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.


Welcome to Rick Steves’ Europe

Travel is intensified living—maximum thrills per minute and one of the last great sources of legal adventure. Travel is freedom. It’s recess, and we need it.

I discovered a passion for European travel as a teen and have been sharing it ever since—through my tours, public television and radio shows, and travel guidebooks. Over the years, I’ve taught thousands of travelers how to best enjoy Europe’s blockbuster sights—and experience “Back Door” discoveries that most tourists miss.

Written with my talented co-author, Cameron Hewitt, this book offers you a balanced mix of Eastern Europe’s lively cities and cozy towns, from the Hungarian metropolis of Budapest to the quaint Czech village of Český Krumlov to the pristine Julian Alps of Slovenia. It’s selective: Rather than listing dozens of Poland’s medieval castles, we recommend only the best ones. And it’s in-depth: Our self-guided museum tours and city walks provide insight into the region’s vibrant history and today’s living, breathing culture.

We advocate traveling simply and smartly. Take advantage of our money- and time-saving tips on sightseeing, transportation, and more. Try local, characteristic alternatives to expensive hotels and restaurants. In many ways, spending more money only builds a thicker wall between you and what you traveled so far to see.

We visit Eastern Europe to experience it—to become temporary locals. Thoughtful travel engages us with the world, as we learn to appreciate other cultures and new ways to measure quality of life.

Judging by the positive feedback we receive from our readers, this book will help you enjoy a fun, affordable, and rewarding vacation—whether it’s your first trip or your tenth.

Thanks, and happy travels!


Eastern Europe at a Glance

Map: Top Destinations of Eastern Europe

Planning Your Trip





Travel Smart

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 of the lessons I’ve learned.

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 Austria and Slovakia, you’re likely to pass through these capital cities on your way between the major core destinations.

The “More Eastern Europe” section, near the back of this 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.

Just thinking about the places featured in this book makes me want to polka.

Planning Your Trip

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.


The countries in this book are a relatively good value for travelers. Food and transportation are quite affordable, and accommodations are generally cheaper than in places like France or Germany.

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. 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 $250 per week, not including tolls, gas, and supplemental insurance. A short flight can be cheaper than the train (check www.skyscanner.com for intra-European flights).

Room and Board: You can thrive in Eastern Europe on $100 a day per person for room and board (more in big cities). 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 $60 a day ($30 per hostel bed, $30 for groceries and snacks).

Sightseeing and Entertainment: Figure $4-8 per major sight (with some more expensive sights, such as the Hungarian Parliament or Opera House in Budapest, at around $10-20), and $20-30 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 $30 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, or 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 earlier in this chapter can help you decide where to go. 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, or during Christmas markets in Kraków, Budapest, and other cities), 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.)


You’ll have a smoother trip if you tackle a few things ahead of time. For more information on these topics, see the Practicalities chapter (and www.ricksteves.com, which has helpful travel tips and talks).

Make sure your passport is valid. If it’s due to expire within six months of your ticketed date of return, you need to renew it. Allow up to six weeks to renew or get a passport (www.travel.state.gov).

Arrange your transportation. Book your international flights, and decide how you’ll connect the dots in Europe. It’s worth thinking about buying train tickets online in advance, getting a rail pass, renting a car, or booking cheap European flights. (You can wing it once you’re there, but it may cost more.) Drivers: Consider bringing an International Driving Permit (sold at AAA offices in the US, www.aaa.com) along with your license.

Book rooms well in advance, especially if your trip falls during peak season or any major holidays or festivals.

Make reservations or buy tickets ahead for major sights. If you plan to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp Memorial, you’re required to reserve ahead on their website (you’ll want to do this as far ahead as you can set a date—ideally three months in advance). To visit the Schindler’s Factory Museum in Kraków, it’s smart to reserve ahead during busy times. To tour the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest, consider reserving online a few days ahead to ensure your choice of entrance time. Reservations are also recommended if you plan on visiting Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace in summer or on a weekend.

Hire local guides in advance. Popular guides can get booked up. If you want a specific guide, reserve ahead by email.

Consider travel insurance. Compare the cost of the insurance to the cost of your potential loss. Check whether your existing insurance (health, homeowners, or renters) covers you and your possessions overseas.

Call your bank. Alert your bank that you’ll be using your debit and credit cards in Europe. Ask about transaction fees, and get the PIN number for your credit card. You don’t need to bring the local currency for your trip; you can withdraw local currency from cash machines in Europe.

Use your smartphone smartly. Sign up for an international service plan to reduce your costs, or rely on Wi-Fi in Europe instead. Download any apps you’ll want on the road, such as maps, translation, transit schedules, and Rick Steves Audio Europe (see sidebar).

Rip up this book! Turn chapters into mini guidebooks: Break the book’s spine and use a utility knife to slice apart chapters, keeping gummy edges intact. Reinforce the chapter spines with clear wide tape; use a heavy-duty stapler; or make or buy a cheap cover (see the Travel Store at www.ricksteves.com), swapping out chapters as you travel.

Pack light. You’ll walk with your luggage more than you think. Bring a single carry-on bag and a daypack. Use the packing checklist in the appendix as a guide.


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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