My Favourite Countries of 2016

Melnik Sunset, Favourite Countries of 2016

Compared to last years travels, this year’s adventures have been decidedly one note. Rather than bouncing around the world like I did back in 2015, 2016 was about exploring Central and Eastern Europe and seeing what they had to offer. My jet-setting lifestyle took a backseat to the reality of needing money and after quite some looking for work from Vienna, I began freelancing and even started stock photography. My insane tally of countries from last year was  well out of reach but I did manage to reach 15 countries throughout the year and managed to explore quite a few new places. So without further ado, while it was tough to pick just a few, here are my favourite countries of 2016.

 


Romania

Favourite Countries of 2016

You know when you’re curious and excited to visit a country and it totally delivers? Well, that was Romania for me this year. I’d been enamored with the romantic idea of Transylvania and the gothic legend of Dracula, so it was nice to get a real, first hand taste of both. It is also turned out that there was so much more to admire and learn about the country than just stories of vampires.

I’m easily swayed by castles and old towns and Romania has them in spades. When it comes to castles, the big 3 are Corvin, Peleș and Bran, each impressive and equally distinctive. As for old towns, the medieval citadel of Sighișoara is hard to beat but the heavily Germanic city of Sibiu comes close. Romania is also home to some fascinating urban areas, from the border city of Oradea which is seeing quite a bit of development by its riverfront, to Cluj-Napoca with its cosmopolitan feel and plethora of dining options. Of course there’s also the nation’s capital Bucharest and its curious mix of Communist and modern architecture.

Sibiu, Favourite Countries of 2016

One aspect of the country I failed to properly see was its bountiful nature. I did get glimpses of it in places like Brașov on the edge of the Carpathian Mountains and the rustic meadows of Maramureș, but I’d love to see more next time.

 

Poland

Once I had arrived in Poland, I realised what I had been missing out on after all this time in Europe. Poland is so close to places I’d been to before like Germany and Czech Republic, yet I’d never really made time for it. The idea of it never really dazzled me but after visiting I see it on a whole new light. While it may be similar to some of its neighbours, Poland definitely puts its own spin on things.

A visit to Poland requires an examination of its history. The tragic impacts of World War II and vile acts of the Holocaust are best explored in tours of Warsaw and Krakow, but yes also Auschwitz. It may have been gut-wrenching at times but experiencing these sights felt like a profoundly important thing to do in Europe. Despite the vast destruction sustained during WWII, the country does boast some gorgeous medieval old towns. Top of the list have to be the city of Krakow with spots like Wawel Castle and the charming town of Torun. Poland does also have plenty of reconstructed town squares like in Poznan, Wrocław and Gdansk. While they may not be the original buildings, they’re pretty darn picturesque.

Ostrow Tumski Poland, Favourite Countries of 2016

As usual, my desire to visit unusual places lead to me to some neat spots. The eastern city of Białystok was a nice place to begin my Polish adventures, particularly checking out the lively Sunday market. On the far side of the country, the mouthful that is Szczecin showed more of a modern side. It also made a great base to explore somewhere that I’d read about before, The Crooked Forest. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting but it was still appropriately strange.

It’s nice to learn that Poland is always another option for exploring, especially with its fondness for pierogis and beer. Expect more posts on Poland to come.

 

Bulgaria

Steep Houses, Veliko Tarnovo, Favourite Countries of 2016

Sometimes you find cool spots in the places you least suspect. And frankly, I didn’t suspect Bulgaria was going to be a favourite country of mine this year. I knew next to nothing about it other than where it was on a map. Which is a shame because it deserves more attention and not just for its sunny coastline.

Bulgaria is not particularly known for its cities but it should be. The capital Sofia is a welcome blend of various influences: Communist, Ottoman, Roman, Balkan, Modern; take your pick. The ancient city of Plovdiv balances a wealth of Roman landmarks with cool, gentrified areas like The Trap. Lastly, the fantastically named Veliko Tarnovo has an iconic fortress and a hell of a cityscape.

Sozopol Beach, Favourite Countries of 2016

Don’t get me wrong, Bulgaria’s coast deserves all the attention it gets thanks to its sandy beaches and charming seaside towns. While places like Sunny Beach and Varna weren’t really my speed, they did have decent beaches. My favorite spot to relax though had to be New Nesebar where I spent close to 2 weeks unwinding. What was great was it was close to both the historic islet of Old Nesebar and some more laid back beaches. Another spot well worth mentioning is quaint Sozopol with its traditional houses and coastal views. Plus its a little less popular but expect that to change.

I could go on and on about Bulgaria, like how cheap and how diverse it is or about its fantastic natural features like the bizarre sand pyramids of Melnik. Bulgaria is not only somewhere that I could revisit to find new places, but also full of places to which I could happily return.

 

Latvia

Sigulda Forest Church, Favourite Countries of 2016

To me, visiting the Baltic countries was just something I had to do. It felt like I was missing out on a corner of Europe. So I decided to make my way there during summer, starting with Latvia and found it hard to top. I’d never expected that Latvia would wow me the way it did, especially since I knew very little about the county beyond the capital Riga. Turns out, there’s quite a lot to do in this intriguing northern nation.

One thing that really caught my eye was how much nature and wilderness there was in such a small country. Traversing the country involved passing through a lot of forest and past plenty of gorgeous rivers. Be it the remarkable Ventas Waterfall of Kuldiga, to the natural landmarks along the Gauja Valley to the pristine beaches of Jūrmala and Liepaja, Latvia is paradise for nature lovers. What’s great about Latvia is that the nature is often coupled with some wonderful historical landmarks. The castles of towns like Sigulda and Cesis are incredible and really add something to the already beautiful scenery. There’s also remnants from Latvia’s Communist past like the northern fortresses of Karosta that transform a beautiful beach into a thoroughly iconic sight. History and nature combined – and it’s awesome.

Dome Square Riga, Favourite Countries of 2016

Putting all of the above aside, there is a reason that Riga is the most popular tourist spot. There’s just something about this city that is instantly endearing and I could have happily spent more than a week exploring the charming old town and rest of the city. Full of colourful, elaborate buildings and a welcoming, pleasant atmosphere, Riga is an easy city to settle into and even a favourite European capital of mine. Latvia’s just one country that I’d love to learn more about and do it the only way you can – by going back.

 


Well, those were my favourite countries that I ventured to in 2016. Have you been to any of the above? What were your favourites of the 2016?

Why Not Pin It for Later

My Favourite Countries of 2016 by @travelsewhere

 

15 Comment

  1. Wonderful countries you visited this year of 2016. Glad you did because I enjoyed reading about places I would never have thought to visit. The Baltic Countries were not on my list to travel too but after reading these articles I am ready to head that way. I can not choose a favorite so I will have to visit them all to decide. I pinned this for later use and enjoyed the stunning photos. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. Garth says: Reply

    Great summary, Ive enjoyed reading all your posts this year, always inspiring. Ive already made a list of places to go based on some of your posts, for when we eventually do our big European tour. Happy New Year! here’s to lots of travelling in 2017.

  3. paulandcarolelovetotravel says: Reply

    Great year and such interesting destinations. Would love to visit Romania and must say Bulgaria looks intriguing. Thanks for sharing. #feetdotravel

  4. I love following your blog. You always seem to inspire me to visit somewhere I had never considered before! I am sure you will continue to do the same in the new year!

  5. Midori says: Reply

    Looks like a list done by myself!!!! LOVE

  6. You’ve been to some wonderful places over the last year. I have no doubt that you will also be making your way to even more exciting and off the beaten path destinations in 2017. Looking forward to seeing where else your travels take you!

  7. Sounds like you’ve had an amazing year! Im just getting started on my travel journey with my travel blog! I have a few places set to travel this year, can’t wait! I hope this year brings you more amazing experiences and travels! Happy New Year!

  8. I love that Poland made your list! That’s where our round the world honeymoon started 🙂 Although tragic, it has such rich history. It was also surprisingly one of the top budget friendly countries for travel.

  9. As I have followed your journey through most of Central/Eastern Europe, I did wonder if Romania would come high on your list! I have yet to travel to this part of the world but having read your posts of Bulgaria, Latvia and Poland, I really do want to visit sooner rather than later! This is a fabulous re-cap of your favourite countries visited in 2016 and here’s to many more exciting adventures in 2017! I wonder where this year will take you …#feetdotravel

  10. I really enjoyed reading about your travels this year. You visited some fab places, very different from where I spent my year – exploring S E Asia. I love all the photos of castles and colourful houses. It all looks so beautiful.

  11. I haven’t made it to any of those countries yet though I must admit Poland and Romania are on the radar for some point – and now all the others too!

    My favourite countries this year was a short stop in Bosnia Herzegovina (it made an impression) and Croatia particularly Split which i loved!

  12. You’ve had an absolute blast and have explored so many amazing places. How much travelling did you do in 2015 because this year has been super busy for you! Loved all your posts especially on all the awesome castles, small towns and wonderful nature of Central Europe. Wishing you an awesome 2017

  13. Looks like you had an amazing year! I would love to visit all of these places one day. And as always great photos! 🙂

  14. What a year! Along the way, we’ve marveled at your posts from some really gorgeous locations. You have a great knack for finding awesome spots, both for the history and the beauty. Can’t wait to see where we find you in 2017!

  15. Looks like you had an amazing year! Sometimes its absolutely necessary to do some “slow traveling” instead of hopping all over the place! This year we’re going to focus on trying to find new jobs, freelancing etc to allow us to travel more freely. I was just talking with my husband if his job would allow him to “work from home” (but from a hotel) on a longer term basis rather than only a few days every now and then. That alone would help! Happy New Year!

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