Adventure

You’ve Done The West, Now Head To The Other Side Of Europe

Thought you’ve seen and heard it all? Think again. Europe is still choc full of unexpected surprises, and today we’re lifting the lid on a few. From Albania to Romania, Bulgaria to Slovakia, Georgia, Serbia and beyond, we’ve got your curiosities scooped with a journey to Eastern Europe – a side most travellers don’t see enough of.

Albania

Celebrations outside Resurrection Cathedral, Korçë in Albania, Eastern Europe.

It’s just like “Goldilocks and the three hotspots of Eastern Europe”: first came Croatia, then Montenegro, and now, everyone’s turning their attention to the lesser-known newbie: Albania.

Fewer tourists, of course, cheaper too (and no less stunning). Capital Tirana is the doorway to the whole deal: an architectural pastiche of the region’s Ottoman-, Fascist- and Soviet-eras, surrounded by glorious mountains and shimmering Adriatic coastline. It’s Albania’s time, people. Get there before the hordes do.

Romania

 

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If you haven’t visited Romania yet, you’re not doing life right. The East is filled with amazing experiences, and the spectacular wilderness, heritage castles and majestic mountains of Romania are up there with some of the most bucket-list-worthy.

 

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With it’s revamped 15th Century old town, and remarkable array of Byzantine, Communist and Art Nouveau architecture, Bucharest – once known as the “Paris of the East” – is worth the trip alone.

Beyond that, you’ll find unique things: like the amazing Bigar Waterfall, the Romanian “Tunnel of Love”, the Bucegi Mountains, the wild, serpentine Transfagarasan highway, so too the palatial residence of the Wallachian princes: the mansion that inspired the man, the myth, the legend, Dracula himself. What more could you want?

Bulgaria

 

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Of all the nations in Eastern Europe, Bulgaria is perhaps the most shrouded in misconception. “Well, what’s even there?” you are probably asking.

 

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Simply: a whole lot of amazingness. Who knew that Bulgaria was blessed with sunny, sandy coastline and beautiful beaches (almost 400km of stunning Black Sea coast), peppered with lovely coastal towns, UNESCO World Heritage sites, dramatic mountains, rugged castles, and sumptuous regional food and drink that’ll barely scratch the budget.

Slovakia

 

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Here’s another one that frequently falls under the radar. It’s not only one of the world’s newest countries but it’s one of Europe’s best, too. Since the split with its Czech neighbours in ’93 in what’s referred to as the “Velvet Divorce”, Slovakia has been on the up and up.

Skyline view of Bratislava, Slovakia in Eastern Europe

Image: Walterssk / Pixabay

The waterfalls and vistas of the Tatras Mountains and Biosphere Reserve are some of the most breathtaking on the planet, and the whole region is surrounded by glorious forests.

As far as capitals go, Bratislava is an overlooked hub of Eastern Europe, home to fabulous culture, a convivial gastronomic scene, and effortless accessibility. A must see.

Serbia

 

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For a long while after the ’90s, the Balkans were a volatile spot, and not especially inviting for budding tourist. Heaps has changed since those trying times, clearly demonstrated by the stunning emergence of Serbia.

 

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The term “hidden gem” gets thrown around like so much cliché these days, but Serbia deserves it: the culinary delicacies are too numerous and incredible to list, the affordability of everything is off the charts, and as well as being extremely hospitable, the people here like to party here (world-class nightlife, paired with world-class enthusiasm).

All this begs the question: why aren’t you there yet!?

Ukraine

St Andrews Church, Ukraine, against a blue sky.

Image: Adrian Pescar / Pixabay

Yes, you can still go to the Ukraine and, if fact, you’re mad if you don’t. While you should steer clear of certain regions (like Crimea, Donetsk and Lugansk), the rest of the country is a feast of travel awesomeness.

 

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Kiev remains one of the most beautiful and unique capitals in Europe – expect a rich, ancient history, a fusion of culture and tradition, regional delicacies, energetic urban hubs and some of the most majestic outdoor vistas imaginable.

Lithuania

 

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Not traditionally considered the “sexiest” destination in Europe, the Lithuanian tourism board has been transforming that outlook with a makeover of late. Forget Paris, Barcelona, Monaco and the rest: check out Vilnius instead.

 

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With a burgeoning foodie scene, cultural action, UNESCO listed sites and a convivial party atmosphere, there’s a lot to get excited about. Not only does the city boast amazing history with attractions like the Genocide Museum (formerly the city’s KGB prison), there’s also incredible street art, the bohemian neighbourhood/republic of Užupis and Hales Market.

Georgia

 

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Ok, so this really is the other side of Europe. Still, we’re throwing it in, and there’s nothing you can do to stop us. Wedged between Turkey and Russia, Georgia has been popping up on the travel radar heaps of late, largely for the melting pot vibes of capital Tbilisi, which Forbes, among others, have been calling “the new Berlin”.

 

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There’s fantastic and abundant local wine, delicious street brandy called “cha cha”, eclectic history, ancient cave cities and the splendorous Caucasus Mountains. Plus, it’s so far off the radar for most, making it a particularly sweet choice for the savvy wayfarer.

If you’re planning an epic Europe trip, check out these other gems of the continent.

Check out Qantas flights to begin your next adventure.

(Lead image: Polina Rytova / Unsplash)