Less popular as a travel destination, Eastern and Central European countries have as much culture to offer as Western Europe at a much more manageable price. It’s a place that I would suggest visiting as soon as possible before these countries lose their authenticity. With sixties and seventies music playing most places and with nearly all of the food and drink being locally made, it is still easy to tell that it was cut off from the rest of the world for a long period of time. I suggest visiting before it loses this feel. Here’s a list of some of my personal top 10 experiences in Eastern and Central Europe.
1) Lake Jasna, Slovenia
Lake Jasna, near the entrance to Triglav National Park (another place you definitely must see while in Slovenia), lays a lake nestled next to the Julian Alps. An excellent stop if you only have time to see a little of Slovenia’s incredible natural beauty. Lake Jasna is also the home of a goat statue, part of a legend with a not-so-happy ending. A young, poor man fell in love a rich woman and tried to kill a goat because the goat was the keeper of a great treasure. The goat swiftly kicked the boy off the mountain and now sitting on this goat brings good luck to tourists.
2) Sedlec Ossuary: suburbs of Kutna Hora, Czech Republic
Sedlec Ossuary is a beautifully artistic display of the old idea memento mori (remember your death). While this immediately may not sound like a place you want to stop on your vacation, it is incredibly unique and truly cannot be missed. Centuries old bones decorate this holy place, making family crests, and candelabras, even a chandelier that has at least one of every type of bone in the human body. When I went here with my boyfriend, we opted to catch a train to Kutna Hora and then find the church on our own. This is easy enough to do; however, I would suggest booking a tour. A tour guide will tell you more about the fascinating city of Kutna Hora, which at one time was more of a cultural hub than Prague, and you won’t have to worry about catching the trains, which can be a little confusing if you don’t speak Czech, and maybe even if you do.
3) Lake Bled, Slovenia
Lake Bled is the stuff of fairy tales. Stunningly, almost painfully, picturesque with a castle on a hill and an island in the middle where a church sits. You can rent row on rowboat to get to the island or hop on the small ferry that makes regular trips. The church is a popular spot for weddings, with ninety-nine stairs leading up to the top, which the groom is expected to carry his bride up.
4) Dracula’s Castle: Transylvania, Romania
Nestled in the heart of Transylvania, Bran Castle, more colloquially known as Dracula’s Castle, is in some ways not at all what you’d expect of a place with such a dark, fictional and non-fictional, history. The former home of Vlad the Impaler, Bran Castle is actually quite charming and much less sinister looking than many of the medieval castles I’ve been to in Scotland and Ireland. It is a sort of pleasant and friendly neutral color and sits atop a hill. The only factor that makes it seem slightly creepy is a secret passageway inside, but I’d have been disappointed if this famed evil castle had been entirely without sinister intrigue.
5) Kamzík TV Tower: Bratislava, Slovakia
The TV tower in Bratislava is a relic of its past. Large, oversized TV towers meant to impose governmental grandeur are common in Central and Eastern Europe. Like the one in Bratislava, which hosts a fantastic restaurant, most of them have been re-purposed as tourist attractions.