Things To Know Before Traveling These Eastern European Cities
In my opinion, Eastern Europe holds some of the most overlooked travel destinations. You should know that I am biased when I say this, as I have Polish blood running through my veins, but the sentiment still stands. Eastern Europe is less crowded than in its Western counterparts, it is easy to travel to and from, and generally it is cheaper to eat, drink and sleep there than it is in more touristy parts of the continent. A few of these countries should already be on your travel bucket list, but before you head off, make sure that you check out these tips!
Prague, Czech Republic
This city is stunning and smells like perfume in the early summer, when all the trees are blossoming. Walk along the winding streets and wander along the Charles Bridge for the best view of the city. To an American like myself, seeing buildings that date back centuries is always awe-inspiring, and none will stick in your mind like the Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square. This clock has been ticking continuously since 1410 – over 600 years ago!
Make sure you grab a drink in a nearby pub. Czech Republic is the leader in consumption of beer per capita, so be sure to try a stein or too – and wait for the top of the hour. The clock will chime and you’ll be able to see a little show with moving figures, who ring bells and shake their heads.
Vienna is a city of music and conquest, having been the birthplace of Mozart and Beethoven, and at one point, it was the capital of the Austrian Empire. History has seeped into the stones of Vienna, and there are many places I’d recommend you visit. Schönbrunn Palace is the former imperial summer palace and boasts nearly 1,500 lavishly decorated rooms and a botanical garden containing sculptures, water features and a maze. After walking among the flowers, continue your luxurious day with a visit to the Vienna State Opera. I know this sounds very frou-frou, and it is, but you can purchase very cheap standing room tickets for about €2 an hour and a half before each show. I’d recommend seeing Carmen if it is available, as you will probably recognize the music immediately.
An interesting thing to note is that these operas aren’t all in Italian. I think the one that I saw was in German, which was a surprise! As I can’t speak either of those languages, I was happy to note that there was a scrolling bar of subtitles in certain parts of the seating area.
Ahh, the motherland! Home to cheap, plentiful, delicious food, beautiful buildings and important history. Let’s get to the important history first: Auschwitz. I suspect most people who visit Poland make the trip to see the camps made so infamous in World War II. Plan your visit in the morning, so that you can do something happy in the evening to cheer yourself up. I won’t sugar coat this: you will be very depressed here. The site consists of the actual camp buildings, along with a small museum. The gas chambers are obviously haunting, but something that I didn’t expect to be so chilling were the curated museum rooms from items of those that perished at the camp. There are rooms of baby shoes, heaping piles of wedding rings, bales of human hair. It is terrible, but it is incredibly important to see it for yourself.
After your morning of misery, head back to Krakow and try to shake off the existential dread! Krakow is home to beautiful shops, and plentiful food. You can get a three-course meal with sausages, pierogi dumplings, vegetables, beer and a dessert for around USD$10. If you have time, take a trip to the Wieliczka Salt Mine and marvel at the caverns decorated by chandeliers. This mine was built to excavate table salt, and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978. It’s become a bit of a tourist trap, but the sculptures and inner workings of the mine are worth the trip.
This list is clearly incomplete, so tell me about what other Eastern European gems I should visit in the future! For more travel tips, check out my other blogs on Rakbo, or see what I’m up to on Instagram @emalicethomas.