If you’re an avid backpacker and you’re looking for the next great destination, look no further. Backpacking has been done throughout the world for years now and some of the destinations have been almost literally done to death. After all – how many more secret spots can be found in the places that have been frequented for years by thousands and thousands of people? One region of the planet that seems to be lesser visited than others is Eastern Europe, perhaps due to its relatively negative connotations as former deeply Soviet regions people think there may not be much worth seeing here, but as this article will show you – nothing could be further from the truth.
Belarus maintains to this day a strict, enforced and almost militant border policy and government. A visa for most nationals, along with state issued medical certificates and a letter of invitation are required for a trip to Belarus and it could easily be considered one of the “final frontiers” of real adventure travel given its lack of any real tourist infrastructure, especially outside of Minsk. Internet is difficult to find in Minks and nigh on impossible in the countryside. If planning a trip to Belarus ensure you look into the visa situation for your own individual country of residence as it varies from nation to nation. Saying all this though, Belarus is home to a number of very unique experiences and sights, with some of the countryside featuring old world villages and very old world farming practices still used. The food, drink and language is similar to the culture of Russia and Ukraine, so you will find soups similar to Borscht and dumplings such as vareneky with ease. Crime is strictly punished, so street crime is low, however there can be theft from hotel rooms by cleaning staff so ensure you take all your valuables with you or lock them away somewhere safe.
Despite the fact that Romania is part of the European Union, travel seems to remain a bit wilder in terms of tourist infrastructure and simplicity in some parts. The cities are well equipped to host tourists of all levels of class and style depending what you’re looking for, while out in the countryside depending where you go you might be faced with home stays and local transport. It depends how off the beaten track you want to get, but Romanians on a whole are welcoming and helpful and will help you get from A to B with no worries. With a number of beautiful old world towns – many with their own castles to see – along with the Carpathian mountains you will wonder why you didn’t come to Romania sooner. Don’t forget to check out Dracula’s Castle – a hot tourist spot and a bit of a creepy stopping point for anyone in the country.
Ukraine gets a bad rap due to reports of its supposed rampant corruption, but nothing could be further from the truth. With their attempts to clean up their reputation for hopeful EU admittance, Ukraine has cracked down on former corrupt policies in its borders, police and government and is now a very warm, welcoming place. Kiev (sometimes spelled Kyiv) is the very spread out capital city where you won’t have trouble getting around or communicating your needs with the locals – even those whose English is poor can understand some and most wait staff in restaurants and bars speak at least some English. The food is absolutely top notch – we recommend ‘Shato’, a chain restaurant that features an impressive local and imported beer menu as well as traditional Ukrainian fare such as vareneky, borscht (beet soup), sausages of all kinds and cabbage rolls (holuptsi). Shato is also home to live music by night. Ukraine on the whole is a very affordable place to travel through, especially if you take local transport (Kiev’s metro costs 4 US cents per ride, regardless of how far you go), and longer bus journeys, although somewhat uncomfortable in marshrutkas can be under $10 depending where you’re going. Ukrainiain culture is very vocal and musical, so ensure you take in a show by a live band or dance troupe – you won’t regret it.
A side note to those interested in going to Chornobyl – the site of the nuclear disaster in 1986, ensure you book well in advance and get the checks started, As you’re going into a restricted area they do background checks on you prior to the tour, so you will need to submit for this about ten days before your scheduled tour. You will also need to take your passport with you for the checkpoints along the way into the exclusion zone of Pripyat and Chornobyl. Accommodation wise throughout Ukraine is that you would be better off staying in the likes of an Air Bnb or similar – you will get more for your money and get to hob nob with a local or two who might have some suggestions on absolutely top notch places to see during your trip – they might even join you too!
Another unique region slightly similar to Belarus, Moldova and it’s “non-existant” neighbour Transnistria are unique and exciting places for any backpacker who might want to check out something new and unusual. Transnistria is a de-facto self-governing nation with no governmental ties to Moldova, however the sovereignty of the region is not widely recognised by many other countries. Transnistria is the region immediately east of Moldova, sandwiched between Moldova and Ukraine.
The general region of Moldova in itself is perfect for those who enjoy outdoor activities. With the steppes and wide open spaces featuring lakes and rivers, it’s a great place for hiking, kayaking, hill walking and generally getting out and about. The cities in Moldova feature beautiful town squares and the city of Soroca specifically is considered the home of the Romani Gypsy – so their buildings reflect this culture and are ornately decorated and colourful. The food of Moldova is similar to that of neighbouring Ukraine and Romania – soups, and a lot of use of root vegetables in many dishes as well as breads and dumplings with varying fillings with regional differences.
The Baltics – Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia
These three countries are tucked away in the north eastern corner of Europe, between Sweden and Russia and south of Finland. Tallin, the capital of Estonia is fast becoming a favourite locale for stag parties from western Europe, but still retains its classical, beautiful European charm and is a welcoming place for travellers of all ages. All three Baltic states are great places to travel through consecutively with a number of interesting and pagan-oriented festivals to be enjoyed throughout the year. Each of these three countries has their own unique flavour but one thing they all have in common is their twisting backstreets lined with cafes, their own regional beers and takes on various dishes such as dumplings, soups and breads as well as their skylines which consist of beautiful church steeples and Orthodox church domes sparkling in the sun. They also enjoy good, well scheduled train and bus links between them to make movement around the Baltics easier than expected.
While not officially designated as Europe, Georgia is fighting for its inclusion into the EU and is making a large effort to attract a higher class of visitor as well as backpacker. The capital city Tbilisi is home to a number of high class hotels such as the Radisson Blu and a Marriott. Its low train and bus fares mean Georgia is not only cheap and easy to get around, but it offers links to almost every corner of the country too. From the sloping grape covered wine region of the east, with beautiful vistas over to the mountains around the Caspian sea and Azerbaijan, to the Black Sea coast that features strange cities like Batumi which is more like a Russian’s Las Vegas, Georgia is a peculiar but amazing nation. It’s something that’s come out of a time warp, with cinderblock villages set high in the mountains and roadside vendors selling snacks for almost criminally low prices. With so much to see and do, and multiple climate zones in one place, Georgia has something for everyone – not to mention its nearly 8000 year old wine making traditions!
So there you have six great places in Eastern Europe to explore on your next backpacking trip that each have their own unique flavour and history. So check out some of Eastern Europe next time – you won’t be disappointed!