With Soviet-style architecture, a swashbuckling array of stereotypes and seriously cheap food and drink prices, Eastern Europe may just be the best place to visit as a backpacker.
“But is it safe?” people ask. “Can I get around easily? I heard no one speaks English.”
As often as it’s stigmatized as dodgy, rude and inaccessible, there are a tenfold of travellers willing to vouch for the friendliness and willingness of Eastern European hospitality. It’s like the cooler, younger brother of Western Europe. Although grey communist-era buildings instantly come to mind, the reality is the area is wonderfully diverse and charming. It has an amazing history and is stepping into the spotlight more every year as a must-see on the traveller’s bucket list.
This is because Eastern Europe is a haven of natural beauty (from rugged peaks to idyllic coastlines), has a vibrant culture and an excellent nightlife – all at a fraction of the price compared to bigger cities in the west.
Eastern European countries may be lumped together by their geography and past Soviet/communist history, but they are all ethnically, culturally and historically diverse.
Although there is much debate between what constitutes Eastern Europe, let’s assume for the sake of this article that it is anything past the Czech Republic. This would then include among others Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and Slovakia. With such a large range of countries, the region has any type of geography or weather you could wish for.
Ski or hike the peaks of Slovenia’s wild mountains or soak up the sun on the stunning beaches of Montenegro. Bask in the Black Sea resort towns of Eastern Bulgaria, lose yourself in the endless forests of Romania or cycle through the picturesque Polish countryside.
Whatever the season, whichever your preference, Eastern Europe has something for everyone – and without the ridiculous crowds of its western counterpart.
Although the currency rates aren’t what they were in the 90s, it is still significantly cheaper to visit Bucharest than Paris. And that’s true across the board for transportation, accommodation and activities.
Many of the region’s countries are either a part of, or well on their way to joining, the EU. Despite this, don’t go expecting the euro to be in use everywhere. Do your research before you go for the up-to-date currencies and rates. In certain countries like Bosnia and Serbia, you can’t get currency until you are inside the country so make sure you plan for this and bring enough pounds to convert.
It’s impossible to lump half a continent into the same category when it comes to culture, but many of these countries have reoccurring trends from history: War, conflict, invasion, occupation, revolts and then – notably – peace. Much of this conflict was hidden away from the eyes of the world, the atrocities committed swept under the rug.
But things have changed – and the region is so much more than just its history. The people of Eastern Europe are resilient and proud and it’s their tenacity that has helped drive the economic and cultural revolutions that you see today. They enjoy their freedom and expression especially when it comes to art and music scenes.
Underground raves where everyone looks to be in a time-warp from 1996 are the normal image – made famous by platforms like Vice. Yet partying in Eastern Europe is so much more dynamic than warehouse discos. It’s alternative, cool and has always been a main draw for tourism. From Ruin Pubs in Budapest to laid back beach bars in Montenegro and Croatia’s incredible festivals; the nightlife is so very different from the West and all the better for it.
Beautiful people, cheap vodka and no reason to turn the music down makes the area a hot-house for stag do’s and weekend trips. But don’t let that put you off – there’s plenty to check our whatever your taste. Regardless of your intent, it’ll always be a memorable night out…
Forget paying 4 euros for a baguette in Paris or fighting for a spot at a restaurant in Rome. Eastern Europe is home to deliciously stodgy cuisine: perogies, goulash, borscht and every delicious potato and meat combination you could imagine. There is nothing more satisfying than a giant plate of sauerkraut homemade by a Ukrainian babushka after a long day of sightseeing. Not to mention washing it down with a pint of local beer…
In Poland there are 24-hour perogie bars where you can get anything from venison perogies to sweet, apple perogies. And, when a plate of them costs you about a quid, you’re probably best to try them all. Don’t expect to visit Eastern Europe and not pack on the pounds. You may leave with tighter pants, but it’s worth it.
So grab a size up in your next pair of travel jeans and pack your bags. You might have a hard time finding a Ryanair flight out here, but who really wants to fly with them anyhow… You guys know we’re all about the trains, which luckily are super easy to navigate! Find your way into the true heart of Europe and you won’t be disappointed – this summer is looking mighty Easterly.
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