Antiquated images of poverty and dilapidation are burned into the western psyche when thoughts of Eastern Europe appear. We can thank the Cold War and western media propaganda for that. Although some areas of Eastern Europe are destitute, few regions of the world conjure up as many misconceptions as Eastern Europe. Gone are the days of soviet turmoil and fear. Eastern Europe has become one of the most affordable and enjoyable regions in the world to travel in. Especially for Americans and the favorable exchange rates. With so many great cities to choose from where to begin? Well sit back and enjoy as I take you by the hand through the must see cities in Eastern Europe with one special treat.
Architecturally, Budapest is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Budapest has all the charms of more popular destinations without the crowds. Giving it an appeal all its own. But I’ll assure you, it’s only a matter of time before everyone figures out just how special Budapest is.
From the relaxing thermal bathes, to the views of the Danube from Gellert Hill, Budapest has quite a bit to offer tourist. Hungarians have managed to create a welcoming culture to the international community which will appeal to expats and tourist alike. Nothing beats a delicious glass of Tokaji wine while watching the sunset behind Buda Castle.
Be sure to schedule your travels around of the many international festivals hosted in Budapest. The city is alive with energy from all around the globe. I recommend the Sziget Festival, Budapest International Wine Festival, or Budapest Pride Week
MUST SEE: Views of Pest from Gellert Hill and the bridges spanning the Danube.
MUST DO: Grab some friends and check out the Ruin Bar Scene. You won’t be disappointed.
MUST EAT and DRINK: Be sure to check out Taste Hungary. An outstanding introduction to Hungarian cuisines in Budapest. Gulyás (goulash) is my favorite Hungarian dish.
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
After suffering the longest city siege in the history of modern warfare, Sarajevo has risen to represent the virtues of multiculturalism and determination. The scars of the Bosnia War, from 1992-1996, can still be seen not only in the buildings but the faces of the people who lived through it. A proud and resilient people who have maintained much of their culture in the face of adversity. You would be hard pressed not to question your own views on warfare and the human condition during your visit.
Nothing can prepare you for the Sarajevo Old Town. It’s uniquely split between “west” and “east”. With the west carrying architectural influences from Austrian-Hungarian builders. The east is largely influenced by Ottoman culture. You must try traditional Bosnian coffee. Word of warning, don’t compare it to Turkish coffee at least not while in Sarajevo. A spirited “debate” will likely ensue.
MUST SEE: See the Old Town or Bascarsija.
MUST DO: Smoke a Shisa at Dibek or pretty much anywhere in Old Town
MUST EAT and DRINK: Drink a Bosnian coffee and eat Jagnjetina at Kod Kibe. A bit “posh” but the views are worth the cost alone.
So much more than a stand in for Game of Thrones. Few places in the world can rival the beauty of Venice, resilience of Rome, or allure of Paris. Dubrovnik rivals all of these destinations in every category. Billed as the “Jewel of the Adriatic”, Dubrovnik is a must visit for couples and history buffs alike. Not to mention beach lovers.
Dubrovnik’s coastline rivals that of its westerly neighbor Italy. Beautiful turquoise waters great those with the foresight to skip it’s more expensive neighbors for this gem. With such stunning beaches and favorable exchange rate to the Euro, Dollar, and Pound, it’s a wonder the city isn’t more popular given the economic state of Europe. The playground of Europeans in the know, Dubrovnik is best seen between April and June.
MUST SEE: The Dubrovnik City Walls at Sunset. Go up around 615pm. You’ll not only have it largely to yourself but get to escape the heat and see the sunset as well.
MUST DO: Take a Elaphite Cruise from the Old Town Harbor. You’ll see the beautiful Dubrovnik coast and the outlying islands.
MUST EAT and DRINK: Eat grilled Fish at Azur Restaurant or any other sea side restaurant.
History. Pure unspoiled history. I believe Krakow is one of the few places in Europe that has maintained their culture in the face of modernity. A perfect blend of the old and new. As the former home and spiritual center for Pope John Paul II, visitors can visit not only expertly preserves sites from his life, but also that of marginalized and displaced Jews whom he was raised with.
Krakóws Old Town was placed on the first ever UNESCO World Heritage Site list and still maintains it’s beauty under the watchful gaze of the spectacular St.Mary’s Basilica. Krakow is far more deserving than a stopover on the way to Auschwitz. With a vibrant nightlife, delicious food (Pierogis are delicious), and extremely friendly locals, I found it to be one of my biggest surprises when visiting Eastern Europe.
Krakow offers some great day trips. Auschwitz is one of the most life changing experiences I could recommend. For the more adventurous, a trip into the Wieliczka Salt Mines is a hidden gem.
MUST SEE: Schindler’s Museum is one of the best museums in the world. This experience walks you through the lives of Jews before, during, and after the Nazi occupation. Very detailed and informative.
MUST DO: Shop at Krakow’s Main Market Square and visit museum underneath. Try and visit one of the many markets held on the square. I recommend the Christmas and Easter markets.
MUST EAT and DRINK: Eat as many Pierogies as humanly possible. Filled dumplings often accompanied by a light sauce. Also try a Vodka tasting. Some of the worlds best vodka comes from here and ridiculously inexpensive.
With the induction of their first directly elected president, Turkey has ushered in a new era of democracy which undoubtedly will result in a huge influx of foreign visitors. Given its geographic location, both in Europe and Asia, the economic and political potential is astronomical. Istanbul will be the most important city in Europe within the next ten years. From a pure tourism stand point, the transition to a more open minded culture has made Istanbul far more welcoming than it once was.
After spending 6 weeks exploring recently, I’ve fallen in love. The food, the architecture, and the people all warrant a visit. Seeing the conservative and liberal blend seamlessly together gives Istanbul a distinct “vibe” of its own. The history of this nearly 1700 year old city is on full display. From Hagia Sofia to the posh Nisantasi District, visitors won’t be at a loss for things to explore.
MUST SEE: See Sultanahmet Park which includes Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, and Cistern Close by. You can visit all three in a morning/afternoon. This entire area is filled with history and culture.
MUST DO: Take a cruise down the Bosphorus.
MUST EAT and DRINK: Eat Adana Kebab and Turkish Delights. Drink Turkish coffee. It’s more than just a drink, it’s a cultural experience. Honestly, you can eat pretty much anything in Istanbul and love it. They have some of the freshest produce in the world.
I know I know. It’s not a city. Transylvania is one of the most beautiful and unspoiled regions of the world. I just couldn’t choose one city as they are so different yet each brings something special in its own right. From the architecture of Sibiu to the youth vibe of Cluj-Napoca, the Transylvania region is simply stunning.
Often misrepresented in western media, the Transylvanian region offers a glimpse into what Romania culture truly is. Few other countries have such a vast disparity between their culture and their capital city. You must visit Transylvania to not only truly explore Romanian culture, but also Austrian and German. A holiday in Transylvania will give you a new appreciation from Romania and Eastern European history.
If only able to see one city in Transylvania, make it Sibiu. While there be sure to visit the Astra Museum. A collection of Romania homesteads, art, and cultural artifacts that will give you a broad idea of Romania history and culture.
MUST SEE: The entire city of Sibiu. The 2007 European Culture capitol has become quite popular in the last few years. The new president of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, was their last mayor. With a mix of Romanian, Austrian, and German culture, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to explore the true history of Romania here.
MUST DO: Must Drive or ride the Transfagarasan highway. Once a military road and now a stunning right of passage for any Transylvanian visitor.
MUST EAT and DRINK: Eat Ciorba and Sarmale. Drink Palinka or Toica but be careful. At 65% alcohol a couple shots will have you feeling rough in no time.
What Eastern European cities do you think should have made my list? Any that you want to visit? Comment below and don’t forget to share.