From Bosnia all the way to Georgia, the endearing magic of Eastern Europe awaits!
Backpacking through Eastern Europe can be incredibly cheap for the budget traveller, with fascinating cities, superb food and hundreds of festivals. I’m a big fan of eastern Europe backpacking – and here’s five cities I love.
In recent years, Lviv has taken on the title of “The New Prague”, or the “New Krakow”. Just beyond the reaches of the EU borders, Lviv is the cultural centre of Ukraine. With the lack of any major tourist infrastructure and the ongoing situation in Ukraine, it remains a hidden gem for western tourists.
Aside from the cobbled squares, narrow streets, crumbling classical architecture and an amazing coffee scene, the night-life in Lviv is something out of the ordinary. If you are caught misbehaving in the Bar of Justice, you’ll be locked in a cage overhanging the bar. And around the corner there is a dwarf bar, where the bartenders and waiters are all dwarfs! Festivals take place almost every weekend, ranging from a Jazz Festival to a Chocolate Day in October – yum!
Stay – Ghostel, a unique, medieval inspired hostel close to the centre. Recently renovated with wooden beams and dimly lit rooms, it makes for an interesting stay.
Eat – Visit the lively Robert Doms beer hall, built in the vaults of the old brewery. Popular among local and visitors, it serves up fresh, hearty Ukrainian fare. Dumplings, soups and meat galore can be shared from large platters. Washed down with beer brewed just around the corner!
Drink – Honey Vodka is locally produced and is accompanied by salo, which is thinly sliced peppered raw pork fat (purely optional). Lvivske is the most popular beer, although I would recommend Robert Doms.
Sarajevo, Bosnia – Herzegovina
Rising in popularity as a destination, Sarajevo is a vibrant clash of East meets West. Visible evidence of the horrific Siege of 1992 – 1995 remain, but the locals are resilient and today the city has a growing reputation as a buzzing cultural hub.
The Sarajevo Tunnel, built during the Siege, offers an excellent insight into the struggles of the city during this dark period in its history. It was often cited as the lifeline of Sarajevo. Despite UN envoys in the city, the Free Bosnian army were forced to smuggle in medical supplies, food and ammunition to the impoverished population. It’s a fascinating piece of history and incredible to think how recent it was.
Stay – Haris Youth Hostel: Haris set up this hostel in his family home when he was just 14 (or so the legend goes). It’s one of the most welcoming hostels you’ll come across and offers magnificent sunset views over the city. (€10)
Eat – Cevapi is the ubiquitous Bosnian fast food. Grilled minced lamb served in a pitta type bread.
Drink – Bosnian coffee (much like its Turkish counterpart) is consumed everywhere, on special occasions it is served up with a very sweet Turkish Delight and a shot of rakija (fruit brandy). Sarajevsko is the most popular beer, but Jelen is dominant in the Serbian quarter.
Surrounded by the lush forests of Transylvania, Brașov is an elegant medieval city and attracts visitors from all over Romania. At night, the squares and streets of Brașov come alive with inexpensive restaurants serving delicious food and traditional bars open till late. Bran Castle, the spooky home of Bram Stokers Dracula, is just 20KM, with regular bus services.
Stay – Casual Centrum Hostel. A welcoming hostel, in a central location with very good facilities. (Dorm beds from €4)
Eat – Yes, it’s no traditional Romanian food but the fabulous Pizza della Nonna offers some of the finest pizzas to be found east of Napoli. (€4 for large pizza)
Drink – Timisoreana or Ursus are probably the best of the local beers. Fruit brandys, mainly made from plums and apricots are locally produced and are best bought from farmers on the side of the road or at markets
While the pebbled beach may not look exactly like Baywatch, it seems like Batumi is busy embracing Californication. The booming city is currently turning its beachfront into one big, all-ages, play area. The city suffered during Soviet times but now it is on the rebound, with a revamped seafront, Donald Trump skyscrapers and quirky art installations. There is a great buzz around the town, new restaurants are opening up all the time and you can party till dawn at many beachfront clubs. The vodka flows, the smokers choke and the party never stops in Batumi!
Stay – Hostel Globus: With a courtyard stocked with beer and a BBQ, this is a great place to meet fellow travellers in Batumi. (From €7)
Eat – Khinkali (meat dumplings), an everyday snack in Georgia and served up in most bars. Watch how the locals eat it first, it’s an acquired skill 🙂
Drink – We were surprised to find that Georgia is considered the birthplace of wine. Saperavi is the most well known variety of red wine. Kazbegi is the most refreshing local beer, and goes great with Khinkali. PS, avoid the luminous green Tarragon lemonade!!
Recognised as the arts centre of Bulgaria, Plovdiv is one of the oldest cities in the Europe, with records stretching back over 6,000 years. The compact old town, with its twisting streets and lavish townhouses also contains the Ancient Roman theatre, which continues to host summer concerts. A 250m long Roman stadium, running the length the city’s modern main street, is currently being excavated. For the moment the northern end can be accessed and an underground museum, is planned, creating a unique attraction in this historic city.
Stay – Bike Hostel. A charming, quaint hostel located on a leafy street close to the train station.
Eat – Triumph Restaurant – Luckily, just around the corner from Bike Hostel. Gigantic portions of home cooked Bulgarian food in a chilled out courtyard setting. There’s no way of finishing a meal so you’ll be happy to know they provide doggy bags!
Drink – Bulgaria has a rich grape growing history and local wines can be sourced in most restaurants and supermarkets. Kamenitza beer is found everyday, and comes in many varieties.