Your Eastern Europe Itinerary: 2 Weeks in 6 Countries

Ultimate Eastern Europe Itinerary: 2 weeks in 6 countries

Eastern Europe is my home region and also the one I have explored best. For the last couple of years we travel around the region by car a couple of times a year, and there is always something new to discover. But Eastern Europe is also the region, where a lot of charm is hidden behind the grey housing blocks, gloomy weather and the lack of information in English, so you really have to look hard for it. That is why I have decided to compile this detailed (very detailed!) Eastern Europe Itinerary: 2 Weeks in 6 Countries, taking you to some beautiful places, and trying to balance the large capitals like Prague and Budapest with small and less known pearls like Bialystok and Heviz.

Keep in mind that a patient (or good at scrolling) reader will be rewarded! Keep reading and you’ll get a prize.

Before we start with our Eastern Europe tour itinerary, let me give you some tips for the trip.

General Information for your Best Eastern Europe Itinerary: 2 Weeks

Currency in Eastern Europe:

With this Eastern Europe trip itinerary you will cross several countries, having different currencies. Lithuania, Austria and Slovakia use Euro, Poland – Polish Zloty (PLN), Hungary – Hungarian Forint (HUF), Czech Republic – Koruna (CZK).

If you get too much foreign cash, it is sometimes difficult to spend it later, so you end up wasting money. I would suggest having a bit just for the basic needs (like a paid toilet in the deepest countryside). In most countries you can pay by card in most hotels, restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops, so you won’t even feel the need for the cash.

Tip: When paying by card, in some countries (like Poland) you may be asked: “Would you like to pay in Euro or in Polish Zloty?” If this question pops up, chose the local currency – in most cases your bank will have a better exchange rate than theirs.

Speaking of exchanging cash, the best option to do that would depend on the country. In Lithuania I would recommend going to a proper bank, while in Hungary your best bet is to go to a small kiosk marked “Change” in a very touristic location (something I would NEVER do in most countries). The rule of thumb here is not to change the money in the airport and (depending on the fees of your bank) take your money from the ATM.

Phone and internet in Eastern Europe:

With the new roaming regulation, the roaming charges between most of the European Union countries are lifted. So, for this trip I would recommend buying a pre-paid SIM card from Lithuania and using it for the rest of the trip. The prices for local calls and internet in Lithuania are ridiculously low (the price tag usually starts with „0,0… euro“), and you can by a TELE2 Pildyk card in almost any press kiosk or shopping mall.

Accommodation in Eastern Europe:

I am giving tips for the hotels for each place you will be visiting on your journey, however, if you are more a live-like-a-local type of person or a big party, AirBnB might be a better option. If you have never tried it, this might be the time – grab your 25 Euro discount code here.

Allergies and special diets:

The last word of warning. Eastern Europe has a somewhat more relaxed attitude towards allergies, which may result in some allergens not clearly marked on the menus. If you are allergic to something, take your time to google-translate the name of the product into local languages and show it to the waiter to double-check.

The same goes for all the products you would like to avoid in your meal, like meat, fish, dairy, eggs or others. Believe me, I had many occasions, when the waiter would recommend some soup as a „vegetarian“ just because it does not have chunks of meat swimming in it (while still consisting mostly of a hearty beef broth).

Best time to travel to Eastern Europe:

I would say summer will be the easiest season to pack for and to get around, but this will depend on your taste. Winter in Poland and Lithuania can get very cold and snowy, with temperatures dropping as low as -20C. At the same time the region can be very charming with snow and Christmas markets. Summer is the best season in Lithuania, but can be too hot in Hungary, where +35C is considered “slightly warm” in July.

Now you’ve received your Eastern Europe travel tips, so let’s start our trip!

Day 1: Vilnius, Lithuania

Vilnius, Lithuania
View over Vilnius from one of (many) hills. Photo by Photful Photography.

It is only correct to start your Eastern European road trip in Vilnius – the most amazing city in the world (oh, I usually get a bit carried away speaking about it). But really Vilnius is a great starting base for your trip, having a small cosy airport, served by international airlines, including many low costs. Even better, Vilnius aiport is only 15 mins drive from the old town.

A good start sets the tone for the rest of the trip, so let’s make it a perfect day. Get going with a sweet or savoury breakfast in Pinavija or one of other many amazing cafes, and then off you venture exploring the old town of Vilnius, one of the biggest preserved old towns of Eastern Europe. Being rather large, it is at the same time pretty walkable, so you can see most of the sights in one day.

Don’t forget to relax with a glass of local craft beer or blackcurrant wine in Uzupio Cafe, overlooking the river of Vilnele. Find out more about the sights of Vilnius here.

Where to stay:

Budget: UrbiHop
Splurge: Luxurious Kempinski Hotel

Where to eat:

Coffee: Crooked Nose and Coffee Stories 
Dinner: Get some traditional Lithuanian food in Leiciai
Drinks: Best cocktails in town are in Salionas
What to eat in Vilnius: Cepelinai, Potato Pancakes, Pink cold beetroot soup called Saltibarsciai and cake Sakotis.

 

Day 2: Bialystok, Poland

Bialystok, Poland, Branicki palace
Branicki Palace in Bialystok

From Vilnius you continue your journey to Bialystok in Poland. It is a rather long drive, so if you get hungry or tired on your way, stop for a great meal in the town of Augustow in Ogrodek pod Jabloniami overlooking the canal.

Located close to the borders of Lithuania and Belarus, the Polish town of Bialystok is a true Eastern European city, although it is not often included in the Eastern Europe travel itinerary. It has everything – markets, parks, great restaurants, bars and shopping options. The only thing it does not have is an airport, with the closest located in Vilnius and Warsaw. But now this is good for you, as you have a chance to see something less discovered by other tourists.

Before the World War II the town (like many other Eastern European towns in the region) was very different from what it is now. The Jewish population was 20%, 20% of Russians, 20% of Polish. The rest – Germans, Lithuanian, others. It was all wooden, but is now rebuilt, offering an interesting mix of old and new architecture and some amazing street art.

Bialystok also has a rather great value for money accommodation, so make sure you have a good rest before continuing your trip to Warsaw. For more information, check our my article on Bialystok, Poland.

Where to stay:

Budget: Hotel Lesny
Splurge: Hotel Branicki

Where to eat:

Coffee: All things chocolate and coffee – Wedel
Dinner: Restaurant Babka, Lipowa 2
Drinks: The Sherlock Holmes
What to eat in Bialystok: Local beer, pierogi with anything and game.

 

Day 3: Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw, Poland
Summer in the city – Warsaw can be so charming!

Today we arrive to Warsaw, the capital of Poland. Although many tourists skip it and opt for Krakow, I think it would be a mistake not seeing it. After all, travel is not only about seeing ancient old towns and charming nature. And Warsaw can offer cultural events, museums, original bars and restaurants, theatres and libraries.

Warsaw was almost fully destroyed during the World War II and later rebuilt in my least favourite years of architecture – 50-70’s. That resulted in the rather fake-looking reconstructed old town and the rest of the city filled with the grey block houses. When you first come to Warsaw, you are unlikely to be charmed by its beauty from the first sight – but give it a try!

Check out the Old (New) Town with the symbol of Warsaw – a militant-looking mermaid, and later go on to explore the new creative hub of Warsaw Copernicus Science Centre. Finish the day with a stroll in one of the parks and a burger with great local beer (yes, the beer will be the highlight of this trip!).

Where to stay:

Budget: Hotel Logos
Splurge: Hotel InterContinental with the rooftop swimming pool.

Where to eat:

Coffee: Ministerstwo Kawy
Dinner: KrowaZywa, the best vegan burger I have ever had. And some of the best lemonades to pair it with.
Drinks: Kita Koguta
What to eat in Warsaw: Bigos and local beer

Day 4: Krakow, Poland

Krakow, Poland
Krakow in bloom

From Warsaw our Eastern Europe itinerary brings us further south to the city of Krakow. I’ve allocated a day to explore it, but I would definitely understand if you decide to spend more time here.

Krakow is the second largest city in Poland and one of the oldest, with its old town recognized as a part of the UNESCO heritage list. The Jagiellonian University in Krakow is one of the oldest universities in the world. When you are there, make sure you visit the Wawel Cathedral and the Royal Castle, and as many churches as you possibly can.

Where to stay:

Budget: Avena Hotel
Splurge: Hotel Alexander

Where to eat:

Coffee: Massolit, one of my favourite old bookstores and cafes
Dinner: For dinner and vodka try Starka
Drinks: Even more vodka in Wodka
What to eat in Krakow: Oscypek cheese and kielbasa

Day 5: Kosice, Slovakia

Kosice, Slovakia
Amazing architecture of Kosice in Slovakia.

Today you will have a rather long drive from Krakow in Poland to Budapest in Hungary. My suggestion is to split this distance in half, and I know just a perfect place to do this: Kosice, Slovakia. This town will be right on your way and should not be missed. While in Lithuania and Poland you might have felt one kind of atmosphere, here the architecture, the food and the lifestyle are different. Whether it is the vibe of Austrian-Hungarian Empire still hanging in the air I’m not sure, but I’m pretty sure here you will already start feeling that Eastern Europe is not as homogenous piece of geography you might have imagined it to be.

So, Kosice. Staying in one location, it has moved from Transylvania to the Ottoman Empire, to Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia – finally finding its place in the current Slovakia. But cities like this have so much charm for me, because throughout this turbulent history they keep some parts of each invading empire and only get richer in culture.

To get some rest from driving, wander around Hlavna Ulica (the Main Street), check out the largest church in Slovakia: St. Elisabeth Cathedral, the cathedral of Kosice and the State theatre. Enjoy some coffee and cake in one of many Vienna-style cafes. And finally, remember that Kosice region makes some nice wines. So, have a rest from the usual beer!

Where to stay:

Budget: Kosice Hostel
Splurge: Hotel Ambassador

Where to eat:

Coffee: Coffee and cake in San Domenico
Dinner: Dine in the independent republic at Republica Vychodu 
Drinks: Local beer in Staromestska Pivovaren
What to eat in Kosice: Dumplings and local wine

Day 6: Budapest, Hungary: Pest Side

eastern europe itinerary 2 weeks
Budapest after the sunset from Gellert Hill.

I give you two days for Budapest, not only because it is a truly amazing place and even a month here would not be enough. No, it is also because the Danube river splits it into two parts: Pest and Buda. Let’s start with Pest (because it’s so much cooler!).

So, one of the most impressive parts of Budapest is the Parliament. Take a stroll around and a short (up to one hour) guided tour inside. Then continue to the Szent István Basilica and remember to grab a super-instagrammable rose-shaped ice-cream in a small cafe right next to it.

For a proper meal and some paprika-themed souvenirs shop at the Central Market Hall (Vásárcsarnok). And after that head to check the Dohány Street Synagogue, which is the largest synagogue in Europe. Walk on Andrassy ut to admire the Opera House and further to the House of Terror, one of the most impressive museums on the subject of World War II and the post-war period.

And finally, the Andrassy ut will take you to the Heroes’ Square, and from there to the City Park and Vajdahunyad Castle. Finish your sightseeing tour there in the nearby Szechenyi baths.

After the baths, feeling completely recharged, find your way back to the city centre and visit one of the ruin bars, so popular in Budapest, like Szimpla Kert.

 

Day 7: Budapest, Hungary: Buda Side

Budapest, Hunagry - Buda side
Budapest, Hunagry – Buda side and the Castle in the fog

I hope you did not get too tired yesterday, because Buda side is awaiting, and this tour will involve some climbing. Start your trip in the Fisherman’s Bastion to admire not only its beautiful architecture, but also the panorama of the Danube, Margaret Island, and Pest.

From there continue to the Matthias Church, and further to the Buda Castle. And if you are not feeling claustrophobic, try visiting the underground Buda’s caves.

To learn more about the Ottoman past of Budapest, you could pay a visit to the Tomb of Gül Baba. It is a beautiful and peaceful place, which is the best during spring when the rose garden is in full bloom.

To finish off the day with the last climb, go to Gellert Hill during the sunset to see the most magnificent panorama of Budapest. And later, to rest your tired feet there is nothing better than Gellert Bath – one of the most luxurious thermal baths.

Where to stay:

Budget: Santico Art Hotel and Hostel
Splurge: Historical Danubius Hotel

Where to eat:

Coffee: Great coffee in Fekete
Dinner: My absolute favourite forever – 400
Drinks: Ankert or Szimpla Kert
What to eat in Budapest: Gulash soup, potato pancakes called Tocsni, paprikash.

 

Day 8-9: Lake Balaton, Hungary

Lake Balaton, Hungary
It is hard to find just as relaxing a place as Lake Balaton.

If you are doing this trip in summer, you might want to add more days to your planned 2 weeks in Eastern Europe and have a proper Balaton summer. But remember that Lake Balaton is also charming off season, and you will still find enough things to do.

You can start your trip in Siofok, the unofficial capital of Balaton. This town has a central square with a huge water tower and plenty of bars, clubs and restaurants.

Other towns you might want to stop by are Balatonfured and Csopak. These are smaller, and you can take a ferry there from Siofok to catch some amazing views and to rest from the endless driving.

However, there are some things you absolutely must visit while near Lake Balaton. One of them is Tihany – a little town on the hill overlooking the lake, surrounded with lavender fields. The name of Tihany comes from the word meaning “quiet” and it is indeed a relaxing place.

Another one to visit is the town of Heviz with its thermal springs. There are many of those in Hungary, but Heviz actually has a hot lake. If you are doing this trip in winter, it will be very cool to go for a swim in the lake.

Where to stay:

Budget: Apartman Bella Hotel
Splurge: Relax in Hotel Silverline Lake Residence

Where to eat:

Coffee: Not only coffee, but also cocktails in Karolina Kavehaz
Dinner: Baricska Csarda 
Drinks: Figula Wine Bar
What to eat near Balaton: Great local wine and fish soup

 

Day 10: Bratislava, Slovakia

Bratislava Castle, Slovakia
Bratislava Castle view from the Danube river. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Bratislava, Slovakia is not a big city, and will be just right to get you back into the city sightseeing mood after the nature of Lake Balaton. You will be able to see most of the sights at a relaxed pace and still have some time for a slow coffee and dinner.

Start your trip at St Michael’s Gate – a part of the former fortification of the city. At the moment it features a museum, and you can also climb all the way up to see the Bratislava from above. When you are done with the Gate, don’t forget to look under your feet and find the golden circle in the pavement, marking the distance from Bratislava to other capitals in the world.

Continue your trip to St Martin’s Cathedral and from there on to Bratislava Castle. If you did not climb up the St Michael’s Gate earlier, now is the time, as you can see both the city and the Danube river from the castle.

After lunch, walk around Bratislava Old Town and check out some statues, starting with the most iconic one – Cumil (a man peeking out from the manhole). After that make sure you find the statues of Schöne Náci and Napoleon. I really love how casually those sculptures blend in (in comparison to the sticking out men on horses we tend to get in Lithuania). While there, check out the Blue Church, built in Art Nouveau style.

At sunset, go to the UFO Observation Deck to get the best view over Bratislava and the surroundings. It also has a restaurant, so you can extend your visit by enjoying a meal with the view.

Where to stay:

Budget: Garni Hotel Virgo
Splurge: Apollo Hotel

Where to eat:

Coffee: Urban House
Dinner: Modra Hviezda
Drinks: Bratislavský Meštiansky Pivovar
What to eat in Bratislava: Halusky, potato pancakes and local beer.

 

Day 11: Vienna, Austria

Vienna, Austria
Schönbrunn Palace Garden in Vienna, Austria. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Start your day in Vienna with a local coffee. Then, to get an idea of the city, if it is your first time visit, I would suggest to get on a Ringtram to have a 30 minutes tour of the Ringstrasse boulevard. On your way you will see many of the sights, which you can later visit at your own pace.

After you have gotten your first impression, you have a day to explore Vienna a bit deeper. Start with the very centre: Stephansplatz with its St. Stephen’s Cathedral. From there walk on Graben all the way to the imperial palace of Hofburg. If you want to explore the palace inside, it might take at least couple of hours, so it all depends on your preferences.

After grabbing your lunch somewhere in or near Naschmarkt, head to Schönbrunn Palace, where Empress Sissi used to live. Relax by walking around the beautiful gardens.

Finally, if you still have energy and time left, you might want to visit Prater – the biggest and the oldest theme park in Vienna. Compared to the new modern one, it might not seem very impressive, but it does have some old school charm. For me it was the must-do attraction just because it appears in my favourite Erik Maria Remark’s books. If you get there, take a ride on the ferris wheel!

A little political note: I am fully aware that Austria by no means can be added to the region of Eastern Europe (and many more countries from the list get upset to be called that and prefer Central Europe or Northern Europe). Without getting into this debate, let me just say that it does fit in the general atmosphere and route of this itinerary and this was the main motive for adding it.

Where to stay:

Budget: Pension Lehrerhaus
Splurge: Hotel Karntnerhof

Where to eat:

Coffee: Iconic Cafe Landtmann
Dinner: Nachmarkt area with all possible restaurants and street food
Drinks: Needle Vinyl Bar
What to eat in Vienna: Wiener Schnitzel and Apple Strudel

Day 12: Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
Red roofs of Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Prepare to spend a day in an Eastern European fairy-tale. The town of Cesky Krumlov is just that. While you are there, explore the Castle and its gardens, climb up the tower overseeing the whole town, stroll through the narrow colourful streets of Cesky Krumlov old town.

If you are keen on visiting the museums and the castle, have in mind that you can get the Cesky Krumlov City Card, which will cost under 15 euro and will give you access to the main touristic sights.

Where to stay:

Budget: Pension Barbakan
Splurge: Hotel Grand

Where to eat:

Coffee: Apotheka cafe bar at Latrán 46
Dinner: Svejk
Drinks: Drinks and live music in Cikanska Jizba
What to eat in Cesky Krumlov: Savoury strudel

Day 13-14: Prague, Czech Republic

Snow in Prague, Czech Republic
Snow in Prague, Czech Republic

Prague is named the Gem of Eastern Europe for a reason, so I leave you two days to find out that reason.

Start your journey in the Old Town of Prague and its core: The Old Town Square, where you will see the City Hall, Kinsky Palace, the Church of St. Nicolas and the Church of Our Lady in front of Tyn and – you cannot miss, as you will see all the eyes directed towards it – the Astronomical Clock. I remember seeing it for the first time when I was 12, and at that time it was the most magical thing I have ever seen in my life. I asked my parents again and again to come back to the square for the hourly show called “The Walks of the Apostles”.

Head to the Havel Market for some Trdelnik, fruit and souvenirs, including famous Czech crystal.

After the shopping, continue to Charles Bridge over the Vltava river, generously decorated with statues and towers. Admire the State Opera House, the Hanavsky Pavilion and the Old New Synagogue.

On the second day explore the rest of Prague landmarks. Start with the Prague Castle, remembering to pay a visit to St Vitus Cathedral – a Gothic style church.

And then for something very different, wander to Zlata ulicka (the Golden Lane) with its small colourful houses. One of the houses used to belong to the writer Franz Kafka, and if you are a fan (like I), do set aside a couple of hours to visit his museum – it is definitely worth your time.

Where to stay:

Budget: Ahoy Hostel
Splurge: Bishop’s House

Where to eat:

Coffee: La Boheme Cafe
Dinner: Mlynec Restaurant
Drinks: Hemingway Bar 
What to eat in Prague: Trdelnik, Svickova (braised beef) and a lot of beer.

And this was the last stop on our Eastern Europe Itinerary. 2 weeks flew past very quickly, didn’t they?

Navigating Eastern Europe

Ok, now do you still remember the prize I’ve spoken about in the beginning of this post? It is actually something you can use to make your explorations of these Eastern European cities so much more comprehensive and easy to navigate. I have teamed up with the GPSmyCity app to give a special reward to my readers. This app features self-guided city walks and GPS-powered travel articles for many cities worldwide, including the cities you have on this Eastern Europe itinerary. Once installed on your smart phone or tablet, the app turns your mobile device into a personal tour guide. Each our city walk or travel article comes with a detailed travel route plotted on an offline map, so you can explore the local highlights and hidden gems on your own. You can download the app for iPhone and Android.

Some features of this app are free, but you have to pay to access all the tours and functions. So here is the deal: the 10 first readers, who will comment on this post telling me about EITHER their trip in the Eastern Europe (if you’ve done one already) OR an encounter with anything from Eastern European – a person, a stereotype, a movie, will get the annual subscription to the app free of charge. Each annual subscription, which normally costs $18.99 at app store, allows access to all the walking tours in 1,000+ cities worldwide, included in the app, for one year.

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11 thoughts on “Your Eastern Europe Itinerary: 2 Weeks in 6 Countries

  1. Olga Lempert says:

    So, okay, bookmarking this to do in full one time in the future. But also for our upcoming Budapest trip.

    I love that this incudes Cesky Krumlov, with which we were totally in love because it looks just like our favorite fantasy books sound ? Also, there was an old guy with a music box on the bridge playing the Harry Potter theme to complete the vibe. By the by, the Apotheka serves e-x-c-e-l-l-e-n-t cocktails. We got to Krumlov at 9 pm (deep night by its standarts) so everything was closed except this place, so we went there and that was the first time we found out how much we like cocktails.

    As for Prague, here are my two cents: if you go around Easter, then be aware that many things are fully closed on the big religious days, but on the upside the city is full of street markets with some delicious things to eat and drink. Probably around Christmas too. They roast pigs on spits and you can get a medieval-feeling slab o’ meat, which we did and it was delicious. One place that is overrated – that restaurant on Vaclavske Namesti where the food arrives on toy trains. Expensive and bleh.

    Apparently, I can talk *a lot* about our Czech experiences… There’s so much ?

  2. Roxanne Weijer says:

    Ooh love this blog! We are going to start with our Eastern Europe (castle) trip next week. We have a friend from Budapest and we are going to visit her. She has great stories about the city and it always looks crazy beautiful, so can’t wait to go there as well. Maybe I missed it, but did you travel by car from place to place or by train? Or another way? You made me even more excited to start our trip!

  3. Alice | GIrl with a saddle bag says:

    I love this itinerary! It’s a beautiful mix of big and small cities – something I like to always include in my travel plans. I adore Vienna and Warsaw, so I’m very glad you’ve included them here, but your descriptions of Vilnius make me really curious – maybe I need to start thinking about heading here next. This is such an underrated but absolutely beautiful part of Europe, it’s lovely to hear someone really sing it’s virtues.

  4. Helena says:

    I have so many Eastern European destinations on my bucket list at the moment and you’ve definitely covered a lot of them on this road trip. And taught me a few new places as well! Visited Poland for the first time this summer and went to both Warsaw and Krakow. Definitely preferred Krakow but can see what you mean about Warsaw, think it’s a city you have to explore deeper to appreciate. Not heard of Lake Balaton before, so going to go and google images right now ?

  5. kaytherunaway says:

    I’m so so happy you included Lake Balaton. It will forever remain a place of magical memories to me and while it may not be as grandiose as some destinations, it is usually waaay underrated!

  6. Adrian says:

    I am from Romania and I’ve been to Hungary, Czechia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Moldova. Looking forward to going to the rest of the countries here! There are some differencies between Eastern European countries, but also a lot of similarities.

  7. Wayne says:

    When i was in prague and budapest, i noticed that the architecture and buildings were very similar(not doubt beautiful). The one that stood out for me was bruges, in belgium. It looked like a fairytale town.

  8. Helen says:

    I’ve been to Prague & Budapest but not to any of the other places, so we were thinking we might do a road trip next summer – I found your blog when I was looking for ideas & inspiration. I’ve got a few more cities on my list now!

  9. Shawn says:

    What I stole my heart in Eastern Europe is how friendly locals are there.When I was in Warsaw I met many amazing people who were always ready to help or show around. They showed me tons of good clubs and pubs in the downtown-my favorite was New Orleans, it had great food and amazing poke dance shows.

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