The Ultimate Eastern Europe Travel Guide

The Ultimate Eastern Europe Travel Guide

Western Europe has been a traveler’s delight for a great part of modern travel. Ever since air travel allowed people to effortlessly hop continents, Western Europe and the western part of the globe have been every tourist’s preferred destination. Whether it is the sprawling and bustling city of London, the historically rich Rome, or the ever romantic Paris, Western Europe has it all.

East of Germany however, where the Iron Curtain once stood, Europe still expands. A Europe still unbeknownst to the majority of the world. Some fewer people speak English there, fewer sights like palaces, towers, castles, and colosseums, but for the traveler on a budget, a world of beauty and history yet to explore.

Eastern Europe – A Brief Introduction

Western Europe has the big names we’ve heard all our lives. The UK, Scandinavia, Spain, France, and Italy. Been there, done that. But you’ll learn very quickly just how vast and diverse Eastern Europe is.

Ukraine, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia are just some of the names of countries you can travel to on a budget. While these countries are western-leaning democracies, some have yet to shed the trauma of their former Soviet past and continue to struggle economically and democratically. This makes them superb candidates to brush up on your history knowledge.

A few things to keep in mind before visiting is that while most of the countries mentioned earlier are in the European Union and Schengen Visa-Free Zone, Serbia and Ukraine are exceptions and need separate visa applications to visit. Plan to see if your passport requires a visa in advance, a visa on arrival, or no visa whatsoever.

Also, considering the present Russia-Ukraine war that’s ongoing, travelling to Ukraine is off the cards for many people. Additional security measures, and the immigrations of Ukrainian nationals into neighboring states may also hamper free roaming in many bordering cities.

Costs to Travel Eastern Europe

Eastern Europe can be surprisingly light on the wallet. A large local craft beer costs $2 and the same for a coffee. A piping hot meal with healthy servings of meat, bread, and potatoes would cost USD 7–9. This is the average across most countries but Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania, and Ukraine can be a lot cheaper still. Prague and Budapest (high on tourism) can be a burden on the wallet if you don’t book a hotel in advance, and peak seasons (May to August) can be especially costly. Try not to visit shady or underground bars and nightclubs and if you do, hold on to your purses as scams are prevalent.

All in all, you’re looking at an estimate of $30-50 USD/day. This includes accommodation, travel, beer, and attractions.

Traveling and Transport

Rail passes, and Oyster cards are recommended for the UK and Western Europe. In the East, they’re less necessary. Train travel can cost just $20 for any journey you’d be making. For international journeys, it’s always best to consider overnight buses and trains. This will help cut down on the night’s accommodation. Always book in advance as last-minute bookings can be 4 times the price.

Where to Stay

Booking an Airbnb is always an option, but can be on the expensive side. Thankfully, Krakow in Poland and Budapest in Hungary has a lot of hostels for young travelers. You’ll meet all sorts of tourists in these accommodations and can have drinking buddies for the night. Booking.com can also offer short-term rentals on the cheap. But always check TripAdvisor for a nice hotel. A 4- or 5-star luxury hotel can cost as little as $50 a night if you’re clever.

The Best Time to Go

The peak months are May to August and everything from local cuisine to hotel rates all skyrocket in the anticipation of foreign visitors. You could visit in the winter months but be prepared for sub-zero temperatures across Eastern Europe. Spending Christmas here is a joy with Christmas markets littered across towns and cities, and the entire landscape blanketed in thick white snow.

We recommend visiting in September when temperatures are still comfortably warm, and most of the tourists have all gone home. Makes exploring a lot more personal and fun.

What to Do

After Scotland, Prague has the most number of castles anywhere in Europe. These can be visited for cheap (and sometimes free), and they all have a beautifully haunting Transylvania ambiance to them. Major city centers also have museums that document history as you’ve never seen before, and hills, beaches, and mountains are plenty depending on the country of your preference. Croatia, in particular, has some of the most beautiful city centers. Dubrovnik and Zagreb are famous for their compact ocean-side designs. 

If you’re a football fan, try visiting the FC Shakhtar Donetsk or Dynamo Kyiv stadiums in Ukraine, and catch a Champion’s League game on the cheap.

Tips to Keep in Mind

Eastern European trips can be a wonderful solo adventure, but can quickly go awry if you’re scammed out of your money on the streets of Warsaw or Budapest. Scammers are wary of tourists and have clever scams to con you out of your money. Pickpockets are relatively common too, and always ensure you have all of your belongings on your person at all times.

You can even invest in an app to track a cell phone location for additional security of your electronic devices. The Xnspy cell phone location tracker app, for instance, can be used to locate your phone or tablet in case of theft or loss. Xnspy can also provide precise reporting for a third party that has been assigned control of your phone. It can regularly check your location status and have turn-by-turn updates of your trip. Invest in cell phone location trackers like Xnspy before heading out on your tour.

Always convert your money into local currency before heading out to the country. Do not use ATMs to withdraw money and only do so if you’re strapped for cash. The high surcharges issued by your bank would not be worth it. And while we’re on the subject of money, always pay the exact amount and have a hearty amount of cash on you, as most retailers and restaurants do not accept credit or debit card payments.

Don’t always rely on trains as they can be irregular, and in some cases like in Poland, be more expensive than buses. Wherever you struggle for transportation, opt for hitchhiking as it is very common across Eastern Europe.

Be sensitive to political and social history. With so much history in the region, each country has various practices and social norms that can come across as inappropriate or offensive. 

If you’re coming from the U.S, be prepared for frequent hangovers if you drink a lot. Booze in Eastern Europe has a higher alcohol content, and the region is infamous for heavy drinking. Treat alcohol with caution, and be responsible when drinking.

Don’t be shy to haggle for prices. It is a common practice and most locals expect a bit of back and forth when negotiating over a sale. Just don’t overdo it.

Ladies should bring a scarf with them. The Balkan states have a lot of churches and mosques that require a head-covering of sorts to visit them. Pack a scarf in your bag that you can cover your head with, and wear appropriate clothing when out. 

Our Recommendation for Cities to Visit

  1. Hungary: Budapest
  2. Slovakia: Zdiar. Bratislava.
  3. Poland: Warsaw. Krakow.
  4. Croatia: Dubrovnik
  5. Romania: Bucharest

You’re not limited to these cities, as Eastern Europe has plenty to offer. The Transfagara San Highway in Romania is one of the best roads to drive, as declared by Top Gear. Belgrade is a beautiful ancient city awaiting you, and the Balkan states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have some of the most majestic sights anywhere in Europe.

Start your planning today, and remember to do a lot of research before visiting. Happy travels!

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