Traveling in Eastern Europe is quite an adventure. A lovely one, I assure you.
I’m born and raised in Romania, right-smack in Eastern Europe, bordering Central Europe. Ever since I started traveling independently (about 12 years ago), I’ve been faced with decisions on figuring out HOW to get from one place to another without spending too much money (especially when I was traveling on freelance gigs money) and not spending 24h on the train crossing the country.
Fast forward some years and things haven’t changed that much in Romania. With the exception of low-cost carriers which, finally, give us the chance to travel to Central, Western and Southern Europe. However, within Eastern Europe, it’s quite a challenge to find a cheap flight, although things are finally moving in the right direction.But, in most cases, you are still left with taking the bus, the train, renting a car or…whatever else (hitch-hiking, traveling on the bike, maybe riding a donkey).
Eastern Europe is still a land of mystery. From interesting (and often haunted) castles to fortresses, Medieval Towns and Christmas Markets, remains of the Communist Era and untouched patches of nature. Here, cultural and rural tourism is still at its best. You can stay (often for free) in monasteries and get to learn the monastic life and work to pay for your stay (although no one forces you to do anything or to be a particular faith). You can climb mountains, camp in nature and enjoy every single moment of it.
Point of Entry
I strongly advise you to choose Budapest, Hungary as a point of entry. The airport is very well served by a lot of airlines from all over the world, plus it’s hub for WizzAir, the biggest low-cost carrier in Eastern Europe. Ryanair is also well set here and EasyJet typically offers excellent flights to/from Western Europe.
Budapest is a major hub when it comes to train travel. The train stations connect the city with every single place in Eastern Europe (also Western Europe). The trains are elegant, clean, often have power outlets and you can buy passes to save money. Although, in many cases, if you travel by day, a pass won’t save a lot of money (but they are excellent for night trains).
Low cost carriers
Low-cost carriers might not fly within Eastern Europe but they connect it to the rest of Europe. Here are some ideas to check out:
- Air Baltic: flies from London (Gatwick and Heathrow) to Riga, Latvia
- Wizz Air: has the following bases Katowice, Warsaw, Gdansk in Poland, Budapest in Hungary, Cluj and Timisoara in Romania. They fly to London, Paris, Rome …to name just a few.
>>read our review
- Air Prishtina: offers flights Kosovo and Macedonia from Western Europe (Germany, Italy, Belgium)
- Blue Air: is a Romanian low cost carriers with flights to Western Europe (UK, Germany, Italy, France, etc). Flights operate out of Bucuresti Otopeni (OTP).
>>read our review
- EasyJet: has won the best low cost airline in Europe award couple of times and flies from the UK into Budapest, Hungary (and plenty other places, but doesn’t fly into Romania).
>>read our review
- Ryanair: flies to Budapest. Used to fly to Constanta, Romania but stopped that connection a year or so ago.
- Smart Wings: connects Prague, Czech Rep. to Southern Europe
The biggest issue with low-cost carries comes from the “hidden taxes”. So open your eyes when you book so that you won’t open your wallet when you fly. If you need extra luggage, buy the allowance when you book the ticket. It’s best to get a credit/debit card which is preferred by the airline if you fly a lot with a certain airline. For example, I prefer to pay for the priority boarding as it gets you some perks (i.e. a personal item if you fly WizzAir), so look into these extras as they may be worth it in some cases.
Tips & Tricks
Buy the flights in advance (but pay attention that the typical rules don’t always apply to low-cost carriers) and also arrange to book the accommodation in advance. In most places, you can skip search engines and booking sites and talk directly to owners (panzio – Hungarian, pensiune – Romanian are family owned villas which can be rented either in full or by room; they are low cost and an excellent value for money).
Buses and minibuses remain the cheapest option for traveling within the countries; and in many cases the ONLY way to get between smaller cities.
Although it costs more to travel during the holidays, spending Easter or Christmas in a village high in the mountains is an experience you won’t ever forget.
Photo: Budapest Airport by Cristina P.
Note: updated Feb 2017.