Eastern Europe’s old towns preserve the historic integrity of the region’s best destination cities. Big or small, they are what draw visitors every summer for sightseeing and every winter for holiday markets and concert seasons. Cafes, museums, royal complexes, and architecturally significant churches are a part of every old town landscape, though each will leave a unique impression and create lasting memories. Below are some of travelers’ favorite old towns that offer lots to see, plenty to do, and their own special magic.
Prague is legendary for its enchanting, sprawling old town and its affordability compared to other European capitals. Visitors often return from Prague goggle-eyed and full of stories about beer cheaper than water. Prague does indeed have one of the best old towns in Eastern Europe, and visitors can spend a week or more there and not grow bored. After you’ve seen all of the essentials, try visiting any one of the eclectic collection of museums in the Old Town, take a day trip from the city, or simply relax in a historic Prague café.
Krakow’s old town
is likely second only to Prague in many travelers’ eyes. With the large Wawel Castle complex, the impressive Market Square, and winding side streets that reveal the charm of past centuries, Krakow enchants and entertains. Plenty of restaurants serving up hearty Polish cuisine and fortifying drinks are also a part of Krakow’s allure. Shop for gifts at the Cloth Hall, enjoy a horse-and-carriage ride, or browse antique shops.
Dubrovnik’s old town is a time machine to a former era. The wall surrounding the red-roofed cluster of houses, churches, and palaces provides postcard-perfect views into courtyards or calming sea scenery. In the warmest weather, take advantage of Dubrovnik’s proximity to the water to visit the beach or one of the nearby islands. Or enjoy the winter holidays in Dubrovnik’s temperate climate. In addition, you can enjoy local wines and traditional seafood dishes on a terrace by the bay or book a romantic holiday in one of Dubrovnik’s hotels.
Vilnius’ old town
has a unique character: large but cozy, smart but fun, old and rambling but tidy and modern at the same time. Vilnius welcomes visitors who arrive with one set of expectations and leave with an entirely different set of impressions. See Gediminas Castle Tower and the cathedral below to get to the heart of the ancient Grand Duchy of Lithuania, stroll down Pilies Street and Gediminas Prospect for restaurants and shops catering to tourists, enjoy popping into any one of the elegant churches, and see the Gate of Dawn, the only remaining gate from Vilnius’ historic fortifications. Free activities in Vilnius abound, including concerts, performances, and outdoor markets.
Ljubljana’s pretty old town is colorful and romantic. Its willow tree-lined canals and historic squares provide inspiration for a host of activities: a twilight concert, an afternoon at a café, an ascent to Ljubljana Castle. Ljubljana is home to a host of intriguing museums, and it celebrates holidays with the best of the European capital cities.
Bratislava’s old town
is small and neat, but even if you only have a day, you can get much out of your visit. Bratislava is proud of being the former home of the Hungarian crown jewels, and you’ll see the church where coronations once took place (and are recreated every autumn during an annual event). The Slovak National Theater is an excellent venue for evening performances, Bratislava Castle preserves the region’s history, and a souvenir market sells handmade crafts, jewelry, guidebooks, and postcards.