One of the things helping us get through this pandemic is planning for the future. Whether you are saving for a trip or just looking for inspiration to start planning a trip in Eastern Europe, this is a list of 7 bucket list worthy destinations to add to your itinerary.
This week, the Irish Times reported that the EU’s digital green pass is to come into effect in Ireland from mid-July, allowing all fully vaccinated people, people with a negative PCR-test, and people who have recovered from the virus in the past 6 months to travel again without quarantining upon arrival. So, if you are planning to travel in Europe but haven’t decided on a destination just yet, this is a list for you.
Eastern Europe is becoming an increasingly popular destination for many holiday goers. This comes as no surprise given the amazing weather, the abundance of things to do, and the low prices! It seems too good to be true.
There is something for everyone. Whether you want to go to the beach, hike, ski, party, or all of the above, there is something for you.
Dracula’s Castle – Romania
Located 25km southwest of Brasov, Bran Castle – widely known as Dracula’s Castle – is arguably the most famous medieval landmark in Romania. The castle was completed in 1388 by German colonists in an effort to stop the Ottoman Empire’s expansion. Up until the 20th century, it served mainly as a strategic fortification in numerous conflicts and a customs point on the eastern Transylvanian border. In 1920, it was gifted to Queen Marie of Romania and became a royal residence.
It is not entirely clear how the connection to the fictional character of Dracula was established. In fact, it is not even certain whether Vlad the Impaler – the historical figure which Bram Stoker based his character on – ever set foot in the castle as he was not actually from Transylvania but the ruler of the neighbouring principality of Wallachia.
Today, the castle is open to the public and serves as a museum dedicated to displaying the art and furniture collected by Queen Marie. You can explore the interior on your own or with a guided tour, and admire the stunning views surrounding the castle. There are many restaurants in Bran, and, if you want to continue exploring the area, Peles Castle and Brasov are well within driving distance.
Buzludzha monument – Bulgaria
The Buzludzha Monument was built on a peak with the same name by the Bulgarian communist government. It was inaugurated in 1981 in commemoration of the founding of the Bulgarian Social Democratic Party during a secret meeting in the same location in 1891.
As you can tell from the picture above, the architecture of the monument is rather unique. It is representative of the extravagant, mostly concrete, futuristic architecture that is commonly found in many ex-communist states. It was used as a venue for certain events for the Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP) and was also open to the public as it had been built with public funds.
After the fall of the communist regime in 1989, the building quickly became redundant and was left in limbo by the new government. Before long, the inside of the building was dismantled and stiripped by looters who were after any valuable goods. As a result, the building was largely destroyed and the structure has since been compromised due to snow and rain entering through the roof.
Unfortunately, this has led to the building being closed to the public. Some brave locals and tourists have found ways around this and entered the structure. Their impressive pictures are available all over the internet. The good news is that, in the last couple of years, progress has been made to secure funding for the monument’s conservation and potential reopening as a museum.
Old Qeparo – Albania
If you are ever traveling along the Albanian Riviera (a bucket list destination in itself), make sure to make a stop in the upper part of Qeparo. After the fall of communism, the village was mostly deserted and the buildings were left standing empty. Part of the village has since been rebuilt, but most of it is still in ruins.
This destination is still quite unknown and it is this peaceful, quiet nature that makes it such a special place. It is, in many ways, an authentic Albanian village and the architecture has been left untouched. There may not be much to do but walk around the village and admire the old stone buildings, but it is certainly a unique destination and one you may not want to wait too long to see.
Ohrid – North Macedonia
Ohrid is one of the oldest settlements of Europe, located about three hours outside of Skopje – the capital of North Macedonia – but also served by its own international airport, is the perfect bucket list destination. It has a rich history and was once known for having 365 churches – one for each day of the year- although, today, this number is significantly smaller.
North Macedonia is a landlocked country, but Lake Ohrid certainly makes up for it. Ohrid offers both beaches along the lake, and hiking and cycling trails in the surrounding mountains. As well as the beautiful natural landscapes, the town itself also offers an abundance of historical monuments and venues to keep you busy.
Some of the main sights include the Church of Saints Clement and Panteleimon which served as one of the oldest universities of the western world, the Ancient Theatre of Ohrid and the Church of St. John at Kaneo (pictured above).
Belgrade – Serbia
Belgrade is the only capital city on the list and for good reason. Not only is it a beautiful city with a long history, it is also a young and vibrant city. It has diverse architecture due to its long history and influences from different historical periods, from Roman times all the way through the comunist era when it served as the capital of Yugoslavia.
The main sight to see is the Belgrade Fortress, which consists of the old citadel and Kalemegdan park. Admission to the fortress is free and it is estimated to attract around 2 million visitors yearly, which is no surprise given its historical importance. Up until recent times, the history of Belgrade was mostly confined to the walls of the fortress which has existed in some form since the 3rd century BC and has, since, often changed hands as it was of strategic importance.
Apart from its long history, Belgrade is also known for its vibrance. It hosts around 100 diverse festivals every year. There are cafes and restaurants scattered all over the city, which should come as no surprise given the strong cafe visiting culture. Finally, the city is also famous for its exciting nightlife. It is home to many clubs, some famous house and techno clubs, some with a more commercial touch, but the unique feature being the floating clubs on the river Sava in the warm months of the year. These are called splavovi (or splav for short) and are open 7 days a week!
Tatra Mountains – Slovakia/ Poland
Situated in the North of Slovakia and shared partly with Poland, the Tatra mountain range might be small but offers everything you might look for. There are hiking paths for all levels of hikers, with 3 notable peaks: Gerlachosky Stit (2,655m), Lomnicky Stit (2,634m), and Krivan (2,494m). Each has their own significance.
Gerlachossky Stit is the highest peak, and one of the most challenging. Lomnicky is more accessible as you can reach it by cable car, making it the most visited one. Finally, Krivan is the most popular with Slovaks, as it is a national symbol of freedom to them and it is one of the images on Slovakia’s euro coin. It is said that each Slovak has to climb to the top at least once in his lifetime.
In winter, the Tatra mountain range is the perfect skiing destination. With amazing skiing conditions and prices often being a fraction of the prices in the Alps and Dolomites, this is the perfect destination for experienced skiers as well as beginners. Some of the most popular resorts include Zakopane in Poland and Jasna in Slovakia.
Auschwitz concentration camp – Poland
Auschiwitz was the largest of the German Nazi concentration camps and extermination camps during World War II. Over 1.1 million people lost their lives in these camps. Today you can visit two parts of the former camp – Auschwitz and Birkenau – either alone or on a guided tour, though a guided tour is highly recommended to better understand the historical importance of this place.
On this list, Auschwitz will most likely touch you the most. Its history seems far behind us when it is, in fact, relatively recent, and visiting it in person is the only way to get an in-depth understanding of post-war Europe.
It is located around 2 hours away from Krakow – Poland’s former royal capital – and is a must-see for anyone visiting the area. Apart from this, Krakow also has a lot to offer as a city!
Overall, I hope to have convinced you that Eastern Europe deserves a spot on your bucket list. With attractions for everyone, low prices, and a very warm and welcoming culture, every one of these destinations has something unique to offer!