Eastern Europe is a beautiful region and rich with fascinating history. For travelers looking to get off the beaten path, Eastern Europe bears the added benefits of being a lot less crowded and a lot more affordable than a trip to London or Paris. From the mountains of Zakopane to Prague Castle to the thermal bath houses in Budapest, Eastern Europe holds a massive offering of culture, nature, architecture, and history, and it's right there waiting to welcome its visitors.
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Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic, is also known as the City of a Hundred Spires, for the elaborate and sharp features on its many beautiful buildings. The Old Town Square in Prague features some truly stunning baroque architecture as well as the astronomical clock, which chimes each hour with a full mechanical show. Across the beautiful 14th century Charles Bridge and up the stone stairs is Prague Castle, a sprawling complex that dates back to the 9th century and includes gardens as well as a number of breathtaking buildings.
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The Danube River runs straight down the center of this Hungarian capital city, dividing it into two distinct districts: Buda to the West with its hills and castles, and the much flatter Pest on the eastern side of the river. Budapest is a beautiful city with castles, bridges, and plenty of visible scars left over from wars throughout the centuries. Those traveling to Budapest can enjoy a soak in one of the thermal bath houses, a shot of Hungarian pálinka at one of the famous "ruin bars" in the Jewish District, or a day spent shopping for food and souvenirs at the historic Central Market. Things to Do in Budapest
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Bratislava is the capital city of the country of Slovakia. Located at the country's western edge, near the borders of Austria and Hungary and along the banks of the Danube River, Bratislava boasts a lovely historic Old Town that dates back to the 18th century and is accessible for pedestrians only, lending it a quaint, almost fairytale-esque ambiance for visitors as they shop, dine, and explore. The Old Town Hall Museum will teach travelers about Slovak history, while a visit to Primate's Palace will enchant visitors with its hall of mirrors and illustrious history featuring figures like the Habsburgs and Napoleon.
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The little-known city of Brasov doesn't make many bucket lists, but it is a veritable treasure nestled into the heart of the Carpathian Mountains in the Transylvanian region of Romania and is actually one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. The striking architecture in the city spans in style from Gothic to baroque to Renaissance, with beautiful red-roofed buildings and a history that dates all the way back to the 13th century, when Brasov was founded by knights of the Teutonic Order. Visitors to Brasov can explore the ancient city, its beautiful town squares, its 14th century cathedrals, and even some of the original walls and bastions that defended the city for centuries.
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Bucharest, the capital of Romania, is located in the southern region of the country. Its beautiful Belle Époque style architecture is very reminiscent of a French city and has earned Bucharest the nickname "Little Paris." Visitors to Bucharest will enjoy exploring some of its old and historic buildings, including cathedrals, museums, and the Curtea Veche Palace, which was built in the 15th century and once served as the seat of one of Romania's most famous rulers: Vlad the Impaler, whose figurative taste for blood loosely inspired the fictional vampire Dracula.
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Ceský Krumlov Castle, a stunning example of 13th century Renaissance architecture, stands as a centerpiece for this city in the Czech Republic's South Bohemia region. The castle, which also features elements of baroque and Gothic influence, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a lovely garden and a baroque theater from the 17th century. The city of Ceský Krumlov also features winding cobblestone streets with alleyways that bend like mazes, beautiful gardens, graphite mines, and delicious pubs, some of which are incredibly old, and visitors will love unlocking the hidden treasures of the city during their stay.
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Located in Poland, on the coast of the Baltic Sea, is Gdansk, a lovely city hat was heavily damaged during World War II but has since been rebuilt to its former beauty. Visitors can stroll the streets of the Long Market, a historic commercial center that today is home to shops and dining. Shopping in Gdansk is unique, because it is a major center for jewelry and souvenirs incorporating the use of amber. As one of the world's centers for amber, Gdansk's markets and shops are full of beautiful amber necklaces, stones, home goods, and more, any of which are bound to make a perfect and memorable souvenir.
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All year round, the capital city of Kiev in Ukraine has a wealth of attractions on the table for its visitors. It is well known around the world for its stunning and elaborate religious architecture, with gold domes atop the Orthodox churches and even a large 11th century monastery - Kiev Pechersk Lavra - which features an impressive system of burial catacombs as well as a large collection of ancient Scythian gold. Cheap drinks, a vibrant nightlife, and delicious Ukrainian food at a number of fantastic bars and restaurants all combine to show visitors a great time while they stay in this beautiful, historic city.
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Krakow, a city in southern Poland, has a beautiful medieval Old Town that dates back as far as the 7th century, when it was a busy Slavonic trading center. It is situated around the picturesque Vistula River and has many castles and churches and even a walled city center fronted by the gates of the majestic barbican. Visitors can shop for amber jewelry and souvenirs at the historic Cloth Hall and, if they listen carefully, they'll even hear the notes of the bugle being played from the tower of St. Mary's Basilica. Locals tell stories of the Krakow Dragon, and this legendary beast is featured throughout the city in souvenirs, statues, and more.
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Not far from the Polish border, the Ukrainian city of Lviv is one of the best-kept secrets in Eastern Europe for foreign travelers. Often compared to Prague or Krakow before they were "discovered" as major tourist destinations, the city of Lviv bears much evidence of its roots in the Austro-Hungarian empire, evident in its colorful Italian and German-style architecture. The Russian influence is less strong here than in other parts of Ukraine, and Lviv is often lauded as the capital of Ukrainian culture, with cozy, aromatic coffee houses, quaint cobbled streets, and even a beautiful 14th century castle, which is located on a mountain and offers spectacular views of the city below.
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The capital of Russia, Moscow is a beautiful city with plenty of excitement in store for travelers. The iconic St. Basil's Cathedral, with its colorfully patterned spires, is unlike anything else in the world, and stands as an instantly recognizable mascot of the country of Russia. The cathedral overlooks Red Square, which is home to some stunning architecture including the Kremlin, an impressively built fortress that acts as the heart of the Russian government. Visitors to Moscow may also enjoy an evening at the ballet, a stroll in Gorky Park, or a shot of vodka and a bowl of borscht at one of the many Russian restaurants in the city.
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Odessa is a Ukrainian city located on the shores of the Black Sea. Travelers to Odessa can see a show at the Odessa Opera and Ballet Theater, a gorgeous 19th century baroque building whose outer elegance is only matched by the quality of the performances within. For a taste of history - and a whiff of the sea - there's the Potemkin Stairs, an iconic attraction of Odessa featuring 192 wide stone stairs, and which were once featured in the silent movie The Battleship Potemkin. Once down the stairs and at the edge of the water, visitors can check out the 19th century Vorontsov Lighthouse or stroll along the Primorsky Boulevard.
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The ancient Bulgarian city of Plovdiv was once part of the Roman Empire, and it is one of the oldest cities in all of Europe. There is evidence of human settlement in Plovdiv as far back as 6000 BC, so history lovers will have their hands full within the seven hills of the city. Archaeological and ethnographic museums trace the history of the region and its people. The Odeon of Philippopolis, a massive Roman theater built between the 1st and 4th centuries AD, was excavated in the 1980s and today is open for visitors and also hosts concerts and performances during the summer.
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The colorful houses that line the Old Market Square in the Polish city of Poznan are an iconic part of this historic city, which was the first capital of Poland and dates back to the 10th century. Visitors can explore the exhibits at the Museum of Poznan, located within the Town Hall, and also see the town hall clock, whose mechanics feature two clockwork goats that lock horns and butt heads in their daily fight each day at noon. Poznan is also home to a 13th century castle as well as a Gothic-style cathedral built on an island between the banks of the Warta River.
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Riga is the capital of Latvia and is located on the Daugava River where it empties into the Bay of Riga and the Baltic Sea. Nordic and Gothic buildings in Riga create a stunning spectacle for tourists as they wander the Old Town, which is paved with cobblestones and accessible for pedestrians only. At the Central Market, visitors can buy and taste locally made bread, cheese, and fish, while at some of Riga's fun and historical pubs and restaurants, they can wash it down with a pint of delicious Latvian beer. The city is also conveniently located to some beautiful nature, and visitors can wander away from the hustle and bustle to explore the castles of Sigulda or the seaside at Jurmala.
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The Russian port city of Saint Petersburg is located on the coast of the Baltic Sea, and for 200 years it was the capital of Russia, founded by Peter the Great. Visitors can find a giant statue of the city's founder astride his horse in Senate Square. Known sometimes as the "Venice of the North" because of its canals and the Neva River, which runs right through the center of the city, travelers to Saint Petersburg can indulge in a touch of culture at the Mariinsky Theater, learn about the city's history and art at the State Russian Museum or the Hermitage Museum, and tour historic buildings such as the Peterhof Palace, the Winter Palace, and the Peter and Paul Fortress.
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17.Saxon Switzerland National Park
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Saxon Switzerland National Park, located at the eastern border of Germany near the Czech Republic, is a beautiful natural setting located about a one hour's drive east of Dresden, and about an hour and a half north of Prague. Admission to the park is free, and visitors will find a wide array of trails suitable for hiking and biking as well as lots of areas that are popular for rock climbing. Forests, rivers, and waterfalls are all within the bounds of Saxon Switzerland National Park, and visitors will also enjoy the Bastei Bridge, a stunning natural rock formation.
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Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria and is located in the country's western region. History buffs will love Sofia, which has over 2,000 years of human history reflected in its streets, architecture, and museums. Over the centuries, Sofia has been occupied by a number of regimes and empires, including the Greeks, the Romans, the Ottomans, and the Soviets, and all of these have left their marks on the city. Visitors can check out the St George Rotunda Church, which was built in the 4th century by the Romans and also features Ottoman decorations from the 10th century.
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The capital city of Estonia, Tallinn is also a major cultural center for the country. Visitors to Tallinn can tour the fairytale-esque Kiek in de Kok, a 15th century tower with a red turreted roof, or see Toompea Castle, which is now the home of the Estonian Parliament. The St Nicholas Church, a 13th century structure, is also worth a visit as it contains some beautiful museum exhibits regarding religious art and artifacts. In Tallinn there are modern and cozy cafes and pubs tucked away right among the romantic red-roofed castles and towers, blending the city's history and its present day culture into a seamlessly perfect destination for travelers.
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Torun in Northern Poland is well known as the birthplace of Nicolaus Copernicus, the mathematician and astronomer who first posited that the Earth orbits the sun, and not the other way around. Known sometimes as the "Krakow of the North," Torun is home to some of the best examples of Gothic architecture in Poland, including cathedrals, a town hall, towers, houses, and even a Teutonic castle. Torun's Old Quarter contains three sections, all of which are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and visitors will love wandering the cobbled streets, varied shops, fascinating museums, and elegant buildings in this quaint city.
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Varna is an ancient city in Bulgaria and throughout history has been part of many conquering and famous empires. Today Varna, which is located on the coast of the Black Sea, is a bustling seaside resort town that sees lots of tourist activity. Visitors would be remiss if they didn't check out the Gold of Varna, which is one of the oldest pieces of gold treasure in the world, a beautiful piece of Thracian jewelry that is over 6,000 years old. Travelers to Varna can see this and much more in the Archaeological Museum, which also boasts artifacts from the Ottoman, Roman, and Greek empires.
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Vilnius is the largest city in Lithuania and also the country's capital. Famous for its beautiful baroque-style buildings, visitors can head to Vilnius' medieval Old Town district for a real taste of its architectural style, with cobblestone streets and diverse churches and buildings that make up one of the largest old towns in Europe. Steeped in history both majestic and painfully tragic, museums in Vilnius will teach visitors about the reign of the KGB, the Nazis, and other history stretching much further back. Afterward, visitors can climb one of the city's hills for a beautiful view, shop for art or souvenirs, or enjoy a delicious meal.
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Warsaw, the capital city of Poland, was largely destroyed during World War II, but an extensive reconstruction and restoration effort has restored the city to its former glory, with old damaged buildings repaired and some even built anew to be exact replicas of the old ones. Warsaw's beautiful Old Town, which features crenellated walls and the beautiful old Royal Castle, is home to Market Square, where tourists will find bustling markets, cozy pubs, and delicious milk bars, which serve traditional Polish food like pierogi, soup, and more in a comfortable cafeteria-style setting.
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Wroclaw is one of the most beautiful cities in Poland, with the bright and open Market Square that features a unique fountain and some stunning Gothic architecture in the surrounding buildings. In the square is also the old town hall with a beautiful astronomical clock. Wroclaw is located in the western region of Poland along the Oder River, and there are twelve islands and some lovely bridges within the city's boundaries. There is a large student population in the city, so Wroclaw also boasts a thriving food and drink scene as well as a large variety of options for nightlife.
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Zakopane, a resort town in southern Poland, is a popular destination for Polish citizens, but remains little known by travelers from non-European countries. In the winter, Zakopane's location near the Tatra Mountains makes it a perfect destination for skiing and snowboarding, and during the summer, the same mountains and surrounding areas make for some truly beautiful hiking, biking, and rock climbing. At any time of year, a visit to Zakopane, and a stay in one of the charming wooden chalets that are common to the region, means a visit to a charming town with shopping, food, and some of the most spectacular mountain views in the region.
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25 Best Places to Visit in Eastern Europe
- Prague, Photo: Courtesy of rh2010 - Fotolia.com
- Budapest, Photo: Courtesy of Boris Stroujko - Fotolia.com
- Bratislava, Photo: Courtesy of mije shots - Fotolia.com
- Brasov, Photo: Courtesy of rh2010 - Fotolia.com
- Bucharest, Photo: Courtesy of Sergii Figurnyi - Fotolia.com
- Cesky Krumlov, Photo: Courtesy of Veronika Galkina - Fotolia.com
- Gdansk, Photo: Courtesy of Artur - Fotolia.com
- Kiev, Photo: Courtesy of kariochi - Fotolia.com
- Krakow, Photo: Courtesy of pab_map - Fotolia.com
- Lviv, Photo: Courtesy of zyoma_1986 - Fotolia.com
- Moscow, Photo: Courtesy of yulenochekk - Fotolia.com
- Odessa, Photo: Courtesy of Oleksii Astanin - Fotolia.com
- Plodiv, Photo: Courtesy of Didi Lavchieva - Fotolia.com
- Poznan, Photo: Courtesy of David Johnston - Fotolia.com
- Riga, Photo: Courtesy of Sergii Figurnyi - Fotolia.com
- Saint Petersburg, Photo: Courtesy of Boris Stroujko - Fotolia.com
- Saxon Switzerland National Park, Photo: Courtesy of javarman - Fotolia.com
- Sofia, Photo: Courtesy of Iuliia Sokolovska - Fotolia.com
- Tallinn, Photo: Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto - Fotolia.com
- Torun, Photo: Courtesy of cameris - Fotolia.com
- Varna, Photo: Courtesy of stanslavov - Fotolia.com
- Vilnius, Photo: Courtesy of Boris Stroujko - Fotolia.com
- Warsaw, Photo: Courtesy of fotorince - Fotolia.com
- Wroclaw, Photo: Courtesy of Leonid Andronov - Fotolia.com
- Zakopane, Photo: Courtesy of lukszczepanski - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of xl1984 - Fotolia.com