Budapest continues to grow in popularity. // © 2017 Creative Commons user depenbusch
Feature image (above): Prague is a top destination in Eastern Europe. // © 2017 Creative Commons user romanboed
While Europe still remains a lead contender for tourism, it has faced an array of recent challenges, from Brexit and terrorist attacks to a refugee crisis spanning the continent. Still, even with so much uncertainty, Europe is not entirely out for the count.
Eastern Europe is rising in the ranks, and 2017 is its turn to shine. Reasons for this include not only a higher perception of safety, compared to certain destinations in Western Europe, but also value, as Eastern Europe continues to be considerably cheaper in comparison, too.
“Most of our customers feel Eastern Europe is a safe option,” said Michelle Weller, a travel agent with Travel Leaders in Houston, Texas. “Plus, ground expenses are considerably less than those in England, France or Germany.
Marta Anicic, a travel agent with Tzell Travel Group in New York City, feels that clients are tiring of the usual destinations in Western Europe.
“They are increasingly hungry to also become the ‘discoverers’ of the next hot destinations,” Anicic said.
Vikram Seshadri, a luxury travel agent with Protravel International in Beverly Hills, Calif., is in agreement, noting factors such as charm, history and less expensive costs.
“Most of the Eastern European countries are also now members, or in the process of becoming members, of the European Union and are therefore cleaner, safer and more easily accessible to Americans than ever before,” he added.
According to a survey by Travel Leaders Group, the top destinations in Eastern Europe for 2017 are Prague; Budapest, Hungary; and Dubrovnik, Croatia. In the luxury sector, the top trending countries in Eastern Europe are Croatia, Czech Republic and Poland.
“The Dalmatian Coast of Croatia, the walled city center of Prague and the majestic buildings of Budapest viewed from the mighty Danube River are some of the quintessential sights that travelers will remember forever when visiting these countries,” Seshadri said. “While summer months are the warmest and therefore most popular time to visit these countries, traveling during spring, fall and even winter comes with added advantages, including lower hotel rates, smaller crowds and easier access to sights and sounds.”
Below, travel agents offer tips for three Eastern Europe destinations currently in the spotlight: Prague, Budapest and the Balkans.
Suzy Nevins, a luxury travel advisor also with Protravel International in Beverly Hills, recently returned from both Budapest and Prague, two cities she had not visited in more than 20 years. She says the changes that have taken place are remarkable.
“Prague values the architecture that it always had,” Nevins said. “Instead of tearing down the old buildings, owners were given financial incentives to restore the buildings. Thus, block after block, the buildings in their pastel paint-box colors give a uniform delight. One has the feeling that the citizens revere the city they had before the war, and they have been trying for so many years to bring it back to its glory. I think they have succeeded.”
Travel Leaders’ Weller lived in Prague for five years. In town, she recommends visiting the old Jewish quarter, which has a gothic synagogue and unique architecture. She also says to check out the other unique towns in the Czech Republic, such as Ceske Budejovice, where Budweiser beer originated, and Karlovy Vary, a Baroque town also known by its German name, Karlsbad, where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Jr. spent his last days.
“Czech Republic is also close to Vienna; Budapest; and Bratislava, Slovakia, which are other favorite destinations,” Weller said.
“Budapest is lively and active,” Nevins said. “The hotels are now world-class.”
Nevin calls out Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest as having one of the most beautiful lobbies in the world, as well as a top-notch staff.
“The city is poised between the old and the new,” she said. “We did a food tour seeking out the items that have always been staples of the Hungarian diet. The old food halls remain, but the new restaurants are outstanding.”
She recommends Costes and Onyx, both Michelin-starred restaurants.
But the biggest surprise about Budapest, according to Nevins, is the wine culture.
“At first we took a chance on ordering Hungarian wine, but soon it was the only wine we drank,” she said. “We were never disappointed.”
Croatia has been rising as a destination for quite some time, and for good reason. But the countries surrounding it have started to get noticeable attention, as well.
Anicic has experienced clients inquiring about Bosnia and Montenegro as add-ons to Croatia, because they are dissimilar, yet within easy reach.
“I’ve also received a number of inquiries related to nonemergency medical treatments, such as dental and plastic surgeries, in Novi Sad, Serbia, where they can cost five times less than in New York — with insurance,” she said.
Novi Sad, which happens to be Anicic’s hometown, was voted the European Capital of Culture for 2021.
“We’ve been getting a lot of requests for Slovenia,” Weller said. “It’s actually quite close to Venice, Italy, so many people ask to combine locations. Kempinski Palace Portoroz is right on the beautiful Mediterranean Coast; it’s a secret hot spot for European socialites.”