Alex and Belle, the married duo from the excellent Wanderlust Marriage, tell us about the romantic cities in eastern Europe that are worthy of your time, and money.
Along with travelling around eastern Europe, Alex and Belle have also published an insightful adventure on the perfect itinerary for exploring Ireland. To find out more about them, head to their IQPlanner profile page.
When people think of travelling to Europe, eastern European cities tend to be the second choice. However, it’s a fascinating and romantic part of the world to explore, with plenty of travel inspiration and generally better value than western European cities.
With so many people visiting Prague, it’s no surprise that it doesn’t offer nearly the same value it did 15 years ago. But, there are several cities that rival Prague, where you’ll find better deals) than the Czech capital. These are the lesser known places in Eastern Europe to visit, which are also perfect for a romantic getaway.
Romantic eastern European city getaway ideas
The capital of Slovakia is like the kid brother (or sister) of Prague. Both were part of Czechoslovakia until the country peacefully split in 1993. With a beautiful historic center, Bratislava’s easily navigable and comes with plenty of good restaurants, shops and pubs. Bratislava Castle, high on a hill above town, offers fantastic views, including the Danube River below.
If a vibrant nightlife is what you’re after, you’ll enjoy what’s on offer here, especially if you visit on the weekend. However, there’s plenty of romantic opportunities too — with the charming architecture, the Old Town and the Danube River. What’s more, Bratislava’s only an hour train ride from Vienna, making it a possible day trip from the Austrian capital.
While Budapest isn’t as lesser known as Sofia, it is with many American tourists. Though it receives many visitors, it’s bigger than Prague, and so can handle the crowds a little better. The architecture in Budapest’s very impressive, and you may agree that the Hungarian Parliament is possibly the most beautiful in the world.
Many Hungarians like to spend their free time relaxing in the mineral baths that are really popular in Budapest. The locals have been using them for centuries to relax as well as to cure a wide range of ailments. It’s one of the few major cities in the world that lies atop an array of hot thermal springs. Along with being a relaxing and therapeutic way to enjoy Budapest, these thermal baths are a pretty romantic way to spend time together in the Hungarian capital.
The old town in Bucharest is pretty, even though other parts of the Romanian capital can be a little rough around the edges. The nightlife’s as good as anywhere else in eastern Europe, plus the food’s better than you might expect. However, you may struggle in Bucharest if you’re vegetarian as most places serve meat of some sort.
A visit to The Palace of Parliament (Palatul Parlamentului) is a must in Bucharest. It’s not only the biggest parliament building in the world, but also the second biggest administrative building. Only the Pentagon in Washington, DC is bigger. We recommend taking the tour, which can be a little creepy as they don’t turn on all the lights! The building’s part of what cost Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu his life when the iron curtain fell in 1989.
Though Bucharest is probably the least romantic city on the list, it does have some redeeming qualities for a romantic break.
With one of the largest and most beautiful squares in Europe, Krakow’s certainly worth adding to the list. You’ll feel as though you’ve stepped back in time when you see the elegant white horses and carriages lining main Market Square.
They bring passengers to see the best of Krakow, such as the enchanting Wawel Castle. On an evening with good weather, sitting out on the main square is truly a fairytale-like setting. Krakow’s also far cheaper than Prague and a great place for a romantic getaway.
Many people come to Krakow of course for its Jewish history. Here, you’ll find the Jewish quarter in the Kazimierz district with great Jewish restaurants around. In the instance that you want to add some history — though tragic — to your trip, you may want to visit the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau. They’re located in the medieval city of Oswiecim, about 66km west of Krakow.
Riga, Latvia (Or Vilnius or Tallinn)
When you travel to Riga, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’re in Russia. The only difference being that in Riga, you don’t need a visa to get there. Given its close proximity to Russia, there’s a large Russian population, with grand buildings in a charming historic center.
Make time to sample some of the delicious Russian fare, and don’t forget to visit a few communist themed pubs, with old Soviet memorabilia too.
The largest capital of the 3 Baltic countries, Riga boasts excellent architecture, food and nightlife — and at great prices. Once difficult to visit Riga given it being part of the former Soviet Union, it’s now very accessible. There are also several European low-cost carriers that fly there, or to neighboring Vilnius, Lithuania, and Tallinn in Estonia.
All of the Baltic capitals are definitely worth visiting. We also enjoyed our time in Vilnius and would return in a flash. We’ve read plenty of great things about the Estonian capital of Tallinn, and would also love to go one day. In the future, we plan to travel to Tallinn and also visit St. Petersburg, Russia on their free 72-hour visa. This free 72-hour visa is only available for travellers visiting St. Petersburg by ferry, which you can also take from Helsinki.
If budgeting’s a big priority, you’ll really enjoy the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, as it’s the cheapest capital city in the European Union. Here, you can enjoy plenty of delicious meals and at a great price too. What Sofia lacks in terms of the wow factor, it makes up for in the amount of activities. When it comes to shopping, this city offers some of the best prices, given that it shares a border with Turkey.
A history influenced by Greeks, Arabs and Jews, Sofia’s one of Europe’s oldest capitals. You can see this diverse history in the Square of Tolerance. Here you’ll spot a mosque, a Catholic cathedral, an orthodox church and a synagogue, and all within a few minutes’ walk of each other.
Install the popular taxi-ride app, Uber, before visiting. It’s cheaper to use over taxis in eastern Europe, and on average more reliable because of GPS tracking.