As new cheap flight routes are tailored, interesting and affordable destinations are unlocked on Europe's map, destinations not available to the budget-conscious traveler a few years back. Though the names of Bucharest, Bratislava, or Warsaw might not tell you much in terms of vacation spots yet, nevertheless, they are places with a rich cultural heritage that can make for a perfect budget break.
|Romanian Athenaeum concert hall, Bucharest|
The Romanian-based company Blue Air offers cheap flights to Romania's capital, Bucharest once called "Little Paris". With its wide, tree-lined boulevards, palaces, churches, and glorious Belle Époque buildings, Bucharest is a booming city that mixes the old with the new in very interesting and creative ways. Finding a 300-year-old church, a modern steel-and-glass building, and a communist-style building all next to each other is commonplace in Bucharest.
|Parliament Palace, Bucharest|
Among the highlights of the city is however the Parliament Palace, the world's second-largest building (after the US Pentagon). The former communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, started building it back in 1984, using prisoners as a labor force, but when the Romanian Revolution took place in 1989, the building was unfinished, as it remains today. The Romanian Parliament Palace raises 12 stories above ground level, but it is said to go way further underground.
|Cantacuzino Palace, hosting the George Enescu Museum, Bucharest|
The Village Museum is a very original open-air museum that has around 300 traditional buildings (including churches, workshops, mills, etc.), plus furniture, pottery, and clothing gathered from villages in every region of the country in an effort to showcase the traditional way of life of the Romanians. Other places of interest are the Museum of the Romanian Peasant, the Cotroceni Palace Museum, Old Court Church, Herastrau Park, Romanian Athenaeum concert hall, Cantacuzino Palace, and the Arc de Triomphe, etc. And while you are at it, why not go on a trip through the countryside and visit some fabulous Romanian castles?
Ryanair offers cheap flights to Bratislava. The Old Town has a very pleasant medieval atmosphere, with traffic-free, narrow, winding streets, a hill-top castle, and many historic churches and buildings to visit. The communist-era buildings have a different architectural character, the best example being the Petrzalka housing estate, the biggest Communist-era concrete block housing complex in Central Europe.
The Bratislava Castle is a massive rectangular building with four corner towers on top of a quite isolated rocky hill in the middle of Bratislava. The castle is surrounded by many legends and provides an excellent view of Bratislava, Austria, and even Hungary.
|Apollo Bridge over Bratislava|
St. Martin's Cathedral is the largest and one of the oldest churches in Bratislava. The New Bridge over the Danube River has a flying saucer-shaped restaurant called "UFO" with an observation deck on the roof. Other places of interest are the Museum of Clocks, the Soviet War Memorial, the City Gallery at the Pállfy Palace, etc.
Hungary's WizzAir serves cheap flights to the Polish capital, Warsaw. Its historic Old Town was rebuilt brick by brick after the war according to old prints, photographs, and paintings while its communist buildings are slowly being replaced with modern skyscrapers.
|Warsaw Old Town|
Warsaw is a city full of life that is gladly embracing New World cuisine, café culture, and clubs that never close. The capital city features some lovely churches and monasteries, interesting monuments and museums, and hosts theater, book, jazz, and classical music festivals during the summer months.
|Wilanow Palace, Warsaw|
Warsaw tends to shock its first-time visitors, and it might take you a while to make sense of all you see, from the peasant women selling flowers in the Old Town, to the wedding cake-like Palace of Culture and Science, Stalin gave as a gift to the city or the Wilanow Palace, the beautiful royal palace that survived partitions and both World Wars and has preserved its authentic historical qualities.
I've flown RyanAir and WizzAir quite a few times now and I can't complain about the overall experience. Though their service might not be perfect, I personally prefer spending the extra budget at my destination, sightseeing, or sampling the local cuisine instead of spending double the money on a two hours flight. However, BlueAir provided my best cheap flight experience so far, the staff was super extra polite and they even gave us free water. I don't know if this is the norm for them, but they really caught me by surprise and I was really thirsty.
What are your favorite East European destinations?
Photos via Flickr Creative Commons