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Discovering Eastern Europe: highlights across the region

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Eastern Europe is less visited than its southern neighbours, but savvy travellers know that it has just as much going for it – and fewer crowds to boot. Venture east and you’ll find dynamic cities, gorgeous landscapes, beaches galore and an incredible wealth of history and architecture to discover.  

Right across this region, there is a tantalizing mix of cultures, flavours and influences to unravel. Stirring classical music concerts ring out in Warsaw, Gothic castles decorate the mountains of Romania, and the dazzling coastlines of Montenegro and Albania have beaches to rival any in the Mediterranean.  

Many countries in Eastern Europe are relatively small, so planning a multi-country odyssey makes a lot of sense here. Experiencing the differences and similarities as you travel across borders will bring a whole new dimension to your journey. For a snapshot of the highlights, we’ve put together a guide to our favourite Eastern Europe travel destinations.  

Bulgaria

Bulgaria is blessed with an abundance of natural beauty, from the gorgeous Rila Mountains and lakes to the sunny Black Sea coast. In summer, there is outstanding birdwatching and hiking to be enjoyed in Bulgaria’s mountainous national parks. Wildlife thrives in great swathes of forest that sweep down mountainsides and around crystalline lakes and rivers.  

In early summer, the Rose Valley is in full and fragrant bloom, ready to be plucked for the rose oil harvest. While over on the coast, sophisticated beach cafés open their doors onto golden sands and perfect turquoise waters.  

The colder months bring opportunities for skiing, especially in the undisputed winter capital of Bansko. The actual capital city of Bulgaria is Sofia, where the elaborate neo-Byzantine cathedral takes centre-stage with its polished gold domes. Other architectural gems in Bulgaria include the colourful Rila Monastery and the picturesque old town in Plovdiv, the country’s second city.

Bulgarian town surrounded by mountains

Romania

Gothic castles cling to precipitous cliff edges or rise out of emerald forests cloaked in trailing mists. Romania is probably most famous for its central region of Transylvania, its infamous land synonymous with Dracula. Bordered to the east by the Carpathian Mountains and dotted with medieval towns and atmospheric Baroque fortifications, travelling here really does feel like you’ve stepped into a storybook.  

In contrast, bustling Bucharest has a dynamic energy with a modern dining and party scene. You’ll also find some excellent museums, plentiful old-world coffee shops, and tranquil green spaces that are perfect for people-watching. 

Rural castle in Romania

Hungary 

Budapest is the unmissable capital city of Hungary. With its grand architecture and wide boulevards, it is often called the ‘Paris of the East’. Handsome architecture gathers around the curves of the Danube River, which is weaved with decorated bridges offering even more echoes of Paris, but Budapest is very much its own city. Ornate historic coffeehouses abound, as do thermal spas and a legendary nightlife.  

Travelling on from Budapest, the beautiful scenery around the Danube Bend warrants a road trip or hike. Vineyards are dotted across the country, and the shores of Lake Balaton, referred to as the ‘Hungarian Sea’ in an otherwise landlocked country, offer plenty of summertime fun. 

Architecture in Hungary

Montenegro 

With a dazzling Adriatic coastline and majestic mountain scenery, Montenegro packs a lot into a compact area. As one of the smallest countries in Eastern Europe, it’s a bite-sized slice of the Balkan Peninsula that’s a joy to explore all year round. Dotted along the coast are pretty fishing villages interspersed with handsome fortified towns and idyllic beaches. The UNESCO-recognised Bay of Kotor is particularly splendid, with steep mountains rising dramatically around the deep blue sea. 

Inland, the lovely Lake Skadar National Park beckons with a slower pace of life and the chance to spot a busy throng of bird species. Tara Canyon is another big-hitter. Plunging through emerald forests and soaring mountains, it’s a dizzying 1,300m deep at its most extreme. One of the best ways to experience it is on a rafting trip down the tumbling waters of the Tara River. 

Town on an island in Montenegro

Albania 

Albania boasts a lengthy stretch of blissful coast with some of the most inviting beaches out of anywhere in the Mediterranean, minus the crowds. Sun, sea and sand are plentiful here, making it an excellent summer holiday destination in Eastern Europe. Inland, find rugged mountains dotted with Roman ruins and Ottoman-era towns.  

The capital Tirana warrants a few days of exploring, but for those looking for something more scenic, head to the towns of Berat and Gjirokastër for winding cobbled streets and Ottoman architecture. Albanian wine is another treat that often passes under the radar, and visiting one of the country’s many vineyards is a must. A trip to the Albanian Alps will reveal spectacular scenery and tiny mountain villages that hark back to another era.  

Boat surrounded by rugged cliffs

Bosnia and Herzegovina 

Craggy mountains, wild rivers, tumbling waterfalls and pristine nature await in the often-overlooked Bosnia and Herzegovina. Dotted amongst the greenery are medieval castles and attractive historic towns, most notably the gorgeous Mostar with its iconic arched bridge.  

Travellers here will receive a warm welcome from a nation still recovering from the trials of a devastating civil war fought in the 1990s. The scars of war are most noticeable in the capital city of Sarajevo where a handful of burnt-out buildings stand as a reminder. Elsewhere, nature’s balm is all-encompassing with exuberant forests, rivers and mountains bringing opportunities for hiking, skiing, river rafting, and swimming in spectacular waterfall pools and tranquil lakes.  

Town on a river in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Croatia 

Croatia is probably one of the most popular countries to visit in Eastern Europe, with its alluring mix of gorgeous coastline and historic terracotta-hued towns. Some might say that Croatia has been a little greedy, monopolising a huge swathe of golden Adriatic coast laced with idyllic islands. This is the place to come for a taste of Mediterranean life, tempered by stirring architecture and history in the culturally-rich seaside cities of Zagreb and Split.  

Coastal town in Croatia

Poland  

Poland is one of the largest countries in Eastern Europe, stretching some 400mi from the Baltic Sea to the Carpathian Mountains. Warsaw, Poland’s forward-looking capital, has a dynamic energy as well as a deep respect for the past with a whole host of excellent museums.  

Toruń is another handsome historic city known for its traditional gingerbread and as the birthplace of Nicolaus Copernicus. The former royal capital of Kraków shouldn’t be missed either, with a well-preserved medieval centre at its heart, as well as a castle and cathedral. Kraków’s Jewish heritage is both fascinating and terrifying to explore at the Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory Museum and the nearby Auschwitz. 

Beyond its cities, Poland has fantastic hiking, especially in the Tatra Mountains National Park. Here, adventurers will find an untouched alpine landscape of high peaks and glittering lakes.  

Rugged mountains in Poland

Make it happen 

Chat with a local expert today and start planning an Eastern Europe trip to remember!

  1. Bulgaria
  2. Romania
  3. Hungary
  4. Montenegro
  5. Albania
  6. Bosnia and Herzegovina
  7. Croatia
  8. Poland

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