Did you know that many of the best travel destinations in Europe are tucked away in the continent’s eastern corner? Although many of the countries in Eastern Europe have bad-boy communist reputations, they are actually stable and exciting places to visit. If you are thinking about an off-the-beaten path excursion along the Adriatic coast, or a tour of some of the best cities, here’s where to go first:
Vlada Z | ShutterstockThe Albanian Riviera |
Albania’s rugged Ceraunian Mountains abruptly end at the edge of the Adriatic Sea. Even if you are afraid of two-lane roads, limited signposts and many potholes, the landscape will take your breath away. The beach-going crowds focus their party in the sprawling town of Vlore, but the rocky coast stretches out invitingly to the south. The sea is the same electric blue as in Italy and Greece, but the beach umbrellas, food and hotels are much cheaper. Rent a car and wander the coast all the way down to the border with Greece.
ShutterstockZadar, Croatia |
Zadar sits on Croatia’s coast facing the island of Ugljan. During the day, warm sea water laps at the white flagstones that line the waterfront. At night, crowds gather for the sunsets that Alfred Hitchcock called the best in the world. Zadar is a quirky city that doesn’t quite fit neatly in the box. You’re just as likely to see Roman ruins as you are to see towering concrete apartment blocks. Luckily, Zadar is a charming jumble with good museums and not too many tourists. Don’t miss the Sea Organ – a wacky art installation where the tides actually create whistles, sighs and sounds.
ShutterstockSuceava, Romania |
Suceava is cheap and in the process of reinventing itself. Your trip will be filled with surprises both good and unusual. This isn’t the more familiar Romania of Dracula or Bucharest, but it is an intriguing, out-of-the-way place to base your tour of the nearby eight painted churches and their villages. If you like church art, this trip is for you. The nearby painted churches are considered masterpieces of 15th and 16th century Byzantine mural art.
ShutterstockKotor, Montenegro |
Confession time: have you ever heard of Montenegro? If not, it’s time to acquaint yourself with this tiny country and its incredibly dramatic landscape. Imagine seaside towns clinging to what looks like sheer rock face dipping down to the sea and then spread that image across an entire country. If it seems like all of Eastern Europe is partying on the perfect crescent beaches below the rocks, it’s because they are. As far as Montenegrin tourist spots go, Kotor is one of the most popular. Visitors often arrive via cruise ship and can enjoy the UNESCO-protected old town and the impressive fjord, the Gulf of Montenegro.
outcast85 | ShutterstockOhrid, Macedonia |
The combination of the blue waters of Lake Ohrid and Ohrid’s picturesque architecture, makes the city a tourist magnet. Picture yourself swimming in the blue lake waters, exploring the windswept Church of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo, or wandering through the streets of the red-roofed old town. During the months of July and August, the town becomes party-central as thousands celebrate the Ohrid Summer Festival with classical concerts, theater and dance performances.
ShutterstockBrasov, Romania |
Brasov enchants even when you don’t expect yourself to be enchanted by Romania. The city’s fairytale streets are lined with sun-washed Austro-Hungarian houses, big churches and inviting town squares. When you aren’t enjoying Brasov’s maze of cafes, it’s easy to hit the hills. Hike up Mount Tampa, or take the cable car. The nearby mountains are littered with walking paths and places to ski in the winter.
ShutterstockButrint, Albania |
If you love the romance of ancient ruins, Butrint should be your No. 1 place to visit in Albania. Long ago, Greeks migrated up the coast and built a fortified trading city in what is now Butrint. When the Romans took over, they built public baths and more stone buildings. The Byzantines built churches and a 19th-century warlord built a castle to overlook the site. Exploring Butrint is like peeling away the layers of Albania’s history.
ShutterstockBelgrade, Serbia |
Promise – Belgrade is not a scary place you see on the nightly news. Serbia’s capital is a great place to visit to see all the new, exciting developments that have helped catapult the city away from its tumultuous past. Hipster hangouts and a big community of artists define the local scene. You’ll want to save time for Serbia’s big museums as well as the popular tour of Belgrade’s underground tunnels, caves and bunkers.
Devteev | ShutterstockUlcinj, Montenegro |
Ulcinj is a climbing seaside town where birds eye views of the ocean are commonplace and the sky is frequently the same color as the sea. Many of Ulcinj’s residents are Albanian and the city is equally famous for its mosques as for its beaches. Bring your good book, pick out a kebab for lunch and enjoy some genuinely pleasant beach time.
ShutterstockBerat, Albania |
Berat’s old town used to be called the White City due to its whitewashed old town which climbs the cliffs up towards its towering castle. The landscape of Berat is quite rugged and early builders had no choice but to grow the city vertically. Walk through Kalaja – the still-lived-in neighborhood still inside the castle walls. When you get to the very top of the Inner Fortress, you’ll be met with an incredible view of the city and the sea.
ShutterstockVeliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria |
Battle sites, crumbling churches, caves and castles dot the landscape around Veliko Tarnovo and the area is a mecca for hikers, spelunkers and equestrians. The city of Veliko Tarnovo proper has a lively dining and nightlife scene anchored by its big student population. You won’t want to miss the fortress Tsarevets, with medieval grey stone walls that contrast with the city’s usual red roofs.
Bitten by the Eastern European travel bug? Here’s The Best of Eastern Europe: Where to Go.
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