Top places to visit in the Balkans :
The Balkans, or the Balkan Peninsula, is a separate and fairly large part of Southeastern Europe. Its name comes from the Balkan Mountains which stretch between Serbia and the Bulgarian border with the Black Sea.
The region includes many countries. Some definitions consider that up to a dozen nations are located in whole or in part in the Balkans. However, in most cases the definition – or public perception – is limited to the countries of the former Yugoslavia, Albania, Bulgaria and Romania. It is always open to debate. Either way, we want to show you the places to add to your Balkan travel itinerary.
It is a relatively unknown part of Europe and much less visited than, for example, the Iberian Peninsula, Italy, the British Isles and France. The Balkans are a blank area on the map for many travelers from Western Europe and North America. . , Many hidden gems await you.
1. Berat, Albania
Although Albania may not be the most popular tourist destination, there are hidden gems dotted around this beautiful country. One of my favorite places was this lovely town called Berat. There is a medieval castle on top of this huge hill overlooking the entire city, and exploring it at night will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
Stroll through the alleys of the castle and choose one of the many family restaurants for dinner. There are many charming inns to stay at Chateau de Berat, and it will be an experience you will never forget. It is known as the “City of a Thousand Windows” and must be a must stop on all Balkan lists.
2. Shkoder, Albania
The walk from Theth to Valbona is something that you cannot miss in the Balkans. It’s a three-day adventure in Albania that includes a ferry ride, staying with the locals, and scaling rugged mountains.
It will even take you a whole day to get to the trailhead. Leaving Shkoder early in the morning, you will cross narrow mountain roads to catch a fragile ferry. As you pray that the ferry does not collapse before reaching the pier, you will see the sun rise over the gray slopes and calm turquoise waters. Back ashore, you will cross the mountains for another hour before finally reaching the town of Valbona. And by city, we mean a group of houses in the middle of nowhere. There is only one hostel, and their home cooking is delicious (ah, the burek!).
3. Albanian Riviera
The Albanian Riviera is one of the most beautiful places in the Balkans. Crystal clear turquoise waters on beaches alongside stunning green mountains create photographs that can be used for postcards. The waters are warm, salty and calm, perfect for swimming or floating on your back and soaking up the summer sun.
Some of the best beaches can be found near Himara, such as Jala, Dhermi (also called Drymades), and Gjipe. Better yet, the region is still little known, for the moment, tourists are therefore rare even on the most frequented beaches. You can eat delicious seafood for a fraction of the price you would get elsewhere on the coast. I had a three course seafood meal for around $ 8! I even had the best gyroscope in my life (sorry, Greece!) For around $ 1.
4. Peljesac Peninsula, Croatia
In the south of Croatia, the Pelješac peninsula is a beautiful vacation spot and a great unusual alternative to a stay in Dubrovnik. Surrounded by towering Cyprus pines and trees and a pristine blue sea, the beautiful historic town of Orebic is a great option for exploring the peninsula. Orebic has a fabulous selection of restaurants, many of which serve amazing fresh seafood. Still, it’s also worth venturing into the hills to visit Konoba Panorama, a charming family-run restaurant that serves delicious homemade goat cheese and impressive truffle pasta.
The views from the restaurant over the peninsula are breathtaking. The town has safe beaches for swimming, but you can also explore the underwater marine life without getting wet in a submarine that comes and goes along the promenade. Orebic is ideally located, 15 minutes by ferry from the beautiful island of Korcula, birthplace of Marco Polo (dit).
Delicious, but impossible to pronounce, local Grk wine is a must-try when visiting Korcula. Driving through the mountain ranges you reach the western end of the peninsula and the peaceful seaside town of Lovište. It is a great place to sit with a drink in one of the beautiful restaurants by the sea and watch the boats go up and down.
Finally, look for Podobuče Beach, a postcard cove about a 15-minute drive from Orebic. Park your car and then take the path to the beach, where you can dive straight into the sparkling ocean on the family beach, or try snorkeling where you can see lots of fish, octopus and starfish .
5. Trebinje, Bosnia
Bosnia and Herzegovina may be one of the least visited countries in Europe, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some amazing places to travel. Although most people visit the well-known destinations of Sarajevo and Mostar, Trebinje is also worth a few days of your time. You can taste wines (some of the cheapest in Europe) at local wineries or even a former monastery, and they usually have new cheeses or locally produced olive oil to taste during your stay.
One of the best things we did on a 3 hour hike through an old Austro-Hungarian fort. It was one of the craziest experiences atop this completely abandoned fort, overlooking the town of Trebinje, across the border with Croatia and the beautiful Dalmatian coast and the winding roads that meandered through the Montenegrin mountains .
We hired a local guide who could give us a lot of information about the plants and wildlife, the history of Trebinje and make some great recommendations for other things to do. The town itself, though small, has beautiful architecture and churches to visit, and you can hire kayaks on the river and spend the day swimming in the sun before heading to one of the local bars for a ride. cold beer (or local wine)! ).
6. Piran, Slovenia
Located on a small peninsula, Piran, Slovenia, it is very picturesque. Complete with typical Balkan orange roofs and surrounded by the Adriatic Sea, it’s tempting to do nothing but watch Piran (while having an ice cream, of course). Still, this small town can be endlessly fun – walking to the old town ramparts for great views, jumping into the Adriatic Sea for a swim and watching the sunset with beautiful sailboats in the foreground are all part of the experience. Perfect Piran.
7. Mostar, Bosnia
The city of Mostar, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, is a short day from Dubrovnik. However, this historic city is worth a visit. Mostar owes its name to Mostari, or Bridge Guardians who guarded the city’s bridges in medieval times. The most important feature of the city is still a bridge. The Stari Most, or Ponte Velha, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built by the Ottomans in the 16th century and spanned the Neretva River for 427 years. The famous bridge fell victim to war in 1993.
Fortunately, several international organizations, including UNESCO, came together to rebuild the area, opening the new bridge on July 23, 2004. As the bridge reopened, the divers of the bridge returned. At the end of July, an annual festival sees brave pilots leap from the Stari Most into the icy waters below. Visiting Mostar also provides the perfect opportunity to sample Bosnian cuisine and rich and delicious local coffee. Treat yourself to substantial casseroles, meat cakes and delicious honey desserts.
8. Bled, Slovenia
An emerald lake, a beautiful church in the middle, a generous splash of the Julian Alps in the background with a few snow-capped peaks. A castle perched on the mountain surrounded by lush vegetation. No, I am not describing a scene from a movie, but a fairytale town in Bled, Slovenia. Bled is by far the most beautiful city I have ever seen!
The lake bears the same name as the city: Lake Bled. The church in the middle of the lake is called “Church of the Assumption of Mary” and is well known for its wish-granting bell which grants wishes when prayed and the bell rings three times. You can take a boat trip from town to church or choose to go kayaking on your own! In Slovenia, be sure to visit the city of Bled to enjoy the romantic atmosphere that the city has to offer.
9. Ljubljana, Slovenia
Ljubljana, with a population of around 270,000, is the capital of Slovenia. It is not the largest city in Europe, but it is a good size with lots to do and has a beautiful old town with many pedestrianized streets and plenty of options for al fresco dining.
We love to explore Ljubljana Castle and stroll through the center of Ljubljana and the old town. There is a fun science museum, a large Tivoli park and Atlantis Adventure World, a water park if you have kids.
One of the great advantages of Ljubljana is that it is located in the center of Slovenia. Slovenia is a small country and everything from Ljubljana is easy to get to, which means you can take day trips from the capital to the rest of the country.
The famous (and beautiful!) Lake Bled is just an hour away by bus. You can walk around the lake according to the season, visit Bled Castle and swim or skate.
10. Caves of Slovenia
Slovenia may be a small country, but it is full of awesome outdoor places to see, such as mountains and lakes. On a road trip through Slovenia, what impressed me the most was the southwest of the country, an area known for its karst landscape and incredible underground resources, such as some world famous cave systems. .
The two most famous caves in Slovenia in the Karst region are Škocjan and Postojna. Škocjan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a huge underground canyon that you can explore by taking two underground trails and one above ground, which offers fantastic views.
Postojna is very popular as a tourist attraction, with its own railway line and many tourist attractions. Rest assured, there is no shortage of stalactites and stalagmites in these caves, creating a spectacular spectacle worth seeing. Spending a day in the area is a great idea for a trip, which includes stops at Škocjan and Postojna and Predjama, a unique cave castle. These three places are not far from each other and offer a fascinating and fun day out.
11. Pirin National Park, Bulgaria
The outdoors is one of Bulgaria’s surprising surprises and Pirin National Park does not disappoint. This beautiful national park is easily accessible as it is close to Bulgaria’s largest ski resort, Bansko.
Here you will find some of the cheapest types of skiing and snowboarding in Europe, snowshoeing, ice skating and natural hot springs in the forest. Winter is the busiest season in the park due to ski season, but come out of season and you will enjoy nature.
The huts in the Bulgarian National Park provide accommodation and food on the trails and peaks of the park, and summer in Pirin National Park is glorious. Whether you take the train from Plovdiv, the bus from Sofia, or rent a car, the outdoor activities here are simply excellent.
There are excellent routes for mountain biking, horseback riding, kayaking and geothermal hot springs in the park and in the swimming pools in the nearby town of Banya.
Pirin National Park is easiest to reach from the mountain town of Bansko, a 2 hour drive from Sofia or a similar hour from Plovdiv. Access to the city park can be done by car, summer bus or gondola, which also operates in summer.
12. Budva, Montenegro
Budva is an old town in Montenegro, just a two hour drive along the coast from Dubrovnik. With spectacular mountain scenery, a colorful harbor and the fortified Stari Grad (Old Town), it is a little treasure on the Adriatic coast of Montenegro. Budva is the oldest settlement in the Adriatic, over 2,500 years old. Trails of 400 years of Venetian rule can be discovered in the walls, towers and walls of the 15th century fortress that surrounds the old town. Enter through one of the five gates to find a maze of narrow passages that connect beautiful squares filled with bars, restaurants and shops.
Walking through the city walls and alleys is a pleasure, as the historic center is closed to traffic. Culturally, there are three very different churches to explore on the island, and the town museum is home to many artifacts related to Budva’s past. The citadel itself now serves as a stage for concerts. The harbor is full of impressive yachts and several restaurants serving fresh seafood.
You will enjoy the view of the city walls in one direction and of the mountains in the other. Outside of town, within walking distance, there is a selection of 3-4 pebble beaches and coves. Look for the ballerina statue on the way to Mogren Beach, the best of Budva beaches.
13. Kotor, Montenegro
Kotor, Montenegro is etched in my mind forever. It would be difficult for you to show me a more beautiful place in Europe. The Bay of Kotor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has yet to be affected by mass tourism. Kotor sits at the end of the bay, buried by hills that seem to emerge from the bay. Above the small streets and medieval buildings of the old town of Kotor is the Castle of San Giovanni. Its defensive walls can be seen as it approaches Kotor. One thousand three hundred and fifty steps uphill and you will reach the castle. The image above is impressive.
This castle and its walls have protected Kotor in one way or another since the 6th. Kotor has a strong Venetian influence in its old town due to the fact that it has long belonged to the Venetian Empire. A visit to Perast in the Bay of Kotor and two islands off the coast is a must. Nossa Senhora das Rochas is an island built by locals over 500 years ago and today houses a pilgrimage church.
Food in Montenegro is fresh and locally grown. A visit to Tanja Steakhouse is a must in Kotor. Some of the best barbecue in the world. We visited Kotor in the winter, when there were no tourists or cruise ships. We fell in love with the location, friendly people, great food, wonderful places.
14. Krka National Park, Croatia
Croatia’s beautiful national parks are among the country’s most popular destinations. Krka National Park can be easily visited on a day trip from Zadar, Sibenik or Split. The park includes a series of waterfalls in a large river and several historical points of interest. On the other side of the park, there is nothing more impressive than the circuit around Skradinski Buk.
The Skradinski Buk circuit can be completed in 90 minutes. Walking on the wooden walkways under running water and admiring the different waterfalls is a truly memorable experience. There’s also a historic watermill, a small gift shop, boat trips, and food stalls that open during the summer.
A 45-minute drive north you will reach Roski Slap viewpoint in a small village. The circle of fags of Roski includes wooden bridges that cross the “necklaces” of the river and some side trails to climb to lookouts. The town of Skradin, southwest of the park, is also worth a visit if you have time.
15. Dubrovnik, Croatia
If there is only one place to visit in the Balkans, it is Dubrovnik. The UNESCO city walls, cobbled streets and houses with orange roofs will take you back to medieval times. It’s called the “Pearl of the Adriatic” for a reason.
You can easily stay seven days in Dubrovnik and not get bored. Walking through the city walls of Dubrovnik should be at the top of your list of favorites. It will take at least 2 hours, so start early before it gets hot. However, it would be better to take more time to enjoy the view of the old town and the Adriatic Sea.
Spend the rest of your time in Dubrovnik, exploring the pedestrian-only historic center and visiting its famous beaches. The best way to explore Dubrovnik’s Old Town is on foot, with your backpack filled with water and your camera.
Along the way, the must-see places are Rector’s Place, Pile Gate, Fort Lovrijenac, Onofrio Fountain, Bell Tower. In addition, a stroll in the famous Stradun and its charming alleys. While in Dubrovnik, be sure to try the local ice cream and shop for local souvenirs.
You can also take a Game of Thrones tour during the day and relax in the harbor at night. Take a boat or kayak tour in the old town and have a cocktail while enjoying the majestic sunset.
Dubrovnik is expensive by Balkan standards, so it is advisable to save money by taking a 3-day Dubrovnik Card which covers tickets to major attractions including the Wall and limited public transport.
The most important advice I can offer is to buy good travel insurance. Travel insurance protects you against illness, injury, theft and cancellations. This is full protection in the event of a problem. I never travel without it, as I have had to use it several times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy that’s right for you:
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