No matter how much I enjoyed Skopje and its crazy statues there was one place that I had to visit during my stay in the capital of Macedonia. You see, for the reason I cannot really explain I’m interested in difficult history, borders, internal conflicts etc. These are the things I can’t fully understand no matter how much I try and by visiting the places affected by those issues I feel I’m getting closer to figuring it all out (well, of course I’m not). So when I’ve realized Kosovo is only a short bus ride away from Macedonia I knew I just have to visit this second youngest country in the world! And so I went for the day trip from Skopje to Pristina, the capital of Kosovo.
Table of contents
- 1 Short history of Kosovo and issues with entering the country
- 2 Skopje to Pristina – how to travel between two capitals
- 3 First impressions of Kosovo
- 4 How to get from the bus station to the center of Pristina
- 5 The National Library of Kosovo – a gem of brutalism
- 6 A great bazaar to experience
- 7 Nena Tereze Boulevard – the place to be in Pristina
- 8 Incredible cafe culture in Pristina
- 9 Newborn monument in Pristina
- 10 Pristina – a great city to relax!
- 11 Surprising Kosovo
- 12 Skopje to Pristina – practical information
Short history of Kosovo and issues with entering the country
Skopje to Pristina – how to travel between two capitals
At first I was hoping to go to Prizren – second biggest city in Kosovo, with stunning location and amazing monuments, that is probably the highlight of the country. Unfortunately, even if it’s only 80kms away from Skopje the journey takes 3 hours and the buses leave from Macedonia in the afternoon – there’s no way to make it as an easy day trip from Skopje. If I wanted to visit Kosovo I had to go to Pristina. Frequent and fast buses connect the two capitals really well and such a daytrip is a piece of cake!
I took the 8am bus from Skopje – the ticket cost around 5€ and the journey was supposed to take 2 hours, after all it’s less than 100 kms. There were hardly any people travelling when we left the bus station but as we picked the people and packages along the way the bus eventually filled up. The grumpy Macedonian border guard asked me couple of questions and (as always) confused he stopped questioning me after hearing about my job. Borders always make me nervous and I was pretty anxious when we arrived to the Kosovar control point but the middle aged guy only asked me what my plans in his country are and how long I’m staying – I wanted to explain properly but he quickly said „Welcome to our beautiful country” and gave me my passport back. I was in Kosovo, my country number 57.
First impressions of Kosovo
The first impression of the new country were really good. Even if the day was gloomy, the scenery around was really amazing – hillsides with beautiful autumn leaves, picturesque villages hidden in the valley, tall minarets cutting the sky. Since I’m dealing with a terrible motion sickness and my medicine makes me so very sleepy I napped most of the way and when I woke up we were already in the suburbs of Pristina, where lots and lots of concrete blocks welcome visitors – a typical scene for most of the Central European countries. Fellow passengers already knew very well I’m not a local so as soon as we were approaching the city (and I slightly woke up) they started asking where I want to go, offering help, explaining the way and welcoming in their country. They all also repeated 5 or so times what time is the last bus to Skopje (at 6pm) so I would make it back on time. Even if some of them didn’t know English they tried communicating in Serbian and we didn’t have all that much problems with communication. From the very first moment in Kosovo I felt really welcomed.
How to get from the bus station to the center of Pristina
The bus station is not far from the center, some 15 minutes walking along Bill Clinton Boulevard. The wide street is surrounded by concrete blocks among which a sculpture of Bill Clinton with exceptionally big hands can be seen. Next doors a clothing boutique named Hillary is located – coincidence? I don’t think so! What struck me the most from the very beginning was how young and vibrant the city felt, how stylish teenagers and student look like. A little walk further up brought me to the crossroads of Bill Clinton Boulevard and Xhorxh Bush Boulevard (yes, you read the name correctly) where the Univeristy of Pristina is located. If someone is interested in the street fashion then this place is definitely worth checking out as the sense of style among young Kosovars is really good.
The National Library of Kosovo – a gem of brutalism
The univeristy park hides the highlight of Pristina, one of the weirdest and most incredible buildings I’ve ever seen – the National Library of Kosovo. The building got its unique and quirky look at the beginning of 1980s, according to the Croatian architect, whose work it is, the design is blending Byzantine and Islamic architecture. Actually it more reminds of a big LEGO bricks bonded with a chain but for me it was also an orgy of the brutalism style, the kind of architecture I enjoy so much! I guess 25% of my pictures from Pristina are of this building, I literally couldn’t take my eyes out of it! The look of the Library still brings lots of controversy, but for me it was just beautiful!
A great bazaar to experience
Pristina doesn’t really have the Old Town. The area around Nazim Gafurri Street with remnants of the Turkish bazaar is home to couple of old and impressive mosques as well as the clock tower. But for me the best thing there was a market, just a random one. I really adore exploring this typical Central and Eeastern European selling places as that’s where the face and the vibe of the city can be best experienced. I wander around, observe people, look at the products, compare prices, I try to interact with local and sometimes I buy something… Bazaars are often my favourite places in the visited cities and the one in Pristina was pretty decent as well.
Nena Tereze Boulevard – the place to be in Pristina
The core of Pristina and the place where everything happens is Nena Tereze Boulevard – partly pedestrian street full of social, cultural, political and business life. Even if I was there around noon on a random November weekday the place was full of people, numerous cafes had hardly any free seats left and the miners’ silent protest walked through the street. The fence around the government buildings was full with pictures of people who went missing in 1999 when the conflict in Kosovo was at its fullest. It is such a sad reminder of the recent history of the newborn country. Even if now Pristina looks like a completely normal place and is such a lively city it’s hard to forget the tragic past.
Incredible cafe culture in Pristina
To be honest I was pretty surprised how vibrant the capital of Kosovo is. I read before about its amazing nightlife as well as exceptional and super cheap coffee but my expectations were nowhere close to the reality. There were so many cozy and hip cafes to choose from that I wanted to visit each of them. Sadly with my limited time I only managed to sip amazing cappuccinos in two of them. All the hype was true, I can’t recall where I had such a good coffee for the last time and 1€/cup seems to be an excellent price. If I could stay in Pristina for longer I know I wouldn’t be bored, I could spend days sitting in the cafes, watching people walking up and down Nena Tereze Boulevard, reading or writing and just relaxing.
Newborn monument in Pristina
I’d probably have spent most of my time in Pristina visiting cafes but there was one more place I wanted to see really badly – the big „NEWBORN” monument. It was unveiled on 17th February 2008, the day Kosovo was born and it commemorates a new, independent country. At first the letters were all yellow and covered in signatures of thousands of Kosovars, including the most important people in the country. Each year on 17th February the monument changes its look. Last year it showed flags of all the countries that recognize Kosovo as the independent state – I was hoping to see that but to my slight disappointment it is now repainted into the military pattern… Still it’s a cool monument and a great way to celebrate the born of the new country!
Pristina – a great city to relax!
Those few hours in Pristina passed by really quickly but that’s always what happens when you have a good time! Even if the city isn’t full of attractions or it’s not even pretty I think it’s a great place to spend few days in, just to relax, feel the Balkan vibe, enjoy the cafe culture and go really off the beaten path. I feel a need to explore more of Kosovo, this one day definitely wasn’t enough as it only pique my curiosity towards the country. Next time I will want to see more places, with Prizren and Mitrovica being on top of my list but I also would love to return to Pristina and just be there and enjoy the atmosphere, without any specific plan.
Kosovo surprised me in a positive way. After seeing places that went through major conflicts recently (like Bosnia or Palestine) I was expecting a very poor, remote country at the outskirts of Europe.It was nothing like that! I’m sure Kosovo deals with many problems and it might get into serious trouble when the international aid will be finished but at least it has a big potential and a young population who wants and can make a change. And as for us, travelers and tourist, it is a great destination that really needs to be discovered. So when you are in Skopje do yourself a favour and hop across the border to Kosovo too! Even if only to admire Mr.Chat, known also from streets of Sarajevo and other cities around the world!
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Skopje to Pristina – practical information
Kosovo border crossing
You need to have a valid passport to enter Kosovo, you will get a stamp that will immediately make your visit to Serbia much more difficult. The best way is to either arrive to Kosovo from Serbia and continue your trip further or arrive and depart from/to Macedonia. Check with your Ministry of Foreign Affairs if you can enter Serbia with ID only, Polish people can do that and it helps me to avoid problems with my passport stamps from Kosovo!
Getting to Kosovo
Recently there are more and more low cost flights to the Balkans – you can easily fly to Skopje and even to Pristina (I paid 60€/return from Berlin to Pristina in May 2016). You can find the best deal at SkyScanner, that’s where I always look for flights too! BalkanViator is the best source of bus schedules in the Balkans, it never disappointed me! From Skopje buses to Pristina depart more or less every hour, the journey takes a little bit over 2 hours. In November 2014 and May 2016 I paid 5€ for one way ticket
It’s actually much cheaper to stay in Skopje than in Pristina. Is stayed twice at Public Room Anja and I can definitely recommend this place for the location and unbeatable price. Check out the prices and details here! But there are lots of affordable accommodation to choose from in Skopje! If you decide to stay longer in Pristina there are some good options too, just less of them!
Further read on Kosovo
- Kosovo: The Bradt Travel Guide – the best travel guide for the region (Lonely Planet has only few pages on Kosovo)
- Kosovo: What Everyone Needs to Know
- Kosovo: A Short History
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