Planning Your Perfect Eastern Europe Itinerary!
It’s easy for us to give you a few Eastern Europe trip ideas – we know a thing or two about the region! Since we’ve been based in Europe for a while now, travelling to and discovering Eastern Europe is pretty simple once you’re in the area!
Whether your travel itinerary around Eastern Europe is for 2 weeks or 2 months, there are so many options for places to go and things to see. Here’s a customizable itinerary for backpacking Eastern Europe. Oh, and if you’re looking for a southeastern Europe itinerary, we’d consider that the Balkan region, which we plan on writing a whole guide about later!
Where is “Eastern Europe”?
First of all, there is no clear consensus as to what counts as Eastern Europe. We actually had to talk about it beforehand as well. For Lisa, everything east of Germany counts as Eastern Europe – but her perception is probably also influenced by the history.
Eric, a North American, might consider Eastern Europe as the “classic” countries like the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, and Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Moldova., etc. However, Eric ALSO thinks Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia are also in Eastern Europe – but they are known more specifically as the Baltics. And then there is the former Yugoslavia and other south-east Europe countries which have their own regional name as the Balkans.
So our understandings are not that different overall. In this itinerary, we won’t include the Baltics or Balkans but this is not because we don’t think they belong to Eastern Europe. It’s just because we plan on writing separate posts about these regions.
Who Is This Itinerary For?
This itinerary is for people that have not seen a ton of Eastern Europe. If you’ve been to Prague, Budapest, Krakow etc. this itinerary might not be for you since it does cover bigger centers and not that many “off-the-beaten” path destinations. We might write an Eastern Europe Itinerary including lots of lesser known places at a later point in time – but first, we have to visit some of them ourselves.
Length of Itinerary
As the title suggests, this is supposed to be a customizable tour. As such we don’t want to give you a certain time frame in which you have to complete it. However, we will give you a recommended period of time we suggest you spend in each city.
Given our suggested number of nights in each place, the shortest Eastern Europe would be 23 nights while the longest options would be 32 nights. You can always skip cities if you’ve been there before – and we’ll cover some of that throughout the post as to which cities are easy to skip. You can also choose a different start or end point and thus just complete part of the recommended itinerary – that’s up to you.
The price of your trip will depend very much on how you’re travelling. If you’re usually staying in hostels and cook meals yourself then, of course, it will be cheaper than if you stay at a hotel and like to eat out a lot. We usually do a mix: sometimes we staying at hostels and sometimes at Airbnbs or Hotels. Sometimes we end up cooking ourselves and other times we eat out!
Generally, Eastern Europe is cheaper than Western Europe, but there can be significant differences even between countries in Eastern Europe. To give you a general idea, the further south you get the cheaper it will be (Romania is pretty inexpensive – even compared to Hungary) and generally prices in the capital are higher than in smaller cities. An example would be Prague is expensive (even for Eastern Europe) compared to Brno.
Method of Transportation
Since we mainly travel by public transport and don’t usually rent a car this is how we will cover the itinerary. Of course, you can also get a rental car and then drive yourself instead of taking buses or trains. This would allow for a little more flexibility and the ability to do a quick day trip if you find something interesting that you want to check out! If you want to rent a car in any country in Eastern Europe, you can compare car rental prices across different companies here.
If you did plan to use planes at any point in this region, you will likely come across Wizz Air, the budget airline that services the area. We’ve flown with Wizz a few times in the past few months and written an article on our experiences with Wizz!
Our Suggested Eastern Europe Itinerary
Without further ado, here’s a quick overview of the places covered on this itinerary: Warsaw, Krakow, Katowice, Prague, Brno, Bratislava/Vienna, Budapest, Cluj-Napoca, Brasov, Bucharest, Varna and Sofia.
As you might notice, this itinerary heads south basically the whole time. Again, you could easily skip a place, add a place, stay longer, stay less, whatever! In short, we’ve created the framework for a 3 week trip at the shortest and a 5 week trip at the longest.
We are not including the Baltic countries in this itinerary, even though technically they could also be considered Eastern Europe. We’ve actually written a separate Baltics travel itinerary post inspired by the trip that Eric did at the beginning of 2017 after we travelled together for two weeks.
If you’re new here: Essentially our first date was travelling Europe together having never met in person. You can read the whole adventure love story here if you want! If you want to add on the Baltics into this itinerary as well, just start in Tallinn for example.
Start: Warsaw, Poland
- Estimated Time to Stay: 1-2 Nights
- How to Get There: Fly into Warsaw at Warsaw Chopin Airport (WAW)
It makes sense to move in one direction when taking an Eastern Europe trip so you can cut out unnecessary time on the road. We’ll start in the North and move south. Of course, you could also reverse the whole order of the destinations – would also work.
Warsaw is a great place to start because it is a bigger city that is easy to reach from many different places in Europe. If you’re flying in from North America and can’t find a good flight connection to Warsaw, then you could also fly into Berlin and take the train to Warsaw. That’s pretty easy to do. If you do this you should consider spending a couple days in Berlin as well since there is so much to see in the German capital.
We visited Warsaw during our first trip – in the middle of the winter and there was a ton of snow. We really liked it and were positively surprised since people had told us before that Warsaw is not really worth visiting. We’d disagree! Definitely spend at least one night in the Polish Capital.
- Estimated Time to Stay: 2 Nights
- How to Get There: Take the Train from Warsaw – takes almost 3 hours. The bus is much longer and can be more expensive.
Krakow is definitely a must-see with the beautiful Wawel Castle and its old town. Sometimes we think that Warsaw doesn’t get enough credit because people usually visit Krakow – they are two very different cities though. From Warsaw it is easy to get to Krakow by train – there are multiple connections a day. You can check the Polish Train timetable here. If you want more tips for Krakow – here is our Krakow post on day trips, attractions, and restaurants!
Accommodation for Krakow: We wrote a detailed guide on Where to Stay in Krakow that covers the Old Town, other great neighborhoods, and accommodations by style from hotels to aparthotels! You can also check Booking.com for hotel deals or Hostelworld for great hostels!
- Estimated Time to Stay: 1 Night
- How to Get There: Bus from Krakow, very cheap, takes an hour.
If you want to visit another beautiful city that is still somewhat of a hidden gem you should consider Katowice. Since it is quite close to Krakow you could also make a day trip out of it. You could also skip and move directly to the next destination.
Prague, Czech Republic
- Estimated Time to Stay: 2-4 Nights
- How to Get There: Bus or Train from Katowice, Train is 5 hours, Bus is 7
Prague is definitely a must on every Eastern Europe Itinerary. It’s a beautiful city that we really enjoyed and we have written multiple posts about it since. As for general things to do in Prague there is: crossing the Charles Bridge, wandering Prague Castle, seeing the famous Astrological Clock, climbing the numerous cathedrals or churches, and much much more! Here is a massive guide on 37 things you should can do if you’re in Prague!
If you want to, also consider a day-trip to Cesky Krumlov in which case you should add another night to your stay to not make it too stressful. While we’ve never got around to the Cesky day trip, it’s a VERY beautiful town and a very popular destination for Prague travellers.
Brno, Czech Republic
- Estimated Time to Stay: 2 Nights
- How to Get There: Train or Bus from Prague is inexpensive and about 2 hours 30
We’ve never been to Brno but we’ve heard nice things about the city. We’ll make a point of getting there in the coming months once we get a base all set up in the Netherlands.
Since most people really know about Prague, we’ve heard more and more people heading to Brno for a change of pace, cheaper prices, and less crowds while maintaining the Czech charm. There’s a rich architecture in the city from many styles, including Baroque.
Bratislava and/or Vienna
- Estimated Time to Stay: 1-3 Nights
- How to Get There: From Brno to Vienna OR Bratislava – bus or train is inexpensive and takes 1 hour 30 minutes (approximately).
The next one is up to you when we went on our trip, we stayed in Bratislava for 3 nights. Looking back we probably wouldn’t do that again. Not because of Bratislava the city, but because we travelled in the middle of the winter. The weather made the city kind of depressing and very empty. We went on a day-trip to Vienna which we would recommend if you haven’t been before. Here is a guide on 17 things to do in Vienna if you’re curious!
As mentioned above, for this itinerary you could also stay in Vienna and take a day trip to Bratislava. The cities are less than an hour apart by bus so it’s a really easy trip to make. The highlight of Bratislava is definitely the castle on top of the hill and the old town – and we do recommend seeing those things!
- Estimated Time to Stay: 2-4 Nights
- How to Get There: Bus or Train from Vienna or Bratislava, Bus is generally MUCH cheaper from either.
Eric first visited Budapest during a Europe Trip in 2015. Since Lisa really wanted to see the city, we went together at the beginning of 2018. It’s a city with beautiful architecture that reminded us of Vienna, but with some Eastern European differences. We ended up writing a whole post about what to do in 3 days in Budapest, some great restaurants in Budapest, as well as some of our favourite cafes in the city.
Accommodation for Budapest: Read our massive guide on the best areas to stay in Budapest. You can also just check Booking.com for hotel deals or Hostelworld for great hostels!
- Estimated Time to Stay: 2 Nights
- How to Get There: Take the train from Budapest
The Romanian city we never made it to but wish we had. It is supposed to be a very lively city full of young people so a great place to check out on an Eastern Europe Trip. Since it is quite far north, it is easy to reach from Budapest via train.
Since Romania is not in the Schengen Zone, you’ll probably have to go through a “real” border control. We haven’t done the journey ourselves (planned to, but then decided to fly from Bucharest to Budapest instead) so we can’t give you any details about how exactly it would work. It shouldn’t be too difficult, though.
- Estimated Time to Stay: 3 Nights (longer if you plan on doing more day trips)
- How to Get There: Take the train from Cluj Napoca
On your way from Cluj-Napoca to Bucharest you should consider stopping in Brasov. It is the perfect base for checking out all the sights the that Transylvania has to offer, especially the castles Bran and Peles.
Since we spent quite a few weeks in Brasov at the beginning of 2018, we wrote multiple guides about the area. You should check out the things there are to do in Brasov and potential day trips you could take from Brasov.
Accommodation for Brasov: Check Where to Stay in Brasov – Hotels and Hostels!
- Estimated Time to Stay: 2-3 Nights
- How to Get There: Take the Train from Brasov
If you absolutely wanted to skip Brasov, you could head from Cluj Napoca straight to Bucharest – this would be a long train ride, but it is possible (we would recommend a stop in Brasov though to check out Transylvania). When we visited Bucharest it was raining a ton.
It is one of the up-and-coming cities in Eastern Europe so you should definitely check it out! The tourism industry is still developing so this is a great time to see the authentic Bucharest before it changes too much. You can check out our guide on Bucharest to see what we got up to during our two days there (but don’t expect too much since the weather was terrible).
Accommodation for Bucharest: Check Where to Stay in Bucharest – Hotels and Hostels for All Budgets!
- Estimated Time to Stay: 2 Nights
- How to Get There: Take the Bus Direct from Bucharest or a Bus/Train Combo from Bucharest
If you head further south from Bucharest, you’ll cross into Bulgaria. Varna is the third biggest city of the country and located by the Black Sea. This makes it a perfect stop to enjoy some ocean/beach days in the otherwise inland itinerary.
Depending on if you want to just relax for a few days you might decide to spend a little bit more time here. In the summer, it gets quite hot and the city becomes a popular tourist destination since it has some really nice sandy beaches to offer.
- Estimated Time to Stay: 2 – 3 Nights
- How to Get There: Bus or Train from Varna. You’d see basically the whole country.
This is the official end point of our Eastern Europe itinerary since it is an easy airport to fly out of. Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria and as such worth at least a short visit. In the summer, it can get VERY hot without an ocean breeze so make your time there shorter/longer depending on how well you can handle/enjoy the heat! Lisa doesn’t do great with crazy heat so we keep that in mind when we go!
Also, by this point in the trip you’re pretty far down into the Balkan peninsula. If you want to plan a longer trip and discover some of the Balkans as well, then head over to our Balkan Itinerary (when we write it) and add on the places you want to! For now, you can check out our post on things to do in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina to see if you like it!
And there you have it – our sample Eastern Europe itinerary! Overall, there are just so many places you can visit in this part of Europe. From the large cities to the smaller villages and towns, there’s no shortage of places to discover. Have you been to these places before? What places have we missed that should be included? Feel free to get in touch – we’d love to hear about it to make this itinerary even better!
As always, Happy Eastern Europe Waddlin’,