Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Ultimate List - Eastern Europe's Top 200 Destinations


I've thought long and hard while putting this together, thinking about what it is about a place that makes it stick firmly in my memory for years afterwards. Sometimes it's the grandness of the architecture (Lviv, Ukraine), sometimes it's the beauty and grace of the landscape that surrounds it (Kazbegi, Georgia), sometimes it's the warmth of the people or a memorable local character (Zdiar, Slovakia), and sometimes it's just the outright weirdness of the place (Hunedoara, Romania). I've organised them based on how appealing I think they are for the average tourist to experience; I've included destinations from the European half of Russia and from the Caucasus countries. Be sure to let me know if I forgot one of your favourite places!

1. Prague, Czech Republic
2. Krakow, Poland
3. Budapest, Hungary
4. St. Petersburg, Russia
5. Dubrovnik, Croatia
6. Lviv, Ukraine
7. Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina
8. Moscow, Russia
9. Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
10. Suzdal, Russia
11. Tallinn, Estonia
12. Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina
13. Kyiv, Ukraine
14. Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria
15. Kotor, Montenegro
16. Ohrid, Macedonia
17. The High Tatra Mountains, Slovakia/Poland
18. Tbilisi, Georgia
19. Gdansk, Poland
20. Berat, Albania
21. Hvar, Croatia
22. Wroclaw, Poland
23. Riga, Latvia
24. Ljubljana, Slovenia
25. Kazbegi, Georgia
26. Brasov, Romania
27. Kamyanets Podilsky, Ukraine
28. Piran, Slovenia
29. Vilnius, Lithuania
30. Sighisoara, Romania
31. Rostov Veliky, Russia
32. Plovdiv, Bulgaria
33. Mtskheta, Georgia
34. Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
35. Telc, Czech Republic
36. Sergiev Posad, Russia
37. Rila Mountains and Monastery, Bulgaria
38. Bled, Slovenia
39. Wieliczka Salt Mine, Poland
40. Painted Monasteries of Bucovina, Romania
41. Torun, Poland
42. Spis Castle, Slovakia
43. Malbork Castle, Poland
44. Eger, Hungary
45. Karlstejn Castle, Czech Republic
46. Sibiu, Romania
47. Durmitor National Park, Montenegro
48. Warsaw, Poland
49. Novgorod, Russia
50. Trakai, Lithuania
51. Loket, Czech Republic
52. Koprivstitsa, Bulgaria
53. Curonian Spit, Lithuania/Russia
54. Mikulov, Czech Republic
55. Split, Croatia
56. Banska Stiavnica, Slovakia
57. Esztergom, Hungary
58. Gjirokastra, Albania
59. Zamosc, Poland
60. Rovinj, Croatia
61. Levoca, Slovakia
62. Korcula, Croatia
63. Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic
64. Yaroslavl, Russia
65. Bardejov, Slovakia
66. Khor Virap Monastery, Armenia
67. Zadar, Croatia
68. Wooden churches of Maramures Region, Romania
69. Kruja, Albania
70. Kizhi Island, Russia
71. Odesa, Ukraine
72. Bratislava, Slovakia
73. Olomouc, Czech Republic
74. Zagreb, Croatia
75. Kazan, Russia
76. Sofia, Bulgaria
77. Poznan, Poland
78. Jajce, Bosnia-Herzegovina
79. Yalta, Ukraine
80. Belgrade, Serbia
81. Bakhchysaray, Ukraine
82. Wooden Churches of Presov Region, Slovakia
83. Vladimir, Russia
84. Tryavna, Bulgaria
85. Geghard Monastery, Armenia
86. Fagaras Mountains, Romania
87. Pecs, Hungary
88. Gori, Georgia
89. Sigulda, Latvia
90. Kutna Hora, Czech Republic
91. Tirana, Albania
92. Garni, Armenia
93. Szentendre, Hungary
94. Plyos, Russia
95. Noravank Monastery, Armenia
96. Wooden Churches of Malopolska, Poland
97. Travnik, Bosnia-Herzegovina
98. Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic
99. Kazimierz Dolny, Poland
100. Kosice, Slovakia
101. Biertan, Romania
102. Echmiadzin, Armenia
103. Tartu, Estonia
104. Herceg Novi, Montenegro
105. Kolomyya, Ukraine
106. Khotyn Castle, Ukraine
107. Orava Castle, Slovakia
108. Uglich, Russia
109. Porec, Croatia
110. Trebinje, Bosnia-Herzegovina
111. Krivoklat Castle, Czech Republic
112. Prejmer, Romania
113. Cicmany, Slovakia
114. Bran Castle, Romania
115. Stramberk, Czech Republic
116. Budva, Montenegro
117. Sapanta, Romania
118. Vlkolinec, Slovakia
119. Visegrad, Hungary
120. Tabor, Czech Republic
121. Haghpat Monastery, Armenia
122. Sinaia, Romania
123. Bojnice Castle, Slovakia
124. Pereslavl Zalessky, Russia
125. Slavonice, Czech Republic
126. Krasna Horka Castle, Slovakia
127. Lednice/Valtice Area, Czech Republic
128. Saaremaa Island, Estonia
129. Szeged, Hungary
130. Pula, Croatia
131. Lublin, Poland
132. Sopron, Hungary
133. Zdiar, Slovakia
134. Pernstejn Castle, Czech Republic
135. Wooden Churches of Transcarpathia Region, Ukraine
136. Bitola, Macedonia
137. Prizren, Kosovo
138. Skocjan Caves, Slovenia
139. Trencin, Slovakia
140. Litomysl, Czech Republic
141. Kostroma, Russia
142. Orheil Vechi, Moldova
143. Kremnica, Slovakia
144. Mljet Island, Croatia
145. Skopje, Macedonia
146. Yerevan, Armenia
147. Cetinje, Montenegro
148. Chernivtsi, Ukraine
149. Blagaj, Bosnia-Herzegovina
150. Brno, Czech Republic
151. Kezmarok, Slovakia
152. Bucharest, Romania
153. Pskov, Russia
154. Czestochowa, Poland
155. Lancut Castle, Poland
156. Timisoara, Romania
157. Spania Dolina, Slovakia
158. Hunedoara, Romania
159. Minsk, Belarus
160. Viscri, Romania
161. Vologda, Russia
162. Cluj-Napoca, Romania
163. Butrint, Albania
164. Lake Bohinj, Slovenia
165. Solovetsky Monastery, Russia
166. Nesebar, Bulgaria
167. Monasteries of Fruska Gora, Serbia
168. Ptuj, Slovenia
169. The Hill of Crosses near Siauliai, Lithuania
170. Nizny Novgorod, Russia
171. Arbanasi, Armenia
172. Konopiste Castle, Czech Republic
173. Ostrog Monastery, Montenegro
174. Sozopol, Bulgaria
175. Trogir, Croatia
176. Sheki, Azerbaijan
177. Rasnov Castle, Romania
178. Pannonhalma Monastery, Hungary
179. Adrspach-Teplice Rock Towns, Czech Republic
180. Shkodra, Albania
181. Ulcinj, Montenegro
182. Baku, Azerbaijan
183. Terezin, Czech Republic
184. Bogolyubovo, Russia
185. Lake Matka, Macedonia
186. Gyor, Hungary
187. Kromeriz, Czech Republic
188. Iasi, Romania
189. Brest, Belarus
190. Litomerice, Czech Republic
191. Kecskemet, Hungary
192. Betliar Chateau, Slovakia
193. Cesis, Latvia
194. Peja, Kosovo
195. Holloko, Hungary
196. Mir Castle, Belarus
197. Chisinau, Moldova
198. Bieszczady National Park, Poland
199. Kaunas, Lithuania
200. Batumi, Georgia

15 comments:

  1. A lot of gems here, amazed that you've been to all of these. I count 73 for myself but I am planning a trip to Georgia and Armenia so I'd expect to push my total higher.

    Like most lists, there is not so much rhyme or reason to the exact order - although I love that Suzdal, Sarajevo and Lviv (!) are in your Top 10. Personally, I really detest Budapest and I never understand why many travelers talk it up so much, but I'm sure many would also have it in their top spots. I don't think Dubrovnik has enough to offer to warrant a #1 ranking. Essential visiting yes (when cruise shippers are not present) but Prague, St. Peters and other cities have far more to offer. I'd also have places like Tartu and Chernivtsi higher than Bucharest, which usually ranks high on people's least favorite lists. Of course I am nit picking, this is an awesome list!

    I think you could have placed a few more nature spots on the list, like Durmitor, Tara Canyon, Tatras or Kornati Islands. But maybe you have not been there (yet)? One last request, please reconsider Koper. I love Slovenia, it's my favorite country, but put Skocjan caves, Goriska Brda wine region or Idrija on there instead.

    Regards,
    Andrew

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  2. And I'd love to see you put some remarks about why you chose each place or perhaps a little tip for travelers regarding many of these spots!

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  3. Hi Andrew!

    I created this list with both my own preferences and with the interests of the average person in mind, hence the usual popular places are at the top of the list. If I made a list that was solely based on my own favourites, it would look quite different, and certainly Prague/Budapest/Dubrovnik would feature much lower down. Lviv and Sarajevo are featured in the Top 10 because I think they are shamefully unknown in the eyes of most travellers, and are certainly two of the most memorable cities in the region. I placed Bucharest quite highly because I like the grimy, rough around the edges atmosphere of the place, and enjoyed the experience of hunting for the city's churches and historic buildings among the concrete. Ugly it may be, but I certainly don't find it boring. A list of my favourites would have a lot of villages on it as well, I have a great liking for traditional Carpathian mountain villages, particularly those of east Slovakia, Transcarpathian Ukraine and Maramures in Romania.
    I also set about creating the list with cities and towns in mind, and hence there aren't any natural sites on it, except for a few like Lake Matka in Macedonia that is both a natural and historic site because of its churches.
    As for Slovenia, the only other places I've been in the country are Maribor and Portoroz, I certainly need to visit Skocjan and Goriska Brda at some point in the future. Kotor is clearly nowhere near as nice as Piran, but I remember having an enjoyable time there in the old town, so I decided to put it in.
    Thanks for your comments, it's nice to meet someone else who is well-travelled in the lesser-known corners of the region. I'll see what I can do about posting a description of each place, it will take some time!
    I live in Bratislava, are you also based in the region?
    Cheers,
    Geoff

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  4. I live in Seattle but I've been running small group and custom tours to Eastern/Central Europe for the past 5 years. I started my business because I really loved Slovenia and her Balkan neighbors and now I am including some new tours to places like Maramures, Bucovina, Chernovcy and Lviv as well as the Baltics.

    I have not been to Slovakia yet. One of the few countries that for whatever reason I have not seen. Would like to see Spis castle and the Uniate wooden churches and Eastern Slovakia.

    What do you do in Bratislava? I am assuming you are not from there originally. I might be nearby in May or late September, maybe we can hook up for a beer or I hear that wine in the "small Carpathians" is pretty good?

    -Andrew [roadslesstraveled@me.com]

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  5. Hi Andrew,

    that sounds like an interesting business to be in, do you run the tours yourself, or operate with local guides?
    Slovakia has much to offer (see the latest entry on this blog). I think the Greek-Catholic and Orthodox wooden churches of the far east of the country are among the most unique sights, they are equally as interesting as the Maramures wooden churches (as are the villages that surround them), and both share many common design characteristics that are found throughout the Carpathian chain. Spis Castle is one of the most-visited places in the country, but there are several dozen castles that strongly warrant a visit, I particularly like Orava Castle and Krasna Horka Castle, while Devin Castle near Bratislava probably has the most interesting history due to its strategic position on a cliff above the Danube.
    Here in Bratislava I work as a teacher and translator for a number of different clients, primarily Slovak government ministries and the National Bank. Feel free to drop me a line if you're going to be in the area, I'm here year-round except for July and August when I'm off travelling or at home in Canada.
    cheers,
    Geoff

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  6. Litomyšl in the Czech Republic is the most glaring of my favourites that have been left off the list. Much nicer than Kromeriz, Loket or Mikulov for my money at least...

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  7. Hi Captain! Yes, I agree, Litomysl deserves a place on the list, that's one place I forgot about. I prefer Loket and Mikulov, but I'd rank it higher than Kromeriz.

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  8. What an impressive list! I count 79 places I've visited, I still have a long way to go... For Georgia, I'm surprised to see you picked Kazbegi over Shatili or Ushguli.

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  9. Hi Florian, thanks for the comments! While in Georgia I didn't go to Shatili or Ushgili, I need to return for a more complete journey through Svaneti and the northern regions. Terrific food in Georgia, I assume you are using some traditional Georgian recipes?

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  10. I am, hopefully they'll slowly make their way on my blog!

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  11. I really miss Khachapuri and Kharcho soup! Khinkali too... I remember a common dish that was made with spinach, do you know what it's called?

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  12. Hi.
    Isn't "169. Šiauliai, Lithuania" misleading? If it's about the city itself then it should be at least after "199. Kaunas, Lithuania" as it is really nothing special for any foreigner, or there should be, say, Klaipėda or Druskininkai or Palūšė instead. And if it is about the Hill of Crosses, then it's not in Šiauliai but in Jurgaičiai. Actually, like "Curonian Spit", it is not a town but a place.
    Sometimes for the tourists it is unpleasant surprise to learn that in order to get to the Hill of Crosses it's not enough to get to Šiauliai - and they see that they have no enough time.

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  13. Hi Trikipiki,

    I agree with you, it should be clearer that #169 means the Hill of Crosses and not just the city of Šiauliai (which is quite bland), I will change it to "Hill of Crosses near Šiauliai, LT". The hill is about 10km north of the city as I recall, I took a local bus to get there. I remember when making this list I considered Klaipeda and Druskininkai as possible places to be included, but they didn't make the final 200.

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  14. I've been to 18 places on the list. I'm surprised to see Cluj-Napoca. Two Romanian cities that I liked more were Târgu Mureș and especially Oradea.
    Another deserving city for the list is Subotica, Serbia. It pairs very nicely with Szeged. My favorite Hungarian szecesszió building is the Raichle Palota, located in Subotica.
    I'm happy to see Slavonice rated so high. The train ride from Telč is very pleasant as is the walk from the train station to the center. The two adjoining square are among the best in the country.
    Timisoara was a disappointment because I happen to be there (2014) while many streets and squares in the center were dug up as restoration work to city's core had just begun.

    Speaking of squares, I like to see you create list(s) of the best squares. One well worth considering from a destination on not your top 200 is the Piața Unirii in Oradea.

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    1. Hi John,
      This list is more than six years old now and I see that it could use some updating, I've visited many more places since then that are worth including. I'm not sure why Subotica isn't included, I'd already been there back in 2005 and it certainly deserves a place. I remember considering Oradea for the list and it just missed the cut, if I work on an updated version I'll probably expand it to 250 places. I still haven't been to Târgu Mureș, though from photographs it looks like a worthy contender. From the 200 listed here I've now been to 166, about 35 more than when I made this back in 2010.

      Slavonice is one of my favourite places in CZ, while living in Prague I spent several summer weekends there.

      I like the idea of a list of best town squares, I could make one for Central Europe and for individual countries like PL, CZ, etc.

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