Hi. My name is Darren Alff… and for the last 18 years I have been traveling around the world on my bicycle. I’ve pedaled by bike hundreds of thousands of miles/kilometers and I’ve ridden across dozens of different countries on multiple continents all around the world. In fact, I’ve cycled across every country in Europe (except for Belarus, Cyprus and Russia)… and I can tell you that Eastern Europe is one of the best places in the world for traveling with a bicycle. Not only that, but Eastern Europe is one of the most underrate travel destinations in the world! Here’s why…
Eastern Europe is a Great Cycling Destination
Eastern Europe is inexpensive. Compared to almost any western European country, Eastern Europe is significantly cheaper when it comes to food, lodging, public transportation and entertainment. If you want to save money on a future cycling holiday, consider making a trip to Eastern Europe!
There are fewer tourists in Eastern Europe, which means you can travel in almost any Eastern European country and receive a more authentic experience than what you might get in many western countries. Popular western European countries can sometimes feel a bit like Disneyland (i.e think about the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France or Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany). You won’t be contending with those kinds of crowds in Eastern Europe!
Finally, traveling through Eastern Europe is a bit like traveling back in time. If you want to see what Europe used to look like, then make a trip to the east. Because there are places in Eastern Europe that look pretty much the way they did 100 years ago or more. But don’t worry! A trip to Eastern Europe may sometimes feel as though you’ve stepped back in time, but Eastern Europe boasts all the modern conveniences you can expect to find in the west (i.e delicious food, fast internet, cell phone coverage, well-connected public transportation, locals that speak English, and a whole lot more!)
Where is Eastern Europe Exactly?
Believe it or not, but there is actually some debate over which European countries are in the east and which countries are in the west. That’s because there are several different methods for differentiating between an eastern and western country.
For example, some people want to divide Europe based on religious lines, while others think the east and west should be divided based on their status during the cold war.
Because there’s some debate over which countries are in the east and which countries in the west, you should know that for the purpose of this article, when I refer to an Eastern European country, I’m talking about Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Ukraine, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus and Turkey.
Western Europe, however, would be defined as: Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Ireland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Spain, Portugal and Italy.
Yes, there are a few smaller countries mixed in there, but I’ve left them out for the purpose of simplicity. These are the countries most people are familiar with when they refer to either western Europe or Eastern Europe.
How To Travel in Europe on a Shoestring
One of the easiest ways to travel in Europe on a tight budget is to simply replace a trip through Western Europe with a trip through Eastern Europe instead.
- Instead of going to the Netherlands (which is flat and full of bike paths), go to Estonia.
- Instead of going to Switzerland, which is both scenic and mountainous, go to Romania.
- Instead of traveling to Italy or France, which are known for their delicious meals, go to Poland.
- And instead of laying on the beaches in Portugal or Spain, go to Croatia or Montenegro.
Simply replacing a similar Western European country with an Eastern European equivalent can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars in just a short amount of time.
My Favorite Countries in Eastern Europe
There are a number of beautiful, interesting, and historic locations to visit in Eastern Europe, so which countries in the east are most worthy of your time?
Well, let me tell you about three of my favorite cycling destinations in Eastern Europe:
Romania – If you want to see what Switzerland used to look like before it became so well-manicured and strict, then consider traveling to Romania for some epic cycling adventures. The landscapes are spectacular (especially in the mountains and the Transylvania region), the people are friendly, the prices for just about everything are ridiculously cheap, and Romania has the second fastest Internet in the world (if that’s something that’s important to you).
Ukraine – If you want to experience Soviet era living without actually making the trip to nearby Russia, Ukraine is an incredibly cycling and/or travel destination. The roads in Ukraine are pretty poor (think lots of potholes), so don’t expect to set any speed records while you’re there, but be sure to take in the architecture and the colors. There is something so unique about the colors in Ukraine. It’s unlike anything you’ll experience anywhere else in Europe. Plus, traveling in Ukraine is super inexpensive. It’s one of the cheapest travel destinations in all of Eastern Europe!
Estonia – If you want an easy, but enjoyable cycling holiday in a country that is almost entirely flat, the consider making a trip to Estonia, which borders Finland, Russia and the tiny nation of Latvia. Explore the thick Estonian forests or take a ferry boat out to one of the thousands of Estonian islands and explore the scenic nature that you find there. Estonia is a hidden gem in Eastern Europe that very few people know about or even consider going to, but it’s one of the best cycling destinations in all of Europe if you want a flat and enjoyable bicycle touring holiday.
Other countries that I really enjoy are Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Croatia. Turkey has some great cycling in the countryside, but biking in the cities there can be downright scary!
Popular Cycling Routes in Eastern Europe
While countries like the Netherlands, France and Switzerland are famous for their cross-country bike paths, there are actually hundreds of different cycling routes in Eastern Europe.There’s no way I could share every single Eastern European bike route with you in this article, so instead, here are four of the most popular bicycle touring routes in Eastern Europe:
- EuroVelo 6: The Danube River Route
- 4,400 km – from France to Bulgaria
- Crosses through 10 countries
- Mostly flat
- Coasts, rivers, castles and top-class infrastructure
- The Loire Valley and the Danube Rivers segments are the highlights
- The Prague to Vienna Greenway
- 450 km – through the Czech Republic and Austria
- Can be done in 1 week
- Option to continue to Bratislava and Budapest (4 total countries)
- EuroVelo 13: The Iron Curtain Route
- 10,400 km – the longest EuroVelo route
- Passes through 20 countries
- Follows the approximate route of the Iron Curtain
- GreenVelo Route in Poland
- 2,000 km
- 300 kilometers of the route is on dedicated bike paths
- 150 kilometers on unpaved roads
- 230 Cyclist Service Points equipped with bicycle racks, sheds and benches, rubbish bins and information boards.
- There are an additional 10,000 kilometers of other marked cycle routes along the trail, as well as hundreds of noteworthy tourist attractions along the way.
To learn more about bicycle touring in Eastern Europe, which countries make for the best cycling destinations, and which bicycle touring routes I recommend most, listen to the podcast below or watch the video at the top of this page.