These 12 underrated cities are like pages from a forgotten diary, each narrating a unique story that awaits the curious traveler. From the cobblestone streets echoing centuries-old tales to the vibrant cultural scenes that pulsate with modern life, these alluring destinations promise an adventure unlike any other. Let's unveil Eastern Europe's most underrated cities.
1. Lviv, Ukraine
Discover Lviv's enchanting blend of Eastern European cultures in this city of timeless beauty. Wander through its cobbled lanes, flanked by Renaissance buildings, and step into quaint, cozy coffee houses where the aromas of freshly brewed beverages permeate the air. Lviv is more than just its picturesque streets; it's a vibrant arts hub, alive with galleries, theaters, and street performances showcasing Ukraine's rich cultural heritage.
Explore the historic market square, surrounded by colorful facades and buzzing with local life, and immerse yourself in the city's legendary chocolate and pastry shops. As night falls, the city transforms, with lively bars and traditional Ukrainian restaurants offering a taste of local cuisine and hospitality.
2. Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Plovdiv, Bulgaria's hidden gem, is a captivating blend of ancient history and youthful energy. As you stroll through the Old Town, be enchanted by the colorful 19th-century mansions, each telling its own story. Venture to the ancient Roman amphitheater, a testament to the city's rich historical tapestry, still hosting performances under the starlit sky.
Check out Plovdiv's creatives descend on the Kapana district. This area, once known for its craftsmen, is now a vibrant maze of galleries, artisan shops, and trendy cafes. Don't miss the opportunity to explore the city's hills, offering panoramic views and a peaceful escape from the urban bustle. Plovdiv, with its blend of history, art, and scenic beauty, is a cultural feast waiting to be discovered.
3. Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Cluj-Napoca is a harmonious blend of historical grandeur and modern vibrancy. The city's Gothic architecture creates a striking skyline, while its burgeoning arts scene thrives in its numerous galleries. Known for hosting the electrifying Untold Festival, Cluj-Napoca pulses energy, especially in its central squares, where cafes and bars bustle with the city's youthful spirit. The botanical garden and Central Park offer serene escapes, while the nearby Turda Salt Mine is a must-visit for its unique underground wonder.
4. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Sarajevo exudes a unique mix of Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian influences. It boasts varied architecture, from mosques and cathedrals to traditional bazaars and modern shopping areas. The city's storied past, marked by both its historical significance and the recent war, is palpable in places like the Sarajevo Tunnel Museum. The Baščaršija market remains the cultural heart of Sarajevo, where the meaty scent of grilled ćevapi fills the air and artisans sell traditional wear. The surrounding hills offer stunning views and poignant war memorials.
5. Ljubljana, Slovenia
Ljubljana, Slovenia's capital, is a sustainable urban community nestled amidst lush greenery. The city's pedestrian-friendly Old Town and meandering Ljubljanica River are lined with charming cafes and restaurants. The city's commitment to the environment is evident in its large Tivoli Park and its regular green initiatives.
6. Tallinn, Estonia
Step back in time to an enchanting medieval world in Tallinn. The Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a labyrinth of cobblestone streets, towering spires, and historic buildings. Yet beneath its ancient surface, Tallinn is an aspiring tech hub, often dubbed the Silicon Valley of Europe. Explore Telliskivi Creative City for contemporary art, eclectic shops, and trendy eateries.
7. Brasov, Romania
Brasov, nestled in the heart of Transylvania, is a picturesque mix of medieval architecture and natural beauty. Beyond the Black Church and the bustling Piata Sfatului, the city is a gateway to the mystical Bran Castle, often associated with the Dracula legend. Enjoy the scenic views from Tampa Mountain, easily accessible via cable car. The city's charming streets are lined with cafes and shops, offering a glimpse into local life amidst the backdrop of the Carpathian Mountains.
8. Zagreb, Croatia
Zagreb, Croatia's vibrant capital, offers a delightful contrast of historic charm and contemporary buzz. The city's Upper Town (Gornji Grad) is home to landmarks like the medieval St. Mark's Church, while the Lower Town (Donji Grad) bustles with modern shops, cafes, and galleries. Don't miss the unique Museum of Broken Relationships and the lively Dolac market. The city's parks, like Maksimir and Jarun Lake, provide green oases for some well-deserved down time.
9. Vilnius, Lithuania
Vilnius captivates with its blend of Baroque architecture and a thriving contemporary art scene. The city's Old Town, a UNESCO site, is a blend of historic streets and churches. The self-proclaimed Republic of Užupis, with its bohemian charm and artistic community, embodies the city's creative and free-spirited nature. Vilnius is also known for its culinary scene, offering a mix of traditional Lithuanian cuisine and modern gastronomy.
10. Ohrid, North Macedonia
Ohrid, a gem on the shores of its namesake lake, is not just a city but a repository of history. Renowned for its ancient churches like St. John at Kaneo and the historical Ohrid Fortress, the city is a cultural haven. The Ohrid Summer Festival is a celebration of music and performance, drawing artists from around the globe. The lake, one of Europe's oldest and deepest, is perfect for boating, swimming, and enjoying serene sunsets.
11. Gdańsk, Poland
Gdańsk, a port city with a rich maritime past, is a blend of historical significance and modern charm. The Royal Way, the historic thoroughfare, leads to notable sights like the Golden Gate and Neptune's Fountain. The city played a crucial role in 20th-century history as the birthplace of the Solidarity movement. Visit the European Solidarity Centre to delve into this pivotal era. The picturesque Motława River waterfront is a perfect spot for evening strolls and dining.
12. Sibiu, Romania
Sibiu, with its distinctive ‘eyes' on rooftops, is a treasure trove of medieval charm and culture. Its Germanic architecture is evident in the Grand Square and the Bridge of Lies. The city is a cultural hub, hosting events like the Sibiu International Theatre Festival, attracting performers worldwide. Explore the ASTRA National Museum Complex, showcasing Romanian rural life. The nearby Făgăraș Mountains offer outdoor adventures, adding to Sibiu's allure as a destination that marries cultural depth with natural beauty.
Many Great Places to Visit in Eastern Europe
Excited to visit these destinations? Well, you must never miss exploring at least one of them! Pack your bags and fly over to these beautiful cities.
I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.