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, 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. 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!
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.
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!
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.)
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!
5) The People
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.
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!
7) It’s quirky and offers unique and strange experiences
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!
8) Eastern Europe is Still Not Westernised
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!
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!
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!
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.