Howdy all again. Yes, this time I’m turning my attention to the eastern part of the continent of Europe. I’ve probably explored Eastern Europe more extensively than Western Europe, so in some ways it should be easier for me to choose my favourite cities. And in some ways, not so much! I’m taking in Western Russia down through the Baltics and sweeping across to the Balkans here, so it’s not an easy choice as there is so much choice. Sometimes picking between two cities is much more preferable. Anyways, here we go!
Simply one of Europe’s great cities. Budapest is divided by the Danube River into two parts – Buda and Pest. You get the picture I imagine then about how the name came about. It’s a glorious city, very gothic in many aspects. Just for its views it could make the list, and it was 2004 when I visited so my memory of Budapest is a little hazy, to say the least.
I remember visiting this grand park of Soviet statues. Budapest combines the beautiful with the strange and even creepy at times, and seeing the statues of former communist leaders is definitely somewhat creepy, invoking imagery of what life must have been like under communism in Hungary. Remember that this was a city which saw Soviet tanks run through the middle to assert the domination of this political ideology. Discover the ‘Terror House’ – a museum to oppression that Budapest has suffered over the years, from the Nazis to the Communists and Soviets.
Up on a hill by the Danube you get a great view from a spot called the Fisherman’s Bastion of the Parliament Building and the city in general. It’s also a place to discover the labyrinth as well, another creepy option, but there are museums and churches also which are less macabre.
Budapest is famous for its baths, and I also found the opera to be excellent and indeed far cheaper than in Vienna, not that far away in Austria. Despite its dark past – Budapest is a bright, delightful city you shouldn’t miss!
Tallinn is a smaller city, that’s for sure, than the others on this list. It’s the capital of Estonia, and it has a real charm of its own. The old city is walled up and self-contained, and you can walk around for hours if not days having your socks charmed off you.
It’s one of the best preserved medieval towns in all of Europe and didn’t suffer much during the world wars – which is why it’s in good nick today. There are a number of churches, and more catacombs to explore, markets and squares. And the nightlife is friendly and welcoming – many make the weekend trip from Stockholm because prices are so much cheaper in Tallinn. It’s hard to find one THING that is the highlight of Tallinn, but if you go, you’ll love it!
St Petersburg, Russia
I had to include St Petersburg, it’s really one of the world’s great cities. It’s big, grand and probably another synonym for big as well I daresay. The boulevards are so impressive, you feel dwarfed as a pedestrian. Russian history owes much to St Petersburg, its capital up until the October Revolution, and thusly St Petersburg is where it mostly took place.
You can’t, despite the price, miss the Hermitage, also known as the Winter Palace where Tzars lived and ruled the world’s biggest country for centuries. From Peter the Great to Nicolas the Second, St Petersburg’s number one attraction is where it was all controlled from. It’s one of the world’s most opulent museums these days and thus is one of those museums worth seeing for both what is in the museum, and the building that houses the works.
Other sights of note are the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, and the Cathedral of the Spilled Blood, ornate in beautiful Orthodox style. There are loads more museums of course, and sights, just walking around the wide Neva River gives you a sense of scale. There are castles and gardens too. St Petersburg IS Russian history, and one of my favourite cities in the entire world. A city where you feel special just by being there!
I wanted to include at least one Balkan city, and so I decided on Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia and winner of the hardest city to spell in Europe competition. Again, a city which doesn’t have a lot of essential ‘must see’ items at its disposal, but a city that is wonderful, and substantially warmer than the others on this list, nonetheless.
It’s got a lovely business district and is full of young people and art. That’s art galleries full of ‘modern’ art, and music – jazz bands playing along the river, a vibrant, youthful feel all around town. The castle overlooks beautiful Ljubljana, and is perhaps the principal sight of the city. A city with canals and walking/riding paths. It’s really refreshing actually!
And to finish, big bad (but actually not bad at all) Moscow. We you can see the body of Lenin, roam the Kremlin (don’t step over that line!) and marvel at St Basil’s cathedral in Red Square. If it hadn’t been for my most recent visit I wouldn’t have put Moscow on this list, but in 2017 I really discovered an amazing city, again one of the world’s great cities.
There are many museums in Moscow, you can see the Gulag museum which is eerie but very interesting, but just off Red Square is the State Historical Museum is possibly the most impressive one I saw. The Red Square area is always abuzz with visitors, the Gum Shopping Mall is a real glittering example of an exclusive shopping mall and worth a visit. And there’s so much more to Moscow from Stalin’s Seven Sisters to the Novodevichy Convent. Just travelling around Moscow on the Metro and admiring the stations is another reason to visit this incredible city.
So all in all, a interesting bunch of cities, and a fair bit of variation amongst them too! I would happily take a week in any of these I think. Day trips might be needed to pass the time for the smaller two of this five. Honourable mentions – Cluj-Napoca (Romania), Sofia (Bulgaria), Belgrade (Serbia) and most recently Minsk (Belarus). Also, this list might well change if I ever finally get to visit Ukraine!
What are YOUR favourites in Eastern Europe? Do tell! Thanks for reading and May the Journey Never End!