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Jan 06 2015

Explore Eastern Europe in 2015

I only started to explore Eastern Europe in 2013 while I was on an interrailing trip around Europe. Up to that point, I had been to the well-trodden European destinations before travelling around the world. The thing is, I had missed out a large chunk of European countries, most of the Eastern European countries to be precise. There was so much more to explore in Europe and it was clearly time to rectify that and see what I had been missing.

During my interrail journey, I took a rather unusual route because I wanted to experience some of the amazing European train journeys I had seen mentioned on the internet. So, I started in France and went to Germany, then on into the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, and I ended my interrail trip back in Croatia. That might have been the end of my that part of the trip, but it was only the beginning of my travels around Eastern Europe.

Before I continue, it’s important to clarify what I mean by Eastern Europe because there are several ways to define it. For the purposes of this post, when I talk about Eastern Europe, rightly or wrongly, I’m using the Multilingual Thesaurus of the European Union definition, which classifies Eastern Europe as Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Hungary, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Ukraine.

Albania

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I had never thought of going to Albania until I was in Montenegro the previous year. I was close to the Albanian border, but I just didn’t have the time to visit. While I was in Northern Greece, I wasn’t too far from the Albanian border. Once again, I didn’t have the time to go.

Shortly after that, I finally got there. I had no idea what to expect, but I loved the country; the landscape and the people. I was working, so I didn’t have a lot of time to travel around, but I did get to explore it a bit: Shkoder, Tirana, and Saranda. I definitely intend to go back and travel around more of the country. If you want something different from a European trip, go to Albania. By the way, I felt very safe as a solo female traveller.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

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I was briefly in Bosnia and Herzegovina as I travelled by bus from Croatia into Montenegro. We had a short break by the tiny bit of Bosnian coastline, Neum.

I returned after I had been in Montenegro for a while. It’s a beautiful country. I started in Trebinje, which lies on the Trebišnjica river. It truly is a picture-perfect setting, but the memorial to the fallen soldiers was a reminder of the hard times the people in the country had to endure. Going on to Mostar and then Sarajevo brought me face-to-face with what I had only seen on TV and read in the newspapers all those years ago in the 1990s. Seeing all the buildings that had been destroyed during the war was a stark reminder of what the nation have been through.

Croatia

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Croatia is a popular tourist destination now, particularly the south and the islands. I have travelled the length of the country from Rovinj down to Dubrovnik, but there is still more to explore, obviously. I found it more expensive than the surrounding countries, but I assume that is due to its popularity.

Czech Republic

Karlovy Vary

Prague has been a popular destination for years, so the Czech Republic isn’t such an unusual country for people to visit. However, there are many other places to visit other than its capital city and I would highly recommend it.

Plzen was my first, rather unexpected, stop in the Czech Republic and what a great place to begin. It is the European Capital of Culture for 2015 alongside Mons in Belgium, so this would be a great time to visit Plzen. It’s the home of Pilsner beer, need I say more? OK, I will. I had a beer spa in Plzen, which was incredibly relaxing. It’s only about an hour from Prague by train or bus, so you can go there for the day if you are staying in Prague. You might want to consider staying there, though. I also visited Karlovy Vary, a spa town, Prague, and Brno. I’m going to try to see a bit more of the Czech Republic this year, if I get the chance.

Hungary

The Chain Bridge, Budapest

I stayed in Budapest, but travelled by train there from Bratislava and then on to Zagreb a few days later. I really need to go back and explore other cities and towns in Hungary because I know there is so much more to see and experience. If you haven’t been to Budapest, I would highly recommend it. It’s a beautiful city. The architecture on both sides of the Danube river is outstanding. On a sunny day, Budapaest is a great place to be. Oh, if you go, make sure you check out the public thermal spas. They are fantastic.

Montenegro

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I spent quite a bit of time exploring Montenegro.  It might only be a small country, but it has so much to offer in terms of its landscape, history, architecture, and wine. Whether you like hiking, the beach, a cultural trip, or have an interest in wine, this small country has it all. It’s also very easy to get to the surrounding countries by bus or by car. I started off in Kotor (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), went to Cetinje (the original capital city), Pogorica (the capital city), and a few of national parks (Lovcen, Durmitor, and Lake Skadar).

Poland

Krakow at night

I went to Poland for the first time last year because I was curious after a Twitter conversation with someone who had been and loved it.  I went in and out of the country while I was exploring a few of the surrounding countries and then ended up getting a job in Southern Poland, which is where I am now.  There is so much to this country that I have yet to explore

Serbia

Belgrade

I spent the least amount of time in Serbia than in any of the other countries. I wasn’t expecting to go, but I managed to get a good deal for a flight from Belgrade back to London.

I really enjoyed the short amount of time I had in Belgrade and would love to explore more of the country. It’s definitely on my list.

Slovakia

Kosice

I have been to twice, two years running. The first time I spent a night in Bratislava and the second time, I travelled from Zakopane in Poland to Poprad and then on to Kosice. The journey by bus through the Tatra mountains and then from Poprad to Kosice was stunning. I preferred Kosice to Bratislava partly because it’s smaller, but also because I found it more picturesque and friendly.

Kosice was the European Capital of Culture in 2013. If you can get there, I would recommend it.  It’s a great place to spend a few days.  The architecture in the Old Town is fabulous, there are some great places to eat and drink, there’s a bit of hustle and bustle, but not too much, so it’s a comfortable place to stay for a few days. It’s well connected with buses that go pretty much everywhere and there is also an international train station.

Slovenia

Lake Bohinj

Slovenia is a tiny country and has a cute, small capital to match which is Lubijana. You’d be forgiven for thinking that this city is a town. It has resisted the temptation of mass modernisation and has retained much of its character.

Lake Bled has become a popular destination for tourists. For me, it was just a little too touristy and I much preferred the lesser-known Lake Bohinj. If I went back, I would stay by Lake Bohinj. It’s possible to get to and from Lubijana from there by public bus, so it isn’t too remote. It’s more picturesque than Lake Bled, in my opinion, because there has been less development in that area and there are lots of hiking opportunities. It doesn’t have a castle, although you could take a trip to Lake Bled or to Lubijana for that.

Ukraine

Lviv centre

Ukraine has been in the news a lot over the past year and that has definitely turned a lot of people off travelling there. That’s a shame because the west of the country is safe. I was there and wasn’t ever worried about my safety. I started off in a surprisingly nice town that borders Slovakia and then went to the quirky city of Lviv and Ivano-Franvisk. It is cheap and easy to travel around by bus or train. For longer journeys, the train is the best option.

What next?

Now I have started, I want to explore the remaining countries listed above. I’m having a bit of break from travelling while I live and work in Poland, but I hope to visit the remainder of these countries in the next couple of years. This part of Europe has so much to offer and I have only just touched the surface.

Europe is generally considered expensive.  An added bonus of the Eastern European countries is the fact that many of them are cheaper than other parts of Europe.  With the addition of low-cost airlines flying to these countries, that makes them all the more appealing.

Location

Here are all the countries pinpointed on the map:

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Have your say

Which Eastern European countries have you been to and which would you like to visit?

About the author

Teresa Keane

Teresa has been to almost 60 countries. She started travelling independently at the age of 38 when she gave up her job, rented out her house, put her possessions in storage and spent a year travelling the world. It changed her life. She now creates, publishes, & promotes online travel content and is an experienced freelance trainer & EFL teacher.

10 comments

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  1. Cathy Sweeney

    I hope to visit all of these countries sometime. The hubby and I have Poland and Croatia on our radar — possibly for 2015. Love the pics and your perspectives on each. I’ve been to Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia. I’m glad that you mentioned your usage of the “Eastern” Europe. I know that in Hungary, in particular, I talked to people who were very clear about being in “Central” Europe.

  2. Patti

    We’re headed to Prague in March – so looking forward to it!

  3. Teresa Keane

    You’ll have a wonderful time, Patti. Have fun! Teresa.

  4. Teresa Keane

    Great, Cathy, there’s so much to see and do in both countries. The whole classification thing is quite difficult. Rightly or wrongly, I went with the Multilingual Thesaurus of the European Union and hope I haven’t offended anyone! Teresa.

  5. Amy J Teichman

    Hi. I’m 57 years old and want to visit Eastern Europe next summer. (My son is studying abroad in Germany so I’ll also be visiting him at some point.) My question has to do with whether to book a group tour when visiting eastern Europe or to go independently. I don’t want to have to worry about having accommodation, for example, but also like the idea of making my own itinerary and would probably rather travel by train than bus, for example. What are your thoughts? Thank you!

  6. Teresa Keane

    Hi Amy,

    It’s wonderful to hear that you are thinking of exploring other parts of Europe.

    It’s really up to you, and what you want from the experience. If you like the idea of making up your own itinerary, you could plot a route in advance, and book accommodation in the places you would like stay. That way, you won’t have the worry of where to stay, and you can visit the places you want in your own time, in your own way. How does that sound? You could even do a bit of both: Book a group tour for part of your trip, and travel independently for part of it. Where are you thinking of going?

    Happy planning!
    Teresa.

  7. Amy J Teichman

    I will be going to Hanover first to see my son and then on to Berlin. Then I’m thinking of Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and maybe elsewhere if I have time. My twenty four year old daughter says she wants to go with me but can only take two weeks off from work. I don’t know about doing a tour with her since there will probably be mostly older people on it. I’m thinking that she and my son (who says he can probably travel for about one week at that time with us) will go to Berlin and Prague. Then my daughter and I can go to those other places or she will fly back earlier and I’ll keep going. When I was in my late twenties, I traveled a lot and never made reservations ahead of time, enjoying going at my own pace. My questions/concerns are mostly these: Do we have to book accommodation ahead of time in Eastern Europe in the summer? I guess I can’t just pop into to a youth hostel, for example. Also, I’m concerned that once I’m on my own, I’ll crave company in some of the places I’m going. Are there good day tours or three day tours and do you have to book these in advance? Thank you!

  8. Teresa Keane

    Hi Amy,

    Travelling with your son and daughter at the start is a great idea. You will be in the swing of it by the time your daughter leaves. That means, you will only be travelling for a week on your own. The great thing is, you also have previous experience of independent travel. That’s fantastic!

    Nowadays, technology has made travel so much easier. If you are concerned about finding accommodation, it is worth booking in advance. You can do this on the move now when you have access to the internet at your accommodation, as well as some cafes, buses, and trains. As long as you have access to the internet, you will be able to search for and book accommodation and transport in advance, which could be months or minutes before your arrival . I sometimes book in advance. Other times, I just turn up and search accommodation when I arrive. I wouldn’t advise doing that for your first time. Booking in advance, even if it is just the day before, would be advisable. You can also see reviews, and check out the prices in advance.

    When you travel solo, you have to be prepared to be on your own for extended periods. The thing is, if you are open, you will met locals and travellers who will chat to you in all sorts of situations – on a bus or train or in a hostel. I’ve met people in all sorts of situations. Hostels are very social, often with the best internet and great facilities, but not for everyone.

    I can’t seem to add links, for some reason. The following posts might help:

    Booking Accommodation on the Go
    Accommodation: Book in Advance or Take a Chance
    When Travelling Solo is not Travelling Solo
    9 Benefits to Staying in Hostels

    Happy travel planning!
    Teresa.

  9. Amy J Teichman

    Thank you very much!

  10. Teresa Keane

    You’re welcome!

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