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Top 10 Capitals in Eastern Europe

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Couple of days ago there was an interesting article from Euromonitor that reported a list of 100 most visited cities in the World (according to data from 2011). The report shows somewhat expected results – the enormous expansion in the number of visits to Asian cities – but also some surprising data, for which I encourage You to read the text and check some great pictures below.

 

This article of Top 10 Capitals in Eastern Europe containing some greatly underestimated cities is based on the same data, but we went a bit deeper and wrote down what we think is maybe the reason of popularity these cities have. If you think you know everything about Eastern Europe, you might be in for a surprise.

 

Here we go: (NOTE: THIS IS A SLIDESHOW, READ AND CLICK FOR NEXT SLIDE)

 

10. Minsk, Belarus

A 1,000 year old city with the 80% of buildings being destroyed during World War II, Minsk is yet another mixture of the Soviet-style USSR inherited-, and modern digital-era buildings. People say Minsk is the most "soviet" town in the area. Organized bus tours can quickly show you all the important places in Minsk, which is a good start if you are short on time.

What not to miss when in town: Victory Square, Island of Tears, Minsk Motorcycle Factory, Golden Coffee restaurant (its a chain of restaurants, lots of them), or Tovarisch restaurant for authentic Russian, Ukrainian and off course Belarus dishes.

Interesting: Hank Azaria's character in Friends was sent to Minsk to do some research. Louis Burt Mayer, one of the founders of the Metro-Goldwin-Mayer company was born in Minsk. Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged sniper who shot John F. Kennedy used to live in Minsk for a short period of time.

9. Sofia, Bulgaria

Sofia is sheltered in a ring of mountains whose outlines have become the hallmark of the city. Overlooked as a tourist destination, but well worth visiting and touring. Lots of "greens" make it especially attractive in spring and summer. Quite eclectic architecture, from ancient Roman ruins, massive socialist era state buildings to modern aluminium and glass office towers, often neighbouring each other.

What not to miss when in town: Follow the yellow brick road! Also check Borisovata Gradina park, the little shops, the hidden cafes. Try some of the local food: musaka and ghyuvetch is a must, try also white hard "sirene" cheese and the famous "kiselo mlyako" yoghurt.

Interesting: Nina Dobrev, the beautiful actress from a popular TV Show "Vampire Diaries" is from Sofia. Football (soccer) is a very popular sport here, Levski Sofia is so far the only Bulgarian team to made it into the UEFA Champions League (group stages, 2006) which is the most prestigious football tournament in Europe.

8. Tallinn, Estonia

Unfairly placed off the usual path of Eastern European cities, Tallin is a mixture of medival buildings, castles and world famous high tech companies headquartered in modern skyscrapers. Tallinn's Old Town is in the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. Rich history. Good nightlife. Great food, with restaurants that compete for prestigeous awards, check this link).

What not to miss when in town: The Old Town, KGB Museum, Beer House, Viru Keskus shopping centre.

Interesting: Skype originates from Tallinn and still has the largest office in this city. Famous model Carmen Kass was born in Tallinn.

7. Athens, Greece

There is not enough room on Internet to show the importance and glory of this city. One of the oldest continually populated cities in the world, with recorded history which goes back 3,000 years. Newely its a popular business place, in ancient times it was a center of philosophy, arts, and a birthplace to many of the greatest philosopher minds of all times. Athens is one of the most densely populated cities in the World, if you are visiting, be ready to see some crowd.

What not to miss when in town: Monastiraki Flea Market, The Parthenon, Acropolis, Piraeus, The Agora.

Interesting: Athens is considered as a cradle of the modern world, being a "birthplace of Democracy".

6. Bucharest, Romania

Capital of Romania is a city of mixed feelings. One can't really put it to a right spot. It is only here that you can see a glorious flashy completely renewed building on one side of the street, and a ruin from Nicolae Ceaușescu's time with broken windows and chained doors on the other. The City has its very own feeling, its like it breaths its own history in and out. Very interesting city with room for improvement, but also with a lot of potential. Definitely deserves a chance.

What not to miss when in town: The Romanian Parliament, Piaţa Universităţii, Village Museum, Old Town, Calea Victoriei, Baneasa shopping mall.

Interesting: The Romanian Parliament (officially: Palatul Parlamentului, by locals called Casa Poporului) is the worlds largest parliament. It is 12 stores tall, goes 86 meters high and 96 meters under the ground, has 4 underground levels and 1.100 rooms. It is the worlds 2nd largest administrative building after the Pentagon in USA. (NOTE: the picture shows Romanian Athenaeum, the concert hall, and not the Parliament!)

5. Warsaw, Poland

Greatly developed in the last couple of years, Warsaw finally got its own deserved place under the Sun. A beautiful city with tragic history that clearly left a mark. Some of the premises are better avoided, but the capital of Poland still has great places to show. Rich culture, great people and huge industry that works well (the best in Eastern Europe). Warsaw deserves a good place among the important cities in the region.

What not to miss when in town: The old town is a picturesque part, and it is a must. Even if you don't have time for anything else the Old Town will be well worth a visit! Also check some of the WWII memorabilia, or the Copernicus Science Centre, Lazienki Park, and for shopping go to the Golden Terraces Shopping Centre.

Interesting: Marie Sklodowska-Curie (physicist and chemist, the first woman to receive the Nobel prize) was born in Warsaw. Fryderyk Chopin, one of the greatest piano composers of all times was also from Warsaw.

5. Kyiv, Ukraine

Despite being off the map of popular cities, the capital of Ukraine is a great city with happy, friendly people, lots of things to see, and even more things to do both day and night. Being cheaper than most of the Eastern Europe only makes it more desirable for people on a budget. Be sure to visit during Spring or Summer if you want to avoid the weather of -29 degrees Celsius.

What not to miss when in town: Mykola Syadristy Microminiatures Museum, Mother Motherland statue (taller than the Statue of Liberty in NYC), Kiev-Pechersk Lavra - Caves Monastery, Pirogovo Open-Air Museum, try the restaurants and the pubs downtown for some good night-life experience.

Interesting: Mila Jovovich (actress), Michail Bulgakov (writer), Klitchko Brothers (world famous boxers) and Zino Davidoff (the "father" of Davidoff tobacco) all originate from Kyiv.

3. Prague, Czech Republic

One of the top destination in Eastern Europe. Known by many for different reasons: great authentic pubs (check Zizkov part of city), the mind-blowing Gothic architecture, the great parties and fun places to go, or the Prague Spring and the "Velvet Revolution" for those who love history. If you go at peak times be prepared for it to be very, very crowded, to wait in lines, not to hear Czech language at all and pay more for everything. Better go off season (if there is such a thing).

What not to miss when in town: Charles Bridge, the Castle and especially the Golden Lane, the Jewish Quarter, and anything downtown. Just walk around you cannot be disappointed. Every corner of Prague is a gem.

Interesting: Home town to many World famous people such as: Franz Kafka (writer), Jiri Menzel (film director), Vaclav Havel (one of the most loved politicians in Europe), Martina Navratilova (world class tennis player).

2. Moscow, Russia

A magnificent metropolis still in the reachable part of Europe. The city that oozes with history, passion and lately with billionaires. City that would rather burn to the ground than be conquered, city of great spirit, the capital of Russia. Moscow is huge. Like, bigger than anything else that is huge. So don't try to go there for only a short period of time.

What not to miss when in town: Red Square, Kremlin, Bolsoi Ballet if you're into that stuff, GUM and TSUM for "window-shopping" (if you are not on the list of mentioned billionaires, you probably cannot afford to shop there anyway), Gorky Park, and at least a dozen of other places not mentioned here. Don't go there during the winter if you cannot bare with the -40 degrees Celcius!

Interesting: Moscow has the most billionaires in the world (79 as of 2011). New York holds the 2nd place with 58. The whole UK has "only" 73.

1. Budapest, Hungary

Capital of Hungary seems to be one of the new favorite locations for tourists. No wonder: stunning architecture, great places for dining or night-life, but still quite affordable even for the "not-so-deep" pocket. Although we see a positive change between the younger generation, most of the Hungarians don't speak English. Nor German. Nor French. I mean, nothing but Hungarian. So its good to be prepared. Learn couple of the basic words, and you'll be fine and Hungarians will actually love you for it!

What not to miss when in town: Budai Castle, Chain Bridge, the Parliament, Heroes Square and the City Park behind it, the coffee places on Liszt Ferenz square, any of the ruin pubs, shops in Fashion Street or at one of the big Shopping Malls (Mom Park, Mammut, Westend, Arena Plaza).

Interesting: Budapest is very much loved by the film industry. Several Hollywood blockbusters were shot there, "Good Day to Die Hard" or parts of "Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol" just to name some.

 

Below you can find this list of Top 10 Capitals in Eastern Europe by a number of visits to this destination. The numbers represent the place in the list of Top 100 Cities Destination Ranking, and the number of visits (number times thousand visitors in 2011). One note, the Estonian capital, Tallinn was not presented in the original paper, but I included it because it deserves a place on the list and it meets the criteria too (the Tallins data was obtained from here).

 

  1. Budapest, Hungary – 25 – 4376.9
  2. Moscow, Russia – 27 – 4170
  3. Prague, Czech Republic – 29 – 3759.5
  4. Kiev, Ukraine – 35 – 3371.6
  5. Warsaw, Poland – 36 – 3351.2
  6. Bucharest, Romania – 56 – 2350
  7. Athens, Greece – 82 – 1786.6
  8. Tallinn, Estonia – N/A – 1498,5 
  9. Bulgaria, Sofia – 96 – 1468
  10. Minsk, Belarus – 98 – 1437.7 

It is really interesting to compare how some cities are gaining huge popularity (compared with data from the previous year), and some lose their “power”.

 

I was personally quite surprised to see Prague on the 3rd place here, since it is by far one of the most popular Tourist destinations in the World. And I wouldn’t have guessed that Budapest, Hungary will be the first on this list. It was also extremely high on the list of cities in the whole Europe, surpassed only by London, Antalya, Istanbul, Paris, Rome and Barcelona.

 

On the other hand, it is sad not to see some other really great Eastern European capitals on this list, cities like Belgrade (Serbia), Bratislava (Slovakia), Vilnius (Lithuania) or Zagreb (Croatia), but the fact is that they didn’t meet the criteria. We will definitely cover them in another post.

If you are considering traveling to Eastern Europe you might want to check out one of the guides we endorse, like for example Rick Steve’s Eastern Europe available on Amazon for a really affordable price, and whats the best about it, it has a Kindle edition too (sorry bookworms, I’m a huge fan of Kindle).

Whats your favorite Eastern European city? What hidden gem did you find in them? Comment below, let us know what you really think.
About the author

Nenad Andricsek

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