13 cities not to miss in Western Balkans
Western Balkans (a name given to Albania and the former-Yugoslav countries such as Kosovo, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia – although Croatia is now a member of the European Union) has started to gain more and more tourists lately as the situation has become more stable. However, many tourists mainly focus on the big cities in the quest of visiting as more as possible countries over their short period of holidays. To be frank with you, I heard and read about some of these cities in my region for the first time while working on this collaboration with other travel bloggers. I won’t tell you which ones so you can’t judge me 😉
- Rahovec, Kosovo
My recommendation goes for a little town not very well known by even Kosovo citizens themselves, That’s Rahovec.
Rahovec doesn’t happen to be recommended often as a city to be visited when in Kosovo; however, it makes for a perfect location especially if you’re a wine lover. Rahovec and Suhareka are the two main cities producing the tasty wine of Kosovo. If you’re visiting Rahovec during the first weekend of September (although it might change) you’ll have the chance to partake in the most famous wine fest in Kosovo, Hardh Fest. During the festival, you could book a hotel, private room, or camp at the space provided by the organizers.
If you’re visiting Rahovec at other time of the year, stop by the clock tower, the tekke, the lovely coffee bars (such as N’qosh, Hardhia, Barcode), or book a wine tour at one of the biggest and best wineries in Kosovo (Stone Castle, Bodrumi i vjeter, or Illyrian).
Rahovec, being only about two hours away from the capital of Kosovo, Pristina, could also be visited as a day trip.
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- Omis, Croatia
Eniko from Travel Hacker Girl considers Omis in Croatia as one of the cities not to miss in Western Balkans.
If you are on holiday in Croatia you should not miss the town of Omis, located in the Dalmatia region. There is so much to do in the town, that you won’t get bored for days. It is a paradise for adventure sports enthusiasts, as the town’s location provides lots of opportunities for such activities. The Cetina River is great for rafting, canyoning, and kayaking. You can even explore a hidden cave behind a waterfall. It was a really cool experience. Literally cool, as the water temperature inside the cave was 10 degrees, but we enjoyed the experience nevertheless. Zip Lining is another must-do activity. You can go on 8 wires over the Cetina canyon, each offering amazing views of the surroundings. If you want an even more breathtaking view I suggest hiking to Starigrad Fortress, which provides the best view in the area. The round trip hike will take 2-3 hours and it will be quite exhausting on a hot summer day, but those views are well worth the effort.
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- Kratovo – Macedonia
Iuliana Marchian from Authentic Travels found Kratovo in Macedonia as a lovely city not to miss while visiting Western Balkans.
Kratovo is a small town in Macedonia and it was developed in the crater of an extinct volcano. A mining and trading center in the Middle Ages, the town features the remains of the fortification towers and stone or wooden bridges over the river that crosses the center. For this reason, it is known as the town of towers and bridges. Wandering the cobblestone streets of Kratovo, one has the chance to discover a very diverse province town. Kratovo still preserves the remains of the Catholic community, the Orthodox community, the Jewish community, and the Muslim community. Each community features a representative religious edifice, such as an Orthodox/Catholic church, a synagogue, and even the remains of a mosque with a minaret. Beside the old carshia (bazaar) composed mainly of shops lining a pedestrian street, an authentic place in Kratovo is the Etno House Shancheva of Stevce Donevski. The house is a combination of a small ethnographic museum but it also has a few rooms for guests on the upper floor. Visiting this place, you can witness the process of preparing the local salt with a mix of spices – a delicious add-on for any tasty meal.
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- Konjic – Bosnia and Herzegovina
Ellis from Backpack Adventures considers Konjic in Bosnia and Herzegovina as one of the cities not to miss while wandering around Western Balkans.
Most people that come to Bosnia will visit Sarajevo and Mostar and for good reasons. Both cities are wonderful and offer plenty of things to do. But Bosnia has so much more to offer. Konjic is one such place that is off the beaten path. A small town between Sarajevo and Mostar surrounded by mountains.
My main reason to go to Konjic was to visit Tito’s bunker. The bunker would allow for Tito and other important people of the regime to survive for 6 months in a nuclear attack. The secret project was conducted near the town of Konjic, but away from prying eyes. It was only completed in 1976, a year before Tito died. However, people in Konjic have only learned recently about the existence of the bunker and since a few years, it has opened as a museum.
Besides Tito’s bunker, Konjic is a scenic town with a beautiful bridge and old town. It’s a great place to have lunch and makes a perfect day trip from Sarajevo. Konjic itself is easy to reach with public transport, but if you have your own car it’s also a great place to explore the surrounding mountains.
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- Saranda, Albania
Anita Hendrieka puts Saranda as one of the cities not to miss while in Western Balkans.
The Albanian city of Saranda lies at the very south of the country. It’s commonly known as the gateway of the Albanian Riviera which has some of the most beautiful beaches in Albania and in Europe. Saranda is a small seaside city which has a lot of history if you dive deep into it. A short hike up to the monastery of the 40 Saints gives you an incredible view of the city from above as well as visiting the spot which gave Saranda its name.
The city has a unique charm, incredible seafood, and amazing weather! Make sure when you visit the city to explore the beaches to the south and north of Saranda. You will be blessed with crystal clear waters and beautiful views! The UNESCO site of Butrint is only a quick bus ride away too which holds an incredible amount of history and should not be missed! Make sure you take a look at the castle of Ali Pasha located in the middle of water not far from the main sites at Butrint, it’s one of the most unique castles in Albania and often missed by tourists!
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- Kotor, Montenegro
Michael from mscgerber considers Kotor as a must visit place while wandering the Western Balkans.
Kotor is a beautiful place in Montenegro, located inside the bay of Kotor, which is also known as the southernmost Fjord in Europe. While the location itself is already spectacular, the old town of Kotor is even more special and absolutely incredible. On top of that, it is possible to hike several hills around Kotor, which all offer breathtaking views of the area.
The most famous hike is the way up to the former fortress of Kotor – which I can highly recommend. The best time to hike up there is early in the morning, as you avoid the entrance fee (8 Euro) and have the track for your own – without hundreds of other tourists.
Once you make it up there (I had 25 minutes) you will enjoy a beautiful sunrise over Kotor – which you will certainly never forget. For me, Kotor was one of the highlights of my Interrail trip through Europe and the Balkans.
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- Belgrade, Serbia
Megan Starr considers Belgrade to be one of the cities not to miss.
Belgrade is one of my favorite cities in the world and definitely my favorite city in all of the Balkans. I first went there in 2014 and ever since I have been hooked. The city is the perfect mixture of concrete, good food, amazing coffee, and a party atmosphere for me. I never have had a dull day in Belgrade. I was initially a bit scared of how the locals would treat me as an American given historical events, but I have never once had a bad experience with anyone and the hospitality has been out of this world everywhere I’ve visited in Belgrade and beyond. I love finding quiet cafes in Dorcol and sitting outside switching back and forth between delicious coffee and hoppy craft beer. There is a new wave of innovation in Belgrade that is palpable in the city and I find it inviting and endearing.
- Motovun, Croatia
Kimmie from Adventures & Sunsets considers Motovun in Croatia as a unique place to visit in Western Balkans.
Motovun is one of the most unique places in Croatia and has a distinctly different vibe than a lot of the rest of the country. It’s a small hilltop town located in the center of Istria, which for good reason is known as ‘the Tuscany of Croatia”.
Despite its completely fairytale-like and picturesque appearance, Motovun has a few other tricks up its sleeve. It’s one of the foodie capitals of Croatia, known for its olive oil, truffles, and wine. Most notably, two of the most award-winning olive oils in the world are produced here, and the largest truffle in recorded history was actually found here in the Motovun forest! There are also lots of wineries in the area that produce their own unique varieties, as well as lots of Croatia grappa and rakija (spirits).
As if you need any more reasons to make the trek up north, Motovun has a fascinating history, and you can actually walk around its ancient walls for the equivalent of about $5USD. This will give you panoramic views of the surrounding rolling countryside and Motovun forest.
If you love truffles as much as the next person, you can also sign up for a truffle hunting tour in the Motovun forest. On these tours, you learn how special dogs sniff out these delicacies from the underground and get to try some for yourself as well.
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- Berat, Albania
Dave from Dave’ Travel Pages considers Berat to be a city not to be missed.
Although Albania is not quite the off-the-beaten-path destination it once was, it’s still in the very early stages of tourism development. As such, now is really the time to visit to see the country at its authentic best. It has an abundance of cultural and historic areas to visit, one of which is Berat.
With the tagline ‘Town of a Thousand Windows’, Berat is one of three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Albania. This centuries-old town retains key elements of the Ottoman architecture from which its nickname derives, and really has a stepping back in time feel to it.
In addition to the famous town, there is also a castle which dominates the landscape right next door. WIth great views over the town of Berat as well as the surrounding landscape, walking around the castle is a unique experience.
People still live inside the castle grounds, and it is even possible to stay the night inside the castle in several places that offer accommodation. This gives the option of staying in the castle itself, including a visit to Berat on a day trip from Tirana, or just dropping by on a road trip through Albania. An essential place to add to your Albania travel itinerary!
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- Sarajevo, Bosnia
Kami & the rest of the World puts Sarajevo as a not to miss city while in the Western Balkans.
Sarajevo is one of the most fascinating and unique cities in the Balkans and in whole Europe. That’s where East meets West, literally as when walking down the main pedestrian street Ferhadija / Saraci you cross the border between two worlds. Suddenly, instead of the magnificent architecture from the times of Austria-Hungary, you are surrounded by the small houses and a bazaar that could as well be in Istanbul. Sarajevo played a very important role in the history of the 20th century. In Sarajevo the World War 1 has started, the 1984 Winter Olympic Games took place and eventually the city was surrounded by enemy’s forces for almost 4 years – it was the longest siege in the modern, post-war history. You can easily find the remnants of all those events all over the city. But one of the best things to do in Sarajevo, besides just wandering around and taking in the atmosphere, is walking up to one of the many amazing viewpoints and looking at the city from above. Due to the location in the valley, Sarajevo offers breathtaking views and the best time to admire them is around the sunset, where the whole city is covered in the soft orange colors. This is one of the views you will never forget!
- Prizren, Kosovo
Karen from WanderlustingK says Prizren is a city not to miss while visiting the Western Balkans.
Prizren is one of the most charming cities in the Balkans. Many overlook Kosovo, but Prizren is truly one of the gems of Kosovo. This stunning historic city was luckily left mostly intact during the conflict with Serbia although its iconic stone bridge (Ura e Gurit) is a sight to behold. Similarly, the Prizren fortress (Kaljaja) holds some of the best views of the city from above for free. Be sure to visit around sunset along with half of the visitors to the city. Afterward, head to one of Prizren’s many charming cafes where you’re guaranteed to find friendly locals. One of the main attractions is the stunning Ottoman-style Sinan Pasha Mosque, which visitors can enter for free. Beyond the mosques, Prizren is just thirty minutes from the mountains, making it a great location for day hikes (especially in autumn!). Even if you’re simply passing through Prizren, be sure to give yourself at least a day extra to enjoy the culture and beauty of this city in Kosovo!
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- Ohrid, Macedonia
Leah from Kid Bucket List says Ohrid is one of those cities not to miss while in the Western Balkans.
Ask a Macedonian which spot they recommend you visit on your travels through their country and it’s highly likely they will all suggest Ohrid. Sitting on Lake Ohrid, Ohrid has been identified as both a Cultural and Natural World Heritage SIte by UNESCO. Here you can enjoy walking its cobblestone paths, exploring the ancient open theatre, the Byzantine churches, the Bay of the Bones archaeological site, and sailing across the lake to visit the cave churches.
It’s in the summer months that the township comes to life with the lake warming and offering the chance for a swim in its pristine waters, the opportunity to eat trout caught fresh from its depths and a great feel across the whole space. Better yet, it is dirt cheap. Perhaps cheaper than Asia (not including the airfares!).
- Sibenik – Croatia
Sam and Natalia from Something of Freedom say Sibenik is that city that shouldn’t be missed.
Croatia’s historic city of Sibenik is one spot you simply shouldn’t miss in the Western Balkans. Perhaps surprisingly, Sibenik is currently the only city in the whole country that is home to 2 UNESCO World Heritage Sites – St James’ Cathedral and St. Nicholas’ fortress.
St James’ Cathedral is located in the Old Town. Its dome towers above surrounding buildings and is visible from a number of spots around the city. St Nicholas’ fortress is an impressive structure dating back to the 16th century and is only connected to the mainland by a narrow path.
There’s plenty more to see in Sibenik too. The Old Town is a wonderful place to explore, somewhat similar to the Old Towns found in Dubrovnik and Split – but with fewer tourists! If that isn’t enough, there are a total of 4 fortresses scattered across the city. Each one is unique, whether it’s the location or incredible views on offer! On top of that, Sibenik is perfectly located to take day trips to both the Krka and Plitvice Lakes National Parks.
With so much to discover in the city and surrounding areas, Sibenik is an ideal inclusion on any itinerary of Croatia or the Western Balkans.
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How many have you been to? Comment below and let me know which one is your favorite!