Countless highlights and unforgettable things to do await you on a trip to Eastern Europe. World-famous destinations like Dubrovnik, Budapest or Prague speak for themselves and attract millions of travelers every year. But even off the beaten track – and perhaps especially there – you will find true treasures of culture, architecture and beautiful scenery, but far less crowded and adapted to mass tourism. Have you ever heard of Transnistria, Špania Dolina or Kaunas? No? Then this article is just for you! Travel bloggers from all over the world reveal their insider tips for Eastern Europe. Get inspired and expand your bucket list with the travel tips and info.
Eastern Europe Highlights – Hidden Gem destinations I
Make sure you also check out part II: Hidden Gems Eastern Europe – The Highlights II
All Hidden Gem 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 Eastern Europe Highlights off the beaten track in Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia & Ukraine, marked in orange on the map.
More Hidden Gem destinations in Eastern Europe you will find in the second part of the article, also published on JOURNICATION. Hidden Gems Eastern Europe – The Highlights II includes off the beaten track must-see destinations in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Georgia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania and Serbia – marked in green on the map.
If you are interested in the Eastern Europe Highlights and want to plan a Balkans Road trip, go on reading with Balkans Road trip – Incredibly versatile adventure for itineraries, checklists and maps.
Eastern Europe Highlights
Telč / Czech Republic
Telč is a small fairytale-like town surrounded by ponds, fields, and forests. Telč’s main square is part of the UNESCO World Heritage sites and it is one of the beautiful places to visit in the Czech Republic. Imagine colorful historic houses with high gables and arcades build in a Renaissance and Baroque style where you can find lovely cafes, galleries, or little shops. Building facades are characterized by a diversity of decorative elements.
There is also a lovely Renaissance chateau from the 17th century with an English-style park which is one of the gems of Moravian Renaissance architecture. Chateau‘s façade is decorated with beautiful sgraffito technique, which can be found also on other buildings in town. The original Gothic castle was rebuilt by Zachariáš of Hradec in 1533 and it is inspired by the Italian Renaissance style. In general, houses and buildings in Telč, are characterized by a diversity of decorative elements.
Besides the romantic walks around the historical center, there are many other activities you can do in your free time. The most popular activities are cycling, horse riding, swimming, rope courses, nearby steam mill, and many others. You can also visit nearby castles of Roštejn, Štamberk, and Landštejn.
Explored by Adriana from Czech the World
Tallinn / Estonia
Tallinn is one of the most charming destinations that can be found in Eastern Europe.
The historic center of Tallinn has been recognized UNESCO World Heritage for a clear reason, because it’s incredibly beautiful to stroll around! When visiting Tallinn, this is then also where you should start. Although you might need to climb a little bit, the viewpoint of Kohtuotsa will give you the most iconic view over the city of Tallinn. Another top attraction in the city is the old KGB museum located at Viru Hotel. When Estonia was still part of the Soviet Union, this was the espionage spot of the Soviet’s Secret Service to keep an eye on all the tourists visiting the city, and today this is open for the public!
Other must-see places include the Alexander Nevski Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox Church that is another remainder of the Soviet Union, the beautiful City Hall and the city hall square where you’ll find many restaurants, and the old city wall with its cute towers and small botanical garden. The best time to visit is either in winter when the city looks like a magical place, or spring and fall.
In summer, Tallinn is a very popular destination for cruises and with all those people visiting Tallinn at once, it can become very crowded.
Explored by Emma from Emma’s Roadmap
Debrecen / Hungary
Debrecen, the second largest city in Hungary, is situated in the Eastern part of the country.
The city is famous for its lovely historical centre, one of the top Hungarian universities, a wide range of wellness options and one of the most iconic natural landmarks of Hungary, Hortobágy, also known as the Hungarian Puszta, located just an hour away from Hortobágy.
The most beautiful attractions of downtown Debrecen are the Reformed Great Church, the largest protestant church of Hungary, the Csokonai Theatre, and the Dery Museum. You can find them around the main square called Kossuth Square. You can also enjoy the fascinating architecture of Debrecen from the terrace of one the cafés or restaurants while feasting on traditional Hungarian delicacies such as Goulash Soup (gulyás leves) or Hungarian stuffed crepes (hortobágyi húsos palacsinta). Make sure you start your meal with a shot of delicious traditional Hungarian fruit spirit, pálinka.
One of the oldest universities of Hungary, the University of Debrecen is located in the middle of Great Forest (Nagyerdő) of Debrecen. It has one of the most magnificent and majestic university buildings in Europe. Debrecen is not only a hidden gem for tasty food, education, and culture but also for recreational activities. The city has a brand new wellness complex with epic swimming pools, an awesome Mediterranean Aqua Park, thermal baths, and a sauna complex.
Last but not least, one of the best things to do in Debrecen is taking a day trip to Hortobágy, the Hungarian Puszta. There, you can learn about traditional pastoral life from a horse wagon taking you around this vast sheer. The main highlight of this experience is a spectacular horse riding show performed by Hungarian cowboys.
Explored by Diana from The Globetrotting Detective
Eastern Europe Highlights: Hortobagy / Hungary
Hortobagy is a world heritage site in little travelled Eastern Europe. Hungary’s largest national park covers an area of 800 km2, and is known as the largest steppe in Europe. This is an area of extraordinarily flat land with a unique biodiversity and culture. It’s more than just open fields though. The Hortobagy is home to unique breeds of animals including Nonius horses, water buffalo, Hungarian grey cattle, and racka sheep. In October the migration of the cranes is a spectacular sight, as 40,000 birds take flight in search of warmer climates.
Hortobagy park is best visited by guided tours for the casual visitor. These farm tours also demonstrate the famed gulyas and chikos at work. The chikos are Europe’s cowboys and a sight to truly behold in action. It’s not what you expect in Hungary but travel is always full of surprises.
The gateway village of Hortobagy is the best access point to the park and is well served by rail and road links from Debrecen. Most empty bellies wander to Hortobagyi Csarda, a famed local eatery where the food and entertainment is very traditional.
Explored by Quinn from Carpediemeire
Badacsony / Hungary
Badacsony is located in western Hungary right on the shore of Lake Balaton. It’s a magnificent region with the highlights of several hike trails, beautiful lake beaches, historical castles, and vineyards.
Hiking is one of the things to do around Lake Balaton. Badacsony is in the Bakony-Balaton Highland area, which hilltops were formed by volcanic eruptions many years ago. Recommended is do hiking around the Badacsony Hill, where hikers can enjoy the views to the biggest lake of central Europe (Lake Balaton), and on the other side surrounding volcano look-alike mountains tops.
Lake Balaton is surrounded by multiple beach resorts and the same is with Badacsony. Nobody can’t look away from not swimming in greenish Lake Balaton. Also from the beach bars try out local street food langos.
Close by are many historical castles and one of the most popular is near-by Szigliget Castle. It has been recently renovated, and from the top visitors can admire panoramic views of the surrounding landscape and to the lake itself. Hungarians are a well-known nationality in Europe as wine producers. Hungary is packed with several small wine regions and one of them is in Badacsony. Around the region are many wine farms with small shops to try out local wine.
Badacsony is a perfect summer vacation spot to do a variety of things. From having a lazy day next to lake Balaton to hiking around volcanic hills.
Explored by Erki from Genem Travels
Kaunas / Lithuania
Kaunas, Lithuania, is like the little brother to the capital city, Vilnius. The city is cultured, historical and beautiful. However, there is not one distinctive attraction – more like many smaller more subtle reasons to visit Kaunas. Kaunas castle was first built on this site in the town in the mid-14th century. The castle has a very complicated history so the museum located inside the castle walls is well worth a visit.
Pažaislis Monastery is the largest in Lithuania and located just outside Kaunas. Built in the 17th Century in the Italian Baroque style the monastery is impressive inside and out and it sits in beautiful grounds that are nice to explore. One of the best reasons to visit Kaunas is for its history. The 9th Fort was built in the late 19th century as part of the Kaunas Fortress. The Soviets used it as a prison during the occupation of Lithuania and, after that, the Nazis used it to exterminate up to 50,000 Jews and other prisoners. It is a sombre place to visit but an important part of European history.
Kaunas Old Town looks like something out of a movie set but has an authentic vibe. There are plenty of restaurants, cafes, beautiful churches and cobbled streets to explore. The Žaliakalnis Funicular railway was built in 1931 and is the oldest funicular in Lithuania! The carriage is a cheerful yellow and the interior is made of beautiful, dark wood taking you back to a time gone by.
Explored by Katy from The Balkans and Beyond
Eastern Europe Highlights: Chisinau / Moldova
Chisinau is the capital of Moldova, one of the least visited countries in Europe. However, if you love the east, you will love Chisinau too. This somewhat quirky city has lots of communist era architecture as well as great food and a number of interesting day trips to make.
At times, Chisinau feels like a throwback to Soviet times. The city was largely destroyed after the second World War and rebuilt by architects from the USSR. Being inspired by the Stalinist style they were made to impress. They do so by size rather than beauty, yet they tell a story of a time that has been erased in most other places in Europe.
In the meantime Chisinau developed as the capital of independent Moldova. A small country wedged in between Romania and Ukraine with strong cultural and culinary influences of both. Chisinau is a very pleasant city with lots of parks, restaurants and cafes. It is a great destination for food lovers too with lots of opportunities to try moldovan food and wine.
Moldova was famous in the USSR for its wine. Not far from the capital you will find the largest wine cellars in the world and they are open to visitors. This makes a great day trip from Chisinau. You can also visit some of the ancient churches and monasteries that are in the lovely countryside just outside of Chisinau.
Explored by Ellis from Backpack Adventures
Transnistria / Moldova
Although there are plenty of exciting destinations in Eastern Europe, how about visiting a country that technically doesn’t exist?
With a trip to Transnistria, that’s possible! Wedged between eastern Moldova and Ukraine, the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (as it’s officially called) has its own currency, border police, national anthem, license plates, and even citizenship, but is only recognized by three other governments. Taking a day trip to Transnistria (it’s only 1.5 hours away from Chisinau!) is like being transported back in time. Many buildings have the same look and feel as they did back in the USSR, which is an absolute treat for those who love architecture and history.
Some interesting highlights to check out include the colorful House of Soviets, browse through the retro chic Dom Knigi (‘House of Books’), and stroll through October 25th Street. If you have time, you can walk over (or take a bus) to neighboring Bender. Famous for its Bender Fortress, the city also has a delicious Soviet-style canteen on the second floor of Bender Bus Station (perfect to snack on before traveling back to the capital!)
Before you leave, don’t forget to take a popular souvenir from Transnistria — a bottle of Kvint brandy! There are daily tours at the Kvint factory, where the guide will be excited to tell you that a bottle Kvint once traveled with famous astronaut Yuri Gagarin into space.
Explored by Luda from Adventures with Luda
Gdansk / Poland
One of the most beautiful cities in Eastern Europe is Gdansk. It is also one of the cities that were completely destroyed during World War Two. While most of the city had to be rebuilt, and they have done an impeccable job creating it close to what it was, there are still a few original things to see in Gdansk.
Among them, the Neptune’s Fountain that was taken apart and hidden during the war. Mariacki Street is another unique place that is rebuilt with debris from the bombings. Make sure you visit St. Mary’s Church and climb the clock tower in the Town Hall for spectacular city views made up of pastel houses. While you are there you should make the trip to Ground Zero of World War Two, Westerplatte.
In the summer months, you can combine this with a trip on an old tall ship up the Motlawa River. To learn more about the war and its impact on Gdansk and Poland, take a visit to the Museum of Second World War or feel the dark vibes at Stutthof Concentration Camp, one of the longest functioning concentration camps in the country. There are many more museums to explore and make time to get lost in the old town.
Explored by Linn from Brainy Backpackers
Eastern Europe Highlights: Poznan / Poland
If you’re looking to travel to a stunning city where you’re likely to be one of the few tourists visiting, Poznan is for you. From its museums and gorgeous landmarks to its cafes, gardens, and open-air markets, you’ll get to enjoy this Polish city without any crowds.
Poznan is quite small, so many of its sights and attractions are within a convenient walking distance. These include the Stary Browar (an old brewery turned into a shopping mall), the National Museum, the Imperial Castle, and the colorful Old Town. The last one is home to plenty of landmarks and museums like the Town Hall, the Merchants House, and the Archaeological Museum. Within a short bus ride from the city center, you can also visit beautiful places like the botanical gardens, the largest palmhouse in Poland, and one of the oldest churches in Poland (the Poznan Cathedral).
When visiting Poznan, be sure to also relish some local food, even if you’re quite sure what Polish food has to offer. From pierogi (Polish dumplings) to potato pancakes to a local pastry called St. Martin’s croissant, there’s no shortage of yummy things to devour. For a coffee break, breakfast, or brunch, head to some of the city’s cute cafes like Weranda, Jaglana, or Lavenda.
Explored by Or from My Path in the World
Sandomierz / Poland
Sandomierz, the small town located in south-east Poland, isn’t very popular among international tourists yet this is one of the prettiest places you can find in the country. It is also one of the oldest towns in Poland, with the history dating back to the 10th century.
Even if it a fairly small place you can find there numerous attractions of all kinds: architecture, nature, historical spots, or a delicious local culinary scene. Since it was an important trade center in the past, many of the monuments you can find in Sandomierz are centuries old. The majority of them are in the center, where on Market Square you will see one of the most beautiful town halls in Poland, dating back to the 14th century and with a peculiar mix of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles. Don’t miss the cathedral with its stunning interior and stunning frescoes as well as the Royal Castle, originally from the 14th century.
And if you would like to enjoy a bit of nature head to the nearby gorges, especially Holy Queen Jadwiga Gorge. A few years ago Sandomierz gained enormous popularity in Poland due to the famous tv series taking place in the town and these days it is visited by many tourists – if you want to avoid the crowds try to visit the town offseason or go sightseeing in the morning.
Explored by Kamila from My Wanderlust
Eastern Europe Highlights: Warsaw / Poland
One of the best hidden gems in Eastern Europe is Warsaw. Warsaw is an amazing city in Poland with many great things to see.
The most important reason to travel to Warsaw is its wonderful old town. Warsaw Old Town is the oldest part of Warsaw. It’s very unique as you can admire medieval architecture there. The city walls are especially incredible to see. The walls were built between the 13th and the 16th century! Besides that, there’s so much more to do and to see in Warsaw! There are great museums in the city. For example, you can visit the National Museum. At that museum, you can see artworks by artists from several countries, including Poland and Germany.
Furthermore, the Royal Castle is a must-see when in Warsaw. It used to be the residence of the monarchs of Poland in the past. Another place you have to see is Wilanów Palace. It’s an old palace that was built for King John III Sobieski. Moreover, there are amazing things to do in Warsaw at night. The most fun activity at night is going to a Chopin concert. The name of Chopin can be found throughout the whole city as it’s the most famous composer of the country. You can also visit an opera or ballet at the Grand Theatre, which is a very unique experience as well.
Explored by Dymphe from Dymabroad
Bratislava / Slovakia
Bratislava is a beautiful country that’s often left unnoticed by people travelling to Europe. This is most likely because of its neighbours: Austria, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic which are pretty popular travel destinations. However, Bratislava is not one to be overlooked.
The city is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. It sits on the banks of the Danube River and is just an hour away from the imperial capital of Vienna. This means that you can visit Bratislava as a day trip, or a weekend trip, but I personally recommend spending longer than that there.
A few absolute must-sees whilst in the Slovakian capital are the red and white turrets of the Bratislava Castle, the infamous UFO Bridge, the Slavin War Memorial, St Martin’s Cathedral and even just exploring the cobbled streets of the Old Town. The bright blue Elizabeth Church will also take your breath away and be sure to hunt the old town for Bratislava’s signature statues including a little man poking out of a manhole cover!
If you’re interested in European cuisines, Bratislava also has a rather curious national dish. Bryndzové halušky consists of dumplings with sheep’s cheese and is usually sprinkled with fried bacon Whilst it sounds a little peculiar, it’s actually quite tasty!’
Explored by Alice from Adventures of Alice
Špania Dolina / Slovakia
One of the best hidden gems in Eastern Europe is without a doubt the picturesque town of Špania Dolina in Slovakia. This former mining town is rarely known outside of Slovakia, and most visitors are domestic tourists or locals living nearby. However, it is truly underrated and deserves more attention because it’s home to an incredibly beautiful hiking trail and postcard-worthy views.
At the beginning of the Špania Dolina hiking trail, you get to see some of the charming houses and churches in town. You’ll then pass by forest-like sceneries and will come across some beautiful viewpoints the higher you go. One of the lookout points will allow you to get a bird’s-eye view of the entire village surrounded by green rolling hills, and it’s truly a breathtaking sight. Be sure to bring the best camera gear, like some of these Nikon D3400 lenses, to capture this unforgettable view!
The Špania Dolina hike is a relaxing 1-hour walk, and at the end of the trail, there’s a cafe where you can sit down, have a drink, and watch a mini mining exhibition. This town is only a 2-hour drive from Bratislava, making it a perfect day trip from the capital if you want some fresh air.
Explored by Jiayi from The Diary of a Nomad
Bohinj Lake / Slovenia
You’ve probably heard about Lake Bled in Slovenia – the picture-perfect alpine lake with a little island with a church on it in the middle of the lake. While it is absolutely stunning and something you should definitely see, it is also the country’s most popular tourist attraction and it tends to get very crowded. If crowds aren’t exactly your thing but would still like to enjoy the beauty of the Slovenian Alps, then take at look at Bohinj as well. Bohinj is only a 30 minute drive past Bled, but not many tourists know about it and so it managed to preserve it’s untouched beauty.
Located in the middle of Triglav National Park, Lake Bohinj is the biggest lake in Slovenia. The views are simply jaw-dropping with tall mountainsides rising straight up from the clear alpine lake.
Lake Bohinj is a great destination all year long and visit can be as relaxing or as active as want. In summer, the lake is warm enough for a refreshing swim and you can rent SUPs, kayaks or rowboats to go out on the water. Looking for a thrill? then check out the mountain biking tracks and paragliding take-off points in the mountains. And in winter you can hit the slopes or enjoy the winter wonderland in the valley, while sipping Slovene wines your hotel room’s hot tub
Bohinj Lake is also the ideal starting point for some of the most rewarding hikes in the country so if you’re into hiking, you’ll absolutely love the area too.
Explored by Tom & Zi from Craving Adventure
Piran / Slovenia
Piran is a beautiful coastal town on the Adriatic Sea in Slovenia and a real insider tip for a trip to the Balkans. It is famous for its picturesque old town and stunning Venetian architecture, which can be enjoyed on almost every corner.
The small town is located on a peninsula directly on the coast and is a popular resort in Slovenia, along with Portoroz. Around the old town and in the surrounding area are numerous beautiful beaches that invite you to swim in a magnificent setting. A stroll through the old town also reveals countless beautiful attractions and picturesque town squares that invite to linger. Visitors from all over the world come to explore this historical pearl.
One of the most important highlights, which should not be missed, is the picturesque waterfront promenade, along which countless lovely restaurants and bars are lined up. With an amazing sea view, you can enjoy an incredible setting here. Just next to it you will find the Tartini Square, where a flea market takes place once a month, and which is also worth visiting.
The most important sight of Piran is definitely the church of St. George. It can hardly be overlooked! It towers over the city and offers an incredible view of the old town and the sea.
Explored by Jürgen & Martina from Places of Juma
Eastern Europe Highlights: Lviv / Ukraine
Lviv, or “the city of lions” is a popular tourist place in Western Ukraine. Its old sights and Galician cuisine will leave the mark on every visitor. A good mood is guaranteed!
Plan the trip for at least 2-3 days, the list of top attractions is really long. It’s easy to start the city tour from the main market square (Rynek), all the top places are accessible on foot. Worth visiting: Opera house, the Boim Chapel, Potocki Palace, Pharmacy Museum, Kryjivka cafe, Museum of Brewing, Lviv Handmade Chocolate. For the best panoramic views, visit the Lviv High Castle and the Town Hall tower. Lviv City Hall tower is the highest in Ukraine, its height is 65 meters.
Lviv is a coffee-lovers heaven. You’ll find coffee places on every corner, and each of them will have a special house-special recipe to surprise your taste buds. Kopalnya Kavy (coffee mine) also known as Coffee Manufacture is a must-visit! They claim that Lviv coffee is born here, and it is mined from under the main city square. Visitors are offered an exciting underground tour to verify that fact. If you’re not into mining, a gift shop upstairs is a good place for souvenir shopping. They have not only coffee-related goods, but famous Lviv tinctures, liqueurs, pottery, and chocolates.
Explored Leslie from Backpackers Thailand
In this article, Travel bloggers from all over the world revealed their insider tips for Eastern Europe Highlights 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!
Where to go next?
More Hidden Gem destinations in Eastern Europe you will find in the second part of the article Hidden Gems Eastern Europe – The Highlights II. 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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