For far too long, travel in Europe has focused on the well-trodden path in the western region of the continent. There are undoubtedly amazing cities in Western Europe, however, since the fall of the Iron Curtain and the end of the Yugoslav war in the 1990s, it is clear that the Balkans and Eastern Europe are emerging as an opportunity for travellers to get off the beaten path in Europe. Here are five of the best cities in Eastern Europe to visit with each capital having a great mix of history, culture, food and friendly locals.
1. Belgrade, Serbia
It might not be the prettiest city in Eastern Europe but you would be hard-pressed to find a place with more character than Belgrade. Belgrade is one of the best cities in Eastern Europe with its world class nightlife, fascinating history and super welcoming locals. There’s plenty to do when you visit Belgrade including exploring St. Sava Cathedral and Belgrade Fortress, seeing a local football game and drinking plenty of rakija as you party till dawn on one of Belgrade’s famous boats turned nightclubs.
Belgrade is a city where you need at least a few days to see past the gritty streets in order to understand that this is without a doubt one of the best cities in Eastern Europe.
Accommodation Recommendation: Hedonist Hostel is probably our favourite budget Balkan accommodation! Not only does this hostel have amazing facilities with multiple common rooms and a fantastic outdoor seating area, the staff go above and beyond to make sure you have a great time in the Serbian capital! Check out the latest reviews on Hostelworld or Booking.com!
2. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Sarajevo is a city unlike most others in Eastern Europe with its Ottoman influence and predominately Muslim population leading to a unique culture not found elsewhere on the continent. Famously known as the city where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated leading to the start of World War I, there’s plenty to see for the history buffs when you travel to Sarajevo. The highlight of Sarajevo, however, is its stunning mountain setting that lends itself to a plethora of nearby hiking opportunities or a more casual tea or shisha as you gaze at the beautiful landscape. Sarajevo is a city where you can easily whittle away a few days as you get swarmed by its laid-back lifestyle which makes it one of the best cities in Eastern Europe to visit.
Accommodation Recommendation: Doctor’s House is a lovely and cosy hostel located in the hills of Sarajevo, about a 10-minute walk from the Old Town. It has dorm and private rooms, friendly staff and a lovely balcony that provides splendid views of Sarajevo. Check out their latest reviews on Hostelworld or Booking.com!
3. Tirana, Albania
Tourism in Albania has started to grow over the last decade, however, this has been heavily concentrated on Albania’s Adriatic Coast, which offers spectacular beach destinations at a fraction of the cost of its geographic neighbours.
Albania’s capital, Tirana, has remained one of the least visited cities in Eastern Europe with its lack of conventional tourist sites hurting its ability to attract visitors. Similar to Belgrade, there is an undeniable character in the city that catches many travellers off-guard when they visit Tirana. Locals are determined to shake off Albania’s undeserved reputation and Tirana is simply one of the best cities in Eastern Europe to hang out in for a few days, enjoying the delicious Mediterranean and Balkan influenced food and people watching at one of the many outdoor cafes.
Accommodation Recommendation: Another one of my favourite hostels in Eastern Europe is Trip’n Hostel, Run by Erjon & Eni, this hostel has a fantastic chilled out vibe which — combined with their large outdoor garden, freshly cooked breakfasts and rakija-filled bar — makes it difficult to leave! Check out the latest reviews on Hostelworld or Booking.com!
4. Sofia, Bulgaria
Sofia is one of the oldest cities in Eastern Europe meaning it’s packed with cultural and historical sites that blend in seamlessly with the contemporary parts of the city. Wandering through Sofia, it is amazing to see Byzantine-era ruins right next to a metro station where thousands of people pass each day. The cuisine will also leave a mark when you travel to Sofia as the foodie scene is slowing starting to gain momentum in the Bulgarian capital. There is a wonderful mix of traditional local food influenced by all of its geographic neighbours as well as fantastic international food that seems to be getting more and more popular with the rise of hipsters in this city.
Accommodation Recommendation: Hostel Mostel is a must for travellers on a budget. They offer free breakfast and dinner (with a beer!) as well as affordable day trips to surrounding areas. It also has a huge common room, making it great for meeting other travellers. Check out the latest reviews on Hostelworld or Booking.com!
5. Zagreb, Croatia
Croatia is one of the hottest tourist destinations in Europe, however, as people swarm to the beautiful Adriatic Coast, many skip the Croatian capital, Zagreb. There are many things to do in Zagreb including seeing majestic buildings like the National Theatre, visiting quirky museums like the Museum of Broken Relationships or sampling same of the world famous nightlife where locals will ensure that you are dancing until the early hours of the morning. Zagreb has the beauty of some of Europe’s most well known majestic cities but without the same number of visitors, which makes this one of the best cities to visit in Eastern Europe.
Accommodation Recommendation: Hostel Mali Mrak is a cool artsy hostel based in a house in suburban Zagreb. It has an awesome common area and friendly local staff who are very accommodating and have a number of great tips about the Croatian capital! Check out the latest reviews on Hostelworld or Booking.com!
It’s time Eastern Europe started getting the credit it deserves. These five capitals are some of the best cities to visit in Eastern Europe and will undoubtedly start gaining more popularity as more and more travellers realise that there is more to the continent than just what you find in Western Europe.
What do you think the best cities in Eastern Europe are? Add a comment below!