What are the most exciting Eastern European cities? In August?
October 15, 2013 6:44 PM   Subscribe

Partner and I are getting a head start on planning a two week trip for August 2014. What cities and sights should we make sure to see?

We're starting Berlin. We're interested in Prague and Budapest, and maybe Vienna. But we're not sure which cities will be the most interesting and wonderful. Where should we go? How many days can your favorite city entertain a visitor for? We're thinking of maybe four stops. (Does that sound like too many? Too few?)

Things we like: food!, art, interesting architecture, not spending too too much.

Logistics: we don't want to go so far afield that it becomes expensive (read: more than $200) or time-intensive to return to Berlin.

I've looked around for advice, and found a lot. Things I'd like to hear more about: merits of particular cities, what to do in them, and I'd love itinerary recommendations if you have them. And if anything interesting happens in some particular place during the last two weeks of August, that would be great to know too!
posted by munyeca to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I spent a week in Prague. I managed to find plenty to do for that whole time, but I would have also felt like I had seen the city if I had just had three or four days. I went in August too and it was very hot and very full of tourists. Like, in the old parts of the city, people were shoulder-to-shoulder on some streets and that was a little unpleasant. There's nothing you can do about that if your itinerary requires you to go in August though, so just be prepared.
posted by lollusc at 7:04 PM on October 15, 2013

I'd just spend the two weeks in Berlin with excursions to Leipzig, Dresden, Halle/Saale etc.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 7:33 PM on October 15, 2013

Krakow and the Wieliczka salt mines. Because what do salt miners do in their free time? Carve salt. Make ballrooms in salt. Tennis courts. Chapels. And it worked pretty much continuously from 1200 to 2007. Of course, if you don't like stairs, dark closed spaces and caves... Perhaps not :)
posted by Yavsy at 8:01 PM on October 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you spend time in Berlin without spending an overnight at Berghain or Watergate you have committed a sin and will be punished in the next life.
posted by 1adam12 at 8:05 PM on October 15, 2013

Best answer: Bratislava is very pretty and an easy stop if you're travelling between Vienna and Budapest - its not an "exciting" city on those terms but well worth stopping in my opinion.
posted by Middlemarch at 9:22 PM on October 15, 2013

Best answer: Look into Dubrovnik and/or Split in Croatia. I went to the former (in August) and loved it (best pizza I ever had, and that was coming from Italy). A friend just went to both a week ago and also really liked them (though weather was not as good as in the summer l).
posted by lovableiago at 9:30 PM on October 15, 2013

Best answer: Cluj-Napoca in Romania is lovely, full of historic goodness, and might make for a comparatively cheap stop along the way.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:48 PM on October 15, 2013

Look, this is a bit of a stretch, recommendation wise, because *I* wouldn't call this city Eastern European, and it is a 2 1/2 hour flight from Prague; but, I was there recently, and am utterly obsessed with testifying to everyone possible about the delights of Riga. So I won't be offended if you dismiss it out of hand, but I did want to suggest it in case you are interested in going a little further afield, to a country that most people don't necessarily include in a trip.

Riga is a Hanseatic city, with oodles of history, and old buildings and whatnot bristling out on every corner. The medieval old town is all twisty little cobblestone streets, odd little churches, surprisingly grand buildings, and a lot of very good shops and cafes. The food in Riga is uniformly excellent, with clever menus and delicious produce (I can provide fevered recommendations upon request). Just outside the old city is the Art Nouveau district. You might not know this, but Riga has more art nouveau architecture (called "Jugendstil" there) than any other European city, so if you are a fan, you'd enjoy that. Riga has excellent cultural stuff, and is in fact the 2014 Capital of Culture, so that's a great time to visit this wonderful, beautiful, enticing city if you are into any of the arts.

Everyone in Riga speaks terrific English*, the food is unbelievable, there are flower shops on every street, and flower stalls everywhere else. It's probably not for everyone, but if you were interested in spending a few days strolling through beautiful parks, perhaps boating on the canal, visiting the zoo, or any one of a LOT of terrific museums and galleries.....well, consider Riga. I described it to a friend who'd been to France, and she commented: "It sounds like how I hoped Paris would be, but wasn't"; and of course, Riga is in fact called the Paris of the Baltic.

*Alright, this is a slight exaggeration.
posted by Kaleidoscope at 10:16 PM on October 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

And Tallinn is even more amazing than Riga (sorry, Kaleidoscope!). Just in case you need another reason to swing north.
posted by penguin pie at 12:22 AM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I spent a day and a half in Prague and didn't have time to visit the Prague Castle or the Old Jewish Cemetery, so I'd recommend spending at least three days there. I'd also recommend taking a day to visit the nearby Karlštejn Castle, which is beautiful.
posted by neushoorn at 1:33 AM on October 16, 2013

If you're going to Prague it's worth making the day trip to Cesky Krumlov (a UNESCO world heritage site). It's a easy bus ride away.
posted by orrnyereg at 2:10 AM on October 16, 2013

Response by poster: Great answers so far! Thanks, all!
posted by munyeca at 5:05 AM on October 16, 2013

I loved Budapest when I went last year and I also loved Berlin. Prague less so, but it was pretty and worth visiting once. Prague and Budapest were both quite cheap by European standards (Budapest moreso than Prague) and the food in both was awesome.

If you want to do Berlin, Prague and Budapest, I'd leave it at that for a two week trip. The time to travel between the cities is significant and takes some recovery time. There is certainly enough to do in Berlin and Budapest to spend four full days there. Prague, less, but it is very nice. Hotels are more expensive in Prague than I felt they should be; we were able to find great hotels at great prices in Berlin and Budapest.
posted by urbanlenny at 7:00 AM on October 16, 2013

Croatia! I might be a bit biased about this, as I'm from Croatia myself but it's pretty terrific. Zagreb is a nice small city, like a small Vienna, and everything that is to see is within walking distance. It's kind of getting bigger on the tourist map, but it's still far from touristy, and there are plenty of cheap hostels.
Bit further down South you'd reach Karlovac, which isn't all that crazy, but it's built on 4 (FOUR) rivers, two of which are swimmable I believe. And dammit are they beautiful; if you go for a trip to Mrežnica (one of the rivers) you're looking at this beautiful big river flowing through a forest, it's really magical. And there really aren't any tourists there either.

More down south you'd get to places like Split, which is a great hub for all the smaller islands, but a nice city to explore on it's own (Roman palaces and all). Islands like Vis, Hvar and Krk are great, but booming at the moment (especially Hvar, it's packed in the Summer months). Korčula and Mljet however are kind of off the radar still and really nice (Mljet is a national park).
Dubrovnik is a common suggestion, but I think it's not really worth it; the old city and defensive walls are an amazing sight, but it's so packed with tourists from cruise ships that you can't even see them.
Sarajevo and Mostar in Bosnia are also great, and Belgrade, as the former capital of Yugoslavia is probably the coolest when it comes to sightseeing. Any kind of night out there will be an adventure.

Overall, all the Balkans are super interesting, because it's pretty culturally diverse in small area. Croatia is Catholic, Bosnia Muslim, and Serbia is Orthodox, so it gets really different.

Further East there's Sofia, Bulgaria and Bucharest, Romania, which is a really interesting country; they're in Eastern Europe, speak a Latin language and are Orthodox, so it's just... I dunno... weird.

Good luck!
posted by ahtlast93 at 8:11 AM on October 16, 2013

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