If you are dreaming of visiting Europe the chances are it is the western half that invades your travel thoughts. London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Barcelona or Amsterdam are all well known destinations but, aside from Prague, eastern Europe is often skipped over by visitors to the continent.
Yet, for those on their European tours, venturing east will reveal cities and towns with histories and cultures to match anything western Europe can offer but on far more budget friendly terms.
This Albanian town only reveals its charms to those that put in a bit of effort. Worn roads, ramshackle buses and the mountains mean Albania isn’t the easiest country to travel around. Even on arrival in Gjirokastra there is still work to do as the Brothers Grimm fairy tale streets of the old town lay up a (steep) hill from the communist era new town. To recover from the effort pull up a chair outside a café in the shadow of the fortress and while away the day counting the Mercedes as they roll over the grey cobblestones.
While the capital of Romania is hardly unknown the city nonetheless surprises most that visit there. Few travellers expect the wide boulevards, lively restaurants and bars and the eclectic architectural mix, from art deco to megalomaniacal folly, which earns Bucharest a Paris comparison.
The Yantra river winds its way through the middle of Bulgaria’s medieval capital, carving out the gorge over which Tarnovo’s deceptively multi storied houses peer: front door on one street, back door two stories up on another. History is woven into Tarnovo far more than any other city in Bulgaria: the subjugation of the nation by the Ottomans began and ended in the city. After exploring Tsaravets, the fortress home of Bulgaria’s Tsars, the thing to do here is enjoy a shopska salad with a rakija in one of the many mehanas.
Set beside a lake, the Macedonian city of Ohrid boasts a fortress, Roman theatre, historic housing, pebbled beaches, vibrant café culture and many summer festivals. Known as Europe’s Jerusalem for its numerous churches – it was once said Ohrid had a church for every day of the year – Ohrid is one of only 28 places that is both a natural and a cultural UNESCO World Heritage site. This is perhaps best epitomised by the scenically located church of St Jovan at Kaneo (pictured above).
Though Sarajevo’s most persistent claims to fame are born from warfare, including being the location for the shot that started the First World War, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina is starting to appear on the radar of adventurous travellers. The city won Foxnomad’s Best City to Visit in 2012 Travel Tournament, beating Portugal’s Guimaraes to land the title with over 9,000 votes.