by Annie 

Published: January 11, 2022

Updated:  August 7, 2022
guide to planning your holidays in the Balkans

If you’re considering spending your holidays in the Balkans, I promise you won’t be disappointed! This part of the world is full of natural beauty, rich culture, fascinating history, delicious food, and friendly locals. I’ve fallen madly in love with the region, and you will too!  At this point, I’ve spent nearly four months in the Balkans over five different trips and I can’t wait to go back again. 

In this travel planning guide, we’ll cover everything you need to plan your holidays in the Balkans. We’ll start by answering the most common questions about the region. Next, you’ll discover incredible destinations to consider for your trip. Then we’ll cover planning an itinerary you’ll love. In the last two sections, you’ll learn what to expect as a visitor, plus resources and tips to make your holidays in the Balkans absolutely unforgettable! 

Bookmark this one so you can come back and reference it during the different parts of your travel planning process. 

***This post contains affiliate links, which means if you make a booking using the link, I receive a small commission at no additional charge to you. This helps me keep the lights on around here. I ONLY recommend products and services I personally use and love. ***

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Before you start planning the details of planning your holidays in the Balkans, let’s start with the basics. In this section, you’ll find answers to the most frequently asked questions travelers have about the region. These answers will provide background knowledge to make the rest of your travel planning decisions easier!

Where are the Balkans?

The countries referred to as “the Balkans” are located on the Balkan Peninsula in Southeastern Europe. They include Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia. You may find slightly different groupings, depending on the source. 

This part of the world has been the crossroads of empires for over a thousand years. You’ll find remnants from the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, and Austro-Hungarians scattered throughout the region. After WWII, all of these countries were behind the Iron Curtain and have come into their own since the 1990s. All this history makes it a fascinating place to visit! If you’re interested in learning more about the region’s past, here’s a great article for you.

Why should I visit the Balkans?

The top reasons you should visit the Balkans are:

  • Breathtaking natural wonders
  • More than 40 UNESCO World Heritage Sites
  • Ancient ruins
  • Fascinating history
  • Rich culture
  • Vibrant cities
  • Incredible food
  • Friendly and welcoming locals
  • Affordability

There are so many reasons to spend your holidays in the Balkans! No matter what type of traveler you are, you’ll find something to love in this part of the world. Personally, the natural wonders and vibrant cities continue to draw me back. Because this part of Europe is less popular than destinations like France or Germany, it’s easier to enjoy the rhythm of local life. Rather than being pulled by an endless supply of iconic tourist attractions you “should” see, you can slow down and find joy in the simple daily pleasures of sipping coffee in a café or hiking through the forest. Don’t worry, there are still plenty of interesting museums, art galleries, and historical sites to visit along the way. 

Besides all there is to see and do, spending your holidays in the Balkans is very affordable. It’s a great place to get away from the crowds that gather in more popular destinations. Planning for $50 a day will allow you to have a wonderful time! I’ve been able to have my own apartment, a rental car for days at a time, eat delicious food, and do all the activities that interest me on this budget!

Is it safe to travel in the Balkans?

Yes! The region indeed experienced major turmoil and upheaval during the fall of communism. However, those days are in the past. Having spent a great deal of my time in the area as a solo female traveler, I can confidently say it’s safe to visit.

Though these places may conjure visions of conflict, that’s no longer the reality in this region. I have never worried about my well-being during my time there. 

Honestly, it breaks my heart that this is still a question that lingers in the minds of potential travelers. In my experience, people who live in the Balkan countries are some of the warmest and most hospitable I’ve met anywhere! I encourage you to see for yourself the resilience and beauty that has replaced those outdated images over the last 30+ years.

The vast majority of people in the world are kind and helpful. The best way to stay safe, no matter where you’re traveling, is to use your common sense. Pay attention to what’s happening around you and trust your intuition. If something feels off or looks potentially dangerous, avoid it. Do what you would do when visiting a new area in your home country and you should be just fine.

Want more information about planning your holidays in the Balkans?

Unfortunately, there’s no possible way I can share all the experience and insight I’ve gathered about the Balkans in a single article. If you’re looking for more information about the area and planning your own holidays in the Balkans, I have something you may find helpful.

If you want focused time to ask all your questions and get helpful insights for planning your own trip, you can schedule a Travel Planning Session.  We’ll spend a full hour, just the two of us, going through your travel plans and gathering all the information you need to create the most incredible trip! 

I absolutely love helping other independent travelers see Europe on their own terms, especially the Balkans! Because it’s off-the-beaten-track, there are usually more questions about planning a trip. I want to help you to set out with confidence so you can soak in all the goodness this part of the world has to offer!

Alternatively, you could follow my guide to plan a trip with Google Maps and have a full itinerary in four easy steps.

Now, let’s talk about some of the amazing places you can choose to spend your holidays in the Balkans!

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Where to Go for Your Holidays in the Balkans

destinations for your holidays in the Balkans

Looking out from the Old City of Dubrovnik, Croatia

How do you choose where to spend your holidays in the Balkans? It’s probably the most difficult question to answer. There are so many incredible destinations to visit! 

It’s not easy to take a region as diverse and beautiful as this one and choose just a few places to go. In this section of our Balkans travel guide, you’ll discover places I think you’re going to love! Along with my personal favorites, you’ll find a few destinations I haven’t been to yet, but are on my bucket list for future trips to the area.

Where should I travel in the Balkans?

In this article, you’ll find a few questions to ask yourself when choosing a destination for your holidays in the Balkans. There’s no one right answer to this question. It helps to understand what type of traveler you are, which will give you insight so you can choose the activities and places you’ll enjoy most. 

Decide what kind of experience you want first, then look for destinations that match. Because this part of Europe has such a variety of landscapes and climates, factor in the time of year you want to travel, you’ll find warm, sunny beaches, Alpine ski resorts, and everything in between. Certain destinations will be incredibly hot, while the mountain areas offer great places to stay cool. No matter what you’re looking for, you’ll find it in the Balkans.

Top Places to Spend Your Holidays in the Balkans

I based this list of Balkan destinations on my personal experiences, extensive research, and conversations with other indie travelers in the region. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with any of these! Each of them has something unique to offer. 

In each section, you’ll find information and links to additional resources so you can learn more about any that interest you. Because I’m usually a Nature Lover and Off-the-Beaten-Path type of traveler, you’ll find quite a few natural wonders and hidden gems on this list. In this article, you'll find more about the best places to visit in the Balkans for nature, history, and food

Don’t worry; I’ve included a little bit of everything here so you can choose what’s most exciting to you! 

Albania

Albania for your holidays in the Balkans

Enjoying the gorgeous beach in Vlorë, Albania

Albania is one of the most beautiful countries in the Balkans. From the clear, turquoise waters of the Albanian Riviera to the majestic mountains convering the country, it’s one of Europe’s hidden gems. The country is home to four UNESCO World Heritage sites scattered throughout the country. The vibrant capital city of Tirana is a great place to get your first taste of the rich Albanian culture. 

Top Choice: Albanian Riviera

The beautiful beaches along Albania’s coastline are great spots to spend time relaxing during your holidays in the Balkans. If you’ve had the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia on your list, the Albanian Riviera is a less crowded and more affordable alternative. 

Vlorë and Sarandë are two of the most popular and accessible seaside towns. You’ll find ancient ruins nearby each that make for interesting day trips. Both have lovely promenades along the waterfront with cafes, restaurants, and plenty of shops to browse. Dhërmi and Himara are two smaller and less-visited beach towns that are great options for your time in Albania if you want to get off the beaten path during your holidays in the Balkans.

Other Places to Visit in Albania:

Bosnia & Herzegovina

Bosnia for your holidays in the Balkans

Remains of the Tašlihan in Sarajevo, a stone inn for caravans built in the 1500s

Bosnia & Herzegovina, one of the most diverse countries in the Balkans, is just east of Croatia. You’ll find stunning landscapes, friendly locals, delicious cuisine, and fascinating history, making it an incredible destination for your holidays in the Balkans.  

Because it's often associated with the conflicts that followed the dissolution of Yugoslavia, it’s one of the less-visited parts of the region. If you want to immerse yourself in local culture, Bosnia & Herzegovina is one of Europe’s hidden gems. It’s my personal favorite -- shh, don’t tell the others!

Top Choice: Sarajevo

This city will always top my list of places to visit in the Balkans. Always. It’s the one place (so far) I can’t stop going back to. In fact, here are ten solid reasons to visit Sarajevo

There’s something magical about this city that’s impossible to put into words. Seriously, every person I know that’s visited feels the same way. I’ll do my best to articulate its wonder, but to get the full understanding, you just have to go and experience it for yourself.

From Baščaršija, the Turkish-style old town, to the modern Sarajevo City Center shopping area, you’ll find a multi-faceted tapestry of history and culture here. This is truly where East meets West in Europe, more than Istanbul, in my opinion. 

Spend the morning sipping Bosnian coffee in one of the many cafes and wandering through the pedestrian-only streets and alleyways of the Old Town. You’ll find some of the best local cuisine, artisan workshops, hookah lounges, sweet shops, and souvenirs galore. There are interesting museums that provide a deeper understanding of the city. You can even take a walk on the abandoned bobsled track from the 1984 Olympics! I have a more detailed account of things to do in Sarajevo that will definitely convince you to go!

Though you can still see scars from the 90’s conflict on the buildings around the city, its bustling streets and friendly faces confirm those days are over. 

Other Places to Visit in Bosnia & Herzegovina:

Bulgaria

Bulgaria for your holidays in the Balkans

City of Plovdiv photo by Anton Atanasov on Unsplash

Nestled along the coast of the Black Sea, Bulgaria borders three Balkan countries, plus Greece and Turkey. It's one of the countries I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting yet, though I’ve spent hours researching and planning future trips.

Bulgaria has been inhabited for thousands of years and has been at the crossroads of some of Europe’s most influential cultures. It seems like a place full of wonders!

Top Choice: Plovdiv

Plovdiv is one of the oldest cities in Europe, situated along the Maritsa River. The mix of modern city life and ancient history puts this at the top of my list of places to see in Bulgaria. Here you can explore some of the most well-preserved remnants of the Roman Empire, then spend an afternoon wandering through the winding alleys of the Kapana district, the city's art center. 

Plovdiv was named one of the European Capitals of Culture in 2019. With plenty of cafes, restaurants, events, and friendly locals, this strikes me as the perfect place to spend a few days exploring. The surrounding area also has gorgeous nature parks and ancient ruins to visit. It looks like a wonderful place to spend your holidays in the Balkans!

Other Places to Visit in Bulgaria:

Croatia

Croatia for your holidays in the Balkans

The cascading waterfalls and turquoise water of Plitvice Lakes National Park

Croatia is the most popular of the Balkan countries and understandably so! From the beautiful Adriatic coast to the vibrant city of Zagreb, there really is something for everyone. From Dubrovnik to the Istria Peninsula along the coast, you’ll clearly see the Mediterranean influence on architecture and food. Further inland, you’ll discover more of the Austro-Hungarian impressions as you explore the capital city of Zagreb. 

Top Choice: Plitvice Lakes National Park

In 2015, I visited the Balkans for the first time and Plitvice Lakes National Park was the inspiration for that trip. For years I’d been looking at breathtaking pictures of the cascading waterfalls and was determined to see them with my own eyes. It was so much better than any picture! I spent two whole days walking every trail I could find and it was even more beautiful than I imagined! 

If you’re going to Croatia, don’t skip this spot. Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of Croatia’s ten UNESCO World Heritage sites. It’s a 2-hour drive from Zagreb or 2.5 from Split and well worth your time. It’s also accessible by bus or as a day trip with an organized tour.

The park has two sections to explore, the upper and lower lakes. The vast network of trails connects the two sections and the surrounding forest. You can take a ferry boat across one of the biggest lakes. The chance to see parts of the park from the water is a wonderful experience!

If you’re a Nature Lover like me, dedicating a day to each part is the way to go. Even if the natural wonders aren’t the main draw, the park is still worth a day in your itinerary. Though Croatia is best known for the beautiful beaches and towns along the coast, adding a trip to the countryside will not disappoint!

Other Places to Visit in Croatia:

Kosovo

Kosovo for your holidays in the Balkans

The lovely city of Prizren: Photo by Mrika Selimi on Unsplash

Kosovo is the youngest country in Europe, gaining independence in 2008. Though one of the smallest and least-visited countries in the Balkans, it’s full of beauty and culture. It’s one of the few I haven’t visited yet, but can’t wait to see!

Top Choice: Prizren

Prizen is tops my list of places to see because it has been such an important part of the country’s culture from the beginning. Some say it’s the best place to get a deeper understanding of Kosovo’s long and rich history. If you like to get off the beaten path, this looks like a great choice for your holidays in the Balkans!

The city still retains much of its Ottoman look and feel. The walkable Old Town with cobblestone streets, cafes, and shops looks like the perfect place to get to know Kosovo. While in Prizren, you can visit museums and hike up to the fortress for sweeping views of the city. 

Other Places to Visit in Kosovo:

Montenegro

Montenegro for your holidays in the Balkans

Incredible view of the Bay of Kotor from the ruined fort above the city of Kotor

I would consider Montenegro one of the most beautiful countries in the Balkans. It’s the most mountainous country in Europe with more than 89% of the land covered in mountains. The majestic mountains run right up to the water along the coast, providing opportunities for hiking and lounging at the beach all in the same spot. Cities and towns along the way, like Budva and Kotor, are incredibly beautiful and great places to experience the local culture. If you've ever asked yourself, "Why visit Montenegro?," these are just a few of the reasons.

Top Choice: Bay of Kotor

Inside the Bay of Kotor, you’ll find the towns of Kotor and Perast which are both part of the Region of Kotor UNESCO world heritage site. This inlet from the Adriatic Sea is the perfect spot to find lovely beaches, picturesque old towns, and experience the Mediterranean influence that left its mark on the Balkans. You’ll also find great hiking opportunities just outside the historic old towns.

The Old Town of Kotor, nestled inside medieval walls, provides a great opportunity to take an aimless wander through the winding alleyways. Let yourself get a little lost in the maze and you’ll find yourself back in one of the main squares before you know it. Take the hike up 1,300 stairs to the ruined fort for the most impressive panoramic views of the bay. Inside the old towns, you’ll find cafes, restaurants, winding alleys, and historical sites galore. 

Other Places to Visit in Montenegro:

North Macedonia

North Macedonia for your holidays in the Balkans

Two of the many statues you’ll find around Skopje: Photo by Darko Cvetanoski on Unsplash

North Macedonia is one of the three least-visited countries in the Balkans (Kosovo and Bosnia & Herzegovina are the others). From the funky streets of Skopje to the views surrounding Lake Ohrid, this off-the-beaten-path spot is another of Europe’s hidden gems.

Though I haven’t visited yet, I have visions of sipping Macedonian wine after a day of hiking in the mountains or wandering my way through the capital city. North Macedonia is the second most mountainous country in Europe making it the perfect spot for nature lovers like myself. 

Top Choice: Skopje

Everything I’ve seen and read about Skopje has me anxious to visit! It’s up next on my Balkans bucket list! 

Skopje is the political and cultural center of the country. It’s been fought over many times during the region’s history because of its location on the Vardar River - the route from Athens to Belgrade. This has given the city many layers of culture, which you can experience firsthand. 

Some say that Skopje is the most eclectic city in the Balkans because of its mishmash architectural styles and the plethora of interesting statues. You’ll find the largest preserved bazaar in the Balkans alongside funky pirate ships and café-filled streets. You can explore a 6th-century fortress and enjoy natural beauty just outside the city. All of this adds up to a combination I can’t wait to experience the next time I spend my holidays in the Balkans!

Other Places to Visit in North Macedonia:

Romania

Romania for your holidays in the Balkans

A flock of pelicans taking flight on the Danube Delta

Romania is home to some of the most stunning castles and landscapes in the Balkans. You’re sure to find something to love from the Black Sea coast to the Carpathian Mountains, . The small towns along the coast were the best vacation spots during the communist days and still draw visitors. Tucked away in the mountains, you’ll find UNESCO World Heritage sites, quiet towns, and well-preserved fortresses to explore.

Top Choice: The Black Sea Coast + The Danube Delta, Romania

When my husband and I planned our trip to Romania, the Danube Delta was at the top of my list after I saw a National Geographic photo series. He really wanted to visit the old resorts along the Black Sea Coast so we did both! It was so much better than I’d imagined!

The Danube Delta (another UNESCO World Heritage Site) is teeming with incredible wildlife, and the waters along the coast are a turquoise dream. As a bonus, these are spots most tourists don’t bother visiting when traveling in Romania or the Balkans. 

Constanta is the most popular town along the coast. It’s Romania’s oldest continuously inhabited city and largest port. You can easily spend a day exploring the city and another relaxing next to the gorgeous water. The drive is about 2.5 hours from Bucharest on one of the few stretches of four-lane highway in the country. Though there’s much to see in the old city, we chose the quiet little town of Jupiter for our stay. 

Tulcea is the entry point for the Danube Delta and has been an important port city since ancient times. There are a few museums and you can easily find great food, but the highlight for visitors is the delta itself. There are boat tours available to take you exploring the world’s largest reed bed and catch glimpses of the diverse wildlife in the area. 

Other Places to Visit in Romania:

Serbia

Serbia for your holidays in the Balkans

Incredible view of Belgrade: Photo by Dimitrije Milenkovic on Unsplash

Serbia is a country I can’t wait to explore! Because of its location in the center of the Balkans, it has been a major player in much of the region’s history. It was once an independent kingdom before being conquered by the Ottoman Empire. Since the conflict that accompanied the fall of Yugoslavia, Serbia has been finding its way into a bright future.

Top Choice: Belgrade

The capital city of Belgrade sits on the banks of the Danube river. This urban center is the beating heart of Serbian culture. Once the capital of the former Yugoslavia, the city has moved forward from its war-torn past and immerged as the vibrant, artistic place to be. 

This city has much to offer if you’re looking to better understand Serbia’s place in the region. The architecture ranges from Ottoman style to socialist block buildings, with Austro-Hungarian and neo-classical mixed in along the way. You’ll find streets lined with cafes, urban art galore, and fascinating layers of history from antiquity to the 20th century. You can wander through Roman ruins and the largest Orthodox church in the Balkans. 

Other Places to Visit in Serbia:

Slovenia

Slovenia for your holidays in the Balkans

700+ year-old Church of John the Baptist at the edge of Lake Bohinj

Of all the places I’ve visited in the Balkans, I think Slovenia is the most beautiful. It totally took me by surprise! It’s so incredibly gorgeous! I’d only planned to spend two or three days getting from Austria to Croatia but extended my stay to soak in more of the stunning landscapes. From the colorful and historic capital of Ljubljana to the tree-covered Julian Alps, Slovenia is sure to capture your heart in a thousand ways during your holidays in the Balkans. 

Top Choice: Triglav National Park

Triglav National Park is home to some of Slovenia’s most stunning scenery, including Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj. Most visitors to Slovenia head for Lake Bled, and rightfully so -- it’s breathtaking! However, there’s plenty to see and do in the area that most travelers skip. 

The little town of Bled and the lake is worth a day of your time to explore. Taking a ride out to the church on one of the traditional boats is a magical experience! Only a short thirty-minute drive from Bled you’ll find Lake Bohinj, a much quieter and stunning natural wonder. There are plenty of small towns in the area to base yourself for exploring the national park. They have wonderful little bakeries, cafes, accommodations, and everything else you’d want for an off-the-beaten-path experience. 

Other Places to Visit in Slovenia:

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Planning Your Holidays in the Balkans

View from the Old Town walls of Kotor

Wandering along the walls of Kotor’s Old Town in Montenegro

When you’re ready to plan the details of your Balkan trip, there is a simple process for creating an itinerary you’ll love. Because there are so many incredible destinations, it’s easy to find a spot for a weekend getaway or plan a long-term trip exploring the region for months on end. 

In this part of the travel planning guide, we’ll cover what you need to know and consider when planning a trip to the Balkans. You’ll find information about deciding your route, planning your travel budget, getting there, getting around, finding accommodations, and crossing borders, if you’re visiting multiple countries. Check out this step-by-step guide to planning a Europe trip for more details. 

Planning A Route for Your Holidays in the Balkans

map showing a driving route for holidays in the Balkans

Always start by deciding how much time and money you have to spend, setting the parameters for your trip. Everything you want to see and do has to fit into your time and money budgets. Next, think about the kind of experience you want to have. Do you want a relaxing beach vacation? Do you want to explore a new city and enjoy the nightlife? As you saw from the list above, there are destinations for every type of traveler

If you have at least a week for your trip, start planning your route with one or two “must see” destinations per week and build a route around those. Here’s an article with more details about planning an itinerary to help you put the different pieces together. If this will be your first trip to Europe, this article will guide you through the process of planning your trip.

There are a few things to keep in mind when you’re planning a route:

  • Getting from place to place in the Balkans takes time.
  • Most roads are two lanes and speed limits are usually around 80 kilometers per hour (about 50 miles per hour).
  • Trains aren’t as far-reaching as Western Europe so taking a bus is the best public transportation option.
  • If you’re renting a car, make sure you can take it across borders. You’ll have to pass through a border crossing and show all the necessary paperwork, except when going between Slovenia and Croatia.

Here’s an article with more about the different ways to travel and choosing which is best for your trip. 

Planning A Travel Budget for Your Holidays in the Balkans

The Balkans are extremely affordable to visit! This means you can have a wonderful trip without breaking the bank. Of course, it depends on your preferences, but I’ve found that I can cover everything with $50 per day and have an amazing time.

There are a few exceptions. Dubrovnik and the places I’ve visited along the Croatian coast are more expensive because of their popularity. Even there, $75 to $100 per day should be plenty. Here’s an article all about planning a travel budget that you may find helpful. 

Below I’ve listed a breakdown of the basic costs for a trip to the Balkans. These will vary based on where you decide to visit. Research your specific destination, but this will give you a good idea of what to plan for.

  • Accommodations: $35 or less per night for an apartment or basic hotel room. You can stay in hostels for much cheaper or find more luxurious accommodations.
  • Food: $15 or less (per person) for a full restaurant meal with an appetizer, entree, and wine. If you want to pick up picnic supplies or grab street food, $5 per person will do. Learn more about Balkan food and the best dishes to try!
  • City Transportation: City centers are walkable so there’s no need to rent a car or get a taxi. Getting from the airport to your accommodation is usually $30 or less by taxi. You may find a bus, but public transportation isn’t always available from the airport so plan accordingly.
  • Multi-City Itineraries: Bus fare between destinations vary based on distance, but are typically less than $20. Renting a car is typically $20 per day or less. Don’t forget to budget for fuel costs!
  • Sightseeing: If you want to visit museums, historical sites, plan for $10 per attraction and you’ll probably come in under budget. 

Getting to The Balkans

There are a number of options for getting to the Balkans. Whether you’re arriving from another part of Europe or flying in from overseas, this part of the world is easily accessible. 

Flying

There are many flights to Balkan cities from major hubs in Europe. You can fly directly from Athens, Frankfurt, Vienna, Istanbul, London, Paris, etc., to most larger cities. Even if you’re coming from outside the European continent, you’ll probably have a layover in one of these cities. Use this article for information planning the details of your trip

Driving

If you’re coming overland from Europe, perhaps on a European road trip, find out if you need a pass for driving in your destination country. When I drove into Slovenia, I had to stop for a vignette to use the roads without a fine. The vignette cost less than €10 for a week-long use. 

Renting a car in Western Europe and driving into the Balkans is possible, though there are usually restrictions about which countries you can take the car into. Also, picking up a rental car in Western Europe and dropping it off in the Balkans tends to be ridiculously expensive. You will save money by planning a route that lets you pick up and drop off in the same location. 

Public Transportation

Exploring the Balkans without a car is also an option. You can find trains from Western Europe into the largest Balkan cities. Train routes are limited outside these cities though buses will get you everywhere else you want to go. 

You can easily take the bus from one country to another. You’ll stop at the border for passport control before finishing your journey. This means your bus may not arrive at the time stated on your ticket so plan accordingly.

Here’s an article with more about different types of transportation and how to choose the best one for your trip.  

Getting Around During Your Holidays in the Balkans

Buses lined up to take passengers around the Balkans

Waiting to board my bus from Kotor, Montenegro to Dubrovnik, Croatia

Getting around the Balkans is fairly straightforward. Cities tend to be easily walkable and have public transportation available. Personally, exploring on foot is my favorite, since you never know what you’ll find as you make your way from one place to the next!

If you want to explore outside of the city where you arrived, taking a bus or renting a car are the most convenient options. Though there are trains available, they only connect major cities. Buses will take you everywhere! They’re super affordable and easy to navigate, even if you’re crossing borders.

Each route is run by a specific company, rather than a centralized bus line. This makes it easy to find your ride at the bus station -- just look for the sign in the front window. It will show the company that’s operating the bus and the route. 

Renting a car offers the ultimate flexibility and is fairly inexpensive. You can usually take a rental car from one country into another, but you’ll need to check. Most rental car companies won’t let you take cars into Albania or Greece because the driving is, shall we say, more exciting in those places.

Remember, if you’re going anywhere besides Slovenia and Croatia, you’ll have to cross borders and will need all the necessary paperwork. A great alternative is to rent a car to explore one country and then take a bus to the next. I did this in both Albania and Montenegro. It was super simple and saved a lot of money over a one-way rental car.

Finding Accommodations for Your Holidays in the Balkans

Accommodations for your holidays in the Balkans

The view from the terrace of our accommodation in Dubrovnik for less than $40 per night!

One of the things I love about the Balkans is the variety of affordable accommodation options. Booking.com is the best place to find them all in one place. You can find hostels, traditional hotels, pensions, and more. Locals tend to list apartments or homes on Booking rather than Airbnb or VRBO in most cases. 

I like to have a place that feels like “home”, so I look for apartments first. I’ve never paid more than $25 per night for an apartment, whether alone or when splitting the cost with others. If you choose this option, be sure to stay in touch with the host to coordinate your arrival. Most of them use WhatsApp, which makes it easy! Simply send a message on the Booking platform asking for the best way to stay in touch and whether they use this app or not. 

Spending your holidays in the Balkans may be a great opportunity to treat yourself! If you want a more luxurious stay, you can find it for a fraction of what you’d pay in other parts of Europe. Decide your accommodation budget and what amenities you must have, then look for places that are a match. Here’s an article with more information about the different types of accommodations and saving money while still getting what you want. 

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What to Expect When You Travel to the Balkans

Discovering a mix of cultures on your holidays in the Balkans

As this street in Sarajevo declares, the Balkans truly are where East meets West

Each country in the Balkans has its own culture and way of life. The region also has a lot of shared history and you can see some similarities from one place to the next. It’s a totally different experience than visiting the countries of Western Europe. 

Here are a few things to know that will make your holidays in the Balkans all the more enjoyable. For more in-depth information, this article has all the Balkan tips you need to create a trip you’ll love!

Balkans Culture

One of my favorite elements of the Balkans is the culture. From the Greek Empire through the Cold War, this part of the world has been a crossroads for many cultures and empires. You can experience these influences in the food, architecture, and traditions.

You’ll find the café culture all across the Balkans. Spending time having coffee with friends is a favorite pastime of the locals. In good weather, everyone is outdoors and the cities are very pedestrian-friendly.

The region is religiously diverse. You’ll find many religions practiced in the same country and find mosques only a block away from the Catholic cathedral.  Catholicism, Islam, and Orthodox Christianity are the most common religions found in the Balkans.

Balkan Food

Produce stand for fresh fruit during your holidays in the Balkans

Enjoying the colorful open-air markets in Tirana, Albania

Balkan food is a wonderful mix of dishes from the cultures that have passed through the region. You can find incredible Italian cuisine, Greek flavors, and Turkish dishes in most places. Each country also has local specialties you won’t want to miss! Eating out in the Balkans is incredibly affordable, making it easy to try all sorts of tasty treats for less than $20 per day.

Fresh produce and open-air markets are plentiful. You can stock up for a picnic in the park or make a meal in your accommodation with the local ingredients. The Balkans are heaven for foodies!

Language and Communication in the Balkans

There are a number of languages spoken on the Balkan peninsula. In the countries that were part of Yugoslavia the most common language is Serbo-Croatian. The rest of the countries each have their own language. The vast majority of individuals working in the tourism industry speak English so it’s typically easy to communicate. 

Taxis have been the most common place I’ve encountered a language barrier. Many times the drivers are older and don’t speak much English. There is usually a younger person there who helps to translate and give directions. If you decide to get off the beaten path, you may find it harder to find someone who speaks English.

The Wordless Travel Book is a great resource, if you’re concerned about communication. It has pictures of different items and situations that are common for travelers helping you be easily understood if you encounter a language barrier. Google Translate is extremely helpful for translating. Just remember you’ll need wifi or data to use it.

Managing Your Time

there is always time for coffee in the Balkans

Slowing down and enjoying the life’s little pleasures in Sarajevo

Time is flexible in the Balkans which can be a surprise if you’re coming from a place where timeliness is the norm. Knowing what to expect will help you manage your schedule and avoid frustration! A local gentleman I was chatting with put it best by saying, “All the important things will get done, but first let’s have a coffee.” Priorities are different in this part of the world and I love this more relaxed approach to life!

When you schedule an activity or a bus trip from one town to another, be flexible. Things may start and end on time, but it’s not guaranteed. Give yourself time between events or activities. If you’re taking a bus from one place to another, don’t book a tour for 30 minutes after you’re scheduled to arrive. It’s quite nice to not have the clock driving your schedule. Enjoy it!

Accessing and Using Money During Your Holidays in the Balkans

Cash is king in the Balkans. Some establishments accept credit cards but you’ll save a lot of headache if you always have enough cash for your purchases. ATMs are widely available and you’ll see them in all the airports and bus stations. There are plenty of places to exchange currency with minimal commission fees which is helpful since only Slovenia and Montenegro are on the Euro.

For every visit to the ATM your bank will charge you a small fee for using a non-network machine. I try to avoid paying more than necessary by taking out enough cash to last for a few days at a time. In this article of Balkan tips, you can learn more about accessing and using your money in the region. 

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Resources for Your Holidays in the Balkans

getting off the beaten path in Romania

Getting off the beaten path in Peatra Neamṭ, Romania

Now that you have all the information for planning your holidays in the Balkans, I have a few final resources to share with you. I’ve included travel guides, other blogs about the Balkans, plus services to help you create an amazing trip.

Guide Book and Blogs About the Balkans

  • Lonely Planet Eastern Europe Guidebook - has fresh updates and will be released February 1, 2022. There are very few comprehensive guide books available for the Balkans, and Lonely Planet offers the best I’ve found. If you want yours today, grab the last edition here. 
  • Atlas Obscura - this website is wonderful for finding off-the-beaten-path gems in the Balkans and around the world!
  • Chasing the Donkey - a wonderful travel blog dedicated to the Balkans. I’ve been following it for years and have found their information helpful in planning my own trips.
  • Balkan Lunchbox - fellow foodies, this one's for you! I love trying to recreate recipes from my travels, especially Balkan food. This blog is full of great recipes. Try making them before you go or enjoy them after you return. You won’t be disappointed!

Personalized Services

I love helping indie travelers get the information they need to feel confident on their trip to the Balkans! If you’re looking for more detailed information or answers to specific questions about your trip, consider booking a one-on-one travel planning session with me.

During this session, we’ll spend an hour going over your travel plans, answering any questions you have, and I’ll share all the insight and knowledge I’ve gained over my time there. If I don’t have an answer for you on the call, I’ll find it for you! 

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Conclusion

If you’ve made it this far, that means you’re serious about taking a trip to the Balkans. Please do! Though this region has had a tumultuous past, it’s a stunning and welcoming place today. Although I’ve visited multiple times, I can’t imagine not returning. I will always go back to the Balkans. I hope you find the same deep love and appreciation for this part of the world as I have. 

I’d love to stay connected and get to know you more! You can join the email community below or hop over to Instagram and join me there

Now get out there. The world is waiting for you.

Let's connect!

Your Turn

Have you visited the Balkans? Did you love it? Share your experience in the comments so others can learn from you.

Planning a trip to the Balkans? Ask your questions in the comments so the community can help you create the most memorable trip!

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About the author 

Annie

Fun Lover. Food Eater. Bold Explorer. Big Dreamer.

Annie is a fiercely independent traveler who loves to create unique and interesting experiences. She thrives on finding the magical moments and hidden gems waiting around every corner. Her passion for helping others make their travel dreams come true fuels her work as a travel planner, consultant, educator, and community builder.

  • I think this article is fabulous. I love how you wrote about multiple countries & tried to explain what distinquished each culture. Great advice. Thanks!

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