Once a well-kept secret, Eastern Europe is one of the biggest emerging destinations in 2023. With its extraordinary natural wonders, ancient history, magnificent architecture, and delicious cuisines, it’s full of icons that many travellers have never heard of… But will definitely want to know! If you can’t wait to travel to Eastern Europe, but you’re not sure where to go, read on. From magical waterfalls in Croatia to medieval castles in Romania and colourful bazaars in Bosnia, here are 11 icons of Eastern Europe to put on your bucket list.
1. Bucharest, Romania
Everyone’s heard of Paris in France, but what about the Paris of the East? Bucharest is an icon in its own right, with its Belle-Époque architecture, elegant boulevards, and vintage cafés. We’ll introduce you to Romania‘s capital with a city tour… Then you can set off to explore the city’s cobbled streets and Baroque buildings your way. Be sure to seek out historic monuments like the Revolution Square, Stavropoleos Monastery, and the neoclassical Romanian Athenaeum. You’ll also have the option to join a local guide for a visit to the spectacular Bucharest Parliament. It’s the second-largest administrative building in the world after the Pentagon. Marvel at the glittering rooms and enormous halls, lined with crystal chandeliers, oak panelling, gold leaf, marble, stained glass, mosaics, and plush carpet. In the evening, head to the street markets to indulge in delicious local cuisine and buzzing nightlife.
EXPERIENCE IT: Balkan Adventure
2. Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
Plitvice Lakes is one of Eastern Europe’s most enchanting natural wonders. Located in Croatia, the national park is filled with exquisite waterfalls and turquoise lakes surrounded by lush green forests. You’ll marvel at the crystal clear waters reflecting the emerald forest as you walk along the wooden pathways suspended over the water. Take your time exploring the 16 upper and lower lakes and caves, all connected by cascading waterfalls. As a MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experience, your visit will help preserve this UNESCO-listed natural treasure. It’s a truly magical experience you won’t soon forget.
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3. Skopje, North Macedonia
If you’re into ancient history, Skopje is your spot. This iconic capital of North Macedonia is set in the heart of the Balkans, with a rich history spanning millennia. You’ll join a Local Specialist to find out how Skopje was once a medieval trading centre and religious crossroads. You can still find legacies and remnants from the Ottoman Empire, the Roman Empire and the Middle Ages. Marvel at the mosques and bazaars, see the Ottoman monuments and grand Orthodox churches and explore the Skopje Fortress. You’ll even get to meet the locals with an exclusive Be My Guest experience with a Skopje resident. You’ll be welcomed into their home for a traditional meal while hearing stories about life in the city. If you haven’t heard of Skopje, it’s time to put it on your bucket list.
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4. Bay of Kotor, Montenegro
Kotor is one of the best-kept secrets in Eastern Europe, but you’ll come face to face with it as you drive through the magical fjord-like landscapes of Montenegro. This coastal town sits in a dazzling bay ringed by soaring cliffs… But it’s more than just breathtaking natural beauty. The Old Town of Kotor is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with well-preserved Middle Ages architecture and ancient fortress walls. We’ll join a Local Specialist to explore the Bay of Kotor and its centuries-old history including Venetian palaces and medieval churches like St. Tryphon Cathedral. As you stroll along the cobblestone streets by the sparkling water, ice cream in hand, Kotor will no doubt become one of your favourite places in Eastern Europe.
EXPERIENCE IT: Balkan Delight
5. Tirana, Albania
As the capital of Albania, Tirana is emerging from decades-long communist rule, but it’s a city that should be on your Eastern Europe bucket list. Tirana is famed for its colourful streets, and you’ll join a Local Specialist for a tour of all its treasures. See the Palace of Culture, the Clock Tower and the National Library. Meet a local resident to explore Skanderbeg Square and the city, and hear stories about life in Tirana. With lush parks and bright buildings, it’s easy to fall in love with Tirana’s vibrant energy and remarkable cultural heritage.
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6. Veliko Târnovo, Bulgaria
Journey through ancient villages and stunning landscapes across the Danube River to Veliko Târnovo in Bulgaria. Once renowned as the ‘City of the Tsars’, Veliko Târnovo was the former capital of the Bulgarian Empire. As you wander through the fairy-tale façades, you’ll discover medieval castles, churches and fortifications at every turn. Your Local Specialist will share intriguing stories and show you around the incredible hilltop Tsarevets Fortress, with panoramic views of the city.
You can get a taste of local life in the medieval quarter of Samovodska Charshiya, where you’ll find traditional crafts and tasty Bulgarian cuisine. We’ll also visit the nearby UNESCO-listed town of Arbanasi. It’s famed for its traditional Bulgarian architecture and beautiful medieval churches like the Church of Holy Nativity.
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7. Brașov, Romania
It may be off the beaten track but Braşov has got to be high on any Eastern Europe bucket list. Located in Transylvania in Romania, it’s here you’ll get to know the lore and legends of the region and discover the stunning landscapes and delicious cuisine. The city is a unique blend of influences, having stood at the crossroads of trade routes linking the Ottoman Empire and Western Europe. You’ll join a Local Specialist to explore the medieval streets of Brașov. Discover the city’s trading history and Saxon roots and see the Town Hall Square and the Black Church, which got its name after the Great Fire of 1689.
One of the highlights of Brașov is the iconic Bran Castle, famously known as the home of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. While the connection to Dracula is dubious, you can’t help but feel inspired by the towering spires, ancient walls and hidden passageways. We’ll meet a Local Specialist for an insider’s look into the castle’s history, once the favourite royal residence of Queen Maria of Romania.
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8. Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Did you know you can find the “Jerusalem of Europe” in Bosnia & Herzegovina? Sarajevo is the capital and largest city of Bosnia, with an intriguing and tumultuous history and a rich cultural heritage. We’ll explore the gorgeous Old Town, where you’ll find beautiful synagogues, mosques, and churches, along with ancient bazaars and markets.
You can also learn about the city’s war-torn past by joining a Local Specialist for a tour of the Sarajevo Tunnel of Hope. The tunnel allowed supplies and aid to enter the city during the Siege of Sarajevo. You’ll also see the Sarajevo Roses, symbols of Sarajevo’s past as a war zone. We’ll also visit the Eternal Flame, a memorial to the casualties of World War II. Whether you want to shop for treasures on Coppersmith Street, try a traditional Bosnian coffee, or see the panoramic views from Mt. Trebevic, Sarajevo is an iconic destination in Eastern Europe.
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9. Trogir, Croatia
You might know about the famous Croatian city of Dubrovnik, but what about the lesser-known island of Trogir? We’ll visit this gorgeous coastal town on the Dalmatian coast with a Local Specialist. As you wander through the UNESCO-listed Old Town, you’ll discover an intriguing patchwork of Renaissance, Baroque and Romanesque architecture. Wander along the medieval walls and get immersed in the history, such as the 13th-century St. Lawrence Cathedral. Stroll through the cobbled streets and enjoy the picturesque harbour and cafes… You might even like to take a dip at the beautiful beaches.
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10. Belgrade, Serbia
Famed as the White City, Serbia’s capital Belgrade has a fascinating history and culture just waiting to be explored. We’ll join a Local Specialist to get an insider’s look into Belgrade and its diverse past with Celtic, Roman, Serbian, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian influences. You’ll visit the famous Kalemegdan Fortress, perched high on a ridge at the confluence of two rivers, and discover how each empire has rebuilt the fortress over the last 16 centuries. In the evening, head to Skadarska Street to get into Belgrade’s buzzing nightlife. From the hearty traditional cuisine and Serbian brandy to the live music and tambourines, Belgrade is a bohemian delight.
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11. Sofia, Bulgaria
As the capital and largest city of Bulgaria, built on Roman ruins, Sofia is an iconic destination in Eastern Europe. We’ll dive into the diverse cultural heritage of the city, with influences from Greeks, Romans, Ottomans and communists, and remnants of its past as a thriving trading centre. See all the famous sights like the golden-domed St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and St. Sofia Church or stroll along the beautiful boulevards and parks. You could also choose to visit the UNESCO-listed Rila Monastery, established in the 10th century by the hermit St. Ivan of Rila. At night, the city comes alive with traditional folklore shows and live music.
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Where are you dreaming of visiting in Eastern Europe? Let us know in the comments below!