I adore pretty much everything about Eastern Europe – the friendly people, the amazing Eastern Orthodox Churches, the quirky old town architecture and the cheap price of drinks! Some of my favourite Eastern European cities include Cluj-Napoca, Sofia, Gdansk and Plovdiv. Here’s my ultimate list of the best and most amazing European cities.
When to travel to Eastern Europe
Many Eastern Europe Cities can be very cold during the winter months, with temperatures as low as -13 in some parts! I would recommend that you aim to visit Eastern Europe in the summer months between May-September. I once went to Gdansk and loved it, but remember being particularly freezing!
22 Amazing European Cities to Visit
The good news is that many of these cities have direct links from Liverpool, Manchester and London airports, so if you are travelling from the UK, they are doable as a weekend trip. But they certainly warrant more than just a weekend, so try to take a Friday and Monday off and make a long weekend of it if you can!
These Eastern European cities are also great do do as a backpacking route – generally Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria , Serbia is a good overland route. I would recommend at least a month for this, but then again I could spend at least a month in each of these European countries individually!
1. Sofia (Bulgaria)
The Bulgarian capital city of Sofia is extremely walkable, affordable and digital nomad friendly. I was so pleasantly surprised by Sofia that I extended my time there – it’s definitely one of my favourite Eastern European cities. The highlight of the city is, of course, Alexander Nevski Cathedral – the famous Orthodox Cathedral with gold and green domes. Be sure to visit the crypt underneath which is full of Orthodox icons and wall paintings from the 13th to the 19th Century. Also check out the Ivan Vazov National Theatre and Saint Nikolas Russian Church.
From Sofia, it is possible to explore Vitosha Mountain and Rila National Park. Hands down the most amazing thing that I went to while I was in Sofia was the Rila Monastery. It’s a 10th Century Orthodox Monastery up in the mountains – spectacular both inside and out.
And at night time, Sofia come to life! It has some of the best and cheapest bars in Europe so you certainly won’t be disappointed! Be sure to try a Rakia (the national drink) and a Kamenitza beer. You can read more about the Sofia Bulgaria nightlife here.
2. Prague (Czech Republic)
Prague is possibly one of the most popular Eastern European cities. It is famous for the beauty of its historical old town and is known as the ‘city of spires’. It’s also a popular destination for stag and hen dos, although this has resulted in a lot of drunken groups and an increase in the cost of beer in Prague. You will be astounded by the main square that is overlooked by the Tyn Church and home to the astronomical clock. Also don’t miss the Charles bridge and Prague castle.
You might also like to read about the best Churches in Prague and my Prague Walking tour. I found Prague to be a great city for solo travel as there are so many other travellers to meet and socialise with.
3. Dubrovnik (Croatia)
Dubrovnik is not the capital of Croatia, but it’s certainly the most beautiful Croatian city. Made famous by the filming of the Game of Thrones, Dubrovnik is often referred to as the pearl of the Adriatic. Walk the city walls and the historical streets that are literally paved with marble. Dubrovnik Old Town is a UNESCO world Heritage site and is one of the best preserved Medieval cities in the world. Don’t miss Palace Knezev Dvor, Sponza Palace, the Dominican and Franciscan monasteries and the Jesuit stairs.
If you are up for a boat ride, take the boat to the beautiful Lokrum Island where you can see a Benedictine Monastery and beautiful Botanical Gardens. It is also possible to visit Kotor (Montenegro) and Mostar (Bosnia and Herzegovina) as a day trip from Dubrovnik. However these trips can be quite exhausting so I prefer to see them separately and travel slow!
4. Plovdiv (Bulgaria)
Plovdiv, the second city of Bulgaria, is an ancient city built on 7 hills. Plovdiv has a very artsy feel to it, with plenty of coffee shops and outdoor dining. It is possible to visit Plovdiv as a day trip from Sofia, although it deserves a full weekend.
Plovdiv Old town is full of beautiful brightly coloured Bulgarian revival style houses, with overhanging windows. Plovdiv has a famous Roman Amphitheatre which is one of the world’s best preserved ancient Roman theatres. There is also a Roman Stadium under the pedestrianised Main Street of Plovdiv, which dates back to the 2nd Century Ad and could boast a whopping 30,000 spectators. If time allows, explore Kapana, the art district and the Archaeological Museum.
5. Tallinn (Estonia)
The Estonian capital is very digital nomad friendly and Estonia is one of the only European countries to offer a digital nomad visa. The city itself is like something out of a fairytale with the 1.9 km of its original city wall and 20 defense towers remaining. There are some amazing things to do in Tallinn.
Don’t miss the Alexander Nevski Cathedral, St Olafs Church and the Town Hall (the oldest town hall in the Baltics). Also check out the beautiful old style houses in Tallinna Raekoja Plats square. If you are interested in Maritime history, head to Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour where you can actually go inside a WWII submarine!
6. Gdansk (Poland)
The centre of Gdansk is a very picturesque old town and there are some great things to do in Gdansk. The Main Street Uliza Dluga is one of the most beautiful in Europe. Snap a few pictures near Neptunes fountain and then head for a visit of St Mary’s Church. Make sure that you go for a drink on Uliza Piwna which is informally known as ‘beer street’. If you love street art then head to Zaspa District which is street art heaven!
There are some fantastic museums in Gdansk. This Northern Polish city is home to the largest WWII museum in the world, which is actually built underneath the city! including the Westerplatter outdoor museum some parts which still contain the ruins since the battle of Westerplatte in 1939. It details all the events during and leading up to the Second World War and includes a peace monument dedicated to the victims.
7. Novi Sad (Serbia)
Novi Sad, the second city of Serbia was an extremely pleasant surprise. I saw Novi Sad in a day trip from Belgrade, and although I would have loved to stay longer, it was enough to see the main sites of the city. A good plan is to get off the train at Petrovaradin to see the fortress, then walk across the bridge to the main city of Novi Sad and get back on the train at Novi Sad main station. It’s a good and easy to navigate route – everything is well signposted.
In the centre of Novi Sad visit Dunavska Street and the Serbian Orthodox Church. Then head towards the Main Square where you will see Novi Sad Town Hall and the Gothic style Roman Catholic Church. It’s one of the lesser discovered Eastern European cities.
8. Brno (Czech Republic)
This happening Czech second city is famous for its modern architecture, gastronomy and lively cultural scene. It’s about three and a half hours away from Prague and so it’s possible to see both of these fabulous cities in one trip. Brno is also accessible from Bratislava and Vienna.
In Brno, check out Zelný trh square in the oldest part of the city. It’s popular for its markets, restaurants, cafes, boutique shops and galleries. The square is also home to the Baroque-styled Parnas Fountain, which dates back to the 17th century. Also in Brno, don’t miss the Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul, St Thomas’ Abbey and Špilberk Castle.
9. Belgrade (Serbia)
Belgrade, the capital of Serbia is a fantastic weekend away. It’s even worth spending 3-4 days in Belgrade in my opinion. Start off by exploring Belgrade Fortress and Kalemegdan Park. From there, then head down Mihailova Street and Republic Square where you will see the main shopping area, monuments and historical buildings.
If you enjoy Churches then don’t miss Sava Church and St. Marks Orthodox Church. I found Belgrade to be quite a hotchpotch of architecture – there are even two bombed buildings left as they were from the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999.
You can even explore underground Belgrade and go into the secret tunnels and underground bunker used back in 1951 in the fighting between Tito and Stalin. There are even Roman Ruins to be found underground in Belgrade!
At the end of your day exploring, head to Skadarlija which is the area where all the bars are – the beautiful cobbled streets come to life after dark! Also when you check out the Belgrade Nightlife, don’t miss my favourite bar in Belgrade – the Witch Bar! Belgrade is one of the top Eastern European cities for nightlife.
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10. Riga (Lavtia)
Riga is my favourite Baltic capital, with stunning architecture and lively nightlife. Rіgа’ѕ Art Nouveau center hаѕ won the right to be recognised as a UNESCO Wоrld Hеrіtаgе Sіtе. Head to the main square to see the house of the Blackheads, which wаѕ еrесtеd durіng the 14th сеnturу for the Brotherhood of Blackheads – a guіld fоr unmаrrіеd merchants, shipowners, and fоrеіgnеrѕ in Riga.
In the old town you will also find the ‘three brothers’ – three houses built according to legend by members of the same family, each in a different period of architecture. Walk through the ‘Swedish Gate’ which is the only remaining gate to the old town. It is so called because it was built in 1698 at the time of the Swedish rule. Riga’s old town is also home to some gorgeous spires. If you enjoy Church architecture then Riga will not disappoint – check out Riga Cathedral and St Peter’s Church. Last but not least, don’t miss Riga Castle.
11. Ostrava (Czech Republic)
Back to the Czech Republic now to consider a trip to Ostrava. This is a city in the North East of and the capital of the Moravian-Silesian Region. Ostrava is an industrial contrast to Prague, but still, saying that it has a nice main square and historical old town. On the main square, make sure you visit the Radhagast beer stand! Over the river from the old town you will find Silesian Ostrava Castle.
If you do want to witness the industrial steampunk style of Ostrava then head to the GONG convention centre which incorporate a historical gasholder structure into a lecture hall and has sensitively restored this industrial construction into an extraordinary multifunctional centre! TBEX 2018 was held at the Gong in Ostrava and it was a convention centre like nothing I have ever seen before!
12. Brasov (Romania)
This Romanian town deep in Transylvania is home to a stunningly beautiful Old Town and numerous castles to explore. Don’t miss Catherine’s Gate in the centre of Brașov, which was built by the Tailors’ Guild, in 1559 for defensive purposes. In the old town also be sure to check out the Black Church, Council square and the White Tower.
Take some extra time whilst you are in Brasov to visit the castles in the region. Head to Ranov Citadel and Bran Castle (Dracula’s castle!) in just 30 minutes drive from Brasov – both are well worth a trip.
13. Vilnius (Lithuania)
Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, is another of the often overlooked Eastern European cities. It has a gorgeous old town and a very interesting KGB Museum. For the culture vultures amongst you, don’t miss St Annes Church, the Church of St Peter and St Paul and the hill of three crosses. History buffs will want to check out Gediminas castle tower.
Spend a good few days in Vilnius as there is also plenty to see in the surrounding areas. Kaunas, Lithuania’s second city is an easy day trip from Vilnius. If you fancy a pilgrimage, the Hill of Crosses in the North of Lithuania is well worth a visit (this is different to the hill of three crosses in Vilnius itself). The origins of the Kryžių Kalnas, or the Hill of Crosses, remain a mystery, but for nearly two centuries wooden and metal crosses have been placed on a hill just outside the northern city of Šiauliai. It’s a fascinating visit.
14. Lviv (Ukraine)
Lviv is one of the most beautiful cities in the Ukraine, with one of the Ukraines most picturesque old towns and can be explored on foot.
Sadly it is not currently possible to visit due to the ongoing Russian invasion, so watch the news and keep up to date with the foreign office website for advice on when travel to the Ukraine will be possible once again. Sadly my own trip to Lviv was postponed first by the Covid-19 lockdown and secondly by the war, and so I am still yet to make this trip. Thoughts are with the people of Lviv and the rest of Ukraine at this difficult time.
Explore the old town of Lviv and be should to include the Town Hall, Reno Square, Lychakiv Cemetery and Lviv natural opera. Lviv High castle is tough to climb but well worth it due to the phenomenal view of the city from the top. The Churches of Lviv are STUNNING – check out:
- The Dominican Cathedral
- Svyatogo Yura Cathedral
- Armenian Virgin Mary’s Dormition Church
- Chapel of the Boim Family
Lviv is also a very digital nomad friendly city with good and cheap cafes with WIFI. There is a lively nightlife scene after dark.
In winter months it can be extremely cold in Lviv, so wrap up warm with extra layers, hat, scarf and gloves and snow gear!
15. Kaunas (Lithuania)
Kaunas, Lithuania’s second city also gets a spot on the list! It’s a big University city and although its old town is much smaller than Vilnius, it is just as picturesque. It’s worth at least a day and possibly a long weekend. It’s large tourist population brings with it some excellent bars and restaurants, many of which spill out onto the streets during the summer months, giving the city a nice and relaxing vibe.
The city of Kaunas is famous for its Interwar architecture, which was awarded the European Heritage label and is on its way to being labelled as a UNESCO world heritage site. Essential sites in Kaunas include Kaunas castle, Pažaislis Monastery and Church and Kaunas town hall. Kaunas also has some great museums on offer including the KGB Atomic Bunker Museum.
16. Bratislava (Slovakia)
The Slovakian capital of Bratislava is another top European destination for old town architecture. The top sites include Michalska Brana (the Old Town Gate), Hlavne Namestie (the main square) and Bratislava Castle. Also don’t miss the stunningly beautifully unusual ‘blue Church’ – Modry Kostol.
Also head a few miles West of Bratislava to Devín Castle, which ranks amongst the most important archeological sites in Central Europe.
17. Wrocław (Poland)
Wroclaw is one of the most beautiful Polish cities with an outstanding old town. It’s in Southwest of Poland and in the historical region of Silesia. Positioned on the Odra river, Wrocław is actually an island city made up of 12 islands and 130 bridges, adding to its beauty.
Wroclaw is famous for it’s old town square surrounded by beautiful historical houses and a contrasting modern fountain. You will also find the historical town hall with an astronomical clock. One of Wroclaw’s most prized attractions is the Panorama of Racławice. This cycloramic painting depicts the Battle of Racławice in the Kościuszko Uprising.
18. Český Krumlov (Czech Republic)
One of the most beautiful eastern european cities is Český Krumlov in the Czech Republic. It is about half way in-between Prague and Vienna and so makes an excellent stop off if you are travelling between these two cities.
Český Krumlov is bisected by the Vltava River, and dominated by its famous 13th-century castle. The castle itself has Gothic, Renaissance and baroque elements, an 11-hectare garden and a 17th-century baroque theater. Climb the bell-tower for beautiful panoramic views of the city.
The city has a large selection of museums for its size, making it worth more than just a day trip. How about the Museum of Commerce? The 3D Museum? The Museum of torture?!!
19. Cluj-Napoca (Romania)
Romania’s second city Cluj-Napoca feels so much more manageable than the capital of Bucharest, but is not lacking in historical sites and things to do. Cluj Napoca is the first ever city I truly explored.
On the main square in the Old Town grab some photos at the Rex Matia Corvin Statue. Explore the medieval architecture of Cluj including the Catedrala Sfântul Mihail, the Town Hall and Simai house. Later find the Teatrul Național Lucian Blaga and catch a ballet or opera there if you can!
20. Tirana (Albania)
The Albanian city of Tirana has a bustling city life which is complemented by its calming and breathtaking nature spots. Start your exploration of Tirana at Skanderbeg Square or “Sheshi Skënderbej” which is a great place for people watching and chilling. Near here you will find the National Museum, Bunk’Art 2, the Clock Tower, Et’hem Bey Mosque, and the Pyramid.
Tirana is famous for the amazing surrounding hikes nearby. Drive just 1 hour North of the city to enjoy the phenomenal views of Lake Bovilla. Travel less than one hour out of the city for chance to hike Dajti mountain.
21. Skopje (Macedonia)
The Macedonian capital of Skopje has historically been under Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman rule. The 15th Century old bridge connects the Ottoman Old Bazaar (North Bank) with the Macedonian Square (South Bank). The city of Skopje is overlooked by the fortress which has defended the city for many years. As well as the fortress, check out Macedonia Square, Skopje Bazaar and the Memorial House of Mother Teresa.
While you are in Skopje, take the short journey (approx 35 minutes drive) to Match Canyon. The beautiful Match Lake is surrounded by numerous monasteries that are waiting to be explored.
22. Budapest (Hungary)
It’s not hard to see why Budapest made it to the list of the best Eastern European cities – it is one of the most instagrammable destinations in Europe!
Head straight up to Buda palace on the fernicular to explore Budapest’s top attraction. Then as you make your way down you will discover the labyrinth – a system of underground corridors and bunkers that served as a shelter and as a hospital during WW II. Further down you will discover Matthias Church (first built in 1015), and Fisherman’s Bastion – a 19th century fortress built in Neo-Gothic and Neo-Romanesque style that offers charming views of the river Danube.
On the second day, explore the ‘Pest’ side of the city. Check out the main areas of Váci Street and Andrássy Avenue which is lined with Neo-Renaissance mansions!
Finally, don’t leave Budapest before you have a relax in one of the thermal spas in the city. The Széchenyi Medicinal Bath is the largest medicinal bath in Europe, with water that has a temperature of around 75 degrees Celsius.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also like to read mu list of 20 offbeat European capitals.