Explore a Unique Corner of the World

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The rich cultural history of eastern European cities makes them an ideal vacation spot. Throw in the beautiful architecture and you have wonderful cities to explore at a far more economical price than similar cities in Western Europe.

There are unique traditions and landscapes that appeal to the most jaded traveler. Many of these cities cling to their traditions and cuisines while embracing modern influences, which makes for a wonderful mixture of old and new.

Budapest, Hungary, is a magical city with stunning architecture. The Danube River runs through the city, dividing it into Buda and Pest. On the Buda side of the Chain Bridge, you can see the Hungarian Parliament building, Fisherman’s Bastion, the 13th century Matthias Church and the Gellert thermal baths. If you cross to the Pest side of the river, you will find trendy bars, lovely coffee shops, the food market and Heroes Square, which is a large square constructed in 1896 for the millennium of the Magyar Conquest of Hungary. The square’s Millennial Monument is flanked by the Fine Arts Museum and the Mucsarnok Art Gallery.

All in all, Budapest is a charming city that can be explored mainly on foot or using the metro. Since Hungary doesn’t belong to the European Union, their coin is the Hungarian forint with an exchange rate is favorable to Western money.

Ljubljana, Slovenia, is considered the Green Capital of Europe. The city has extensive green spaces and a car-free city center. The Ljubljanica River divides the city. Tourists like wandering along the riverbanks and dropping in the little cafes lining the river.

The Dragon Bridge is the most famous landmark in the city. Its four iconic dragons protect the city and give you a unique selfie shot. You can also visit the Ljubljana Castle by taking a funicular to reach the castle, or walking if you really want the exercise. The castle is 900 years old and offers the best views of the city.

Zagreb, Croatia, is packed with sites within walking distance. The Neo-Gothic Cathedral dominates the skyline of Zagreb, but its modernistic carvings surprise visitors. Another notable site is the Museum of Broken Relationships, filled with memorabilia of relationships that haven’t worked out. A warden has fired a cannon daily in Lotrscak Tower at 12:00 p.m. sharp since 1877 to mark midday for the churches’ bell ringers.

Bucharest, Romania, is an international city in which you can get a glimpse into the communist history of the city. The Palace of Parliament is over 1,100 rooms large and is billed as the second largest administrative building in the world, after the Pentagon. Visit the Museum of the Romanian Peasant and the Village Museums to learn about history of the Romanian people.
The countryside around the city is full of wineries and amazing landscapes. The city itself has some of the best dining in Europe, with cuisine varying from local dishes to Asian cuisine, Italian dishes to haute cuisine.

Vilnius, Lithuania, is a very open-minded, diverse, friendly city. This capital city is full of baroque architecture with cobblestone streets lined with hidden boutiques and trendy restaurants. Visit the Gate of Dawn shrine, the Church of St. Anne and the Vilnius TV tower for panoramic shots of the city. With a mixture of the old and the new, Vilnius is inexpensive for a capital city.
The old city of Dubrovnik, Croatia, is UNESCO-sanctioned. It was also the location for the Game of Thrones walled city of Kings Landing. The picturesque location on the Adriatic Sea has numerous historical and architectural sites. You can ride a cable car up to Mount Srd to get a stunning view of the city and the island of Lokrum.

The old town of Krakow, Poland, is magical. The town is one of the oldest in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The old town was largely spared from German destruction in World War II and retains much of its 13th- and 14th-century architecture and fortifications. The city is considered Poland’s cultural hub. The medieval market square is framed by local shops and restaurants. Be sure to try the horse-drawn carriage rides.

The Kazimierz, the 14th-century Jewish quarter, has seen revitalization since the filming of Schindler’s List in 1993. It is now a trendy, flourishing Jewish neighborhood with lots of Jewish shops, cafes and synagogues. An hour’s drive outside the city is the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum.

Whichever city you choose, explore the region around the city. Eastern Europe has so much cultural history that you can easily spend weeks traveling around your hub during the day and enjoying exquisite cuisine at night. Bon voyage! ■

Sources clubthrifty.com, forbes.com and ytravelblog.com.