10 Reasons to visit Eastern Europe

We have been visiting Eastern Europe a lot recently and have absolutely fallen in love with the region. It seems to offer so much for so less, it’s one of the cheapest areas to visit and yet it’s jam packed full of culture, history and breathtaking architecture along with a much more authentic and down to earth attitude than many western countries! Here are 10 reasons why we think you should pay a visit!!


1) It is absolutely beautiful

There is no denying it, from the rolling hills and mountains of the countryside to the ornate interiors of the many historic churches and colourfully detailed market squares it’s diverse beauty is almost unrivalled! What’s better is that many of these old buildings that miraculously managed to survive the many wars and occupations are often still used for their original purpose instead of just becoming tourist spots which gives a more authentic experience within them.

Budapest, hungarian parliament, eastern Europe,beautiful, photography, nic hilditch-short, paul short

Budapest, world renowned for it’s beauty!

The cobbled streets are lined with detailed beautiful building after building and at times it almost feels like a fairytale landscape! Even the most mundane of buildings is often an ornate and wonderful construction, the interior leading on to a wonderland of colour and detail beyond belief.

St Basils cathdral, moscow, red square, russia, travel, eastern Europe, advice,

St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow is a sight which will take your breath away!

2) It’s history is complex and fascinating

From the Great Moravian Empire and the ancient Slavic tribes that formed the region to the Kingdom of Galicia and the areas medieval routes. The gruesome and infamous regime of the invading Nazis bringing terror and death which scarred this land and it’s people. To the rise of the USSR and it’s all controlling and powerful communist ideals this area has seen it’s share of history both good and bad!

Krakow, old town, rynek, gate, old wall, city, poland,

A remaining section of the medieval city walls of Krakow

The ground is literally saturated with a history so complex and intertwining it is dizzyingly fascinating. It both fills you with deep sorrow and great awe in equal measure. The region is a living, breathing museum and around every corner is evidence of an act of callous slaughter or brave heroism and a step away from the sometimes sterilised version of travel many tourists experience.

Auschwitz, Birkenau, train, black and white, schindlers list, nazi, concentration camp, photography, eastern Europe

Visiting Auschwitz has to be one of the most moving and memorable experiences of our lives

3) It’s crazy cheap

Eastern Europe may have risen in cost a little since the 90’s but your money will still go so much further in this part of the world than in the west. Partially this is due to many of the countries in this region keeping their own currencies and results in 5* hotels costing the same price as a cramped hostel dorm in the west! You get so much more for your money here and without compromise either, you get to see some wonderful countries and at a fraction of the price of visiting many, often over saturated, western alternatives!

eastern Europe, hungarian fornit, currency, money, coins, notes,
Hungarian “Forint”
Ukraine is by far the cheapest country we have visited whilst travelling so far and after crossing the border from the already super cheap Poland it took us by shock how much cheaper it was! Entrance to one of the city’s main sights, the town hall tower, costing 10UAH which is around £0.40 for example!

Hryvnia, unkrianian, money, note, 200, pink, eastern Europe

Visiting Lviv, Ukraine was an eye opening experience! Try getting hold of some of this: Hryvnia, easier said than done as it is worth so little!

4) It’s easier than ever to get to

Back in the old days Eastern Europe seemed like this crazy mysterious land us westerners were banned from entering. Although some of that allure still exists and is one reason we felt the pull to adventure out east, the reality is that the area is easier than it has ever been to visit. Many budget airlines fly to the major cities of Eastern Europe and at very little cost. Most countries now are either part of the EU or require no visa either (The big exceptions being Russia and Belarus.)

Russian visa, tourist visa, how to get a russian visa, moscow, eastern Europe

Often now visas are not required, but for Russia and Belarus the process is still a little complex, but a lot easier than in the past! We found it quite straight forward!

Travelling across the region by train or coach is also a simple, easy and cheap process and can be a great way to see the changing landscape and cultures of the area. Although it did take us 3 hours to cross the Polish-Ukrainian border recently! But that’s all part of the adventure!

visiting Ukriane, ukrianian polish border, eastern Europe

Nowadays this is a rare sight when entering Eastern Europe, but this sort of mysterious adventure is still to be found if that’s what you want!

5) The People

Often the people in Eastern Europe are stereotyped as being cold and harsh but that is far from the truth once you break the surface. You will find people in places like Poland and Hungary to in fact be some of the friendliest and warmest around, often going out of their way to help you! They are often quite curious about foreign visitors and also love to share their culture and history, you are guaranteed a fascinating conversation!

Budapest, violin, park, people, hungary, hungarian, eastern Europe

The language might be a barrier at times and I think this is where the stereotypes come from as often, especially older people, if they don’t understand may just ignore you! In places like Russian and Ukraine it can be hard to find anyone who speaks even basic English, but this is part of the charm and the challenge and adds to the adventure! Besides, not much can top a grumpy babushka hitting Shorty with a stick on the Moscow Metro! I do love the accents too!

lviv, ukriane, taxi, truth, eastern Europe

Our taxi driver in Lviv speaking a mixture of Russian, Ukrainian, Germany and Broken English to tell us about his city! In Budapest our taxi driver gave us a tour of the city before dropping us off at our accommodation!

6) Geographical and Cultural diversity

Eastern Europe offers almost any type of travel experience you could ever want, from unspoiled beaches to well preserved national parks and mountain ranges, tiny rural villages still exhibiting genuine folk culture to the sprawling major cities, the birth places of great empires and the sites of some of the most poignant events in history. From the extremes of the black sea coast to the depths of Siberia, Eastern Europe has something for everyone.

budapest, outskirts, rural, eastern Europe

Each of these countries histories has intertwined and linked over many years of alliances and wars, but step across each border or even into the next town or city and you will experience unique cultures, traditions, customs and rituals. The area is a mixing pot of strong religious beliefs, stoic eastern bloc hardness and centuries old traditions and crafts, which makes for a fascinating experience!

budapest, communism, statue, eastern Europe

7) It’s quirky and offers unique and strange experiences

This is probably the number one reason why we love Eastern Europe! It’s just got that kind of crazy edge to it where you know something unexpected might happen and you are never quite sure when you arrive if it is going to be the “Soviet Russia” or “Happy Hungarian” version of the region you have ended up in! But how exciting!

ak47, budapest, hungary, shooting range, eastern Europe
Would you trust us with live weapons?

There are little old cars known as “Trabant’s” buzzing around, communist throw backs around every corner and of course a good bit of bodging just to complement the elegant palaces and basilicas! We ventured out into the middle of the outskirts of Budapest to find a shooting range, along the way we came across a pile of chicken feet casually discarded by the road! Once in the range a quick check that you are over 18 and off you go, AK47 in hand! You can even visit the body of Lenin himself in Red Square, something truly unique!

Chicken feet, hungary, eastern Europe
Anyone seen prison break?… Shit is about to go down!

8) Eastern Europe is Still Not Westernised

There maybe the great capitalist yellow M glowing in the streets of Moscow these days and familiar names lining the main shopping streets but Eastern Europe is still not totally westernised…and nor should it be! Babushkas can still be found sweeping the streets with homemade wicker brushes! Folk traditions and crafts are still very much alive in the rural regions and often, as we found when we visited Ukraine, the way people live is very different to what we are used to, which is such an interesting thing to see.

Lviv, Ukriane, church, beautiful, eastern Europe
True passion for Christianity.

Religion also plays a massive role in Eastern Europe and coming from a quite apathetic country and also being an atheist, seeing that level of passion is both bewildering and at the same time something to be admired! There is also nowhere better if, like us, you love communist nostalgia. Remnants, memories and evidence of the period are still to be found
and places like Moscow especially still proudly display many artefacts from the era in public!

Vladimir Lenin, moscow, red square, eastern Europe, Russia, Communism,

Me and Lenin… after visiting the “real” Lenin! Which you can read about here: Lenin’s Tomb!

9) It’s cities are easy to get around

One of the lasting legacies of the communist era is the quality of public transportation left behind, many of which are important historically in their own right. Often many of the trains, trams and buses still in operation are almost as old as the line itself and not only provides a great method of exploring these cities but also a unique experience in itself. The subways and tram cars are also one of the best ways to see local, everyday life as it happens!

Budapest tram, hungary, eastern Europe

One of the best examples of public transport in Eastern Europe is the Moscow Metro, itself an attraction many come to see and experience. Each station crafted in an individual style and used as a huge propaganda tool by Stalin. Most stations resemble the insides of great communist palaces, chandeliers hanging above mosaic impressions of Lenin and statues commemorating the spirit of the workers, hammer and sickles still very much on display!

Moscow metro, lenin, ornate, eastern Europe, russia, communism,

10) Now is the best time to go: It is changing fast!

As much as it is still cheap, still much less crowded than it’s western counterparts and still offers a glimpse into the mysterious east, the region is changing and changing fast! Not all change is bad and much of it I am sure is beneficial to the people of the region but for those longing to see behind the Iron curtain the time is now before the chain stores from the west  take over the dusty soviet shops and prices also inevitably rise along with it.

burger king, russia, moscow, eastern Europe

 In saying this, however, the area still manages to retain an authentic and unique charm and after the fall of communism the individual identities of each country have been allowed to flourish and are proudly displayed and maintained. National pride is clear to see and although western culture is being embraced more and more I do feel, given the history of the region, their individuality will never again be allowed to be marginalised and crushed!

lviv opera house, ukriane, eastern Europe, flag

Overall

Eastern Europe has become a love affair for us which started mainly due to it’s accessibility and affordability but has continued to take us on a whirl wind romance as we look to further explore the area in the next year or so.

chain bridge at night, budapest, danube, hungary, eastern Europe, photography
Nothing quite compares to the beauty of Budapest!
Don’t be put off by it’s unstable past or unpredictable appearance, the region is safe, stunningly handsome and amazingly rewarding to visit. You will have much more room to explore than in the packed out streets of Rome, your experiences will be much more authentic than the tourist directed “Victoria” tours of London and you will have an exciting exploration into another world of culture, history and wide ranging beauty!

Krakow, Poland, st marys church, basillica, eastern Europe, photography, old town,
But Krakow comes mighty close!
prague, river, bridge
Prague!

What are your impressions of the region?

Nicola Hilditch-Short

Nic is one half of the Roaming Renegades, a passionate traveller, climber, adventurer, photographer and artist who has a B.A in Fine Art and M.A in Design & Art Direction.