Growing up in the west, I’ve had to suffer the stories of how bad Eastern Europe is. From its turbulent history to workers coming over and “taking our jobs”, I grew up expecting Eastern Europe to be a dull, grey, lifeless place. The truth is so different. The Balkans is one of the most beautiful areas in the world with breathtaking beauty I can’t even put into words. Elsewhere, cities such as Budapest, Sofia and Sarajevo have a buzz and an atmosphere above any beyond many Western cities. Add to that the fact it’s so easy to get around, it’s incredibly cheap and did I mention it’s gorgeous? Western Europe might have the monopoly on world famous cities but the East is truly where it’s at. After South East Asia, I’d probably name this area as the top place for new backpackers to start out.
How this gem of a country hasn’t become a mecca for backpackers, I’ve got no idea. Lovely, warm weather which lasts well beyond summer; an edgy, hip capital with great nightlife; some of the most breathtaking scenery in Europe and some of the cheapest prices you’ll find on the continent. This is the jewel in the Balkans’ crown.
I think it’s truly incredible how a country which has been so intrinsically linked to war and conflict manages to feel like a fairytale just over two decades later. Bosnia’s capital is as thriving and atmospheric as any I’ve visited. Its Old Towns are fun but retain authenticity, the prices are dirt cheap and its scenery is off the scale. It really does have it all.
Despite being way out on the edge of Europe, Bulgaria is oh-so European. If you love the cafe culture, the nightlife and the food of Europe but want to pay half the price, get on down to Bulgaria where the beer is cheap, the weather is warm and there are a medley of picturesque towns and villages which look like something out of a picture book.
I don’t need to tell you how amazing Croatia is. It’s the world’s worst kept secret that this is a country of outstanding natural beauty, gorgeously preserved Old Towns and dazzling sunsets. The only question you need to ask yourself is why you haven’t booked your flight here yet.
Given my one and only experience of this fab country was on a stag do, I’m not sure I’ll be getting a job working for Czechia’s tourist board anytime soon. But hey, the beer’s cheap! And beer goggles or not, Prague is a truly gorgeous city.
So much more than just gorgeous beach islands, Mainland Greece is a true gem. The mountainous monasteries of Meteora should be a Wonder of the World whilst cool capital Athens has more sights, viewpoints and amazing eateries than you can shake a stick at.
I want to live in Budapest, a capital that is so beautiful, so vibrant and so much fun. This is a city with so much to do and you might just find yourself not wanting to leave.
The youngest country in the world has a fresh, positive outlook that may surprise those whose memories of Kosovo remain rooted in its troubled past. A seamless blend of European and Middle Eastern culture, its natural beauty and rugged charm are infectious.
Another gorgeous Eastern European country… this is becoming a bit repetitive now. But Macedonia truly is. Slightly worse-for-wear Skopje is nestled in a breathtaking valley with incredible views, whilst Lake Ohrid will blow you away with its blueness.
Finding its feet as a tourist destination, Montenegro has the beauty of Croatia without the high price tag, along with a few jaw-dropping gems of its own. The Bay of Kotor ranks as one of the most gorgeous destinations I’ve visited, and delightful Montenegro has plenty more up its sleeve.