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26 Things Not To Miss On A Balkans Road Trip
Standing atop soaring Romanian peaks in Transylvania, looking down on dark green valleys of lush ecosystems; Sailing around the pristine turquoise waters of the Adriatic Sea with exotic and vibrant marine life lurking below; Sitting on the beach of a luxurious Black Sea resort off the coast of Bulgaria; Island hopping around the paradisiacal Greek islands traversing ancient Greek architecture and observing history in the present.
All of these experiences could be yours to keep in the great secret region of Europe known as the Balkans.
The Balkans are a region in eastern Europe comprised of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, and Turkey. These 12 countries, with their majestic mountains, turquoise waters, adventurous water sports, old-fashioned cultures, historic architecture, snowy ski runs, glistening waterfalls, and lakes, and excellent food scenes, make for a hell of a vacation.
Even if you can only visit a portion of the region, it is well worth your time. You will find endless surprises that we can’t even begin to cover in one article.
26 Things Not To Miss On A Trip Through The Balkans
This list is by no means a be-all-end-all to the greatness around the Balkans. These are just 20 attractions our team picked based on our experiences throughout the years.
There are plenty of secrets in the Balkans waiting to be discovered. We often find ourselves discovering new things being brought to our attention upon every trip to this euphoric region of the world.
Without wasting any more of your time telling you how awesome the Balkans are, why don’t we present you with the things which make this part of Europe what it is:
Get Caught In A Love Story At The Museum Of Broken Relationships
There is almost nothing in Croatia more unique than the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb. Let’s face it, we are hopelessly captivated by a good (or tragic) love story — and this museum is filled with them. There are countless stories of love and love lost for all visitors to read and experience altogether.
You have to admit, even if lovey-dovey stuff isn’t your thing, this museum is bound to be unique enough to visit. It isn’t your typical tourist stop — however, it has become that in Croatia somehow. Tourists and locals alike.
Sneak Into Bulgaria’s Headquarter Of Communism
This place is Bulgaria’s Area 51 — except it is abandoned and free to explore if you can find a way in! The Buzludzha Monument is atop a mountain in the center of Bulgaria and was the former headquarters of the Bulgarian Communist Party. It is now just a crumbling remembrance of Bulgaria’s dark past and an oversized concrete building that is pretty creepy to explore.
Until the collapse of Communism in Bulgaria in the 1980s, it was one of the most important buildings in the country, but now it has been officially closed and abandoned ever since.
Tip Toe Around Count Dracula’s Bran Castle In Transylvania
Transylvania is a legendary region of Romania — infamous as being home to the legend of Count Dracula. However, it is much too large to explore fully in a short time, so if you are limited by time on your Balkans road trip, you are best off paying a visit to Bran Castle, the one believed to be the inspiration to Count Dracula’s base. Though it is said the author of Count Dracula’s tale, Bram Stoker, never actually visited the castle himself, so it is a bit of a mystery.
Fill Your Instagram With Photos Of Lake Bled In Slovenia
There is a chance you have seen this beautiful lake on social media before without ever knowing where it is or what it is called. The fact that Lake Bled is so quiet most of the year still baffles us as it is a great alternative to some of the other famous picturesque lakes around Europe.
A lake set in the middle of the alps with beautiful traditional Slovenian homes and churches surrounding the grand Assumption of Mary Church front and center on Bled Island (which is the view you have probably seen photos of) — what is not to love?
Though it receives the most tourists of all places in Slovenia and is a bit overpriced compared to the rest of the country, it is still a great excursion.
Climb Skull Tower In Niš
You are going to have to see this one to believe it. The Romans, who left ruins of a fortress, and the Ottomans who created the tower made of real skulls can take credit for this one as we are sure the residents of Niš don’t want to.
There is so much captivating history in Nis — Serbia’s third-largest city — including a sad, sad reality of World War II, resulting in nearly the entire city population being sent to concentration camps.
Road Trip The Dalmatian Coast
The Dalmatian Coast is one of the Balkan’s most prized road trips, especially the section of Dalmatia. Either road trip down the coast or take a boat cruise up or down the Adriatic Sea and be treated to stunning views of rocky coastlines, beautiful beaches, pristine turquoise waters, exotic marine life, ever-changing sunsets, and a luxurious experience unlike you would ever believe.
The Dalmatian Coast has quickly become the Balkan’s most toured spot in the region, and for a good reason.
Party At Serbia’s Renowned Clubs On The River
OK — we will admit — we have done our fair share of partying throughout Europe. And before visiting Serbia, we had heard whispers about Belgrade’s party scene, but not nearly enough hype for the experience it was.
Put simply; the Serbian capital is quickly transforming into the party hotspot in Europe. There are plenty of enticing experiences for drinking your vacation silly, but by far, the best is the floating clubs alongside the Sava River. And the price of beer in Serbia is very budget-friendly as well, which makes your Balkan road trip experience all that much more enticing.
Sample Regional Delicacies In Istria
Croatia’s most northwestern region, Istria, is a triangle-shaped peninsula near the Slovenian border. It is a historically and culturally distinct region with close historical links with Italy (specifically the former Venetian Empire). To this day, many street and road signs are in both Croatian and Italian.
So, it probably comes as no surprise that Istria is one of Croatia’s culinary hotspots. It’s literally the meeting point of northern Italian cuisine and Dalmatian and inland Croatian food. The rolling hills of the Istrian interior are home to wineries, olive farms, and truffle forests, while its beautiful coastal towns are famous for their amazing fish and seafood dishes.
Consider spending some time in picturesque towns like Rovinj and Porec on the coast and the hilltop town of Motovun in rural Istria.
Go Hiking In Prokletije National Park
Head to Grebaje Valley for the best experience in this area. From there, there are several trails, each leading to their own beautiful nature scenes and serenity like you can’t imagine.
Hike The Abandoned Bobsleigh Track In Sarajevo
Before the conflict tore Bosnia apart during the collapse of Yugoslavia, Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics of 1984. During the war-torn years, the bobsleigh track used in the Olympics became a barrier wall used in fighting.
Nowadays, the track is abandoned with a lot of history and stories to tell — as long as you are cautious of undetonated minefields! At the top is a phenomenal view.
Walk The Walls Of Dubrovnik’s Old Town
There’s a lot to see and do in Dubrovnik, arguably the star attraction in Croatia. One of the best things to do in this beautiful UNESCO-protected coastal town is walking its fortified City Walls.
Between the 13th and 16th centuries, these truly enormous defensive walls were meant to protect the Republic of Ragusa, as Dubrovnik used to be called, from foreign attacks, notably by the Venetians and Ottomans. The entire complex includes five bastions, two round towers, a fortress, and fourteen square towers. The wider defensive system of Dubrovnik encompasses the St. Lawrence Fortress, the Imperial Fortress, and the Walls of Ston, among several other structures in the area.
What’s so exceptional about Dubrovnik’s City Walls today is that, besides being perfectly preserved, you can walk their entire length. The walls are about two kilometers (1.5 miles) long, forming a rough circle around the whole Old Town and offering truly phenomenal views of the city and the coast.
It’s recommended that you walk the City Walls in the morning, especially in summer, because there’s hardly any shade up there, and temperatures can be pretty high.
Visit Liberland: The World’s Newest Nation
So, we have never actually been to Liberland. It is pretty hard to find, but that is what puts it off the beaten path for tourists. It is said to be somewhere between Croatia and Serbia in a heavily wooded area. It is the Balkan’s newest, most unofficial addition.
It is a tiny self-declared nation worth trying to find if only to say you are one of the few who have found it. We suggest backpacking around the Balkans for a while as we have heard the whispers from fellow travelers about it. Locals in the area might know a little something about it as well.
See The Beautiful Bay Of Kotor
A UNESCO World Heritage Site in northern Montenegro, the glorious Bay of Kotor is without question one of the top attractions for all Balkan road trips. The bay is sometimes described as the only fjord in the Mediterranean. While that is technically not true, it does effectively explain what the landscape looks like. A visit to this unique bay is one of the best things to do in Montenegro and the Balkans in general.
The Bay of Kotor, also known as Boka Kotorska Montenegro, begins seemingly like any other Mediterranean bay. It’s simple and rocky, not really invoking any awe or causing any jaws to drop. But as you continue further into the bay, swinging around bends and meandering along its many folds, the landscape becomes increasingly spectacular. The coastal mountains get steeper, the scenery more rugged.
There are several villages and towns in the Bay of Kotor to explore, yet two are head and shoulders above the rest. Especially if you have limited time at your disposal, these are the ones you should focus on. They are Perast and the Old Town of Kotor. Both towns feature stunning historic architecture and churches, some beaches, and walking and hiking paths.
Soak Up The Albanian Riviera Sunshine
A stretch of shoreline along the Albania coast from Vlorë (Vlora) and Palasë (Palasa) in the north to Sarandë (Saranda) and Ksamil in the south, the Albanian Riviera features the best-hidden beaches in the Balkans.
Albania’s southern coast is the perfect place for a holiday with history, natural beauty, and friendly faces. The region is home to UNESCO sites such as the Butrint Archaeological Site and National Park, dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans’ times. Beautiful Drymades and Jale Beaches are where you’ll get the suntan to show your friends back home.
Incredible nightlife in the cities contrasts with days in the quaint villages to let you enjoy both sides of Albanian life. This is easily one of the Balkans’ best destinations for a beach holiday, while cultural and historical sites offer the opportunity for fun day trips.
Check Out Tara National Park’s “House On The Drina”
The House on the Drina is more of a photographer’s experience than a touring site. You can’t access the house, but it is sure mystical to look at. It is a house on a rock in the middle of the river, which sounds simple, but quite mindblowing to see — especially in person! It is located right near Bajina Bašta, where it was built in 1969 and left abandoned ever since. It is a miracle it still stands and hasn’t collapsed into the water.
Check out the ‘Roman Well’ of the Belgrade Fortress
Tucked away in the southwestern part of Upper Town within Kalemegdan Fortress, this well sits rarely visited by tourists with a dark past — and the Romans did not even build it.
Probably built in the 18th Century, though its origins can’t be traced down precisely, it is likely that the well was created by the Austrians and named as it is to plead their case as the heirs to the Roman Empire.
It is assumed that the well was originally built to provide drinkable water to all Austrian constructionists who were restoring the Belgrade Fortress. However, once the well went dry, it was used as a dungeon for prisoners of the Empire.
Though, calling it a ‘dungeon’ sheds a favorable light on the dumping ground it was for prisoners. Most were thrown down the well and left to die. Many tales are surrounding the well you may hear upon a visit.
Rakija, Rakija, Rakija!
Rakija is by far and away the most popular drink of the Balkans. It is a brandy-type spirit originally made of plums but now caters to all kinds of fruitful or savory flavors. It can be found throughout the Balkans, and you are bound to have a night of your own, probably having one too many Rakija drinks. Careful — the hangovers are real!
Jump Off Mostar’s Beautiful Stari Grad Bridge
Mostar’s Stari Grad (Old Bridge) is the most popular site in the entire city, and you will undoubtedly come across it if you visit this gorgeous Bosnian and Herzegovinian city. It connects the two sides of the city and was reconstructed after being pretty much destroyed in the Yugoslav Wars.
You will see locals doing their dive off the 60-foot bridge into the river below if you are lucky. It is a sort of tradition, and you can even join in if you are daring enough.
Visit Split’s Secret Sister City: Omis!
By now, all Balkan vacationers have heard about Croatia’s popular tourist destination along the Adriatic Sea, Split. However, only a thirty-minute drive will take you away from the mass tourism to a quaint medieval town that resembles what you can find in Split at half the cost, and without the same crowds, you have to fight around in Split.
It is well worth the trip if you are tired of the busy streets in Split — make sure to bring your camera and be ready for adventures such as zip-lining, canyoneering, and white water rafting. Not to mention the black sand beach just in town.
Attend Romania’s Electric Castle Music Festival
Imagine the craziest festival you have ever attended with some of today’s top names in electronic music, light shows that will amaze your eyes, alternative arts on display around the grounds, and — oh yeah — the entire production happens inside the historic Bánffy Castle of Transylvania.
You are sure to never experience another festival quite like Electric Castle, which is becoming the Balkans top show — if it hasn’t already reached that achievement. The festival goes on annually each summer.
Enjoy The Urban Charm Of Ljubljana
While Ljubljana may lack the major tourist attractions that other European capitals do have, it makes up for that by being amazingly charming and atmospheric. Sure, there are no Eiffel Towers, huge Parliament buildings, or Colosseums, but there are a cobbled historic center, pastel-colored architecture, and lush riverbanks.
The Ljubljanica River winds its way scenically across the heart of the Old Town, its banks lined with greenery and, in summer, countless patios of restaurants and cafés. Ljubljana is also a city of festivals. Even when there’s no festival going on, the riverside terraces give the impression of a continuous street party.
So, with a beautiful river running through its core and dotted with beautiful buildings and cozy eateries, Ljubljana sometimes feels too good to be true. This is a place where you can go on a Sunday stroll every day of the week. There are some major landmarks in Ljubljana, though. Don’t miss Ljubljana Castle, the Triple Bridge, Ljubljana Cathedral, the artsy neighborhood of Metelkova, and busy Prešeren Square.
Trek Between Two Albanian National Parks
Not widely known to most visitors to Albania, but the country actually has numerous spectacular national parks. Two such Albanian national parks are Theth National Park and Valbona Valley National Park, both located in northern Albania.
These two parks preserve breathtaking mountain landscapes, fauna, and flora. Located in the heart of the Albanian Alps, the parks are an outdoor lover’s paradise. You can explore gorgeous alpine meadows, wonderful valleys, waterfalls, forests, and rugged mountains. Additionally, this is one of the most wildlife-rich areas in the western Balkans, home to golden eagles, lynx, wild goats, gray wolves, and brown bears.
For the ultimate national parks adventure in Albania, consider hiking the trail that connects both parks. This distance of the Valbona-Theth trail is only 13 kilometers, but the rugged and remote terrain does make it a 6-to-8-hour trek. It’s one of the most extraordinary hiking experiences in the Balkans!
Jump Into Bulgaria’s Photogenic Pink Lake
Burgas is a beautiful coastal city on the edge of the Black Sea. It is one of the more popular Bulgarian cities in terms of tourism; however, most people visit for the resorts along the Black Sea and not the Pink Lakes near the city.
Because of its high salt content, the Atanasovsko Lake is actually pink — this is no joke. It is amazingly photogenic; you will hardly believe your eyes. Plus, it is free to the public to visit, and you can cover yourself in muds, which are believed to be healing.
Try Wine From The Oldest Grapevine In The World In Maribor
Maribor, in the northeast of Slovenia, is known as the gateway to the Balkans. It is Slovenia’s second-largest city however doesn’t get a lot of visitors because most people flock to Lake Bled and Ljubljana.
Those who come to Maribor will be treated well to beautiful scenes of nature and history, including the Old Vine — the longest living grapevine in the world. That has to be some good wine!
Explore The Great Waterfalls Of Croatia, Krka & Plitvice
Croatia is known for its extraordinary coast, and not enough people head inland where there are still unbelievable national parks and nature, which is sure to awe your social media following.
For starters, you can go chasing waterfalls — namely Krka and Plitvice, which are both reachable via public bus. You will be enthralled by these two gems — especially Plitvice, in our opinion. After visiting, make sure you research where else nearby to visit — Croatia is full of beauty beyond its crowded coastal cities.
Take A Train Through Postojna Cave
There are impressive caves all over the Balkans, but Postojna Cave in Slovenia is one of the more impressive ones. Stretching just over 15,000 miles long, the entire system is one of the longest in the world, and you can actually take an underground train across it. There is also a park that includes an active Concert Hall inside. You must check it!
Map Of Of The Balkans
Adventure Awaits Your Balkans Adventure!
As you can see, the Balkans cover a wide array of adventures anywhere from calm, therapeutic lakes and mountain peaks to electrifying music festivals inside actual castles and wild floating river clubs are known throughout Europe.
Your Balkans itinerary will depend heavily on what kind of traveler you are. Luckily, we have put together many itineraries matching every type of traveler to the kind of vacation they are looking for. We offer a look at several different lengths of travel and modes of traveling through the Balkans on other parts of our site, which we encourage you to check out before your trip to the east of Europe.
Exciting stories and memories which will last a lifetime await, and there’s no better time to start planning your Balkans vacation than today! If you have questions, we are always just a message on social media or an email away!Share