Posts Tagged ‘Bran Castle’

The Ultimate Eastern Europe Travel Guide

Bran CastleDanzig

Fewer travelers head east – that’s why you should.

Head East from Germany, and you’ll find that your Euros are less often accepted. English is not so widely spoken. The streets can appear grittier, with concrete apartment blocks often blocking out the sun. Poland has no Leaning Tower of Pisa, Budapest boasts no colosseum, and the rushing Danube may be less associated with romance than the sedate river Seine. But travel with your eyes open, and you’ll find just as much beauty, history, fun and adventure in the East as others do in the well trodden West.

Average wages behind the historic ‘Iron Curtain’ are still drastically low, which is rough on the locals, but can benefit the intrepid traveler: You’ll find that three course restaurant meal in Sofia, Bulgaria can cost you less than a cocktail in a Parisian bar. So pack a phrase book and dress up warm – we’re heading East!


Eastern Europe: An overview

The definition of Eastern Europe can be a bit contentious. I moved to Poland a few years ago and have used this country as a base on and off ever since. While the folks back in England and Australia would tend to see Poland as ‘Eastern Europe,’ here locals often insist on ‘Central Europe,’ and looking at a map, they may have a point. However for the purposes of this article, Poland makes the cut. We’re also going to look at Czechia and Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, former Yugoslavia, the Baltics and Ukraine.

To varying degrees, all the countries described fell under the influence of the Soviet Union after the second world war. While most have now transformed into Western leaning democracies, the brutal memory of communism still rings in the ears. Poland and Hungary are sliding ominously towards the far right, and Ukraine’s recent attempt to lurch Westward politically was met with Russian tanks crossing the border into Crimea. While ‘history’ may feel like a thing of the past in London and Rome, here it is still an unfolding story.

Ginger Monkey Hostel


Eastern Europe highlights: A sample itinerary

Eastern Europe Itinerary Map

Eastern Europe Itinerary Map

Once you spend a bit of time staring at a map, you’ll realize there’s an awful LOT of Eastern Europe. Not just in the number of countries, but in the size. Ukraine alone could comfortably fit in several Western European nations. Below I’ll sketch a rough itinerary that involves heading due south right from the Baltics into Bulgaria. You can either complete this itinerary fully (as pictured above) – requiring 5-6 weeks – or just do sections of it. 

A few things to note is that while most of these countries are in both the European Union and the Schengen Visa Free Zone, there are exceptions – notably Serbia and Ukraine. So be sure to check your visa requirements before venturing out. Also, the below is one hell of a trip and designed to give you a sense of what is available, rather than a definitive prescription – you should, of course, pick and choose. If you wanna head straight to Prague to sample the famed (and cheap) Czech beer before braving the winter streets of Vilnius, then I can’t say I blame you!

The Baltics: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania

So-named because of their position on the Baltic sea, these three small nations are often overlooked by Western travelers. But they shouldn’t be. Let’s have a look at each in turn:


Highlight: Tallinn. With a population of just 1.3 million, Estonia rapidly reinvented itself after the collapse of communism in 1989, and now is counted among one of the most technologically developed nations in the world. It offers digital citizenship to locals and expats, and is considered a digital nomad hub. If Eastern Europe in your mind is crumbling buildings and long queues for groceries, then start with Estonia to dispel those misconceptions.


Highlight: Riga. The historic center of Riga is a Unesco world heritage site, and the beautifully preserved/restored town square is a great precursor of what you’re to expect as you explore countries like Poland and Czechia further south.


Highlight: Vilnius. Like Riga, the historic center of Vilnius is a Unesco World Heritage site. Once unified with Poland, Vilnius boasts a proud literary heritage and a rich Jewish history – it was once referred to as the “Jerusalem of Lithuania.”

Poland: Gdansk, Warsaw & Krakow

Warsaw, PolandWarsaw, Poland

Warsaw, Poland

One of the strongest economies to emerge from the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, Poland’s vibrant present mingles with a history that stretches back over 1000 years, through the glory days of the Poland-Lithuania commonwealth right through to the trauma suffered at the hands of the Nazis and Soviets during the 20th century. I came to this country for a week in 2015, and ended up staying on and off for three years!


Spend your final days with the Baltic Sea at Gdansk, formerly the predominantly German free city of Danzig. Walk along the old docks and remember the Solidarity movement that, led by Lech Walesa, resulted in the overthrow of communism first in Poland and then, arguably, across the rest of Europe. One of Poland’s most picturesque cities, a late night stroll through the old town and by the riverside will be a treasured memory.


The sight of unimaginable horror during the Second World War as the Soviet Tanks waited for the Nazis to eliminate all Polish resistance before sweeping in and planting the Hammer and Sickle flag over the ruined city, Warsaw’s revival is the stuff of legend. Under the shadow of the imposing Palace of Culture, the historic old town has been painstakingly restored. Visit the POLNA Jewish Museum, and experience some of the finest dining Eastern Europe has to offer among the cities many chic restaurants (Hint: Try Cafe Kafka for lunch).


Poland’s biggest tourist draw, and for good reason. The medieval old square is haunting under the moonlight, as rows of horses and cart stand to attention, ready to take the next visitor for a ride. Outside the city you can venture deep under the earth to explore the Salt Mines, and make a painful, but necessary visit to the Auschwitz Museum.

Detour: Lviv, Ukraine

Lviv, UkraineLviv, Ukraine

Lviv, Ukraine

Take the night train from Krakow due east to experience something truly off the beaten track. Lviv is a great way to dip your toes into the gargantuan country of Ukraine, and give yourself a thrilling few days. Historically Polish and once known by the Hapsburg name, Lemberg, Lviv boasts one of the most adventurous nightlife scenes you’ll ever encounter. From a bar named Masoch (we’ll let you guess the theme) to multi story clubs, hidden restaurants accessible only with a password, rooftop bars where you sit in broken down cars, a weekend in Lviv will give you enough stories to make your friends jealous for years.

Slovakia: Zdiar, The Tatra Mountains

Hala Gasienicowa, Tatra Mountains, PolandHala Gasienicowa, Tatra Mountains, Poland

Hala Gasienicowa, Tatra Mountains, Poland

Back on the road from Poland, we cross into Slovakia. The nation’s capital, Bratislava, is a rougher, smaller version of Prague (covered below) which rewards a fun weekend. But the Tatra mountains that stretch across the Polish border offer one of Slovakia’s most intoxicating delights.

Pro tip: Hit the Polish town of Zakopane just a few clicks from the border for a taste of the local Oscypek mountain cheese, before taking a minibus to the border, walking into Slovakia, and hopping another quick bus to Zdiar, a ski resort town. Stay in the Ginger Monkey Hostel for cosy diggs and to meet fellow travelers.

Prague, Czech RepublicPrague, Czech RepublicDetour: Prague, Czechia

It’s a bit out of the way and means a slight tack westward, but Prague, the dynamic capital of Czechia (formerly the Czech Republic, formerly formerly Czechoslovakia) is worth making the trip. Climb the steep hill to Prague Castle, and see the spires and winding streets of the city at your feet. Jostle with buskers on Charles Bridge before settling into one of the cities many cavernous beer halls for a sip (or several) of the unbelievably refreshing locals brews that flow like water and cost half as much!

Hungary: Budapest

Hungary’s mighty capital is growing in stature as a major Eastern European destination, rivaling Prague and Krakow. Divided into two halves, hilly historical Buda and flat, gritty Pest, the glory of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the horrors of the Arrow Cross Fascist regime and communist oppression, and the contemporary hipster revival of the city can all be felt after just a few hours in town. Climb up to the exquisite Royal Palace, drink the night away in a ruin bar (start with the gigantic Szimpla), soothe your soul in a thermal bath, and burn your taste buds with spicy paprika filled Goulash. For more tips on activities to do in Budapest, check our other guide here.

From here to Sofia you’ll most likely have to choose one of the below routes, which, like different prongs on a fork, all forge their own path to Bulgaria.

Option #1: Serbia: Belgrade



Step out of the European Union and into a scarier, starker version of history in Belgrade. The winding, cobbled streets are beautiful, the old ladies haggle over the price of cucumbers on the street markets, and the clubs rage until dawn. But as with much of Europe, there’s a darker side to history here. You’ll see at the ancient fortifications, in the city’s museums, and in the bullet holes still visible on some older buildings.

Option #2: Romania: Transfagarasan Highway

Transfagarasan Highway, Romania

Transfagarasan Highway, Romania

Bucharest is a rough and ready capital that will still provide plenty to distract and entertain you. But for me, Romania is a country of rolling green hills, famers on horseback, dark grey clouds and mercifully warm temperatures. Considered one of the best road trips in the world, rent a car and take it carefully over the Transafgarasan Highway for incredible views and, of course, a climb up the steep stairs to Vlad the Impaler’s vertiginous castle (Bran Castle).

Option #3: Croatia: Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Go ahead, be a tourist, give yourself a treat. Famous as the filming location for much of Game of Thrones, this seaside city will be sure to rack up the Instagram likes. Don’t want to get caught up in the tourist crowd? Croatia’s warm and picturesque Mediterranean coast can also be experienced from cities like Split, which also boast fresh seafood and, of course, cheap local beer sold in gigantic plastic bottles. Živjeli!

Bulgaria: Sofia

Sofia, BulgariaSofia, BulgariaCongratulations, you’ve traveled 2600 kilometers from Tallinn (more if you took in Prague and Lviv), and you’ve made it Bulgaria! Here you will truly feel yourself in Eastern Europe as the city’s many monuments memorializing communist horrors attest. Sofia is most notable for its clash of influences, the Cyrillic writing system and Orthodox religion from Russia – see the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral – merge with an Ottoman infusion from Turkey, just over the border. It’s truly a city on the frontier. And if you choose to push on and take that overnight bus to Istanbul, then the adventure only continues.

How much does a trip to Eastern Europe cost?

The low cost of living in Eastern Europe constantly amazes me. To take a sample at random, I am writing this article from a cafe in Poznan, Poland. A large local craft beer would cost $2 USD, a latte about the same, and a delicious, high quality hot meal about $6-8. This is typical of Eastern Europe, with countries like Ukraine, Serbia and Bulgaria offering even cheaper rates. The major tourist towns like Prague and Budapest can sting you on accomodation if you don’t book in advance, and always be wary of nightclubs and ‘bars of ill repute’ where scams are known.

Traveling Eastern Europe can realistically be done for as little as $30-50 USD / day, including accomodation, food, beer, transport and attractions.

How long do you need to explore Eastern Europe?

The above itinerary – done properly – would require about 5-6 weeks, but you can of course take as long or as little as you like. Distances can be large and outdated transport infrastructure can mean uncomfortable journeys (hold tight to your wallet on the cheap but dusty overnight train from Belgrade to Budapest. When I did this journey in 2015, I paid just 10 Euro for the ticket including sleeper berth!).

Tatra Mountains, PolandTatra Mountains, Poland

Getting around

While rail passes are highly recommended for travel in Western Europe, in the East they are less necessary. Train travel – even when booked on the day – is outrageously cheap, with $20 being more than enough for almost any internal journey you’re likely to make. For international journeys, consider overnight buses and trains to save on a night’s accommodation. Book in advance if going between major cities – for example, the overnight train from Warsaw to Budapest can get expensive (100 euro +) if booked at the last minute, but if booked in advance, will be a mere fraction of this.

Getting there

Most cities listed above can easily be accessed with cheap Ryanair flights from London and across Western Europe. Check Skyscanner and select “Whole Month” to visualize the cheapest dates. If traveling from afar, cities like Berlin and Munich in Germany can make convenient hubs. I’ve also found Prague to be a surprisingly affordable final destination when flying all the way from Australia / New Zealand. If coming from Scandinavia, Gdansk in Poland can sometimes be reached for as little as 15 euro.

Where to stay

Cities like Krakow and Budapest boast a thriving youth hostel culture, ideal if you want to meet other travelers and find drinking buddies for the evening. In Budapest I give my warmest recommendation to Carpe Noctem – I practically moved in. Elsewhere, Booking.com can offer cheap short term rentals on apartments, while AirBNB is a slightly more expensive, but more comfortable option for doing the same. Although you may not even consider doing such a thing in Paris or London, don’t be afraid to be bold and check TripAdvisor for a nice hotel – I’ve found 4 or 5 star luxury for under $50 a night across Eastern Europe.



When to go

It’s no secret: Eastern Europe gets cold, with subzero temperatures not unheard of from December through to March. This has its compensations – nothing is more beautiful than a medieval town center blanketed in white snow. Christmas means Christmas markets and hot spiced wine served out of large cauldrons, but it’s also when everyone has gone home with their families. My favorite time to travel is September, when it’s still hot, but the main tourist crowds have wrapped up their summer holidays, leaving the streets clear to explore.

Food and drink

Let’s start with drink! Beer is literally cheaper than bottled water in most countries described above. Look for the local brews, but be careful – in this part of the world, beer packs a punch, and 9% alcohol volume brews are not uncommon. Vodka is available in millions of different flavors – try Zubrowka in Poland, and local fruit spirits such as the potent Sliwowica (plum spirit) are easy to find. In Hungary, try sweet and rich Tokaj wine.

Eastern European cuisine tends to be heavy – food to soak up the vodka and prepare you for a long winter. Pierogi (polish dumplings) make for a hearty meal, as does Hungary’s goulash, Prague’s many manifestations of pork, and Lithuania’s rich, dark rye bread. Look out for Milk Bars in Poland for cheap meals shoulder to shoulder with students and vagabonds. Supermarket chains like Lidl and Tesco can provide you cheap groceries basically everywhere you will go.  

What to do

Every city you visit will have a museum testifying to ancient glories and more recent horrors. Budapest boasts thermal baths, Poland has its salt mines, Slovakia has mountains and Prague – well, Prague has beer and a lot more besides, and pretty much everywhere has a fair share of castles! But the best thing to do is simply to wander, walk the cobbled streets with your eyes open, look at the people, and try and learn a few snatches of the local languages. Walking tours are available in most major cities – see Viator for what’s available in your destination.

The Thrifty Gist

  • Eastern Europe can be challenging, but it boasts a wealth of attractions and an unbelievably low cost of living, making it a dream destination for the adventurous budget traveler
  • Highlights include the Baltic countries, Poland, Lviv, The Tatras Mountains, Prague, Budapest, Romania, Belgrade, Dubrovnik and Sofia
  • Travel by overnight train or bus to save on a night’s accommodation. With the exception of a few major routes, fares are constantly low
  • Germany next door can serve as an easy hub to access Eastern Europe, but cheap flights with companies like WizzAir can get you pretty much anywhere
  • Stay in hostels to meet travelers and for a party vibe, use Booking.com and AirBNB for comfortable private accommodation, and search TripAdvisor for great deals of high quality hotels
  • December is beautiful, but cold, and with a lot of places likely to be closed. September offers warm weather, but not too many tourists
  • Drink beer, brave the local flavored vodka, and eat the hearty rich meals with a focus on meat, potatoes and bread. Yes, you’ll likely come home a few kilos heavier!
  • Eastern Europe is rich in history and has seen the conflicts of several empires. Enjoy the historic old town squares, castles, and museums, but mostly just walk the fascinating streets and listen to the stories of the people you encounter.



The best cities to visit in Eastern Europe


contributed by Elisa of World in Paris

Brasov is a fairy-tale fortified city in the heart of Transylvania, in Romania. It is easy to walk, it has a beautiful architecture with Saxon influences and many nice cafes to stop for a caffeine break. We were lucky to find an apartment facing the main square so it was nice to see how the city wakes up.

If you want to get the most out of Brasov, we recommend doing the free city tour starting every day from the main square. It is a very entertaining tour which introduces visitors to the history of the city, some fun legends and its main sights like the black church and the white and black towers. In addition, guides are always happy to give some recommendations on good restaurants to explore the local cuisine so you are set for the day.

Brasov is also a good base for exploring other parts of Transylvania like the famous Bran castle or the mountains of Piatra Craiului.

Podgorica, Montenegro

Podgorica -best cities to visit in Eastern EuropePodgorica -best cities to visit in Eastern EuropePodgorica

contributed by Eric of Penguin and Pia

For the capital of a country, Podgorica, Montenegro doesn’t get too much credit. We think this should change! Podgorica does actually have things to do and this makes the city a place that we think is worth checking out for yourself. From traditional Balkan cuisine at restaurants like Pod Volat to visiting the museums and wandering the historic old town, the city has a rich history that is to be learned about and explored.

If you’re in Podgorica at night, the city centre is buzzing with activity. The bars, pubs, and restaurants open their patios in the warm air and let the night take its course. Whatever kind of fun you’re looking for, you’ll find it out on the town in Podgorica. Oh, and don’t forget about the things you can check out close to the city. Just a short drive away from Podgorica is the “Niagara Falls” of Montenegro – and you won’t want to miss checking out nature at its finest!

Ohrid, FYROM

Ohrid, FYROM -best cities to visit in Eastern EuropeOhrid, FYROM -best cities to visit in Eastern EuropeOhrid, FYROM

contributed by Kirstin of The Tinberry Travels

Lake Ohird is one of the most beautiful spots in the Balkans and sat on the water’s edge in the wonderful Ohrid City, FYROM. The biggest settlement in the region, Ohrid along with its neighbouring lake, is a UNESCO World Heritage site filled with ancient history, diverse and intricate architecture and plenty of natural beauty on top. Said to have once held 365 places of worship, one for every day of the year, the many churches or Ohrid are the city’s main drawn but there are plenty of things to do in Ohrid.

From boat trips or swimming in the beautiful clear waters to ancient amphitheatres and fortresses on the hill, Ohrid has a good variety of attractions and is fast becoming the new place to go in the Balkans. To get to Ohrid, a number of low cost airlines fly direct to the small Ohrid airport just outside the city or you can take a three hour drive from the FYROM ‘s capital of Skopje.

Vilnius, Lithuania

Vilnius -best cities to visit in Eastern EuropeVilnius -best cities to visit in Eastern EuropeVilnius

contributed by Mary of A Mary Road

Vilnius Lithuania is not only another city in East Europe. If you are looking to explore this part of the world, Vilnius is worth a visit. It’s probably one of the cheapest places you can explore taking into account that it is the capital city. Vilnius is full of historical events and culture, the city is very open-minded and LGBTQA friendly.

Exploring around is very easy, you can either walk through the Old Town or hop on a bicycle (which is very affordable to rent for a day or more), to go further out. Vilnius has also a lot of park around, in Summer, you can sit by the park, watch the locals go through their daily life or simply visit a local market where fresh fruits are being sold. Going to the next city like Kaunas or to the neighbouring country is very easy too, and affordable. There are cheap flights in and out of Vilnius within Europe.

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Plovdiv, Bulgaria -best cities to visit in Eastern EuropePlovdiv, Bulgaria -best cities to visit in Eastern EuropePlovdiv, Bulgaria

contributed by Stephanie of Sofia Adventures

While Plovdiv in central Bulgaria is an Eastern European city, it does’t feel like it. It’s a beautiful, classic town full of ancient Roman architecture, gorgeous Bulgarian Revival houses, and modern street art. If you’re looking for Red Tourism, head elsewhere, because this is Bulgaria’s elegant cultural center. In fact, it’s been named as the European Capital of Culture for 2019, highlighting it’s place as one of the oldest cities in Europe.

There is eight thousand years of history in this city, but there’s also tons of great modern amenities, like fantastic restaurants and fun cafes. You can spend a weekend or a week here, because there are so many things to see and do in Plovdiv that you won’t have time get bored. After checking out the main highlights of the city (I highly recommend the city’s free walking tour), head out to see some of the beautiful monasteries in the region.

Budva, Montenegro

Budva - best cities to visit in Eastern EuropeBudva - best cities to visit in Eastern EuropeOld Town of Budva in Montenegro

contributed by Michelle of Greedy Gourmet

Located on the Adriatic Sea in Montenegro, is a beautiful town called Budva. Even though some parts of this country are still suffering from the effects of the Cold War, Budva is a thriving tourist destination. Budva is only a 25-minute taxi ride from Tivat Airport, where you can easily hail a cab outside the building or rent a car to get around.

The city is known for its beaches, nightlife and restaurants but is also rich in history.   You can spend the day at the Rustovo Monastery or head up to the Citadel to catch some amazing views. Most tourists come for the beaches and there are plenty to visit, such as Mogren Beach, Royal Beach and Kamenova Beach.

You absolutely need to eat at Casa Mia, a lovely Italian restaurant. Casa Mia has its own farm, raising their own chickens, ducks, turkeys and goats which makes them a rare, sustainable restaurant. In addition, you should check out Dukley Beach Lounge. Located right on the water, the views are enough of a reason to visit this restaurant.

Budapest, Hungary

Budapest -best cities to visit in Eastern EuropeBudapest -best cities to visit in Eastern EuropeBudapest

contributed by Suzanne of The Travelbunny

Budapest is the perfect European city to visit for a long weekend or city break. Full of charm, beautiful buildings, good food, coffee shops, art, history and quirk there’s a lot you can pack into a few days. The Danube runs through the centre of the city splitting it into two distinct districts; Buda and Pest. The 19th century Chain Bridge links hilly Buda’s castle district with flatter Pest. A funicular runs up Castle Hill to Old Town Buda where you’ll get fabulous views across the River Danube to the stunning Hungarian Parliament building. Fisherman’s Bastion, the 13th century Matthias Church and the famous Gellert thermal baths are all on the Buda side. Cross the Chain Bridge to explore Pest with its trendy ruin bars, ornate coffee shops, the food market and the grandeur of Heroes Square.

The city is good value for money as it’s not part of the Euro and still uses the Hungarian Forint. You can explore most of the city on foot or by using the metro which is easy to use and the oldest electrified underground railway system in Europe.

Kotor, Montenegro

Kotor, Montenegro -best cities to visit in Eastern EuropeKotor, Montenegro -best cities to visit in Eastern EuropeKotor, Montenegro

contributed by Kamila of My Wanderlust

Even before visiting Kotor I knew I’m gonna love it there. The pictures I’ve seen online looked just amazing and the place seemed too beautiful to be true. But it really does exist and is even more spectacular that I could imagine! By now I’ve been some 5 times there and Kotor for me is the most beautiful place in Europe.

The highlight of every visit is of course the climb to the St. John castle – it is exhausting to walk over a thousand stairs to the top but the view is definitely worth it! But there are so many more things to do there! I love wandering around Kotor Old Town, especially early in the morning or late in the evening when it’s not too crowded, I love walking along Kotor Bay to Dobrota and admire the stunning views and I love visiting small village of Perast that is just the prettiest. If you decided to visit Kotor I can only suggest to do it off season as the summer might be just too busy there!

BalkansBran CastleWroclaw, Poland

Wroclaw -best cities to visit in Eastern EuropeWroclaw -best cities to visit in Eastern EuropeWroclaw

contributed by Jessica of Longest Bus Rides

There are so many things to do in Wroclaw, Poland that it should definitely be on your list of places to visit in Europe. The historical part of the city is completely walkable, so no need to rent a car. If anything, rent a bicycle. And, it’s very accessible to English speakers, with much of the signage translated to English. It helps that the city was European Union City of the Year in 2014.

Known as the Venice of the North, there are lots of cute bridges (approximately 130, but not all of them are cute) and 12 islands. There is even an island with gardens and historical buildings—visit the Gothic Cathedral at night to see it lit up. St. Mary Magdalene Churchhas Penitent Bridge, a gangway connecting the towers high over the city.The view is fantastic, although its original purpose is sad–

The synagogue has a free museum regarding the Jewish history in the area. On the more humorous side, keep your eyes open for all the gnomes throughout the city. They are small, and it’s always a fun surprise to find one. There’s one right by the entrance to the ancient pub underneath City Hal

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana - city to travel in Eastern EuropeLjubljana - city to travel in Eastern EuropeLjubljana

contributed by Kylie of Our Overseas Adventures

Ljublijana is the largest city in Slovenia and one of the new cool capital cities of Eastern Europe. It’s a fabulous city to visit for a few days and it has a wonderful funky vibe. The beautiful Ljubljanica river runs through the centre of the old town and wandering along the riverbanks, popping into some of the great cafes lining the route is such a great way to pass the time. The city is often compared to Prague due to its architecture designed by the world famous Jože Plečnik.

Ljublijana is famous for its bridges, with the Dragon Bridge being the most notable landmark in Ljublijana. Choose one of the four iconic dragons positioned at both ends of the bridge to snap a selfie with! Towering over the city is the 900-year-old Ljubljana Castle, a must-see with some of the best views of the city. You can take a funicular railway to reach the castle, or walk up one of the paths if you want some exercise. Afterwards, head back down into the city and pick one of the many hip bars to relax with a drink and soak in the atmosphere of this gorgeous city.

Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

Veliko Tarnovo - places to visit in Eastern EuropeVeliko Tarnovo - places to visit in Eastern EuropeVeliko Tarnovo

contributed by Allison of Sofia Adventures

Veliko Tarnovo is one of the most beautiful cities in Bulgaria. As the former capital of Bulgaria, it’s chock full of history, which can be seen in the beautiful Tsaravets fortress, which used to be the seat of power hundreds of years ago. Today, Veliko Tarnovo is full of interesting monuments, delicious restaurants with gorgeous views over the Yantra River, old-fashioned houses built on a hillside, and cafés and bars where you can relax and enjoy a slower pace of life.

You shouldn’t miss Asen’s Monument, the Stambolov bridge, the fortress, the many interesting churches, and a side trip to the nearby village of Arbanasi. Be sure to eat at the original restaurant, Shtastliveca, which is now popular throughout several cities in Bulgaria. Shopska salad can’t be missed when visiting Bulgaria! Veliko Tarnovo is a great addition to Bulgaria itineraries that include larger cities like Plovdiv or Sofia, or as a side trip from Bucharest, or as its own city break!

Zagreb, Croatia

Zagreb - best cities to visit in Eastern EuropeZagreb - best cities to visit in Eastern EuropeZagreb

contributed by Julianna of The Discoveries of

Zagreb was the city I never expected to fall in love with. A striking blend of centuries of history, cosmopolitan culture and a laid-back vibe – it was only ever going to end one way. What’s so special about Zagreb? The small walkable centre is packed with sights, both old and new, for your itinerary. The Neo-Gothic Cathedral dominates the skyline but surprises visitors with its modernist carvings inside. Equally enchanting is the much-talked about Museum of Broken Relationships, which is packed with the sometimes funny, sometimes sad relics of relationships that haven’t quite worked out.

Don’t miss the daily firing of the cannon in Lotrsčak Tower either – at 12pm sharp the warden fires a cannon (stuffed with paper) over the city. It’s not clear where the tradition came from, but it’s happened daily since 1877. Be warned, it is very loud! Lotrsčak Tower also happens to boast stellar views out over Zagreb, so it’s a win-win situation. Some people pass through Zagreb, seeing it as a stop on their way to the Plitvice Lakes, or as they zoom to Split and Dubrovnik further south. What a mistake – spend some time here and you’ll see that Zagreb is a small city with a lot to offer.

Sibiu, Romania

Sibiu -best cities to visit in Eastern EuropeSibiu -best cities to visit in Eastern EuropeSibiu city, Transylvania

contributed by Raluca of Whisper Wanderlust

Sibiu is one of the most beautiful, largest and most visited cities of Romania. It is located in Transylvania, approximately in the center of the country, making it easily accessible from any point. Being very close to the tallest and most spectacular mountains in the country, I recommend that along with Sibiu, go on a road trip on Transfagarasan, the most scenic road in the country.

Sibiu, thanks to its beauty, became the cultural capital of Europe 10 years ago when countless events took place in the city. Being the largest medieval ensemble in the country, it is a real pleasure to walk through the old center. The cobbled streets, the colorful houses that seem to have eyes on their roofs, the cheerful terraces and the architecture of the most important buildings will instantly conquer you. If you arrive in Sibiu, I recommend you to pass the Liars Bridge, admire the Council Tower, the Lutheran Evangelical cathedral or the Brukenthal Museum and go on a picnic at Dumbrava Sibiului.

Medulin, Croatia

Medulin -best cities to visit in Eastern EuropeMedulin -best cities to visit in Eastern EuropeMedulin

contributed by LeAnne of Well Traveled Nebraskan

Medulin, Croatia is no longer just the sleepy fishing village it once was.  Today, you can find accommodations to fit all budgets along the incredibly stunning Istrian Coast.  Whether you are looking for a glitzy all inclusive resort to get away or to camp right along the beach, we loved Medulin’s various paces of life offered to all kinds of travelers.  There was just something about grabbing delicious grilled Croatian food right on the ocean while kicking back with some of the cheapest beer we’ve ever bought that made us fall in love with the area.

However, it was the Kemenjak National Park, just on the outskirts of town that gave us memories to last a lifetime.  Purchase a cheap snorkel set from any stand in town and then head to the park where you can swim in crystal clear waters and explore underwater caves.  For adventurous souls, join the cliff jumpers leaping from various levels of cliffs into the deep ocean below for an amazingly fun time!  And then for any history buffs, geek out at the actual dinosaur tracks, still imprinted in the rocks!

Medulin was the perfect balance of exploration with a touch of relaxation, which makes it a perfect destination for just about any type of traveler! 


The 20 Best Places To Visit In Europe On A Budget

author photo

Europe presents an irresistible challenge to the budget traveller. A potent mix of culture, landscape and history on the one hand and a cash-gobbling monster on the other, sticking to your daily allowance can prove tricky.

Continue reading to find out more about…

But learn to zone out the “Spend! Spend! Spend!” siren song of its myriad restaurants, bars and shops and you’ll find that this compact little continent is simply the world’s greatest labyrinth.

Taken from the latest edition of The Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget, these are the cheapest places to travel on the continent this year.

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Related tailor-made travel itineraries for Spain

1. The Albanian coast

Looking for Mediterranean sun and sand, but your budget doesn’t quite stretch to Capri or the Côte d’Azur? Simply head further east and you’ll find sun-drenched beaches untouched by modern development. Albania is one of the cheapest countries in Europe, and as yet under explored by the tourist hordes. On its southern Ionian coast, steep grey mountains frame azure seas and golden sands.

Saranda – almost in touching distance of Corfu – is a handy entry point from Greece, from where you can aim for the beaches of Ksamil and nearby islands. Cheap seafood, warm seas and a smattering of isolated Greek ruins and Ottoman towns: the perfect recipe for a classic European sojourn.

Where to stay

Best for being on the beach: Vila E Bardhe

Best for great views of the harbour: Hotel Real Sarande

What to do

From Saranda: Visit the archaeological park of Butrint on a private tour

From Durrës: Wine tasting and history tour in Berat

Rough costs:

  • Daily budget: Basic €25, occasional treat €40
  • Drink: Bottle of red wine €6
  • Food: Qoftë (minced meat rissoles) €2, seafood €5
  • Hostel/budget hotel: €10/€30
  • Travel: Bus: Tirana–Saranda €8; train: Tirana–Shkodra €1.50

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2. Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina

Though the scars of Sarajevo’s past as a city under siege are still evident – in the remnants of mortar shell explosions, filled with red resin to form “Sarajevo Roses” and in the museums documenting the horrors of Sniper Alley – – today’s city buzzes with life. If you don’t want to miss any of the key historic sites, book ahead and join a guided tour.

One of the most welcoming capitals in Europe, its central district of Baščaršija is a delight to wander through, browsing in the Ottoman-era bazaar or lingering over a Bosnian coffee, while the after-hours scene is quirky and cool, with tucked-away drinking holes and an ever-evolving club scene.

Where to stay

Best hostel for city location: Hostel Franz Ferdinand

Best for location to tourist attractions: Hotel Europe

What to do

Best for first time visitors: A guided walking tour in Sarajevo

Best for getting out of the city: A day tour to Jajce and Travnik

Rough costs

  • Daily budget: Basic €25, occasional treat €40
  • Drink: Bosnian coffee €0.50–1
  • Food: Cevapcici (meat rissoles) €2–4
  • Hostel/budget: €12/€25
  • Travel: Bus: Sarajevo–Bihać €25; train: Sarajevo–Mostar €5

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3. Bansko, Bulgaria

Hitting the slopes without breaking the bank can be a challenge – not least as the main Alpine resorts are located in some of the most expensive countries in Europe. However, eastern Europe has a few intriguing ski destinations, including Bulgaria’s Bansko on the Pirin mountain range.

The country’s main ski resort, with good beginner and intermediate runs, is reached via a scenic – but very slow – narrow-gauge railway. The town itself has considerable charm beyond the tourist development, with numerous traditional old pubs hidden down its cobbled alleyways.

Where to stay

Best for guest house experience: Zigen House

Best for great location: Kap House Hotel

What to do

Best for the adventurers: Rafting on the Kresna Gorge

Best to get to know the culture: Experience local traditions, dishes, crafts, and stories

Rough costs

  • Daily budget: Basic €25, occasional treat €40
  • Drink: Beer (0.5l) €1
  • Food: Shopska salad €3
  • Hostel/budget hotel: €10/€20
  • Travel: Train: Sofia–Plovdiv €4; bus: €7

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4. Czechia (Czech Republic)

Though ever-popular Prague is not quite the dirt-cheap city break destination it once was, you’ll still find Czechia (Czech Republic) to be a good-value country for independent travel. The country that invented Pilsner is justifiably famous for producing some of the best beers – at pretty good prices.

In Prague, the choice of watering holes ranges from traditional beer halls and monastery taverns to a new generation of microbreweries. Continue the Czech beer trail with a visit to the Pilsner Urquell brewery in Plzeň, before striking out to the country’s lesser-known spots, such as charming Olomouc, a pint-sized Prague without the tourists. If you’re heading to Prague, where you’re based can make all the difference to your experience, so make the right start with our guide to the best places to stay in the city.

Where to stay

Best location for hostel: Safestay Prague

Best for shopping and city centre: K+K Hotel Central

What to do

Best for history buffs: Small group tour to the Prague Castle

Best for a magical evening: Dinner cruise on Open-Top Glass Boat

Rough costs

  • Daily budget: Basic €40, occasional treat €50
  • Drink: Pilsner Urquell €1.50
  • Food: Pork and dumplings €5
  • Hostel/budget hotel: €15/€40
  • Travel: Train: Prague–Karlovy Vary €12; bus: €6

Buy the guide >

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5. Estonia’s Baltic coast

Known for the popular city break destination of Tallinn, small and beautiful Estonia also provides swathes of wilderness, with beautiful stretches of coastline, a scattering of islands and forested national parks along its long Baltic coastline. An hour from Tallinn, 725-square-kilometre Lahemaa National Park is best explored by bike. You can cycle its coastal paths, discover rugged coves, windswept beaches and fishing villages and even sleep on hay bales at a farm.

Venture further west, and the summertime resort of Pärnu has fantastic beaches, while the island of Saaremaa offers soft-carpeted pine forest countryside and very affordable spas.

Where to stay

Best for boutique hotel in Tallinn:The Three Sisters Boutique Hotel

Best for boutique spa in Saaremaa: Grand Rose SPA Hotel

What to do

Best for historical, Soviet heritage: Day tour from Tallinn to Naissaar, also known as Women’s Island

Best for urban exploration: The Industrial Stalker Bike Tour in Kalamaja District

Rough costs

  • Daily budget: Basic €50, occasional treat €70
  • Drink: Le Coq beer €2.50
  • Food: Blood sausage and sauerkraut €5
  • Hostel/budget hotel: €22/€45
  • Travel: Bus: Tallinn–Saaremaa €15; Tartu–Tallinn €11
  • Buy the guide >

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6. Leipzig, Germany

Berlin is an anomaly – it’s one of the few capitals where the cost of living is lower than the national average, a legacy of the country’s former divide, which still means former East Germany is notably cheaper than western centres like Frankfurt and Munich. But as prices gradually rise in gentrifying Berlin, there are other eastern cities to venture to, including buzzing Leipzig.

The city that kick-started the 1989 protests that led to the country’s reunification has long had a fierce, independent spirit. Over the past few years, it’s also developed quite a reputation for its thriving artist enclaves and offbeat nightlife. Its culture scene is in constant flux, with old industrial buildings, such as former cotton mill the Spinnerei, converted into cutting-edge spaces.

Where to stay

Best for city location: IntercityHotel Leipzig

Best for little luxury: Pentahotel Leipzig

What to do

Best for family exploration: 3h canoe tour through the city

Best for first-time visitors: Hop-on Hop-off bus tour including walking tour

Rough costs

  • Daily: Budget Basic €55, occasional treat €70
  • Drink: Beer (half-litre) €2.90
  • Food: Schnitzel €8
  • Hostel/budget hotel: €25/€35
  • Travel: Munich–Berlin: train €55–142; bus €22

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7. London, England

London and budget aren’t words that usually go together. However, with the pound currently reaching historic lows, now is a good time to visit. But it’s not just a currency thing – London has more free world-class attractions than any other European city. The British Museum, home to enough treasures to satisfy the most curious of history hunters; vast Tate Modern, with stupendous views from its terrace and ever-changing art collections; the Natural History Museum with its magnificent dinosaurs; and beautiful Victoria & Albert Museum – all free, all of the time.

And don’t forget the open spaces: spend a day tramping across Hampstead Heath, another meandering along the South Bank or perusing East End markets and you’ll get more of a sense of city life than if you’re stuck in a queue at an overpriced attraction. For food, opt for the popular street-food markets and your budget will stretch further – you might even have enough left for an overpriced pint.

Where to stay

Best for being in the centre of London: The Z Hotel Piccadilly

Best for location to Southbank: Park Plaza London Waterloo

What to do

Best for stunning views: The London Eye (make sure to book your ticket ahead of time to skip-the-lines)

Best for the adventurers: Climb the O2 Arena

Rough costs

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  • Daily budget: Basic €60, occasional treat €85
  • Drink: Lager €5
  • Food: Fish and chips €11
  • Hostel/budget hotel: €27/€80–100
  • Travel: Train: London–Brighton €25–35; bus: London–Manchester €10–40

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8. The Peloponnese, Greece

Think of budget travel in Greece, and the image is still one of island-hopping, sleeping on the deck of a ferry or camping on the beach. However, the slow pace of island travel and the popularity of the main resorts all adds to the cost.

Instead, consider the many-fingered peninsula of Greece. It has some fine beaches – less developed than those on the main islands – and it is home to the ancient sights of Epidaurus and Olympia. Medieval villages, spectacular rack-railway journeys and appealing Byzantine towns all await those who explore beyond the package holiday destinations.

Where to stay

Best for beaches in Finikounta:Hotel Golden Sun

Best for location in Nafplion: Pension Eleni

What to do

Best for day tours from Athens: Nafplio and Ancient Epidaurus

Best for explorers: Self-guided virtual reality tour of Olympia

Rough costs

  • Daily budget: Basic €30, occasional treat €40
  • Drink: Ouzo €3
  • Food: Souvláki (shish kebab) €3
  • Hostel/budget hotel: €20/€30
  • Travel: Bus: Athens–Delphi €16; ferry: Athens–Crete €40

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9. Budapest, Hungary

Straddling the Danube, the twin enclaves of Buda and Pest together make one of the most beguiling capitals in Europe, and their main pleasures won’t break the bank.

Spend the day lounging by the pools in the spa, taking the occasional dip, cooling off under the fountains, and watching the old men play chess at the waterside tables. Come evening, the “ruin-bars” of District VII beckon – idiosyncratic bars tucked away in the neighbourhood’s courtyards. The tipple of choice is the cheap local white or rosé drunk long as a spritzer, perfect in the baking heat of summer.

Where to stay

Best for location to city centre: Arcadia Hotel Budapest

Best for a little luxury: Hotel Palazzo Zichy Budapest

What to do

Best to relax: Skip the lines and relax a full day at the Széchenyi Spa

Best for wine connoisseurs: Taste 7 Hungarian wines from boutique wineries

Rough costs

  • Daily budget: Basic €40, occasional treat €60
  • Drink: Beer (large) €2–2.50
  • Food: Goulash €3–4
  • Hostel/pension: €15–30
  • Travel: Train: Budapest–Eger €8.50

Buy the guide >

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10. Palermo, Sicily, Italy

Any grand tour of Europe includes a string of beautiful Italian cities: refined Florence, alluring Rome and glamorous Venice. While there’s no doubting their charms, they are well and truly on the tourist trail, which pushes up prices, particularly in high season.

Escape from the mainland to Sicily and you’ll find in its capital Palermo a city both redolent of the Italy of yesteryear and – if you ask a Sicilian – a country apart. Undoubtedly run down in places, the city unfolds many surprises, from churches covered in exquisite mosaics to cluttered neighbourhood markets, where you can snack on local street foods, like arancini (rice balls) and panelle (chick pea fritters), as you wander.

Where to stay

Best for popular attractions: Hotel Palazzo Brunaccini

Best hostel for location to the city: Balarm Hostel

What to do

Best for foodies: 3h street food and history walking tour

Best for day trips: Explore Western Sicily with Segesta, Erice and Salt Pans

Rough costs

  • Daily budget: Basic €35, occasional treat €50
  • Drink: Wine €2.50/glass
  • Food: Local pasta dish €5–8; pizza slice €2
  • Hostel/budget hotel: €15–30/€45–60
  • Travel: Train: Rome–Naples €20; bus: €12

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11. Lake Ohrid, Macedonia

Vast, deep, Lake Ohrid is the jewel of North Macedonia. The quiet streets of its namesake town reveal frescoed medieval churches, a Roman amphitheatre and a fortress worth climbing for the views. But as you explore the old town, the clear lake waters draw you back time and time again, inviting you to swim, dive or take to the waters by boat.

If you are tempted landwards it might be to hike in the nearby Galičica National Park. With cheap private rooms to rent and several waterside camping spots, the area is perfect for travellers on a budget to kick back and relax.

Where to stay

Best for a cosy guest house: Villa & Winery Mal Sveti Kliment

Best for views of Lake Ohrid: Villa Kale

What to do

Best for those with limited time: Day tour from Skopje to Ohrid

Best for history buffs: Private half-day city tour

Rough costs

  • Daily budget: Basic €25, occasional treat €35
  • Drink: Wine from €2.50 per bottle
  • Food: Tavče gravče (bean casserole) €1.50
  • Hostel/budget hotel: €10/€25
  • Travel: Bus: Skopje–Ohrid €7; train: Skopje–Bitola €4

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12. Kotor, Montenegro

The beautiful walled town of Kotor sits at the end of a fjord-like bay, ringed by dramatic peaks. Just follow your nose in the Old Town. Getting lost in the labyrinth of streets is half the fun, discovering summertime cafés that spill out on the squares before clambering along the old fortress walls.

For a view over the whole gorgeous scene, hike up to St Ivan’s castle, overlooking the town. Kotor’s annual highlight is August’s exuberant Boka Nights festival, when the whole town celebrates as a lavish display of decorated boats parade in the bay and fireworks fill the sky.

Where to stay

Best for boutique hotel: Boutique Hotel Astoria

Best for location to the city centre: Palazzo Drusko Deluxe Rooms

What to do

Best to get away from the crowds: 2.5h Kayak Tour in the Bay of Kotor

Best for a day trip: Boat Tour to the Blue Cave & Our Lady of the Rocks

Rough costs

  • Daily budget: Basic €30, occasional treat €50
  • Drink: Nikšičko Tamno beer €1 (bottle from shop)
  • Food: Sarma €2.50–4
  • Hostel/budget hotel: €20/€50
  • Travel: Bus: Budva–Kotor €3; train: Podgorica–Virpazar €1

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13. Gdánsk, Poland

Part beautiful Hanseatic city, part gritty port town and part Baltic riviera, the northern Polish city of Gdánsk offers a winning combination of coastal appeal. Though the core of this picturesque, colourful city, with its narrow merchant houses, looks ancient, it’s actually a postwar reconstruction – but the history is genuine.

The shipyard crane dates back to the 15th century, and the city was the birthplace of the Solidarity anti-communist movement. Come summer, the action moves to the hip, coastal resort of Sopot, with its golden sand beach, lively party scene and attractive pier (the longest in Europe).

Where to stay

Best for location to the city centre: PURO Gdansk Stare Miasto

Best for great views and location to the city: Hotel Mercure Gdansk Stare Miasto

What to do

Best for nightlife: Pub Crawl with free drinks

Best for first-time visitors: Electric Scooter guided tour of the Old Town

Rough costs

  • Daily budget: Basic €50, occasional treat €70
  • Drink: Vodka (50ml shot) €1
  • Food: Żurek soup €2–3
  • Hostel/budget hotel: €12/€35
  • Travel: Train: Warsaw–Kraków €33; bus: €15

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14. Porto, Portugal

Portugal’s second city, appealingly set on the banks of the river Duoro, is a place for people-watching and wandering. The riverside district of Portugal is crammed with no-frills good, local restaurants – pick somewhere a street or so back from the waterfront and you’ll be spoilt with local dishes and wines at excellent prices. With the city set on either side of the river, check our guide to the best places to stay in Porto to find accommodation on the side that suits you best.

Other highlights include the vast Portugal park, with a superb art museum set within. However, it is port that the city is famous for. Vinologia is a great bar for an introduction to the varieties of fortified wine, and you can visit the port lodges across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia, where for a few euros you can sample their wares. Make the most of your time in Porto and book ahead to explore some of the unknown wine cellars in the city.

Where to stay

Best for walks along the waterfront: 1872 River House

Best for value with style: InPatio Guest House

What to do

Best for day tours: Small group tour to the Douro Valley, Wine Tasting and a River Cruise

Best for iconic views: Torre dos Clérigos (skip-the-line tickets)

Rough costs

  • Daily budget: Basic €45, occasional treat €65
  • Drink: Bottle of vinho verde in shop €3.50
  • Food: Grilled sardines €8
  • Hostel/budget hotel: €20/€45
  • Travel: Train: Lisbon–Faro €22.20; bus: Porto–Lisbon €20

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15. Transylvania, Romania

Think Transylvania, and you’ll probably think Dracula and his castle – and you can certainly go in search of Dracula, aka Vlad the Impaler, connections here (if you are interested in finding Dracula, book your tour here). As Vlad’s birthplace, the attractive town of Sighisoara has the best claim to fame, and it also has a suitably imposing citadel.

But the region is not all fortifications and fangs – make time to venture out into the wilds of the Carpathian mountains, where you can track the Transylvanian wolf, along with bears, red deer and lynx in the Piatra Craiului National Park.

Where to stay

Best for visiting Vlad the Impaler: Pensiune Casa Richter

Best for visiting Piatra Craiului National Park: Pensiunea Hora cu Brazi

What to do

Best for explorers: Medieval City Exploration Game and Tour in Sighisoara

Best for those travelling in high season: Fast track tickets to Bran Castle (Dracula’s castle – Romania’s number one attraction)

Rough costs

  • Daily budget: Basic €25, occasional treat €40
  • Drink: Beer €1.80; bottle of Romanian wine €5
  • Food: Tochitura moldoveneasca (Moldavian stew) €2
  • Hostel/budget hotel: €10/€30
  • Travel: Bus: Bucharest–Braşov €10; train: €10

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16. Novi Sad, Serbia

Fancy a summer music festival, but Glastonbury is beyond your budget? Serbia’s now famous EXIT Festival held in July might be just the ticket, and it’s less than half the price of Glastonbury. The line-up is always eclectic, with past acts including David Guetta and Ziggy Marley.

A trip here is about more than the music, however, with a setting that leaves other festivals in the shade. The Petrovaradin fortress stands majestically above the lively city of Novi Sad, a couple of hours from Belgrade. Stages and festival spaces fill every corner of the fortress, and you can spend your days lounging on the river beaches on the banks of the Danube.

If you don’t have the time to stay longer, consider taking a day tour from Belgrade to explore Novi Sad and taste the local wines in Sremski Karlovci.

Where to stay

Best for rooftop views of the city: Hotel Fortress Leopold I Novi Sad

Best hostel for city location: Downtown Hostel Novi Sad

Rough costs

  • Daily budget: Basic €25, occasional treat €40
  • Drink: Beer (0.5l) €1
  • Food: Pljeskavica (hamburger) €1–2
  • Hostel/budget hotel: €12/€35
  • Travel: Bus: Belgrade–Novi Sad €6; train: Belgrade–Niš €7

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17. The High Tatras, Slovakia

Slovakia’s pride and joy, the Tatras mountain range is a magnificent series of peaks – culminating in the pyramid-shaped Gerlach at 2,655m. Start at one of the village resorts like Nový Smokovec or Ždiar, then make for the mountains, where you can rest your weary heads at cheap hikers’ chalets.

This is serious mountain terrain, so be prepared and heed local advice. The mountains are also an inviting playground for climbers and cavers, and you’ll find mountain-bike paths, tubing and rafting, plus a full winter season of skiing and snowboarding.

Where to stay

Best for location to popular attractions: Penzion Reitmayer

Best for families: Apartmanovy Dom TatraTravel Smokovec

Rough costs

  • Daily budget: Basic €35, occasional treat €45
  • Drink: Beer €1.70
  • Food: Gnocchi with bacon €4
  • Hostel/budget hotel: €15/€30
  • Travel: Bratislava–Košice (train) €19

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18. Northwest Slovenia

Sandwiched between Italy, Austria and Croatia, compact Slovenia, with its charming capital Ljubljana, easy travel, developing wine industry and pocket of coastline, is an appealing destination on any journey through Europe. For the adventure-minded, or for those who just want to camp in a beautiful lakeside setting, the northwest region is perfect.

Nestled below the stunning Julian Alps are the very different twin lakes of Bled and Bohinj. From here you can carry on to the Soča Valley, right by the Italian border, for hiking, kayaking and rafting adventures.

Where to stay

Best guest house for views of Lake Bled: Guest House Mlino

Best for lake views: Grand Hotel Toplice

What to do

Best for adventurers: 3h Rafting Experience

Best for wine experiences: Taste 7 top Slovenian wines in a 100-year old wine cellar in Bled

Rough costs

  • Daily budget: Basic €45, occasional treat €65
  • Drink: Pivo (beer) €2.50 for half a litre
  • Food: Pizza €5–7
  • Hostel/budget hotel: €18/€60
  • Travel: Train: Ljubljana–Maribor €9; bus: Ljubljana–Bled €7

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19. Andalucía, Spain

The southernmost province of Spain, Andalucía is perennially popular, particularly its showpiece cities of Seville, Granada and Córdoba, with their exquisite monuments highlighting the area’s Moorish past. Even here prices are competitive compared with Madrid and Barcelona.

You only need to head a little further afield, to the underrated city of Málaga with its Picasso connection and burgeoning art scene, or the atmospheric ancient port city of Cádiz, and you’ll enjoy that alluring southern Spanish vibe for budget-friendly prices. Cheap tapas (the tradition of free tapas originates in Granada) means you can sample Iberian flavours for a couple of euros a plate, and to continue your budget adventure, simply hop on the ferry to Morocco, tantalisingly close by.

Where to stay

Best guest house location to city centre: El Riad Andaluz

Best for style on a budget: Villa Lorena Malaga

What to do

Best for exploring arts: Guided tour through the Picasso Museum

Best for short hikes: Caminito del Rey – 3h guided hike

Rough costs

  • Daily budget: Basic €65; occasional treat €85
  • Drink: €1.70–2.50 per caña (small beer)
  • Food: Menú del día €10–12
  • Hostel/budget hotel: €16/€35–80
  • Travel: Madrid–Barcelona: bus €32–43; train €60–125

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20. Lviv, Ukraine

Situated in the west of this vast country, within easy travelling distance of Central European cities such as Kraków and Budapest, Lviv is the city to head for if you want a taste of Ukraine.

It revels in a mixture of Central European influences: Habsburg and Polish, Catholic, Orthodox and Armenian, with its architecture and magnificent churches reflecting this eclecticism. Ukraine regularly features on the list of cheapest destinations in Europe, and with a growing supply of backpacker hostels, appealing coffee houses and quirky bars, this is an extremely budget-friendly city with a refined edge.

Where to stay

Best for location to the city centre: Lviv Central Jam Hotel

Best for style on a budget: Taurus Hotel

What to do

Best for first time visitors: Lviv Old Town Walking Tour

Best for foodies with an interest in history: Communist-style Food and Bar Tour

Rough costs

  • Daily budget: Basic €40, occasional treat €60
  • Drink: Horilka (vodka; 50ml shot) €1
  • Food: Ukrainian borshch €0.80
  • Hostel/budget hotel: €8/€30
  • Travel: Train: Kyiv–Odesa €10; bus: €18

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Top image © Patteran/Shutterstock

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Top image: Malaga, Spain, Old Town Skyline © S Pavone / Shutterstock

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25 Places in Eastern Europe You Must See at Least Once in Your Life


The Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest | © Bergadder/ Pixabay

The Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest | © Bergadder/ Pixabay

For travellers looking to explore past Paris, Barcelona, and London, Eastern Europe offers stylish capital cities with world-class museums, breathtaking natural beauty, and well-preserved architectural gems dating back to medieval times. Whether it’s your first time travelling to Eastern Europe or your 50th, here are Culture Trip’s suggestions for the 25 places you must see at least once in your life.

Wieliczka Salt Mine, Poland

Natural Feature

Wieliczka Salt Mine, The Chapel of St. Kinga, Cracow, Poland UNESCO. Image shot 2016. Exact date unknown.

Wieliczka Salt Mine, The Chapel of St. Kinga | © Jan Wlodarczyk / Alamy Stock Photo

Just outside of Krakow, you can discover the “underground salt cathedral of Poland” in the Wieliczka Salt Mines. The salt mine is over 287 km long and is included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List. More than 1.2 million visitors per year take guided tours to see the highlights of the mines; including the life-size sculptures made from salt and the underground lakes.

Hungarian Parliament Building, Hungary

Architectural Landmark, Building

Cathedral Square

The Hungarian Parliament Building, also known as the Parliament of Budapest, is the largest building in Hungary, and one of the largest Parliament buildings in the world. The symmetrical facade of the exterior is designed in the Gothic Revival style, but the inside is just as impressive. Book your tour in advance to avoid waiting in long lines.

Slovakia’s Low and High Tatras offer the best hiking and skiing in the country. Numerous mountain lodges provide respite to hikers in the summer and skiers in the winter. The scenic views are breathtaking, and the prices for accommodation and food are a fraction of what you would find in the Alps or Dolomites.


Slovakia’s High Tatras | © qimono/Pixabay

Bran Castle, Romania

Archaeological site, Building, Museum, Historical Landmark

A view of the scary Bran Castle, Brasov County, Romania

Bran Castle, Brasov County, Romania | © Marco Taliani de Marchio / Alamy Stock Photo

Near Brasov, Romania, lies the legendary lair of Count Dracula. While you (probably) won’t find a blood-sucking vampire taking up residence in Bran Castle, you will enjoy learning about the history of Dracula and the Transylvania region on your tour of this intriguing historical monument.

After exploring the castle ruins in Eger, Hungary, take a bus a short distance away to the Valley of the Beautiful Women. While finding beautiful women here is certainly likely, what you’ll also find is many wine cellars, offering regional red and white wines by the glass and bottle. Taste-test as many as you like, and leave some room in your suitcase; at 3 to 15 Euros for most bottles, you’ll want to carry home more than just one.

Historical Landmark Bran Castle

Eger, Hungary | © AlwaysWanderlust/Pixabay

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia


Boardwalk through the waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia.

You can walk on water at Plitvice Lakes National Park | © Jennifer Barrow / Alamy Stock Photo

Just south of Zagreb, Plitvice Lakes national park is one of the most popular outdoor destinations in Croatia. Spend a day walking along the wooden boardwalks over the pristine blue lakes and admiring the cascading waterfalls.

Possibly the most picturesque town in the Czech Republic; certainly worth the train or bus trip from Prague. First, take a walking tour of this small, quaint town, and then find a seat at one of the many outstanding local breweries.


Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic. | © peter86ba/Pixabay

Modern cafés and restaurants with budget-friendly prices line the picturesque and pedestrian-only Timisoara city centre. Consider taking a bike tour to learn more about the history of this Romanian treasure, which will shine as the European Capital of Culture in 2021.

Market Square

Timisoara, Romania | © Panoramas/Flickr

The “Hungarian Sea” is packed with Hungarians on holiday during the summer months of July and August. Join them at a relaxing lake resort, or at one of the large festivals which takes place by the lake each summer, such as the legendary Balaton Sound or the eclectic Samsara yoga and trance music festival.

In south-central Slovakia, this historic UNESCO World Heritage town used to make money from mining. Today, visitors can still take a tour of the old mine shafts, and admire the 16th-century churches, Renaissance palaces, and regal medieval castle in the well-preserved town centre.

Museum of Genocide Victims

Banska Stiavnica, Slovakia | © JanosKoromDr./Flickr

Lake Skadar National Park, Albania/Montenegro


On the border between Albania and Montenegro, you can find the largest lake in southern Europe. The pristine freshwater lake offers visitors beautiful panoramas, relaxing shores, and plenty of opportunities for scenic hiking, cycling, and kayaking.

The Czech Republic’s second largest city offers Baroque churches, world-class museums, a gorgeous Christmas market, and a a more local feel than Prague. Sip a coffee at one of the many trendy hipster cafés taking the city by storm, then walk up the hill to tour the medieval Špilberk Castle which stands guard over the city.

Plitvice Lakes

Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, Brno | © RomanBoed/Flickr

Hungary’s major university city in the east has been welcoming more and more tourists thanks to budget airlines such as Wizz Air. You can find great coffee at Volt Egyszer café and a variety of Hungarian beers, wines, and spirits at Roncs bar, a ruin pub in the city centre. Go to the top of the Nagytemplom church for a lovely view of the city.

Nagytemplom, Debrecen, Kossuth tér 1, 4026 Hungary, +36 52 614 160

Roncsbar, Debrecen, Csapó u. 27, 4024 Hungary, +36 52 688 050

Visiting the villages in the Maramures region of northwestern Romania feels like stepping back in time. Visitors can admire the unique wooden churches and carved wooden gates. Several guided tours offer travellers the opportunity to learn about the architecture, folk traditions, and culture of this off-the-beaten-path destination.


Wooden architecture in the Maramures region, Romania. | © uveX/Pixabay

Slovakia offers so many natural paradises for hikers, but what is really special about Slovak Paradise national park is the ladders, wooden walkways, chains, and canyons you can navigate as you hike through one of the most beautiful nature areas in Eastern Europe.

Lviv’s Old Town’s buildings are most famous for their intriguing fusion of Eastern European architectural styles with Italian and German influences. The Old Town has been included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List since 1998, including the High Castle, several stunning churches, and the bustling Market Square.

southern Europe

Lviv’s Old Town | © SofiLayla/Pixabay

This tiny town in Transylvania is famous as the site of Vlad the Impaler’s childhood home. Vlad the Impaler later became the inspiration for the world famous Count Dracula, so Dracula fans flock here to see where he grew up. Sighisoara might have a dark spot in its past, but is now a perfectly pretty pastel town within old medieval walls on a small hill; dotted with lovely cafés, restaurants, and boutique hotels.

Lithuania’s capital city is famous for its Baroque architecture and the medieval Old Town. The city is also host to several interesting museums, including the sobering, but must-visit Museum of Genocide Victims.

Vilnius Cathedral

Cathedral Square and Vilnius Cathedral | © Mantas Volungevicius/Flickr

Croatia’s capital is home to a delightful street packed with fabulous cafés and restaurants serving food and drink at all hours of the day and night. In the morning, enjoy a coffee at Sjedi 5. In the evenings, relax over a locally brewed beer at Pivnica Mali Medo pub. Stroll around and admire the old buildings full of history which now serve as the primary meeting places for residents of Zagreb and tourists alike.

The Skull Tower of Nis, Serbia


The Skull Tower in Nis

The Skull Tower in Nis | © amanderson2/Flickr

In the southern part of Serbia, this tower made from skulls was built following the Battle of Cegar in 1809, during the First Serbian Uprising. Originally, 952 human skulls of the rebels in the battle adorned the tower, but today only 54 remain.

Auschwitz, Poland

Memorial, Museum

A watchtower in concentration camp Auschwitz Birkenau Polen, March 12, 2019

A watchtower, Auschwitz Birkenau | © Annebel van den heuvel / Alamy Stock Photo

You can visit Auschwitz, arguably the most well-known of the Nazi death camps, as a day trip from Krakow in Poland. Although a sombre attraction, Auschwitz is a must-visit for anyone who believes that we should learn from the past and who wants to pay respects to some of the millions of people who were murdered under Nazi rule.

Ljubljana might be a capital city, but it doesn’t feel like one. The fairytale capital of Slovenia is presided over by its medieval castle on a hill, and the winding river, which cuts through the city centre, is perfect for taking a SUP Tour to learn all about the history of this magical place.

Brasov County

Kayak or SUP to see Ljubljana from the water. | © traveldudes/Flickr

In the northern part of Hungary and southern part of Slovakia, you will find one of the most underrated wine regions in Europe – Tokaj. Although Tokaj wines are well-known in Eastern Europe, they are not frequently exported to the west. Head there now to visit the gorgeous vineyards and sample Tokaj’s best before the crowds.

These recommendations were updated on January 31, 2019 to keep your travel plans fresh.