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What to do the First Time You Visit Eastern Europe

This story was created in partnership with: Trafalgar 

Pick up any list of must-see destinations for 2020, and you’ll find more than one country from Eastern Europe has made its way onto those coveted round-ups. This may be why everyone wants to visit Eastern Europe all of a sudden.

With fascinating countries such as Poland, Hungary, and Romania, the Eastern Europe region has often been overlooked by most travellers in favour of more traditional places like Italy, Paris, and Spain. The shift in traveller trends towards moving away from destinations that are overtouristed is making for an exciting change and paving the way for exploring alternate destinations in Europe. 

We’ve partnered with Trafalgar to show you how to make the most of your first trip to Eastern Europe. If you haven’t visited these countries before and are hoping to plan an Eastern European vacation in 2020, then read on for the 101!

assorted-color umbrella hanged above pathway near houses
Umbrella Street, Romania | © Haseeb Jamil/Unsplash

These are the best countries to see when you visit Eastern Europe 

As defined by the United Nations, the following countries are considered to be part of Eastern Europe: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Russian Federation, and Slovakia, as well as the republics of Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine. Some sources consider the Baltics and the southeastern Balkan region to also be part of Eastern Europe. 

There are many destinations contending for the best countries to visit in Eastern Europe, each one packed with its own charms. While you might not be able to see all of them in one go, thanks to how close they are to each other – if you’re visiting for a week to ten days – you could easily plan a trip around two to three different countries. This table gives you a very quick overview of what not-to-miss! 

CountryHighlightFamous for Capital
Bulgaria BeachesRose ValleySofia
Czech RepublicHistory Medieval architecturePrague
HungaryNightlife Thermal bathsBudapest
PolandCity culture WWII history Warsaw
RomaniaTransylvanian townsDracula’s castle Bucharest 
Russia Imperial placesVodkaMoscow 
Slovakia Nature High Tatras Bratislava 
MoldovaOff-the-beaten-pathWine tours Chișinău

These are the cities to see when you visit Eastern Europe 

Character, immaculately-preserved architecture, and modern-day culture mixed with heritage – you’ll find incredible experiences in each one of these cities, and you can visit many of them with Trafalgar. Should you choose one of their carefully curated itineraries, you’ll enjoy unique activities that rival any old bucket list. Trafalgar’s Be My Guest experiences will give you the chance to dine with locals, learn about traditions first-hand and immerse yourself entirely in Eastern Europe.  

an old medieval building in a square
Matthias Church, Budapest, Hungary | © Florian van Duyn/Unsplash

Budapest, Hungary 

Eastern Europe’s darling, Budapest has plenty of romance. Packed with all the attributes of an enchanting European city: views along the river, medieval buildings, art and delicious food – don’t leave Budapest off your itinerary. 

St. Petersburg, Russia 

As far as European fairy tales go, exploring the streets of this majestic city is like walking through the pages of a storybook. St. Petersburg is alive with imperial beauty, art, and culture. 

Moscow, Russia 

Few European capitals can capture you in the way that Moscow can. You’ll find a vibrant kaleidoscope of experiences here – and it’s not just because of colourful buildings that pop. Performing arts such as ballet, ancient landmarks that have stood the test of time, and intricate history make Moscow a fascinating place to visit. 

Kraków, Poland 

This city has plenty of charm, but another reason to visit Kraków is to soberly witness first-hand its resilience and the vestiges of its tangled past. No trip to this city is complete without a flourish of vodka and kielbasa. 

horse carriages in a pretty square
Rynek Główny, Kraków, Poland | © Lucas Albuquerque/Unsplash

Warsaw, Poland 

Easily one of Eastern Europe’s most picturesque capitals, Warsaw will grab your attention in a trice. This is a city where you go from exploring old-world neighbourhoods one minute and toast to good fortune in hipster bars the next. 

Brasov, Romania

This city will make you want to run free through cobbled streets – and there’s no better place to do it than in Brasov. Caught somewhere between fantasy and reality, the truth of this colourful medieval-throwback-of-a-city is that for the most part, it is a living legend. 

Bratislava, Slovakia

Located in between several wine-producing regions, Bratislava’s nearby vineyards are a playground for people that love to drink and be merry. With nature on its doorstep and penchant for bars and cafe culture, there’s more to this city than meets the eye. 

Prague, Czech Republic

Unusual, quirky and packed with interesting things to do – you’ll find everything from bizarre attractions to the downright macabre, and that’s what makes Prague both weird and wonderful. Let your inner child run loose at museums that deal in magic and astronomy. 

selective photography of people walking on road near vintage car
Discover the quirky vibes of Prague | © Mathilda Khoo/Unsplash

Eastern Europe vacation ideas

By now we’ve established just how rich Eastern Europe is, and while exploring this sprawling region, it helps to have a local expert by your side. Trafalgar has plenty of itineraries and choices that will enable you to find a vacation that speaks to the traveller in you. Here are some itineraries you can consider while planning your trip. 

red and white concrete houses at daytime
Prague, Czech Republic | © Julia Solonina/Unsplash
  • Introduction to Eastern Europe: For your first time travelling to Eastern Europe, we suggest spending two weeks visiting the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary and focusing on the capitals and an additional city. This will give you a chance to explore some of the essential places and attractions without feeling rushed. 

Recommended trip: Highlights of Eastern Europe

  • A crash course in Eastern Europe: Pack your trip with history, culture and nightlife. In two weeks you could cover a lot of ground by bouncing from major cities in Poland to Prague, and visiting underrated places such as Győr and Tábor along the way.

Recommended trip: Bohemian Highlights

  • Russian deep-dive: If you only have a week, make your trip count by focusing on the wonders of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Get right to the heart of what makes them special as you take your time exploring two of Russia’s most breathtaking cities. 

Recommended trip: Wonders of St. Petersburg and Moscow

  • Poland deep-dive: Another great choice if you’ve got limited time is opting for a more thorough exploration of Poland. This country’s roots go back to the 10th century and with thousands of years worth of history, architecture and culture to explore, there’s more than enough to keep you busy.

Recommended trip: Pilgrimage to Poland

Best time to visit Eastern Europe

Because Eastern Europe is somewhat off the radar, there’s really no wrong time to visit – and it’s a lot cheaper! Weather-wise, thanks to the geographic span of this region, you’ll find numerous climates. They range from the Mediterranean temperatures to cool mountain conditions. 

During the summer, Eastern Europe is gloriously hot. While winters can be pretty chilly, the ambience of the festive season more than makes up for it – so don’t let that hold you back from experiencing the holidays in this beautiful part of the world. In some countries from November onwards, you’ll find that Christmas markets and mulled drinks are already being served. Of course, the charm of spring and fall is universal, whether flowers are blooming or leaves falling, both these seasons are a great time to visit any destination. 

Generally speaking, as with most destinations in Europe, peak tourist season falls from May to September, with July and August as the busiest months. If you want to enjoy mild weather and avoid spending top dollar, the best months to visit Eastern Europe are March to May, and from mid-September to November. Be mindful, however, that some countries in this part of the continent are colder across the board. If warm weather is what you’re after, then destinations like the Baltics could be a better choice.  

two person walking in a colourful alleyway
Old Town, Bucharest, Romania | © Adrian Dascal/Unsplash
  • Low season (November-March): Flight and hotel prices drop significantly, but ski resorts will be busy and a little more expensive. Despite the cold weather and shorter days, it’s still a great time to be out on the slopes or in the charming big cities. 
  • Shoulder (March-May and September-November): This is probably one of the best times to visit Eastern Europe. The crowds and prices drop off, but the weather is pleasant enough for you to enjoy a host of outdoor activities.
  • High season (July-August): As the temperatures soar, hotels hike up their prices, flights can be expensive, and travellers flock to the cities and summer resorts. Don’t be put off, though! Summer breathes life into Europe – the atmosphere is intoxicating.

Must-see attractions in the Eastern Europe region

You might feel like you have to see everything while visiting a destination, but making the most of your time and cutting right to all the best parts is essential – and that’s where Trafalgar can help. Use this list to help you pick and choose things to do when travelling to Eastern Europe – during your free time or as part of your activities while on tour. Each one of these sites is rated above a 4.5 on Google.

The famous colourful domes synonymous with Moscow in Russia | © Michael Parulava/Unsplash
  1. Moscow, Russia: Moscow Kremlin – a monumental architectural complex
  2. Moscow, Russia: Red Square – the iconic site of Moscow’s colourful St. Basil’s Cathedral 
  3. Moscow, Russia: St. Basil’s Cathedral – now a famous museum 
  4. St. Petersburg, Russia: Savior on the Spilled Blood – a spectacular church from the 1800s 
  5. St. Petersburg, Russia: Peterhof – a seafront palace famous for its park and museums 
  6. Poland: Wieliczka Salt Mines – located just outside Krakow, these mines are an underground network of chapels, chambers and lakes 
  7. Poland: Auschwitz – located just outside Krakow, millions of people visit this site to pay their respects to the people who were murdered by the Nazi order 
  8. Warsaw, Poland: Old Town – visit the royal castle and grab lunch at one of the trendy restaurants 
  9. Budapest, Hungary: Parliament Building – one of the largest parliament buildings in the world, visit even if just to look at it from outside 
  10. Hungary: Lake Balaton – a famous lakeside resort that’s popular with the locals 
  11. Hungary: Thermal baths  – don’t leave without taking a dip at one of their thermal baths
  12. Prague, Czech Republic: Old Town Square – historic square at the heart of the city that’s prime for people watching and photos 
  13. Romania: Bran Castle – located close to Brasov, you have to stop by Dracula’s home 
  14. Bulgaria: 7 Rila Lakes – a series of glacial lakes in the northwestern Rila Mountains
  15. Bulgaria: Rila Monastery – the iconic must-see Monastery of Saint Ivan of Rila
  16. Bratislava, Slovakia: Bratislava Castle – located in the Little Carpathians overlooking the Danube River, visit for the history and views 
  17. Cricova, Moldova: Cricova – a famous underground winery just 11 kilometres from the Moldovan capital of Chișinău.

And don’t forget – as part of your adventure with Trafalgar – you’ll get a chance to experience some exclusive local experiences on top of exploring these famous attractions. 

What to eat on your Eastern European vacation

Food is always a great way to connect with the local culture. Along with vodka, beer, pierogies and sausage, fuel your Eastern European adventure with these local dishes and traditional treats. 

a flaky and golden-baked cheese pie
How delicious does this Bulgarian cheese pie look? | © Borzo/WikiCommons
  • Palačinky (thin crepe-like pancakes) – Czech Republic
  • Goulash (stew) – Hungary  
  • Langos (fried bread) – Hungary 
  • Borscht (beet soup) – Russia
  • Banitsa (cheese pie) – Bulgaria 
  • Papanaşi (curd cheese and jam doughnuts) – Romania
  • Bryndzové halušky (cheese and bacon dumplings) – Slovakia 
  • Bigos (spicy sausage and cabbage stew) – Poland 

Is your mouth watering for Eastern Europe? This region is prime for travellers looking to get a taste of amazing food, culture, history and more. If you’re planning to visit for the first time, you couldn’t be in better hands than with Trafalgar. 

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

red coloured cliffed covered in trees by the sea
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