Eastern Europe’s cities come into their own in winter. With a dusting of snow and fewer visitors, it’s a pleasure to walk their old towns and visit their museums. Here are five of the best Eastern European cities for a winter trip.
Krakow‘s Old Town is characterful and charming year round. But a winter chill in the air is the perfect excuse to consume Poland’s comfort food. Ham hocks, crispy potatoes, steamed pierogi–they somehow taste better out in the open, followed by a steaming mug of hot chocolate. Wawel Castle and Schindler’s Factory are year-round attractions, as is the street art of Kazimierz. Take a trip out to visit Auschwitz; the horror of its history is even more real in the cold of winter.
Prague, Czech Republic
Rammed in summer, Prague‘s crowds disappear once the temperatures fall. Wandering the cobbled streets of the old town becomes a pleasure. In Old Town Square, the astronomical clock has been restored to its former glory. The statues in nearby Charles Bridge look even better under a sprinkling of snow. Take the funicular up Petrin Hill to Prague’s answer to the Eiffel Tower and survey the frosty scene beneath you.
The twin cities of Buda and Pest face off across the River Danube. Ride the funicular to Castle Hill and take in the views from Fishermen’s Bastion. Take a tour of the Hungarian Parliament and visit the delightful covered market. On the edge of town, ride the Children’s Railway–the only adult permitted to work on the railway is the train driver. If you get too cold, return to one of the city centre’s many thermal baths and take a dip. After dark, make sure you pay a visit to at least one of Budapest’s ruin bars.
Elegant Lviv feels more like Vienna than Kiev, and this western Ukrainian city is perfect for a winter city break. The centre is compact and walkable, its old town crowded with churches and mansions. Climb the tower of the town hall for a bird’s eye view; a schlep up to the castle is also in order. Fuel up afterward with a purchase at Lviv Handmade Chocolates. The National Art Gallery and the Theatre of Opera and Ballet provide an injection of culture.
Historic Brașov is one of Romania’s gems, its backdrop of forested mountains delightful under a blanket of snow. Begin in Council Square and visit the nearby Black Church–it’s not black at all, but takes its name from a fire which left soot on its walls. Catherine’s Gate is the last standing mediaeval gate in the city; 600-year-old walls survive. Nearby, an excursion to Bran Castle takes you into the heart of Dracula country. Sighișoara’s cobbled streets are also a must before you leave Transylvania.