Eastern Europe's cities have been gaining attention and popularity as travel destinations over the last couple of decades. Across the region, there is a lot of natural beauty, cultural heritage, and travel opportunities waiting to be discovered.
Because Eastern Europe is relatively compact (excluding Russia, that is!) it’s easy enough to include multiple destinations in one trip, and many Eastern Europe tours do just that. Although the countries share many cultural traits, they all offer something different for each travel enthusiast: from hiking in the virgin pine forests of Montenegro to taking in the Croatian countryside by motorbike, to traveling the entire breadth of Siberia.
When choosing an Eastern Europe tour, you'll want to consider which of the many countries you most want to see, as well as what kind of activities you're interested in. Everything from castle and museum-hopping to epic rail journeys can be done in Eastern Europe.
Because of Eastern Europe's compact geography with beautiful and interesting cities surrounded by wild landscapes and good roads, motorbiking is an ideal way to see this part of the world.
Self-guided tours through Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary are offered by several tour companies. Motorbiking through Eastern Europe gives you the freedom to stop and start as you wish in your itinerary. On these tours you are given GPS coordinates and accommodation recommendations; the research has already been done for you, so you can concentrate more on the experience. If you want a more traditional tour experience (although not too traditional -- you will still be on a motorbike, after all), it is also possible to do a motorbike trip with a group and guide.
The Trans-Siberian Railway
One of the ultimate adventures you can have in Eastern Europe is traveling along the Trans-Siberian Railway. Traveling by train allows you to sit back and watch the scenery go by. The Railway was constructed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and is the world’s longest passenger train route.
A one-way trip without stops takes six days, but most travelers want to stop in places along the way to turn this into a real sightseeing trip. If you book a tour with a Trans-Siberian tour specialist, they will arrange accommodation and stops in the most desirable places.
Highlights of traveling Trans-Siberia are passing through traditional Siberian villages with wooden houses and onion-domed churches; the massive expanses of grassy steppe; and the world’s deepest lake, Lake Baikal.
Eastern Europe is home to some seriously impressive (and seriously underrated) mountains, forests, and national parks. Opting for a hiking tour is one way of immersing yourself in stunning landscapes that few foreign visitors have discovered yet.
An especially worthwhile hiking destination is the Durmitor National Park, in the Dinaric Alps in Montenegro. Other hiking hot-spots in Eastern Europe include Transylvania (Romania), the Rila Mountains (Bulgaria), the High Tatra mountains (Slovakia), and the Julian Alps (Slovenia). Guided tours service many of these destinations.
Culture & History Tours
While Europe as a whole is heaven for culture and history buffs, Eastern Europe has its own distinct traditions that make it a fascinating place. From Polish cities reconstructed after the annihilation of World War II to the decadent romance of the Russian Tsars, you're sure to find some theme to pique your curiosity on a culturally or historically oriented tour in Eastern Europe.
Popular Eastern Europe culture and history tours often start in Prague, the fairy-tale capital of the Czech Republic, and travel through Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. Though geographically close together, you may be surprised by the cultural and historical diversity in the relatively small region. From echoes of the Habsburg Empire to the remnants of the Ottoman, frilly Baroque Catholic cathedrals to golden onion-domed Orthodox churches, taking a culture and history tour through Eastern Europe will be intriguing.
Best Time to Visit Eastern Europe
Winters in Eastern Europe are very cold, with heavy snowfall in most parts (excluding the coastal Balkans). This means that there are opportunities for snow sports in the winter. Summers tend to be hot and sunny, ideal for other kinds of outdoor activities. In short, any time of year is a good time to visit Eastern Europe, depending on the activities you're interested in.
What to Look For in a Trip to Eastern Europe
Because of Eastern Europe's diversity, it's important to think about what kind of adventure you want to have. If you're after mountain adventures (hiking, skiing) then the southern and western regions of Eastern Europe should be where you go. If you want off-the-beaten-path wilderness, look to Russia and the more 'eastern' parts of Eastern Europe. If city-based adventures are more your thing, then you can barely go wrong. Just be aware that tourist facilities and infrastructure are better developed in the western and southern parts of the region than elsewhere.
Typical Tour Costs
Eastern Europe tends to be cheaper than most of Western Europe. However, this is less true than it used to be since many Eastern European countries have joined the European Union. Transportation such as local trains are still cheaper than in Western Europe (as the comfort is significantly lower), and locally produced products (such as Czech beer!) are very affordable. In general, you can budget less for Eastern Europe than you would in Western Europe, and this includes when booking organized tours. But this doesn't mean that Eastern Europe is an ultra-budget destination.
Packing Tips & Gear Rental
What to pack depends on what activities you intend to do, and in which season you'll be traveling.
If you are doing any activities independently that will require special equipment--such as hiking boots--it's best to bring these from home. Eastern European cities tend to have a variety of shopping options, but prices of outdoor gear would be comparable to what you'd pay at home.
If you're joining organized trips, such as white-water rafting, then all gear will be provided.
English is less widely spoken in Eastern Europe as it is in Western Europe. The younger generation is usually conversant, but outside the main cities or off the most popular tourist spots, you may not find many people can understand or speak English. However, German is sometimes more often spoken than English in places such as Hungary or Slovakia, so this might be a fall-back option for some.
Eastern Europe is generally as safe or as risky as anywhere else in Europe. This means that caution should be taken in the major cities against pick-pocketing and theft. Many places in Eastern Europe experience more poverty and unemployment than you might be familiar with, so always be aware of your surroundings and take care of your belongings, as tourists are often seen as easy targets. However, in general, violent crime shouldn't be a major concern while traveling in Eastern Europe. People of color may feel more uncomfortable in this part of the world than other travelers.
Be aware of scams involving fake (or corrupt) police in Russia, particularly the cities. If someone who appears to be a police officer demands to see your documents or tells you to accompany them somewhere, insist on seeing their identification.