With vacation planning season in full swing, the time to consider your explorations is now, as delaying in putting together your itinerary for much longer is certain to end in disappointment. The best tours, hotel rooms, and cheapest flights are vanishing with each passing day, with fewer and fewer low price/ high value propositions remaining as the future slowly slips in to the present.
With much of Western Europe being highly competitive insofar as tourists crowds are concerned, you have looked away from the absurdly inflated prices present through much this region as a result, casting your gaze eastward. Through much of the Balkans, many of the same charms that give Europe its romance are present here as well, only with fewer of the loud obnoxious crowds that mar the traditional tourist sites back in the west.
Given that this region is traversed by scenic rivers and bodies of water like the Danube and the Black Sea, taking luxury river cruises are also available, but no matter how you choose to explore this special part of the Old World, you’ll be certain to have a much more memorable time, with the natural surroundings, human history, and the lack of an overwhelming crowd to spoil the mood conspiring to create an unbeatable atmosphere.
Which cities should you center your explorations of this region throughout your trip? Below, we profile three urban centers that are brimming with character and culture which will get you the European experience you crave, at a price that can’t be beat!
1) Belgrade, Serbia
Throughout much of the Balkans, the Orthodox Christian Church holds a great deal of sway, but this is especially apparent in the Serbian capital of Belgrade, as the gargantuan Saint Sava Cathedral stands as the largest in the sect, and among the top 10 largest Christian houses of worship in the world.
The Belgrade fortress marks the start of the old city, where its residents huddled within its walls for protection from bands of barbarians and later, empires, during a history that dates all the way back to the 3rd century BCE.
2) Sofia, Bulgaria
Carrying the designation of being one of the oldest cities in all of Europe, Sofia contains no shortage of historical relics within its city limits. One of the most prominent is the Roman era amphitheater of Serdica, which was just discovered a mere ten years ago. The scale of this former public gathering place was gobsmacking, as it was only a mere 33 feet smaller than the Colossseum in Rome.
If seeing this whets your appetite for learning more about the history of Sofia, then the aptly named Museum of History will be equal to the task, with its 650,000 exhibits making it the largest facility of its kind in the Balkans.
3) Bucharest, Romania
Those interested in governmental buildings, or just grandiose architecture in general will appreciate the parliament palace in Bucharest, Romania. At 12 stories high and with over 3,100 rooms, it easily ranks as the largest parliament structure in the world, built in the neoclassical style and in the recent past, as it was only completed in 1997 after 13 years of laborious construction. Those eager to pose with a landmark that is more commonly associated with France, but it no less impressive in its Romanian iteration should pay a visit to the Arcul de Triumf, which looks remarkably to its French cousin!
Take the road less traveled in Europe this summer
Everybody and their mother wants to see the sights of Western Europe, and every summer, they do, creating a massive headache for those that crave space and a relaxing vacation (what a concept). By choosing the Balkans over the same old sights further west, you’ll see Europe the way you have always envisioned it: a calm, introspective stroll through a part of the world rich in human culture and history.