For many travelers, the words “Eastern Europe” likely bring to mind a few specific places. Prague, definitely. Budapest, probably. Warsaw and Kraków, maybe. But beyond the region’s well-trodden cities are a few underexplored destinations with rich history, culture, and natural landscapes that make them worth visiting.
These are Eastern Europe’s seven hidden gems, spanning mountains, lakes, medieval cities, and lively capitals. Best of all, you can visit any—or all—of them on our tours of Eastern Europe. (But while these may be some of the best places to visit in Eastern Europe, don’t let us limit you! As Go Ahead staffer Shannon put it, “Every part of Eastern Europe is a hidden gem.”)
“The High Tatras Mountains are stunning jagged peaks along the border of Slovakia and Poland,” said Go Ahead staffer Tom. They comprise the world’s smallest Alpine mountain range, but they feel anything but small. In the surprisingly affordable region of Eastern Europe, the High Tatras Mountains take affordable—and spectacular—to the next level. Think of ending a hike to a mountain lake with a hearty meal (including a cold glass of beer, of course) for under €10.
Plus, there’s so much traditional architecture to marvel at. “Surrounding the mountains are castles and villages with painted Goral houses and churches fully constructed out of timber,” Tom said. Check out the colorful, three-room wooden houses in the tiny village of Zdiar, or visit Kezmarok to tour its UNESCO-listed wooden church in the shadow of Tatras’ pointed peaks.
Hidden gem of the High Tatras Mountains: Keep your eye out for the Tatra chamois, a highly endangered, goat-like animal with curved horns and a striped face.
Experience the Slovakian countryside on our Week in Eastern Europe: Prague, Kraków & Budapest tour →
In northeastern Poland lies a blue-and-green expanse of 2,000 lakes and verdant forests dotted with small farms and villages—surely one of the most beautiful places in Eastern Europe. While the Masurian Lake District isn’t well-known to travelers outside Poland, it’s a UNESCO-recognized biosphere of environmental importance.
Before embarking on a leisurely float down the Krutynia River, guided by a local expert in Poland’s rare flora and fauna, enjoy lunch in the quaint resort town of Mikolajki, near Poland’s largest lake.
Hidden gem of the Masurian Lake District: Take a tour of Wolf’s Lair, the decaying complex of concrete bunkers hidden deep in the forest that served as Hitler’s primary headquarters during World War II.
See Poland’s waterways the scenic way on our Poland & the Baltics Adventure: Warsaw to Tallinn tour →
“In the far eastern region of Hungary is UNESCO-listed Tokaj, the first wine region in the world to receive a ‘designation of origin’ protection,” said staffer Tom. The strict regulations that Tokaji winemakers must follow inspired the rules behind better-known appellations like Champagne, Chianti, and Burgundy.
Even more impressive, Louis XV of France once described the most famous Tokaj wine as “Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum”: the king of wines, the wine of kings. All that to say: If wine is your thing, the Tokaj wine region is one of the best places to go in Eastern Europe. Its rolling vineyards, cool volcanic-rock cellars, and medieval castles are as romantic and stunning as any of Europe’s better-known wine regions.
Hidden gem of the Tokaj wine region: “Tokaj is famous for its botrytized sweet wine, Imperial Tokaj, a wine so good it was reserved only for the Habsburg royals,” Tom said. The wine is made from grapes infected by the “noble rot” of a benign mold.
Sample Hungary’s legendary wine on our A Week in Eastern Europe: Prague, Kraków & Budapest tour →
Bulgaria’s capital is an eclectic mix of history and cultures. Traditional Greek food with a Balkan twist. Roman ruins and a modern ski resort. A square in the city center bordered by a mosque, a synagogue, a Catholic cathedral, and an Orthodox church. The city is one of the European Union’s newest and most walkable capitals, which makes seeing its highlights simple and enjoyable.
Hidden gem of Sofia: The unusual yellow paving stones of Tsar Osvoboditel Boulevard will have you feeling like you’re walking the yellow brick road from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Explore Sofia’s 2,000 years of diverse history on our Bulgaria, Serbia & Romania tour →
Artsy, elegant Sibiu is one of the most beautiful, but underrated Eastern European cities: a bohemian playground since the days of famous composers Strauss and Brahms, and a medieval town centuries before. Visit the central Piata Mare—which is on our list of the best things to do in Romania and Bulgaria—where you’ll find buzzing cafes and restaurants, while children play among its fountains.
Looking over the city are all the “watchful houses,” which have small attic windows resembling curious, peering eyes. And just a short drive from Sibiu, in central Romania, is the imposing, almost spooky Bran Castle, more commonly known as Dracula’s Castle. If Romania is still a mystery to you, learn why it should be on your travel wish list →
Hidden gem of Sibiu: Legend has it that the cast-iron Bridge of Lies will collapse if you say something untruthful while standing on it. In truth, the quirky name has a simpler origin: It was originally called Liegenbrücke, German for “lying bridge” (as in “lying down”), which sounds similar to Lügenbrücke, meaning “bridge of lies.” Still, we wouldn’t take our chances telling lies while crossing it…
Travel to the heart of Transylvania on our Bulgaria, Serbia & Romania tour →
“Slovenia has been on every list in the past few years as a must-see destination,” said staffer Shannon. “And Ljubljana specifically. It’s small, it’s quaint, it’s beautiful.” In the Slovenian capital, the Old World meets eco-friendly modernity. Car traffic is restricted in the city center, so strolling through Ljubljana means worrying only about finding quiet spots in its leafy parks or open tables at its outdoor cafes lining the Ljubljanica River. The crown jewel of the city is Ljubljana Castle, whose 1,000-year history is a fascinating hodgepodge of purposes and residents.
Hidden gem of Ljubljana: Lolita, a bakery and cafe with soaring ceilings and views of the river from its enormous plate-glass windows, serves “to-die-for cake,” according to Go Ahead staffer Shannon.
See what “Europe in miniature” means in Ljubljana on our Croatia & Slovenia: The Old-World Adriatic tour →
“Riga is reliably the favorite destination for travelers to the Baltics,” said staffer Tom. “The city is UNESCO-listed and an architectural gem, ranging from the Hanseatic town hall to the Art Nouveau districts.” You can spend hours just staring at the Art Nouveau architecture in the Central District, where a third of the buildings are emblematic of the style. Tom also recommends the city’s Central Market, containing over 3,000 stands. “Built in former zeppelin hangars, it’s the largest covered market in Europe,” he said.
Hidden gem of Riga: Visit the Three Brothers, a complex of three colorful houses built between the 15th and 17th centuries, for a miniature timeline of the city’s distinctive architecture.
Surround yourself with Art Nouveau beauty on our Highlights of the Baltics tour →