Europe has more to offer than Paris, London, and Rome. On your next Euro adventure, skip the overrun hotspots and head straight to the heart of the continent. Discover the 10 best cities to visit in Central Europe with this centralized itinerary.
Explore Central Europe with These Top 10 Cities
These 10 best cities in Central Europe offer something for every type of traveller from history buffs to culinary connoisseurs. Most are cheaper to travel in than their Western Europe counterparts like Paris and London, so you’ll be able to live it up on your Europe trip and still stay on budget.
We recommend you start your itinerary in the north and work your way down to a reward of beaches and islands. All cities are accessible by bus, Eurail, or plane, but we offer tips on the best transportation options. Start adding stamps to your passport with this whirlwind, Central European itinerary. Ready? Here you go.
1. Riga, Latvia
Best for budget-conscious architecture enthusiasts
Settled along the River Daugava, which flows into the Baltic Sea, Riga is the cultural and political capital of Latvia. In addition to roughly 4,000 wooden buildings—which can be found in the Grizinkalns, Sarkandaugava and Kipsala neighbourhoods, the city has the highest concentration of Art Nouveau architecture in the world. Stop by Riga Central Market and indulge your inner foodie for a taste of Latvian specialties, including warm virtuļi (doughnuts) and speķrauši (pastry). After that, visit a bar in the Old Town and order the signature Riga Black Balsam.
How to get there: Start with a flight to Riga International Airport (RIX). Learn how to get cheap flights to Europe.
2. Vilnius, Lithuania
Best for those looking for experiences off the beaten path
There are many reasons Vilnius should be at the top of your list of the best cities to visit in Central Europe. For starters, the Lithuanian capital’s Botanical Gardens adds flora and fauna to the green space that covers somewhere near 40 percent of the city. Several historical monuments, from Church of St Peter & Paul to St. John’s Church and the Gate of Dawn showcase the architectural triumphs of the 16th century and onward. Meanwhile, in the summer, hot air balloons take visitors up over the city for panoramic views of its orange rooftops and Gothic spires.
How to get there: Take a four-hour rail ride from Riga, or a one-hour flight.
3. Gdańsk, Poland
Best for travellers in search of emerging underground scenes
Despite being one of the best cities to visit in Central Europe, Gdańsk has long underrated. But more recently, tourists have been catching on to this Baltic city’s appeal. Nonetheless, this sixth-largest city in Poland is still relatively affordable to visit. Despite the need for reconstruction post-WWII, much of Gdańsk’s old town preserves the medieval charm, with a touch of Gothic, Baroque, and modern architecture mixed in.
Wide pedestrian sidewalks in Gdańsk carry travellers along streets bearing 500-year-old names, past Dlugi Targ (the Long Market), city hall, Neptune Fountain, and The Green Gate Royal Castle. Walk through the Long Gardens to Stagiewna Street for a promenade around the marina.
How to get there: Your best bet is to fly, or take a bus from Warsaw, Poland.
4. Berlin, Germany
Best for those who like a mix of urban art, history, and nightlife
Affordable, iconic, stylish, and modern. East meets west in Berlin, the storied capital of Germany. Remnants of the Berlin Wall, which divided the capital in the aftermath of World War II, can be found around the city. The East Side Gallery, the longest intact strip, follows the Spree River into Kreuzberg with murals decorated by artists from around the world. Pay a visit to Museum Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s home to treasures from the ancient world. Also, don’t forget to pay respects at the Holocaust Memorial, located near the Brandenburg Gate. Take a break in the neighbourhood of Kreuzberg at Companion Coffee, one of Berlin’s top-rated cafés.
How to get there: Take a full-day train ride, or fly one-hour flight from Gdańsk.
5. Prague, Czech Republic
Best for sightseers in search of fairytale cityscapes
With its fairytale castle and spires as far as the eye can see, Prague is undoubtedly one of the best cities to visit in Central Europe. The capital is most well known for its 600-year-old Astronomical Clock and vibrant Baroque buildings of the Old Town. But there are also modern attractions, such as the dynamic Dancing House and the DOX Centre for Contemporary Arts to visit, too. No trip is complete without a paddleboat cruise down the whimsy Vltava River, where views of the Charles Bridge are unbeatable.
How to get there: Prague is a short hop from Berlin by plane and about four hours by train.
6. Vienna, Austria
Best for classical music aficionados and history buffs
The music of Mozart is one of many reasons Vienna ranks as one of the best cities to visit in Central Europe. But Mozart was just one of many composers— including Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert and Strauss—who called “The City of Music” home in the 18th and 19th century. Stay on theme with breakfast at Café Mozart and lunch at Café Frauenhuber, a favourite haunt of the Requiem composer. After that, catch a show at the Vienna State Opera after a full day visiting imperial palaces and the MuseumsQuartier district. Seeing a performance of the Wiener Mozart Orchester in the Musikverein theatre’s Golden Hall is a stellar option, too.
How to get there: From Prague, Vienna is less than an hour by plane, and roughly four hours by train.
7. Budapest, Hungary
Best for travellers who like to be pampered on a budget
On the banks of the Danube, the second longest river in Europe, sits Budapest, the capital of Hungary. While in town visit Buda Castle, St. Stephen’s Basilica, and Fisherman’s Bastion, a 19th-century fortress with city-wide views. Afterward, indulge with a trip to Széchenyi Thermal Bath, the largest medicinal bathhouse on the continent. It’s one of the affordable luxuries that makes Budapest one of the best cities to visit in Central Europe.
How to get there: Fly non-stop in just over an hour, or follow the Danube by train.
8. Bratislava, Slovakia
Best for those who like to explore by bike or on foot
Want to find those “hidden gems” in Central Europe? Head to Slovakia. Start your visit to Slovakia‘s capital with a trip up Bratislava Castle’s 47-metre-high crown tower. Or for a more modern perspective, head to UFO, an observation deck that sits 95-metres high atop the SNP Bridge. Both vantage points showcase the palaces, cathedrals, and parks scattered across the city.
Hailed as one of Europe’s most livable cities, Bratislava boasts several car-free and cyclist-friendly spaces, numerous museums, and cafés and restaurants that pour onto terraces come summer. Bookmark Matej Krén Passage for your next visit. Installed at Pálffy Palace, the passageway creates an illusion of infinite space out of stacked books.
How to get there: Bratislava is an easy two-and-a-half hour train ride from Budapest.
9. Ljubljana, Slovenia
Best for those keen on slow-pace pleasures, from riverboats to wine tastings
Pronounced Lyoo-blyah-nuh, it’s hard not to fall head over heels for Slovenia‘s capital, which translates to “loved woman.” Greenery is in abundance here, with several parks and natural protected areas surrounding river Ljubljanica and its environs. Take a cruise in a wooden riverboat for views of Ljubljana Castle, the restored riverbank, the Baroque houses of the old town, and the Central Market. Also, best of all, the boats pass under the city’s famous bridges, including Cobbler’s Bridge and Dragon Bridge. After that, head to the Trnovo neighbourhood and sample Slovenian wine at a local bar.
How to get there: Choose from cheap bus options, car rental, or short flights. The train corridor between Budapest and Ljubljana is not the most efficient.
10. Split, Croatia
Best for beach and nature lovers
Located on the Dalmatian Coast, Split is the second-largest city in Croatia and is known for its sandy and pebbled beaches. Several well-preserved sites of ruins attest to the city’s history as a Roman stronghold. Chief among them is Diocletian’s Palace, a vast imperial palace and fortress constructed by the emperor in the 4th century. In the summer, the palace’s courtyard transforms into an open-air theatre for reenactments and performances.
After exploring the labyrinthine streets of Split’s Old Town, connect with nature in Marjan Forest Park. Additionally, day trips to the nearby islands of Solta, Brac, and Hvar provide another way to escape the hustle and bustle.
How to get there: Flying is the fastest option, but the drive or train ride down the coast offers unbeatable views.
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