In 2018, I spent seven months living in Eastern Europe. During that time I lived in or visited seven different countries. They were…

  • Romania
  • Bulgaria
  • Macedonia
  • Albania
  • Serbia
  • Croatia
  • Hungary

Because I work online as a digital nomad, I spent most of my time in the capital cities where internet is most reliable and spent 5+ weeks each in Sofia, Belgrade, Zagreb and Budapest. Additionally, I lived in the small Transylvanian town of Sibiu for over a month and took short trips to Skopje and Tirana, the capitals of Macedonia and Albania, as well.

Now, I can confidently create the complete Eastern Europe country comparison with a showdown between all of these cities. Read what I loved, what I disliked, and get all the details you need to know before you make a move.

Ready to get started? From my least favorite to the best, here’s how all seven countries stack up in my Eastern Europe country comparison!

 

7. Skopje, Macedonia

Time Spent Here: 24 hours
Cost of Living: $
Internet Speeds: Slow

In my opinion, Skopje is the strangest city on this list. It seemed scattered and devoid of any real… identity. To be fair, I only spent 24 hours there so this is just my initial reaction and I didn’t have the time to dig too much deeper into the city.

It’s clean, it’s nice, but I thought the personality was lacking. There wasn’t really a thriving craft beer scene or lots of tourists sites and hiking to do nearby. However, the city is incredibly cheap and of course, has it’s own history and unique quirks to uncover if you do choose to visit. Just expect to be a bit limited when it comes to buses and public transport to get around.

On a positive side, the internet was better than I expected, the food was pretty good (what I tried, at least) and all the people we met in the country were incredibly kind. Plus, you’ll only be a couple hours from beautiful Lake Ohrid!

Explore the complete Macedonia Guide here.

 

Old Bazaar in Skopje, Macedonia

 

6. Belgrade, Serbia

Time Spent Here: 5 weeks
Cost of Living: $$
Internet Speeds: Medium

Sorry Serbia, you come in on the tail end of this list as well.

Why?

There are a few factors that shaped this decision. First and foremost, though, is the lack of variety Belgrade has for tourists and digital nomads alike.

Nightlife is the number one thing to do in Belgrade and it’s comparable to Berlin and other party powerhouses on that front. But, if you don’t want to club, there’s not much else to do. Lots of shops, bakeries, restaurants and bars lined the streets but outside of eating and drinking I was disappointed.

The area around Belgrade reminded me way too much of the flat land, corn fields, and empty spaces of Ohio and the Midwest. There’s a few national parks but public transport to reach them without a car is long and difficult.

I found the people to be very nice though, and the architecture and vibe of the city is cool. Belgrade has an interesting energy, but for a long-term stay there are better places to live in Eastern Europe.

Explore the complete Serbia Guide here.

 

sunset on Svetogorska street in Belgrade

 

5. Zagreb, Croatia

Time Spent Here: 5 weeks
Cost of Living: $$$
Internet Speeds: Medium

Yes, I know this is an incredibly unpopular opinion. At the moment Croatia is exploding as a tourist destination, but I was a bit underwhelmed by the country.

Essentially, Croatia is Eastern Europe living with Western Europe prices. They’re right on the edge of joining the Schengen Zone and the influx of tourism (partly due to Game of Thrones) has pushed up the cost of pretty much everything.

The center of Zagreb is pretty and the nearby day trips we took to places like Samobor were nice. However, our day trip to the famous Plitvice Lakes National Park was marred by massive overcrowding. Try your best to go to Croatia outside of the summer and main tourist season, because the crowds were really just too much.

Additionally, the coast is gorgeous but also the most expensive place we visited on our seven month trip through Eastern Europe. If you want to live in Croatia, expect that your budget won’t get you as far as anywhere else on this list.

Explore the complete Croatia Guide here.

 

Zagreb, Croatia

 

4. Tirana, Albania

Time Spent Here: 24 hours
Cost of Living: $
Internet Speeds: Slow

Like Skopje, this is the other city on my list that I only visited for 24 hours rather than 5 weeks. However, I thought I’d still share my thoughts ’cause… why not?

Actually, I loved Tirana. I really think it’s under appreciated and under visited. First of all, it’s shockingly cheap to live and eat there. Second, it’s just cool. The Blloku neighborhood is full of hip bars, shisha spots, and great restaurants. There are also plenty of galleries and museums to see and I really wished I had more time to explore.

I would have happily spent a few weeks in Tirana, except….

The internet. Albania had the slowest internet connection that we experienced in Eastern Europe. I think it’s possible to get an Airbnb with usable speeds, but my advice would be to make sure you get a screenshot of a speed test from the owner before you commit, otherwise you could have serious problems. Also, the busses are insanely slow. So, if you don’t have the patience to spend twice as long on every trip as Google Maps estimates, then Albania isn’t for you.

But, back to the positives (because I really did love Albania) the people here are serious about their hospitality and I felt a warm welcome everywhere I went. Also, the nature and hiking in Albania are next level. Theth National Park is only around three hours from Tirana and has some of the most amazing hiking I’ve ever done. The beaches are also nearby and though I didn’t visit, they were widely praised by all the travelers I met in the country.

So, if you can finagle some fast wifi in Tirana and want to save some cash, I have to say I recommend a long-term stay in the city.

Explore the complete Albania Guide here.

 

Salt sushi restaurant in Tirana

 

3. Sibiu, Romania

Time Spent Here: 5 weeks
Cost of Living: $$
Internet Speed: Super fast

Alright, let’s dive into the only non-capital city on the list. Have you ever seen a picture of Sibiu? This city of 100k people is idyllic. The central historic center is like a fairytale come to life, with colorful houses and cobblestone streets.

Sibiu is one of the best places in Eastern Europe for digital nomads because Romania has the 5th fastest internet in the world.  We had speeds over over 100 mbs in our Airbnb and it was fantastic.

While I spent a weekend in Bucharest, I didn’t love it. I think if you do decide to live in Romania, the northern Transylvanian cities are better choices. Check out Sibiu, where we stayed, or the larger cities of Cluj-Napoca or Timisoara. If you want nightlife and more to do, these two are better choices than sleepy Sibiu. But if you just want to relax, I have to say Sibiu is a perfect place to help you slow down.

There’s also a lot to do nearby the city and even some hiking. The public transport isn’t amazing, but it’s better than Macedonia, Albania and Serbia. If you’re seriously considering this country, read my in-depth review of my experience as a digital nomad in Romania and check out our five-week budget breakdown to help you make your decision.

Explore the complete Romania Guide here.

 

colorful Sibiu restaurants in the center

 

2. Sofia, Bulgaria

Time Spent Here: 7 weeks
Cost of Living: $$
Internet Speeds: Medium

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed our seven week stay in Sofia.

My favorite aspect of the city is the social life. There were so many talks, groups, meet ups and clubs to join which is a welcome respite from the solitary life that we lead as digital nomads. From a weekly board game meet up to a travel blogger presentation to a tech talk with one of Sofia’s biggest start ups, I learned a lot and networked a lot during our short stay in the city.

Also, the hiking in Sofia is extremely accessible with Vitosha Mountain and multiple forest trails just 30 minutes from the city. I enjoyed exploring the craft beer scene and photographing the interesting architecture in the city. Plus, there are plenty of nearby day and weekend trips to keep you occupied. To top this all off, Sofia has three of the most important things that I need as a digital nomad: good food, good internet, and a low cost of living.

The city seems to get mixed reactions from people who live there, but it’s one of the easiest to live in as a digital nomad in Eastern Europe. Sofia is definitely one of my favorite cities in the area, surpassed only by the number one place on this list…

Explore the complete Bulgaria Guide here.

 

ruins in Sofia

 

1. Budapest, Hungary

Time Spent Here: 5 weeks
Cost of Living: $$
Internet Speeds: Fast

Oh my. With Budapest, I’m not ashamed to admit, it was love at first sight.

In the fall weather, this city is just stunning. It’s fashionable, it’s hip, and it’s full of beautiful architecture, good food, and cool bars around every corner. There’s so much to do here and I absolutely can’t believe how low the cost of living is.

Where Zagreb was an Eastern European lifestyle with Western Europe prices, Budapest is the opposite. I feel like I’m living in Barcelona or Berlin but with serious savings. Our clean, modern, and spacious loft is two blocks from the central square and only costs $24 per night.

The markets, the castles, the churches, the spas, the parks… it’s more than enough to fill our five short weeks and I really wish we had a couple months instead. If you want to live in Eastern Europe, there’s no doubt in my mind that Budapest is the best city at the moment.

 

main square and basilica in Budapest, Hungary

 

Eastern Europe Country Comparison

So, these are my thoughts. Seven months and seven countries later my Eastern Europe country comparison is complete and this is my final ranking.

For me, Budapest wins hands down, with the best quality of life for the price. On the other end of the list is Skopje and Belgrade, both of which just didn’t stand out to me in any special way.

In the middle are Sofia, Sibiu, Tirana and Zagreb. Each of these cities are different and have their own personality, choosing between them all really depends on what your main priority is. For a low cost of living I suggest Tirana. For a thriving entrepreneurship scene Sofia is your best bet. For peace and quiet, Sibiu is the right choice. And Zagreb, well, it’s Zagreb.

Eastern Europe Country Comparison Ranked Best to Worst on Personal Opinion

1. Budapest, Hungary
2. Sofia, Bulgaria
3. Sibiu, Romania
4. Tirana, Albania
5. Zagreb, Croatia
6. Belgrade, Serbia
7. Skope, Macedonia

Eastern Europe Country Comparison Ranked from Cheapest to Most Expensive

This data is from the Cost of Living Index on Numebo, which ranked the cost of living of every country in the world. The higher the ranking, the cheaper the country is.

1. Macedonia at #103
2. Albania at #91
3. Serbia at #88
4. Romania at #85
5. Bulgaria at #82
6. Hungary at #72
7. Croatia at #50

Eastern Europe Country Comparison Ranked from Fastest to Slowest Internet Speeds

This isn’t exactly a scholarly publication, so I went with the internet speed ranking on Wikipedia for this list.

1. Romania has the 5th fastest internet in the world
2. Hungary has the 9th fastest internet in the world
3. Bulgaria has the 31st fastest internet in the world
4. Croatia has the 42nd fastest internet in the world
5. Serbia has the 50th faster internet in the world
6. Macedonia has the 68th fastest internet in the world
7. Albania has the 86th fastest internet in the world

I know I didn’t spend too much time in any of these countries (especially Skopje and Tirana) but I feel like I still got a pretty good taste of each. Hopefully, this brief Eastern Europe country comparison can help you sort your thoughts and decide which one is right for you!

 

PS trying to narrow down your search further? Read the Romania vs. Bulgaria showdown or compare Albania vs. Macedonia. Or, browse the Working Abroad Series to learn different ways to make money and travel full-time as a digital nomad like me 🙂

 

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