By Tommy Burson
Paris, Rome, and London are all classic first-time Eurotrip destinations. But for savvy or returning travelers, Eastern European cities -- think: Prague, Budapest, and Tallinn, among offers -- offer just as much beauty and history, but at cheaper prices and in fewer crowds. Although communism clothed much of the area a few decades ago, the region has largely shed that attire and now welcomes travelers with eclectic mixes of medieval architecture and preserved fortresses alongside Soviet era blocks and 21st century designs. With so many nations to discover, here's where to start:
The Balkans: Inspired travelers should explore any of Croatia's 1,244 islands, with Hvar and Vis as prime highlights. Although most tourists flock to Croatian beaches, Plitvice Lakes National Park, on the border near Bosnia and Herzegovina, features stunningly blue waters with dozens upon dozens of waterfalls. Travel further into Bosnia to arrive at the nation's trendy capital, Sarajevo, where you can dive into the burgeoning arts scene at Ars Aevi gallery or experience the somber history behind in the city that once sparked WWI.
The Baltics: Often cold, dreary, and the brunt of potato jokes, the Baltics might just actually rank among the prettiest places in the world. Tallinn, Estonia's Old Town preserves 13th century architecture. This year, the European Union named Riga, Latvia Europe's capital of culture, and one visit to Riga's Art Nouveau district quickly explains why. Steeped nearby the three nations is St. Petersburg -- Russia's version of Paris, a perfect summer destination for its bright, white nights.
For the history: It's hard to ignore the war-torn histories behind many of these nations. That's what makes many of the monuments in the region so powerful. Jewish historical sites like "The Pit" in Minsk, Auschwitz in Poland, or the Holocaust memorial in Budapest soberly reminds visitors of past atrocities.
For the beauty: From Transylvania's sublime castles (without Dracula) to Krakow's artistic revival, Eastern Europe affords scenic, artsy vacations with the best bang for your buck. Visit world-class art in Budapest for a fraction of what it'd cost in Paris or London, or spend the night in a hotel that's also a brewery in Prague (where beer is cheaper than water). And Slovakia's High Tatras, with its snow-capped alps, offers a more affordable alpine vacation than its Swiss sisters.
Photo: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra
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