Europe can be broadly split into western and eastern halves separated by a line that once marked the so-called 'iron curtain'. The western zone is more heavily touristed, has better infrastructure, is chock-a-block with iconic monuments and – to most outsiders – more familiar. Travelling in this area is, invariably, comfortable and easy. The east is grittier, more community-focused, less affluent, but more inclined to grow on you. Travel in the east requires a little more effort, preplanning and spontaneity. However, when it comes down to the nitty-gritty (depth of food, architecture and culture) there's nothing between them.

Albania

Beaches

Scenery

Culture

Once-isolated Albania has some of the last undeveloped coastline on the Mediterranean, its mountains are some of Europe's most spectacular, and its culture one of the most passionately traditional anywhere in the world.

Austria

Winter Sports

Hiking

Architecture

In Austria, the hills are alive with the sound of skiers in the winter and hikers, cyclists and white-water rafters in the summer. When you're exhausted, head for the palatial cityscapes of Vienna and Salzburg.

Belarus

History

Architecture

Nature

If communist architecture is your thing, look no further than Minsk, which was rebuilt from rubble after WWII. Belarus also has two superb national parks – the Belavezhskaya Pushcha and the 'lungs of Europe', the Pripyatsky National Park.

Belgium & Luxembourg

History

Food

War Sites

Multilingual Belgium is an ideal place to examine medieval 'art' cities and gorge on local comfort food – waffles, chocolate and frites. For poignancy and reflection head afterwards to the erstwhile battlegrounds of Flanders and Waterloo.

Bosnia & Hercegovina

Scenery

Outdoor Adventures

History

One of the best Eastern European destinations for active holidays, Bosnia & Hercegovina is a great place for kayaking, skiing, hiking and mountain biking. With its mixed Muslim and Christian heritage, it's also a fascinating blend of cultures.

Britain

Culture

Music

Castles

Britain is about intensity – five millennia of history and culture crammed on to a small island and subsequently exported around the world. From the grandeur of over 5000 castles, to the genius of Shakespeare and The Beatles.

Bulgaria

Hiking

Beaches

History

With six mountain ranges within its borders, Bulgaria is a walker's fantasy, while you'll find the best Black Sea beaches on its sandy coastline and its ancient towns packed full of history.

Croatia

Cuisine

Architecture

Beaches

A dazzling coastline and thousands of islands, the extraordinary Plitvice Lakes National Park, Dubrovnik's legendary Old Town, Diocletian's Palace in Split and Istria's foodie offerings – you're spoiled for choice in Croatia.

Czech Republic

Old Towns

Scenery

Beer

Prague's beautiful Old Town is just the tip of the iceberg – Bohemia enjoys spectacular scenery and nowhere else in the world has as much cachet among beer lovers as the breweries in the Czech Republic.

Denmark

History

Islands

Cycling

Capital Copenhagen is Denmark in a nutshell. A historic city on an island where the main traffic is bicycles. All of these traits personify this flat, green, gentle, and hugely underrated country that regularly tops world liveability indices.

Estonia

Islands & Coastline

Architecture

Culture

Tallinn's Old Town is the medieval jewel of Estonia and walking its narrow streets is like strolling back to the 14th century. With an incredible 1521 islands studding its coastline, Estonia also offers great beaches.

Finland

Vibrant Cities

Wilderness

Winter Activities

The frozen north has its advantages: ice-fishing, skiing, snug saunas and instant access to one of Europe's last true wildernesses. Down south, Finland's trendy cities mix modern design features with a youthful and musical nightlife.

France

Food & Wine

Architecture

Landscapes

The world's most visited country needs no introduction for its genre-defining gastronomy, top-end wines and classy architecture including Parisian monuments and Loire Valley chateaux. Less heralded are France's diverse landscapes from Alpine meadows to Atlantic sand dunes.

Germany

History

Beer

Fairy-tale Scenery

Germany spawned many of Europe's great thinkers and artists, Marx, Goethe and Beethoven among them. You can follow their legacy across a cornucopia of fairy-tale landscapes knowing you're never far from a bar plying foamy beer.

Greece

Ancient Ruins

Islands

Food

European history lessons pretty much start in Greece with its sun-dappled ruins and fascinating mythology. But Greece is also a muddle of islands in the sparkling Aegean each harbouring its own identity and all offering great food.

Hungary

Architecture

Partying

Wine

Budapest is one of Eastern Europe's most happening party towns, while the architecture is to die for throughout the country. Oenophiles will love touring the vineyards of the Tokay region or tasting the famous Bull's Blood wine.

Iceland

Mother Nature

Wilderness

Culture

Rumbling volcanoes, geothermal pools, massive glaciers and gushing geysers, Iceland presents Mother Nature at her most fickle and fiery. For some respite from the natural elements retire to Reykjavik to verse yourself in the Nordic sagas.

Ireland

Pubs

Coastline

History

Ireland's emblematic pubs are snug founts of music, stout and poetic conversation. Beyond their steamed-up windows lie more bracing pursuits, from the dramatic cliffs of the west coast, to the history and legends of Dublin and Glendalough.

Italy

Food

History

Culture

Who doesn't like Italian food? And where better to eat it than in its European heartland loaded with all its regional nuances as you dip into a jumble of Roman ruins, Neapolitan churches and Venetian palaces?

Kosovo

History

Monasteries

Scenery

Check out Europe's newest and most controversial country. Kosovo's Serbian monasteries date to the 1300s and have outstanding frescoes, while the impressive hills around Peja are ideal for hiking and skiing.

Latvia

Architecture

Castles

History

With over 750 style moderne buildings in Rīga alone, Latvia has the largest collection of art-nouveau facades in the world. Crumbling castle ruins abound throughout the pine-peppered terrain, each a testament to a forgotten kingdom.

Lithuania

Scenery

Offbeat Attractions

Castles

The Curonian Spit is a wondrous mixture of pine forest and giant sand dunes: Norway meets the Sahara Desert. Don't miss Vilnius' Upper Castle, or Trakai Castle, which sits picturesquely in the middle of a lake.

Macedonia

Cuisine

Churches

Lakes

Macedonia grows arguably the finest sweet peppers in the world, its Byzantine churches contain some of the most important medieval art in the Balkans and its waters include Lake Ohrid, a beautiful spot for a dip.

Moldova

Wine

Cave Monasteries

Breakaway Republics

Among tiny Moldova's attractions are the breathtaking cave monasteries of Orheiul Vechi, an exceptional wine industry centred on the labyrinthine cellars at Cricova and Mileştii Mici, and the breakaway region of Soviet-inspired Transdniestr.

Montenegro

Scenery

Historic Sites

Outdoor Pursuits

Montenegro crams an awful lot into a very small space: jagged mountains, sheer-walled river canyons, historic sites, extreme sports, long sandy beaches and the spectacular Bay of Kotor.

The Netherlands

Art

Cycling

Flat Landscapes

The Netherlands is best discovered by bike, cycling through iconic landscapes filled with windmills, flower fields, dykes and church spires. Ultimately, you'll be deposited in an 'art city' with Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Vermeer as illustrious company.

Norway

Fjords

Wilderness

Cultural Life

Norway is, perhaps, the most naturally beautiful country in Europe with vast fjords cutting into a landscape riddled with glaciers, forests and arctic land-forms. For more warmth hit the cities for some surprisingly sophisticated cultural life.

Poland

History

Architecture

Scenery

From the southern Tatras to the Great Masurian Lakes of the north, Poland is one of Eastern Europe's most spectacular countries. History and architecture buffs will be similarly overwhelmed by the sheer variety here.

Portugal

History

Festivals

Food

With a history that far outweighs its size, Portugal hides a cache of medieval towns once stalked by gold-hungry explorers. Today you can satiate your hunger in a flurry of annual festivals, many of which revolve around food.

Romania

Mountains

Castles

Monasteries

The Carpathian Mountains offer some of Europe's finest hiking, Transylvania beckons with fairy-tale castles and ancient churches, and the monasteries of Bucovina are among Europe's most outstanding artistic achievements.

Russia

History

Architecture

Art

Brutal, fascinating, bizarre – there's no rivalling Russia for having a dramatic past. The medieval Kremlin, the Winter Palace and Lenin's Mausoleum all beg for your attention, while great art collections await you in both Moscow and St Petersburg.

Serbia

History

Food

Partying

Between Belgrade's legendary nightclubs and ancient monasteries tucked away in bucolic countryside, Serbia is a land of rich hospitality, great food and passionate revelry. Ditch the calorie counting and dig in!

Slovakia

Hiking

Old Towns

Castles

From the rocky High Tatra peaks to its lower forested mountain ranges, Slovakia is riddled with hiking trails, hundreds of fortress ruins dot the countryside and medieval walls surround well-preserved Old Town centres.

Slovenia

Scenery

Outdoor Sports

Wine

Nearly all visitors are mesmerised by the sheer beauty of this tiny country. Don't miss the scenery of Mt Triglav, the Vršič Pass or Lake Bled. Wash it all down with a local wine.

Spain

Food

Architecture

Beaches

In Spain, you can mix modern Michelin-starred cuisine with myriad architecture ranging from the Moorish Alhambra to Gaudí's surreal Park Güell. Playing more than a cameo are the beaches; rugged in the north, warmly inviting in the south.

Sweden

Landscapes

Style & Design

Outdoor Activities

Sweden is full of natural and human-made beauty: the architectural minimalism and á la mode fashion of Stockholm juxtaposed with the lonely islands and virgin forests of the north alive with adventurous possibilities.

Switzerland

Mountain Climbing

Lakes

Culture

The Swiss practically invented mountaineering. You can scale the greatest peaks here, either with ropes and crampons, or boots and a map, and when you're done retire to a chic lakeside town for art and chocolate.

Turkey

Culture

History

Food

Sitting astride two continents, Turkey is doused with a unique history best manifested in monumental İstanbul. Here, the people are friendly, the past is flavoured with Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman legends, and the food is integral to everything.

Ukraine

Monasteries

Scenery

Extreme Tourism

Kyiv overflows with ancient gold-domed churches and the fascinating Caves Monastery Complex. Elsewhere the Carpathian mountain range and a visit to Chernobyl are Ukraine's biggest draws.