Central and Eastern Europe at a Glance

At the geographical heart of mainland Europe, Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic have witnessed a huge surge in visitor numbers since the end of Communism in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Despite the widespread destruction caused by two world wars, their towns and cities retain a wealth of historic monuments, many of which have been painstakingly restored to their former glory.

Fortunately, tourism has not destroyed the unique cultural identity of these once little-known countries.

Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, is a vibrant city with a rich architectural and cultural heritage. The hilltop castle complex is dominated by the magnificent St.Vitus's Cathedral, whose treasures include many royal tombs.

Bohemia holds the greatest appeal for most foreign visitors to the Czech Republic. The region boasts elegant spas, fairy-tale castles perched high on thickly wooded hill sides, and many perfectly preserved medieval towns, such as ÄŒesky Krumlov in the far south.

Lake Balaton, a huge freshwater lake in western Hungary, is the country's most popular summer vacation destination. Bordered by dozens of resorts, it offers beaches, safe bathing, and water sports, and also provides a habitat for a wide variety of flora and fauna.

Warsaw was largely rebuilt during the Communist era following complete destruction in World War II. Many of its grandest buildings date from the Baroque period, including the splendid Royal Castle.

Cracow, in southern Poland, has historic monuments spanning hundreds of years, and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its skyline is dominated by dozens of churches, the most important being the Gothic St. Mary's Church in Market Square.

Budapest is rich in historical treasures, from medieval ruins to late 19th and early 20th-century Secessionist buildings.

Maya Church preserves some of its original Gothic features, such as the glorious stone carving on the Mary Portal.