Rick Steves Eastern Europe


By Rick Steves

By Cameron Hewitt

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From romantic cities steeped in history to the stunning slopes of the Alps, get to know this exciting slice of Europe: with Rick Steves on your side, Eastern Europe can be yours! Inside Rick Steves Eastern Europe you’ll find:
  • Comprehensive coverage for spending two weeks or more exploring Eastern Europe
  • Rick’s strategic advice on how to get the most out of your time and money, with rankings of his must-see favorites
  • Top sights and hidden gems, from the cobbles of bustling Bratislava, to country roads winding through the Julian Alps, to the striking chapels and cathedrals of Prague’s Castle Quarter
  • How to connect with culture: Bask in the energy of Kraków’s Main Square Market, sample local wines from Hungarian vintners, or soak in the steamy thermal baths in Budapest
  • Beat the crowds, skip the lines, and avoid tourist traps with Rick’s candid, humorous insight
  • The best places the eat, sleep, and relax
  • Self-guided walking tours of lively neighborhoods and historic museums
  • Detailed neighborhood maps for exploring on the go
  • Useful resources including a packing list, phrase books, historical overviews, and recommended reading
  • Over 1,000 bible-thin pages include everything worth seeing without weighing you down
  • Complete, up-to-date information on the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Austria, and Slovakia, plus side trips to Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Bulgaria, and Romania
Make the most of every day and every dollar with Rick Steves Eastern Europe.



Eastern Europe at a Glance

Map: Top Destinations of Eastern Europe

Map: Map Legend








Traveling as a Temporary Local

Until 1989, Eastern Europe was a foreboding place—a dark and gloomy corner of the “Evil Empire.” But the dismal grays and preachy reds of communism live on only in history books, museums, and kitschy theme restaurants. Today’s Eastern Europe is a traveler’s delight, with friendly locals, lively squares, breathtaking sights, fascinating history, reasonable prices, and a sense of pioneer excitement.

Wander among Prague’s dreamy, fairy-tale spires, bask in the energy of Kraków’s Main Market Square, and soak with chess players in a Budapest bath. Ponder Europe’s most moving Holocaust memorial at Auschwitz. Enjoy nature as you glide across Lake Bled to a church-topped island in the shadow of the Julian Alps. Taste a proud Hungarian vintner’s wine and say, “Egészségedre!” (or stick with “Cheers!”).

This book covers Eastern Europe’s top big-city, small-town, and back-to-nature destinations—from the Hungarian metropolis of Budapest to the quaint Czech village of Český Krumlov to the pristine Julian Alps of Slovenia. It then gives you all the specifics and opinions necessary to wring the maximum value out of your limited time and money. If you’re planning for a month or less in this region, this book is all you need.

Experiencing Europe’s culture, people, and natural wonders economically and hassle-free has been my goal for several decades of traveling, tour guiding, and writing. With this book, I pass on to you all the lessons I’ve learned.

I’ve been selective, including only the top destinations and sights. For example, Poland has dozens of medieval castles—but Malbork is a cut above the rest. The best is, of course, only my opinion. But after spending much of my life exploring and researching Europe, I’ve developed a sixth sense for what travelers enjoy. Just thinking about the places featured in this book makes me want to polka.

Use this legend to help you navigate the maps in this book.


Rick Steves Eastern Europe is a personal tour guide in your pocket. Better yet, it’s actually two tour guides in your pocket: The co-author of this book is Cameron Hewitt. Cameron writes and edits guidebooks for my travel company, Rick Steves’ Europe. Inspired by his Polish roots and by the enduring charm of the Eastern European people, Cameron has spent the last decade closely tracking the exciting changes in this part of the world. Together, Cameron and I keep this book up to date and accurate (though for simplicity we’ve shed our respective egos to become “I” in this book).

Eastern Europe is a sprawling region; a comprehensive guidebook would span many volumes. To keep things simple and focused, this book covers the best of Eastern Europe in three sections.

The core countries of the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, and Slovenia—where most travelers focus their time—receive full coverage.

I’ve also included full coverage for two important gateway cities: Vienna, Austria, and Bratislava, Slovakia. While there’s not room in this book to cover other destinations in those countries, you’re likely to pass through these capitals on your way between the major core destinations.

The “More Eastern Europe” section, near the back of the book, is a roundup of other countries in this area that may serve as logical add-ons. These include Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Bulgaria, and Romania. (Some of these are covered in greater depth in separate guidebooks—such as Rick Steves Croatia & Slovenia.)

For places with full coverage, each destination is organized as a minivacation on its own, filled with exciting sights, strollable neighborhoods, affordable places to stay, and memorable places to eat. In the core-country chapters, you’ll find these sections:

Planning Your Time suggests a schedule for how to best use your limited time.

Orientation has specifics on public transportation, helpful hints, local tour options, easy-to-read maps, and tourist information.

Sights describes the top attractions and includes their cost and hours. Major sights have self-guided tours.

Self-Guided Walks take you through interesting neighborhoods, pointing out sights and fun stops.

Sleeping describes my favorite hotels, from good-value deals to cushy splurges.

Eating serves up a range of options, from inexpensive eateries to fancy restaurants.

Connections outlines your options for traveling to destinations by train, bus, and boat. For car-friendly regions, I’ve included route tips for drivers, with recommended roadside attractions along the way.

Country Introductions give you an overview of each country’s culture, customs, money, history, current events, cuisine, language, and other useful practicalities.

The Practicalities chapter near the end of this book is a traveler’s tool kit, with my best advice about money, sightseeing, sleeping, eating, staying connected, and transportation (trains, buses, boats, car rentals, driving, and flights).

The appendix has the nuts and bolts: useful phone numbers and websites, a festival list, recommended books and films, a climate chart, a handy packing checklist, and a guide to pronouncing Eastern European place names.

Throughout this book, you’ll find money- and time-saving tips for sightseeing, transportation, and more. Some businesses—especially hotels and walking tour companies—offer special discounts to my readers, indicated in their listings.

Browse through this book, choose your favorite destinations, and link them up. Then have a great trip! Traveling like a temporary local, you’ll get the absolute most of every mile, minute, and dollar. I’m happy that you’ll be meeting some of my favorite Europeans as you visit places I know and love.


This section will help you get started on planning your trip—with advice on trip costs, when to go, and what you should know before you take off.


Your trip to Europe is like a complex play—it’s easier to follow and fully appreciate on a second viewing. While no one does the same trip twice to gain that advantage, reading this book before your trip accomplishes much the same thing.

Design an itinerary that enables you to visit sights at the best possible times. Note festivals, holidays, specifics on sights, and days when sights are closed (all covered in this book). For example, most museums throughout Eastern Europe close on Mondays. Hotels in resort towns (such as those in the Julian Alps) are most crowded on Fridays and Saturdays, whereas weekdays are tight in convention cities (for instance, Budapest and Warsaw). Expect seasonal closures. To connect the dots smoothly, read the tips in Practicalities on taking trains and buses or renting a car and driving. Designing a smart trip is a fun, doable, and worthwhile challenge.

Make your itinerary a mix of intense and relaxed stretches. To maximize rootedness, minimize one-night stands. It’s worth taking a long drive after dinner (or a train/bus ride with a dinner picnic) to get settled in a town for two nights. Every trip—and every traveler—needs slack time (laundry, picnics, people-watching, and so on). Pace yourself. Assume you will return.

Reread this book as you travel, and visit local tourist information offices (abbreviated as TI in this book). Upon arrival in a new town, lay the groundwork for a smooth departure; confirm the train, bus, boat, or road you’ll take when you leave.

Even with the best-planned itinerary, you’ll need to be flexible. Update your plans as you travel. Get online or call ahead to learn the latest on sights (special events, tour schedules, and so on), book tickets and tours, make reservations, reconfirm hotels, and research transportation connections.

Enjoy the friendliness of the local people. Connect with the culture. Set up your own quest for the best bit of communist kitsch, mug of Czech beer, bowl of borscht, or scenic seafront perch. Slow down and be open to unexpected experiences. Ask questions—most locals are eager to point you in their idea of the right direction. Keep a notepad in your pocket for confirming prices, noting directions, and organizing your thoughts. Wear your money belt, learn the currency, and figure out how to estimate prices in dollars. Those who expect to travel smart, do.


The countries in this book—more than two decades removed from communism—are no longer Europe’s bargain basement. Although the global recession hit their economies along with everyone else’s, the cost of living in most of Eastern Europe is approaching what it is in the West. But it can still be a good value to travel here. Things that natives buy—such as food and transportation—remain fairly inexpensive. Hotels can be pricey, but if you use my listings to find the best accommodations deals, a trip to these countries can be substantially cheaper than visiting, say, Italy, Germany, or France.

Five components make up your trip costs: airfare to Europe, transportation in Europe, room and board, sightseeing and entertainment, and shopping and miscellany. The prices I’ve listed below are more or less average for all of the destinations in this book. Prices are generally lower in Poland and higher in Slovenia and Vienna; the Czech Republic and Hungary are in between. Of course, big cities (such as Prague and Budapest) are much more expensive than smaller towns (like Český Krumlov and Eger).

Airfare to Europe: A basic round-trip flight from the US to Prague can cost, on average, about $1,000-2,000 total, depending on where you fly from and when (cheaper in winter). Consider saving time and money in Europe by flying into one city and out of another; for instance, flying into Prague and out of Vienna is almost certainly cheaper than the added expense (and wasted time) of an overland return trip to Prague. Overall, Kayak.com is the best place to start searching for flights on a combination of mainstream and budget carriers.

Transportation in Europe: For a three-week whirlwind trip of my recommended destinations by public transportation, allow $300 per person. If you plan to rent a car, allow $230 per week, not including tolls, gas, and supplemental insurance. Car rentals are cheapest if arranged from the US. Rail passes normally must be purchased outside Europe but aren’t necessarily your best option—you may save money simply by buying tickets as you go. Don’t hesitate to consider flying—a short flight can be cheaper than the train (check www.skyscanner.com for intra-European flights). For more on public transportation and car rental, see “Transportation” in Practicalities.

Room and Board: You can thrive in Eastern Europe on $100 a day per person for room and board. This allows $15 for lunch, $25 for dinner, and $60 for lodging (based on two people splitting the cost of a comfortable $120 double room that includes breakfast). Students and tightwads can enjoy Eastern Europe for as little as $50 a day ($30 per hostel bed, $20 for groceries and snacks).

Sightseeing and Entertainment: Sightseeing is cheap here. Figure $3-6 per major sight (with some more expensive sights at around $10), and $10-25 for splurge experiences (e.g., going to concerts, taking a lake cruise, or soaking in a Budapest bath). You can hire your own private guide for four hours for about $100-150—a great value when divided among two or more people. An overall average of $20 a day works for most people. Don’t skimp here. After all, this category is the driving force behind your trip—you came to sightsee, enjoy, and experience Eastern Europe.

Shopping and Miscellany: Figure $2 per postcard, coffee, beer, and ice-cream cone. Shopping can vary in cost from nearly nothing to a small fortune. Good budget travelers find that this category has little to do with assembling a trip full of lifelong memories.


So much to see, so little time. How to choose? Depending on the length of your trip, assuming you are focusing on the core countries, and taking geographic proximity into account, here are my recommended priorities.

3 days: Prague
5 days, add: Budapest
7 days, add: Český Krumlov, slow down
10 days, add: Kraków, Auschwitz
14 days, add: Ljubljana, Lake Bled
16 days, add: Vienna
18 days, add: Julian Alps, Bratislava
20 days, add: Eger, slow down
25 days, add: Gdańsk, Warsaw, Toruń (or save these for a Poland-focused trip)

This includes nearly everything on the map on here. If you don’t have time to see it all, prioritize according to your interests. The “Eastern Europe a Glance” sidebar can help you decide where to go (here). The three-week itinerary (see sidebar) includes all of the stops in the first 20 days.

With more time—or for a different focus to your trip—consider some of the neighboring countries. See the “More Eastern Europe” section near the end of this book for ideas on how to splice in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Bulgaria, and Romania.


The “tourist season” runs roughly from May through September. Summer has its advantages: the best weather, very long days (light until after 21:00), and the busiest schedule of tourist fun.

In spring and fall—May, June, September, and early October—travelers enjoy fewer crowds and milder weather. This is my favorite time to travel here. Cities are great at this time of year, but some small towns get quieter and quieter the further off-season you get, and are downright deserted and disappointing in early May and late October.

Winter travelers find concert season in full swing, with absolutely no tourist crowds (except in always-packed Prague), but some accommodations and sights are either closed or run on a limited schedule. Confirm your sightseeing plans locally, especially when traveling off-season. The weather can be cold and dreary, and night will draw the shades on your sightseeing before dinnertime. (For more information, see the climate chart in the appendix.)


Check this list of things to arrange while you’re still at home.

You need a passport—but no visa or shots—to travel in the countries covered in this book. You may be denied entry into certain European countries if your passport is due to expire within six months of your ticketed date of return. Get it renewed if you’ll be cutting it close. It can take up to six weeks to get or renew a passport (for more on passports and requirements for Eastern European countries, see www.travel.state.gov). Pack a photocopy of your passport in your luggage in case the original is lost or stolen.

Book rooms well in advance if you’ll be traveling during peak season (July and August in resort towns, September and October in convention cities), or over any major holidays or festivals (see list on here).


On Sale
Jun 25, 2019
Page Count
1180 pages
Rick Steves

Rick Steves

About the Author

Since 1973, Rick Steves has spent about four months a year exploring Europe. His mission: to empower Americans to have European trips that are fun, affordable, and culturally broadening. Rick produces a best-selling guidebook series, a public television series, and a public radio show, and organizes small-group tours that take over 30,000 travelers to Europe annually.  He does all of this with the help of more than 100 well-traveled staff members at Rick Steves’ Europe in Edmonds, WA (near Seattle). When not on the road, Rick is active in his church and with advocacy groups focused on economic and social justice, drug policy reform, and ending hunger. To recharge, Rick plays piano, relaxes at his family cabin in the Cascade Mountains, and spends time with his son Andy and daughter Jackie. Find out more about Rick at http://www.ricksteves.com and on Facebook.

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Cameron Hewitt

About the Author

Born in Denver and raised in central Ohio, Cameron Hewitt settled in Seattle in 2000. Ever since, he has spent three months each year in Europe, contributing to guidebooks, tours, radio and television shows, and other media for Rick Steves’ Europe, where he serves as content manager. Cameron married his high school sweetheart (and favorite travel partner), Shawna, and enjoys taking pictures, trying new restaurants, and planning his next trip.

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