21 Dazzling Balkan Holiday Destinations to Visit
The Balkans is one of the most incredible regions within Europe. It’s now becoming more and more noticed as some of the best Europe gems lies in the Balkans. For so many years the Balkans were not known as a holiday destination but now it’s becoming clear that some of the most beautiful destinations within Europe actually are located in the Balkans.
In this post, you will learn some of the best Balkan holiday destinations to add to your bucket list!
1. Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Suggested by Maggie Turansky from The World Was Here First
Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina, is one of the unmissable cities to visit in the Balkans. This historic and complex city is one of the most interesting and heartbreaking places to visit in the region and don’t let its small and compact size fool you — there are countless things to do in Sarajevo that visitors can easily occupy many days exploring this dynamic city.
You can spend one day exploring the city centre, taking in sites like the Gradski Trgnica (Sarajevo’s main market hall) and the nearby Pliaca Markale — the open-air fruit and vegetable market. You can also wander past the Latin Bridge, which was the site of the assasination of Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, one of the inciting incidents of the First World War. You also can’t miss the winding Bascarsija neighbourhood — home to a number of souvenir shops, it feels like it did under the Ottoman Empire. If you want to see some great views over the city, make sure to walk up a little ways from Bascarsija to the Yellow Fortress.
Sarajevo is also home to a number of very interesting and insightful museums. I would recommend not missing the War Childhood Museum, which showcases relics from children who survived the Siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s and the 11/07/95 Gallery, which showcases in heartbreaking photographs the horrors of Srebrenica in 1995. If you want to learn more about the Siege of Sarajevo and have the time, I would also recommend heading to the War Tunnel Museum, which is located near the airport.
Sarajevo has far more things to do than just that and visitors could easily spend a number of days in this complex city and not get bored.
2. Belgrade, Serbia
Suggested by Samantha Karen from Sam Sees World
One of the best travel destinations in the Balkans is Belgrade, Serbia. Belgrade is one of the last countries to recover from the Balkans tumultuous past but have made strides in recent years to become a stunning and successful city with tons to offer its visitors.
The city is full of stunning architecture, beautiful landmarks, and unique streets all just waiting to be explored. The most beautiful street in the city is called Skadarlija Street and is a cobblestone strip filled with tasty restaurants and outdoor patios. Belgrade is also home to the Church of St. Sava which is the largest church in the Balkans. In Serbia, religion is quite important, and this Orthodox Serbian church is quite the attraction. More so, Belgrade’s fortress is an amazing and historic site to see in the city. People flick here at sunset to watch the sun descend over the horizon while sitting on the fortress edge.
One of the best things about Belgrade is that it is very budget-friendly. You can get food and accommodation at extremely low prices that are of very high quality. If you are considering a Balkan adventure be sure to include Belgrade on your list.
3. Konjic, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Suggested by Ellis from Backpack Adventures
Konjic is a small town midway between Sarajevo and Mostar that is often overlooked by people visiting Bosnia. It is only in recent years that the town started to receive tourists after it published a well-kept secret for many years. Just outside of town next to the deep blue Neretva river lies the secret bunker of Tito.
Even though Bosnia was never part of the Soviet Union, the cold war paranoia did influence Yugoslavia’s socialist leader. Tito’s nuclear bunker was built in secret and even the people from Konjic did not know about its existence until recently. It was a costly project that cost a lot of money. Construction ended in 1979, but in the end, Tito never even visited it.
When Bosnia became independent the Bosnian military took control of the bunker. It is largely left intact the way it was and therefore it is a great place to get a sense of socialist Yugoslavia and the cold wartime period. The bunker now also houses a modern art exhibition and makes a great day trip from Sarajevo.
But the bunker is not the only reason to visit Konjic. Konjic also has a small, but scenic old town with a beautiful Ottoman bridge crossing the Neretva river. The spectacular surroundings are also great for a range of outdoor activities from rafting the Neretva river, canyoning and hiking in the mountains.
4. Korce, Albania
Suggested by Editor
Korca is one of the most underrated cities within Albania. Located in the east of the country, Korca holds some beautiful gems including the bazaar also referred to as Pazari i vjeter. Here you will be able to sit back, relax and people-watch from one of the many bars and restaurants that are here. This area of Korca has such character and is a unique part of the city!
While in the city you must eat Qofte! It’s an Albanian meatball and Korca is the best place in Albania to eat it. Try it out at one of the restaurants in the bazaar.
To get the best view of the city, climb the stairs of the red tower. Entry only costs 50lek. It’s a great way to enjoy the city at sunset! This is just one of the many great things to do in Korca, Albania!
5. Prizren, Kosovo
suggested by Erika from Erika’s Travelventures
Prizren is a beautiful city located in a hidden gem of a country: Kosovo. Many visitors to this country stay in Pristina, the capital, but I recommend adding Prizren to your Kosovo itinerary to see more local charm and culture. The highlights of Prizren include its old city center, its religious structures, and the Prizren fortress.
A small river cuts through the heart of Prizren, where stone arch bridges connect you to both pedestrian paths on either side. The old town lies along this river, and is dotted with local restaurants and shops where you can get a good meal with great service, for an unbeatable price. Sitting at any of the outdoor patios here will make you feel like you’re anywhere in posh Western Europe!
Protruding in to the Prizren skyline is the Sinan Pasha Mosque in the center of town. Five times per day, you’ll be able to hear a sing-song call to prayer echo through the valley from this mosque’s tall minaret. Nearby is the Church of St. George, and Orthodox Christian church that serves Kosovo’s minority Christian population. If you gain some elevation over Prizren, you can visit the Church of the Soly Savior, a ruined Serbian Orthodox church, still protected by Serbia.
For sunset, there’s no better place to spend time in Prizren than the Prizren fortress. This abandoned structure is massive, and visitors can freely roam around its courtyard and structures. Climb up on to its walls to look down over Prizren town and see the mountains far away.
6. Jajce, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Suggested by Ali from Ali’s Adventures
One of my favorite places on my trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina was the town of Jajce, about 3 hours north of Sarajevo.
One of the highlights is the waterfall located just on the edge of the old town. It’s a short walk from the center, and you can see it from the road above, but it’s worth going down below and seeing it at ground level. Even in July when I visited, there were hardly any other people, so it was easy to enjoy and get some pictures.
The other thing I loved about Jajce was the castle. It’s in ruins, which I liked because you can look at what remains and try to imagine what it might’ve been like when it was in use. Like with the waterfall, there were hardly any other people, and I even had it to myself for part of my visit. The castle is also pretty high up, so you can get some good views of the town and surrounding areas below.
I think Jajce is still a little under the radar, so it’s a nice place to explore without the big crowds. By going on my own, instead of on a tour, I was able to see the waterfall late in the afternoon, after the day trippers from Sarajevo had left. I also got to see the castle first thing the next morning when it was too early for day trippers to arrive. It made for a very peaceful visit, and if you can squeeze in a day in Jajce on your Bosnia trip, I recommend it.
7. Rovinj, Croatia
Suggested by Sari & Maya from Chasing Lenscapes
Croatia is known as one of the most popular holiday destinations in the Balkans. Croatia’s Dalmatian coast and its pristine beaches and medieval towns attract many visitors year-round. However, on our last trip in the Balkans, we chose to explore the Istrian peninsula, so we spent a few nights in Rovinj, and it was love at first sight!
Rovinj is located on the western coast of the Istrian peninsula, and it’s without a doubt one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen. Rovinj was once a sleepy fishing village but in recent years it has become one of the most popular holiday destinations in Istria. Rovinj’s old town used to be an island and it’s the perfect place to get lost in. Strolling through the cobbled alleys, you’ll find unique boutiques, pastel-coloured houses, colourful laundry lines and many ancient monuments such as the beautiful St. Euphemia Church.
Rovinj’s charm isn’t limited to the old town. There are many other attractions in and around Rovinj, from fascinating museums to fishing and kayaking tours. Hikers and cyclers would love to explore the nearby Punta Corrente peninsula and beach lovers could spend their days sunbathing and snorkelling around Rovinj Archipelago.
The food scene in Rovinj is wonderful. We’ve had some of our best meals there. You can also organise wine tasting tours or visit some of the charming nearby villages on day trips. If you love charming towns, scenic views, an array of attractions and great food, you would love Rovinj. So, when planning your Balkan trip, don’t forget to include it in your itinerary.
8. Theth, Albania
Suggested by Editor
In the north of Albania lies one of the most beautiful villages you may ever visit in the Balkans, Theth! This small village can only be accessed by 4 wheel drive or by a 7-hour hike from the nearby village of Valbona.
It’s fast becoming one of the most popular Balkan holiday destinations due to its sheer beauty but because it’s not easily accessed as of yet it’s still unknown to many people.
If you are visiting Theth be sure to check the Blue eye which is a 3-hour hike from the village. If you are an adventure taker then doing the hike between Theth and Valbona is one of the best things to do in the whole of Albania!
9. Ljubljana, Slovenia
Suggested by Emily from Wander-Lush
Ljubljana is one of the loveliest (and most underrated) capital cities in Europe, making it a perfect Balkan holiday destination.
Two days in Ljubljana is the perfect amount of time to take in the top sights and discover a few off-beat destinations. I recommend starting with a walking tour of the downtown area, stopping at Presernov Square, the iconic pink Franciscan Church, and the Central Market.
Cross the Triple Bridge and the Dragon Bridge, and take a detour to Vurink House, with its colourfully painted façade. The entire city is very compact and walkable, so you can easily get around on foot.
Ride the funicular up the hill to Ljubljana Castle for fantastic views of the city, then wander the twisted cobble alleyways back down the hill. Ljubljana is also home to a terrific creative scene – Metelkova and ROG Factory both sport some interesting street art and are well worth a visit. History lovers will enjoy the National Museum of Contemporary History, which details Slovenia’s journey from a Yugoslav Republic to an independent nation in 1991.
But the best thing about Ljubljana is the local food and wine scene that showcases Slovenian produce. Štruklji, a delicious rolled pancake-like dish stuffed with a sweet or savory filling, is one of many must-try Slovenian delicacies.
10. Bled, Slovenia
Suggested by Anjali from Travel Melodies
A pretty island sitting right in the heart of the clear alpine lake, and a fairy-tale castle settled on a rock cliff overlooking the azure waters of the lake, Bled is a picturesque resort town in Slovenia that has all the elements for the perfect holiday destinations.
A vacation in Bled is definitely going to be the best vacation you’ve ever had. Bled looks like one of those picture-perfect towns in fairy-tale books. Seriously. Far from all the madness of cities, Bled urges you to slow down and relish the moment.
Just sit and relax by the lake or maybe take a refreshing dip in the lake or enjoy a ride in a Pletna (traditional boat) or hike the viewpoints in search of a perfect sunset over the lake – whatever you do, you’re sure to fall for Bled and its charm so much so that it’ll leave you longing for more.
And yes, don’t forget to visit the Bled Island church and make a wish as you ring the wishing bell. There are tons of things to do in Lake Bled Slovenia, our favorite remains to do nothing.
11. Durmitor National Park
Suggested by Veronika Primm from Travel Geekery
Durmitor National Park belongs inarguably to one of the most beautiful areas in the Balkans and the whole Europe. It spans massive mountain ranges, deep valleys and canyons, glacial lakes and rivers.
Its beauty and uniqueness have granted Durmitor a UNESCO World Heritage listing since 1980.
The best way to explore the Durmitor mountains is to simply hike. There are marked trails leading to most of its peaks. The highest of them all – the Bobotov Kuk (2523m) offers unbeatable views onto the breathtaking landscapes around.
For those who’d rather do an easier hike to a lower peak, Crvena Greda (2164m) is a great option too.
But one doesn’t have to summit peaks to enjoy the pristine nature views in Durmitor. It’s enough just to walk any trail. E.g. from the Žabljak town, there are many trails to choose from. Some just take you on an easy day hike around Durmitor’s beautiful lakes, such as the Zminje (=Snake) Lake or the Crno (=Black) Lake.
For a little bit of non-hiking adrenalin, the Tara River offers great opportunities for white-water rafting in the deepest canyon in Europe. Near the Đurđevića Tara Bridge, you can even cross the Tara River canyon on a zipline!
12. Saranda, Albania
Suggested by Editor
Right in the south of Albania, is one of the most visited and beautiful cities within the Balkans, Saranda. There are so many great things to do in Saranda, including watching the sunset from Lekuresi castle, stuffing your face with fresh seafood and checking out the nearby UNESCO park of Butrint.
You should most definitely do a day trip to Ksamil which is only a 20minute drive away. Ksamil is the most visited destination within Albania because of its crystal clear waters and landscapes that mimic something you would see in the Maldives.
13. Perast, Montenegro
Submitted by Elisa from France Bucket List
Perast is a small town located a few kilometers northwest of Kotor, in Montenegro. Its idyllic location on the Bay of Kotor and pretty architecture makes of Perast a great place to visit during your holidays in Montenegro or a trip around the Balkans in general.
Perast is a laid back fishing town with only 360 inhabitants, the perfect place to leave the crowds of Kotor and relax. It has a small church, a pretty cemetery, and beautiful Renaissance and Baroque architecture. Some private mansions are, however, abandoned, the echoes of a glorious past when Perast prospered under the wings of the Venetian Republic and its inhabitants led a luxurious life. Some will say that Perast’s architecture reminds them of Italy.
What to do in Perast? The weather in Perast is great almost all year round so it is great to seat on the terrace of a restaurant by the bay and enjoy good food and wine under the sun. Fish in Perast is always fresh and good.
Also, you can rent a boat and sail to the islets of Saint George and Our Lady of the Rocks from which you can take beautiful photos of Perast from another point of view.
Perast also has a very small pebble beach at the far northwestern end of town. The water there is very clear and the views are stunning.
14. Kotor, Montenegro
Suggested by Helen on Her Holidays
Any holiday itinerary in the Balkans isn’t complete without visiting Kotor. This tiny city in Montenegro is one of the most dramatically-located in the Balkans, hidden away in a doubly-protected deep natural bay, surrounded by mountains and protected by medieval walls.
It’s no surprise that Kotor’s been fought over during its history; at various points it’s been Roman, Byzantine, Serbian, Venetian and Hungarian. The period that makes its mark felt most strongly is its time as part of the Venetian empire; if you’ve visited Venice or even Dubrovnik then Kotor will feel very familiar.
The top thing to do in Kotor is to walk up one of the ancient paths up the mountain that protects the city. The most popular is the well-trodden stone steps up to the Church of Our Lady of Remedy, and from there to the ruins of San Giovanni Castle. The path is narrow and steep, and can get crowded in peak season or when cruise ships are in town, so for the best experience try to set out early in the morning.
Kotor is also known as the city of cats. Hundreds of cats live in the city (many of them stray), but they look happy and well cared for. Locals believe that the cats brought back by sailors returning home from the revolt against the Austro-Hungarian empire saved the city from an infestations of rats and snakes. These days, the cats of Kotor are celebrated with shops and a museum, and loved by locals and visitors alike.
15. Dubrovnik, Croatia
Suggested by Wendy Werneth from The Nomadic Vegan
There’s a good reason why Dubrovnik has held UNESCO World Heritage Site status since 1979 and has long been one of the top tourist destinations in Croatia. This picture-perfect walled city of tile roof buildings is in contention for being the world’s best example of a medieval walled city.
Nicknamed the “Pearl of the Adriatic”, Dubrovnik has remained remarkably well preserved, albeit with a few remaining scars from the war that led to the breakup of Yugoslavia. The secret is out about Dubrovnik’s beauty, so be prepared to share the town with a few thousand other tourists. It’s a good idea to come in the off season, or, failing that, to wake up at the crack of dawn so you can experience the magic of wandering Dubrovnik’s cobbled streets with no one else around.
There are plenty of lovely places for a stroll around Dubrovnik, but the best walk is undoubtedly on top of the city walls themselves. From up here, you’ll have a breathtaking view of the old town surrounded by the sea. Notice how some of the roof tiles are a bright orange color, indicating that they were replaced after the 1991 shelling of the city, while the buildings with much older tiles are the ones that managed to escape the shelling without major damage.
A great place to stop in for lunch is Nishta, a cute café right in the heart of the Old Town. It’s one of a small but growing number of vegetarian restaurants in Croatia and is popular with meat-eaters too.
16. Tirana, Albania
Suggested by editor
Tirana is the capital city of Albania, which is fast becoming one of the best Balkan holiday destinations to visit.
The city has had a huge makeover in the past couple of years and is now coloured with beautiful street art and has a trendy vibe. You must check out the area of Blloku, this is where the communist leaders used to run the country from but now it’s turned into a trendy and happening part of the city with lots of great bars, cafes and restaurants.
Tirana is also home to some of the best museums in the Balkans such as Bunk art 1 and 2 which explores the dark communist history of the country. There’s also House of Leaves which shows you how the country used to spy on their civilians during the communist period. There are SO many awesome things to do in Tirana, so make sure you spend at least a few days there exploring.
17. Zagreb, Croatia
Suggested by Christine Rogador of Croatia Travel Guides
Zagreb is one of the most underrated cities in Europe in my opinion. Although it doesn’t have the glitz and glamour of Paris or Rome, this Croatian capital has many things to do and see, and one should not skip it when traveling in the Balkans.
Zagreb is known as the city of museums. With several interesting museums in the city, one will not run out of things to learn here.
There are the usual places that honor the city and country’s history as well as its natural wonders, and there are those that are put up as a homage to everything like technological marvels or broken affairs.
Among the best museums to visit in the town are the Museum of Broken Relationships, Nikola Tesla Museums, and Croatian Natural Museum.
You can also explore some of the beautiful buildings in the city and most of them are scattered around Jelacic square. And one of my favorite things to do in Zagreb? Checking out the public markets for their fresh produce. I enjoyed buying fruits directly from the local markets as it also gave me a glimpse of how locals live.
And you can’t also skip on the best Croatian foods that the city has to offer. From simple cafes to the fine dining scene, Zagreb has it all. And if you want to check out a traditional Croatian food, I recommend checking Didov San. It’s more expensive than the average meal in Croatia but it tops my favorite restaurants in the world.
18. Korenica, Croatia
Suggested by Becki from Meet Me In Departures
No doubt if you are visiting northern Croatia, then you’ll most likely have UNESCO site of Plitvice Lakes on your to-list. The lakes are pretty, however, they are insanely overcrowded and expensive.
The little village of Korenica is Just a few kilometres away from hectic Plitvice. However, here feels like a totally different world – no crowds, a slower pace, less tourist tat and a 100% more authentic Croatia. This is also the gateway to one of the most epic hikes in Croatia.
The Pljesevica mountain trek is located in the Dinaric Alps right on the border of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The 13.6km trail leads you though pretty little farm areas (unchanged for hundreds of years), through pine tree forests and up a meandering path to the summit.
At the top you’ll find one of the most Instagrammable spots in the region, the added bonus. Not a soul in sight. For the history and abandoned places junkies, you’ll also find a load of abandoned relics from the Yugoslav war including crumbling barracks, cave networks and bullet-hole ridden checkpoints.
For more information on how to find the start of this trail, dangers to look out for (think wild wolves and land mines –I’m not kidding!), how to stay safe and what to expect, I’ve written a detailed guide for anyone wanting to do the Pljesevica Mountain hike. It’s tough, but worth it for the views. Check it out, it’s epic!
19. Scuba Diving in Murter
Suggested by Viktoria Urbanek from Chronic Wanderlust.
The island of Murter and the surrounding area holds a special place in my heart. As a passionate scuba diver, I was thrilled to find out about the Kornati national park and its underwater world. Murter is the perfect place to base yourself and join daily dive excursions from the main town. The scuba diving is relaxed and many dive sites are easy to dive. Multi-day packages make the diving here quite inexpensive compared to other prime dive locations around the world.
Expect nothing less than a colourful and diverse world below the surface. You’ll be able to dive walls, coral gardens, shipwrecks and even a small plane can be found in the national park.
Even if you are not into scuba diving, join a snorkel tour or a sailing trip around the islands. Make sure to eat in one of the many great restaurants in Murter and plan day trips to the mainland. The national park Krka is close by and perfect for hiking and swimming during the summer months. The cities Sibenik and Split are also great options for day trips from Murter.
Read this in-depth guide about scuba diving in Murter and the Kornati national park for further information on dive sites and restaurants.
20. Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Suggested by Tripsget
Mostar is probably the most famous destination in Bosnia & Herzegovina and one of the most popular destinations in the Balkans. It got popular because of its stunning medieval bridge located in the heart of the city. In summer and autumn, locals jump from that bridge into the water for a small fee in front of rather large crowds of excited tourists. Speaking of tourists, the city gets really crowded.
Mostar is a relatively small town. Its population is only about 113,000 people and the constant influx of tourists is very visible in the city. Most of the tourists arrive in tourist buses from Sarajevo or Dubrovnik and only come for 4-5 hours.
If you stay in Mostar overnight, you will be able to enjoy the town way more, as in the evenings it gets much quieter and in the mornings, it’s absolutely magical. One of the best things you can do in the morning is to have a traditional coffee in one of the local coffee shops in the city centre.
You can feel a lot of Turkish influence in Mostar and that makes it a very unique place. Mostar is a perfect destination to visit during a longer Balkan trip and it’s definitely a must-visit in Bosnia & Herzegovina.
21. Stari Bar, Montenegro
Suggested by Ania from The Travelling Twins
The small town of Stari Bar is located in southeast Montenegro. It has a population of around 2,000 people, and with many houses, restaurants, and shops sprouting around the fortification, this number could rise significantly in the new future. The restaurants here are mainly vegetarian and specialize in slow food.
The market is also vibrant with local women in their national costumes filling the market selling their olive oils, cheese, mandarins and lemons, prosciutto, and lots of other homemade items under shady trees.
Exploring the fortress of Stari Bar will take you around two hours, which at some point in time, comprised more than 240 stone buildings.
Walking around Stari Bar’s old town is just fascinating. Climb the town walls and check out the restored aqueduct as well as reconstructed medieval churches, a Lapidarium, and a Turkish bath that was constructed around the 17th century. You will also come across the remnants of old stone houses, arches and passages as well as wells, which are framed by some beautiful flowering trees.
Stari Bar itself is surrounded by majestic mountains and if you can climb the city walls and the terraces, you will be able to catch a glimpse of the new Bar and farther away from the gleaming Adriatic Sea.
I hope you enjoyed this post showing you the most beautiful Balkans holiday destinations within this diverse and dreamy region. Leave a comment below if you have any more additions!
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