For much of the 20th century, the wonders of Eastern Europe were concealed behind a wall of secrecy. Now, the region has emerged as one of the continent’s greatest masterstrokes, a curious land of immersive natural splendour, dotted with historic cities ripe for cultural exploration.
Straying from the tourist trail is easy in this enigmatic corner of Europe. Unspoilt lands roll east to the Black Sea, punctuated by the arresting landscapes of the Iron Gates, whose sheer cliffs mark a natural border between east and west. And in between, a handful of ancient cities rise on the horizon, revealing traditions, customs, and architecture unchanged for a century.
If you’re drawn to the unfathomable mysteries of Eastern Europe, join us as we explore five of the region’s most captivating cities, from Budapest to Belgrade, revealing their must-see sights, popular foods and unmissable highlights.
The Serbian capital of Belgrade showcases the turbulent legacy of Eastern Europe through the ages. Here, communist blocks rub shoulders with Art Nouveau masterpieces, while Belgrade Fortress towers above the cityscape, an imposing ancient monolith once integral to the defence of the Danube.
One of the oldest cities in Europe, Belgrade has an inimitable depth of history, bolstered by customs and traditions which are distinctly Serbian. It’s also at the cutting edge of Eastern Europe’s burgeoning art, music, and cultural scene, and celebrated worldwide for its vibrant nightlife, which varies from folk events to the summer parties of the ‘splavovi’ (moored riverboats).
Begin your sightseeing at Belgrade Fortress, which lies at the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers, overlooking Belgrade’s Great War Island. A Celtic fortress has existed on this site since 279BC, modified and expanded by various invading forces, from the Roman Empire to the Goths and Huns of Barbarian Central Europe. Tour the ancient ramparts of the stone keep, before wandering through the gardens of Kalemegdan, offering far-reaching views of the city.
Next, visit the Museum of Yugoslavia, whose 200,000+ artefacts document the tumultuous history of this former socialist republic. The museum’s invaluable collection includes everything from artwork and films to historical documents and weapons, making it a must-visit for those interested in finding out more about Serbia’s history as a communist state.
Grow hungry during your sightseeing tour of Belgrade, and you must try a traditional Balkan kebab, known locally as a ćevapi, whose origins reach back to the Ottoman Empire. Kebabs are a street food staple in the capital, so you should have no trouble finding a vendor.
After lunch, bypass the magnificent Church of Saint Sava, famous for being the world’s largest church building. Construction began on the church in 1935, but due to its immeasurable interior detail, work continues on its mosaic tiles and stained glass to this day.
If there’s one thing a sightseeing tour of Serbia’s capital does highlight, it’s the stark contrast in its architectural style, and how the city is now heading towards a brighter future.
Romania is one of Eastern Europe’s most traditional nations, a country on the brink of the new world while still entrenched in the nostalgia of the past. Its capital, Bucharest, is an enchanting, heritage-laden metropolis which, like Belgrade, is one of Europe’s most fascinating and progressive cultural, artistic and culinary hubs.
Owing to its unsettled political past, Bucharest displays a perplexing mismatch of eras, from the grey housing blocks of Ceausescu’s brutal rebuilding phase and French-influenced Baroque palaces to its 21st-century contemporary office buildings. A walking tour becomes a history lesson as you meander the grand boulevards of the Romanian capital, witnessing architectural styles from the late antiquity to the post-war communist-era.
Enjoy a guided visit to the majestic Palace of the Parliament, a colossal structure renowned for its ornate interior. Bucharest’s parliament building is famous for being the heaviest building in the world, its colossal stonework weighing in at a staggering 4,098,500,000 kilograms, as calculated by the Guinness Book of Records.
One of Bucharest’s most popular heritage highlights is the Village Open Air Museum, which features ethnography exhibits depicting Romanian heritage and culture over the centuries. Discover the origins of Romania’s simple way of life in this fascinating open-air attraction, which features examples of early houses, windmills and churches, depicting rural life in Romania’s charming backwaters.
Step into the fascinating world of Romanian folk art at the National Museum of Art of Romania. This palatial art gallery is located in the Royal Palace in the city’s Revolution Square, and boasts collections of medieval and modern art from the nation’s most prolific artists, exhibited by members of the Romanian royal family.
For a taste of Romanian cuisine during your visit to Bucharest, visit one of the city’s traditional restaurants or cafés. Dishes offering the most authentic taste of Romania include chiftele, a type of fried meatball spiced with salt, pepper, dill and parsley; mititei, a meat roll comprising of minced pork, beef and lamb, regularly served by street food vendors; and toba, which is exclusively made from pig meat, and generally served throughout the festive period.
Showcasing the time-honoured customs and traditions of Romania, Bucharest is a truly wonderful destination, bringing together the welcoming old world with the cosmopolitan new.
Welcome to Budapest, the great Queen of the Danube. Marrying western cosmopolitanism with eastern diversity and time-honoured customs, the Hungarian capital is one of Europe’s greatest triumphs, and a regular journey highlight for those travelling east or west on the timeless Danube.
Sailing into Budapest is a spectacle in itself, with the city’s river banks boasting magnificent architectural feats, from the resplendent Hungarian Parliament Building and the Academy of the Sciences building, to the exquisite Szechenyi Chain Bridge. Much of the area which lies on the banks of the Danube is designated a World Heritage Site, such is the majesty and historic significance of its waterfront.
Once two cities separated by the powerful waterway, Budapest unified in the 19th century, though its division remains evident in its varying architecture. Travel to the Buda Hills, home to the exquisite Buda Castle, which offers breath-taking views over the city, and you’ll be immersed in a warren of ancient, winding streets typical of Buda Old Town. Meanwhile, across the Danube, Pest is the beating heart of contemporary Budapest, its sweeping boulevards lined with grand Baroque buildings, including the must-visit Hungarian State Opera House located on the prestigious Andrássy út.
Travel to Budapest as part of a luxury Scenic river cruise, and you’ll enjoy a guided tour of the city’s main heritage highlights, from the Parliament Building and Memento Park, to the Jewish Museum, Buda Castle and the traditional Turkish baths of Gellért and Széchenyi. Your experienced guide will also showcase lesser-known sights, including the moving memorial of Shoes on the Danube Bank.
As you’d expect from Eastern Europe’s biggest and most popular city, Budapest is awash with places to eat, making it easy to find a place to sample authentic local fare. Hungarian food is typical of a cold climate. It’s warming, hearty, and always accompanied by a dash of paprika. Of course, you must try traditional goulash, the staple dish of this former socialist nation, while other dishes well worth seeking out include kolbász and csülök sausages, halaszle, or fisherman’s soup, and csirkepaprikás, a delicious meal of chicken, sweet paprika and sour cream.
With beautiful architecture, centuries of fascinating history, hearty cuisine and warm, welcoming people, it’s small wonder Budapest is fast-becoming the go-to city in Europe.
From Hungary to Croatia, and the wonderful, ancient city of Osijek. Located in Slavonia, one of Croatia’s most diverse and historic regions, Osijek is the fourth largest city in the country, and arguably one of its most beautiful. Characterised by cobbled streets which criss-cross the Baroque-style Old Town Quarter, this Croatian city has all the charm and heritage you’d expect, making for a wonderful destination to explore on foot on the banks of the Danube.
Unlike Croatia’s stunning Adriatic coastline, Slavonia has a distinctly Eastern European flavour, with heritage buildings, Gothic churches and ancient town squares replacing the resort attractions of the western coast. Osijek is the gateway to this charming, rural region, a city which feels more connected to the neighbouring states of Hungary, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina than any other place in Croatia.
Osijek is modestly-sized, and yet hugely picturesque. From the historic fortified centre, known as the ‘Tvrda’ in Croatian, to the neo-gothic Church of St Peter & St Paul and Europska Avenija, or European Avenue, which is home to a string of stunning Art Nouveau mansions; the city offers architectural splendour at every turn, punching way above its scale in the beauty stakes.
While Osijek suffered severe damage in the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991, much of its Baroque heart has since been restored, making it one of Eastern Europe’s most architecturally rewarding sightseeing destinations.
Thanks to its surrounding pasturelands, which house hundreds of livestock and dairy farms, Osijek has risen to become Croatia’s unofficial gastronomic capital. The city is home to a collection of fine restaurants, serving up simple, yet delicious, east-Croatian food that bears resemblance to the cuisines of Hungary and Serbia – think warming meat stews, dumplings, and of course, lots of paprika.
Travel to Osijek with Scenic during a luxury Danube river cruise, and you’ll be invited to the home of a local family for a home-cooked meal. This intimate encounter is exclusive to Scenic Enrich, and gives you the opportunity to sample traditional local cuisine while learning what life is like for those living in Osijek, where east really does meet west.
Journey to the edge of the Black Sea with our Eastern Enlightenment itinerary between Belgrade and Bucharest, or dip your toe in this enigmatic region on The Majestic East river cruise from Vienna to Belgrade. Whichever route you choose, a luxury river cruise through Eastern Europe reveals historical lands rich in tradition, and cities poised for an immersive cultural sightseeing experience.
For more information on our selection of luxury river cruises in Eastern Europe, click here or call our team today on 0808 163 5512.