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The best of the Balkans

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Defined by its multicultural cities, jaw-dropping mountains, vast lakes and ample sites of political, historic and religious significance, the Balkans should be high on the list of any traveler who loves to go off-piste. Whether you’re drawn to the clear, pebbled waters of Croatia’s Dalmatian coast, the farmstays of the Albanian countryside, or the spired, architectural splendor of Romania’s Transylvanian towns; there are plenty of opportunities to take the obscure path less traveled when exploring this underrated corner of Europe.

With so much to see and do, the chance of language barriers and an often unpredictable transport system, planning a multi-stop tour of the Balkans can be a daunting process. Visitors usually cover two to five destinations depending on the length of their trip and how slowly they want to take the pace – that’s why using local experts based in the destinations you want to visit is a great alternative to planning a trip on your own. 

In any case, if you’re not sure where to go first, here’s a short rundown of the glorious Balkans and why you should visit each one.  

Bulgaria

Sofia, Bulgaria

As well as the relaxed capital, Sofia, and gorgeous black sand beaches to rival any Western European sun spot, Bulgaria is also bursting with impressive religious art, churches and monasteries with sprawling natural backdrops.

Central Balkan National Park autumn

With seven stunning mountain ranges accessible through Rila National Park, the Seven Rila Lakes and Central Balkan National Park, it’s also a hiker’s dream. While adventurers are rewarded with jaw-dropping natural scenery, history lovers can flock to the ancient cave sites and crumbling tombs that give a glimpse into the Thracian civilization that inhabited the Balkans as far back as 1300 BC. 

Belogradchik, Bulgaria

Combine Bulgaria with its cross-border neighbor, Romania, for a trip that beautifully contrasts two gems of the Bulkan region. 

Visit for: World class coastline, breath-taking mountain hikes, religious art, monasteries and churches.

Combine with: Romania, Serbia, North Macedonia 

Romania 

Romania is a treasure trove for any traveler to the Balkans; known for its Transylvanian towns, scattered baroque monasteries and gothic castles that hark of Dracula’s legend, as well as the forested slopes of the Carpathian mountains.

If you’re stopping in Romania, don’t forget the oft-misunderstood capital, Bucharest. With its lively cafe culture and sociable drinking gardens, it’s a hub of modern Eastern Europe contrasted with some intriguing, if somewhat crumbling, historical architecture. 

Bucharest, Romania

Visit for: Transylvania, Bucharest, gothic historical sites and stunning rocky hillscapes.

Combine with: Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo

Croatia 

This Eastern European jewel has competed with the likes of Spain, Greece and Portugal for beach getaways in recent years, and with good reason. With crystalline waters, warm pebbled coastline and ancient walled cities that are easy to explore on foot, Croatia’s languid Mediterranean vibe makes it a standout stop on any tour of the Balkans.

Visitors could include the elegant baroque architecture of the walled city of Dubrovnik, a trip to the stunning Plitvice Lakes, or embark on an island-hopping adventure from sea-facing Split. 

Visit for: Picturesque red-roofed buildings, stunning natural scenery, ancient ruins, pebbled beaches.

Combine with: Slovenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro

North Macedonia 

 

Criminally underrated as a travel destination, a sojourn to Macedonia is well worth the effort when touring the Balkans. Much like its neighboring countries, Macedonia offers a complex mixture of cultural influences – with a rich Greek, Roman and Ottoman heritage combined with a Mediterranean feel. 

The glistening expanse of Lake Ohrid is one of the most memorable scenes you’ll come across here, ripe for riding or cycling around; while walking trails around Matka Canyon wind past a glut of medieval monasteries. Elsewhere, the intriguing capital of Skopje offers quirky historic sites such as a statue of Alexander the Great, the Kale Fortress, and the Stone Bridge. 

Visit for: Sprawling natural scenery, fewer tourists and quirky historical sites.

Combine with: Albania, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Serbia

Slovenia

A country of charming towns, swathes of green forestland and novelistic scenery straight out of fairy-tale books, Slovenia is fast becoming an unmissable destination for nature lovers. Lake Bled is Slovenia’s biggest draw, a picturesque castle in the center of a tranquil lake backed by the sprawling Julian alps; while the modern capital of Ljubljana has a young, foodie vibe and is well worth some slow exploration. 

With balmy Mediterranean climes on the coast to the snowy foothills of the Alps, outdoor enthusiasts are spoilt for choice in Slovenia; everything from cycling, horseback riding, skiing, canyoning and caving is on the menu.

Visit for: Green, forested vistas, outdoor adventures, rustic charm. 

Combine with: Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro

Bosnia & Herzegovina

Surely one of Europe’s most glossed-over destinations, Bosnia & Herzegovina lingers in public consciousness due to the brutal civil war of the 1990s. Though the damage of the conflict is still evident, the diverse natural landscapes, welcoming locals and artistic café culture scene make this a more than worthy stop on any tour of the Balkan region. Bosnia’s capital Sarajevo, under siege for four years, has re-emerged as a dynamic center with a vibrant street life, and is known by many as the ‘Jerusalem of the Balkans’ for its plethora of historic and religious sites.    

Also, don’t miss Mostar; the unofficial capital of Herzegovina, for its bustling Old Town and famed 16th century bridge, Stari Most, which stretches majestically over the Neretva river.

Visit for: Political and religious history, spirited locals, craggy mountains and canyons.

Combine with: Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Montenegro, Romania and Albania

Montenegro 

Tiny Montenegro is big in heart, and though it’s a getaway of choice for thousands of Eastern Europeans, there are chances galore to get off the track and immerse yourself in local life. Head to the mountains of Durmitor and Prokletije, hike the Biogradska Gora forest or wander the quieter towns that the tour buses miss. That said, the coastal appeal of the Bay of Kotor is hard to pass up – it’s truly stunning and the perfect place to set your bags down and take a breather if you’re on a multi-stop tour. 

Finally, history buffs will find the complex heritage of Montenegro interesting. Though it’s steeped in architectural remnants of the Roman Empire (Orthodox monasteries, mosaic art, Catholic churches) it also spent half a century as a non-aligned, Communist state. 

Visit for: Mountain trails, effervescent locals, a fascinating mixture of cultures in a compact package.

Combine with: Albania, Kosovo, Bulgaria

Albania

Until now overshadowed by its more popular neighbors, Albania’s tourism is burgeoning, but surely not for long. Having escaped the development of the rest of the Mediterranean region during its 20 years of Communist rule, Albania has a culture all its own – steeped in language, cuisine and idiosyncrasies that make it a real treat for visitors. 

Though capital Tirana is a thriving center of quirky painted buildings and great restaurants, for many travelers Albania’s true draw is its alpine mountain trails, such as those in the Valbona Valley. Locally grown produce is served up in many rural farm stays, while the UNESCO-adorned, Ottoman towns of Berat and Gjirokastra also give insight into Albania’s historic heart.

Visit for: Lesser-visited beaches, snow-capped mountains and river trails, immersive Communist history and a unique culture.

Combine with: Montenegro, Kosovo, Bosnia & Herzegovina, North Macedonia

Serbia

To many youthful travelers, Serbia is known for its thriving nightlife and the hedonistic city culture of Belgrade, but for those who love a slower pace, this underrated Balkan destination has plenty to offer. The laid back city of Novi Sad overlooks the Fruška Gora hills, scattered with wine vineyards and thermal spas; while the picturesque Tara and Đerdap National Parks are breathtaking to behold, and primed for all manner of hiking, cycling and rafting excursions.

If you’re including Serbia on a multi-stop Balkans tour, the ancient bohemian town of Nis is the perfect stopover on the way to bordering countries Bulgaria or Macedonia.  

Visit for: Friendly and forthcoming locals, glorious mountain scenery, buzzing Belgrade, a taste of bohemia. 

Combine with: Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Romania

Make it happen

Our knowledgeable travel experts are based in the destinations you want to visit, and are primed and ready to arrange your spectacular trip of the Balkans. Get in touch now to start planning. 

  1. Bulgaria
  2. Romania
  3. Croatia
  4. North Macedonia
  5. Slovenia
  6. Bosnia & Herzegovina
  7. Montenegro
  8. Albania
  9. Serbia

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