Every week I get lots of messages asking about Balkan travel.
In light of the recent events all over the world and safety concerns that many of us have, it seems like the Balkans are top travel destination these days. And I totally can understand that!
Balkans are safe, affordable, interesting, rich in history and culture, delicious and most of all stunning!
The region has been one of my favorite places for years, I travel there on regular basis (I just can’t resist all the cheap flights there) and it’s about time I share with you all my knowledge about Balkan travel!
Hopefully, you will find it useful when planning your own trip around the region!
Planning a trip to the Balkans? Here are the services I always use and personally recommend:
- Accommodation: I always book a place to stay on Booking.com
- Tours: when I decide to go on a tour I either use Viator
- To save money on exchange rates I’ve been using Revolut card for years now. Order your bank card here.
- Get insured for your trip to the Balkans with SafetyWing
Where to go during your Balkan travel
Now that’s the most difficult question.
Every country has some amazing places that you should visit and everything depends on how much time you have and how well you want to get to know the Balkans.
The most basic Balkan travel route is: Kotor (Montenegro) – Dubrovnik (Croatia) (including day trips from Dubrovnik) – Mostar (Bosnia and Herzegovina) – Split – Plitvicke Lake (Croatia) – Ljubljana – Lake Bled (Slovenia).
All those places are incredible and definitely worth a visit but they are also super crowded, especially with day trippers.
If you can stay in those towns overnight already in the late afternoon you will see a totally different, much better face of those places.
And then you will understand why they are so popular as during the day you might actually hate them a little bit.
Just a few days ago I was walking through Kotor Old Town at 4:30 am and was almost hyperventilating at the beauty and charm of it, with literally no one around me.
Once you do the basic route you might want to do more of Balkan travel – I know I did.
I still haven’t been to all the places I wanted to but here is my personal list of destinations you might want to check out, in random order:
- Slovenia: Lake Bohinj, Maribor, Celje, Ptuj, Postojna Cave, Bovec
- Croatia: Zagreb, Sibenik, Krka National Park, Primosten, Pula, Makarska, Hvar, Krk, Rovnij, Trogir, Opatija, Karlovac, Varazdin, Osijek, Vukovar
- Bosnia and Herzegovina: Sarajevo, Travnik, Jajce, Blagaj, Pocitelj, Trebinje, Visegrad, Bihac, Konjic, Lukomir
- Montenegro: Lake Skadar, Durmitor National Park, Tara river canyon, Ostrog Monastery, Lovcen, Cetinje, Stari Bar, Ulcinj.
- Serbia: Subotica, Novi Sad, Belgrade, Zemun, Zlatibor, Uzice, Petrovardin, Sremski Karlovci, Derdap NP, Novi Pazar, Palic, Golubac, Smederevo
- Kosovo: Pristina, Prizren, Gjakova, Mitrovica, Peja, Prokletije Mountains
- North Macedonia: Skopje, Canyon Matka, Ohrid, Bitola, Mavrovo, Krusevo, Prespa, Tetovo
- Albania: Tirana, Berat, Gijokastra, Ksamil, Valbona, Shkodra, Butrint, Vlore, Theth, Lake Komani, Korca
…and many, many more!
I’m sure I still haven’t found out all amazing destinations in the Balkans either but recently I asked fellow travel bloggers of their favorite places and we came up with this list of Balkan highlights!
When to go to the Balkans
To be honest I would never dare to travel to Balkans in the summertime. It’s too hot and too crowded!
I really like spring there when everything is green and blooming and the air smells like flowers (and grill).
I also like early autumn although the weather might be more tricky then.
Basically, from the end of March till mid-June and from September till late October you should be fine traveling in the Balkans.
How to get to the Balkans
Fortunately, recently low-cost airlines (Ryanair, Wizzair, Easyjet) started flying to the Balkans, making everything so much easier.
I usually fly from Berlin or Budapest and most often I can get the return flight for 20€. Even with getting to Berlin/Budapest from Warsaw it’s worth the time and money as I most likely won’t find a better deal from Poland.
Berlin isn’t the only airport in Europe serving the Balkans, you can get there also from other German cities as well as Hungary, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Sweden, Slovakia, UK, Poland, Belgium, Spain, Malta, Norway, Italy, Cyprus, Ireland, Switzerland.
Balkan airports where you can fly to are: Ljubljana (Slovenia), Pula, Rijeka, Osijek, Zadar, Split, Dubrovnik (Croatia), Tuzla, Sarajevo (BiH), Nis, Belgrade (Serbia), Skopje, Ohrid (North Macedonia), Pristina (Kosovo), Tirana (Albania), Podgorica, Tivat (Montenegro).
Those are just the low-cost airlines I’ve mentioned above, there are also regular airlines serving all the Balkan countries.
Very often the biggest problem is not getting to the Balkans but getting out of the airport. The public transport is very often nonexistent and taxis are overpriced though might be your only option.
In Podgorica, for example, there is a train station some 1km away from the airport but the train stop very rarely there (if you are lucky you can get to the city for 1€, you can check the schedule here).
The taxis try to charge you 15€ and it’s not even 10kms ride!
If you’re good at haggling you can find the car for 10€, last time it took me three attempts to find the driver willing to take me to the bus station for that price. It’s usually much easier in another direction.
There are also bus and train connections from neighboring countries (Austria, Hungary, Greece) but since those take hours and are rather expensive I’ve ditched them altogether.
Crossing the borders in the Balkans
Crossing borders during your Balkan travels shouldn’t be too much of a hassle.
Sometimes you might encounter a queue on more popular routes in the summer season so be prepared for that.
I’ve crossed the borders when traveling by bus, by car, by train or simply walking and I’ve never had any problems or never was questioned.
The only border that might give you a headache is Kosovo as it’s really tricky and can get confusing as Serbia doesn’t recognize it as the independent country.
When you enter Kosovo from Serbia you are free to go anywhere forward.
But when you enter Kosovo from any other country Serbia sees it as illegally crossing their border and if you continue onward to Serbia you might get lots of troubles.
A couple of my friends were refused the entry to Serbia because of Kosovo stamps in their passport, others had lots of issues but eventually were let in…
No one that I know managed to visit Serbia with no issues when having a Kosovo stamp but the internet knows such stories, I just can’t vouch for them.
Some countries allow to enter most of the Balkan countries with the national ID so this might be an option too.
For example with Polish ID I can visit every Balkan country but Kosovo where the only passport is allowed (but apparently if you national ID is biometric you can also use it for entering Kosovo) – what I do is using my ID every time I visit Serbia to avoid troubles.
How to get around the Balkans
The easiest would be your own/rented car but keep in mind that the drivers are pretty crazy there and the roads are often pretty challenging – narrow, in the poor condition, leading through the mountains (you really need to have a solid stomach to survive all those turns and serpentines).
Trains operate only very few routes so your best option is buses.
They are unfortunately not the cheapest and often slow but usually, there is at least one connection per day between places of your interest.
The best website to check the bus connection is Balkanviator although it’s also not perfect (but at least can give you the vague idea of connections).
Always double check at the bus station and get the ticket in advance if you can – buses can get crowded especially in the season (although it never happened to me that there were no seats).
In most of the countries, they also charge you a small fee if you have a bigger piece of luggage that needs to go to the trunk – in Bosnia and Herzegovina, for example, it was 1mark (~0,50€).
The most challenging country to travel around is Albania where public transport is based on furgons (minibusses) and usually, there is no fixed schedule or even bus stations.
But don’t worry, locals are always willing to help and you don’t need to look too much for your bus, the driver will somehow find you!
Last time I was in Tirana trying to find the furgon to Pogradec the driver approached me on some random street next to some blocks of flats and shortly after I was already on the way to my destination.
Some example routes with times and prices:
- Ljubljana – Lake Bled: from 6am till 9pm at least one bus per hour, 1h20min, 6,30€ one way / 11,30€ return
- Ljubjana – Zagreb: 12 connections per day, 2h20minutes, 9€ one way
- Zagreb – Plitvicke Lake: 12 connections per day, 2h20 minutes, 10-13€ one way
- Plitvicke Lake – Zadar: 8 connections per day, less than 3 hours, 12-14€ one way
- Zadar – Split: at least one connection per hour, 3 hours, 12-14€
- Split – Dubrovnik: 13 connections per day, 4h30min, 15-17€
- Dubrovnik – Kotor: 4 connections per day, 2-3 hours, 18€
- Dubrovnik – Mostar: 3 connections per day, 3h20min, 16€
- Mostar – Sarajevo: 10 connections per day, 2h30min, 10€
- Mostar – Kotor: 2 connections per day, 9 hours, 38€
- Sarajevo – Belgrade: 4 connections per day, 7-8 hours, around 15-20€
- Skopje – Ohrid: 10 connections per day, 3 hours, 8€
- Skopje – Pristina: at least one connection per hour, 2 hours, 5€
Some hotels and hostels offer transfer between most popular destinations that are not so easily accessible by public transport. It’s always good to ask at the place you’re staying.
I know in Kotor 360Monte agency offers transportation to Mostar and Tirana, both faster and cheaper than by public transport.
Where to stay in the Balkans
As the region is becoming more and more popular in most places you have lots of accommodation options to choose from, something for each taste, from fancy hotels to dorm rooms in hostels.
I usually try to stay at family-run businesses, either guest houses or apartments as not only this way I’m helping directly local people but usually those offer amazing hospitality.
The good thing is that out of the summer season it’s very easy to find an excellent place to stay for really good money. So far my favorites are:
- Villa Tarja in Mostar – run by the young family who will do everything to make your stay as perfect as possible. When I asked about the tours to nearby Blagaj and Pocitelj they arranged a private one for me for half the price those tours usually are. They took me for a walk to show less known sights in Mostar. And don’t get me started with breakfast – so good, so enormous! The guest house is located just a few minutes away from the Old Bridge, in the center of Mostar. I can’t recommend this place enough! Check the availability and current rates here!
- Villa Dudinka in Ohrid – perfect location, very friendly owners and spacious rooms with the view of Lake Ohrid. I loved it there! Check the availability and current rates here!
- Palazzo Drusko in Kotor – how often can you stay in a traditional, 600 years old palace? Not too often I guess. Fortunately, in Kotor you have a chance at Palazzo Drusko. I really loved my stay there, all the rooms (I peaked around a little bit before people checked in ;)) are decorated with beautiful antiques that let you transfer back in time. The location also couldn’t be any better, in the heart of the Old Town. Check the availability and current rates here!
- If Palazzo Drusko is out of your price range or you want to socialize with fellow travelers then you can try Old Town Hostel, also located in the traditional buildings just 3 minutes away – I stayed there during my first visit to Kotor a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it! Check the availability and current rates here!
- Apartment Frida’s place in Sibenik – lovely apartment in the old town of Sibenik, few steps away from more or less everything. A perfect place to stay for a couple of days to enjoy the town and surroundings. Check the availability and current rates here!
If you’re planning to visit Sarajevo I’ve created the whole guide on Sarajevo accommodation for all budgets – click here to read it and choose where to stay in Sarajevo.
What to eat in the Balkans
The Balkans are food heaven for all the meat lovers. Some places, especially in Bosnia, even smell like grilled meat!
Then those located along the coast are known for excellent fresh fish and seafood.
One thing is for sure – no matter what you choose you won’t be hungry in the Balkans.
Some of the most popular dishes you might want to try include cevapi, cevapcici or pljeskavica.
Vegetarian in the Balkans
I must admit being vegetarian in the Balkans is pretty challenging but it’s also slowly changing and many restaurants, especially in more touristy places, offer vegetarian options.
You can often get grilled vegetables and salads which are to die for! Everything is so delicious and so fresh, the taste I remember from my childhood!
Other solid options, which you can almost always count on, are pizzas and risotto which – thanks to the Italian influences – are very often really decent.
And in case of emergency, there are always bakeries everywhere, just look for the “pekara” sign.
And there you can find burek which is one of the best things you can eat in the Balkans! A filo pastry filled with feta cream cheese, cheese, and spinach or potatoes (the second one is my favorite).
The best drink to accompany burek is always a yogurt. You can see lots of people eating this combo directly in the bakery.
The most challenging country for me, food-wise was Serbia, with BiH on the close second place.
Is Balkans safe
Yes! I never felt any danger there and everyone I know can share this opinion.
People are super friendly and will try their best to help you, even when you don’t need it!
Of course in bigger and more popular places you should be more careful – I, for example, lost my passport in Sarajevo (when walking in Bascarsija in the evening, I think I know when that happened but then I didn’t catch anyone opening my backpack so I can’t be sure).
But even with this story, I think Sarajevo and the Balkans are really safe, definitely safer than Western Europe.
And the passport could have been stolen everywhere, just the other day my friend lost the camera in Naples, Italy.
Actually, there is only one really uncomfortable story when, together with my friend Kinga, we arrived in Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina late in the evening and the owner of the guest house we were staying at picked us from the airport.
It was a dark night, we were speeding through Bosnian countryside and suddenly he started telling us his opinions about many subjects, the “highlight” being how Hitler did a really good job with death camps and killing Jewish people…
We were both speechless but he didn’t mind and just kept talking this bullshit. We were both really relieved when we arrived at his guest house and could leave the car but probably even more relieved when we departed early in the morning (me to Travnik, Kinga to Mostar).
Still, it wasn’t really dangerous, just really uncomfortable and awkward.
As you probably know in the 1990s there was a cruel war in the Balkans.
You still see the remnants, especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the tension is still there but it doesn’t affect tourists at all so you don’t need to worry about it.
Just be careful when hiking or going freely in BiH as there are still landmines hidden in the countryside.
Solo female travel in the Balkans
The majority of my trips to the Balkans were solo (although I often tend to meet Kinga there, who also travels just by herself).
I can’t count how many times I’ve been to the region by now as I usually just go for short trips up to one week, and there are lots of them per year.
But I can’t recall any situation when I was really in danger. I’ve never even been harassed or bothered by anyone!
If you’re a solo traveler and thinking about any Balkan travels there is really nothing to worry about! You can always write to me and ask some specific questions, I will do my best to help!
I also wrote the whole post about solo female travel in the Balkans – click here to read it.
Is Balkans expensive
It all depends on what you want to do and where you want to stay during your Balkan travel but in general, I’d say prices are moderate, definitely cheaper than in Western Europe.
If you travel off season you will have no problems with finding affordable accommodation, in touristy places you should get lunch or dinner for less than 20€, drinks included.
Entrances fee are also rather reasonable, usually a couple of Euros. Unfortunately, Dubrovnik is an exception here as prices are just extraordinary there!
I found North Macedonia and Albania to be the cheapest countries while Croatia is the most expensive one, the rest is simply fine.
The only thing I found rather expensive is transport between the cities I feel like 20 marks between Mostar and Sarajevo or 7€ between Podgorica and Kotor is rather much but maybe I’m just spoiled by the cheap bus connections we get in my part of Europe.
By the way, the useful info you might want to know: Kosovo, Montenegro, and Slovenia use Euro as their currency.
So yes, that’s probably all I know about Balkan travel.
If you have some questions and want to know something I haven’t covered here you’re more than welcome to join my Facebook group about travel in this region – there is always someone who knows answers to all kind of questions! Happy Balkan travels!
Revolut bank card is the best way to save money when traveling. It’s a pre-paid service that offers very good exchange rates and no fees for ATM’s use. Click here to learn more and order your Revolut card.
You can find the best accommodation options at Booking. They have many discounts and excellent customer service. Click here to look for the place to stay in the Balkans
Never travel without travel insurance, you never know what might happen and better safe than sorry. You can check the insurance policy for the Balkans here.
I recommend joining organized tours to get to know the place better and to visit more places during your trip. You can find a great selection of tours at Get Your Guide – click here.
Make sure to have the offline map always installed on your phone, they can save you so many troubles. I always use the free app Maps.Me.
For the end I left a few announcements that might interest you:
- If you don’t want to miss new posts and news from me click here to sign to my newsletter! You can also follow me on Bloglovin!
- Join my Facebook group about Eastern Europe, the Balkans and former USSR and connect with fellow travellers and enthusiasts of these regions – just click here!
- I’ve included a few handy links of services and products I personally like and use so you can plan your own trip to the Balkans too. They are often affiliate links. This means I will get a small commission if you book/purchase anything through my links, at no extra costs for you. If you like what you are reading and seeing here and would like to support me and my blog please consider using those links. It would be like getting me a virtual drink that you don’t have to pay for! Thanks!
LIKED IT? PIN THIS POST FOR LATER!
If you enjoyed that post why don't you share it with your friends? That would mean so much to me! Also be sure to join 27.000+ fellow travelers and follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for travel updates and even more pictures! If you don't want to miss new posts sign up to my newsletter or follow on Bloglovin!
Kasia & Victor przez świat23/05/2017 at 07:24
Kami, thank you for this detailed and practical guide! I know one day we’ll have to concentrate on Europe and Balkans will be THE place to go. I’ve already store all the information. BTW, great photos! It must be one of those magical places for photo freaks ;)
kami27/05/2017 at 20:45
it is indeed a photo heaven, so many breathtaking places it’s impossible to stop taking pictures! I really hope you will be able to come here soon as it’s simply amazing!
Lynne23/05/2017 at 18:39
A big thank you Kami, because of reading your posts I am now starting my Balkans trip. I am in Moldova and did the local bus trip to Transnistria. Thanks to your info it was easy. Just a long way from Australia, but worth it.
kami27/05/2017 at 20:48
I’m really glad it was helpful! Hopefully you will enjoy Balkans as much as I do, it’s such an amazing place! Greetings from Sarajevo!
stacjabalkany09/06/2017 at 10:51
Great post. My blog have a mission on exploring Balkans and showing Balkan to the polish people. But Your post is showing that the Balkans are peoples the best destination in Europe for a budget trvellers as we are. The best thing is that new cheap flights from Berlin to Tuzla, Skopje, Podgorica, Nis, Sofia and Bucharest make things now really easy :) and I agree in Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Slovenia buses are really quite expensive – far too expensive. Only in Macedonia i find them cheap. In Serbia they are also quite expensive, but in Serbia you can use trains.
kami21/06/2017 at 08:00
But I’m not so much of a budget traveller anymore ;) I can spend more if I get a good value for that. Balkans are perfect for all kind of travellers, not only budget, it’s just an amazing place to visit!
lukas kae16/06/2017 at 14:43
great post with amazing pictures. thanks for sharing with us.
kami21/06/2017 at 09:26
ursula08/02/2018 at 12:51
Great post, very informative! Thank you. I hope to travel to the Balkan’sso your advice and information is wonderful.
kami29/03/2018 at 20:42
Thank you! I hope you will go there soon, it’s so worth it!
Shannon Lee17/03/2018 at 14:47
Hi Kami, I’m Shannon Lee from Singapore would like to find out whether do you know any tour agency in Balkan would conduct a package tour for say 12 days Balkan trip include the most attractive places of interest like what you have introduce.
kami29/03/2018 at 20:47
Hi Shannon Lee! Unfortunately I don’t know any agency but if you would like to travel independently there I can plan the itinerary for you and give you all the info about the visited places. If you’re interested email me at email@example.com
Javi Romero18/07/2018 at 21:11
Thanks Kami for this post!
I’m starting my trip to the Balkans in September and I’ll be there around 2 1/2 months. I have taken note of the places that you suggest, and I feel relieved to read that is perfectly safe for a woman to travel that region.
kami11/08/2018 at 12:52
I’m always happy when I can help! If you have any more questions about travelling in the Balkans you’re more than welcome to join my Facebook group (there’re links above in the post and in the sidebar). We have a great community of travelers there who seem to know the answer to every single question :)
Romesh30/09/2018 at 12:25
Your post is great and really helpful. I have 13 days to plan a trip and I thought being in South it would be warmer but I guess I was wrong.
I would like to go to Greece, Santorini and then navigate to other Balkan countries via bus and finally fly back from say Sofia(to Brussels).
During course of my travel I would be more than happy to spend 2 days each in let’s say a Balkan country.
Could you advise this to be a good idea and suggest some places??
Thanks in advance.
kami19/10/2018 at 09:09
To be honest 2 days in each country is really rushed, especially that public transport can be rather limited in the Balkans. I’d skip some places and focus on other more. If you’re flying from Sofia I think Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo and maybe part of Serbia will be enough for you.
Bohemiana04/02/2019 at 19:06
We plan on spending about 3 weeks in the Balkans late August to mid September. I know, I know, it’s not the best time of year but it’s the only time we can travel. I appreciate your list of places but maybe you can help us trim it down for our trip. For a little back ground on what we like, we spent 2 weeks at Lake Bohinj (one of our favorite places in the world) and didn’t get bored. (We didn’t really care for Bovec in comparison.) In Croatia, we loved Hvar and Korcula. Based on your list of suggestions, I’m thinking of sticking to Montenegro and Kosovo because we love both beaches and mountains. We love hiking and prefer small towns to cities and we don’t like spending a ton of time on buses, preferring slow travel to changing locations all the time. Is it easy to travel between these two countries? What would be your top picks for towns to base ourselves? Thanks!!
kami12/02/2019 at 13:40
I think you can focus on Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, you can include Kosovo or Montenegro too if you have time. These two countries are neighbors and while connections aren’t the best, they are existing and traveling around is doable. Feel free to join my Facebook group about traveling in the Balkans (link is in the sidebar and in this post), I’m sure the member will be happy to help you too. Have a good trip!
James Holman05/03/2019 at 21:03
Super! Podziekujemy!….I feel more prepared than before I stumbled upon your excellent post.
kami05/04/2019 at 14:21
I’m glad you liked it !
Clive30/04/2019 at 08:45
Great post and has got us very excited. But our only language is English so I suspect that will have a major effect on our communication. We have used Google translate to get us through Russia and hoping that should help in the Balkans. Also, we have found that the younger people in Russia do have reasonable English and we often picked on them to help us out. Are you able to provide some feedback on communication please.
kami01/05/2019 at 10:50
I find it much easier with English in the Balkans than in Russia, to be honest. Not only young people can speak it well but also older generation often knows it (or German). And in the worst case scenario there is google translate :)
Suresh14/06/2019 at 06:11
Nice blog simple English explain nicely from 17 aug to 30 sept i am going to travel in balcans already plan started from Greece end in Slovenia Thanks
kami26/06/2019 at 02:05
Have a great trip!
MMS Car07/07/2019 at 13:05
Nice blog. As for security, the Balkans are no less safe than the EU.
kami20/07/2019 at 12:28
Thank you. Ans you are right.
Ramesh Krishna16/07/2019 at 00:12
Really enjoyed your coverage, very informative and useful.Thanks a lot.
kami20/07/2019 at 12:37