When friends ask me for recommendations for a weekend away in Europe, it’s always hard to pick one place, especially as everyone has different tastes and therefore what might suit one friend wouldn’t suit another. But there does tend to be one common theme in my recommendations and that is they are all in Eastern Europe.
Eastern Europe has been a fairly recent discovery for me, with my previous experience of city breaks being the likes of Barcelona, Paris, Rome & Dublin, all of which I adored. Then a couple of years ago I celebrated my birthday in Budapest and got my first taste of Goulash and great value travel. Since then I’ve discovered the charm of Gdansk, Krakow, Cluj-Napoca and Vilnius which have all been rich in culture, history, beauty and (most importantly!) fun.
Here are just some of the reasons that Eastern Europe has stolen my heart, and why you absolutely need to make it your next holiday destination.
1. Value for Money
One of the most common reasons for choosing Eastern Europe over Western Europe is the price difference. I love to travel and have multiple trips to look forward to throughout the year, but I don’t have the budget to keep travelling to expensive destinations. Price is therefore an important factor to me when booking a weekend away, and flights to Eastern Europe almost always tend to be cheaper.
My usual process of choosing a destination is to visit Skyscanner , enter my nearest airport (including nearby airports of course), selecting the ‘Search Everywhere’ option and the month I’d like to travel before searching by price. More often than not it’s the likes of Poland, Slovakia and Lithuania that make the top of the list!
However, flight prices are by no means everything and if, like me, you enjoy pretending on holiday that you’re a princess and money is no object, then the cost of living should definitely influence your choice in destination. Visiting Eastern Europe can often mean being able to stay in the most beautiful hotels or apartments and being able to wine and dine like a queen (or king!) whatever your budget is.
Take Cluj-Napoca in Romania for example. Last year my boyfriend and I were lucky enough to stay in a stunning, newly converted (we were the third couple to stay there) studio apartment bang in the centre of the Old Town. Not only did the apartment have a super king sized bed, flat screen TV & mood lighting, it had an underground double width jacuzzi bath with it’s own television! Guess what it set us back? £29 a night!!
On average we were spending £1-£1.50 on a beer (although outside of the city I enjoyed a pint for 60p), £4 on an Espresso Martini in a fancy bar and £40 on a 3 course meal for two including a bottle of wine.
2. Great Flight Times
I’ve flown from Doncaster airport for my last couple of trips, with evening flights to Eastern European destinations on Thursday & Friday evenings, perfect for weekends away! This means that you can work on a Friday, go straight to the airport when the clock strikes 5pm, have a quick celebratory drink and board the plane. Yes this means that you’ll arrive late at night, but take a taxi to your accommodation, head straight to bed and wake up fresh in the morning, ready to start your adventure straight away. The first day is so much more enjoyable when you’ve just had a good night sleep rather than an early morning flight, and of course this means that you can maximise annual leave.
It’s not just Doncaster with great flights either… I recently flew from Leeds Bradford airport to Vilnius, Lithuania, at 4.05pm meaning that I could work half a day in the morning and arrive just in time for a late dinner and a couple of drinks.
3. The Food
Eastern Europe is the home of comfort food: Hearty stews, warming soups and delectable dumplings are just some of the traditional food that locals are so proud of. My personal favourite is the Pierogi, a Polish dumpling filled with pretty much anything you can think of! The most common fillings are cheese, ground meat, mushrooms and cabbage, but sweet varieties are also popular. I found that a lot of places in Gdansk and Krakow offered mixed platters of Pierogies, a dream for those who want to try them all (me, always).
In all of the Eastern European cities that I’ve visited, there’s been no shortage of authentic, family run restaurants showcasing traditional food, and the locals are happy to recommend their favourite local dishes. They’ll usually give you a sample of the local tipple before your meal as well if you’re lucky!
4. The Wine
This one was a huge (and very pleasant) surprise for me. I had no idea that these countries produced wine until I visited, and it’s AMAZING. Hungarian sparkling wine is better than Champagne in my opinion, and it was served unlimited at breakfast in our hotel so I had plenty of chances to enjoy it. Romanian wine is to die for, and I had one of the best reds I’ve ever tasted on my first night in Cluj. The white and rose were just as good! What I really loved in Budapest and in Cluj was that almost all of the wine served was local and they were really proud of it.
In Poland, local wine was harder to get hold of but it did still exist and in most cases we could still get our hands on wine from other Central and Eastern European countries. I even managed to try some Russian ‘Champagne’ in a very cosy pub in Gdansk, for about £10 a bottle!
5. It’s a Bit Different
Finally, what I’ve really loved is that these places feel a bit off the beaten track. Yes, there can be a few stag do’s taking advantage of the cheap booze, especially in the summer months, but in general there is less tourism than the likes of Venice and Barcelona. This also means that you can discover the destination yourself instead of being bombarded with recommendations from friends and travel guides.
When the office small talk turns to where we’re all off on our summer holidays, I always feel a little bit smug when I say that I’m off to Lithuania or Romania and people ask my why on earth I’ve chosen to go there!
I would love to hear where you’ve been in Eastern Europe (and where I need to visit next!), and your favourite places to travel. Where has surprised you and where do you always recommend to friends?