is every May in Prague and lasts more than 2 weeks. One of the most successful and wealthy of the post-communist states, its capital, Prague, in perennially among the top 10 most visited cities in Europe. We also cannot recommend highly enough the spa towns, such as Mariánské Lázně, which are incredibly relaxing and beautiful vacation spots. Other recommended tourist sites are the many castles, such as those at Karlštejn Castle.
Poland: Poland has over 38 million people, the largest population of any post-communist member of the European Union. The historic site of the Auschwitz German concentration camp is awe inspiring and serves as a reminder of the human capacity for evil. Poland’s Baltic Sea coast in the north serves as a key getaway for wealthy locals and backpacking tourists alike.
Romania: According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, Romania is the fourth fastest growing country in the world in terms of travel and tourism total demand, with the number of visitors increasing from approximately 5 million in early 2000s to over 7.5 million by 2012. Sibiu was built by Saxons in the heart of Transylvania and retains a medieval feeling. In Transylvania, Dracula’s Castle and Hunyad Castle, one of the most famous Gothic buildings, are also must sees. The Romanian seaside on the Black Sea is another well known favorite of locals that we thoroughly enjoyed for a long weekend.
Russia: We spent most of our time in Russia in its two most famous cities, Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Sites such as the Moscow Kremlin, Red Square, and the classical architecture of Saint Petersburg are not to be missed, though we would note that they are very different experiences in the summer versus in the heart of a Russian winter. Remember – it was the Russian Winter that is credited with halting both Napoleon’s and Hitler’s march to what might have been global domination. So pack warm and plan ahead so that it doesn’t halt your march to what should be an incredible vacation! And if you do get cold, remember that vodka was invented to warm you up!
Ukraine: When we visited Ukraine, we spent time in Kiev, Odessa, and the Crimean Peninsula, which is its own semi-autonomous republic within Ukraine. We can confirm that the people are friendly and the women are stunning. The music festival that lasts more than a week outside Sevastopol in August was one of the most memorable experiences of our lives. And the food and hospitality was out of this world. We can’t wait to go back!
Of course, one of the best things about Eastern European travel is the lack of western tourists. You won’t hear much English outside of your hotel. So get off the beaten path and mix it up with the locals as much as you can. Chances are they will love it at least as much as you do.
You can (and should) travel by train, although the Eurail does not go everywhere you will want to check out. Even when the Eurail is not available, you can use the local trains. So it’s just important to plan carefully. And don’t forget to use your student ID for train travel and many local museums, churches, etc. It never hurts to ask if they have a student discount.
We suggest you check out Eastern Europe in person as soon as you can manage it. The world keeps getting more westernized and we assume it will not be too long before eastern europe itself gets “westernized”. It would be a shame if you missed your chance to see it before that happens.
When we got back from our most recent trip, we decided that we needed to show our friends the best of Eastern Europe so that they would know what they are missing by sticking to “the westside”. So we hope you enjoy our curated attempt to capture Eastern Europe’s Best stuff.
If you’ve been to Eastern Europe recently, send us your suggestions for things to add to EasternEurope’sBest. We’re always looking for more beautiful things in this world to explore and to share.