Don’t get me wrong, I love Paris as much as the next person.
Bangkok is worth the trip. So is Sydney.
But there’s a reason Eastern Europe is my favorite region to visit: It’s off the beaten path.
Relatively few travelers have discovered Eastern Europe. Which is sad for them, because this part of the world is full of history, scenery and mouth-watering cuisine galore.
But it’s happy for those of us who are going to Eastern Europe! Fewer travelers means low prices, uncrowded streets and fewer tourist traps.
So where exactly in Eastern Europe should you go? And how can you make the most of your trip?
How to Prepare for a Trip to Eastern Europe
Learn about the region
This itinerary focuses primarily on countries that were part of the former Soviet Union. Limiting your travels to these countries will give you the chance to get to know the region without spreading yourself too thin.
The countries on this list are Poland, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova and Romania.
Learn as much as you can about these countries before you go! Read up on their culture and history, and you’re guaranteed to have a much more fulfilling experience.
Brush up on your language skills
Do you want to be able to order any food you want, ask for directions and book hotel rooms easily?
Do you want to talk with locals and gain cultural insights typical tourists wouldn’t have?
Then you’re going to need to be conversational in the local language.
Granted, trying to learn several languages for one trip can be overwhelming. If you’d rather focus on one language that will be the most beneficial for this itinerary, I recommend dedicating yourself to Russian. You’ll hear Russian more frequently on this trip than any other one language.
If you’re looking for a method to familiarize yourself with Russian as well as deepen your knowledge of the culture, FluentU is the best way to go!
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It’s an entertaining method to immerse yourself in Russian the way native speakers really use it, while actively building your vocabulary.
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6 Countries, 1 Continent: Your Eastern Europe Travel Itinerary
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Bordering Central and Eastern Europe, Poland is known for two things: Its rich history and its diverse geographical landscape.
After joining the European Union in 2004, Poland’s economy has grown by leaps and bounds. Today it’s home to a number of booming businesses, homegrown entrepreneurships and music festivals.
How to Get to Poland
Wherever you’re flying in from, chances are you’ll land in either Warsaw or Kraków. Either city is an amazing spot to begin your Eastern European journey!
Unique Sites to Visit in Poland
Royal Łazienki Park
Warsaw, Poland’s capital city, has transformed in recent years. Home to the country’s universities, cultural institutions, historical sites and lush parks, it’s worth setting aside at least a few days to see the city in addition to its surrounding villages.
Łazienki is also home to the city’s resident peacocks, which provides a unique natural atmosphere in a bustling city center.
In Kraków, make your way to the Kazimierz neighborhood, which is the city’s historic Jewish quarter.
The Galicia Jewish Museum offers a beautiful memorial to those who lost their lives in World War II, replete with various programs and tours.
Afterward, enjoy a coffee and take a stroll down the Vistula River, which takes you right into Kraków’s beautifully ornate Old Town.
In Kraków, be sure to stop by the restaurant Stylowa, located in the city’s Old Town. Serving up traditional dishes, this local establishment has been around since the 1950s but offers a modern take on Polish cuisine.
Day Trip Add-ons
Kampinos National Park
Poland is home to a diverse range of national parks perfect for a day out.
Only 40 minutes away from the Warsaw, Kampinos National Park is ideal for hikers. Those interested in history can visit various monuments dedicated to World War II.
Small villages like Truskaw are great places to grab a coffee after a day out or overnight trip.
While in Truskaw, visit the Warsaw Rising Museum, dedicated to those who fought and died for independent Poland.
This little village is also home to the Palace of Culture and Science, Poland’s tallest building and a monument that speaks to the country’s Soviet influence.
The Białowieża Forest, nestled between the Polish and Belarusian border, is an essential stop for lovers of the great outdoors.
This UNESCO World Heritage site is situated near both the Baltic and Black Sea and is home to a diverse population of wildlife, most notably the European bison.
The park offers wildlife excursions and tours. It also has several unique attractions, such as the Open Air Museum of Wooden Architecture.
Formerly part of the Soviet Union, Belarus is the ideal location to really soak in the history of the region.
Those who’ve brushed up on their Russian will find it comes in handy here, as both Belarusian and Russian are the official languages.
How to Get to Belarus
There are multiple ways to get from Poland to Belarus. Check out every option on Rome2rio!
But my favorite option is to rent a car or hop on a local train to Grodno, the biggest city in Belarus, just up against the Polish and Lithuanian borders.
Unique Sites to Visit in Belarus
Grodno is sprinkled with stunning architectural sites, including the 12th-century Kalozha Church.
A night or two in Grodno will give you time to explore the various churches and castles, as well as Shveytsarskaya Dolina, an 18th-century garden located in the center of the city. Filled to the brim with various plants, ponds and spaces to relax, it’s a great spot to get a feel for the local culture.
A train ride from Grodno to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, is approximately four hours.
The Zair Azgur Memorial Museum
The Zair Azgur Memorial Museum is an ode to one of Belarus’s most famous Soviet-era artists, Zair Azgur. The museum is filled with his sculptures.
The museum is one of Minsk’s underrated gems. Visit to learn about the country’s history while avoiding huge crowds of tourists.
The National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre
It wouldn’t be a trip to Belarus without taking in come culture. And the Opera and Ballet Theatre is the best spot in Minsk to bask in culture.
Book tickets to see shows ranging from the ballet “Swan Lake,” to the opera “Madama Butterfly.”
Day Trip Add-ons
Just outside of Minsk is Polotsk, a medieval city that’s one of the oldest in the country. Filled with ornate cathedrals and monasteries, Polotsk is considered the spiritual capital of Belarus and also the geographical center of Europe!
The Spaso-Preobrazhenskiy Temple is one of the most famous monasteries in the city, built in the Russian architectural style. Take a walk along the Northern Dvina River and enjoy the monuments commemorating Belarus’s complex roots.
Mir Castle Complex
You can do more than just walk around this castle for an hour. It includes a great restaurant, and you can even book a room for the night! How epic would it be to stay in a castle?
Once part of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has become an increasingly popular tourist destination after gaining independence in 1991.
Known for its striking Orthodox churches, hilly forests and the Black Sea, Ukraine is one of Eastern Europe’s diamonds in the rough.
How to Get to Ukraine
Easily accessible from Belarus, there are plenty of trains that can take you directly from Minsk to Kiev overnight. Trains are relatively affordable and a great way to experience a popular way for locals to travel.
Unique Sites to Visit in Ukraine
Ukraine’s capital city, Kiev, is a modern city that offers a glimpse into one of history’s most trying and intriguing times.
Travelers will find no shortage of things to do!
The Ukrainian State Museum of the Great Patriotic War
History and architecture buffs should take the time to visit the Museum of the Great Patriotic War.
Designed in the Brutalist style, a type of architecture that was common in the 1960s and 70s, the museum is one of the largest dedicated to the German-Soviet War, also known as the Eastern Front of World War II. There are over 300,000 exhibitions, so be sure to set aside at least an entire afternoon.
Kiev in Miniature
Kiev is home to many parks and outdoor monuments that can be enjoyed on a sunny day while snacking on pyrizhky.
The Kiev in Miniature park is a perfectly replicated miniature version of the city. It’s a great place to start your trip so you can map out what destinations you want to see during your stay!
Day Trip Add-ons
You can take a tour of Pripyat, which is the abandoned town located next to the nuclear reactor that exploded in 1986 (known as the Chernobyl disaster). Go on a post-apocalyptic journey through the abandoned amusement parks and old school houses.
With the goal of establishing Chernobyl into a heritage site, the local research department has adequately tested the area to assure visitors will be safe. They’ll provide you with the necessary gear to avoid exposure to radiation.
Ideal for history buffs and those who are looking for more than just a day out at the museum, tours will take you through the abandoned villages and, of course, the nuclear reactor that started it all. Just a couple of hours outside of Kiev, tours can be booked for one to several days.
Catch a quick bus from Kiev to Chernihiv to see a city full of beautiful churches and religious history.
While you’re there, tour the Transfiguration Cathedral. It was built in the 11th century and is the oldest building in the city.
Nestled between Ukraine and Romania, Moldova was also once part of the Soviet Union.
Moldova is a combination of lush forests, wineries and a cultural history reflecting the country’s links to both the former Russian empire and the Ottoman Empire.
How to Get to Moldova
A train or bus ride from Kiev to Moldova’s capital, Chișinău, is approximately six to 10 hours.
This ride gives you the chance to enjoy the region’s rolling hills and numerous wildflower meadows.
Unique Sites to Visit in Moldova
In Chișinău, take a walk through Dendrarium Park, a sprawling botanical park situated near the city center.
With over 1,000 types of flora, the park is beautifully curated. It offers plenty of spots to sit back and relax on a beautiful day.
Local Eats: Pani Pit
Once back in Chișinău, head over to Pani Pit, a charming but modern restaurant serving up delicious local dishes.
Be sure to try sarmale, a stuffed cabbage dish that is made with spices, rice and ground beef.
Day Trip Add-ons
Thirty minutes outside of Chișinău, the Cricova Winery is worth the trip! If you want to indulge in lots of wine, this is a great place for an overnight trip.
Boasting one of the largest wine cellars in the world, Cricova Winery offers tours of the underground city where the wine is stored, in addition to various tastings.
Orheiul Vechi (Old Orhei in English) is located in Trebujeni, not far from Chișinău. It’s an archaeological complex that’s a perfect getaway for anyone craving some scenery in their Eastern European tour.
This is also a great attraction for history enthusiasts as it holds traces of ancient civilizations. Have fun exploring!
Bordering both Central and Eastern Europe, Romania is probably best known for its spooky “Dracula” legacy.
Its capital city, Bucharest, suffered greatly during the Soviet era. But it’s grown significantly in recent years, especially in regards to culture and international influence.
How to Get to Romania
Most travelers don’t need a visa to enter the country. Romania is a part of the European Union, so EU citizens never need a visa. American citizens only need to obtain a visa if they plan to stay for more than 90 days.
From Moldova, an overnight train can take you right to Bucharest. If you’d rather pay for a flight, it will only take about an hour.
Unique Sites to Visit in Romania
Bucharest is a great place to spend a few nights and soak up the country’s fascinating history.
The Palace of Parliament
A must-see spot is the Palace of Parliament, constructed for the former Romanian President, Nicolae Ceaușescu. It used to be the headquarters of the Communist party.
It’s worth taking a guided tour, as the palace has more than 1,000 rooms and is filled with original architecture and relics.
Local Eats: Pescăruș
At the end of the day, pay a visit to the local restaurant Pescăruș.
Enjoy local dishes like zacuscă, a traditional vegetable spread that’s typically made with fish.
Day Trip Add-ons
Cluj-Napoca is a city in the Transylvanian region of Romania. It offers a lot in regards to nightlife, history and culture.
The region is surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains. It’s great for hiking, as well as affordable skiing for those visiting in winter.
The Dracula Tour
For many people, the eight-day Dracula Tour just outside of Bucharest is a great option. (Granted, this doesn’t really count as a “day trip,” but it had to be mentioned!)
You’ll tour various castles, including the famous Poenari Castle, which was the birthplace of the infamous Vlad the Impaler.
Traveling to Russia can seem overwhelming because there’s so much to do. After all, it’s the largest country in the world and borders nine other nations!
How to Get to Russia
Traveling from any of the aforementioned countries to Russia is relatively easy.
If you have time, it may be worth exploring some of the routes on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Talk about a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
The most commonly visited cities in Russia are the capital city, Moscow, and Saint Petersburg, both rife with historic monuments and stunning architecture.
I recommend you set aside at least a week (at the bare minimum) if you want to visit both of these cities. They’re approximately eight hours apart by sleeper train and four hours by high speed train. If you’re going to spend all that time traveling, you want to have time to see everything!
Unique Sites to Visit in Russia
The Moscow Kremlin
Moscow is an interesting mix of historic sites and contemporary attractions. It’s an ideal destination for history buffs and lovers of architecture.
The city’s red square is home to the world-famous Kremlin, a fortress within the city that’s home to Russia’s government officials.
State Hermitage Museum
The State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg boasts one of the largest art collections in the world.
You can see collections of prehistoric art, Italian Renaissance and Flemish Baroque, among other things. All spread out across multiple buildings!
The Mariinsky Theater in Saint Petersburg is perfect for those who want to experience a glamorous night out.
Witness Russia’s unparalleled role in the ballet world and see arguably the best opera in the country.
Day Trip Add-ons
If you’re in Moscow, it’s worth taking a trip to the Arkhangelskoye Palace, one of the country’s most well-preserved family estates.
Only an hour from the capital city, the Arkhangelskoye Palace hosts various musical events. It also has a beautiful garden you can walk through and a well-preserved interior that boasts a fine porcelain and jewelry collection.
Pushkin is a town just 15 miles from the Saint Petersburg city center. It’s home to the Tsarskoye Selo, a museum dating back to the 18th century.
Within the Tsarskoye Selo, you’ll find the famous Catherine Palace, built for Catherine the Great. It’s a Rococo structure that was a summer home to Russian tsars.
One of the most beautiful things to see in this museum is the Chinese Village, designed in the Chinoiserie style for Catherine.
After reading this itinerary, I bet you have a lot more places on your travel bucket list than just Paris, Bangkok and Sydney, don’t you?
Travel to Eastern Europe while it’s still relatively undiscovered. You’ll be glad you did!
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