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Trade the Classics for These Eastern European Gems

This story was created in partnership with: Trafalgar 

Europe has so many incredible cities, and yet every year, travellers flock to traditional destinations to check-off well-known sites and attractions. Of course places like Rome, Paris and Amsterdam have undeniable show-stealing qualities and should be experienced at least once in your lifetime, but don’t stop there! There’s a whole other side of Europe that’s too commonly overlooked by rookies and seasoned travellers alike.

Curious?

Together with Trafalgar, we’re shining a well-deserved light on some Eastern European gems and swapping out the usual suspects for these lesser-known cities. 

There are so many great reasons to visit Eastern Europe: the people, history, food and geographical variety, for starters. But, you’ll also find that this region of the continent has not commercialized as much as the west of Europe. You won’t find as many McDonalds, instead, you’ll discover old-world traditions and culture that is very much alive. It’s time to pay attention to these Eastern European gems instead of the usual fare you’ve already heard about.

Instead of Rome go to Vienna

Many cities in Europe boast charming cityscapes and stunning architectural styles, but it’s hard to a top destination like Rome. For travellers that cannot get enough of the baroque-style architecture found in Italy’s capital, Vienna is a must.

aerial view of a city during sunset
Experience Vienna’s stunning skyline | © Jacek Dylag/Unsplash

Vienna’s imperial palaces, baroque buildings, cafe culture, epic museums and collection of art masterpieces make it the perfect alternative. Rome may have the Sistine Chapel, but the Austrian capital is also known as the City of Music. Vienna has a legacy of composers who have shaped the musical history of our world: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven are just the tip of the iceberg. You can get a taste of their music by catching a show at one of several iconic venues found in the city.

Vienna also knows how to eat and drink. You’ll find pastries galore (sacher anyone?), a vibrant collection of cellars and taverns serving wine courtesy of vineyards that encircle the city, food markets bursting with local produce, and chefs bringing their unique flair to traditional dishes.

Instead of Paris go to Budapest

A few years ago, mainstream news shared stories where writers called Budapest the Paris of eastern Europe. While the official City of Lights is hard to rival, and Budapest is a city in its own right, this comparison — which is mostly romantic — paints a picture of how enchanting Hungary’s capital actually is.

Budapest has all the hallmarks of a magical European city: old-world charm, views along the river, stunning architecture, vibrant nightlife, delicious food and wine, art, history, and culture. And then there are a few surprises as well!

high-angle photography of dome building near bridge and body of water
Budapest is considered the Paris of Eastern Europe | © Dan Novac/Unsplash

In Budapest, not only can travellers indulge in thermal baths that have been around since Roman times, drink in ruin bars (which are precisely what they sound like), and explore indie boutiques. But with Trafalgar, you can enjoy one of their signature Be My Guest experiences and unlock a different side of the region. 

In Budapest, Be My Guest will take you to a winery owned by the Schieszl family. Once there, you can spend the day devouring a local feast while listening to the story of traditional Hungarian wine production and the Schieszl family’s fascinating and moving history. These local travel experiences are exclusive to Trafalgar and something you won’t find anywhere else.

Instead of Amsterdam go to Prague

Amsterdam may be one of Europe’s most weird and wonderful capitals, but Prague has its fair share of quirky attractions to delight and tease travellers. Apart from its architectural flair – after all, this is the City of a Hundred Spires — and delicious cheap beer, like Amsterdam, Prague has all sorts of unusual and interesting things to do.

people walking on bridge over the river with an old landscape in the background
Prague’s cityscapes are like living breathing works of art | © Anthony Delanoix/Unsplash

If you like visiting museums and attractions that deal with magic, astronomy and anthropology, then you’ll love this city. Along with the macabre and bizarre things to be found along Prague’s cobblestoned streets, you’ll also find art collections that span the ages – from gothic to cubism. Of course, the city has its equal share of romance too. The bridges and views across the River Vltava are perfect for sepia tone filters, and those wanderlust filled captions.

Instead of Florence go to Salzburg

Tuscany’s capital, Florence, is easily one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. On every street, you’ll find spectacular architecture to take your breath away, and if it’s one of your dream cities, you need to make some room for Austria’s second entry on this list: Salzburg.

Not only is Salzburg one of Lonely Planet’s top picks for travel in 2020, but it’s one of the only places in Europe that can give Florence a run for its money.

cathedral during daytime
Salzburg is a fairytale brought to life | © Patrick Langwallner/Unsplash

Once upon a time, this Austrian city was home to Mozart, and it also happens to be the setting of The Sound of Music. Located on the border of Germany against a backdrop of the Eastern Alps, Salzburg is a tale of two cities. On one side of the Salzach River lies the pedestrianized old-town: Altstadt, and on the other, Neustadt (New City). 

Crowned by domes, spires, and a hilltop castle, Salzburg’s streets thrive with a growing art scene and concert halls filled with the sound of classical music. If there’s one place in Europe where everything from the storybook-like skyline to the spellbinding atmosphere lives up to the fairytale, it’s Salzburg.

Instead of Edinburgh go to Munich

There’s no doubt about it, Edinburgh is hard to beat. Not only does this city have the whole picture-perfect streetscape going for it — castle turrets to one side and a backdrop of rolling cliffs on the other — its history and hipster glamour aren’t easy to compete with.

If you’re drawn to the idea of Scotland’s capital for its picture-perfect city skyline, then you should also look into Munich. Bavaria’s capital can hold its own against one of Europe’s edgiest cities.

man sitting on chair beside signage
Discover hip cafes in Munich | © Christie Kim/Unsplash

When it comes to art and beer, Munich packs a punch, and there’s no shortage of castles and palaces here either. You’ll find century-old architecture and lots of museums and beer halls where you can celebrate Bavarian traditions like Oktoberfest. That’s just what makes this city so unique. 

Munich is a jumble of Bavarian traditions and new-age affluence. Like Edinburgh, the city’s real charm lies in how the past and present sit alongside one another and make for an exciting and vibrant experience.

Instead of Bordeaux go to Bratislava

Bordeaux may be one of the most famous wine-growing regions in the world, but if you want to take your tastebuds off-the-drunken-path, you should visit Bratislava in Slovakia instead. Located on the Danube River, and surrounded by vineyards and nature trails courtesy of the Little Carpathian mountain range, this picturesque capital is a hidden gem for wine lovers. 

a forest range in the foothills of a mountain with a small hut in them
Slovakia’s Little Carpathian mountain range | © Max Pixel

Bratislava lies in the middle of several wine-producing regions, some of which have a long history of growing vines. For example, in Malokarpatská — an area that produces reds, whites and rosé — winemaking can be traced back 3000 years. Malokarpatská is easily accessible from Bratislava and well worth a trip for anyone that wants to gain insight into the winemaking traditions of this region. 

In the city, two attractions showcase the spoils of Slovakia’s vineyards. At the Grand Cru Wine Gallery and Slovak National Collection of Wine (located in the 18th-century-old city centre), visitors can sample the country’s top wines. Along with wine culture, Bratislava’s old town is known for its lively bars and cafes and a stunning restored castle that overlooks the Danube.

What do you think of our list? Are you feeling the call of the path less travelled? If you’re ready to kiss the crowds goodbye and treat yourself to the good life, discover Eastern Europe on tour with Trafalgar. Our Travel Experts recommend Imperial Europe, a 10-day tour through the best of the region.

Based in Toronto, Sahar is a full-time content editor for Days to Come and part-time travel junkie.

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