If you’re trying to plan your trip to the Balkans then look no further as this is your ultimate guide with my best knowledge, tips and recommendations for all the Balkan countries.
I have been living and travelling in the Balkans for around 3 years now. I remember years ago when I was trying to research my first Balkan trip there were no resources on the internet to help me. The information was very limited and outdated so I found myself just winging it and creating the ultimate Balkan trip myself.
The Balkans can be daunting with the lack of information about the peninsula which is why I wanted to create this website and this full guide to help you along the way and reinsure you that travelling the Balkans shouldn’t be daunting, it’s marvellous!
The Balkan peninsula is made up of 12 countries:
- North Macedonia
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
A common misconception is that the Balkan countries were all former Yugoslavia which is incorrect. Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia were part of the former Yugoslavia.
See a deeper dive into the Balkan countries and the best places to visit within them further down the page.
Transport in the Balkans
When travelling the Balkans, you have a few options. You can travel by bus, train and car but note that not all countries have a functioning (and good train system). Trains are often slower in many of the countries. That’s why when travelling the Balkans, I always recommend travelling by bus. This is by far the most popular and easy way to get around if you are not comfortable with hiring a car.
Buses are often cheaper than trains and in the likes of Albania, your only option when it comes to public transport. Balkan Viator is often the best website to look at when it comes to timetables but always keep in mind that it might not be 100% correct. Buses in the Balkans are notorious for changing their timetables often and not notifying anyone so the best thing to do is go and ask at the local bus station yourself or your accommodation supplier so that you can get the right timetable.
Hiring a car is a fantastic option when travelling the Balkans because there are lots of destinations that are missed and some that can only be accessed by car. If you have a car you have a lot more freedom to visit more of the off the beaten path destinations around. A common question is ‘how to hire a car’ and ‘Can I travel to the other Balkans countries with it?’. I answer that question and many more in the post below!
Safety in the Balkans
Are the Balkans safe? A common misconception of travelling the Balkans is safety. You will find a lot of opinions, and most of the people giving them have never stepped foot in the Balkans. If you talk with travellers who have visited one of the first things you will hear will be about how friendly the people are, or how hospitable they were.
The misconceptions stem from past wars and politics. The last major war in the Balkans was the breakup of former Yugoslavia. This saw much violence and death between Serbian forces and the other countries such as Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Macedonia. The last breakout of war was between Serbian forces and ethnic Albanians in Kosovo which ended in 1999 when Kosovo fought to gain independence.
Because the wars weren’t that long ago and the effects of them are still very present today, the conception that many have is that the Balkans is still very dangerous which is simply not true anymore. You will find travelling the Balkans that safety won’t be an issue. People from the Balkans are very welcoming of tourists so most of the time they are happy to see you and accommodate you!
As I have lived in the Balkans for the past two years, I have gotten a lot of opinions from the locals about the current political situations and let me tell you, politics in the Balkans is damn confusing. Depending on who you talk to there is still very much tension between countries. It’s not the type of tension that will most likely start a war anytime soon, but more raw feelings and betrayal that some of the locals feel between each other as any bloody war would leave you feeling.
But politics shouldn’t scare you from coming to the Balkans. Unless you live here you won’t even hear about or have to deal with it!
So, the question, is the Balkans safe? Absolutely.
Travel insurance in the Balkans
Travel insurance is a must with any travels around the world. I can recommend two global insurance companies which I have used in the past and recommend to all people travelling the Balkans.
World Nomads: World nomads have two types of insurance, a basic plan and a comprehensive. You are fully covered with World Nomads which makes you feel a little safer when travelling knowing that you’re covered if something does go wrong. Their plans are reasonable, and you can purchase no matter where in the world you currently are.
SafetyWing: This company is a new one which I have been using from time to time. It’s made for digital nomads in mind and its VERY affordable. For 1 month, the price is around $37! The plan is focused on travel medical insurance, but they do have plans to expand in the future so keep an eye on them.
Weather in the Balkans
The weather in the Balkans varies a lot between countries. In the south in Greece and Albania, temperatures can easily rise to over 40 degrees. But in the mountains and even in the coastal cities you can expect some snow in the winter. I recommend you look at weather.com for the latest weather within the Balkans as the peninsula is so vast that there no common weather patterns.
My favourite time to visit the Balkans is spring. That’s because the crowds of tourists haven’t started yet and the weather is very beautiful as well as all the flowers are in full bloom!
Summer is the most popular season for obvious reasons. But in countries like Greece and Croatia hordes of tourists and cruise ships rock up and bring in thousands of people. Travelling out of the summer season is a much better experience in my opinion!
Balkan food is very flavourful, fresh and delicious. A lot of the dishes are very meat-based so if you are vegetarian or vegan you may struggle. However, in the cities, vegan restaurants are popping up. Balkan fruit and vegetables are so fresh and delicious so be prepared to cook some of your own meals!
Read more: The Most Delicious Balkan Food You Must Try
The great thing about the Balkans is that most of the countries are out of the Schengen zone. Greece and Slovenia are the only countries that are in the zone and so make sure you only spend 90 days out of 180 days within the Schengen countries.
The Balkans is incredibly common for travellers because of their majority exclusion from the zone. Depending on where you’re from, of course, in most countries you will get a maximum of 3 months within each country out of the Schengen. But make sure you always double-check your own countries requirements.
Cultures in the Balkans
Each country has its own culture and customs but there is a theme within the Balkans. The people are very family orientated. The family is always number 1 no matter what. Throughout the Balkans, the culture is so rich that it feels like a sort of time capsule. It’s one of the things I love about the Balkans. In many countries around the world, they have lost their touch with their ancient history, but the Balkans very much haven’t.
When I first stepped foot in the Balkans I didn’t feel like I was in Europe as it’s so different from anywhere else in western or northern Europe.
Deeper dive into the Balkan countries
Albania is a Balkan gem and still relatively undiscovered compared to other Balkan states. The country’s tourism is growing rapidly as people are starting to realise how beautiful and how friendly Albanians are.
There are lots of reasons why you should choose Albania to visit. They have a very fascinating and dark communist past which has been compared to North Koreas. All around the country you can still see the result on what it did to the country as well as the Civil war which followed not long after. But Albania is not only a favourite with history buffs.
Albania has some of the most beautiful beaches and nature within the Balkan Peninsula. The Albanian riviera is a must-see as well as the Albanian alps!
Where to go in Albania
The beating heart of Albania and a city like no other. Tirana is one of those cities you just can’t describe. It’s full of beautiful and colourful cafes, fascinating museums and fantastic food. Tirana certainly has a charm to it! I recommend staying and checking the Blloku area where most of the artsy cafes and things to see are situated.
Saranda is the southern gateway to the Albanian riviera and a great base to explore nearby attractions. If you come to Saranda make sure you check out the sunset from Lëkurësi castle as well as wonder the boulevard and swim in the Adriatic Sea! Other nearby attractions include Ksamil (The Maldives of Albania), Gjirokastër (UNESCO mountain city) and Butrint (an ancient city now protected by UNESCO).
Read more: 18 things to do in Saranda, Albania
Berat is also known as the town of one thousand windows and is one of the best places to visit in Albania. There is so much history, great food and attractions nearby that Berat warrants a visit. Many compare Berat to Gjirokastër and say if you have seen one, you don’t need to see the other. That is completely not true. Although both cities are UNESCO cities, they are different, and both deserve a visit.
Read more: The Best Places to visit in Albania
The easiest way to get to Albania: There’s one airport in Tirana which is a popular and easy way to get to Albania. Otherwise, you can get the ferry from Corfu, Greece to Saranda in the south of Albania and start your travels from there.
Currency: The currency of Albania is Lek.
Kosovo is one of the smallest countries in the Balkan peninsula but it sure packs a punch! It’s a dream for nature lovers as there is some great hiking, skiing and walks to do throughout the country. It’s also Europe’s newest country as it gained independence in 2008 from Serbia.
You can find mouth-watering food and they also do the best macchiato in the world!
Although Kosovo has had a bloody past you can see the strength of the people. The people are some of the friendliest within the Balkans and show you incredible hospitality.
It also has the youngest population in Europe as over 53% of people are under 25 years old. You will see so much innovation and entrepreneurship here because of the young population.
Where to go in Kosovo
The lively city of Prishtina is not to be missed. Filled with beautiful cafes and good restaurants, as well as the church of Mother Teresa, I highly recommend you spend at least a few nights in Pristina. There are lots to discover in and just out of the city too.
Read more: 30 best things to do in Prishtina, Kosovo
If you’re looking for a getaway to some of the best nature spots within the country, then take a trip to Peja. The small city is steeped in tradition. Make sure you take an excursion into the Rugova valley where one of the most stunning nature spots in Kosovo is situated. Here you will find incredible mountain views and villages as well as waterfalls and canyons!
Gjakova is a small city with a charm like no other. Make sure you wander around the streets of Gjakova, have a coffee and do some people watching. You also should walk up to the castle which overlooks the city for the most amazing views!
The easiest way to get there: Fly into the capital of Pristina, another alternative is to fly into one of the nearby countries like North Macedonia or Albania and catch a bus to Prishtina. But generally, the flight into Kosovo are some of the cheapest in the Balkans.
Currency: The Euro is used in Kosovo.
Montenegro is fast becoming a popular stopover for people on a Balkan trip. Due to its location, Montenegro offers fantastic nature experiences like no other. It’s also incredibly affordable and has friendly people and good food.
In Montenegro, you will find beautiful national parks, tranquil lakes, jaw-dropping canyons and scenic mountain peaks! Let’s get into the top 3 places to visit in Montenegro.
Where to go in Montenegro
The city of Kotor is the most popular place in Montenegro and rightly so. This quaint, cobbled city is a must-see when visiting Montenegro. Make sure you take time to wander the old part of the city. There’s also a fortress called St Johns fortress which can be reached by walking up 1355 steps. This is a must-do as you get an incredible view of the surroundings.
Read more: How to get from Dubrovnik to Kotor by bus
Durmitor National park
Durmitor might be one of the best national parks within the Balkans because of its beauty and abundance of adventure activities. You can hike to the tallest peak in Montenegro, go river rafting or get dizzy by seeing the tallest canyon in Europe.
Sveti Stefan is a small island which is accessible by a narrow walkway and beach. It’s located only 6km from Budva and it absolutely tiny but so sweet! The accommodation on the island is run by a resort called Aman and rooms start at around €800 per night. You are not allowed to wander around the island as you have to be a hotel guest, but if you make a reservation at one of the restaurants Nobu or The Taverna then you will get to see a glimpse of the Piazza for a lot less than €800!
The easiest way to get there: Fly into the capital city of Podgorica. Dubrovnik, Croatia is also a popular fly-in point for travellers going to Montenegro.
Currency: In Montenegro they use Euros.
Turkey is a must-see for anyone interested in history, good prices and mouth-watering food. It’s one of my favourite countries because of its diversity as there is so much to see and do. If you love history then you can visit some of Turkey’s ancient cities, if you love food, be sure to spend some time in Istanbul, if you love beaches then relax on the Riviera!
Where to go in Turkey
You would have already seen plenty of pictures of Cappadocia. It’s famous for its chimney-like rock formations also known as fairy chimneys. These interesting natural wonders are what makes the region so fascinating. You can visit the Goreme open-air museum to get an inside look into one of the formations as many of them are old houses, churches and even now hotels! Another great way to see this region is by air by doing an early morning hot air balloon flight!
You need to stay in Istanbul for at least a few days to take in the beauty and chaos of the city. Make sure you visit the Blue Mosque which is one of the most impressive in the world. A visit to Hagia Sophia is next door and one of the most interesting museums you may visit. It was originally an Orthodox church then later turned into a mosque so you can see a strange mix of the two religions within one building, which is rare!
The natural hot pools of Pamukkale are a world wonder not to be missed. These unusual white terraced pools are a natural UNESCO site and are visited by thousands of people per year. The mineral-rich water flows down from the mountains and forms this calcite terraces you see today. It’s said that these pools might be around 14,000 years old. Pamukkale translated from Turkish to English is ‘cotton castle’, and you’ll soon see why!
The easiest way to get there: There are 3 airports in Istanbul which all serve national and international flights.
Currency: Turkish Lira is used in Turkey.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
There’s no denying that Bosnia and Herzegovina are one of the top locations within the Balkans to visit. Known for its nature and unfortunately, it’s turbulent past, a stop to the country will not only be a great one but an educational one.
Where to go in Bosnia and Herzegovina
The diverse capital city of Sarajevo is like stepping back in time but with a modern twist. Sarajevo has a lot to offer, from underground bars to beautiful markets and plenty of museums, the city is so different from any other Balkan destination. You can still see bullet holes on the buildings from the Bosnian genocide that happened in 1995. If you would like to learn more about this then I highly recommend visiting the Museum of Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide. Put aside a morning or afternoon to visit as it’s really heavy.
The beautiful town of Mostar is one of the most, if not the most popular place within Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s well known for its old town and bridge. Every year Red Bull holds a cliff diving competition where people jump off the platform which is around 26-28 meters high! If you get the chance to visit and watch this spectacular event, it’s well worth it! Otherwise, wander and enjoy the UNESCO listed town and all the beautiful views and Instagram opportunities!
These waterfalls are one of the most beautiful natural sights within the Herzegovina part of the country. You can easily reach Kravice waterfalls from Mostar as its around 40km from the city. You will see a lot of tour companies offering trips to see this natural wonder. The park is only open from May until October, as in the winter months it is unreachable.
The easiest way to get there: The city of Sarajevo has an international airport. Another popular airport to fly into is Tuzla as Wizz airlines, one of the main budget airlines flies into here.
Currency: The country uses the Bosnia and Herzegovina convertible mark.
The underrated country of Romania has so much to offer that there is something for everyone there. One of the most famous regions is Transylvania, known for its vampire history and incredible castles. But Romania is more than that. The people are very generous, the food is mouth-watering (and cheap!) and there are so many quaint villages and towns that mimic fairy tales such as Sibiu and Sighisoara.
Where to go in Romania
One of my favourite all-time places in Romania is Brașov. This beautiful city is known for its black church, beautiful views and being a base for many other things to see nearby such as the most famous, Bran Castle. Bran castle is where the legend of Dracula began.
One thing you must do in Brasov is the free walking tour. That way you can get your bearings of the city and get great recommendations from a local. Another thing to do is to take the cable car (or hike for 2 hours) up to the mountain that sits behind Brasov for an incredible view. In the winter you can enjoy some winter sports up there.
Often people misjudge Bucharest and don’t take the time to check out the real Bucharest. Usually, people don’t stay in Bucharest too long as they use it as a starting point to visit the likes of Transylvania. But if you do decide to stay in Bucharest for more than 1 night be sure to do either a walking, bike or food tour of the city to get a local’s insight of the city.
Read more: 10 of the Best Cities in Romania to Visit
Sighisoara is one of Romania’s many fairy tale cities equipped with its old stone clock tower, colourful houses and the home to Dracula himself. You could easily spend a few days here soaking in the culture of the city and the views. One of the best things to do is to climb the clock tower within the centre of the city. From there you will get an insight into the history of the city but also a beautiful view of Sighisoara from above.
The easiest way to get there: As Romania is a very big country there are multiple airports. Bucharest is the capital city so it can host some very cheap flights in and out of the country. There are over 20 airports in the country so take your pick!
Currency: Romania has its own currency called Romanian leu.
Slovenia is the perfect place for any nature lover. It holds some of the most beautiful natural spots within the Balkans and the entirety of Europe. Whether you love hiking, mountain biking, rafting, skiing or just taking in nature, you will find it all in Slovenia and more. Slovenia also has a rapidly growing food scene as well as some very delicious wine regions in the east and west of the country.
Where to go in Slovenia
Ljubljana is one of the greenest cities in Europe. From beautiful buildings, bridges to lakes and castles this city has it all. I love how Ljubljana has intertwined nature with a metropolitan city and made it into this interesting and peaceful place. Who would have thought a city would be peaceful?! Be sure to take the cable car up to the castle to get a beautiful view of the city and surroundings.
Lake Bled is the most popular stop for tourists coming to Slovenia and is one of the main reasons why people go there. It’s known for its tranquil lake with a 16th-century church.
Whilst at Lake Bled you should walk around the lake and enjoy the beautiful views. If you’re game enough you can even take a dip in the lake. Another popular thing to do is to hire a rowboat and row to the island with the church.
Make sure you try the famous bled cream cake while you’re there – it’s delicious!
Read more: 8 Things to do at Lake Bled, Slovenia
Triglav National Park
There are so many amazing places within Triglav national park that I wanted to include so instead I will include the whole park! One of the best things I recommend doing is hiring a car and driving to Triglav national park via Kranjska Gora, which is in the very north. From there you can make your way down through the park and opt to stay at one of the villages and check out the many adventure activities on offer. You will be blown away by the views in this national park, trust me!
The easiest way to get there: Lljubluana has an international airport which is the most popular way to get to Slovenia.
Currency: In Slovenia, they use the Euro as their currency.
North Macedonian is known for its beautiful nature and friendly people. One of the most popular places within North Macedonia is Ohrid, known as an old city right on the tranquil lake of lake Ohrid. North Macedonia has lately undergone a name change. The country used to just be called Macedonia but in January 2019 the country changed its name to North Macedonia.
Where to go in North Macedonia
The tranquil lake town of Ohrid is a popular stopover for many travelling the Balkans. You could easily spend a few days relaxing and enjoying the views. Make sure you check out the history behind the town which is now protected by UNESCO. Visiting St. Jovan of Kaneo Monastery is a must as this is one of the most photographed spots in Ohrid and all North Macedonia!
If there’s one word to describe Skopje it would be cool but a little random. There’s such a mix of old and new that it makes Skopje a total cultural hub. The people are friendly, the food is good, so why would the city be described as a bit random? That’s because of the ‘Skopje 2014’ tourism project. The government decided to drop between €200 to €500 million on redesigning the city and the way they did that is to build a shitload of statues throughout the city as well as build new government buildings, museums and a national theatre. Some describe is as tacky and a little bit of ‘Las Vegas’ style. However you call it, Skopje it worth a visit even if the ‘tacky’ buildings are not!
The city of Bitola is much less chaotic than Skopje and a great option if you’re looking for a more chilled vibe on your North Macedonian travels. There’s plenty of cool cafes, historical monuments and a more realistic glimpse into Macedonian life. Bitola is only an hour and a half drive away from Ohrid making it a great option for a day trip or an overnight stay.
The easiest way to get there: There are some incredibly cheap flights into Skopje, so I highly suggest starting there.
Currency: The currency of North Macedonia is Macedonian denars.
The beauty of Croatia is incredible, it’s no wonder Croatia is one of the most visited countries within the Balkans. Known for its clear waters and incredible views, a stop to the Balkans wouldn’t be complete without visiting. Although Croatia doesn’t have that quintessential Balkan vibe, it is technically within the Balkan Peninsula.
Where to go in Croatia
Dubrovnik is one of the most popular destinations to visit within Croatia because of its history, old town and of course, being the film location of Game of Thrones. You can opt to do yours in the old city and even GoT-themed tours too. If there was one piece of advice I have for visiting Dubrovnik it is to visit out of season (not in summer) as cruise ships dock in the city and it becomes overly full. When in Dubrovnik you must hike or catch the cable car up to the hill Srd. From here you gain the most magnificent view of the city and surroundings!
Read more: How to get from Mostar to Dubrovnik
Split is the second-largest city in Croatia and is a great place to explore more of Croatians history as well as the beautiful city which sits right on the Adriatic. There is plenty to do in Split including Diocletian’s Palace which is a UNESCO site in the city, climbing the bell tower and strolling the Riva promenade. Split is over 1700 years old so there’s such a historical charm to the city. A great way to learn more about the city is by taking a walking tour!
The vibrant city of Zagreb is Croatia’s capital and a hub for history. If you want to learn more about Croatia’s historic past make sure you visit one of the museums (Image of war museum, Croatian history museum and so many more!). A great thing to do in the city is to try one of the many burger places that have taken over the city, one of the best is Submarine Burgers!
Also, be sure to take a day trip to the popular site of Plitvice Lakes. The national park is incredible and a must-do in Croatia. Many tour buses are leaving from Zagreb every day. In the summer go as early as you can as this place can fill up with people very quickly!
The easiest way to get there: There are many airports within Croatia. The budget airline Ryanair flies into Pula, Zadar and Rijeka. EasyJet also fly into Dubrovnik, Pula, Split, Zadar and Zagreb so you can easily and cheaply reach Croatia by plane!
Currency: In Croatia, they use Croatian Kuna.
Most refer to Serbia as the heart of the Balkans. Serbia is a very diverse country. You can experience the beautiful rugged mountains and natural wonders or go party in the capital city of Belgrade. One of the best ways to explore the country is by car so you can see all the small villages and places which are off the beaten track, although Serbia, in general, is still relatively unknown to many tourists!
Where to go in Serbia
The thriving capital of Belgrade is a great option to stay and explore from for a few days. Belgrade is a chaotic eclectic mix of socialist buildings, Ottoman relics and artists masterpieces, it’s all happening in Belgrade.
The city is known for having an awesome nightlife, but you should also take some time to learn more about the past. Try visiting the museum of Yugoslavia to learn more about the communist era. Belgrade was the capital of former Yugoslavia so as you can imagine there’s a lot of history held here for you to learn about.
Novi Sad is Serbia’s cultural hub and a must-see if you are visiting the country. The colourful city was named the European youth capital of 2019 and not only that, but the city has also going to be the European Capital of Culture in 2021 which is a pretty amazing honour as no non-EU city has ever had that accomplishment before. It’s a true testament at how happening the city is about to become.
The easiest way to get there: Belgrade hosts many budget international flights so it can be a great way to start your Serbia trip!
Currency: The currency of Serbia is Dinars
Bulgaria is a melting pot of diversity with plenty of things to do. From ancient ruins to medieval cities and the well-known Black Sea Coast, it’s a fantastic country to explore and start your Balkans trip. It’s affordable, people are friendly and it’s still a country which is still off the radar.
Where to go in Bulgaria
The obvious start to a trip to Bulgaria would be the lively and very pretty city of Sofia. This metropolitan city is fast becoming a hub for travellers. From beautiful Orthodox churches, interesting communist history and many great restaurants too. Be sure to take a visit to Sofia’s most famous building, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral as well as learning more about Bulgaria’s history at the national historical museum.
Plovdiv was named the European capital for culture 2019. So you can imagine that this is a must-see destination during any Bulgarian trip. From colourful buildings to cobbled pathways, you must stay in Bulgaria’s second-largest city for at least a couple of nights. Plovdiv is an ancient city, so if you’re a history buff, you will love visiting all the sites!
The easiest way to get there: The easiest way is flying into the airport in Sofia. Many budget flights come into Bulgaria making it an affordable destination to start a Balkans trip in!
Currency: The currency of Bulgaria is Lev.
The beautiful country of Greece is an epicentre for history and beautiful views. There is so much to see and do in Greece. You could spend your entire life there and not see everything. If you’re a lover of Greek history and mythology you will be in your element! Not only that but Greek food is some of the best in the world – Fresh, tasty and delicious!
Greece is a little more expensive than most Balkan countries. But if you head off the beaten path to places other than the likes of Santorini and Mykonos, you can find accommodation and food relatively affordable.
Where to go in Greece
Athens is often getting a bad rap but it’s a beautiful city if you know where to go and you give it a chance. I highly recommend staying in Plaka. It’s a beautiful area within Athens that’s not far from the centre and many historical sites including the Acropolis. Plaka is a beautiful area with many great cafes and beautiful views. I highly recommend a walk-up Mount Lycabettus to get a beautiful view of the city. This is a great sunset spot!
The famous Greek islands is a must-visit when coming to Greece. It’s what attracts most visitors to the country. There are so many great ones including Santorini, Mykonos, Corfu, Paxos, Rhodes, Kos, Naxos, Paros and the list goes on! I would love to include one but there are so many great ones, it’s impossible to pick! What I would say is to avoid Santorini and Mykonos in the summer season. These two islands in the summer are crowded with people and are seeing the effects of overtourism. So, either pick another Greek Island or go out of season.
The easiest way to get there: Athens hosts many international flights and cheap ones too! If you’re coming from Asia, Scoot Air do incredibly cheap flights in and out of Athens. I have gotten a ticket to Thailand from Athens for around €150 before. There are also airports on many of the Greek islands too.
Currency: In Greece they use Euros.
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