Where should I go in Eastern Europe?
June 23, 2013 9:16 AM   Subscribe

I'm planning a trip in late August/September, for about 2 weeks, and St. Petersburg is looking very tempting but I would love other ideas! (Budapest? Somewhere in Croatia?) I am a woman who will be traveling alone. I like art and history and eating where the locals eat. I'm not much for the nightlife.

My ideal day would be: visit to a museum, sitting in a cafe and watching people, wandering around and sketching architecture, dinner of mysterious foods in some inexpensive hole in the wall. I love a city, but I'd also love to be able to take a short trip away to see some landscape (If there are caves nearby that's perfect! Must be bus/or train though, as I don't drive). I'd like to visit the sort of places that end up on atlas obscura.
I've been to Europe before (France, Italy) but not alone. I don't love crowds of tourists, so quieter out of the way places could be nice. I'm fairly confident in my ability to deal with confusing travel situations (I actually enjoy figuring how to navigate public transit in strange cities). I will, however be going with only a tiny grasp of the native language, and my fairly poor french.
My budget is tiny, and I want to spend it on food and museums, so hostel type recommendations welcome. I'm also considering flying out of a different city than I start in, so a two city itinerary is an option. Thanks Mefi!
posted by velebita to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Romania isn't on the Euro yet, so you'd get a lot for your money. Cluj-Napoca is wonderful, with the downtown area having a sort of Parisian vibe. There are fantastic botanical gardens, a beautiful opera house, the Ethnographic Museum, spellbinding Haszongardi cemetery, and all with good public transit and relatively inexpensive lodging.

Nearby, is the village of Turda, with exapnsive, unspoiled Turzii Gorge nearby. I see that you like caves, so maybe try Salina Turda, an old salt mine which has been transformed into this fabulous oddity. Turda is also the birthplace of Unitarian Universalism.

If you're willing to go a little further (which is easy in a place where train travel is reliable and cheap), there's also Castle Corvin in nearby Hunedoara. Also close by is Rimetea, a rural village between two mountains that sincerely is the most scenic/peaceful place I have ever seen.

Romania has many of the same caveats as anywhere you can go in Eastern Europe. Many people speak English, but many don't, sometimes at inopportune times. Urban centers in places like Cluj and tourist-friendly areas like Turda require a measure of alertness where your belongings are concerned, but are not overly dangerous.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:39 AM on June 23, 2013

If you're on a tiny budget and looking to add a city or two to your trip, WizzAir is your friend. You can fly between various cities in Europe (primarily Eastern European, but also Rome, Paris, Vienna, etc.) often for as little as $19-39 USD each way.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:51 AM on June 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

I adore Budapest. The cafe culture is alive and well. (I also seem to recall a lovely cafe in the Gellert Hotel.) Also: thermal baths! Museums! The Danube! I haven't been there by myself, but here is a recent Fodor's thread on the subject. They are right about the process of ticket-taking on the buses. Do you eat meat, though? Eastern Europe food is a bit meat-oriented, in my experience. I loved shopping at the open market and buying a bit of sausage and bread, and just wandering . . . Also I found a nice cheap room with a family for a week through the official Hungarian travel agency, once upon a time.

Have fun whatever you choose to do. :)
posted by sister nunchaku of love and mercy at 10:33 AM on June 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

I highly recommend going to Bosnia and especially the city of Mostar. When I went a few years ago, I stayed at this little hostel and took the tour that they advertised. It was one of best thing I have ever done in my life and I've been talking it up ever since.

Sarajevo in Bosnia is also one of my favorite cities too. There's plenty of great cafes to go and camp out at and people watch. It has a great mix of old-town and cosmopolitan feel too.

Croatia is pretty neat too, but it's becoming more and more like Italy (not necessarily in a good way). The prices a few years ago were reasonable, but on their way up, and many of the touristy towns like Split and Dubrovnik are basically full of British tourists.

I also highly recommend Montenegro. It was by far one of the most beautiful countries I've ever been to.

Slovenia is also one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to, and it straddles the line between "Eastern Europe" and "Western Europe." If you're looking for a great nature getaway, there's no better place than Lake Bohinj.

A lot of these places I never actually planned on going to, but I would often land at a hostel in some city and hear about other travelers going to these places and I would change my plans that day. I would have some rough itinerary in mind, but stay open to throwing it out the window and just going where people talk about.
posted by Geppp at 11:05 AM on June 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ljubljana is wonderful and you can take day trips from there to Lake Bled, Triglav National Park, or the the Skocjan Caves. You could also pop over the border to Trieste, Italy or Zagreb, Croatia
posted by chrisulonic at 11:07 AM on June 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

In central/eastern Europe, I have only been to Bratislava and Budapest. Bratislava is nice, but small enough that I felt I'd seen most of the interesting stuff if two days.

Budapest was awesome. It helped that I had a local friend - he gave us great suggestions on cafes, baths, museums, etc (I especially adored the hot springs/baths). There are lots of museums, and it felt like a very safe city to be a woman alone in. Same issue as noted above: some people may speak English, but many fewer than in western Europe so don't expect anyone to. We got by with a page of phrases and gestures.

The Danube itself is stunning. We got to see part of it on the train from Budapest to Bratislava. There are boats you can take all the way from Vienna to Budapest (maybe further); I want to do this one day.
posted by jb at 11:42 AM on June 23, 2013

St. Petersburg is looking very tempting

As indeed it is and while in the neighbourhood, Tallin in Estonia has one of the best medieval Old Towns in Northern Europe (the best is Visby in Sweden on the island of Gotland which is hard to get to but jaw dropping.) And you're close to Helsinki which although not technically "Eastern Europe" has the appearance of a soulless Soviet town - charming in it's own way.

All three are modern and safe for someone traveling alone.

FYI U.S. citizens need a visa to visit Russia so keep that in mind if you choose St. Petersburg.

Southern Europe - especially Croatia - will be packed with tourists from Northern Europe - especially Germans - until the end of August. You will want to avoid this.

The Danube is flooded this year - my wife was recently in Vienna and said she never saw it so high - so the mosquitoes from Czech Republic on south will be miserable.
posted by three blind mice at 11:46 AM on June 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Prague! It's gorgeous, lots of good food and museums and stunning architecture. They have a lot of hostels, and I can't remember which one I stayed in, but it was really nice - the best of my whole trip.

I also thought Montenegro and Croatia were really beautiful, but more for the stunning views and picturesque towns along the coast than for the food and museums.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 1:20 PM on June 23, 2013

If you're up near Finland, can I recommend looking into Turku? I had a business trip there last year and would have loved some additional time for wandering. It is definitely a city, but seems to have a good amount of scenic nature nearby. The colleagues I was meeting with recommended I rent a bike for the day but no time !
posted by Tandem Affinity at 8:35 PM on June 23, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone! I finally bought plane tickets and I will be heading to Helsinki, St. Petersburg, and Tallin next month (visa and Russian learning are currently in progress). I especially appreciate the advice about Croatia, I'm going to wait until I can go off season. My plan for life involves living incredibly modestly all year so that I can plan brilliant trips, and I'll be reviewing your advice next year while planning some sort of Budapest-Ljubljana bathing and caving itinerary.
posted by velebita at 9:20 AM on July 14, 2013

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