What facts about Eastern Europe do you know? What don’t you know? This region of the world, unfortunately, still has a reputation, due to the 20th century’s experiment with Communism, of being a gray, uncultivated place with people who are either grumpy, cold, or depressed.
But this stereotype is totally untrue in addition to being ridiculous—and thankfully, it’s fading fast. These few facts about Eastern Europe will open your eyes to its potential as a place to visit (or maybe even live!) and the exciting things that are happening there.
Its Geography Is Ambiguous
One of the most important facts about Eastern Europe is that nobody can really agree on what countries make up the region.
Eastern Europe, in the West, is often thought of as those countries that were behind the Iron Curtain in the 20th century—countries that were a part of the Soviet Union or were satellite nations to the USSR and under Communist rule.
These countries included Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus and countries that were a part of the larger Eastern Bloc: Czechoslovakia (Czechia and Slovakia today), Romania, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Albania and Yugoslavia (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Slovenia today).
Eastern Europe, Northern Europe, Central Europe
However, today, some countries have tried to distance themselves from the Eastern European designation due to their unhappy relationship with recent history and the way it may have colored their reputation. For example, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia want to be considered Northern European, with Estonia going a step further and considering itself Nordic.
Poland and other countries further to the west position themselves as Central European.
Furthermore, some of these countries are a part of the European Union (Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia), while others are not.
It’s Budget Friendly
While the countries of Eastern Europe are generally becoming more expensive to live in, many of their capital cities continue to rank among the most affordable destinations for travelers.
When it comes to cheap destinations, Eastern Europe has plenty of options. Though many cities, such as Prague, are becoming more expensive as time passes, they may still be cheaper (or cheaper in some regards) compared to their Western European counterparts.
Sofia, Bulgaria; Bucharest, Romania; Bratislava, Slovakia; and Zagreb, Croatia all make the list of “cheapest destinations,” but even Warsaw, Tallinn, and Budapest are budget friendly.
Food and hotel prices vary, particularly according to where you stay and the season, but public transportation and other services are certainly more affordable than in the West.
One fact about Eastern Europe is that living there is also relatively affordable, of course, according to your income and your lifestyle.
Services, such as internet and mobile phone, are inexpensive (think internet as low as 12 euros per month), public transportation is reasonably priced, and real estate outside the city centers can be purchased for much lower prices than in many places in Western Europe or the US.
This fact about Eastern Europe makes the region attractive for people who want to try living in another country.
Soviet History Is, Well, History
It may be in the past, but Soviet history is one of the most important facts about Eastern Europe. This history gives the countries of the region a special flavor, but they are continuing to evolve and express their unique qualities to travelers as well as their individual spirit and values.
Physical and Psychological Remnants of the 20th Century
The remnants of the Eastern Bloc are apparent in these countries, and you can visit such places like Grutas Park in Lithuania or Memento Park in Hungary, which both showcase removed Communist-era statues. Czechia and Poland both have their Museum of Communism. Former KGB and State Security headquarters have also been repurposed in the various countries of the region.
It is true, however, that Eastern Europe is still dealing with the trauma of recent history. After all, the older generations continue to remember the Soviet era and have been deeply affected by it.
Deportations, oppression, neighbor informing upon neighbor, empty and meaningless accusations, censorship, and fear are only some aspects of Soviet history that continue to be dealt with during public holidays of remembrance, when monuments are erected, and by academics and in schools. Life under Soviet rule was a struggle to maintain various aspects of identity, such as culture, religion, and language.
Perfecting Branding and Image
However, since the fall of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the Iron Curtain, the countries of Eastern Europe have embraced their folk culture, reinvented their images, and welcomed the future.
Their reputations may have felt weighted by the events of the 20th century for some time, but they are shaking that off as they progress into unique travel destinations for those who want to explore a part of Europe that has had a very different trajectory than the West—and has plenty of victories to show for it.
For example, Estonia has positioned itself as a tech and digital society leader, while Poland is a major player in the gaming industry.
Eastern Europe Is a Destination for Medical Tourism
Another fact about Eastern Europe is that dental, wellness and cosmetic tourism is important in the region. Clients are attracted to the low prices, and high demand for services has motivated clinics to improve their offerings and the technology behind the services they provide.
Dental, wellness, and medical clinics in countries such as Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Lithuania have geared their services towards foreigners who combine travel with their need for particular health or beauty treatments. If you need an expensive procedure or want a tummy tuck at a fraction of the price you’d pay at home, it may be worth it to consider the costs of travel plus the procedure vs. just the procedure in your home country.
It Has an Exciting Food Scene
If you thought the food scene in Eastern Europe is bland or boring, you’re wrong.
It’s one of the modern facts about Eastern Europe that the food scene is only improving. Of course, you can sample local dishes that will pleasantly surprise you such as pink soup in Lithuania and Latvia, and the region is incredibly diverse in types of cuisine and dishes—from fresh-caught seafood in Montenegro to the caraway-spiced seasonal cheese from Latvia to the stuffed vegetables of Romania.
Furthermore, chefs in all countries explore ways in which they can give their cuisine international flair. They also study abroad and bring back new and different ways of cooking to their home cities, which they then use creatively to showcase their talent.
Look for the best restaurants in every city to get an idea of what this food scene has to offer: you will discover surprising fusions, beautiful presentation, and pride in presentation and service.
Eastern Europe Is a Region of Startups and Entrepreneurial Creativity
Eastern Europe’s startup culture continues to expand, with cities such as Tallinn, Vilnius, Budapest, Warsaw, and Prague developing ideas and products for a global market in areas such as business verification, blockchain, and digital banking. It may be one of the most surprising facts about Eastern Europe to those who are just beginning to learn about the region.
If you’ve ever used the Estonian money transfer service TransferWise (now known simply as Wise), the presentation tool Prezi, which is Hungarian in origin, or AVAST cyber protection software, which comes from the Czech Republic, you’ve already gotten a taste of what the business and tech talent of the region of Eastern Europe has to offer. With such examples, it won’t be a surprise if the next big medical treatment, technological advancement, or scientific discovery comes out of the region.
If you spend any time in Eastern Europe, you will be able to get up close and personal with services and technologies already implemented in the region. Many countries have apps for everything from transportation to food and grocery delivery, but in their health sectors and government bureaucracies, you’ll also notice a 21st-century approach.
Banking can be both futuristic and backward at the same time, with better security but possibly poor translation or in-person service.
Eastern Europe is not yet fully leading us into the future, but it does have some lessons it can teach the rest of the world about effective use of digital resources.
It Has a Wide Expat Community
Many people choose to work and live in Eastern Europe—for various reasons. The facts about Eastern Europe that make it a great place to live attract people from around the world.
It may seem like only the most intrepid foreigners make their homes abroad in Eastern Europe, but doing so has many advantages. With cheap costs of living, growing industries and headquarters of companies located here, and accessible culture and public transportation, living in Eastern Europe is attractive for those who don’t mind the discomfort of communication issues or learning about another country’s bureaucracy.
Though each country has its requirements for foreigners who want to live and work there, companies can provide assistance and guidance for the process if they choose to hire you.
Living in Eastern Europe: An Opportunity for Discovery
If you’re interested in living and working in the region of Eastern Europe, your initial research may be about what international organizations are based there and what types of job openings they have. You should also research residency requirements and limitations and cost of living—each country will have its pros and cons in these areas specific to your particular situation.
At any rate, moving to Eastern Europe will be an adventure that will test your mettle, introduce you to a different way of life, inspire a journey of discovery, and give you plenty of stories to tell among friends.
It’s Getting Better for Minority Groups
Progress is being made in the areas of LGBTQ+ acceptance, visibility of disabled people, and gender equality.
Progress Towards Acceptance and Accessibility
It’s true that many of the societies of Eastern Europe adhere to what they consider to be a “traditional” or “family” based set of values. However, leaps and bounds have been made, particularly in the last few years, as visibility of differences in population has skyrocketed thanks to social media and a more accepting younger generation.
Each year, the European Institute of Gender Equality issues its Gender Equality Index, which often reflects increases in this area for specific countries of Eastern Europe.
Furthermore, Pride parades have become a natural part of annual events calendars, and European Union regulations require companies to consider disabled packaging and accessibility—for example, Braille on medicine packages and accessibility in buildings.
Research Before You Go
If you are a member of the LGBTQ+ or the disabled community, it is a good idea to research what kinds of difficulties you may face if you travel to the countries of Eastern Europe. The same goes for BIPOC or people of non-Christian religions.
People who do not look or act like generally homogenous populations in Eastern Europe may face different reactions from local communities, so it is best to be prepared.
The Final Fact about Eastern Europe Is that It’s Waiting for You, Whoever You Are
Eastern Europe has such a wide variety of climates, cultures, and ways of life, you might just discover your new passion there, take a job there, learn one of its languages, be inspired by its scenery or folk culture, or even find a partner.
The great thing about Eastern Europe is that it’s so huge and varied, that whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find it. With warm people willing to share their culture, to gorgeous landscapes, to folk culture, you can explore it any way you please. Take a class on Hungarian embroidery, enroll in language lessons, find your favorite after-work hangout and get to know the locals, embark on an epic hiking trip, or shop for local designs that will make your wardrobe unlike anyone else’s back home. You’ll no doubt take away your own facts about Eastern Europe that you want to share with others.