Best Things To Do And See in Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe spent much of the 20th century in disagreement with "the West". Many of its countries, such as the Baltic states, didn't even operate autonomously as recently as 20 years ago. Today, the conflict and oppression have mostly disappeared, but the scars and aftermath remain.
Map of Eastern Europe
There are opposing views on the effects of Soviet rule, but no one can deny it had a lasting impact. After the dissolution of the USSR, the region suffered for quite some time. Now though, it's starting to blossom, which makes it a fascinating destination for adventurous travelers.
A Region with New Beginnings
Charged with new beginnings, the atmosphere in many of the region's cities is electric. There seems to be a visceral force driving improvements to conditions and enjoyment to life. This rebirth makes for great fireside chats with enthusiastic locals.
The evidence of change is in the landscapes, the homes, and the people. And whether you visit the city centers or the remote townships, you're sure to witness the renewed hope and mandate for change. Just make sure you visit Eastern Europe before the large tour companies catch on.
Eastern Europe | Must See
There's always so much to see, but so little time. Here are a few must-see cities to add to your next itinerary.
Somewhat undiscovered by the masses, Riga shines as the "Paris of the East". Renowned for its German architecture, World Heritage status and Soviet history, the city is also famous for its extreme nightlife and flourishing restaurant scene. These days, Riga has a boom-town feel that is underpinned by the city's switch to a full-blown market economy. If you get a chance to visit, make sure you don't leave until you taste the 90-proof Riga Black Balsam. It's sure to knock your socks off.
Budapest is actually made up of two cities on either side of the Danube, called Buda and Pest. The combined cities are peppered with grand buildings and sweeping bridges that look magnificent when illuminated by the barrage of fireworks that explode every August 20, for St Stephen's Day.
With the expiration of communism, a resurgence has taken place. Luxury hotels, malls, restaurants, bars, and clubs, are now found throughout the city. Some condemn this development and lament the erosion of the city's culture, but others see it positively through glasses of opportunity.
St Petersburg, Russia
St Petersburg, or the "Venice of the north", is everything you don't expect from post-Soviet occupation. The Italian baroque architecture, an impressive chain of canals, and exquisite palatial museums give an authentic European feel to this city.
You can't walk away without seeing the Kirov ballet, wandering the Winter Palace, or taking a boat ride through the scenic canals. Be wary of the weather though, the mercury in St Petersburg can plummet to -25°C without a second thought.
Eastern Europe | Must Do
The road less traveled is rarely in plain sight. But these must-do activities are sure to get you on the right track.
There are very few viable methods to traverse Russia. Despite the fascinating landscape, you can't exactly scoot across, stopping intermittently at roadside BnBs. The land is unforgiving, much of it is uninhabited, and any crossing by road requires detailed planning and a good dose of luck.
But there's always the trusty railroad. And crossing Russia via the Trans-Siberian Railway must be one of the world's most popular and well-recognized rail tours. But don't forget to consider the variations that make up the Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Manchurian; they too are spectacular.
The Caucasus mountain range stretches from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea and crosses through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Russia. It is largely untouched and uninhabited, which makes it a lot less trafficked than the Alps or Himalaya.
There's an ongoing dispute between Mont Blanc, in France, and Mount Elbrus, in the Caucasus, for the title of Europe's highest peak. Elbrus is undoubtedly higher, but the question is whether it sits on the European continent. There's no geological solution either since both mountains sit on the all-consuming Eurasian tectonic plate.
There aren't too many nations that permit the public to use its military hardware. Sure, guns are the delivery mechanism for much of the world's suffering, but boys will be boys and flying to the edge of space in a Mig fighter jet to view the curvature of the Earth will never cease to be cool.
Packaged military adventures range from timid museum tours all the way to achieving zero gravity in a purpose-built aircraft. Of course, it costs a small fortune for some of these tours, but most aren't available anywhere outside Eastern Europe.
Eastern Europe | Must Try
If you want more than sights, sounds, and smells, give the place a good taste test. Check out these must-try local favorites.
Pierogi are essentially dumplings with an uncanny resemblance to ravioli. Although they're often associated with Poland, their true origin is unknown. The most popular filling is mashed potatoes, cheese, and fried onions. Yum.
Like most tasty food, pierogi won't win any awards for nutritional value. They're made using unleavened dough and filled and/or covered with cheese. You can find them in many fast-food outlets and dedicated pierogi restaurants.
The legend says that in the first half of the 15th century a monk named Isidore created the first Russian vodka within the walls of the Chudov monastery, which is today's territory of the Kremlin in Moscow.
With roots like that, it would be plain rude to turn down a Russian's offer of this clear elixer. For the ultimate Eastern European experience, enjoy copious amounts of vodka with suspicious locals aboard a Trans-Siberian locomotive.
Served hot or cold, this traditional soup varies across Eastern Europe. It is based on beetroot, giving that reddy purple color, but can also be made with tomato, giving a deeper red hue.
As an appetizer, it is served hot with bread, which can be just what the doctor ordered during winter whiteouts. It's also great for soaking up vodka after being cajoled into drinking too much by locals. Add sour cream for extra taste.