6 Good Reasons to Visit the Balkans

When you think of European travel, the Balkans might not immediately come to mind. Although only a handful of the region’s countries are members of the European Union, the rest all lie within the continent’s boundaries. But when most people plan their Europe trips, they tend to go to the glamorous cities of London or Paris, or to touristy destinations like Venice or the French Riviera.

There’s a whole different world out there, my friends. And the Balkans offers all the beautiful, fascinating, and inspiring travel experiences you can imagine, without paying top dollar or dealing with insane tourist hordes. For those not in the know, this includes Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Kosovo, and some parts of Turkey. With a country roster like that, who doesn’t wanna get acquainted with the Balkans?

Here is your Balkans guide.

1. It’s incredibly affordable

Unlike other European countries, everything in the Balkans is cheap, cheap, cheap! Croatia and Greece are the more expensive countries, but even then they’re much more affordable in comparison to elsewhere on the continent. (You can easily pick up two-litres of wine for $2EUR. We’re bargain hunters like that.)

It’s no stretch to say you can travel the Balkans on $50 a day or less, if you’re not opposed to sometimes staying in hostels and taking some careful measures to make your budget stretch. In many places like Albania and Bosnia & Herzegovina, a delicious meal of cevapi or lamb chops will come to just $10CAD…including a beer or two. We figure food and alcohol is an excellent way to gauge how expensive a country is.

Even if you want to do a tour here and there, hiring a local guide won’t cost you too much money. And if you’re going to spend your money on anything, why not make it a new experience? Perhaps some fishing in Croatia? Or a balloon ride over Turkey’s Cappadocia?

2. The history is fascinating

Let’s start with the obvious one: Ancient Greece is considered to be the birthplace of western civilization, and democracy itself was created in Athens. If you don’t know much about classical history, you’re in for a treat. Greece is pretty much chocked full of ancient ruins dating back thousands of years. The most obvious one might be the jaw-dropping Acropolis site, in Athens. Although it’s teeming with tourists in the summer months, you can come during the spring or fall and actually find a little reprieve from the crowds. You may think it’s like any other tourist site, but when you get up close to it, you’ll know otherwise.

Other fascinating sites around the country include the Oracle of Delphi and the Palace at Knossos in Crete. But it’s impossible to learn it all, and so that’s why we recommend hiring a local guide to give you a personalized heritage-history lesson. With the right storyteller, you’ll be hanging on to every word.

And let’s not even get started on the Turkey and Greece rivalries. You’ll need weeks to sort through that one.

In more recent history, you might be curious to learn about the Yugoslavian War that tore through the area with devastating consequences, especially in the countries most directly affected (Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina). Bosnia-Herzegovina has some particularly heartbreaking stories, and if you care to venture to Mostar or Sarajevo, you’ll be overwhelmed by the stories you’ll find though. It’s hard to believe it all happened not so long ago.

3. It’s perfect for adventure lovers

Sprawling Mediterranean views, epic mountain landscapes, deep canyon valleys, winding rivers, and scenic hillside villages? Check, check , aaand check! The terrain around the Balkans is diverse and gorgeous, and if you’re an outdoor adventurer, you’ve found your place.

Many people who come to this area are seeking the Mediterranean. Sailing is a popular activity, especially when it comes to island hopping around Greece and Croatia. Hot summer days aboard a yacht, with a cold cocktail in hand? Um, yes please.

But if you’re more into mountain culture, head up into the mountains of Montenegro where ski resorts are the regular and so are jaw-dropping vistas. You could see a lot of it even on a day trip, and be sure to check out the Tara River Canyon (the deepest gorge in Europe), the Devil’s Lake, and Black Lake.

Bosnia-Herzegovina also has mountains galore. To see how the locals live, head up into the Lukomir village overlooking some of the area’s highest peaks. This place is mostly inhabited during the summer these days, but you’ll get a glimpse of how farming works here. All the rooftops are made from flattened tin, and the locals are friendly and accommodating. You can also take a white water rafting journey down the Tara River.

River rafting in Turkey is another popular option, and is a great way of seeing the country from a unique perspective. In Macedonia, cycle the slopes of Galichica, hike the hills around the Treskavec monastery, and explore Ohrid on foot. Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes National Park is a must-visit, as well as Zlatibor mountain in Serbia.

4. There are fortresses galore

We know that one of Europe’s biggest lures is its abundance of castles, fortresses, and other magnificent structures built during times when our own existence wasn’t even a thought. There’s something charming about all those crumbling, lived-in relics. The most obvious one in the Balkans is probably Croatia’s Dubrovnik, a magnificently well-maintained fortress overlooking the Mediterranean.

For a destination that’s a little less touristy, try Kotor’s Old Town in Kotor Bay, Montenegro. This fort town is slightly more rugged than Dubrovnik, but there’s a certain atmosphere and beauty here that’s often preferred to its touristy counterpart. The locals are outrageously friendly, and prices (for the most part) are fair. From inside the city walls, you can climb upwards over thousands of stairs until you reach the top of the fort. The view of Kotor Bay from up here is like something out of a postcard – it’s by far one of the most beautiful things you’ll see in the Balkans.

Serbia also has many fortifications, and the Belgrade Fortress is likely the most famous of the lot. It includes the Upper and Lower Tower, and Kalemegdan Park. It sits on the confluence of the River Sava and Danube, and it’s breathtaking.

5. The food is meaty and delicious

When the food is affordable, that means you get to eat more of it, right? Good call, because there’s a lot of delicious food going on in the Balkans.

In Greece, you’re bound to be overwhelmed with all the food options. Salads, souvlaki, lamb chops, fried halloumi cheeses, octopus, mounds of halva and baklava, and more! The Greeks aren’t stingy with their olive oil, either, and spending a few weeks there may mean a tightening of the waistline. It’s kinda worth it, though. If you’ve never had a bowl of hot bouyourdi, you don’t know what you’re missing in life. We even have a full list of Greek dishes to try before you die.

Food in the Balkans also tends to be quite meat oriented. Lamb is crazy affordable in Albania, for example. One of the absolute best dishes you’ll come across is cevapi, a dish most popular in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia. It’s made of spiced minced meat and served with a sour cream inside of a pita. You’ll love it.

In Bulgaria, you should seek out tarator, a cold soup made of yogurt, water, minced cucumber, dill, garlic, and olive oil.

6. There are beautiful cities filled with beautiful people

Sofia, Split, Zagreb, Athens, Sarajevo, Belgrade. These cities are just as exotic as their names, believe us.

Despite Sarajevo’s troublesome history during the siege, nowadays it’s one of the most peaceful, welcoming cities on the planet. Mostar is another wonderful little town that cannot be passed up, especially to see the famous Mostar Bridge.

Albania’s Tirana is a unique city to explore as well. True to Albania’s unique identity, Albania feels like a world apart from the rest of the Balkans. Wander the city, and see how many abandoned war bunkers you can find – remnants left over from communist days.

In Bulgaria, Sofia is a stunning collection of medieval architecture, with narrow streets overflowing with churches and monasteries. The Saint Sofia Basilica is the focal point of the city.

And don’t pass up a visit to Skopje, Macedonia. For many, it’s the highlight of a Balkans visit, thanks to its eclectic nature and gorgeous architecture. Skopje boasts a wide range of statues, bridges, museums, and more, and you’re sure to fall in love.

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  • Manos

    Beautiful, beautiful everywhere! Tourism lets us really get delighted and relaxed!
    Some little detail folks, however: Skopje, you say, boasts a wide range of statues, museums etc. I haven’t been but I do know that there is quite a part of fake over there! And the fact is that Slavic ,by geography, Macedonians claim they are the descendants of ancient Macedonians of Alexander the Great, Philip and so on. It’s not only because I am Greek but one could ask also a historian to know what is all about. Beauty is beauty, Tourism is tourism, Relax is relax and Truth can only beTruth! Respectfully yours.

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