The Balkans are a region which you could spend a lifetime traveling. This collection of countries on the Balkan peninsula offers everything from history to culture to nature.
We’ve traveled extensively around the region and picked some of our very favorite places in the Balkans both on and off the beaten path. Read this Balkan bucket list to get an idea of the best places to visit in the Balkans for a lifetime’s worth of travel.
The Best Places to Visit the Balkans: Your Balkan Bucket List
1 – Sofia, Bulgaria
It’s the name of our blog and our home, how could it not be? With beautiful Alexander Nevsky Cathedral as its centerpiece, you’ll fall in love as you walk down Sofia’s very own yellow brick road, passing by the Russian Church, the City Garden, and Ivan Vazov National Theater in a matter of minutes.
By the time you work your way up to the ruins of Serdika, Banya Bashi Mosque, Sveta Nedelya, and the Central Mineral Baths, you may find yourself extending your stay catching up on all the great things to do in this city.
Don’t miss an evening stroll on Vitoshka, the locals’ favorite spot to walk, and wind your way down to NDK park with some beers if the weather is nice to admire the odd architecture and chill the local way. And if you have the time, be sure to take the bus or cable car up to Mount Vitosha for some of the best views in all of Sofia.
2 – Belgrade, Serbia
The heart of former Yugoslavia, Belgrade has seen some hard years but it has energy like nowhere else in the Balkans. With one of the best nightlife scenes in Europe from its cool jazz bars to its riverboat clubs and a buzzing coffee and craft beer scene, Belgrade is young and hip.
But it also has history worth exploring, especially Kalemegdan Park and the Belgrade Fortress with its gorgeous views over the confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers. The pedestrian boulevard of Knez Mihailova is always worth a stroll, and don’t miss popping into the gorgeous, Wes Andersonian Hotel Moskva for the best cake in Belgrade.
Lovers of Brutalist architecture will go gaga for Novi Beograd and the Western and Eastern City Gates, and those with an interest in Yugoslav history will be fascinated to visit Tito’s Mausoleum, the ruins of the Yugoslav army headquarters destroyed in the NATO bombings, and the spomeniks which memorialize tragic chapters in Serbia’s past. There’s so much to do in Belgrade that you’ll never get bored.
3 – Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul is one of those destinations that never leaves your heart. From the moment you see the skyline from Galata Tower, with the many mosques and their minarets stretching high in the sky, you’ll know that this is a special place.
Walking down Istiklal Caddesi, getting lost in the winding alleyways of the antiques district of Cukurcuma, hopping on the vintage tram from Taksim to Tunel are some of my favorite (and most Instagrammable) things to do in Beyoglu.
On the other side of the Galata Bridge, you won’t be able to resist seeing the beautiful Hagia Sofia, the impressive Blue Mosque, the imposing Sulemaniye Mosque, or the chaotic Grand Bazaar.
Don’t miss a chance to go a bit off the beaten path in Istanbul, whether it’s exploring the colorful houses of the old Jewish quarter of Balat, walking along the traditional wooden houses in Arnavutkoy, or hanging out with hipsters in Cihangir.
4 – Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina
One of the most beautiful cities in the Bosnia, Mostar has a tragic past that is quite literally scarred into its architecture. The Bosnian War hit this city hard, destroying its beautiful Stari Most (Old Bridge) and leaving thousands dead.
Over time, the city has come to heal and the Stari Most has been rebuilt, now one of the most recognizable and Instagrammed places in the Balkans. A real Balkans bucket list item is visiting Mostar during the annual Red Bull Cliff Diving competition when world-class divers from around the world jump the beautiful 27-meter bridge.
But Mostar is lovely any time of day, from wandering the meandering streets of the Old Town to exploring the graffiti around the base of the former sniper tower to sitting down for a cup of Bosnian coffee prepared with love at Cafe De Alma or a delicious plate of more meat than any human can ever hope to eat at National Restuarant Tima-Irma.
5 – Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Imagine a city with a picturesque Old Town full of unique, UNESCO-listed architecture, one of the most intact Roman amphitheaters in the world, and a vibrant hipster art district. Oh, and nothing is more than a 10-minute walk from the other. Sounds too good to be true? Not in Plovdiv, it isn’t!
This rightly-named Capital of Culture is absolutely exquisite and has so much to do! Make time to visit several of the museum houses that make up the Old Town – our favorites are the Balabanov House and the Hindliyan House – as well as strolling up to the viewpoint at Nebet Tepe, one of Plovdiv’s six hills.
Don’t miss the Roman Amphitheater on your way out of the Old Town; it truly must be seen to be believed. Other places not to miss include the gorgeous Dzhumaya Mosque, the only remaining mosque in Plovdiv, and the neighboring Roman Stadium.
In this whole area you’ll find a lot of art installations related to the Plovdiv 2019 project as well. Finally, you can’t miss the hipster mecca that is Kapana, with funky boutiques, expertly poured coffees, obscure craft beers, and quirky street art galore.
6 – Ohrid, North Macedonia
Nicknamed the Balkan Jerusalem, Ohrid is one of the most important religious sites to the Eastern Orthodox. It also just so happens to be in a gorgeous lake setting, with monasteries and basilicas juxtaposed against perfect teal water.
Wherever you have a mix of resort town fun and important cultural sites to explore you know you have a recipe for something truly special. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is also a fantastically priced getaway, so you can have a little luxurious fun without breaking the bank.
Start with a hike up to the jaw-dropping St. John at Kaneo Church, which is perched every so perfectly above the water, and then hike up to Samuel’s Fortress for the absolutely stunning city and lake views. Take a day to relax on the shore, swimming in the lake and sipping wine lakeside with your dinner.
Make sure to set aside time to hire a boat or go on an organized tour to see some of the most important sites on the lake. You can also sail to some of the smaller fishing villages nearby, like the perfectly picturesque Trpejca. Other can’t-miss Ohrid sites include the churches of Saint Sofia and Small Saint Clement. While here, make sure to do some shopping, since Ohrid’s most famous souvenir is its namesake pearl.
7 – Athens, Greece
Nothing in the world quite compares to the feeling of seeing the Acropolis high above Athens for the very first time. There’s just something about the Parthenon that draws you in.
Yet Athens is much more than just an ancient capital; it’s a modern metropolis with hip cafes, anarchist neighborhoods, and fabulous nightlife. While here, make sure to explore more than just the historic center.
Athens beyond the Parthenon and Agora means seeing the amazing street art in Monastiraki, feeling the pulse of Omonia Square, and taking the funky funicular up Mount Lycabettus for the spectacular views and the charming St. George’s Chapel, some of the most Instagrammable places in Athens.
Athens is also a great place to base yourself to hit some of the other points on this list which (spoiler alert) include traditional island villages, gorgeous temples, and religious sites high up in the mountains.
8 – Ljubljana, Slovenia
Complete with pink frosted churches, charming bridges, and dragons, Ljubljana gets our vote for the most romantic city in the Balkans (and potentially all of Europe).
When an earthquake knocked down most of the historic center of the city, native-born architect Jože Plečnik, who had risen to prominence in Vienna and Prague, was given the task of creating new works for the city. Project by project he reimagined what Ljubljana could be, and it is his stamp on the city with the inventive Triple Bridge, the famous Central Market, and the Slovene National and University Library (as well as countless other buildings) which give the city its modern yet dreamy identity.
After seeing and experiencing Plečnik’s Ljubljana for yourself, head to the museum dedicated to his life and works. You’ll also want to make time to see Ljubljana Castle, walk along the banks of the Ljubljanica River, and enjoy the gorgeous Art Nouveau Dragon Bridge, which is one of the few major sites in the city that Plečnik didn’t have a hand in. While there are plenty of things to do here, make sure to give yourself time to relax.
This is a city that lends itself well to the traveler who wants to sip a coffee on the river bank or enjoy a gelato and a stroll.
9 – Bucovina, Romania
While we’ve traveled all over Romania, there’s something special about Bucovina.
This part of Romania is passed by for the more famous Transylvania or more hip Bucharest, but Bucovina has our vote for the most charming region in Romania. Here you can ride historic steam trains through the mountains, explore UNESCO-protected Orthodox Monasteries, and see houses painted to look like Easter Eggs.
The best time to visit in during June, when the town of Suceava becomes a pilgrimage site for believers making their way to the Monastery of St. John the New.
While summer is popular, this region is also beautiful in the autumn when the leaves are changing colors and the mist on the mountains seems a touch more dramatic. Base yourself in the town of Gura Humorului and give yourself enough time to explore this sleepy and more traditional part of Romania.
10 – Meteora, Greece
The landscape of Meteora is so beautiful that it was used in both a James Bond movie and an episode of Game of Thrones, but that’s not why tourists flock here. Instead, the monasteries built on the top of the rock columns are the main attraction.
So high they appear to almost be suspended in air, these monasteries were built by monks intent on living their faith secluded from the influences of the outside world. Today the number of monks has dwindled, and tourism is an integral part of keeping the traditions here alive.
You can visit as a day trip from Thessaloniki or Athens, or you can base yourself in the nearby town of Kalabaka and enjoy a few days exploring the various monasteries and appreciating the gorgeous views. For a unique treat, visit Meteora in winter when it is covered with snow and nearly void of tourists.
11 – Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s capital city, Sarajevo, is a beautiful city that has seen some of the hardest times in recent memory. For four years in the 1990s the city was under siege, and citizens lived in fear of constant sniper fire.
But resilience is in Sarajevo’s bones, and they started up one of the world’s most famous film festivals, running off generators and a desire to do more than just survive during the war years. After the siege ended, they rebuilt their city from the literal ashes, renovating their gorgeous blend of Ottoman influence in the old town district of Bascarsija, one of the best bazaars outside of Istanbul and rebuilding up the architectural legacy that the Austro-Hungarians left behind.
For all their hard work, you can still see literal scars in the city – mortar shell explosions in the sidewalk painted red to commemorate lost lives, bullet holes in the buildings.
Visiting the city and hearing the stories of the wartime years from a local guide on a Sarajevo tour is a deeply moving experience. From visiting the abandoned bobsled track from the 1984 Winter Olympics to exploring the tunnel that provided Sarajevo’s lifeline to visiting the city’s beautiful mosques, cathedrals, churches, and synagogues, you can enjoy all the wonderful things to do in Sarajevo and be a part of this city’s ongoing rebuilding.
12 – Durmitor National Park, Montenegro
One of the most beautiful places in the Balkans, Durmitor National Park is heaven for nature lovers and hikers.
The best place to start any Durmitor trip is in the gateway town of Zabljak, a ski resort in winter and quiet mountain getaway in summer. From Zabljak you have easy access to the gorgeous Black Lake, one of the highlights of any trip to Durmitor National Park.
From the Black Lake you can continue onto several other smaller lakes which are a little further away and therefore totally uncrowded and unspoiled. But the best thing to do in Durmitor is exploring the pristine hiking trails, the most beautiful of which leads to Bobotov Kuk, the highest mountain in Durmitor National Park.
You can actually hike there from Zabljak but even better is to start and finish the trek via the Sedlo trailhead, which shaves several difficult hours off your hike (you can also start in Sedlo and end in Zabljak).
However you choose to hike it, you’re sure to see beautiful mountain formations marked by receding glaciers, forming gorgeous patterns in the rock, as well as several glacial lakes. It’s a difficult hike but worth every bead of sweat for the views you get at the top: three countries – Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, and Montenegro – all in one view.
13 – Sibiu, Romania
The houses have eyes in this mysterious city in Transylvania! Sibiu is best known for its curious architecture, the most notable feature of which is the strange slit-shaped windows that look like eyes peering out of the roofs of these colorful houses in the Old Town of Sibiu.
But Sibiu is a lot more than just watchful houses – it’s also one of the hearts of gastronomy in Romania, where you can try creative takes on some of Romania’s classic dishes. The Old Town has been beautifully renovated after being selected as a European Capital of Culture in 2007; interestingly, it was the first time an Eastern European country was given this title.
Don’t miss a walk through the city taking in some of its most famous sights. You can’t miss visiting the gorgeous Baroque palace-turned-museum Muzeul Național Brukenthal, crossing the photogenic yet ominously-named Bridge of Lies, and climbing the Council Tower of Sibiu with its incredible views of the city.
14 – Cappadocia, Turkey
Not technically on the Balkan peninsula, but as we include Turkey in our list of Balkan countries we couldn’t help but include Turkey’s most photogenic region, Cappadocia.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock and have never downloaded Instagram (in which case I’m mildly jealous of you) you’ve seen countless photos of this lunar landscape at sunrise with the sky speckled with colorful hot air balloons.
You’ve probably also seen the next-level extra Instagram spots of Cappadocia, with elaborate fake breakfast set-ups, carpet shops that offer “drone service” and infinity pools set into cave hotels.
If you’re looking to photograph the hell out of your next vacation, Cappadocia is the place to go But Cappadocia has a lot to offer even beyond its Instagrammability – an incredible 14-level underground city, a beautiful historic monastery set into the rock face, traditional pottery studios to shop at, and beautiful valleys for hiking.
15 – Pristina, Kosovo
The capital of Kosovo, this city often gets a bad rap for deserving just a quick whistle-stop trip on a whirlwind tour through the Balkans. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Pristina is a young and vibrant city with so much to do.
From discovering the city’s street art to strolling its pedestrian walkway Nene Tereze Boulevard to sipping on coffee with locals, you can easily slip into a relaxed pace of life here and while away a few days.
There are incredible brunch spots, cozy-cool book-themed bars, buzzing all-night dance clubs, and surprisingly delicious international food. (Fun fact: Pristina’s poppin’ Indian restaurant may be the actual reason this blog exists – Stephanie and I virtually met by her tweeting at me about how good Himalayan Gurkha was after reading my article about Kosovo.)
There’s also interesting Brutalist architecture such as the National Library of Kosovo, the spellbinding bazaar where you can buy just about everything in the kitchen sink including the kitchen sink, and an incredible anthropology museum. Just a short drive from the capital you can find Gracanica Monastery, ancient Roman ruins, an old fortress, and a lovely bear sanctuary all within a short distance.
16 – Zagreb, Croatia
Croatia’s capital is a tale of two cities, but you’ll find beautiful Austro-Hungarian architecture in both.
Start with the lovely upper town, making time to see St. Mark’s Square, climb Lotrščak Tower, appreciate the Glagolitic on display in the Cathedral, and stroll the pedestrian-friendly Tkalčićeva Ulica.
While here, make sure to see two of the best museums in the Balkans, the Croatian Museum of Naive Art and the aptly named Museum of Broken Relationships. Next make your way to the lower town, where you can find everyone in town out in Ban Jelačić Square, meeting friends and family alike.
Other Zagreb highlights include enjoying the Green Horseshoe and seeing the beautiful yellow art nouveau Art Pavillion. If you want a taste of dark tourism mixed with brunch, stop by the Esplanade Zagreb Hotel, which served as the Gestapo headquarters during World War II.
17 – Kotor, Montenegro
Possibly the Balkan city in the most beautiful natural setting, Kotor’s spot on the Bay of Kotor is nothing less than picturesque. Get up early, before the heat and the crowds set in, and climb up to Saint John’s Fortress.
We promise the view is worth every single one of the 1355 steps to the top. Afterward, make your way back down to the Old Town, where you’ve earned a lovely lunch in one of Kotor’s beautiful cafes. Inside the walls of the Old City, you’ll see beautiful squares and churches, like the charming St. Luke’s Church and Kotor Cathedral.
Make sure to walk along the shore where you can spot the towns across the Bay, including Perast and the beautiful Our Lady of the Rocks in the middle of the water. No trip to Kotor is complete without getting out into the Bay, whether you choose to go on a public tour boat or hire a private one for the day.
18 – Subotica, Serbia
A city with gorgeous art nouveau palaces, cracked churches, and romantic synagogues shouldn’t be a secret, but Subotica, located just 10 kilometers from the Hungarian border, is not just the best-kept secret in Serbia.
It might just be the best-kept secret in all of the Balkans!
Start at the green-and-orange tiled town hall and visit the town’s tourism board. They are so friendly and welcoming that they’ll give you everything you need to go on a self-guided walking tour to each of Subotica’s most charming buildings.
Whether you spend a few days here or come as a day trip from Belgrade or Novi Sad, make sure to set aside an hour or two to stop by Lake Palic. This gorgeous lake on the edge of the Balkans is a great place to enjoy a sunset or simply relax with a glass of local wine and contemplate how strange it is to be somewhere so beautiful and so secret.
19 – Piran, Slovenia
Slovenia only has a sliver of Adriatic sea coast, just a mere 47 kilometers on the Bay of Trieste. Yet the Slovene Riviera might just be one of the most beautiful places in Slovenia.
Architecturally Piran feels more like an outpost of Venice than a part of the Balkans, yet the relaxed atmosphere is decidedly more Balkan. Start your time here in Tartini Square before making your way up to the top of the bell tower to take in the fantastic coastal views below.
Bring your swimsuit, because a real Piran experience includes swimming at the city’s rock beaches and admiring the public rock art. Other Piran must-dos include taking in the sunset, visiting the walls of Piran, and standing on the Piran point at the end of the peninsula.
Yet the real magic here lies in getting lost in its beautiful streets, dreaming how fabulous it would be to live in a place with so much beauty and where life moves more slowly.
20 – Buzludzha, Bulgaria
This Bulgarian UFO perched on top of the mountains might just be the single most interesting building on the Balkan peninsula.
While not the most beautiful, the most inspiring, or the most historic, I’ve never met anyone who saw a picture of Buzludzha who didn’t need to immediately know what it was, why it was, and how to get there.
Finished in 1981, this was to be the Communist party headquarters, but it was abandoned after the Communist government fell in 1989. Thirty years later, it’s become the darling of Urban Explorers and anyone who likes their history mixed with a bit of the abandoned.
Today Buzludzha has a guard on duty 24/7 to keep would-be intruders outside, but you can still visit the monument and see her in all her Balkan Mountain glory.
21 – Dubrovnik, Croatia
The real-life home of the fictional King’s Landings and one of the most famous cities, how can this gorgeous walled city perched atop the Adriatic not make your Balkan bucket list?
While yes, it’s touristy, and yes, it’s a good double the price of anywhere else in Croatia (and perhaps quadruple prices elsewhere in the Balkans), it is simply magical, endlessly Instagrammable, and worth the added expense to your Balkan trip.
From cliff jumping to exploring nearby islands like Lokrum and the Elaphiti islands on day trips from Dubrovnik to going on an all-out Game of Thrones geekout, you’ll find plenty of reasons to draw you into Dubrovnik. Be sure to walk the city’s walls, despite the eye-watering ticket price, and make your way over to Fort Lovrijenac to see the walls from another angle.
Don’t forget to take a dip in one of the beaches in Dubrovnik; Banje Beach is the local favorite for its less pebbly “sand.” By night, catch the sunset over a glass of local Croatian wine and feast on delicious seafood fresh from the Adriatic, especially squid ink risotto or local oysters from nearby Ston.
22 – Lake Skadar, Montenegro
Half in Montenegro and half in Albania, Montenegro undoubtedly got the better end of the deal with one of the most picturesque lakes you can imagine right at its border. Nearby Rijeka Crnojevića (Crnojević River) is a great place to stop for lunch and a view of one of Montenegro’s most picturesque bridges, nicknamed Danilo’s Bridge.
From there, it’s a short drive to one of the best viewpoints over Lake Skadar, where the river makes a horseshoe-like bend around a brilliantly green ‘island.’ You can go for a boat ride in this beautiful lake and observe its wildlife up close, which is a special draw for birdwatchers who have come to appreciate Montenegro’s biodiversity and bountiful bird life.
Other hidden gems around Lake Skadar include the Ottoman-era Besac Fortress and the so-called Montenegrin Alcatraz, Grmozur Fortress. It floats in the lake, deserted and taken over by birds today, but once was a jail housing some of the more dangerous criminals.
23 – Tirana, Albania
Albania’s largest and most vibrant city, Tirana is confusing at first glance but, given time, will surely grow on you.
It’s filled with creative cafés, affordable restaurants, and interesting museums, and it’s also home to one of the best free walking tours I’ve ever taken. Be sure to visit Bunk’Art 1 and 2, especially Bunk’Art 1. Despite its distance from town, it’s the larger and more interesting of the two as it was actually a massive bunker complex intended to house paranoid ex-dictator Enver Hoxha in case of invasion or attack.
Exploring this strange place is an incredible look into Albania’s complex past. Afterwards, hop on the Dajti Express for some incredible views from Mount Dajti, one of the most stunning photo spots in Tirana.
At night, wind down with some winds at one of the cool hipster bars of Blloku or fuel upon hearty Albanian food before hitting the clubs.
24 – Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
Easily the most photographed national park in Croatia, Plitvice Lakes is just as stunning as it is totally crowded in the summer. That said, it’s well-worth your time no matter what time of year.
It’s full of innumerable small waterfalls which flow endlessly through karst formations into turquoise blue pools — everything framed by greenery that you enjoy while walking in a boardwalk throughout the middle of it.
Be sure not to miss Veliki Slap, the largest waterfall in Plitvice National Park, which is one of Croatia’s most beautiful and impressive waterfalls. Beyond just walking through the park, there are several adventurous activities you can do nearby if you want a more active stay in nature: go horseback riding, explore the region by bicycle, or even go white water rafting.
Whatever you chose to do in Plitvice, you won’t want to forget your camera as this is one of the best places to visit in Croatia for photography!
25 – Ksamil, Albania
While much of Albania is relatively under-visited by tourists, Ksamil is the exception as it’s so close to Saranda, the port city that is the gateway to Corfu.
Ksamil Beach is one of Albania’s most beautiful places, composed of a sandy-ish beach (like Croatia, much of Albania’s beaches are pebbly) and a few islands that are within swimming distance. While the main beach of Ksamil can get a tad crowded at tmes, especially in July and August, simply swim to one of the neighboring islands if you’re a decent swimmer and you’ll feel like you have an island all to yourself (bring a dry bag so you can protect your phone and belongings).
If you’d rather stay seaside, there are plenty of delicious Albanian and Italian restaurants preparing affordable fresh seafood and lots of loungers with umbrellas you can relax in all day long.
26 – Bucharest, Romania
Beloved by dark tourists seeking Dracula-related tales mixed with stories from twentieth-century communism, it’s easy to get lost in Bucharest’s haunted past.
However, there’s so much to love about this “little Paris” that shows off the city’s optimistic side. With umbrella cafes, beautiful park lakes, and hidden Orthodox churches, you can easily spend a few days here soaking up the atmosphere while filling up your Instagram.
Bucharest can’t-miss activities include exploring the Palace of Parliament, touring the Romanian Athenaeum, and taking a walk through Cișmigiu Gardens. Give yourself at least an afternoon to appreciate the Old Town, including going on a walking tour of the city.
For a day trip, you can visit one of Romania’s beautiful castles. Just don’t fill up on too much polenta and hornica, you need to save some of your energy to enjoy Bucharest’s buzzing nightlife.
27 – Crete, Greece
The fifth-largest island in the Mediterranean also happens to be the largest of Greece’s many islands as well as its most southernmost.
This gives Crete an identity that is somewhat separate from the rest of the country, so while you can enjoy the same Greek dishes here that you’ll find in Athens, there are some uniquely Cretan dishes you must try once you get here.
With stunning beaches, charming towns, and vengeful goats, Crete really does have something for everyone. You can start your trip in either Chania or Heraklion. Both cities have airports and good bus access to the rest of the island.
Whatever you do, don’t pick just one place to hunker down. Nothing beats a Crete road trip. Give Chania or Heraklion a few days, then venture to Rethymnon, Plakias, or one of the more remote beach villas or resorts. The key to a great Crete vacation is to see a few different places, go slow, and relax.
28 – The Bulgarian Riviera
Blue-green waters, beautiful resorts, and sandy beaches, it really doesn’t get much better than the Bulgarian Riviera. Less famous than the Balkans’ Meditteranean and Adriatic seafronts, Bulgaria’s stretch of Black Sea coast is the perfect place to escape from it all.
Prices are fabulous, the swimming is better than in some parts of Greece, and going on a Black Sea vacation just has a tinge more adventure to it. You can base yourself in Sunny Beach, exploring nearby Nessebar and Burgas. Or you can pick a beach in the north closer to Varna, which will be a little quieter.
While here, take some time to explore some of Bulgaria’s communist monuments, try some Bulgarian cuisine, and go shopping for some rose oil or other uniquely Bulgarian souvenirs. The best part about a Bulgarian Riviera vacation is the chance to enjoy all the fun of a traditional kitschy beach vacation with a distinctly Bulgarian twist.
29 – Lake Bled, Slovenia
Another popular water retreat, Lake Bled is a summer holiday town which might be one of the most photographed spots in all of the Balkans.
Between visiting Bled Caste and photographing the island in the middle of the lake, there’s more than enough to do here to fill up a day trip from Ljubljana, though you may choose to spend more time here to truly relax.
Go out in one of the lake boats, and give yourself enough time to walk around the lake in its entirety. It’s amazing how the view of the island changes depending on your vantage point. Seasoned travelers will be aware that tourist towns like this attract more visitors and thus, have increased prices.
So while it’s an incredibly beautiful place to visit, it’s not as easy on the budget as other parts of Slovenia. Your money can stretch a little farther if you plan your own lakeside picnic and skip some of the overpriced (and under-delicious) restaurants on the lakeshore.
30 – The Fishing Villages of Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia
Most tourists head directly to the town of Ohrid when they want to enjoy the Macedonian side of the lake, but there are several charming fishing villages that deserve either a day trip or a few days of their own.
The first is Trpejca, nicknamed the Saint Tropez of Macedonia. This beautiful village has turned into something of a resort town, with many of the town’s hotels being simply guest houses run by locals trying to meet the increased demand for housing. This town has one of the most picturesque spots on the lake, and the water here is said to be the cleanest you’ll find here.
Another option for a more peaceful Lake Ohrid retreat is the village of Radožda. This town is over a thousand years old and is famous for its seven churches which locals go to one-by-one each year on Easter. While here enjoy the fresh fish and the beautiful beaches, but take some time to visit the fourteenth-century cave church of St. Archangel Mihail.
31 – Skopje, North Macedonia
Easily the quirkiest capital in the Balkans, even giving funky Tirana a run for its money, Skopje is one of those cities people either love or hate. It’s been compared quite a bit to Las Vegas for its strange, ultra-new architecture and its many, many, many statues.
Largest and most noticeable is the “Warrior on a Horse” statue in central Skopje, near the Archaeological Museum. Theoretically representing Alexander the Great, this statue is a bit of a symbol of the longtime rivalry over who’s history is who’s between Greece and the newly-named Republic of North Macedonia (colloquially still called Macedonia by virtually everyone).
Beyond Skopje’s many odd statues and questionable choices (a pirate boat restaurant in the middle of a stream? Okay…) it has it’s charms. One is the largest bazaar in Europe outside of Istanbul, and it’s well worth going for a wander through its many meandering streets.
Another Skopje must is checking out the leafy, residential neighborhood of Debar Maalo, Skopje’s unofficial hipster capital, which is the most charming part of an otherwise slightly strange city.
32 – Prizren, Kosovo
Kosovo’s most picturesque town is easily Prizren, a beautifully preserved Ottoman-era city full of red tile roofs, mosque minarets, and more coffee shops than you think a city of this size could need.
Be sure to walk up to the fortress (just called Kalaja, which means castle in Albanian) for some of the most stunning views over Prizren – try to time it with sunset for the absolute best views.
Beyond that, be sure to visit Prizren’s main mosque and spend some time relaxing along the river at one of the countless coffee shops. When you’re in need of a meal, be sure to check out Alhambra from some of the meanest grilled meat plates in Kosovo.
33 – Hvar, Croatia
One of Croatia’s most popular islands, Hvar has a little something for everyone. Alternately under Austrian, French and Venetian rule, this small Mediterranean island has gleaned the best influences from all of them, making Hvar Town an architectural wonder.
Be sure to climb Hvar Fortress for some of the best views from this popular vantage spot. Hvar Town is also a popular nightlife destination amongst young people, with clubs throbbing music into the night.
Meanwhile, the nearby town of Stari Grad is better if you’re a fan of history and architecture and want to see one of the oldest towns in Croatia; it is, however, rather popular with tourists.
However, if you’re looking for quieter corners of Hvar, they’re not hard to find – just pick one of the dozen or so inland villages which preserve a quieter way of life. The beach towns of Milna and Jelsa are also much quieter as well, with beautiful blue waters to boot.
34 – Berat, Albania
A UNESCO World Heritage site (twinned with Gjirokastra, found later on this list) and a museum city, Berat is one of Albania’s most beautiful towns, hands down.
It’s split into two almost mirror cities on opposite sides of the Osum river, each filled with white houses with distinctive large, boxy Ottoman windows that make Berat merit the nickname “The City of a Thousand Windows.”
Wandering through the winding streets of the white-washed walls of Berat is something that should be on your Balkans travel bucket list; it’s like entering an ancient world.
Beyond its beautiful architecture, you can’t miss walking up to Berat Castle, a 13th-century castle that is actually still home to a handful of local residents — perhaps the only castle in the world inhabited by commoners. Nearby, there are hiking trails to take advantage of, the delicious Çobo winery, and the Bogove Waterfalls which are a great place to cool off in the scorching Albanian summer heat.
35 – Tara Canyon, Montenegro
The Tara Canyon is only bested on the world stage by the Grand Canyon, as it stands right behind it as the second-longest canyon in the world. It’s both the longest and deepest canyon in Europe, measuring 78 kilometers in length and 1,300 meters tall at its highest point.
Simply put, it’s incredible to see.
Depending on what your travel style is, there are a handful of ways to enjoy the beautiful Tara Canyon. Those who don’t want to get their adrenaline pumping should stick to the beautiful Đurđevića Tara bridge, a gorgeous archway bridge spanning the Tara Canyon. It’s a great viewpoint and starting place for going on an easy walk around the canyon area.
For those who are a little braver, you could try white water rafting down the Tara River or, for the truly bat$*@( insane, jump off of the Đurđevića bridge on a bungee jump! The Tara Canyon is nearby Durmitor National Park and is easily combined on a Montenegro itinerary.
36 – Novi Sad, Serbia
The second largest city in Serbia and the capital of the autonomous region of Vojvodina, Novi Sad is gearing up to serve as the European Capital of Culture in 2021. While many come here as a day trip from Belgrade, there’s enough to do in this city to enjoy a few days all on its own.
You’ll love the city’s colorful squares, beautiful baroque churches, and cute cafes. Highlights include the cathedral (which… shhhh… isn’t actually a cathedral but does have a gorgeous Hungarian tiled roof), the Petrovaradine Fortress, and the Novi Sad Synagogue. Make sure to set aside time to take in the enchanting Danube views.
Novi Sad is also a great place to base yourself to explore Vojvodina further, including the Fruska Gora wine region, the village of Sremski Karlovci (below), and Subotica (above).
37 – Delphi, Greece
The Oracle at Delphi has sparked the imagination of the world for over twenty-five hundred years.
Ancient Greeks believed that Delphi was the center of the world, and they made pilgrimages here to have the Pythia at the Oracle tell them their future. The natural beauty of the mountains at Delphi played a role in inspiring the Greek’s belief that this was one of the places where the god Apollo resided, and it is these same mountains that make the Oracle at Delphi one of the most beautiful ancient Greek sites to visit today.
You can come as a day trip from Athens, or you can stay in nearby Parnassos for a few days. This option is especially popular in winter because Parnassos is one of the most popular ski resorts in the Balkans.
38 – Split, Croatia
Another Croatian Adriatic gem, Split is the perfect destination for those who want their Roman history with a side of perfect sea views.
tart at the Riva, where you can enjoy a coffee or meal overlooking the waterfront. A visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Diocletian’s Palace is a can’t-miss for anyone visiting Split, with multiple important sites inside like the Temple of Jupiter and the ancient Synagogue.
We’re also huge fans of hitting the local market, and in Split, that means heading to the Pazar to look for local Croatian souvenirs and fresh produce. Other highlights include simply taking the time to get lost in Split’s beautiful streets, climbing Marjan Hill for the stunning views, and taking a day trip to the Pirate town of Omiš.
Finally, make sure you don’t leave Split without getting on the water. You can go on an evening cruise or one that lasts for an entire blissful day.
39 – Brasov, Romania
The medieval Saxon city of Brasov is one of the highlights of any Transylvania itinerary, and it’s proximity to some of Romania’s best castles makes it a fantastic place to base yourself for a few days to explore the region.
History lovers will enjoy the city’s incredibly Instagrammable streets and squares. Start with the Old Town Hall before checking out Brasov Citadel and making your way to both the White and the Black Towers.
For a bit of kitschy fun, make sure to check out Brasov’s Hollywood-style city sign. Brasov is a popular vacation destination in summer, but winter sports enthusiasts will find this a fantastic winter escape as well. In winter, head to the nearby resort town of Poiana Brasov, one of the best Balkan ski resorts and one of our favorite places to enjoy a hot tub outdoors under the stars.
40 – Lake Atanasovsko, Bulgaria
Pinterest and Instagram are awash with photographs of the Pink Lakes of Mexico and Australia, but Bulgaria has its very own Pink Lake just a few hundred meters from its Black Sea beaches. Locals use it as a natural spa.
First you exfoliate in the salty pink water, then cover yourself with its healing black mud before washing it off in the Black Sea. You can easily visit from Nessebar, Sunny Beach, or a local resort, but you’ll need to either drive or grab a taxi.
After washing off the mud you can relax at one of the snack stands or cafes positioned perfectly between the lake and the sea. While not picturesque, you can enjoy some great local Bulgarian cuisine here, like the dill-tastic Tarator Soup or a refreshing Shopska salad.
41 – Trebinje, Bosnia
A little-known gem less than one hour from Dubrovnik, it’s shocking that Trebinje doesn’t get more attention. It’s the southernmost city in Bosnia & Herzegovina, part of Republika Srpska, which is an entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Trebinje has all the makings of a perfect town for tourism: a quaint, well-kept Old Town with almost no tourists, a lovely pathway along the Trebišnjica River, and a gorgeous bridge in the heart of town. Still, travelers haven’t quite gotten the memo yet, so you can enjoy Trebinje with nary another tourist in sight on most days.
Trebinje is also a great place to try local Herzegovinan wines and cheeses, as agriculture is huge in this region. There are also several hikes worth doing to abandoned Austro-Hungarian forts like Fort Strač in the nearby area.
42 – Budva, Montenegro
Part of the Budva Riviera, the old walled city of Budva is the heart of the region and well-worth a stop on your Montenegro itinerary.
It has one of the best nightlife scenes in Montenegro – definitely livelier than sleepy Kotor – so if you are looking to combine sunny beach days and late club nights Budva is the ideal place for you to spend your summer.
It has two lovely beaches right nearby, Jaz and Mogren beach, both of which are lovely and well-worth spending some time in. Don’t miss the beautiful dancer statue that is a symbol of the city – you can find her on Mogren beach.
43 – Peja, Kosovo
The best city to base yourself in if you are looking to explore the hiking regions of Kosovo, Peja is an offbeat city well worth a visit on your Balkan trip. It’s close by to Rugova Canyon, which offers some of the best views in all of Kosovo.
But the city of Peja itself is extremely interesting as well. The bazaar in Peja is interesting to walk around, and you shouldn’t miss the Patriarchate of Pec, a Serbian Orthodox monastery just a short walk from the heart of town (bring your passport for entrance as it is monitored by police due to the ongoing Serbia-Kosovo tensions).
It’s also a good base for UNESCO collectors, as the Monastery Visoki Decani which is part of the Medieval Monuments of Kosovo UNESCO designation is nearby to Peja.
44 – Krka National Park, Croatia
One of the most beautiful places to chase waterfalls in Croatia, if you’re a nature lover you can’t miss adding on a trip to Krka National Park to your Croatia itinerary. This park is home to several of Croatia’s most beautiful waterfalls, including Skradinski Buk, Slap Krčić, and Manojlovački Slapovi.
It’s also slightly less popular than the ultra-busy Plitvice National Park, so you won’t be surrounded by (quite as many) tourists. But this park is more than just waterfalls.
Visovačko Jezero (lake) makes up the heart of Krka National Park and you can do boat trips here to visit interesting sites such as Samostan Visovac Catholic church and Chapel at the Krka Brištane. Don’t miss visiting the memorial at Spomenik Hrvatskom kralju Petru Svačiću, which offers you an amazing view over the Visovac island church.
45 – The Albanian Riviera, Albania
Everyone knows by now that Greece has amazing island beaches and that Croatia’s coastline is epic. Word of mouth is starting to get out about Montenegro’s beaches but poor Albania is often left out of the buzz, even though it has some of the best beaches in the Balkans.
There are countless places worth visiting all up and down the Albanian Riviera; for the sake of brevity, we’ll list just a few of our favorites. Himara is a fantastic base for all your Riviera travels, as is Vlora.
Saranda, while beautiful, is just a bit too far south for some of the best Albanian beaches. A few of the stops you should definitely make along the Albanian Riviera include Borsh and its gorgeous ruins, Jala Beach with its glassy waters, Gjipe Beach with its stunning hike in and out of the beach, and Porto Palermo with its amazing fortress and crystalline waters.
46 – Santorini, Greece
Santorini might just be the most romantic place on Earth.
Famous for its vibrant sunsets over a horizon of white-washed houses and blue-domed churches, the island begs couples from all corners of the map to come here and play. Start in Fira, hike to Oia, dance in the crater of a volcano, and relax in the natural hot springs.
Whatever you do, don’t miss out on an epic boat ride. Wine lovers will want to make sure and enjoy a local wine tour, while history enthusiasts should set aside time to visit ancient Thera and the lost city of Akrotiri.
If you’re looking for the perfect Greek honeymoon, just make sure to check that your private pool is heated. You don’t want to freeze in paradise!
47 – Perast, Montenegro
When you’re dying to escape the cruise ship crowds in the old city of Kotor, head out to Perast.
This charming bayside town is delightfully small, with its beauty spread across the shore in full splendor. You can take a boat from Kotor or Perast to the island with the beautify Our Lady of the Rocks church (a can’t-miss whether staying in Perast or Kotor).
Enjoy some gelato in Perast’s beautiful squares, eat dinner on the water, and enjoy the town’s small but popular beaches. If you use Perast as your base to explore the Bay of Kotor, you’ll be happily (and cheaply) connected to the surrounding cities by the frequent public buses.
However, you’ll be happily off-the-beaten-path after sundown when most tourists head elsewhere.
48 – Sighisoara, Romania
There are numerous beautiful Romanian cities to visit in Transylvania (along with a plethora of Romanian castles) but Sighisoara will win over your heart.
The feudal Saxon city boasts the birthplace of one of the country’s most notorious native sons, Vlad the Impaler. If you come on Halloween, you’ll find the room where he was born to be clad in an extra layer of kitsch, making it one of the most delightfully whimsical things to do in Transylvania.
While here, explore the side streets with their pastel houses, climb up the medieval clocktower for stunning panoramic views, and enjoy a coffee or a meal on the picturesque town square.
If you’ve only given yourself an afternoon here, prepare to leave heartbroken. It’s an impossible city to tear yourself away from.
49 – Triglav National Park, Slovenia
Triglav National Park is so important to the Slovenian people that the three peaks of Mount Triglav are emblazoned on the country’s flag.
The park is a winter wonderland, and Slovenians and tourists alike come here to enjoy the amazing skiing. In summer, there are numerous waterfalls to enjoy. Situated close to the Instagrammable Lake Bled, you can easily combine the two for an amazing Slovenian road trip.
Whether exploring the park by car, bike, or on foot, you won’t run out of things to do here, so give yourself enough time to settle in and explore.
50 – Rila Monastery, Bulgaria
One of the symbols of Bulgaria’s national revival after centuries of Ottoman rule, Rila Monastery is one of the most popular day trips from Sofia and the most important of Bulgaria’s many monasteries.
Set alongside the river, the monastery is enclosed with walls containing the cells where the monks live, but you can actually enjoy an evening or two here yourself if you want to spend the night at Rila.
The natural endpoint for Orthodox pilgrims walking through the mountains on a walking pilgrimage, you’ll find many different kinds of travelers here, from the Sofia day trippers to the devout. The colorful church in the central courtyard is the most important site, but you should also visit Hristo’s tower and the cave of Ivan Rilskii. If you come in winter, prepare for a beautiful carpet of snow to show off the monastery’s magnificent pine trees.
51 – Shkodra, Albania
An off the radar gem in Northern Albania, Shkodra might well be one of Albania’s best-kept secrets, only known to people who truly take the time to explore Albania in depth.
It’s the jumping off point for trips to Lake Komani and the beloved Valbona to Theth hike, which is one of the best hiking routes in Albania’s so-called “Accursed Mountains.”
But beyond that, Shkodra is well-worth seeing for its own merits. It has a totally different pace of life than the frenetic and at-times chaotic capital, Tirana. It’s one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in Albania, with people on bikes nearly everywhere you look.
Don’t miss the nightly stroll (xhiro) down its pedestrian boulevard, a famous pastime of local Albanians. There is also an excellent photography museum in town that is well worth a visit. Shkodra is also close by to Rozafa Fortress and the nearby Lake Shkodra, which is the Albanian side of the beautiful lake it shares with Montenegro (who call it Lake Skadar).
Dedicate a few days to explore Shkodra and you’ll be pleasantly surprised you made time for it!
52 – Bran Castle, Romania
Often incorrectly called “Dracula’s Castle,” Bran Castle may be a victim of overzealous and dubious marketing but it is still well worth putting on your Balkan bucket list nonetheless.
While the author of Dracula never even stepped foot in Romania (let alone Bran Castle), it’s been said that the real-life inspiration for Dracula – Vlad the Impaler – once lived here. Even that is of dubious origin, so let’s just evaluate Bran Castle on its own merits: it is still absolutely worth the visit.
It’s one of Romania’s most beautiful castles, which is a high distinction in a country with as many interesting and beautiful castles and fortresses.
Its setting is almost as impressive as the structure itself, nestled among tall trees on top of a high cliff that makes it even more imposing and impressive at first glance. Inside, the castle is hardly spooky but rather well-kept and beautiful with a gorgeous courtyard.
53 – Nis, Serbia
Southern Serbia doesn’t get much love, but we hope that changes soon! T
he third-largest city in Serbia, Nis is well-worth more than just a quick transfer when heading between Belgrade and other Balkan capitals. We’d recommend actually giving yourself two or so days to explore Nis if you can budget the time, as this is one of the most historically significant cities in Serbia.
The birthplace of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great, Nis has Roman roots that you can see with your own eyes at the archaeological site of Mediana. Its history continues with relics of the Ottoman times, including its famous and seriously macabre Skull Tower which the Ottomans constructed to warn against any Serbs thinking of rising up against them.
It also has the Red Cross (Crveni Krst) Concentration Campsite, where 10,000 Jews, Romanis, and Serbs were murdered by Nazis. A powerful spomenik (abstract socialist monument) memorializing the senseless loss of so many lives can be found at Bubanj Memorial Park nearby. Please visit these sites respectfully or don’t go at all, as we have seen pictures of idiotic tourists doing yoga poses at this memorial to 10,000 murdered souls.
54 – 7 Rila Lakes, Bulgaria
One of the most famous hikes in all of Bulgaria, the 7 Rila Lakes hike is an easy day hike that is a must on many people’s Bulgaria itineraries.
Consisting of a series of seven alpine lakes, the first lake, uncreatively named “The Lower Lake” is located at a height of 2,095 meters above sea level; the final, “The Tear,” is at 2,535 meters. In between, you’ll find other beautifully shaped lakes, each given a distinctive name for their shape or some characteristic about them.
There is a flat area around “The Kidney” that makes this lake especially good for stopping to enjoy a picnic lunch. You can get to the starting point for the Rila Lakes hike easily by chair lift if you want to make your hike a little shorter, though if you go on weekends prepare for a line as this is one of the most popular hikes in Bulgaria.
The hike can take anywhere from 4 hours roundtrip to more, depending on whether or not you take the chair lift and whether you take the most direct route there and back or choose one of the longer ways back.
55 – Blagaj, Bosnia & Herzegovina
One of the most famous sites associated with Mostar is not actually located in Mostar itself but rather a few kilometers down the road in nearby Blagaj.
Blagaj is home to a beautiful river spring, where the Buna river starts and flows past the pristine former Dervish monastery. The Buna river here is an impossibly perfect blue, so gorgeous it looks like real life has been photoshopped.
The white Insta-famous Dervish monastery is now a museum which you can visit, and it has been lovingly kept up over the years so that you can see the history of this Ottoman-built structure.
56 – Rhodes, Greece
While Rhodes’s has certainly earned its reputation as a holiday spot exclusively for Brits looking for a fly-and-flop, there’s so much to the island than that. Start with the Medieval walled city of Rhodes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
While here, make sure to check out the Nea Agora. From afar it looks like a mosque or Ottoman building, but up close you’ll see that it’s much newer than that. Built by one of Mussolini’s favorite fascist architects, it’s an oddly beautiful sight but a reminder that Rhodes’s past includes Venetians, Knights, Ottomans, and Italian Fascists, not to mention its occupation by the Nazis.
After exploring historic Rhodes town, make your way from Rhodes to Lindos where you’ll find a beautiful, white-washed beach paradise. Nature lovers need to save time for the Bee Museum and the Butterfly Valley, while foodies should set aside time to visit Rhodes’ up-and-coming culinary scene.
57 – Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria
The medieval capital of Bulgaria, there’s no site to inspire quite like Tsarevets rising above the hill.
For a small city, there are a ton of things to do in Veliko Tarnovo, from admiring the local crafts and street art scene to enjoying the city’s picturesque hilltop setting with the Yantra river below.
You can also use the city as a base to travel the area, with great day trips available to Arbanasi and nearby Bulgarian monasteries. While here, bring your walking shoes, because you’ll want to go on the local walking tour and then amble across Stambolov Bridge.
For dinner, check out Shtastliveca, one of our favorite Sofia restaurants which actually began in Veliko Tarnovo!
58 – Korcula, Croatia
One of the best-loved of Croatia’s islands, Korcula has a little bit of something for everyone.
Korcula is famous for its delicious white wines and beautiful coastline, which includes some of the best sandy beaches in Croatia in the south near the village of Lumbarda. Meanwhile, the north boasts a more rugged coastline with wild, pebbly beaches.
The town of Korcula itself is one of the older settlements in Croatia, originally settled by Greeks who named it “Black Corfu” due to its pine forests. It’s home to the beautiful St. Mark’s Cathedral and Treasury Abbey, as well as its historical City Defenses which fortified the settlement from the 14th century onward.
Beyond its town, Korcula is loved for its laid-back interior villages which are quiet and relatively under-visited by tourists.
59 – Belogradchik Fortress, Bulgaria
One of the most unique castles in Bulgaria is Belogradchik, which is a hybrid manmade/natural fortification in the far northwest of Bulgaria not far from the border with Serbia.
Located in the 30-kilometer long geological formation called the Belogradchik Rocks, this fortress is built into the natural steep stone pillars of the earth sort of similar to the monasteries of Meteora in Northern Greece.
It’s a bit off of the typical beaten path of Bulgaria, though it is definitely doable from Sofia on a day trip with a rental car. The fortress has an incredibly interesting history, with over two millennia of settlement and use, and has seen several expansions and renovations over the centuries.
It was used as a battleground against the Ottomans as well as the Serbs, and today is considered one of the “7 Wonders of Bulgaria.”
Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!
We’ve mentioned it, but it bears repeating! We think it’s a good idea to travel to Bulgaria with a valid travel insurance policy. Travel here includes outdoor activities and travel to highly touristed sites. It’s a good idea to be covered in case you have an accident or fall victim to theft. Travel insurance will help you recover your expenses and continue to enjoy your trip.
For travel insurance, I use World Nomads. I’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.
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Originally from California, Allison has been living in Bulgaria for the last two years and is obsessed with traveling around the Balkans. She has been published in National Geographic, CNN Arabic, Matador Network, and the Huffington Post. She loves befriending dogs, drinking coffee, geeking out about wine, and cooking food from around the world.