Red7 , February 28, 2014
Eastern Europe’s capitals are a fascinating bunch.
They combine medieval charm, Soviet relics, bohemian eccentricities and a fervour for progression evident in the influx of glittering new skyscrapers and hip bars, all surrounded by some of the most breathtaking scenery in Europe.
A city break in in Eastern Europe feels like a journey in itself, as the visitor travels through turbulent history and discovers new treasures and life down every cobbled backstreet or lively terrace club. For a long time Prague and Budapest were the trail-blazing destinations for culture lovers and party goers in Eastern Europe, but there’s a whole host of vibrant, eclectic cities now stepping up to the mark. We’ve picked out three enchanting Eastern European destinations for the adventurous traveller to get lost in.
Warsaw may be the capital, but Krakow is hands down Poland’s biggest draw for tourists. The city’s collection of gothic architecture was largely untouched during the second world war, making Krakow a veritable treasure chest by Eastern Europe standards. Highlights include Wawel Castle and 13th century main square which is a both a tourist attraction and a lively public space circled by restaurants, frequented by eccentric buskers and overshadowed by the Gothic spires of St Mary’s Basilica.
Kazimierz, the Old Jewish Quarter, is reminiscent of trendy bohemian areas such as London’s Shoreditch or a much smaller, European version of New York’s Greenwich Village. Kazimierz has a huge artist population, packed with stylish bars, boutiques, pavement cafes and atmospheric beer dens.
Don’t leave Krakow without visiting a Milk Bar or, Bar Mleczny. These communist relics serve cheap Polish food to locals, and, although they have the atmosphere of a school canteen, they provide the best people watching in Krakow.
The Baltic capital of Riga is equal parts regal and wild. The Gothic St Peter’s Church dominates the skyline, and the 500-metre wide Daugava River sweeps majestically through its centre to the Baltic Sea. Riga’s entire Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Sight, and the gleaming glass structures racing to the sky are a reminder that Riga is embracing the future as well as preserving the past.
It’s not just Riga’s skyline that is extravagant. The city is dotted with plush wine bars and roof bars, upmarket restaurants and nightclubs where Riga’s party people dance until 8am.
In winter Riga is a coveted winter sports destination, where Europe’s elite converge on Kakisu Trase resort, just 50 miles from the capital.
Eccentric, charming, Vilnius is home to the largest Baroque Old Town in Europe, the famous Chapel of Blessed Virgin Mary which contains one of the holiest icons in Polish Catholicism – and an enormous statue of Frank Zappa.
The nightlife in Vilnius is just as eclectic as it’s appearance. Visitors can dance all night in a basement DJ club, rub shoulders with the rich and beautiful in elite clubs and bars with their exclusive door face policy, or join in the revelry at the Republic of Uzupis, home to an independent republic of artists, bohemians and trendy types who live by the slogan: ‘Man is Free to be Idle.’
No city break in Vilnius is complete without a sobering look at the impact of Soviet occupation, such as the KGB Headquarters, now a Genocide Victim’s Museum, or a stroll around the Old Jewish Ghetto.
Finally, pay tribute to Vilnius’s old world spirit with a plate of meat-filled pancakes, a steamy mug of Gira, a drink made from bread and honey or a powerful glass of Krupnikas, a sweet vodka made from grain and honey.