Honestly, have you ever heard of the city of Vlorë? From Ulcinj? Lake Skadar? Beach vacation in Saranda or hiking in the Matka Canyon? No? Then you definitely missed something and should think about a Balkan road trip!
Even if many are not yet on it: the Balkans surprise as a great travel destination. Inexpensive, uncomplicated. No time difference, no jet lag, no long expensive approach, for many countries no visas are required.
5 reasons why the Balkans should be on your travel bucket list can be found in this article. It could have been 50 easily, but as usual, I’ll summarize the highlights in the BIG5.
What do you learn in this article?
Balkan Road Trip: Incredibly exciting history and culture
The Balkans – legendary melting pot of cultures, Ottoman flair in Europe. The “powder keg” in the 20th century. Centuries of exciting history shape this region, where the borders between Europe and the Orient are blurring in many places. You can see and experience a lot of it up close.
The region is a paradise for history and culture lovers. Here are Roman-Greek or Ottoman architecture, traces of medieval rulers, Austria-Hungarian infrastructure, Soviet-Communist buildings and (war) traces of the breakup of Yugoslavia sometimes only a stone’s throw away.
Where can you find some of the longest continuously populated cities in the world? Of course in the Balkans!
Plovdiv in Bulgaria, for example, was settled by the Thracians over 8,000 years ago, followed by Greeks and Romans, whose culture and architecture can still be seen in many places.
But not only Greeks and Romans have left their mark. In the 14th century, the Ottomans conquered large parts of the Balkans. If you have paid close attention in history, the battles on the Amselfeld 1389 & 1448 and the later the Siege of Vienna are well known.
Ottoman culture became deeply rooted, also through the relocation of citizens from all parts of Asia Minor to the Balkans. The region became what is often described as the “melting pot of cultures“, Sarajevo as the “Jerusalem of Europe”, in which many cultures and religions live together.
After the reconquest from the Ottomans, the Balkans can look back on a very eventful history: foundations of states, wars of independence, game ball of the great powers, constant reorganization.
Most recent is sad, the difficult times during the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s left scars – in the soul of people and in many places still clearly visible in the cityscape of many metropolises. This story can be experienced and seen here. Bullet holes, abandoned houses, ruins and the traces of grenade strikes marked in red in the center of Sarajevo.
Diversity of landscape & possibilities
The landscape in the Balkans is simply amazing!
Turquoise blue sea, fantastic beaches, dark pine forests, ski slopes, deep gorges, wide plains, fjords, cozy old towns, pulsating metropolises, sleepy mountain villages. You can find everything here.
Accordingly, there is the right one for every travel type. Directly from the beach for hiking in the mountains and in the evening again through the warm sand again – everything is possible.
Beach holiday, hiking, climbing, rafting, canyoning, speeding across the Tara Gorge with the zipline, boat tours, sightseeing in great old towns – or just sit down and enjoy the special coffee.
A Balkan road trip takes you to many UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as the Mostar Bridge (official website), the old town of Dubrovnik (website Visit Dubrovnik), parts of Lake Ohrid in northern Macedonia or Beratin Albania, city of the 1,000 windows.
By bus, train, motorcycle, car, bike, scooter, rickshaw or horse-drawn cart – you have a free choice!
Many of these are destinations off the beaten track. The Balkans is partly still a very white spot on the mass tourism map.
All of this makes your trip so incredibly exciting and, above all, relaxing. Sure, you won’t be able to experience world-famous highlights like the city walls of Dubrovnik on your own, but you will experience untouched nature and authentic locals in many regions.
The hospitality and attitude of the people
In my view, what makes the country and the entire Balkan region so special is the hospitality and curiosity of the people. In many areas, tourists are not yet part of everyday life, especially off the beaten track. As you walk past, you get curiously eyed, even eyed suspiciously. But with a little openness and nice words in the local language, the ice is broken quickly.
Tourism is still not particularly developed in many places, but it is always in many regions where unemployment is very high and job prospects are rather poor after the Yugoslav wars.
All the more surprising is the hospitality of the people who quickly invite you for a glass of rakija, a coffee or other drinks or dishes
Due to the difficult economic situation, many cannot travel very far, especially not abroad. Therefore, they are happy and interested in talking to travelers – if the language allows it. It is really a great feeling that people talk in exchange because they are genuinely nice and want to (share) something without, as is unfortunately common in many countries, receiving a return in the form of money or the like against tips or just company.
The people are friendly, genuinely interested – a feeling that I unfortunately miss in many countries today and that makes me all the more happy about it.
Diverse culinary delights directly from the region
Just like the landscape, the cuisine in the Balkans is incredibly diverse. This can be explained by the location and the eventful history. The regions of the Balkans were often under the influence or direct rule of other powers, who have left their mark not only in history books and architecture, but also on the kitchen table: Today, a wide variety of culinary delights are based on Venetians or Ottomans.
You will find special regional delicacies such as fish and seafood on the coast or the lakes, cheese and meat specialties from goat and sheep in the mountain regions and many Mediterranean dishes that are reminiscent of Italian cuisine.
Many regions of the Balkans are still agricultural today. That is why fruit and vegetables are particularly fresh and not processed industrially in many places. If you’re lucky, right from the field next door.
The same applies to fish and meat.
Speaking of meat. The Balkan kitchen is known for its grill specialties such as Ćevapi / Ćevapčići (you can recognize the word “kebab” again …). A mixed grill is standard in many restaurants. But you should not miss regional highlights such as the Njeguška pršuta ham from Montenegro.
Vegetarians also get their money’s worth, be it through the rich offer of fresh fruit and vegetables, or through dishes of Ottoman origin, such as the ubiquitous puff pastry specialty Burek – deliciously filled with e.g. Spinach or cream cheese.
Another point connects the Balkan countries, which can be quite different in other respects: the Rakija. The typical, often homemade schnapps is distilled from fruit, each region has its specialty and preference.
Don’t be surprised if locals quickly invite you for a glass! So, živjeli! (Cheers in Bosnian).
A Balkan road trip: inexpensive & uncomplicated
A Balkan road trip is really cheap, especially when compared to Western and Northern Europe.
Here you get a lot more for your money, especially interesting for low-budget travelers. Or you can treat yourself to a lot of luxury on holiday – here for little money.
As an average cost you can expect here:
Bed in dormitory: 5-15 euros
Bed in a double room: 20-40 euros
Snacks: from 1.00 euros
Meal: from 3-4 euros
Good dinner: from 10 euros (including drink)
Bus transfers: from 10-15 euros to the next destination
Especially in the tourist hotspots like Dubrovnik, Kotor and Mostar, the price curve is clearly increasing, also generally in the currently very popular holiday countries Croatia and Greece. For example, Northern Macedonia, large parts of Montenegro or Albania are incredibly cheap.
In addition, a trip across the Balkans – at least from a European perspective – is completely uncomplicated. You don’t need a long, expensive approach, there is no time difference, no jet lag. No visas are required for many countries and the main payment in Montenegro and Kosovo is the euro.
So, definitely put the Balkans on your travel bucket list!
Are you interested in a Balkan road trip, highlights and potential routes? Then this article is right for you: Balkans Road trip – Incredibly versatile adventure