Tbilisi, Georgia // © 2017 Creative Commons user Mariusz Kluzniak
Feature image (above): Riga, Latvia, is a UNESCO World Heritage Centre. // © 2017 Creative Commons user ivan1311
Eastern Europe is undoubtedly the next frontier of travel, with affordable cities, under-the-radar bars and restaurants, boutique hotels and seemingly untouched history and culture. Travelers looking to expand their palate of European travel should consider these five destinations.
Following political difficulties in 2014, Kiev, Ukraine, has reemerged as a cultural epicenter with a growing counterculture. With that comes brilliant artistic experimentation, festivals, clubs and more, making Kiev one of the most innovative cities in Europe right now.
A vibrant spread of street food helps draw in travelers looking for that authentic, local experience. But Kiev retains its historic past, too, evidenced in its architecture and monuments such as the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra. This gold-domed monastery sits on 28 acres of grassy fields overlooking the Dnipro River, and pilgrims consider this spot to be the holiest among the Slavic countries.
Getting There: Fly into Boryspil International Airport, which has direct flights from New York; or Kiev International Airport, which has direct flights from the U.K, Italy, Germany and Poland.
Where to Stay: Just off Kiev’s most famous street, Andriyivsky Uzviz, is Vozdvyzhensky, a luxury boutique hotel. With just 26 rooms, it offers earthy, artistic charm and features massive windows, antique decorations, a gourmet restaurant, a cafe and a perfect location from which to explore Kiev’s central attractions.
Though Krakow is easily accessible from major tourist hubs such as Berlin; Warsaw, Poland; and Budapest, Hungary, Poland’s second-largest city has still managed to fly below the radar. But this funky destination is certainly worth a visit for its hip neighborhoods, boutiques, street art, secret speakeasy-style bars and clubs and, of course, a whole lot of history.
The Old Town of Krakow is one of the most visually stunning places in Europe, with Rynek Glowny, Europe’s largest market square, as the main draw. The area is also known for its bars, restaurants and clubs. The former Jewish quarter pays homage to the city’s tragic history, too.
Getting There: Fly direct into Krakow Airport, or arrive by train from Berlin, Vienna, Prague or Budapest.
Where to Stay: Located just a stone’s throw from Krakow’s main square and Wawel Castle, Kanonicza 22 is one of the most elegant and opulent hotels in the city. Rooms are decked with four-poster beds and rococo art, while its restaurant, Restaurant Pod Nosem, serves hearty Polish fare such as tartare and stroganoff.
For travelers who say “been there, done that” to Berlin, Leipzig is perhaps Germany’s second coolest city. Located in the state of Saxony, Leipzig has become a playground for the artistic and hip — so much so that it has garnered the nickname of “Hypezig.”
It’s also home to more than 40,000 students and, as a result, has developed a unique culture around coffee shops, galleries, electronic music and vegan restaurants. Of note are the punk-rock influences of the Connewitz neighborhood; the brewpubs along Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse (or “Karli,” as it’s known locally); and the antique shops in Plagwitz.
Juxtaposed with the modern culture of Leipzig is significant history. Leipzig is known as the “City of Heroes” for its peaceful revolution of 1989 against communism; it celebrates the life and works of composers Johann Sebastian Bach, Felix Mendelssohn and Richard Wagner; and it’s home to the 800-year-old Thomanerchor boys’ choir.
Getting There: Fly direct into Leipzig, or fly into Hamburg and take the Deutsche Bahn train (about a five-hour trip).
Where to Stay: Vienna House, one of Austria’s major hotel groups, will open a new hotel in Leipzig in early 2018. The new Vienna House Easy Leipzig will have 206 rooms, including 11 suites and four family rooms. The lobby will be a blend of bar, living and meeting spaces, while the dining options will feature a Viennese coffeehouse coupled with casual dining.
A cross section of Gothic architecture and modern art nouveau, Riga, Latvia, is a burgeoning destination for the creative and the chic. It’s a juxtaposition of old and new — it’s both a UNESCO World Heritage Centre and boasts more than 1,000 outdoor Wi-Fi hot spots.
Typically known for the heaps of U.K. bachelors that visit for “stag parties” (bachelor parties) — thanks to cheap drinks and abundant watering holes — Riga is in the midst of reinventing itself as a city of music and art. The destination is seeing a flourishing foodie scene, too; stop by Riga Central Market to sample black bread, sausage, cheeses, smoked fish and, of course, beer. Riga is also just a short trip from Jurmala, which is a popular resort destination in Latvia on the Gulf of Riga, known for its sandy beaches.
Getting There: Fly into Riga International Airport. There are connections from London, Frankfurt and Paris.
Where to Stay: Indulge in one of the 56 rooms of Grand Palace Hotel Riga, which continues to earn the accolade of Latvia’s Leading Hotel. Formerly the central bank of Latvia, the historical building was turned into luxury hotel in 2000. Guestrooms are thoroughly modern, featuring muted color schemes with pops of pink. A gym and sauna are available on-site.
With so much of the world in a state of uncertainty, Tbilisi, Georgia, is a great off-the-beaten-path option for travelers. Georgia is one of the safest countries in Europe, and its capital city of Tbilisi is also known for being one of the cheapest European destinations.
Expect epic nightlife and a liberal-minded youth culture, as well as fantastic architecture, cafes and restaurants. Be sure to visit Tbilisi Old Town and its 16th- and 17th-century fortresses, winding streets, churches and small, traditional shops.
Getting There: Fly direct into Tbilisi International Airport.
Where to Stay: Biltmore Hotel Tbilisi is evidence that this former Eastern Bloc city is changing with the times. Housing 214 guestrooms and suites, a spa and dining venues, the modern architectural marvel rises out of the cultural and historic district.