Of all of the regions of the world, I am hard pressed to find a place that I like more than Eastern Europe. Western Europe is great – beautiful cities and towns, incredible food, and languages that are similar to my own are all huge advantages. However, traveling around Germany, France, and the rest of Western Europe gets really pricey after a while! When I started visiting Eastern Europe, I discovered very quickly that it has all of the beautiful aspects of Western Europe but for pennies on the dollar.
In fact, I wrote a whole post with reasons why Eastern Europe is better to visit than Western Europe. It is also difficult to draw strict classifications as to what regions really exist in Europe. Some of these places definitely fall in “Central Europe,” but for all intents and purposes, they share the same characteristics as what I think of as Eastern Europe. To me, Germany is the perfect geographical divider between east and west. Everything east of Germany is what I consider to be Eastern Europe, and Everything west of that (including Germany) is Western Europe.
With that being said, here is my list of the 5 best cities to visit in Eastern Europe.
5. Ljubljana, Slovenia
Ljubljana is a place that many people may have never thought about visiting. Most people don’t even know where Slovenia is! Slovenia is a beautiful country, and in the winter it is even prettier. Visiting Ljubljana during the winter literally felt like visiting Narnia. I visited in the middle of a snowy week, and the streets, trees, bridges, and buildings were all lightly powered in snow. It literally felt like an imaginary fairytale land, and the local Christmas spirit only enhanced that further.
Slovenia is located to the northeast of Italy, and Ljubljana is just a few hours away from Venice by bus. As Slovenia’s capital city, Ljubljana always has fun things going on and is extremely friendly to foreigners. You can expect great holiday markets, fantastic restaurants, beautiful buildings lining the streets, and a very rustic feel. The city has a big castle on a mountain overlooking everything below and tons of gorgeous bridges covering the river that flows through the heart of town. Ljubljana is actually somewhere I am dying to go back to soon.
One of the best places to eat, in my opinion, is Gostilna Sokol, which is located right downtown. I had a fantastic venison gulash served in a bread bowl, and I also had a drink of medica, which is a honey alcohol. This restaurant feels kind of like an old cabin, and it was a really nifty place to eat at. If you go to Ljubljana (which you should), I highly recommend grabbing a bite to eat here. Also, make sure you read my Ljubljana travel guide first!
4. Sofia, Bulgaria
If you thought Slovenia was an odd country to see on this list, you probably think Bulgaria is even more obscure. These countries tend to get so much less tourism than they deserve. Sofia, Bulgaria, is a really beautiful city that I think deserves your attention if you are planning a trip to Eastern Europe. We had some really incredible food in Sofia, including horse meatballs. Might sound weird – we also didn’t know what they were until after we ate them – but they were pretty good! Sofia has great infrastructure and is very easy to navigate as tourists, even though they use the Cyrillic alphabet.
I think one of my favorite memories from Sofia was sitting at Vitosha Street Bar and Dinner for a feast of a dinner one night. It was our last night in Bulgaria, and we had a bunch of cash we needed to get through before we left the next morning. We walked into the restaurant, told the waiter how much money we had, and said “give us all that you can for this amount.” The amount was no more than $40 for three people.
The waiter brought out an absolute feast. Meat platters, salads, pastas, liquors, wines, beers, local drinks…you name it, and he brought it out. The cost of living is significantly lower in Bulgaria than it is in some other parts of Europe, and this meal made us feel like royalty. For a place where you get good bank for your buck, beautiful architecture, some great museums, and really friendly people, head to Sofia, Bulgaria. Also, I highly recommend that you read my Sofia travel guide before planning your trip.
3. Krakow, Poland
Krakow is one of the coolest cities I have been to on the entire planet. This city has such a unique blend of historical and architectural periods and styles, and the food is out of this world. Poland is such a cool country, and it is definitely a place that deserves more tourism. If you are thinking about visiting Poland, I think you should read my Krakow travel guide first.
Krakow is very close to two very unique day trips. First is the Wieliczka salt mine, which is one of the most unique museums I have ever visited. This salt mine goes over 1,000 feet underground, and is filled with some really unique exhibits. It was a fully functional salt mine in the past, and it now stands as more of a live exhibit into what salt mining was like. There is a Catholic church carved entirely out of salt 1,000 feet underground here! Visiting the salt mine is an absolute must.
The other very important day trip from Krakow is a much more somber one: Auschwitz. Auschwitz is a horribly dark place, and it chills you to the bone. It is one of the most sickening places I have ever visited. This is by no means a touristy destination. However, it is a really important component of human history, and I believe that visiting places like Auschwitz makes history personally real to you, making it impossible to forget.
In addition to these day trips, the city of Krakow itself is incredible. From a bustling Jewish Quarter to many other lively parts of the city, Krakow is incredible unique and exciting. If you are looking for a treat of a meal, head to Szara Ges, located right in the main square. This is considered to be the nicest restaurant in Krakow, and it is actually affordable by American standards. Not to mention that it is delicious! We got a meal for 2 people with appetizers, entrees, a bottle of wine, cocktails, and a dessert for around $150.
2. Moscow, Russia
Moscow is one of the most intriguing cities that I have ever visited, and it was tough not to slot it into the top spot on this list. Moscow has been the center of so much history, and walking through its streets and exploring its neighborhoods was honestly really fun. We visited Moscow right before Christmas, and it was one of the most magical places that we have ever been. There were little Christmas villages set up all throughout the city, pop-up ice skating rinks everywhere, gorgeous Christmas decorations lining the most important areas of the city, and endless Christmas spirit. Some people think of Russia as cold and barren, but our trip to Moscow was nothing but gorgeous, welcoming, and magical.
Russia can be a tricky country to visit, as there are relatively strict visa requirements to enter. If you are wondering how you even start to get a tourist visa to another country, be sure to check out my post on getting tourist visas. As far as we saw and witnessed, Moscow was a perfectly safe place to visit as Americans, and we had an absolute blast. Moscow is filled with iconic buildings and places, and it is one of the most historically significant cities in the world.
One under-the-radar experience that I highly recommend is heading to the Ziferblat. A Ziferblat is an anti-cafe, as they call themselves. It is a homestyle coffee shop, where you pay for time instead of coffee. They have coffee beverages and snacks free for order, but you instead need to pay for the amount of time that you spend in the cafe. This was a really unique place to visit, and the idea is very true to what we believe here at The Present Perspective. There is nothing more valuable than time, and paying per minute rather than per cup of coffee helps you to stay engaged in the moment and value your time.
1. Budapest, Hungary
Budapest is epic. In all of my travels through Eastern and Central Europe spanning over 11 countries, I’d easily call Budapest the best city I’ve visited in the region. With magnificent architecture, mouth-watering food, a resilient culture and an extremely interesting history, Budapest is one of the few cities in Europe I chose to return to a second time, and I enjoyed it just as much. There is just so much to do here, that no amount of time is enough.
The museums in Budapest are very unique and all highly interesting. Hungary has had a really complex history with communism, fascism, socialism, monarchies, and democracy, and the interplay of power dynamics has created a really unique belief structure in the country. I mean, at one point in the past several hundred years, Hungary was one of the most powerful countries in the entire world! You can see several examples of the country’s former power still on display as you walk through Budapest’s streets. You can even see the literal, real hand of Saint Stephen, the first king of Hungary over 1,000 years ago.
You can read about all of this at length in my Budapest travel guide, but the list of things to do in Budapest really is endless. From going to any of the traditional outdoor baths, to visiting glorious structures like the Fisherman’s Bastion and the Parliament building, to visiting the jail cell where Vlad Dracul was held captive, to incredible bohemian food courts, Budapest has a little something for everyone. Really, this is one of my favorite cities in the whole world, and it will probably be one of yours, too.
Thanks for reading my post on the 5 best cities to visit in Eastern Europe. Hopefully this list helps you plan the perfect Eastern European vacation in 2022! Each city on this list is very unique and offers its own advantages, but you can’t go wrong with any of them! If you have any questions about visiting any of these places at all, don’t hesitate to reach out – we’ve got you covered.
What do you think of our list? Did we miss any? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!