EUROPE

20 Hidden Gems In Eastern Europe

20 Hidden Gems in Eastern Europe

When you think of Europe, you usually think of London, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Berlin, Amsterdam… all those flaring diamonds that sparkle so brightly that the other precious stones of Europe are unfairly outshone. But it only takes polishing a stone to recognise how precious it actually is. The same goes with Eastern Europe – a place that is relatively unexplored by the ordinary tourist and, yet, that possesses spots so beautiful, so unique, and so fresh it only takes an instant to fall in love with them. So what are these hidden little gems in Eastern Europe?
What are Eastern Europe's most precious cities?

1. Riga, Latvia

Now, it would be extremely unpatriotic of me if I hadn’t started list with my beautiful hometown Riga, Latvia. Riga is home to 701,976 people, including me (off topic: with Latvians counting for 45.7% and Russians for 38.3% of the population). The annual tourism rate in Latvia is growing so rapidly that soon it will become higher than the population of the whole country! Riga is a gorgeous place to be during the summer, when everything is rolling in luxurious greenery, beaming with sunlight, and breathing with history and beauty. Some of the buildings in Riga date back to the end of the 15th century, and a big part of the city is built in dainty Art Nouveau, which attracts tourists from all over the world.
Old Town in Riga Image source: here

2. Krakow, Poland

Generally, tourists tend to head to Warsaw, usually overlooking Poland’s most beautiful city – Krakow. But even Warsowians admit that Krakow is more beautiful than Warsaw, so what are you waiting for? Go to Krakow!
Mary Basilica in Krakow, Poland Image source: here

3. Tallinn, Estonia

Another capital in the Baltic States, Tallinn is becoming more and more popular among tourists – and for a good reason! First of all, Tallinn is comfortably located between St. Petersburg, Stockholm, and Helsinki, which are major travel destinations worldwide. So visiting Tallinn seems like an obvious choice. But secondly, and more importantly, Tallinn is a stunning place in its own right. It has this unique balance between history and modernity, being listed both in the UNESCO World Heritage list and the Top 10 digital cities in the world list. Which makes Tallinn really cool.
Tallinn, Estonia Image source: here

4. Brasov, Romania

Many people haven’t even heard of Brasov, even though this city has a lot of interesting places in its sightseeing repertoire. For example, Strada Sforii, the narrowest street in Romania and one of the narrowest streets in Europe (Spreuerhofstraße in Reutlingen, Germany, is the ultimate winner, being only 50 at its widest.
Brasov, Romania Image source: here

5. Bucharest, Romania

Being one of the largest cities in Southeastern Europe, Bucharest is still not taken seriously among most of the tourists, who just stay there overnight on their way to mysterious Transylvania. Back in the days of communism, Bucharest wanted to become the hub of the universe so it decided to build the largest parliamentary building in the world. Wow, I guess. But that’s not why you visit Bucharest – you visit the city for its quiet spots, which are hidden beyond the wall of garish modernity and, at the same time, conceal numerous splendid architectural examples from the 17th and 18th centuries.
Bucharest, Romania Image source: here

6. Sibiu, Romania

Sibiu is located in the heart of Transylvania, but no, you won’t find any vampires there. Instead, you’ll find yourself in Romania’s most important cultural centre and one of the 8 most idyllic places to live in Europe, according to Forbes Magazine. The city is indeed really picturesque and has some of the most astonishing landscapes that you’ll ever see.
Gorgeous Sibiu in Romania Image source: here

7. Budapest, Hungary

I bet that after the huge success of The Grand Budapest Hotel, the capital of Hungary has been experiencing a nice influx of tourists. If only those people knew that the movie was shot entirely in Germany! Didn’t you recognize Dresden in some scenes? Nevertheless, Budapest isn’t any less gorgeous. In fact, it is even more fascinating than you could ever imagine: it is cited as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, attracting 4.4 million tourists per year! Then why, I hear your inquiring voice, is Budapest in this list? Because Budapest is so fantastic that it should be in every travel list, no matter what it is about.
Bucharest, Hungary Image source: here

8. Varaždin, Croatia

If you’re looking for the perfect summer break, you should go to Varaždin. This small city in North Croatia hosts one of the best music festivals in Europe, has amazing cuisine, splendid baroque buildings that you can marvel at, and a thriving culture.
Beautiful Varaždin in Croatia Image source: here

9. Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik is one of the 10 best preserved medieval walled cities in the whole world. Do you need to hear any more reasons to visit it? Fine. It’s located by the Adriatic Sea. It’s on the UNESCO list. It has one of the most diverse natural surroundings in the world. It has the most beautiful Mediterranean beaches. It has one of the world’s longest walls. It has the oldest fortress in Europe. Game of Thrones was filmed there. If the last one hasn’t persuaded you, then I don’t know what will.
Dubrovnik, Croatia Image source: here

10. Ljubljana, Slovenia

Even though Ljubljana is the largest city in Slovenia, it contains less than 300,000 people, which isn’t that much for a country’s capital. But that’s what gives Ljubljana its undeniable charm and extremely romantic appearance: you walk along its pretty streets, gazing at the beautiful buildings, and you feel like the whole city belongs just to you alone. The cityscape of Slovenia’s capital is simply amazing, and some of the most important historical areas are now closed to traffic (which is what every city should do), offering you a unique sightseeing experience.
LJubljana, Slovenia Image source: here




11. Bojnice, Slovakia

Isn’t it interesting that some of the best cities to travel to are so tiny that you can hardly find them on the map? Bojnice is one of them. It has less than 5,000 people living there, and yet it also has the oldest spas in Slovakia, which date back to the 1500s, and one of the most-visited castles in the whole world. The Bojnice Castle, built in the 12th century, is a popular destination not only among tourists, but also among filmmakers looking for a perfect fairy-tale stage. The castle masterfully combines the architectural styles of Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance, and is a genuinely inspiring place.
I NEED to go to Bojnice!! Image source: here

12. Kotor, Montenegro

Nothing can beat Kotor scenery-wise. Nothing. If you’ve been looking for a bit of paradise, this is it. The old Mediterranean city of Kotor is a home to some lucky 13,000 people, who can enjoy the serene views over the mountains every single day of their amazing lives. The paradisiacal town is located at the river canyon, which washes against ancient limestone cliffs and offers an impressively picturesque landscape.
Kotor, Montenegro Image source: here

13. Sofia, Bulgaria

The history of Sofia spans 2,400 years, which makes the city truly ancient. Everything that is the best of Bulgaria is found in Sofia: the most beautiful churches and cathedrals, the biggest national libraries, the largest museum collections, and, of course, the best tourist attractions. So what are you waiting for?
Sofia, Bulgaria Image source: here

14. Belgrade, Serbia

Like Sofia, Belgrade also was a prehistoric city. People started the first settlement around the Belgrade area in the 6th millennium (!) BC. Then, the village was inhabited by the Paleo-Balkan tribes, until it was conquered by the Celts in 279 BC. And then conquered by the Romans in 34-33 BC, who gave Belgrade city rights. Later, Belgrade was settled by the Slavs in the 520s AD, and then it passed from one owner to another: the Byzantine Empire, the Frankish Empire, the Bulgarian Empire, the Kingdom of Hungary, the Ottoman Empire… The continuous history of conquests and defeats made Belgrade a unique destination that has combined many cultures that have become one – a great reason to visit Belgrade!
Belgrade Image source: here

15. Kazimierz Dolny, Poland

Having around just 3,000 people, Kazimierz Dolny is so tiny that even some Polish people have never heard of it. Nevertheless, Kazimierz is a popular tourist attraction in Central Poland and one of the cutest little towns in the whole country. It used to be a trade city in the late Middle Ages/Early Renaissance, but then it somehow went ‘out of business’ and had to face economic stagnation. Which turned out well, I believe, as it really helped Kaziemierz Dolny to preserve its medieval look. Now the city is a famous art centre in Eastern Europe, where artists from all over the world come to paint, marvel at the ruins of an ancient castle, get inspired by the beautiful authenticity of the city, and sell their masterpieces. If you love art, come to Kaziemierz Dolny – you’ll find galleries in almost every street here.
Kazimierz Dolny in Poland Image source: here

16. Mariánské Lázně, Czech Republic

Now, Karlovy Vary and Český Krumlov have been lately mentioned in so many travel lists that they’re not the most ‘hidden’ of all the hidden gems in Europe after all. However, there’s so much more to experience in Czech Bohemia other than just these two cities – take Mariánské Lázně, for example! A small town located in the midst of the mountains, with nearly every building representing La Belle Époque, and with spas so popular that they used to attract the biggest names of the 19th century: Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Frederick Chopin, Thomas Edison, Richard Wagner, Edward VII of the United Kingdom, the last Russian Czar Nicolas II, the Emperor Franz Joseph I, and many more notable and royal people… Ah! Some days, I feel quite notable and royal myself as well, so I guess I should go to Mariánské Lázně, too!
Mariánské Lázně in Czech Republic is a gorgeous little place! Image source: here

17. Olomouc, Czech Republic

After you have fully explored the Czech Bohemia, you should head to Moravia – another beautiful part of the Czech Republic. Its old capital Olomouc has an incredibly rich history, splendid historical sites, amazing Moravian cuisine, and wonderful surrounding landscapes. Olomouc, in reality, is a miniature version of Prague, with its own Olomouc Castle, Astronomical Clock, and St. Wenceslas Cathedral that resembles the famous St. Vitus Cathedral in the Czech capital.
Olomouc, a second Prague in Czech Republic Image source: here

18. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina has been working hard on attracting tourists over the last few years, and the people of Sarajevo, the country’s capital, can finally start enjoying the delicious fruits of that hard labour. Sarajevo has been through a lot during the 1990s, when the Bosnian War was taking place, but it has successfully recovered from all its misfortunes and miseries. Sarajevo has been undergoing a fast post-war reconstruction, which earned the city the title of 43rd best city in the world, according to Lonely Planet.
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina Image source: here

19. Skopje, Macedonia

You absolutely have to go to Skopje. It’s one of those small European capitals that were partly destroyed at some point in the past and then greatly reconstructed later on, adding a modern vibe to the city’s historical appearance. Skopje is urban, bright, and very much alive, and yet so beautifully old, slow, and peaceful. There’s a lot that has survived from the times of the Ottoman- and Byzantine- eras that have left wonderful bazaars, bridges, fortresses, and churches for the modern eye to explore.
Skopje, Macedonia Image source: here

20. Berat, Albania

Last but not least, Berat is a magical place in the South of Albania. It is especially known for its white Ottoman houses leading the way up the hill towards an ancient castle. This image earned Berat the title of the “town of a thousand windows” and helped join the city to the UNESCO list in 2008. When you travel to Berat, you travel back in time: the whitewashed walls, the tiled roofs, the cobblestone roads, all covered in cracks…. Berat has such a unique, wonderful atmosphere that you seriously wonder how come you’ve never heard of this place before.
Berat, Albania Image source: here

Over to you! Do you know any other hidden gem in Eastern Europe?

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  • I loved Budapest and Croatia! I’m definitely an Eastern Europe fan. I love that it’s not overly touristy there yet, with lots of secret tips like beautiful old beautiful old buildign, underground bars etc etc to explore.

    Now, I’m really looking forward to my short trip to Sofia and Prishtina!
    Also at the top of my list: Krakow, Ljubljana and Bucharest.

    And, of course, Riga! ;)

    • They say Krakow kind of looks like Riga, in a way.

  • Great post. All of these cities look spectacular. Sadly haven’t been to enough of them. I would also add Wroclaw – the Venice of Poland and Český Krumlov with it’s amazing castle and UNESCO world heritage town.

    • Český Krumlov is indeed a precious little place, but everybody knows about it – it’s in every ‘small town bucket list’ now!

  • I wish I could go to all of them very very soon, though i have visited some. So happy you included Sofia as well (being patriotic here :D)

    • One of my childhood friends was visiting Sofia every summer, and she always told me how lovely the city was! So Sofia was one of the first places I thought about when making this list :)

  • What about anywhere in Russia, Russian abroad?! ;)

    Love this – I absolutely agree that people need to start thinking beyond the former Berlin Wall when considering Europe!

    • I’ve only been to St. Petersburg!! And it’s not really that ‘hidden’ of a gem.
      I’m a post-Soviet Russian speaker born in Latvia, so I’m Russian but not really, haha. People always get confused!

  • I think Budapest and Brasov were my favourite Eastern Europe cities but I would love to see Sofia one day as well!

    http://www.thefernwehwolf.com

    • Oh, they say Sofia is fantastic!

  • I’ll be heading to Sofia soon to check it out for myself – my first time visiting Eastern Europe and I’m really excited!

    • I’m sure you’re gonna love Eastern Europe :)

  • You made me miss my Balkan road trip. I’ve been half of this places and its one of our favorite travels we ever did.

    http://www.brockandtanj.com

  • Carol Colborn

    We will be in Skopje, Macedonia and Sofia, Bulgaria this October!!! Can’t wait.

    • That’s awesome!! You’ll get to visit 10% of the cities that are feature on this list, haha

  • Wishing I had known about many of these before having planned my upcoming trip! I think the east has been ignored by tourists for so long, that it is now becoming the front runner for European travel and tourism. I hope that some of these destinations remain unspoiled for just a little longer so I can explore sans crowds ;)

  • Terrific list of hidden gems in Eastern Europe! Looks like I’ve got quite a few yet to get to.

  • I really loved my time in Prague and I definitely want to explore more of Eastern Europe. Thanks for all the suggestions!

  • Kotor is one of my favorite cities ever- SUCH A GEM- basically all of Montenegro is amazing. As far as Albania goes though I think that Saranda is better then berat. The ruins, the blue eye and the beaches are incredible.

    • Just googled Saranda, it looks incredibly beautiful!
      I guess I should make a Hidden Gems in Eastern Europe: Pt II list soon! :D

  • Brilliant post – Eastern Europe is one of the most underrated parts of the world; I’ve managed to tick of 4 from your list so I’ll have to start working on getting to the others. I would add Bratislava. Love that place – so charming and definitely qualifies as a hidden gem!

  • Great suggestions and beautiful pictures. I haven’t been to Eastern Europe yet but heading that direction soon – thanks for the suggestions.

  • That’s a great selection of some of the most beautiful cities in Europe!

  • Wow, so many gems indeed! The only gem here I’ve visited is Dubrovnik, and it sights rightfully at the top of my travel memories :)

  • I need to do a proper European trip! So many amazing places to visit!

  • Certainly some of my favourites here and I love Eastern Europe! I’m not saying which ones though, haha. Some I haven’t heard of too, great tips!

  • I absolutely loved Krakow and Budapest. I would love to see Croatia too, your photos are very inviting!

  • Beautiful Pictures. Eastern Europe is high on our list. Thanks for the info!

  • I really, really want to explore more of Eastern Europe! We only had a day in Czech Republic on a long layover, and it defintiely gave me some wanderlust for the rest of Eastern Europe. Great list–hope to check many of these spots out soon!

  • I love hidden gems!! It’s great to explore that something different and see the beauty in it. I haven’t been to Europe yet, but I will consider your recommendation. Thank you for sharing!

    • Andreas Moser

      None of these places are “hidden gems”. Many of them are capital cities of countries, with millions of people living there.

      • Olga Rabo

        Whaaat? haha
        Most of the cities listed here are SMALL, one of them is even below 10 000 people. Plus, just because a city is a capital doesn’t mean that everybody knows about it. Every American has heard about Paris or London, only few can even locate Latvia on the map. So, for the majority of this world’s population, these places are still yet to be discovered #itsafact

  • Love this selection, going to add it to my list, haven’t been in any of them! )))

  • Of these, I’ve been to Brasov, Bucharest, Sibiu, Budapest, Dubrovnik, Ljubljana, Kotor, Sofia, Belgrade, and Skopje and would highly recommend all of them! Eastern Europe is such an amazing part of the world, and I’d love to see the other ten you’ve listed.

  • I’ve been to none of these places. I a really eager to explore eastern Europe and we are hoping to plan a trip for the summer that covers Croatia and Slovenia. It all looks so pretty.

  • Cristina

    Hola, Olga: Me encanta tu lista. Es que adoro Europa central y del este. Quisiera estar todavía ahí y poder explorar más. ¿Sigues viviendo en el Ecuador?

    • Ya no más! Volví a Europa en febrero, y ahora estoy viviendo en Berlin!
      Pero Ecuador es una belleza!! Me encantaría regresar a este país algún día para conocerlo un poquito más :)

      • Cristina

        Sí, ya veo que estás en Alemania. También he vivido ahí…parece que tenemos algunas cosas en común. Ojalá vuelvas un rato acá porque nos hace falta gente del este europeo :))))
        Me ha hecho gracia tu reacción sobre Prata Vetra jejeeee (yes, I loved them!)

        • siiii, jajaja, me parece que yo era una de las pocas personas del este europeo y la única persona de Letonia en Ecuador :D
          Pero era chevere, la experiencia!
          Y si, prata vetra es lo mejor! Chequea Intars Busulis tb :)

  • Love this list with these beautiful pictures! I’d love to visit one day. Thanks for sharing.

  • Thnx for putting my Croatia on the list, even though there are more places to be put on :D

    love peace and pancakes from Zagreb

    • Cheers Pam! Thanks for commenting!

  • Another great post! I would definitely say that Cesky Kumlov, Czech Republic also deserves a spot on this list! Budapest is so underrated; it is definitely one of my favorite cities on the planet!
    http://www.travelalphas.com

    • Oh yes, Český Krumlov is definitely worth the visit, but it’s already so popular that I thought it’s not that ‘hidden’ of a gem anymore!

  • Awesome list! Heading to Eastern Europe this Fall for some long term travel and I will definitely consider each of these towns :)

    • Have a great trip Lexie! I’m sure you’ll enjoy Eastern Europe – everybody does!

  • Cristina

    Thank you, the three cities you mentioned are indeed extremely beautiful and perfect for explorers. The views and sites still manage to fascinate me, even though I’ve seen them countless times; I wish I could see them for the first time once again!

    Come visit, we’ll be waiting for you with delicious Romanian food :)

    Sincerely,
    A Romanian

    PS. I saved the list, I have to visit our neighbours now!

  • Great post! I’m from Budapest, and I can’t get tired of this city :)
    I’ve been to Krakow and Kotor, and I’ve fallen in love with both of them, amazing places!

    • Thanks for commenting, Barb :)

  • Hey, nice collection. I slightly disagree with you on the “hidden” part, as half of them are actually capital cities. All of them are worth a visit, though, and I think most travellers should hurry up in visiting them as this part of the world is getting more and more popular lately, so they wouldn’t be such an insider tip for much longer.

    I’m from Sofia and I really believe now is the perfect time to visit Bulgaria and Eastern Europe :) Here’s a small list with reasons why, I think most of them apply to the whole region:

    http://ntripping.com/5-reasons-to-visit-bulgaria-right-now/

    Cheers, N.

    • Olga Rabo

      I’m pretty sure this blog post will become irrelevant in a few years because eeeeeverybody is discovering these cities now! So what is ‘secret’ now will be not so secret anymore pretty sooN!
      My family is visiting Bulgaria at the moment, actually! They’ve been bombarding my with whatsapp pictures, haha, it looks amazing there! I’d really want to go there too, one day – you guys have amazing landscapes!!

      • Oh, you’re right about that :) I must admit some of the cities on the list are still very unknown and totally off the beaten path.
        Glad your parents are enjoying their stay in Bulgaria! You should definitely follow them, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it there! But don’t just stay in Sofia, my personal favourite and a real magical place is the Rhodope Mountains – if you get the chance, don’t hesitate to go up there ;)
        Cheers, N.

        • Olga Rabo

          Bucketlisted! Thanks for the tip!!

  • great article we have been to 4 of your top 7 all amazing cities
    cheers from Australia

    • Olga Rabo

      I’ve been to 3 :) Cheers back! (from Berlin)

  • Andreas Moser

    Funny how stupid we people in Transylvania are that we drive hundreds of km to get to the Black Sea, when we have “numerous Black Sea resorts” in Brasov.

    It’s bad enough that people write travel blogs who only do internet research, but looking at a map should really be the most basic thing.

  • Heather

    Szentendre, Szeged, Debrecen, Timisoara, Cluj (and nearby Turda is magnificent), Kosice, Kutna Hora, Frantiskovy Lazne, Alba Iulia, Brasov/Sighisoara/Sibiu (all in same area, I think you mention Sibiu), Siofok near Balaton. Those are from my twenties living in the region. I tend to favor small towns you can walk end to end, with universities and decent public transportation to other points.

    • Olga Rabo

      I’ve been to Kutna Hora, but in Czech Republic :D It’s funny how different towns have the same names in different countries!
      And I do agree with you – I also love small towns, they’re just so lovely and relaxed and most of them have preserved their pre-war look because they weren’t so important so they weren’t so heavily bombed.. It’s always a pleasure to have a walk down the old narrow streets!

  • Heather

    And I like Plzen and Rokycany although Rokycany has a huge gypsy population if that’s a deterrent, I found it a wonderful walkable town.

  • Dennis

    Great list! I visited 5 of the first 7. Tallinn, Krakow and Budapest are really not hidden gems but absolutely amazing. And at least Tallinn and Krakow have lovely places outside the city walls where most tourists never go. Riga is very high on my list along with Vilnius. I would add Veliko Turnovo in Bulgaria. Or Tartu, not so amazing as Tallinn, but a relaxed Estonian university town where you can easily spend a few quality days.

    • Olga Rabo

      I’ve been to Tartu when I was a teen but I don’t remember much about it, to be honest! It was nice, though, but Riga is way nicer (that’s where I come from). You should definitely go there one day!

  • Ola Zawada

    I’m sorry guys but non of those places is actualy Eastern Europe. Poland, Czech Republic Slovakia and Hungary are Central Europe, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are Baltic and others are Balkans.
    I know it doesn’t make much difference to you but for us it’s sore point.
    Something good to know before coming over here.

    • Olga Rabo

      I guess it just depends on your definition of “Eastern Europe”. I was born and raised in Latvia, and while we differentiate ourselves as “the Baltic states”, we still accept that we belong to Eastern Europe.

  • Katie Featherstone

    Thank-you so much for the idea, my boyfriend and I are heading East later this year. :)

    • Olga Rabo

      So happy it helped!!
      Happy travels Katie, hope your boyfriend and you will enjoy Eastern Europe :))

      • Katie Featherstone

        Thankyou :) I’m sure we will!

  • Wow, this picture od Skopje is impressive! And as a Polish I agree that Krakow is better destination than Warsaw, but for me the most beautiful part of motherland is Baltic Sea Coast http://epepa.eu/by-the-polish-seaside/ and the city of Gdańsk is also woth seeing.

    • Olga Rabo

      I’ve heard about Gdańsk a lot, actually — my aunt has been there a number of times and she always says how nice it is!

  • Cornelia Slobodeniuc

    Oh my God ! Souch a beautyfull description and amazing pics. Now i am gonna visit all this places ! :) http://www.anemary.ro/

    • Olga Rabo

      I’m sharing your excitement on this Cornelia!!!
      Happy travels!
      xoxo Olga

  • Wojtek Godek

    In Gdańsk I recommend Room of Plenty — a museum of a forgotten traveler.
    http://roomofplenty.pl/en/

    • Looks super cool, Wojtek, thank you for the tip :)