The region in south-eastern Europe known as the Balkans covers quite a lot of exciting countries. Being also one of the most affordable regions in Europe to travel around in, here are some of the best Balkan highlights to keep your wanderlust going and inspire your next Balkan trip.
- Bosnia & Herzegovina
The city of Berat has a very unique look with rows upon rows of historical houses lined up along the river shores and hills. Filled to the brim with history, you need to visit the National Ethnographic Museum and then Berat Castle to really get a good overview of its origins dating back to over 2400 years.
Drymades – Albanian Riviera
Did you know Albania had its own Riviera? Expect pretty sandy beaches, sheer blue waters, and quiet bays. Two of the best beaches to check out are Gjipe Beach and Dhermi Beach. Just be prepared to expect tourist prices and roads heading there to be windy. Getting on a local tour is therefore highly recommended.
Bosnia & Herzegovina
Mostar is without a doubt one of the prettiest and impressive cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. But don’t be blinded by its sheer instagrammability, THAT bridge, it’s Christian and Muslim side as well as wonderful historic houses. Mostar is also a living museum that very visually reminds you of the Bosnian War, which was the biggest genocide post-WWII. Part of the resilience and beauty of Mostar are exactly its scars and its history must never be forgotten.
A super scenic village just a little off of Mostar, Počitelj is a true gem for history and photography lovers. It sits on a green slope overlooking the river and features remains of medieval walls and towers as well as a white mosque. Locals produce fresh fruit, so if you pass by, make sure to buy fresh produce to support them and enjoy the super tasty fruits.
Also known as Bulgaria’s UFO, the Buzludhza Monument served as the Bulgarian Communist Party’s headquarter until the fall of Communism in the 80s. The building is towering high on Buzludzha mountain and has been abandoned ever since. Since it has now been officially closed for renovations, you can no longer access its insides but even walking around the premises, you will feel it very impressive, no matter the weather.
Bulgaria is truly full of amazing places but one that is super underrated and even super good for you are the Pink Lakes near Burgas. Thanks to the high saline content and nearby shrimp fishing, the water of the enclosed pools of Lake Atanasovsko appear entirely pink. A few of these pools are open to the public and free of charge so you can float around and cover yourself with black healing mud.
Waterfalls – Krka and Plitvice
Croatia has its fair share of national parks and impressive waterfalls. From these, both Krka and Plitvice National Park stand out. Not only are they excessively instagrammable, but they are a definite must when traveling Croatia. Both are accessible by public bus in case you do not want to rent a car and are well worth a day trip each. Just try to visit out of peak season and early in the day to avoid the crowds.
The Dalmatian coastline boats quite a lot of impressive islands, some protected nature reserves, other featuring old fortresses and ancient villages. An island that is especially charming, easy to get to and on which huge lavender fields are blooming is Hvar. It’s a great destination for a day trip from Dubrovnik or Split. After a short ferry ride, you can walk the old towns Hvar and Stari Grad or stroll through Bulgarian lavender fields.
Greece’s mainland is great but what most visitors to this Mediterranean country come here for are its picturesque island getaways, such as Oi in Santorini. Even if the name doesn’t ring a bell right away, it’s the wonderfully white village with blue roods overlooking the wonderful shoreline. Sunsets are absolute stunners, so make sure you stay at least one night.
The capital of Greece packs a punch. It’s like walking a living museum with ancient ruins just casually standing around. If you want to explore them, it’s wise to invest in the local Athens City Pass, which gives you a reduced price on the main attractions, such as the Acropolis, Ancient Agora, Hadrian’s Library and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Wego has lots of gorgeous hotels listed there.
Kosovo sadly isn’t on the list of many Balkan highlights trips but it ought to be! There are incredible landscapes to experience in this small (unofficial) country. One major spot is Nebeske Stolice, also known as Celestial Chairs. You can hike it in summer and ski down its powdery slopes in winter. On top of its peak, you can find an archeological site dating back to the 3rd and 4th century.
One of the most fascinating towns in Kosovo is Prizren. With its mix of religious sites, it will kinda remind you of Mostar. But Prizren has its entirely own charm. For starters, stroll to the Old Town over the stone bridges. Then visit Sinan Pasha Mosque, Our Lady of Ljevis and the Cathedral of our lady of Perpetual Succour, to name just three key attractions.
Macedonia’s capital is full of architectural masterpieces and beautiful both day and night. The city is bordered by mountains, which provides a stunning backdrop to its main attractions, such as Vapcarov Street, the Old Bazaar and the Skopje Fortress. If you are yearning for nature, Skopje as got you covered as well. On its western edge, you can visit the crystal clear Treska river in Matka Canyon. Take a dip in Treska Lake on hot summer days.
In the old town of Ohrid, you can find Samuel’s Fortress. This historical monument is one of the main tourist attractions of Macedonia and was erected during the 10th century. It wasn’t the first, however, as it was built on the site of another fortification. And to preserve it for coming generations, the current fortress was massively restored in 2003.
Montenegro enjoys both access to the Mediterranean Sea as well as high rising mountains. Perfect for nature lovers! To whet your hiking lust, put Lovćen mountain on top of your list. The mountain actually inspired the country’s name as Crna Gora, which literally translates to Black Mountain. If you are staying in Kotor, you can easily integrate it into a day trip as it is part of the capital’s hinterland.
No need to visit Croatia or Greece for those cute island villages. Sveti Stefan is a small islet as well as5 star hotel resort on the Adriatic Coast. This is where you can retreat to treat yourself to a one-of-a-kind holiday! It’s best to reserve way in advance as there are only 50 rooms on the entire island. And those views are just gorgeous.
Bran and Peles Castle
Transylvania itself is a great area to explore in Romania. But in particular, check out Bran and Peles Castle near Brasov. These two are famous for a very different reason. It is said that Bran Castle served as the inspiration for Count Dracula’s Castle – even though Bram Stoker never visited. Nearby Peles Castle, on the other hand, is one of the prettiest royal residential castles in all of Europe and boasts German fairy tale chic as it was indeed built by a German king.
Bucharest’s architecture and foodie scene
Romania’s capital is truly underrated. At first, it looks like an odd blend of bombastic Communist architecture and fine French style elements. Its history is just as vibrant and there are free walking tours informing you about how all of this came to be. Afterward, make sure to step into a local restaurant or find one of the many hidden backyard cafes.
Belgrade is full of wonders. For one, there is the Belgrade Fortress, which was built in 535 BC. Then, there are bulky Communist blocks and art nouveau buildings. It’s super eclectic, to say the least. However, this way you can just choose your own path to explore it. Do you want to learn more about its far history or more recent chapters? Do you want to dive right into its vibrant nightlife and art scene? Belgrade offers so much, it’s best to pick something first.
House on the Drina
It doesn’t look like much and it really is just that: a house on a rock on a river. But this oddness makes it all the more appealing. You can find the House on the Drina river just outside of Bajina Bašta, where it was left since 1969. For some reason, the river hasn’t managed to sweep it away despite its fluctuating water levels. The story goes that some local men wanted to create a hangout spot for their favorite bathing place of Tara National Park and just did it.
If you are on Instagram, chances are you will have been bombarded with photos of Lake Bled. It’s Slovenia’s answer to Austria’s Hallstadt: a delightful lake setting with the Alps in the background and cute traditional houses and a church. However, what makes Lade Bled stand out is the fact that its Assumption of Mary church is located on the Bled island in the middle of the Lake!
Do you want to rough it? Why not schedule a true cave experience as part of your Balkan highlight tour? Postojna Cave Park even includes a Concert Hall! And you get to ride on the underground train to see it since it’s so big. After all, the entire system is 24,340km long, making it the second longest cave of Slovenia.