10 Gems of Eastern Europe
When you think of Europe, the first thing that comes to mind is probably Paris or London. Maybe Rome, or the Alps. As well they should. And while Prague, Vienna, and Budapest have become buzzwords, most people make the mistake of not thoroughly exploring Europe’s ‘other’ half—Eastern Europe.
If you do, not only will your wallet thank you for the budget-friendly journey, but you’ll discover a swath of Europe that constantly offers new surprises–from the treasure chest of rich history and fairy-tale architecture to the mind-blowing scenery and friendly locals–all without the tourist flock that descends on most of Western Europe.
Here are the hidden gems of Eastern Europe—a world of rare and genuine experience, and one you should visit before the spotlight shines too brightly on them.
1 | Kotor, Montenegro
Kotor is romantic, yet exciting. Timeless, yet thrilling. How? Well, take an ancient city built between the 9th and 14th centuries, and plop it between astoundingly steep mountains and mesmerizing blue water. It’s all as dizzying as the spectacular local wine. Go for a vigorous hike, or wander the old city, which was a maze of streets built for protection, and was so well executed, that word is even locals get lost. Don’t worry if that happens to you though, because you probably won’t want to come back anyway!
2 | Tallinn, Estonia
Yes, Tallinn has all the fairy-tale charms you’d expect—the UNESCO-approved old town is all cobblestones and homes dating back to the 11th century–but it fuses well with a booming tech industry (Skype was born here) and the cutting edge: this is where church spires meet skyscrapers. What happens below the skyline is also unique–with a strong Bohemian vibe, an artsy undercurrent runs through the friendly wine cellars and spacious town squares. If that isn’t your thing, bike paths lead to beaches and forests. Tallinn truly does the melting pot in way unlike anywhere else.
3 | Lake Bled, Slovenia
You know those pictures on postcards where there’s a church in the middle of a lake with massive mountains in the background and the sun is setting and it’s more beautiful than should ever be allowed? Well, that’s probably Lake Bled. But, really—how is this real again? Bled is a small alpine town nestled along the Lake Bled, where blue glacial waters mirror–and sometimes blend into–the blue of the sky perfectly. Meanwhile, Bled Castle looks down onto the town, making the church on the middle of the lake on an island the icing on the cake! Emerald green scenery, mountains, gorgeous structures–Bled is spectacular, and you shouldn’t miss it.
4 | Krakow, Poland
Krakow tells history like none other—from the sobering museums to the atmospheric Jewish quarter of Kazimieriz to the unbelievable architecture (which somehow remains amazingly well intact after WWII). Simultaneously, the Old Town and Main Market Square tell a different story, boasting more bars per square meter than anywhere else in the world. Krakow holds history and entertainment in spades, and blends them seamlessly play your cards right, and you’ll have plenty of your own stories to tell from this hauntingly beautiful place.
5 | Ohrid, Macedonia
Ohrid is simply sublime. It’s one of those places that people use a photo of as their desktop background—an atmospheric historic district crowned by medieval castle gracefully surveying the 34km-long Lake Ohrid, as it stretches into the distance. Nearby, hidden beaches dot the shore, and life is more than a screensaver.
6 | Dubrovnik, Croatia
Dubrovnik, the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” flaunts glorious churches, outstanding art history museums, and some of the most picturesque views in Europe—all with the dazzling sparkle of the Adriatic sea in the background. Soak it all in with a walk along the top of the city wall, or on one of Europe’s best beaches. Welcome to the new French Riviera.
7 | Riga, Latvia
The capital of Latvia, Riga has the most outstanding Art Nouveau architecture in probably all of Europe—the old town is chock full of houses gingerbread trim, shaded plazas, and bewitching gargoyles topping off Gothic buildings. But that’s not all—with markets, famed saunas, and the Baltic Sea nearby, Riga has more than what first meets the eye (as if that weren’t spectacular enough!).
8 | Berat, Albania
Every evening at sunset, the locals of Berat descend upon the town center for a stroll along the main avenue where they walk, talk, grab a bite, or a tip back a drink at a cafe. It’s a beautiful ritual, in a beautiful place—located on the steep slope of Mt. Tomorri (you guessed it, castle on the top), Berat is full of old Ottoman houses stacked upon one another, kind of like chairs, all looking out. “The City of a Thousand Windows,” as it’s called, likes to kick back and watch it all go by. So will you.
9 | Bucharest
Chic cafes, green boulevards, and dramatic architecture—Bucharest has been called “Little Paris” for all of the best reasons. The one thing Paris doesn’t have? Bucharest’s colossal Parliament Palace, a mind-blowing feat of a building, the second largest building in the world, second only to the Pentagon.
10 | Ljubjana, Slovenia
2,000 years ago, Ljubjana was a Roman outpost. Now it’s an unbelievably green city filled with life a budget-friendly and buzing nightlfe. With a number galleries, it’s also surprising hub for progressive modern art. The city center heavily restricts traffic, so you can stroll at ease in this pleasantly peaceful place–the perfect way to unwind before you head home.