Combine the words Europe and travel, and people coo "Paris," "London" or "Rome." However, the Iron Curtain fell more than two decades ago, and since then, eastern european countries have embraced progress while maintaining the cultures that make them interesting and unique. But that isn't the only reason to step off the beaten path. The current strong dollar combined with the lower costs of just about everything (hotels, food, transportation) in the eastern part of Europe means good value for budget travelers. While the situation in Europe as a whole might be somewhat unattractive to tourists in 2016, with security, transportation and the overall atmosphere undergoing a time of change, if you're the adventurous type, you may find that this is the perfect time to experience something new.
Winged dragons guard the bridge to Old Town, and they proliferate throughout Slovenia's capital city. One graces the top of Ljubljana Castle's tower, the city's coat of arms and even each manhole cover! With over 2,000 years of history, Ljubljana boasts beautiful landmark bridges, a working funicular, several rivers, historic cathedrals, art galleries, museums, city squares, parks and botanical gardens. For those on the alternative or avant-garde cutting edge, Ljubljana's Metelkova and Rog neighborhoods and the Šiška Cultural Quarter offer entertainment for every sense, from food to music and art. Extremely walkable, the area is also highly bikeable, earning 13th in a top-20 ranking of the world's most bicycle-friendly cities. The Trail of Remembrance and Comradeship encircles the city. Mountain trails will lead you to Velika Planina, the oldest shepherd's village in Europe, and pathways through Ljubljana Marshes highlight protected fens, peat bogs and a black-limestone quarry.
If you want modern entertainment among white-stone ruins, a Mediterranean climate and azure sea, Split, on Croatia's Dalmatian coast, lies just across the Adriatic Sea from the spur of Italy's boot. It's a city worthy of Roman Emperor Diocletian's 8-acre palace, a mini-city in itself and World Heritage Site blending trendy eateries and shops with museums and galleries. You can go native at the Pazan outdoor fruit and vegetable market by the palace's east wall or the Fish Market, which opens each morning at 6:30 in Old Town. For strolling, the Riva promenade is known as "pedestrian heaven," with its cafes, restaurants and special events, and you can follow it to bustling Marmont Street. If you're looking for excursions or local seaside atmosphere, Split has a seaport as well as the West Coast. Wherever you go, don't forget the vino; Croatia is ancient wine country.
For those looking for medieval flavor with baroque flair, Lithuania's capital city on the Neris River dates at least to the early 14th century thanks to Grand Duke Gediminas and his howling Iron Wolf. While the area can be desperately chill in winter months, temperatures average in the 60s and 70s May through September. Old Town, or Senamiestis, is a World Heritage Site, its key attractions the Vilnius Castle Complex, bell towers, squares, churches and cathedrals, but there's also the Street of Writers and an art district declared its own unofficial republic. Among Vilnius' various historical and art museums is the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum documenting the Holocaust; Vilnius' Jewish quarter became 2 Jewish ghettos during World War II. Despite an old and varied history, Vilnius is modern and cosmopolitan, a notably green city full of parks, arts, shopping, gastronomic delights, bikes and destinations for anyone. It's worth noting that Lithuania hasn't been much affected by the recent geopolitical events currently affecting other European countries.
Although you'll be hard pressed to find direct flights from U.S. airports, if you don't mind a layover you can find tickets at prices that match those of flights to the more traditional european tourist destinations. If you plan to make a euro-trip out of your visit, be sure to bring a credit card with no foreign transaction fees to save money when you pay in euros (Lithuania and Slovenia) or Croatian kunas. You can also save yourself the cost of travel insurance by paying for your bookings using a credit card that offers travel insurance.