When travellers mention their adventures in Europe, we traditionally think first of the great cities of Western Europe. Rome, Paris, Athens and London, even Lisbon and Madrid come to mind.
But in recent years, Eastern Europe has become an attractive option for many a tourist. The countries of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Russian, and Slovakia, Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine have won over the hearts of many who have ventured off the beaten path, so to speak.
And so, a question presents itself for adventurers: Which of these two regions hold the most potential reward for you? When you compare and contrast eastern and western Europe, here are a few things to consider.
So how are the countries of Eastern and Western Europe similar? First, it’s worth pointing out that Europe is a region with a rich and complicated history. The migration of people through the continent over many centuries has left its indelible mark.
Across many countries, you’ll find communities that share some similarities, like food, customs, religion and even language, to some degree. But there are also as many differences between Eastern and Western Europe as there are similarities.
Unfortunately, it is Eastern and Western Europe’s differences that were perhaps unfairly amplified by the Cold War of the 20th century, which divided the continent into political ideologies as well.
On the whole, much of Western Europe seems to have benefitted from strong economic growth. Its industries and commercial tourism focus reflect this. By contrast, for much of the 20th century, Eastern Europe has not seen as much commercial development.
Thankfully, travelling both Western and Eastern Europe’s countries today proves to be exciting if different experiences, offering their own unique appeal.
The Baltic and Balkan states present their own incredible histories through their people, food, history, and culture. What sets it apart from its more famous neighbouring region might well be enough to convince you to choose it for your next European getaway.
First and foremost, it’s still incredibly kind on the pocket. Most countries and cities in the region are way cheaper to visit than their western counterparts. Of the top ten cheapest European destinations to visit, nine are in Eastern Europe, with only Portugal the exception at number 10.
Once you discover the ruins at Sofia or Diocletian’s Palace in Croatia, you begin the realise that only half of Europe’s incredible history resides in the west.
The stories and remnants of the old Russian dynasties, the orthodox Christan expansion and the Greek, Byzantine and Ottoman Empire all live here, waiting to be rediscovered.
The quaint and down-to-earth approach to life often found here may be very appealing for those looking to escape the pace of the modern world. Many towns and villages follow a lifestyle handed down through the ages. You can experience authentic cultural festivals, food, and locally unique atmosphere here without the commercial edge.
In stark contrast to the farmland countryside of Western Europe, countries like Romania boast some of the most beautiful unkempt wilderness you can find. In fact, the last true forest home to European Bison exists within Bialowieza National Park between Belarus and Poland.
Add the majestic raw country of the Carpathian and Tatra mountains in Romania and Slovakia respectively for some idea of the hiking and terrain-challenging possibilities.
Slovakia has an amazing skiing offering in Donovaly, as does Borovets in Bulgaria. But compared to the popular resorts in Austria, Switzerland or Germany, these are relatively uncrowded. And just like everything else, it’s probably cheaper on the whole.
If you’re up for a new adventure and keen to get off the beaten path, you should definitely consider giving The Eastern States of Europe a chance. Explore the other half of European history and culture, and possibly save a few dollars while avoiding the crowds!
It must be said – in all fairness – that the enduring appeal of Western Europe is undeniable. The benefit of many years of tourism development is evident in the ease of access (26 countries can be accessed through Schengen), transport and popularity of many of its landmarks.
Western Europeans may also find it slightly easier to navigate language barriers, with English, French and German being widely spoken.
These cities still contain many ancient icons of western history and culture: The Colosseum in Rome, the Canals of Venice, the Eiffel Tower, even the Brandenburg Gate. Each conjures images of myth, legend, romance or tragedy, and an old world that has in many ways dominated large parts of world culture for millennia.
Highly rated accommodation and entertainment are major appeals of the European west. The hotels, restaurants and services here largely set the benchmarks for their entire industries. For many travellers, this is a big factor in their decision to visit.
Likewise, most shopping and fashion centres around trends in Western Europe. The shopping capitals of the western world are at your disposal here – if you can afford them. But they are also abundant, which makes them conspicuous.
If the convenience and luxury of the tried and tested is what you’re after, you won’t go wrong. But you have to not mind the prices and the crowds.
In the end, taking a chance on either side of Europe really is an exciting prospect. On the one hand, there’s the well-established and well-known side – the west. On the other, there’s the mystery of the east. Which will it be for you? It all simply depends on the kind of holiday you’re interested in. Maybe half the excitement is in the decision.