Reasons to Visit East Europe

Germany

Historical city of Berlin. Without a doubt, the Brandenburg Gate is Berlin’s signature attraction. Built in 1791, it was just one of many old city gates around the city of Berlin which, at that time, was still a manageable size. The decorative Pariser Platz was laid at the foot of the gate and is now home to many of the city’s important buildings, for example, the Hotel Adlon with its wealth of history and the Akademie der Künste (Academy of the Arts). The magnificent Charlottenburg Palace is located just out of the centre of the city. The beautiful palace hosts fine collections of china and paintings and is situated in the middle of a picturesque palace garden right next to the river Spree. If you don’t fancy a walk in the park, you can feed your mind instead in the Charlottenburg museums located directly opposite. The Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial) is located between the districts of Wedding and Mitte on Bernauer Straße, consisting of the Memorial to the Victims of the Wall, a Documentation Centre and the Chapel of Reconciliation. The surviving section of the wall and watchtower enable visitors to get a real feel for the reality of the border facilities.

Often overshadowed by Berlin, many people think of Munich as just the home of Oktoberfest but there’s so much more to see and do in Bavaria’s capital. As well as the many beautiful sights and museums in the city, it also makes the perfect base for exploring southern Germany and its many Alpine lakes. Whether you just want to relax with some locally brewed beer, or hear up-and-coming musicians at a festival, Munich has something for everyone.

There are over 80 museums to choose from in Munich. You’ll find everything from stark modern art galleries that are home to some of the most famous modern masterpieces to a museum solely dedicated to the humble potato! Highlights include the Glyptothek with its extensive collection of ancient sculpture, and the State Collection of Egyptian Art whose collection covers over 5,000 years. For more ideas on which museums to start with, check out our article on Munich’s must-see museums.

At the heart of Bavaria, Munich is the best spot for exploring the beauty of the area. Using the city as a base, you’re spoiled for choice with the different day trips you could take. One of the most popular is to Neuschwanstein Castle; the inspiration for the archetypal Disney castle, it’s perched on a mountain about an hour from Munich. If you’re not into channeling your inner princess, there are a whole range of beautiful lakes within an easy S-bahn ride of the city centre.

Slovakia

Nowadays it can be quite difficult to find a unique destination. Slovakia is still ‘off-the-beaten-path’, undiscovered by masses of tourists. I believe that it’s only a matter of time when more and more travellers will discover its beauty and start to visit. Our nature is still unspoiled and relatively untouched and you can find many peaceful places here without too many people around.

Slovakia may be a young country, but its history and culture are rich. Slovakia’s cities are hundreds of years old with many festivals throughout the year. The way of life in the past used to vary in every Slovak region, so their local culture, folk costumes, and traditional dances differ from village to village and town to town.

Most of the Slovak landscape is basically covered by different mountain ranges. In summer they offer great hikes for all types of adventurers – easier or more challenging ones, and during winter they turn into a white wonderland with great slopes and various winter festivals.

Slovakia also has amazing and unique caves, for example, Dobsinska Ice Cave is covered in ice all year round and is rated as one of the most remarkable ice caves in the world. Ochtinska Cave is one of the three caves in the world with rich natural decorations of aragonite – the two others are located in Mexico and Argentina.

Slovakia has one of the highest amount of castles and châteaux per capita in Europe. There are around 220 castles and 425 châteaux, which is quite impressive when you take into account how small we are. Wherever in Slovakia you are, there is always a castle nearby. The most impressive is Spis Castle from medieval times and even though there are mostly ruins left, it hasn’t lost its charm and majesty. On the other hand, the castle in Bojnice is one of our best preserved and most beautiful castles and it looks straight out of the Cinderella story.

Austria

Once part of a vast European empire, Austria today still mirrors the richness of its past glories. Vienna has long shined as a beacon of classical music, architecture, art, and pastries. Salzburg was the birthplace of Mozart and is home to a whole lot of beautiful buildings. And even though it’s a big part of what makes Austria genuinely great, this landlocked country is much more than history and pretty architecture.

Thanks to being mostly situated in the Alps, it is a very popular place with skiers and hikers with a whole lot of stunning scenery to soak up in. Charming towns tucked in sweeping green hillsides topped by craggy peaks lie in wait. Pure mountain air and alpine resorts beckon. Austria is a showcase for just how beautiful mountain scenery, valleys and lakes can be. 

Situated in central Austria, near the German border, Salzburg is probably best known as the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Travelers come to Austria’s fourth-largest city to view the sights that inspired such unforgettable music. With its hill-topped medieval fortress, picturesque Altstadt old town and breath-taking Alpine scenery, Salzburg is one of the best places to visit in Austria. For those seeking to relive scenes from the movie “The Sound of Music”, must-see attractions include the 17th-century Baroque Mirabell Palace and Gardens and the von Trapp family home, which is now a hotel. Mozart aficionados can visit his birthplace as well as a reconstruction of his home.

Elegant waltzes and Johann Strauss immediately come to mind when one thinks of Vienna, the capital of Austria and its largest city; the city still holds more than 200 balls each year. But the city also is known for other classical composers such as Mozart, Brahms, Beethoven and Schubert. Travelers can take a break from music by visiting the Hofburg, which houses the Hapsburg rulers’ imperial jewelry, and the Kunsthistorisches, a museum that has an outstanding collection of paintings by old masters. Vienna is also famous for its cafes where travelers can rest their weary feet while deciding which museum or park to visit next.

Poland

Poland boasts 14 unique UNESCO World Heritage Sites you simply cannot miss. From the ancient Bialowieza Forest – home to the protected European Bison species and spectacular decaying trees – to the picturesque historical Old Towns of Warsaw and Krakow and beautiful medieval churches, the country is one of the most alluring European destinations.

History fans won’t get bored in Poland. From hundreds of medieval castles, to the infamous Auschwitz Birkenau camp and excellent museums (the Warsaw Rising Museum and POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews are especially worth visiting), there is a lot to take in and discover.

Poland also has breathaking mountain ranges. The Tatras are a true paradise for nature lovers. Perfect for hitting the slopes in winter and hiking in the summer season, they are one of Poles’ favorite holiday destinations. Head off the beaten track to discover the lesser-known mountain ranges such as Bieszczady, Pieniny, or Table Mountains (characterized by unique plated rock formations) for a less touristy experience.

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic has the largest density of castles in all of Europe. In fact, there are over 2,000 castles around the country – some in perfect condition, some that are just ruins. The world’s largest castle complex is in Prague, and the country is also home to some of the oldest castles in the world: both Karlštejn Castle and the Trosky Castle ruins were originally built in the 1300s. One of them is the Sedlec Ossuary (a.k.a. Bone Church). The ossuary is a small chapel that contains the bones of somewhere between 40,000-70,000 people – bones that have been used to decorate the walls, create chandeliers, and even a coat of arms. The bones mostly belong to people who died during the Black Plague that hit Europe in the 14th century, although additional skeletons were added to the mass grave behind the church a century later, during the Hussite Wars. Kutna Hora is also home to one of the most famous Gothic churches in the country, St. Barbara’s Church, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Dating back to the ninth century, Prague Castle is recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the largest castle complex in the world, covering an impressive 70,000 square metres (17 acres). The castle complex comprises a number of buildings, which include the gothic St Vitus Cathedral, a number of defence towers, a few museums and churches, the presidential palace and Golden Lane, a 16th-century street that once housed the royal goldsmiths.

One of the oldest bridges in Europe still in use, Charles Bridge was built between 1357 and 1402. The now pedestrian-only bridge has survived floods and the Thirty Years’ War, and is one of the most popular attractions in Prague today. The bridge is decorated with 30 statues representing saints.

Prague’s astronomical clock, installed in 1410, is the oldest operating clock of its kind on the planet. Located in Old Town Square, the clock marks not only the time, but also the months and the astronomical position of the sun and moon, making it sort of a tiny planetarium. The clock is decorated with Gothic sculptures and wooden statues of the apostles that were added over the centuries – and if you happen to stop by on the hour throughout the day or night, you’ll see them come to life.

Hungary

Romantic architecture, picture-postcard scenery and an abundance of thermal baths are just a few of the things that make Hungary a must-visit destination. Its unique identity has been shaped by a diverse range of influences – from Ottoman invaders to Italian Renaissance designers – meaning there’s plenty to see across the country. For the best of Budapest and beyond, our eight reasons to visit Hungary will get you inspired in a flash.

There are over 1000 natural spring water sources in Hungary. To make the most of those therapeutically thermal waters, Hungarians built dozens of spa baths all over the country. Budapest is home five baths but Szechenyi are the biggest and most attractive, so pack your swimsuit and go for a soothing al fresco dip.

In term of architecture, you’ll be spoilt for Gothic-style architecture in Hungary, but Budapest’s Matthias Church is one of the finest examples with ornate turrets and an intensely detailed colorful roof. Sitting high over the city, the Fisherman’s Bastion is a popular spot to admire the best views over Budapest. An Instagram-friendly viewing platform with striking Disney-esque 19th Century towers, is one of the city’s most visited places. It is no wonder the Buda Castle is featured on the UNESCO World Heritage list, as it is possibly the most beautiful combination in the world, consisting of the hillside, architecture and the Danube.

Best Time to East Europe

The tourism high season throughout Eastern Europe undoubtedly hits during the summer months when school holidays begin throughout Europe and North America. While the weather is generally warm and sunny, the higher tourist numbers tend to drive up the prices for airfares and accommodations significantly.

Visiting Eastern Europe during the spring and fall shoulder seasons, particularly late May and September is not a bad idea. During both of these months temperatures are warm and rainfall is relatively low (although in East Europe it’s always a possibility!). Crowds are also smaller and prices lower than in the peak seasons.

Another pleasant time to visit, if you can tough out the cooler temperatures, is in November and December. Eastern Europe is absolutely magical at this time of year, especially as snow begins to lightly dust the ground and rooftops. At this time, the Christmas Markets are also out in full force, showcasing the European holiday spirit at its finest.

Essential Information

Visas

Entering Germany, Poland, Czech, Slovakia, Hungary, and Austria requires Schengen visa for travelers from outside Schengen areas to enter their countries.

Time Zone

East European countries are under GMT+2 time zone.

Languages

Languages spoken in East Europe are their countries' languages. Most people in East Europe do not speak English except those who work in tourist sectors.

Currency and Payment

Euro (EUR or €) is used in Germany, Czech, and Austria while Hungary uses forint (Ft or HUF), Slovakia uses Koruna (Kč or CZK), and Poland uses Zloty (zł or PLN). Visa and MasterCard cards are widely accepted in malls and shopping centers, but for local restaurants, it is always better to prepare cash.

Etiquette

Here are some do's and don'ts in Uzbekistan:

LanguageMajor cities are awash with fluent English-speakers, but learning greetings in the local language improves your experience.

QueuesAttitudes towards queuing vary from casual to downright aggressive; hold your own as politely but firmly as you can.

Personal spaceEast European people tend to keep a distance during conversation.

DressCover from collarbone to knee in churches; some monasteries may require women to wear headscarves.

Tipping – Tipping practices vary by country. You can’t go wrong if you add 10% onto your bill at a restaurant.