A Balkan Road Trip – sound adventurous! Legendary melting pot of cultures, Ottoman flair in Europe. The “powder keg” of the 20th century. Pure history! And definitely a great destination, not just for a road trip! Whether 2, 3 or 4 weeks, there are many different routes to choose from. Off into the great unknown, on a round trip through the Balkans – Oh darling, let’s be adventureres!
What do you learn in this article?
BIG5 Highlights of the Balkans
BIG5 Balkans Road trip – Speed Date
The Balkans are incredibly diverse in terms of landscape, whether hiking tours, beach holidays or world-famous sights – there is something for everyone!
Prices and crowds in the tourist / cruise hotspots in stark contrast to the rather unknown and cheap regions
Get in touch with the hospitable people! Our spontaneous Rakija shots with Radovan in Kotor are one of the highlights of the trip!
Don’t be put off by names that don’t sound too good, like Albania or Kosovo
Don’t tell your mother:
The rapid ride over a closed snow cover in the night bus to Kosovo
BIG5 Balkans Road trip – Rapid Fire Q&A
- Is it safe to travel in the Balkans? – Yes, we have had no negative experiences.
- Do you need a car / rental car? – No, there are very good connections with long-distance buses and some trains
- Do you meet many tourists? – Partly, partly, many tourists can be found mainly in the cruise hotspots Dubrovnik and Kotor and generally at the coast, but there are also less known spots
- I would like either to go to the beach or be active with hiking etc. Where should I travel? – The Balkans really has everything to offer, some of them only a few kilometres away.
- So would you recommend spending your holiday there? – I do not understand the question 🙂
BIG5 Balkans Road trip – Orga
Best travel time
You can expect the best weather and pleasant temperatures from May to September, with most rain in January and February and November and December.
Arrival & Departure
Visa: Check here if you need a visa for the Balkan countries with your passport
In addition to travelling by car (with a possible stopover in Austria or Slovenia), the following options are available via the international airports:
- Sarajevo / Bosnia & Herzegovina (IATA: SJJ)
- Mostar / Bosnia & Herzegovina (OMO)
- Dubrovnik / Croatia (DBV)
- Tivat / Montenegro (TIV; possibly cheaper alternative to Dubrovnik)
- Podgorica / Montenegro (TGD)
- Priština / Kosovo (PRN)
- Skopje / Northern Macedonia (SKP)
- Ohrid / Northern Macedonia (OHD)
- Tirana / Albania (TIA)
- Depending on the direction of travel, it may also be advisable to travel to or from Greece. Ryanair has convenient connections to / from Athens (ATH) and Thessaloniki (SKG), from where you can also travel to Albania or Northern Macedonia.
Arrival and departure depend of course on the itinerary. You will learn more about this in this article.
We booked the accommodation exclusively through Booking.com, sometimes very spontaneously on the same day and only a few hours before arrival. Especially in the tourist centres there is a wide range of accommodation for all needs and budgets.
Withdraw money: ATMs are available in all major cities
Beer-indicator: In general, the Balkans are very cheap. You can get 0.5 liters from 1.00 in a normal restaurant (Albania), but the price range goes up to a proud 7-10 euros in Dubrovnik / Croatia.
Costs for a taxi: The Balkans are also very cheap. 1 kilometre is partly available from ~0,50 Euro
- Each of the listed destinations offers authentic restaurants with great local cuisine! A must on the Balkans!
BIG5 Balkans Road trip – Cities / Destinations
- Sarajevo – experience the mixing of cultures at first hand
- Dubrovnik – the massive city wall is not only a must for Game of Thrones fans
- Kotor – Scenic Champions League and a great starting point for countless activities
- Tirana – Modern vibe, reasonable prices and a lot to discover in the capital of long isolated Albania
- Skopje – Not (yet) crowded with tourists and a great starting point for hikes in Matka Canyon or on the Vodno mountain. Experience the rapidly changing cityscape
BIG5 Balkans Road trip – Activities
- Climb the Venetian St. Giovanni Fortress above Kotor
- Travel back in time and take a tour of the city walls of Dubrovnik
- Discover the coast of Montenegro in a rental car in a completely flexible way
- Take a boat trip on the picturesque blue Ohrid lake
- Hiking to the unique “floating monasteries” in impressive landscape near Kalambaka / Meteora
BIG5 Balkans Road trip – Photo spots
- Mostar: Beach under the bridge – especially good for snapshots of the jumpers
- Dubrovnik: From the fortress Lovrijenac to the city walls and the bay at the western harbour
- Kotor: From the serpentine road to the bay – boundless panorama over the southernmost fjord in Europe
- Skopje: At the entrance to Matka Canyon you have a great view into the canyon
- Meteora: Incredible landscape panorama with the “floating monasteries“
BIG5 Balkans Road trip – Off the beaten track
- Hiking through the Matka Canyon / Northern Macedonia
- Immerse yourself in the eventful history of Sarajevo – there is more to Bosnia than Mostar’s bridge
- Admire the magnificent city centre of Skopje / Northern Macedonia
- Look into the Blue Eye near Saranda / Albania
- Relax in Priština / Kosovo – the youngest capital of Europe
BIG5 Balkans Road trip – Culinary Journey
- Ćevapi / Ćevapčići – Classic Balkan grills and typical for the meat-heavy cuisine
- Fish / Seafood – Especially on the coast or the shores of Lake Skutari
- Burek – The puff pastry dish of Ottoman origin has become an integral part of the region
- Tasting local beer greats like Sarajevsko (Bosnia) or Birra Tirana (Albania)
- Wine – The mediterranean climate allows extensive viticulture (especially red) in e.g. Herzegovina and Northern Macedonia: Absolutely try it!
BIG5 Balkans Road trip – Helpful Webites / Links
- Official website of the city of Mostar
- Official website of Visit Dubrovnik
- Official website of Kotor
- Official website of Priština
BIG5 Balkans Road trip – Overview Map with BIG5 Activities, Photo spots & Insider tips
Your Balkans Road trip: highlights and route planning
Big summer vacation in the Balkans, really?
The backpack is packed for several weeks. No transfers or accommodations booked yet. Between return flight a white map and lots of space for spontaneous adventures. Fantastic landscapes are waiting. Turquoise-blue sea. A breath of adventure.
“I know for sure you’re going to Southeast Asia, Thailand.”
No, that’s not it! Instead of +10 hours flight and many hours time difference with jet lag on the first days included, the destination is called: BALKAN! Eastern Europe, just around the corner.
The Balkans – legendary melting pot of cultures, Ottoman flair in Europe. The “powder keg” of the 20th century.
A partly still very white spot on the mass tourism map.
The region is a paradise for history and culture lovers. Here Ottoman architecture, traces of medieval rulers, Austro-Hungarian administration, Soviet communist buildings and (war) traces of the disintegrating Yugoslavia are sometimes just a stone’s throw away.
Sad is above all the recent history, the hard times during the Yugoslavian wars in the 1990s have left scars – in the soul of the people and clearly visible in the cityscape of many metropolises.
In addition to the landscape and history, here are more reasons why you should definitely travel to the Balkans: BIG5 reasons for a Balkan road trip
What does the route of the great Balkan journey look like?
Big adventure close at hand, without a big budget and travel expenses? Let’s get going, once across the Balkans!
“Balkan, really?!” Some friends seem to be surprised, amazed but also curious. Instead of 3 weeks in Bali or the classic west coast tour in the USA, they go to such “well-known” destinations as Kosovo, Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina. Have you ever heard of the city of Vlorë? Of Ulcinj? Beach holiday in Saranda or hiking in Matka Canyon? No? Then let’s go, put it on the bucket list.
As so often, objectives and general conditions: Limited time, lots of sight, no time lost through unnecessary planning errors – yet flexibility and a feeling of freedom. So we have already roughly mapped out the route in advance.
It goes from Sarajevo to Athens – more than 1,000 kilometres of direct connections, with all the detours and spontaneity, there’s bound to be a lot more. Pre-bookings? Nope, only the first hotel. Transportation? Quasi everything that is possible, from night bus to rental car to bike, everything is included.
Here you see my route for 3 weeks Balkan Roadtrip with the highlights at a glance:
Day 1: Arrival Sarajevo (BA) + sightseeing
Day 2: Sarajevo -> Mostar (BIH)
Day 3: Mostar / Round trip Herzegovina (BIH)
Day 4: Mostar -> Dubrovnik (HRV)
Day 5: Dubrovnik Sightseeing; -> Kotor (MNE)
Day 6: Kotor
Day 7: Kotor -> Žabljak / Durmitor National Park (MNE)
Day 8: Montenegro Riviera: Herceg Novi -> Ulcinj -> Lake Skadar (MNE)
Day 9: Cetinje (MNE) -> Lovcen National Park (MNE) -> Podgorica (MNE) -> Priština (RKS)
Day 10: Priština
Day 11: Priština -> Skopje (MKD)
Day 12: Skopje -> Ohrid (MKD)
Day 13: Ohrid
Day 14: Ohrid -> Tirana (ALB)
Day 15: Tirana -> Consult (ALB)
Day 16: Consultation -> Saranda (ALB)
Day 17: Saranda -> Kalambaka / Meteora (GRC)
Day 18: Meteora Sightseeing -> Athens (GRC)
Day 19: Athens
Day 20: Athens -> Island of Agistri (GRC)
Day 21: Island of Agistri
Day 22: Agistri -> Athens
Day 23: Athens
Below I have compiled further routes for a Balkan round trip / road trip.
Which highlights you should not miss on the Balkan
Bosnia & Herzegovina 🇧🇦
The journey starts in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, a city with a very varied history and exciting, mainly Ottoman culture. Situated between picturesque mountains lies the “Jerusalem of Europe“. Follow in the footsteps of Ottomans, medieval rulers, Austrian monarchs and communist officials.
Continue on to a city where literally everything revolves around the bridge. The landmark of Mostar and the tourist centre of the country on the river Neretva attracts tourists from all over the world and is THE photo motif of Herzegovina – perhaps even of the entire Balkans. But there is also a lot to discover outside the bridge arches. Seek a cool down at the waterfalls of Kravice, walk through the stone medieval village of Pocitelj and marvel at the huge mountain spring in Blagaj.
Would you like more details for your travel planning? Read on here:
- BIG5 Things to do in Sarajevo for a perfect day
- BIG5 Things to do in Mostar for a perfect day
- Highlights of Herzegovina – Your perfect day trip
A short, but cost-intensive detour (bad voices would claim expensive) to the impressive Dubrovnik. Despite the prices and the invasion of cruise tourists and Game-of-Thrones pilgrims a highlight and absolutely worth a trip – if you follow a few simple tips.
World-famous highlights such as the almost two-kilometer long, fully accessible city wall, the old town boulevard Stradun and the imposing fortress Lovrijenac await you in the UNESCO World Heritage Site!
All BIG5 of Dubrovnik at a glance? You are welcome:
- BIG5 Things to do in Dubrovnik – your perfect day
- Dubrovnik City Walls – everything you need to know
- 5 Tips how to enjoy the City Walls of Dubrovnik alone
So far in the shadow of the current tourist hype country Croatia, but nevertheless no less recommendable!
The small country surprises with its versatility. Hiking around mountain lakes in the fir forest? But do you prefer sunbathing on the turquoise-blue sea? Visiting historical old towns or rather some action with rafting and motocross? Visit previous no-name destinations such as Kotor, Ulcinj, Cetinje or the Durmitor National Park in the north.
The second big plus point: simplicity. Because of the size of the country – or better said “small country” – the distances to be driven are more than manageable… and you pay here in Euro. It’s a question of time until the wave of tourism from Croatia not only spills over to coastal towns like Kotor. Discover the country beforehand, especially the exciting and adventurous north!
Here you will find everything you need to know for a trip to Montenegro:
- BIG Things to do in Kotor for a perfect day
- Fantastic road trip on the coast of Montenegro
- Montenegro Road trip – The north is more than Durmitor
Europe’s youngest state (although still controversial under international law) does not offer the glittering array of world-famous sights, but nevertheless offers great opportunities for outdoor activities and pleasant, because short, city tours. The capital Priština in the centre as a hub for onward travel to the neighbouring country of Northern Macedonia.
Let’s go to Pristina! Here you can read what you need for your planning:
Northern Macedonia 🇲🇰
Northern Macedonia has much more to offer than just Lake Ohrid, which is without doubt the tourist centre. The country captivates by its scenic diversity and invites you to go hiking, swimming and boating. The many building sites in the centre of Skopje to beautify the cityscape embody the spirit of optimism of this young country.
Would you like more details for your travel planning? Read on here:
Scenically a dream, as versatile as Montenegro. Albania and especially Tirana can be used as a great starting point for the journey to other countries. Or just stay there – there is definitely enough to discover and experience. Historic old towns of Berat and Gjirokaster, modern flair in Tirana or beach life in Vlora, Durres or Saranda.
The natural spectacle at the “Blue Eye” Syri i Kaltër near Saranda, where the largest spring in the country lets water bubble out of the depths, is a special experience.
Let’s start the adventure Albania! There is so much to discover!
Greece definitely has more to offer than the world-famous islands like Santorini, Mykonos and Crete, in the north especially the historically important Thessaloniki and the impressive “floating” monasteries of Meteora.
In Athens it is worth taking a look behind the tourist hotspots Acropolis and Plaka. And if your holiday in Greece is not without the obligatory island: how about an excursion to the Sarine Gulf, where only two hours away by ferry unknown island getaways let you escape the hustle and bustle of Athens.
You will go to Greece? Great decision! Why you will see here:
- Meteora monasteries – tips for your perfect day
- Things to do in Athens – A perfect day itinerary
- Acropolis Ticket Queue – BIG5 Tips to avoid the crowds
What costs must one expect in the Balkans?
As already mentioned in the BIG5 summary above, the price range in the Balkans is sometimes very wide. In the big tourist hotspots like Durbrovnik, Mostar, Kotor and Ohrid everything is much more expensive than in other regions like Kosovo, Albania and Northern Macedonia.
In total, my personal budget for the little more than 3 weeks Balkan Roadtrip (including return flight from Germany) was about 1.200 Euro – all inclusive! So even with a small budget you can explore the Balkans on a backpacking trip.
Summarized again, you can expect an average price:
- Bed in dormitory: 10-15 Euro
- Bed in double room: 20-40 Euro
- Snacks: from 1,00 Euro
- Meal: from 3-4 Euro
- Good dinner: from 10 Euro (including drink)
- Bus transfers: from 10-15 euros to the next destination
What about security in the Balkans?
Albania, Kosovo & Co. – doesn’t exactly sound like a confidence-inspiring story – does it? But you don’t need to worry! The countries are considered safe for travellers, the people are generally hospitable and curious, as they often haven’t been able to travel much themselves.
Of course, the usual caution against pickpockets etc. is required and black sheep who want to make money to the detriment of bona fide tourists can be found all over the world. I never felt uncomfortable at any time, not even at 4 in the dark night in the abandoned bus station of Priština.
In my opinion, the biggest uncertainty factors, especially when travelling around by car, are difficult road conditions in some regions and the sometimes very adventurous driving style of the locals.
My conclusion of a road trip to the Balkans
Many places in the Balkans are still white spots on the mass tourism map. Enjoy it and go on a tour of discovery in these great countries even before that.
As you can see, the Balkans are extremely diverse, there is so much to discover! The money you spend for the flight to Bali is well invested here and already finances a good part of the trip. Recommendation factor: Double – HIGH!
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s about the fruits of home-made rakija: apples are Bosnian, peaches Croatian and plums Serbian. So, if you’re lost: First a clear one for a clear head! 😅
On the subject of travelling in the Balkans I wrote a guest article at German Backpacker Patrick, feel free to drop by!
What alternative routes are there for a Balkan tour?
2 weeks Balkan round trip / road trip: Serbia – Northern Macedonia – Albania – Montenegro – Croatia – Bosnia & Herzegovina
Belgrade – Niš – Skopje / Matka Canyon – Ohrid – Tirana – Cetinje – Kotor – Dubrovnik – Mostar – Sarajevo – Oplenac – Novi Sad – Belgrade
2-3 weeks Balkan round trip / road trip: Kosovo – Northern Macedonia – Bulgaria – Greece – Albania
Priština – Skopje / Matka Canyon – Kriva Palanka – Sofia – Bansko – Melnik – Thessaloniki – Vergina – Kalambaka / Meteora – Ohrid – Elbasan – Durrës – Tirana
Terrific, if you have more time! Then the highlights of the above suggestions can be combined well.
In summary, just two words about the Balkans: Go there! 🇧🇦 🇭🇷 🇲🇪 🇽🇰 🇲🇰 🇦🇱 🇬🇷