You want to discover the Hidden Gems of Eastern Europe and find new travel inspiration to fill your bucket list for 2021? The this article is the one for you! In the shadow of world-famous Eastern European destinations such as Prague, Budapest or Dubrovnik you will find true treasures with incomparable nature, architecture and cultural highlights. Have you ever heard of Veliko Tărnovo in Bulgaria, Kutaisi in Georgia or Sinaia in Romania? And Prishtina in Kosovo is certainly not yet on your bucket list. Get inspired by the recommendations of experienced travel bloggers and learn more about must-see destinations in Eastern Europe and the Balkans off the beaten track.
Hidden Gems Eastern Europe – The Highlights II
Make sure you also check out part I of the series: Eastern Europe Highlights – Hidden Gem destinations I
All Hidden Gems in Eastern Europe recommendations at one glace
Here you find the Eastern Europe Highlights with the best things to do at a glance 📷
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This article covers the Hidden Gems of Eastern Europe off the beaten track in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Georgia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania and Serbia, marked in green on the map.
More Hidden Gem destinations in Eastern Europe you will find in the second part of the article, also published on JOURNICATION. Eastern Europe Highlights – Hidden Gem destinations I includes off the beaten track must-see destinations in Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia & Ukraine – marked in orange on the map.
If you are interested in the Eastern Europe Highlights, you’ll find Balkans Road trip Itineraries with checklists and maps here: Balkans Road trip – Incredibly versatile adventure.
Bovilla Lake / Albania
Bovilla Lake is a reservoir about 14 km from Tirana in Albania. It’s part of the Mount Dajt National Park. Getting there is quite an adventure. The route to the lake is super interesting and the lake is absolutely stunning.
The best way to get there is by car. It’s recommended to drive until the mosque called Xhamia Priskë e Vogël and start the hike from there.
From the mosque to the lake, it is about 6 – 7 km. It takes almost 2 hours to get to the Bovilla Lake and the Bovilla Climbing Area. Along the road, in the first part, you can see a couple of small villages with a few houses and witness local Albanian village life. The second part is hilly-mountainous. There, you walk along a gorgeous river, the Tërkuza River, a couple of lovely waterfalls and dramatic ravines. The road is pretty crazy. You might also see big stones and rocks that have fallen down.
Once you get to the lake, you can further hike to get an amazing vista over the lake. The higher you hike up, the more beautiful view you will have over the lake and its turquoise and green water surrounded by lush green hilly forests. Some parts of the hiking trail are really steep and narrow. It can be actually pretty dangerous to go up but it’s doable. Do it on your own responsibility!
If you took a taxi on the way there, you can hitchhike on the way back to a bus station in Kämez so that you can get back to downtown Tirana.
Explored by Diana from The Globetrotting Detective
Hidden Gems of Eastern Europe: Korça / Albania
Not many tourists make it to the far south-eastern corner of Albania, with most people preferring to stick to the coast. But if you’re transiting to/from North Macedonia or Thessaloniki, your path may lead you through this beautiful and lesser-visited part of the country.
The city of Korçë (AKA Korça) lies less than 60km from the Greek border and has a very different feel to all other Albanian cities. That’s despite following a similar plan, with a grand Old Bazaar and a mosque at its core. Korça is extremely significant to modern Albanian history, being the home of the first Albanian language school, and houses several important galleries and museums, including the National Museum of Medieval Art. A chance to see the spectacular collection of religious icons from around the country is enough to justify a visit to Korça.
The Resurrection of Christ Albanian Orthodox Cathedral is the most prominent landmark in the city and should be your first port of call upon arrival. The old neighborhoods that rise up the hill behind the church are filled with beautiful houses and courtyards, while the pedestrian boulevard that stretches out the opposite way is lined with cafes.
Chefs in Korça are known for their Lakror, a flaky stuffed pastry dish that was born in this part of Albania. Birra Korça, the first beer ever brewed in Albania, also has its roots here – and the two pair very well. One final must-do is to visit the brewery on the edge of town for a sundowner in the courtyard.
Explored by Emily from Wander-Lush
Mostar / Bosnia & Herzegovina
If you’re looking for the most beautiful – and probably one of the most underrated – places to visit in Eastern Europe, look no further than Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Located in the southern part of the country, this picturesque city is mostly known for its well-preserved old town and the old bridge, otherwise referred to as Stari Most.
Although Mostar is one of the biggest cities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, you can easily visit the highlights in just one day. So if you don’t want to stay around for longer, you can also visit Mostar as a day trip from either Split or Dubrovnik, however, it’s truly worth staying for a night or two!
The charming old town definitely makes Mostar one of the most beautiful cities in Europe – you can spend hours just wandering around the narrow cobbled streets and enjoying the unique and colorful markets. If you’re feeling adventurous, the old bridge is not only a beautiful sight to behold, but you can also jump off from there in the summer months. The bridge is 24-metres tall so it’s quite scary, but even if you don’t want to jump yourself, watching the jumpers is really fun.
Another great sight to visit is the Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque, where you can climb up to the top and enjoy a beautiful panoramic view over the city. When in Mostar, you should also try the Bosnian coffee (similar to Turkish coffee) and eat some classic local dishes such as burek or cevapi.
Explored by Krisztina from She Wanders Abroad
Veliko Tarnovo / Bulgaria
Located in northern Bulgaria, Veliko Tarnovo was the historical capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire.
Today, the town itself rolls across several hills and is partially surrounded by old fortification walls. Though the population is below 100,000 people, it is considered an urban town in Bulgaria. It is also known among Bulgarians as an educational and cultural hub in the country. The biggest attraction is the Tsarevets fortress.
Within the walls there are the remains of the ancient grounds and a beautiful cathedral. From the top of the hill you also get an impressive view of the city with a skyline interrupted by the domes of numerous Orthodox churches, as well as the Yantra River.
You could spend some quiet down time exploring the streets and parks of Veliko Tarnovo or visit as a day trip from Bucharest, Romania. You can also visit the nearby Rock Monastery of St. Dimitar Basarabovski, a monastery built right into a large rock face.
Explored by Taylor from TAYTRUM TRAVELS
Hidden Gems of Eastern Europe: Bansko / Bulgaria
Bansko is Bulgaria’s largest ski resort and easily reached from the capital city, Sofia in around 2 hours. The mountain town sits at the edge of the Pirin National Park and is in a stunning location. Winter here sees alpine and cross country skiing, there’s also ice skating and hot spring spas throughout the area.
The National Park provides for superb hiking trails when spring comes – with day hikes and overnight mountain huts available for longer trails. There are excellent mountain bike trails, horse riding, jeep safaris, ATV tours and even hot air balloons to further explore the area. Bansko in summer is a great getaway from the heat of the cities – and the town hosts several free festivals each year – from Opera to the internationally renowned Jazz Festival.
It’s also only a short drive to the UNESCO world heritageRila Monastery – a truly unique building that could be Bulgaria’s most beautiful structure. Accommodation here is great value, from apartments to the 5 star Kempinski hotel and there are great food and drink options too. Bulgarian wine from the nearby Melnik region is superb and trout is a local speciality.
Explored by Sarah from ASocialNomad
Omis / Croatia
Omis is a really great city! It’s hard to believe that this place is not yet so well known. Here are 3 highlights why you should spend at least 2 nights in Omis on your next Croatia vacation!
1.) Ziplining! In Omis there are several breathtaking ziplines for all adrenaline junkies. One of them is over 700m long and you can reach a speed of up to 70km/h. The view is simply unique! Besides ziplining, you can also practice all other sports in Omis. For example climbing or rafting. Omis is really a city full of adventure!
2.) Omis has one of the most beautiful beaches in Croatia! If you have been avoiding Croatia because of the pebble beaches, now you have no excuses. There is a beautiful sandy beach in Omis. The beach is not that big, but there are not that many people here either. You will be very sure to find a place.
3.) The view! In Omis there are several beautiful viewpoints. So you can not only explore an old pirate fortress and look into the bay from there, but you should definitely rent an accommodation further up in the mountains. There are even some with infinity pools, from where you can enjoy an incredible sunset.
Once you’ve been to Omis, you’ll definitely fall in love with this little coastal town. If you want to learn more, you can find more Croatia Travel Guides here.
Explored by Tristan from Traxplorio
Osijeck / Croatia
The majority of tourists fly into Croatia’s coastal airports which means this small, rural city tucked into a corner of Croatia’s eastern territory is largely undiscovered.
Nestled in a crevice between Hungary, Serbia and Bosnia, Osijek sits in a flat and mainly arable nook so if you’re looking for true hidden gems in Eastern Europe this is it. Due to its flatness, it’s easy to traverse on foot and there’s loads to explore and discover.
The town is divided by the fast-flowing Drava River & connected by a pedestrianised suspension bridge. Benefiting from long and wide promenades on each side of the river, the town has links to an 18th-century fortress with catacombs. Also boasting over 40 miles of local bike trails, there’s somewhere here for cyclists, skateboarders and rollerskaters alike.
Despite being rural, Osijek has a beach and a waterpark. Kopika sits on the Drava River whilst the waterpark, Bazeni Copacabana, is adjacent. Closeby is Kopački Rit Nature Park; a wetland paradise filled with boardwalks, turtles, birds, frogs and fish when you can rent boats and go wildlife spotting. The historical city is picturesque and benefits a cobbled square and an enormous farmers’ market selling a delicious array of local produce. From fragrant fruits to sticky honey, the market is full of colour and aroma. Alternatively, you could get lost at the Corn Maze; a labyrinth of 8,500 square meters.
Explored by Emma from Journey of a nomadic family
Zaton Mali / Croatia
Zaton Mali is a postcard perfect village on the Dalmatian coast, located only 8kms away from the buzzing Dubrovnik city. The fact that Zaton Mali is so close to Dubrovnik actually makes it less visible and not many tourists actually visit here. Which means, you can have the shimmering coast to yourself. Zaton Mali is truly a hidden gem that way!
With pine covered hills and punctuated rocky bays, Zaton Mali comes as a fresh alternative to escape the crowd and buzz that you experience in Dubrovnik. The bay is also dotted with stately mansions that were once owned by aristocratic Croatian families, who used to visit Zaton Mali to have a quiet holiday.
You can swim in the warm waters, or kayak around the picturesque Zaton Bay which is 3kms long. Alternatively, you can walk along the bay. Major settlements along the Zaton Bay include Zaton Mali and Zaton Veliki. Zaton Veliki beach is a small but beautiful pebble beach where you can soak for hours and enjoy the tranquil waters. The beach is also perfect for family travellers.
While there are not many big hotel chains, there are beautiful apartments and B&Bs that offer affordable yet comfortable accommodation. Zaton Mali can be reached from Dubrovnik by public transport, and it takes approximately 20 minutes. Alternatively, you can take a taxi. If you are really looking for slow travel, Zaton Mali is a perfect base to explore the Dalmatian coast.
Explored by Anuradha from Country Hopping Couple
Kutaisi / Georgia
Kutaisi is a charming industrial city, located in central Georgia at the heart of the Caucasus region. The city has been continuously inhabited for 4000 years and perfectly combines old-world charm with 20th-century Soviet influence into a unique atmosphere. With its international airport and low-cost airline flight connections, Kutaisi has been growing in touristic popularity in recent years. As well as the attractive low cost of living in Kutaisi compared with western standards, the city also has several great attractions for visitors.
The most popular of which is Bagrati Cathedral, located on the top of the hill overlooking all of Kutaisi. This 11th-century building underwent substantial restoration work in recent years and is now a stunning orthodox Christian cathedral still used by locals. Another great option in the city is to visit Kutaisi Botanical Garden. While not the biggest or most impressive gardens, here, you can enjoy tranquillity away from bustling city life for an hour or two.
Additionally, just a 20-minute drive out of the city will take to you two monasteries. The Gelati Monastery dates back to the 1100s, and while Motsameta Monastery isn’t quite as old, both offer incredibly scenic views over the Georgian countryside.
As a final note, if you’re in Kutaisi and wanting to try Georgian food, you HAVE to visit Toma’s Wine Cellar. This top-rated restaurant offers an incredible menu of homemade Georgian food and amber wine with exceptional customer service!
Explored by Zoe from Zoe goes places
Hidden Gems of Eastern Europe: Kazbegi / Georgia
Nestled in the Caucasus mountains is the wonderful hidden gem that is Kazbegi. This place is absolutely a must visit when travelling to Georgia. It is located only 1 hour drive away from the capital and offers the most immersive experience in the Georgian mountains. As you are driving, breath-taking scenic views open up in front of you and you really get the feeling of Georgia’s beauty.
This destination is perfect for both budget conscious and luxury travellers. If you are into hiking, there is no better place to do it than in Kazbegi. One of the most notable spots to do this is the hike up to the Gergeti Trinity Church. It takes about 60-75 minutes to hike up to the top and can be quite challenging. If you are not up for the challenge, there is also an option to hire one of the cars with drivers who have the suitable cars to take you to the top. These are found in Kazbegi and can be arranged on the day.
On the more luxury side, the Rooms Hotel is the most popular hotel here in Kazbegi. With its panoramic mountain views, there is no better place to stay all year round if you want to be woken up to the sunrise in the mountains and breathe some fresh air.
The food in this region is also very special – this is where Khinkali (the Georgian dumplings with mince) originates! If you visit, make sure to stop in a restaurant along the way to indulge in some khinkali.
Explored by Anna from No Space in my Passport
Prishtina / Kosovo
Pristina is a typical destination off the typical tourist trail. Honestly, who has Kosovo on their list of potential destinations? However, the region is absolutely underestimated. There are so many things to do in Prishtina even in one day – but not too many either.
Especially if you have limited time, Prishtina is a great city to slow down a bit. The list of sights is quite long. Here, it is important to go on a discovery tour and let the impressions take effect on you. This is especially easy to do at the local markets in the city center or just outside.
Stroll down the Bulevardi Nënë Tereza, often decorated with colorful flags. Don’t miss the “Newborn” Monument, which is constantly being redesigned to change its appearance. It represents the spirit of optimism in Kosovo and Europe’s youngest capital after times of war and insecurity.
A visit to the Mother Teresa Cathedral is highly recommended. Go up to the church tower and enjoy a great view over the city and the university campus. Here stands the National Library, which is on the list of the ugliest buildings ever – rightly so?
Prishtina has a great nightlife because of the average very young population – have fun!
Explored by Phil from Journication
Herceg Novi / Montenegro
Europe is full of stunning hidden gems, but none compare to the beautiful Herceg Novi, Montenegro. This stunning coastal town sits along the Adriatic Sea and borders Croatia. It has a local and untouched vibe to it that only adds to its unique authenticity and is a must-visit while in Montenegro. The best thing about Herceg Novi is that unlike most places in Europe it hasn’t been overrun with tourism. This means you can enjoy a long stay and get a real Montenegrin experience.
The best thing to do in Herceg Novi is to go swimming! Due to its location along the coast, there are a ton of beaches to choose from all with sunbeds, music, and clear blue waters. There is nothing better than renting a run bed for 5 euros a day and relaxing in the sun and swimming. The best thing about these beaches is that there are often bars and restaurants on them so you can order pizza and cocktails right to your sunbed. In addition to the beaches,
Herceg Novi also has a stunning old town with pastel colours buildings on historic monuments. Walking around and exploring the city will show you the beauty and magic of this European hidden gem!
Explored by Samantha from Sam Sees World
Lake Ohrid / North Macedonia
Although there aren’t many who dream of visiting Macedonia, Lake Ohrid should definitely make your list.
This beautiful town is known as the Lake Como of Eastern Europe, but much much cheaper. It’s situated a few hours from the capital city of Skopje, on a lake that borders Albania and Macedonia. The town itself has nice bars, nightclubs, and restaurants overlooking the water, and there are several activities nearby.
You can take a boat on the lake or search the caves on the northern side for some awesome swimming spots. For an iconic view, you can easily walk to the top of the Church of Sv Jovan Kaneo and see the sunset. There are also several hiking trails both around the lake, near a fortress, and in the surrounding hills.
There are many buses running from Skopje to Ohrid daily. Alternatively, you can find many buses or ‘furgons’ from the Albanian capital city of Tirana. From Skopje or Tirana it’s easier to connect to other destinations.
Explored by Jori from The Tejana Abroad
Hidden Gems of Eastern Europe: Brasov / Romania
The first thing you need to do in Brasov is to find a good place on a terrace in Council Square. The piazza is at the center of Old Town Brasov and if you choose the right table, you will have a good view over a few of the most noteworthy Brasov attractions.
First of all, you will probably notice Mt. Tampa behind one side of the square and the giant Hollywood-style sign at the top. Mt. Tampa is a protected area and a perfect place for some hiking.
Another profile that will catch your eye is that of the Black Church, behind the main piazza. Also, an Orthodox Cathedral is hidden in an inner courtyard. On one side of the square, the Council House is now part of the History Museum in Brasov. Refreshed after a coffee or drink, you should explore the surrounding area, the pedestrianized streets full of terraces, Catherine’s Gate, the Rope Street, the medieval towers, or The Weaver’s Bastion.
In addition, Brasov is a great place to stay while you’re exploring many other attractions in the area. If you spend the day visiting Rasnov Citadel, Bran Castle, or the fortified churches close to Brasov, you’ll have the evenings to enjoy some of the great restaurants in the city.
Explored by Anda from Travel for a while
Cluj-Napoca / Romania
Cluj-Napoca, the capital city of Transylvania is not only the fourth biggest city in Romania but also a major university city and a hotspot for students from all around the world. The hip city was even named “European Youth Capital” in 2015.
Thanks to its young population you’ll find many hip bars, fancy cafés and tons of other awesome things to do in Cluj-Napoca.
In the old town for example, you can wander through narrow streets and discover hidden gems or go for lunch in one of the many charming restaurants offering Romanian or international types of cuisine. Another thing you shouldn’t miss out on doing is to climb the stairs to the top of Cetatuia Hill. From there you can enjoy the most stunning view of the city and if you go there in the evening, you’ll have the chance to experience a magical sunset.
If you need a short break from the bustling city life, head to the Botanical Garden. It’s home to more than 10,000 different plants and a paradise for every nature lover! However, the most special part of it is the Japanese Garden with a small pond, red bridges and a Japanese-style pavillon.
To learn more about the Romanian culture and experience the local life, visit the market in front of the Orthodox Cathedral. From Romanian clothing to wooden kitchen utensils, there’s nothing you won’t find there!
Explored by Alina from World of Lina
Sfantu Gheorghe in the Danube Delta / Romania
Sfantu Gheorghe is a small fishing village in the Romanian section of the Danube Delta. The village is where the River Danube meets the Black Sea and is a rather unique place. It’s a great base camp for a beach holiday, a remote stay or a wildlife adventure.
The primary reason visitors come to the village is to see the splendid scenery and wildlife of the Danube Delta Biosphere. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the excellent preserved habitats. The best way to see the area is by boat, you can also go on guided tours to find the wildlife including massive flocks of wild fowl or pelican colonies. Going about your daily business in Sfantu Gheorghe you will see the local wildlife from snakes, insects like the praying mantis or a variety of birds.
The village has a nice beach to relax on and has a variety of bars or restaurants for refreshments. Many of the local families supplement their income by making traditional food for visitors. The menus of the area consist of fresh fish, which are delicious, especially the soups of the region.
The remote nature of the village and slow pace of life are very appealing. To reach the village you need to travel for a few hours by boat as there are no roads. Sfantu Gheorghe in the Danube Delta is a truly unique location.
Explored by Richard from RJ on Tour
Hidden Gems of Eastern Europe: Sinaia / Romania
Romania remains on the fringes of mainstream European travel – the kind of place everyone has heard of but few have made it to. Thanks to Dracula, the Transylvania region attracts more tourists than anywhere else in the country. And right in the heart of it all, you’ll find wonderful Sinaia, a photogenic ski resort town surrounded by mountains (obviously) and filled with terrific historical monuments (less obviously).
The crown jewel of Sinaia is the phenomenal Peles Castle, one of the most impressive buildings in Eastern Europe. You can join a group for a thorough guided tour of the castle and museum or just wander the grounds enjoying its beauty from a multitude of angles. Right next door you’ll find a bonus castle, so to speak, as Pelisor Castle lacks Peles’ fame, but not its grandeur. Sinaia also boasts a fascinating 19th century monastery in Sinaia that is worth a look.
When you are ready to really stretch your legs, the nearby Bucegi Mountains are filled with outstanding hiking trails, the best of which are reached by the Sinaia gondola. Even if hiking isn’t your thing it is still worth riding the gondola for the fabulous views.
Finally, no visit to Romania would be complete without a stop at Bran Castle (1 hr from Sinaia by car), the inspiration for Dracula’s castle. It may not be as extraordinary as Peles Castle, but it is definitely the place to buy tacky vampire souvenirs.
Explored by Dean & Laynni from Routinely Nomadic
Vranje / Serbia
Vranje is a small city in Southern Serbia. Not accustomed to foreign visitors, this is a great place to experience the real Serbia. Vranje is a 3.5 hour drive from Belgrade or a mere 2 hours from North Macedonia’s capital, Skopje.
On arrival in this seemingly sleepy city, it doesn’t appear that there is much to do or see that is of much interest. However, take a look below the surface and you will discover lots of interesting history, some beautiful architecture and wonderful people. Beli Most is a small Ottoman era footbridge in the north of the town and has become an emblem of Vranje. The 15 minute walk to the bridge takes you through a quiet neighbourhood where hens roam freely and friendly dogs might come to greet you. A very pleasant stroll!
Another interesting attraction is the Museum of Bora Stankovic – Vranje’s famous writer. The exhibition is displayed within the writer’s former house and a walk through the rooms is a bit like going back in time. This museum is well worth a visit, especially if you like Serbian history.
On a hot summer’s day, City Park is the place to be. It lies just off the pedestrian centre of the city and contains a few interesting statues.
Saunter down the pedestrianised street and sample some of the great cafes and restaurants, and don’t forget the ice cream parlours! There is a bustling café culture in the city and some amazing BBQ restaurants not to be missed.
Explored by Katy from The Balkans and Beyond
More travel tips for Eastern Europe
In this article, Travel bloggers from all over the world revealed their insider tips for the Hidden Gems of Eastern Europe and amazing things to do off the beaten track. Get inspired and expand your Europe travel bucket list with the tips and infos.
What is the destination you put on your bucket list now? Let us know in the comments!
More Hidden Gems of Eastern Europe you will find in the first part of the article, Eastern Europe Highlights – Hidden Gem destinations I. This article ncludes off the beaten track must-see destinations in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Georgia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania and Serbia.
For Balkan Road trip proposals with Itinerary, checklists and maps, go on reading Balkans Road trip – Incredibly versatile adventure.
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