Discover Central & Eastern Europe With Travel Tips From Locals + Top Bloggers

Most of you have told me how much you love reading about Europe on my blog. This is the last piece in the series, and this one is especially for my readers on a budget. Today’s list is a handpicked collection of extremely affordable destinations. If you are a solo female traveller on your maiden visit to Central or Eastern Europe, we urge you to look beyond the popular cities of Budapest (read – A Quick Guide To Budapest – The Capital Of Hungary) and Warsaw (read – What Warsaw Whispers – A Photoessay), and give these lesser explored places a chance to mesmerise you:

Česky Krumlov – Czech Republic

Česky Krumlov (Courtesy: Parampara)

Česky Krumlov (Courtesy: Parampara)

Recommendation by Parampara – Awara Diaries

“On the offbeat path as a solo female traveller, Česky Krumlov was one of the best adventures that I’d signed up for. With the aim of exploring Czechia beyond the party scenes of Prague, I took a trip south of the capital to the town of Česky Krumlov. To begin with, the Czech transport system is in great shape and connects the country with much ease. I took a 2 and a half hours’ bus journey to this Czech town.

Česky Krumlov was no less than a wonderland for me. Medieval mythical vibes with castles, towers, rivers, and bridges. Walking around this quaint town was the obvious choice, but unlike other Czech towns, there was life even post sunset. Making new friends at the hostel, walking around the town, looking at the lit castle and most importantly, eating around, trying some of the best ever grilled trout and apple strudel, Česky Krumlov had my heart. And for once, I could believe that I was living a fairytale with a possibility of getting lost in the woods and stumbling upon a dragon or just watching over the town quietly from the top of the tower! Indeed, one of the best and safest destinations for solo travel and making new friends.”

Viscri – Romania

Viscri (Courtesy: Andra Padureanu)

Viscri (Courtesy: Andra Padureanu)

Recommendation by Andra Padureanu – Our World to Wander

“The village of Viscri used to be one of Romania’s hidden gems. But now, thanks to Prince Charles, it has become a popular destination for people who want to taste the rural life in Transylvania. It’s a small and charming village where you can take a glimpse of the traditional way of life. Viscri is also famous for its fortified church which has put it on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

It is a very safe destination for women travellers and highly recommended if you want to try a Romanian homestay. You will stay with a family in one of the small houses, and everybody will want you to taste the numerous delicious dishes of the region. It is a picturesque place where you can lose track of time while wandering through the narrow cobblestoned streets.”

Ljubljana – Slovenia

Ljubljana (Courtesy: Jessica)

Ljubljana (Courtesy: Jessica)

Recommendation by Jessica – Notes of Nomads

“Slovenia’s capital of Ljubljana is one of my favourite destinations in all of Europe. It’s perfect for solo female travellers because it’s extremely clean and safe, the people are among the friendliest I’ve ever met and English speakers will find it’s incredibly easy to get around using English. I especially adore the café and market culture in Ljubljana. There are so many opportunities to take in the city’s relaxed atmosphere while dining and shopping outdoors.

Many eateries have outdoor and riverside seating, and on certain days of the week, you can also check out flea and farmer’s markets for cool finds and fresh produce. Sweet lovers must also try a piece of the city’s famed Ljubljana cake. The legend goes that a cook delighted the daughter of the Lord of Ljubljana Castle so much with this creation that he was offered her hand in marriage!”

Eger – Hungary

Eger (Courtesy: Sharon Gourlay)

Eger (Courtesy: Sharon Gourlay)

Recommendation by Sharon Gourlay – Simpler & Smarter

“Eger is a city in northern Hungary, just a couple of hours from Budapest. It is the perfect place to visit on your solo adventure if you love wine and baroque architecture. Or if you just love discovering smaller European destinations which aren’t flooded with tourists. Eger is an easy place to visit. All the main attractions are within walking distance and the city centre is pretty and easy to walk around.

There is a hilltop castle with great views, a big basilica and many other attractions. My favourite is the wine cellars in the Valley of Beautiful Women. These cellars are all in a row surrounded by nature with many indoor and outdoor tables. The wine is cheap and good and it’s fun trying out the wines.”

Istria – Croatia

Istrian Pasta (Courtesy: Kaila Yu)

Istrian Pasta (Courtesy: Kaila Yu)

Recommendation by Kaila Yu – NomList

“Istria, Croatia is an ideal destination for solo women travellers. Not only is it so safe that you could walk the streets at any time of the night and feel perfectly comfortable, but it’s also the ultimate foodie locale! If you love olive oil, truffles and wine, you must visit this magical area of Croatia. Many of the dishes of Istria have Mediterranean and Italian influence and the fresh seafood in the region is spectacular.

Istria is considered to be part of Croatia but it actually encompasses Italy and Slovenia too. The peninsula juts out into the Adriatic Sea, so it also has beautiful oceans views. One popular activity in this region is boating and exploring the many small islands in the vicinity. It’s definitely an off the beaten path location that is dreamy and a can’t miss for solo female travellers!”

Chisinau – Moldova

Chisinau (Courtesy: Gabriela Muller)

Chisinau (Courtesy: Gabriela Muller)

Recommendation by Gabriela Muller – Gabriela Here and There

“I recently travelled to Moldova as a solo female traveller and was positively surprised by how nice it was. Moldova is one of the least visited countries in Europe but this little nation has so much to offer from wine tours to beautiful countryside. Most of the travellers will visit Chisinau, the capital city, and it’s a great place to base yourself in Moldova. Chisinau might not have the Eiffel Tower or other famous sights but it’s a charming city with its own little spots. The best way to explore Chisinau is on foot and because of its small size, everything is within a walking distance. I never had any problems with street harassment or catcalling, and always felt very safe walking alone (even at night).”

Skopje – Macedonia

Skopje (Courtesy: Kamila Napora)

Skopje (Courtesy: Kamila Napora)

Recommendation by Kamila Napora – Kami and the Rest of the World

“Skopje is one of the weirdest cities you will ever see. It’s like the Disneyland of the Balkans with quirky, brand new but old-looking architecture all over the centre and the largest old bazaar in the Balkans. It’s also a safe and interesting city to visit for solo female travellers. I’ve been solo to Skopje 5 times by now and never encountered any issues. Local people are super friendly, the food is to die for and everything is really affordable. You should most likely stick to the centre and Debar Maalo areas. Like everywhere else, if you stick to your common sense you will be more than fine. There are many things to do in Skopje that will keep you occupied for at least 2 days. Just visit the city with an open mind and enjoy it!”

Belgrade – Serbia

Belgrade (Courtesy: Karen Turner)

Belgrade (Courtesy: Karen Turner)

Recommendation by Karen Turner – Wanderlustingk

“Belgrade was one of the easiest places that I’ve travelled solo in. People were so incredibly warm that I ended up getting drinks almost every single night with Serbians that I’d meet who would just invite me out with their group of friends. In Belgrade, I also found a female-run hostel with staff that just made my trip magical as they sent me on a food scavenger hunt. The walkable city centre and good public transit with the high level of English made it a breeze to travel in Serbia and I’d recommend it to any woman trying out solo travel!”

Kharkiv – Ukraine

Kharkiv (Courtesy: Megan Starr)

Kharkiv (Courtesy: Megan Starr)

Recommendation by Megan Starr – Megan Starr

“Kharkiv, Ukraine is a destination off the beaten path in Eastern Europe that doesn’t garner the tourism traction that it should. The city, often overshadowed by Kyiv and Lviv, sits in the east of Ukraine but is completely in the safe zone. It is one of the loveliest places I have ever had a chance to visit. Females shouldn’t feel unsafe in Kharkiv, even if travelling alone. There are top notch cafes, restaurants, and some stately architecture from various areas that make this Ukrainian city extremely compelling and a must-visit spot for travellers. Kharkiv has become more connected via daily flights and there is even a fast train connecting it with Kyiv these days.”

Olomouc – Czech Republic

Olomouc (Courtesy: Veronika Primm)

Olomouc (Courtesy: Veronika Primm)

Recommendation by Veronika Primm – Travel Geekery

Olomouc is a hidden gem lying in the east of the Czech Republic, right in the heart of the Moravia region. The city features a beautifully preserved Old Town with Baroque structures such as fountains and churches. You’ll even find an Astronomical Clock on the local Town Hall! Just strolling around feels fulfilling enough. There’s also no shortage of cosy cafés and large parks encircling the city centre.

Students rule Olomouc. If you go out in the evening by yourself, it’s easy to strike a conversation with local students. The town is lively and there’s often a lot going on – from events organized by the local Palacký University to markets/gatherings on the main square (Upper Square).”

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A Quick Guide To Budapest – The Capital Of Hungary

Budapest had long been on my travel wishlist and I was glad to be able to visit this Eastern European gem when it was still relatively uninundated by tourists. This city is perfect for budget travellers as the Hungarian Forint makes all things affordable. Cost-effectiveness aside, the place has plenty of history, culture and natural sights that deserve at least one visit in a lifetime. Here’s my easy guide to exploring Budapest on foot:-

Gellért Hill And The Citadella

Gellért Hill in Buda offers panoramic views of the city

Gellért Hill in Buda offers panoramic views of the city

Wake up early and begin your exploration from Gellért Hill in Buda. This hill which was once full of vineyards is named after a bishop who was forced into a wine barrel and rolled down from the top. There are several hiking trails along Gellért Hill that lead to various points of interest which also provide sweeping views of Budapest from great vantage points. The Citadella – a fortress complex, Sziklatemplom – a chapel-cum-museum inside the natural cave structure of this hill and St. Gellért Monument are not to be missed!

Tram It Out If You’re Not Into Walking

Trams connect most of Buda and Pest and even cross over the Danube!

Trams connect most of Buda and Pest and even cross over the Danube!

Budapest is little enough to be covered entirely on foot (especially if you are a fast walker like me) and yet large enough to warrant public transport and cars. Whatever your level of physical fitness, the city requires a lot of walking. So, if you think you’re going to tire out, hop inside one of their cool trams that run all across the cobblestone streets in Buda and Pest, and also across the Danube River that separates the two parts of Budapest! The locals often joke that the Pesti are not as sophisticated as the residents of Buda, but to discover if there’s any truth in that generalization, you’ll have to explore both the parts of the city. 😉

Buda Castle And The Underground Cave Network

Hiking up the Buda Castle, I wondered what lives the kings of the 13th century must have led.

Hiking up the Buda Castle, I wondered what lives the kings of the 13th century must have led.

One of the most iconic structures of Hungary is the Buda Castle. This gorgeous baroque palace built on Castle Hill is among Budapest’s World Heritage Sites, along with the embankments by the Danube. The palace complex also houses the Budapest History Museum. The funicular that leads to the palace usually has a long queue and it helps to do the trek instead. There’s also a lift inside that shortens your walk by a couple of floors. The Castle Hill has many more historical attractions which have been carefully maintained for centuries. Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church are important for their intricate architecture and viewing galleries. However, the site that most moved me was the Hospital In The Rock Nuclear Bunker Museum (Sziklakórház Atombunker Múzeum). This underground museum is a complex of interconnected caves right below the Buda Castle. I took one of their hour-long tours to learn that the fortified caves were used as shelter against air raids during World War II and then as an emergency hospital to treat casualties during the 1956 Revolution. A couple of years later, the place served as a nuclear bunker as people feared chemical attacks during the Cold War.

Across The Danube

Cross over to Pest from the old Buda and watch the ships go by.

Cross over to Pest from the old Buda and watch the ships go by.

Once you have had a taste of Buda, cross the Danube to Pest. There are many bridges that run over this river, the prominent ones being Chain Bridge, Liberty Bridge and Elizabeth Bridge. The river is a nice way to tour the entire stretch of Budapest’s embankments. There are countless cruises that have live commentary, food and entertainment onboard. An evening cruise lets you marvel over the glittering banks as you pass by famous buildings and go under the bridges.

St. Stephen’s Basilica – Budapest’s Largest Cathedral

St. Stephen's Basilica is the tallest building in Pest.

St. Stephen’s Basilica is the tallest building in Pest.

The Budapest Cathedral or St. Stephen’s Basilica is just as tall as the Hungarian Parliament Building at 96m. This is to signify that the country considers the spiritualism of the church and the laws of the world to be of equal importance. Even if you are irreligious, visit this church which took over 50 years to be built. The spiral stairways inside lead up to an observation deck that offers views that are spellbinding!

See The Rooftops Of Budapest

I watch the Old Town from the viewing gallery of St. Stephen's Basilica.

I watch the Old Town from the viewing gallery of St. Stephen’s Basilica.

It is from the observation deck of the Budapest Cathedral that I saw my life’s very first double rainbow! 🙂 The rains had just stopped when I had finished climbing the 364 steps to the dome to watch two beautiful rainbows in the clearing sky. From up there, you can see a lot of Pest and Buda – the magnificent royal palace, the tall spire of Matthias Church, all the way to the Tatra Mountains in the distance.

By The Pesti Bank Of The Danube

Attila Jozsef's statue sits by the Hungarian Parliament building, this Hungarian poet's lines from one of his poems raised on the steps below.

Attila Jozsef’s statue sits by the Hungarian Parliament building, this Hungarian poet’s lines from one of his poems raised on the steps below.

An evening walk along the riverside of Pest will take you to the third largest parliament building in the world. Guided tours are available inside the Hungarian Parliament Building. Some distance ahead, there is an art installation called ‘Shoes By The Danube’ which displays iron statues of 60 pairs of shoes permanently installed to remember the victims of the holocaust who were shot there.

The Great Market Hall

Central Market Hall - Budapest's grand marketplace for shopaholics and foodies

Central Market Hall – Budapest’s grand marketplace for shopaholics and foodies

The largest indoor marketplace in the city – Central Market Hall has numerous stalls that offer fruits, vegetables, chocolates and countless Hungarian specialities. I loved munching on a strudel from one of the stalls here which comes with assorted and unusual stuffings such as pumpkin-poppy-seed. The second floor has eateries and shops which sell clothing and interesting artefacts among many other things.

Jewish Quarter And The House Of Terror

House Of Terror - Budapest's war museum

House Of Terror – Budapest’s war museum

Hungary has a lot of Jewish history, most of it heart-wrenching. The largest synagogue in Europe, Dohány Street Synagogue, has heavy security and employs strict screening of all its visitors. The complex also has a museum, a cemetery and a Holocaust memorial – a weeping willow tree which has names of the Hungarian Jewish victims inscribed on its leaves. Terror tourism is emotionally painful for spectators, but an important way to sensitize the public on the horrors of wars, racism and anti-semitism. You cannot do without a tour of Terror Háza Múzeum (House of Terror Museum) where thousands of people were tortured and imprisoned by the Nazis. The voice recording of a former prisoner describing how they were abused chilled me to the bone as it played in the lift.

Along Andrássy Avenue

Hősök tere (Heroes' Square) recognizes the founders of Hungary

Hősök tere (Heroes’ Square) recognizes the founders of Hungary

Andrássy Avenue, a World Heritage Site, is an important and long stretch of road in Pest that leads to the Heroes’ Square – the largest square in Budapest. Along the street, you come across a number of shops, squares, museums including Terror Háza, the State Opera House and many commercial and residential buildings and villas.

In Case You Have More Time

I smile after a couple of hikes in Buda

I smile after a couple of hikes in Buda

There is so much to see and do in Budapest that you need a long holiday to fully enjoy all of its attractions at leisure. I was able to spend a day in Margaret Island which sits in the middle of the Danube. This city also has a handful of thermal baths which promise to relax your nerves and cleanse your body with their medicinal properties.

Have I convinced you to visit Budapest yet?

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