The Balkans is a region in Southeastern Europe. It is also known as the Balkan Peninsula, although geographers would tell you that this name is slightly controversial, as the actual region is not limited to the peninsula itself, and the peninsula’s geographic characteristics don’t quite qualify it to be considered a peninsula.
The Balkans consist of twelve countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Albania, North Macedonia, Serbia, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Romania. Each of them has its own unique character and culture.
The history of the Balkans is eventful, to say the least. The region has served as a crossroads of cultures since prehistoric times. During antiquity, the area was part of the Greek and Roman Empires, and then eventually overtaken by Slavic tribes, whose attacks on the Roman Empire helped end its reign.
This collision of cultures throughout history caused the heterogeneous religious map we see today. The Byzantine influence is relayed in the catholic and orthodox population, while the Ottoman Empire’s traces are seen in the islamic and christian communities.
Sadly, this diversity didn’t just enrich the culture of the Balkans but also contributed to its conflicts. Six of the previously listed Balkan countries were part of Yugoslavia in the 20th century, and its breakup was followed by the horrific Balkan wars in the 90s. To add to the turbulent history, the event that triggered the first world war also took place in the Balkans when Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914.
Despite its troublesome past, this is a region full of easygoing, fun-loving people, amazing food, and cultural diversity, so read on to learn all about the Balkans.
It is impossible not to fall in love with the Balkans, regardless of what kind of traveler you are.
The region is full of incredible nature and beautiful national parks that are dedicated to protecting it. Triglav NP, Plitvice NP, Kornati NP, Durmitor NP, Thethi NP are just some of the most well-known national parks, but we could go on forever if we listed all of them.
The Balkans are also a melting pot of cultures, and you can observe this on every step of your travels. The diversity of religions and nationalities sadly contributed to the conflicts in the Balkans in the past, but once you’re there in person you are often amazed by how these contrasting cultures coexist and flourish together. And this is all due to the people of course! Though they hold very strong political beliefs, in theory, they are generally actually very easygoing and accepting of diversity, and this is best exemplified in their amazing hospitality.
All this naturally draws in many visitors, and especially touristy areas around the main attractions are rightfully busy. That being said, many areas have a completely undiscovered feel and let you explore new places away from the tourist frenzy.
Practically speaking, one of the best things about the Balkans is how much bang for your buck you can get.
While we’re on the topic of the value you get for your money, we can’t not mention the food. Diversity of cuisine is another benefit of the Balkan cultural mix, and like everything else, you can enjoy it without breaking the bank. The dishes themselves are delicious and only made better by the use of local products like olive oil, salt, and fresh vegetables as well as a wide selection of local wine and beer.
As we’ve already tried to show, the Balkans is a very diverse region with a rich history. It consists of several countries, each full of its own attractions and unmissable sights. Here is a short insight into the ones included in our tours:
Slovenia is a tiny but beautiful country on the sunny side of the Alps. It is famous for its breathtaking Julian Alps, jewel-like rivers, lovely capital Ljubljana, mesmerizing Lake Bled, historical coastal towns, and incredible natural landscapes. In Slovenia, the beauty is truly not just surface level - it is also known for one of the most incredible caves in the world, the Postojna Cave. For a more in-depth exploration of just Slovenia, you can head over to Slovenia specialists - Slovenia Holidays or if you wish for a pre- or post- trip in Slovenia for only a day, Day Trips Slovenia is the address for you.
Croatia is Slovenia’s southern Mediterranean neighbor. Most famous for its beautiful beaches, sparkling blue sea and countless islands, big and small, Croatia is a summer paradise. Its coastal cities like Split and Dubrovnik are a perfect mix of history and romance with their stone-paved narrow streets and ports dating back to ancient times. But believe it or not, Croatia has even more to offer than its seaside attractions. Its capital, Zagreb, is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city that combines its historic character with a modern flair. And with places like the Plitvice National Park, even nature lovers can get their fair share of travel thrills.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is a small country, nestled between Croatia, Serbia, and Montenegro. It is the best example of a mix of cultures in the whole of the Balkans, with remnants of the Ottoman Empire scattered all over the country and its culture. This is most obvious in its beautiful and colorful cities, like Mostar and Sarajevo. The rich culture, relaxed pace of life, Turkish architecture, and amazing food intertwine with reminders of the tragic Balkan wars in the 90s that ravaged especially hard on Bosnia’s territory. Whether it's the bullet marks in the walls of buildings or the underground tunnels in Sarajevo which you can walk through to learn more about its past, you cannot escape history. And this contrast between a painful past and the perseverance of the people is what makes Bosnia and Herzegovina all the more special.
Montenegro offers something for everyone. Its vast and pristine natural landscapes will attract nature lovers as well as adrenaline junkies, who can get their dose of thrills in the Durmitor National Park while rafting through the deepest canyon in Europe - the River Tara canyon. Montenegro also has amazing historic coastal cities like Kotor and Budva that allow you to explore beautiful stone-paved streets and ancient city walls and have a fun day at the beach in the same place.
Serbia is a vast and beautiful country in the center of the Balkans. Its capital, Belgrade, is home to many imposing buildings, mighty churches, and temples that exemplify the religious and cultural diversity of Serbia, as well as historic sites, and its very own Montmartre-like area, the Skadarlija Street. Novi Sad is another incredible city in Serbia. It’s known for cultural diversity just like Belgrade, but it’s also a welcoming, lively city, full of great bars and great music, and it even hosts the world-renowned EXIT music festival!
North Macedonia is a beautiful country full of vast rice fields and rural areas. But it also boasts some must-see urban locations. The city of Ohrid is an ancient town with a mindblowing number of different churches, historic sites, and of course the gorgeous Lake Ohrid that lies next to it. Though in the same country, Skopje seems worlds away from the quiet historic lake resort of Ohrid. North Macedonia’s capital is big, imposing, and full of monumental architecture that could measure up to any of the opulent central European metropolises.
Albania is another Balkan country on the coast of the Adriatic Sea that boasts amazing beaches and endless sunny days. Though it is less popular as a vacation destination than, say, Croatia, this is not a reflection of its beauty, and it is sure to change in the near future. Because of its geographic position, Albania was under Greek, Roman, and Venetian rule for a long time, which shows in its amazing architecture, with the Roman amphitheater in Durres as just one incredible example. Albania’s capital, Tirana is also a fascinating mix of cultural and architectural influences, with Italian, European bourgeois, and brutalist architecture scattered across the city.
… and much much more
There are so many amazing experiences you can have in the Balkans, it wouldn’t be fair to rank them, so we won’t fool you with a list of the top things to do.
But what we can do is describe the general characteristics of the region, and give you an insight into what your holiday could look like. The Balkans have everything - from a beautiful coastline, and amazing mountains and rivers, to great historic cities like Belgrade, Sarajevo, and Dubrovnik.
So whether you’re into culture, history, and city vibes or a nature freak, you won’t be disappointed.
The Adriatic coast stretches through Croatia, Montenegro, and Albania, and is the perfect spot to bathe in the sun and cool off in the sparkly blue sea. If you wish to spend more time on the water and would like to experience a unique big game fishing activity, head over to our friends at Croatia Tuna Fishing for an unforgettable adventure.
For a more authentic experience in nature, you can head into the mountains in Slovenia, Serbia, and Albania, and enjoy the fresh mountain air while exploring the wider surroundings from a birds-eye perspective. But it’s not all about the altitudes! In the Balkans, the highs and lows are equally great, and you can see that first hand if you explore some of the valleys of amazingly pristine rivers like Soča, Neretva, Tara or breathtaking lakes like Bled, Bohinj, Ohrid, and the Plitvice Lakes.
The photo of Lake Bled and its church island with the mountains in the back is the most recognizable sight of Slovenia. Taking a traditional boat ride to the island, visiting the oldest castle in Slovenia, or trying out the local dessert “kremšnita” are just some of the reasons you should visit this magical place.
The most famous cave in Slovenia invites you for a ride on its underground railway to explore its many miracles on foot. Who knows, maybe you’ll even see a “baby dragon”.
Lake Bohinj lies In the heart of the Triglav National Park, surrounded by the highest mountains of Slovenia. It is a paradise for outdoor lovers with endless possibilities for various activities in the nature like hiking, canyoning, kayaking, and more.
Slovenia also has a short but beautiful coast with many scenic Mediterranean towns. With its enchanting Venetian architecture, Piran is a must-visit destination, where you can take some romantic photos at the church hill overlooking the pier.
The emerald green Soča River winds its way down the Soča Valley on the western edge of the Triglav National Park. With high Alpine peaks all around, it is the top spot for outdoor enthusiasts that want to explore the Julian Alps by hiking their countless trails.
One of the most magnificent Croatian cities with an old town surrounded by an imposing stone wall overlooking the Adriatic sea. Come stroll down the stone streets of the Old town and recognize a lot of the locations here that were used as a filming set for the famous Game of Thrones TV show.
The Plitvice National Park is famous for its terraced lakes and stunning waterfalls, recognized on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Walk on its wooden pathways surrounded by lush scenery and experience a true green paradise.
Hvar island is one of the most popular islands in Croatia, a stopping point for many celebrities on their cruises. It attracts its visitors for its stunning beaches, crystal clear water, and as a top bachelor party destination in Croatia.
The capital city of Croatia prides itself on its beautiful old town and the centuries-old Ban Jelačić Square. The city is full of different architectural styles and murals by local street artists and rewards those who visit it on foot.
Dalmatia is the most well-known area in Croatia, where everyone loves the countless islands, stunning beaches, and its capital, the ancient coastal city of Split. The waters here are also a heaven for any fishing enthusiasts in search of Croatian tuna fishing spots.
The capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina is at the crossroads of many cultures, making it one of the most vibrant cities in the Balkans. Try the authentic “čevapčiči” at the iconic Baščaršija marketplace, visit one of the many mosques, or take a look back at the turbulent history of the city while visiting its war tunnels.
The city of Mostar is built on the banks of the Neretva river, where you can take a walk on the streets of its old town. What you definitely won’t miss is the UNESCO protected Old bridge that connects the two banks and is the iconic sight of the city.
Una National Park is the biggest park of its kind in BIH, trying to preserved the pristine area of the Una river and its tributaries. Come and join us on a private tour to explore its many waterfalls and the diversity of the flora and fauna.
Banja Luka is the second largest city in the country where an influence of Ilyrian, Ottoman, Slavic, and Austro-Hungarian history can be seen everywhere. Come on one of our private tours explore the wide boulevards, monumental architecture and many parks for yourself.
Počitelj is a medieval village dating back to Ottoman times built on the banks of the Neretva river. Feel how life was in the times of the Ottomans, or take in the scenic panorama from Gavrankapetanović tower.
Kotor is a beautiful and ancient coastal town in the bay of Boka Kotorska, surrounded by impressive walls protected by UNESCO.
Besides being known as a party capital of Montenegro, Budva is also famous for its long sandy beaches and a lively Old Town.
The National Park stretches over the largest mountain massif of Montenegro and is home to wide mountains, pristine lakes, and green meadows. It is also where you can find the deepest canyon in Europe, the canyon of the Tara River.
Ulcinj is the ancient Montenegrin seaport close to the border of Albania, with its history stretching back to the time of the Romans. You can go sunbathe on the sandy Long Beach or visit the river delta island of Ada Bojana.
Lovćen is the most famous mountain in Montenegro and its national symbol, which is protected under a national park. You can visit a mausoleum and a burial place of Montenegro’s most important leader Petar Petrović Njegoš on top of the highest peak overlooking the Adriatic sea.
At the capital of North Macedonia you can visit many monumental architectural landmarks like Porta Macedonia, the Stone Bridge over the river Vardar, and many more. Its epic sights can really compete with other big European capitals.
Lake Ohrid is one of Europe's deepest and oldest lakes. On the shore of the largest lake of Northern Macedonia, you can visit the town Ohrid, also nicknamed "Jerusalem of the Balkans", because there were once 365 churches there.
This is one of the most popular outdoor recreation areas in the country and a popular place to visit all year round. Here you hike, swim, fish, or just admire the natural beauty and several historic churches and monasteries hidden inside the canyon.
Bitola is one of the oldest cities in the country and where you will be able to explore the rich history of Northern Macedonia. With a mixture of Eastern and Western cultures, visiting Bitola on one of our private tours offers you an opportunity to try many culinary delights and a chance to be a part of a vibrant local lifestyle.
The Šar Mountains lie in the northwestern part of the country and is one of the largest and highest mountain ranges here. On a private tour here you can find the Šar Planina Eyes which is what they call the numerous glacial lakes in the area, or even meet the local shepherd dog breed, the Šarplaninac.
Belgrade is the capital of Serbia and one of the most important cities in the whole Balkans. You can visit countless historical or modern attractions like the Temple of Sava, Skadarlija street, the Kalemegdan fortress, and more.
This mountainous region is one of the most popular places for outdoor activities like hiking and skiing in the country. A must-visit here is the longest panoramic gondola lift in the world.
Novi Sad is the second largest city in Serbia, which is most known for its cultural diversity. While strolling through the streets of the city nicknamed the "Serbian Athens" you can also visit many churches of various religions, chill at the Freedom square, or try out the water on its Danube River beach.
The largest city in the south of Serbia is also one of the historically most important ones. It is where many battles took place, multiple Roman emperors were born or resided, and where a keen visitor will find some of the best food, and some of the nicest people.
It's the largest mountain massif in Serbia and an all-year-round destination for many locals. In winter it is the number one skiing resort in the country. Visit it when the snow melts on a private tour with us and enjoy the clean air and the vast green surroundings.
The continental Balkans have a humid continental climate, meaning that the winters are cold and snowy, the summers are warm and sunny, and the rain is more or less evenly spread out. The coastal parts of the Balkans have a Mediterranean climate, so the summers are hotter with less rain, and the winters are milder with more precipitation.
In short, the best time to travel depends on your preferences. If you like hot weather and lots of sunshine you should travel in the summer. If you feel better in colder weather, want to see some snow, and maybe even enjoy some skiing, visit the region during wintertime. Advent time is gorgeous in countries with a catholic tradition like Slovenia and Croatia when city streets are lit up with holiday decorations and buzzing with food and mulled wine stands, while the Orthodox communities in Serbia, Macedonia, and elsewhere, celebrate Christmas in January.
If you aren’t that crazy about sweating in the glaring sun or shivering in the snowflakes, opt for the warm but fresh spring (April, May, June) or fall months (September, October). Although you shouldn’t experience too much rain, definitely don’t forget to pack an umbrella! Another advantage of the transition seasons is that the masses of tourists have either not yet arrived or have already left, so the prices tend to be a bit lower and the attractions less busy.
There are also a number of amazing festivals and events in the region that are worth checking out so you might want to consider planning your Balkan holiday around one of them. Music fans would enjoy the summer festivals like the Sea Star Festival in Umag, Croatia and the Druga Godba jazz festival in Ljubljana, Slovenia in May, EXIT Festival in Novi Sad, Srbija in July, or the trumpet Guča Festival in Srbija in August.
Movie buffs can choose between a plethora of film festivals throughout the year like the Sarajevo Film Festival, Küstendorf Film & Music Festival, Motovun Film Festival, and Dokufest.
There are also many carnivals celebrating the end of winter and coming of spring like the Vevčani and Strumica Carnivals in North Macedonia, Kurentovanje in Slovenia, Mimosa festival in Montenegro, and the carnivals in Croatia.
And these events just scratch the surface of what you can experience. To sum up, there’s always something going on in the Balkans!
If you’re traveling from other regions of Europe that are relatively close to the Balkans, you can check if there are any trains or busses going from your country to the Balkans. If you’re coming from farther away or would prefer to travel by plane, there are several airports you can fly to.
The larger airports with direct flights from overseas are in Venice and Belgrade. This way you avoid the hassle of connecting flights. Landing in Venice is especially handy if you’ll be starting your Balkan tour in Slovenia, which is a relatively short drive away from Venice.
There are also smaller airports in Zagreb, Ljubljana, Dubrovnik, Podgorica, and Sofia, so you can catch connecting flights from other major European airports, and land in one of the listed Balkan cities.
Traveling in the Balkans by yourself comes with its challenges. The biggest one is getting around, because the timetables, costs, and points of departure for public transportation are difficult to find and often unreliable. You might have to call the information desk to check the departure times and ticket prices, because information on the internet is either nonexistent or out of date.
With the exception of Romania, Serbia, and Macedonia, the railroad infrastructure is largely underdeveloped, meaning there are few train routes. Public transport is also often slow and uncomfortable, while taxi drivers are known to rip off naive tourists. Bus fares can be quite pricey and you might have to buy the ticket in advance at the bus station and pay extra if you have any luggage. This being said, when it comes to public transport, busses are the best option, because they can get you pretty much anywhere you would want to go, even if it takes a while to get there. The bus is also the best way to get from one Balkan country to another.
The easiest way to travel around the Balkans is to rent a car or take your own car. This way you can avoid being dependent on public transport, but the roads can be quite run down and narrow, so getting around the Balkans is a bit of a challenge either way.
Another hurdle is that Serbia, North Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina use the Cyrillic alphabet as opposed to the Latin alphabet most of us are used to. This can make navigating and getting around these countries very difficult. Now, if all this sounds like an adventure to you then you are bound to have fun in the Balkans! But regardless of your adventurous spirit, traveling around the Balkans can be complicated and overwhelming - and that’s where we come in!
If you choose to visit the beautiful Balkans with us we will provide a car or minivan for a maximum of eight people, and a skilled experienced driver that will be able to conquer all the traffic challenges thrown at them. You will be able to enjoy the views and get into the relaxed Balkan atmosphere, while we take care of all of the logistics.
The Balkans can be quite a culture shock if you’re used to the fast-paced, productivity-focused rhythm of modern life. Ultimately, the best thing about traveling is that it completely cancels out your routine and everyday worries, and the Balkans can do just this for you. But any new culture takes some getting used to so we’ve prepared some guidelines that will help you get into the best headspace for your Balkan trip.
Be patient. This is a good rule to follow while traveling anywhere, and the Balkans are definitely no exception. The infrastructure and many services are far from optimal, and that can be irritating if you’re not used to it (and even if you are, honestly). The best thing when you encounter an annoying situation is to take a deep breath, try to laugh at the matter, and move on.
Say yes. People in the Balkans are known for their hospitality, which means you will probably get invited for a coffee, authentic meal, or maybe some homemade drinks. Say yes to opportunities like that and get a glimpse into the life of the locals.
Learn some local phrases. It is not even that hard as most Balkan languages, except Albanian, come from the same branch. The locals will be pleasantly surprised and will appreciate your nice gesture. So wherever you go, try learning some everyday phrases. Maybe a local will even think you're one of them, after which their hospitality goes to another level.
Tip. The tipping culture in Europe is definitely not as big as in the United States, but in the Balkans, be sure to still tip. Many locals working in the tourism sector live off tips since their low wages are not keeping up with the increased cost of living. If the service is not awful, you should tip your waiter, taxi driver, etc. at least 10% for good service.
Be respectful and sensitive to regional issues and politics. Though the Balkans may seem like it’s all about fun and enjoyment, this region has had a very turbulent and troublesome past. You have to remember that the bloody Balkan wars started as late as the 90s, and even went into the 00s in some parts. It is therefore obviously still a sensitive topic, especially as the painful consequences of the wars and the dissolving of Yugoslavia are present to this day. So, just remember to be respectful when visiting memorials and museums, and when talking about this history with the locals. A lot of them have lived through these dark times, so be tactful when and if you’re conveying your political beliefs.
Ask questions rather than making statements on politics. Don't be afraid to ask the locals about their opinion on most matters. People of the Balkans tend to be proud of their culture, so stay away from any harsh critiques. On the other hand, they are quite open about talking about the current politics in the country. Since they often feel that the media coverage in Western countries was skewed, they will be open to talking about the breakup of Yugoslavia if you give them the opportunity. Just keep in mind, do not make any bold statements about the topic, since the memory of those wars is often still present.
Don’t make comparisons between nationalities. Do not compare different nationalities of the former Yugoslav states, as that can still be a sensitive topic, especially for older generations. Countries like Bosnia are also a mix of different ethnicities, so to avoid presumptions, ask away.
If you’re anything like us, you can go on about food forever. With all the culinary treasures one can find in the Balkans, this is especially true.
The one thing all the different Balkan cuisines have in common is that they are a mixture of influences. Throughout history, many cultures have crossed or settled in the Balkans, and the food we can find here today functions as a sort of historical map.
From Italian influences on the Balkan coast to Austria and Hungary to the north, and the heavily present Turkish characteristics that came with the Turkish invasions and long presence of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkan peninsula, the different cultural currents that run through the Balkans only enrich it. Here, food acts as a map and a history lesson in one - if the region you’re in is by the sea, the food will naturally involve a lot of fish, and some Italian flavors. If the region was under Austrian, Hungarian, or Turkish rule, that too will have altered its cuisine.
Slovenia incorporates influences from all its neighboring countries into its national cuisine. This means there is something for any and every taste - from sausages and hearty winter dishes in the Alps to Mediterranean seafood and pasta-like dishes by the coast, and Hungarian-inspired goulash and layered cakes in the east. Because Slovenia is home to many immigrants from other Balkan countries, who have moved here in the times of Yugoslavia and later, you can also find authentic restaurants serving Balkan staples like cevapi and prebranac.
As a coastal country, Croatia is famous for its fresh fish and seafood, which you can find in any “konoba” (Croatian restaurant) near the sea. It also boasts amazing olive oil, produced from the olive trees that flourish in the Mediterranean climate. In the continental parts of the country, the diet includes more meat, while Croatia’s northern coastline shows a strong Italian influence.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has a cuisine that incorporates Western and Eastern influences. It is a mixture of Turkish, Mediterranean, and Serbian cuisines. You can also find some Central European influence in there. Because Islam is the prevalent religion in Bosnia and Herzegovina, pork is rarely used, and instead meats like lamb, beef, poultry, and goat are enjoyed.
Montenegro meat is a holy grail of Montenegrin cuisine, with lamb and veal as the top meats. Fish is also popular in Montenegro. Every dish is rounded off with fresh vegetables, rice, locally produced dairy products like kajmak, and possibly some delicious wine. Basically, you can’t go wrong with Montenegrin food, no matter your tastes.
Serbian cuisine is a mix of Bulgarian, Hungarian, Greek, and Turkish cuisine. It uses a lot of meat, vegetables, and dairy products, but the Serbs also live bread and potatoes. The food is satisfying, hearty, and delicious with a range of flavors from sweet, savory, to spicy - whichever it is, it’s always mouth-watering.
North Macedonia is famous for its incredible fresh vegetables, with red pepper as the reigning queen. The abundance of sunny days and fertile soil means they can grow a lot of top-quality produce, and exporting vegetables is an important part of North Macedonia’s economy.
Albania lies by the Adriatic Sea, and thus its cuisine is largely comprised of Mediterranean cuisine. Its geographical position and historical development have introduced Italian, Greek, and Turkish influences into its palette. The Albanian culinary experience is comprised of seafood, incredible fresh vegetables, feta cheese, Mediterranean herbs, and incredible pastries. And all for a ridiculously low price. What’s not to love?
Authentic Balkan food tradition is based on simple and satisfying dishes and fresh ingredients. Each region has its own culinary specialties and most of their names have no translation. We have provided some brief explanations of the most famous dishes in the next section, but Balkan food cannot be compared to anything and is therefore difficult to explain. The only solution is for you to come and try it for yourself!
Ajvar is made from roasted peppers that are then minced and cooked. It’s a refreshing delicious condiment perfect to just eat with some bread or pair it with meat. Its spicy variety (ljuti ajvar) is also very popular.
With vast rural areas and plenty of fertile soil, it is no surprise that the Balkans have some amazing wine regions, offering a variety of delicious wines at relatively low prices. Freshwater is another treasure of the Balkans, and with plenty of springs with pristine water, the beer that’s made from it is as great as you would expect.
If you’re looking for the true star of the Balkans, look no further. Rakija is a spirit drink made from locally grown fruit like pears, plums, apricots, or grapes. It can also be infused with different herbs, spices, and berries, but the traditional way is to stick to just the fruit. Rakija has different names based on what fruit it’s made of so you might also find it under the names dunja, šljivovica, lozovača, and so on. This is the drink you are served on every visit to a Balkan household, but don’t be misled by the shot glasses - the locals enjoy their rakija by sipping it slowly, not just downing it in one go. With 40% alcohol content or more, and very generous hosts who will fill up your glass as soon as you empty it, this is the only reasonable way to do it.
Though alcohol is a big part of the Balkan culture, it’s not all there is. One of the most characteristic non-alcoholic drinks is elderberry syrup that is mixed with water to make a delicious juice-like beverage.
You will also find a huge coffee culture with a very long tradition. From espresso to Turkish coffee, the Balkan people love any kind of coffee. Because of the Turkish invasions from the middle ages onward, the Balkans still have a lot of Turkish influences, from architecture to food and of course, coffee. Turkish coffee comes with a whole traditional way of drinking and preparation, which includes cooking the coffee in a special pot called “đezva”.
The last drink we will recommend might be seen as more of a snack than a beverage - we are talking about yogurt. When traveling around the Balkans you must not miss the legendary combination of drinking yogurt while eating burek, the traditional Balkan savory pastry.
Safety is always one of the things we have to consider before traveling to a foreign country. Because many people have only heard about the Balkans in the context of the Balkan Wars, the impression that this is a danger zone still lingers. Reality couldn’t be more different. Since the wars in the 1990s, the region has not experienced any violent conflicts. The wars had a big impact in that many of the Balkan countries have still not managed to reach economic stability or prosperity, but the situation is still peaceful, stable, and safe. While the nations might bicker amongst each other, the people are generally very welcoming of foreigners and eager to help.
Crime rates in the Balkans are generally lower than in Western Europe, so the region is very safe, and you don’t have to worry too much about being robbed or assaulted, just use your common sense to keep safe, as you would in your day to day life.
The Balkans include a lot of different countries that are not connected in a federation or a union. This means that when traveling around the Balkans you will have to use a different currency every time you cross a border. It can get quite overwhelming when you have to handle four, five, or even more different currencies within a timespan of a few weeks, but we have a few basic information and tips to help you along.
Slovenia and Montenegro are the only countries in the Balkans that use the Euro.
The currency of Albania is the Albanian Lek. 1 Euro is approximately 122 Albanian Lek.
The currency of North Macedonia is the Macedonian Denar. 1 Euro is approximately 62 Macedonian Denar.
The currency of Bosnia and Herzegovina is the Bosnian convertible mark. 1 Euro is approximately 2 Bosnian convertible marks.
The currency of Serbia is the Serbian Dinar. 1 Euro is approximately 117 Serbian Dinar.
The currency of Croatia is the Croatian Kuna. 1 Euro is approximately 7.5 Croatian Kuna.
Exchange rates can stack up to rather high costs, so it’s best to pay directly by card if you can. Cards are widely accepted in Slovenia, Croatia, and larger cities throughout the Balkans, while it is advisable to carry cash with you in rural areas, local markets, and smaller restaurants. It’s also nice to have some change for tipping (although most people will gladly accept tips in Euros).
If you find yourself in need of some cash in the proper currency, the best option is to get it from the ATM. Try to take out as much cash as you need and opt for several withdrawals rather than taking out too much money in a currency you won’t be able to use in other countries. You will save a lot of money if you look into getting an ATM card with no ATM fees and no foreign transaction fees. Our advice would be to avoid exchange offices unless you have no other option because their fees are very high.
As members of the European Union, Slovenia and Croatia are part of the Schengen system. If you are coming from a country that is not in the EU or North America, you should always check if citizens from your country are required to apply for a Schengen visa in order to enter the EU and cross its internal borders.
Bosnia and Herzegovina does not require you to have a visa if you plan to stay in the country for up to 90 days. If you’re interested in more detailed information, look here.
Montenegro grants a 90-day visa-free entry to foreigners from a big part of the world, but countries in Africa, most of Asia, and parts of South America are excluded from this and must obtain a visa before traveling to Montenegro.
Serbia grants visa-free entry to travelers that either come from the countries in the Schengen area, EU or the USA, or have a valid Schengen, UK, and other Member States' visa. Other travelers should always check what kind of visa they need and make all the necessary arrangements before visiting Serbia.
If you come from an EU member state, the USA, or Canada, or have a valid British, Canadian, U.S., or a multiple-entry Schengen visa, North Macedonia, you’re all set up to travel to North Macedonia. If not, you should make sure to obtain a visa that will allow you to cross its border.
As with most Balkan countries, Albania’s visa policy is similar to the visa policy of the Schengen Area. Albania grants a 90-day visa-free entry to all Schengen Annex II nationalities, but there are some exceptions, as well as additional countries whose nationals have a visa-free entry, so the best thing to do is to check where you place before traveling.
There are no special health risks involved with traveling to the Balkans. So we will just cover some general guidelines when it comes to taking care of your health and health insurance while traveling.
If you are an EU citizen and are visiting Slovenia or Croatia, your basic health insurance is covered by reciprocal agreements. All you need is your European Health Insurance Card, which you can obtain for free through your health insurance institution. If you aren’t a citizen of one of the EU countries, you have the right to receive emergency medical treatment, but you have to pay for it.
In either case, it is very advisable to opt for an additional travel medical insurance plan, which covers non-urgent but necessary treatments in private clinics as well as more serious scenarios like an ambulance ride or an emergency flight home. Whenever deciding on a policy it is good to check if the insurance company will pay for the medical services you might need directly, or if you will have to cover the expenses and be reimbursed later.
Health care in the Balkans is generally readily available and less expensive than it is in Western Europe. You are able to find good advice and over-the-counter medication for minor conditions in pharmacies. Pharmacists are also a good source of advice on whether you need to see a doctor or not. If you’re traveling outside larger cities it is advisable to look into available medical care in case of an emergency, because there are fewer doctors and medical institutions. Embassies, consulates, and larger hotels are usually able to provide this type of information.
There are no mandatory vaccinations you must have to visit the Western Balkans. The safest option is to follow The World Health Organization’s general recommendations. They advise all travelers to get vaccinated against diphtheria, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, whooping cough, polio, rubella, tuberculosis, tetanus, and chickenpox, regardless of where they are traveling. You should visit a doctor regarding any vaccination at least six weeks before traveling, so you have enough time to schedule an appointment and the vaccines can produce immunity before you depart. The US Center for Disease Control also advises long-term travelers, outdoorsy types, and people working with animals to get a rabies vaccination.
It is recommended to also get the tick-borne encephalitis vaccine, which protects you from the disease spread through tick bites. Tick-borne encephalitis can lead to a severe brain infection, so it is very important to get vaccinated, especially if you plan to spend time in nature.
Drinking water is easily available throughout the Balkan countries. In Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo, and Slovenia, you can drink tap water. Tap water is also safe to drink in most of Albania, Montenegro, and North Macedonia, but it’s always best to check with the locals before drinking it because there might be some issues in certain areas. In any case, bottled water is cheap and readily available, but with great tap water, the best option is to simply refill your water bottle. Your wallet and the planet will thank you.
The emergency telephone number is 122 in all Balkan countries. A dispatcher will answer your call and send appropriate help.
We know that packing for a trip can be quite stressful, especially if it’s a long one and you’re going to an unfamiliar location, not really knowing what to expect. That’s why we’ve assembled a concise packing guide to help you prepare for your amazing Balkan adventure.
The easiest way to make sure you have everything you need is to make a checklist of what to pack. While assembling it, try to keep in mind that traveling light is always the best way to go, for your back when dragging your bags from one place to another as well as for your wallet and avoiding extra charges at the airport.
While we’re on the topic of airports, always check the maximum measurements and weight of luggage that your airline accepts. Most airlines allow you to check one bag and one carryon bag. Normally, a maximum weight limit is around 50 lb (22.67 kg) per checked bag as well as a size restriction. The most common maximum size for a bag is usually around 62 linear inches (157.5 cm).
A common size bag that you can check through at an airport is 27" x 21" x 14" (68.6 x 53.3 x 35.5 cm). Always check the exact bag measurements and other restrictions with your airline. Like planes, our ground transfers also have limited capacity, especially if there are more guests arriving. The restrictions are therefore mostly limited to one big bag and one carry-on bag.
Electronics and personal items should go in your carry-on bag. It is also wise to pack a day’s change of clothes in your carry-on, just in case there are any complications with your luggage at the airport.
It makes sense to pack your carry-on in a backpack, which you will later need on your hiking or sightseeing trips around the Balkans.
If you have an inconspicuous-looking suitcase or bag for your big piece of luggage, we recommend you tie a colorful scarf or something similar to it, so that you can quickly spot it at the luggage claim and not confuse it with someone else’s.
Now, let’s get to the real question - what to pack? The easiest way to pack is by considering your day-to-day itinerary and thinking of what you will be wearing every day. Our Balkan tours will take you to cities, mountains, and the seaside, so it’s important to pack for several occasions. Take some comfortable, sporty clothes, some staples you rely on in your day-to-day life, and some clothes that will keep you as cool as possible in the hot and sunny Mediterranean climate. An umbrella and/or a good rain jacket is also a must for pretty much any holiday destination. And remember, the key to an enjoyable trip is comfortable shoes!
If your tour includes physical activities like hiking or adventure sports, you’ll naturally want to adapt the contents of your luggage appropriately. Pack clothes that provide comfort, warmth (or keep you cool, depending on the season), and work well in sweaty scenarios - some people prefer natural materials like cotton, linen, and wool, while others go for more advanced synthetic clothing that is designed for sports.
Don’t forget to pack a swimsuit and a towel, because the Balkans offer countless amazing beaches and lakes where you will be able to jump into the water.
Just remember to pack what works for you and that there is no need to go out and buy an entire new wardrobe for your trip. The most important thing is that you have comfortable shoes and some sort of rain protection.
If you have any more questions or dilemmas just ask us, we’ll be happy to help!
Before traveling to any foreign country it is important to look through the internet plan you have with your telecom provider. There might be big differences between restrictions in various countries, and internet costs can often stack up to very high numbers and dampen your after-travel good spirits. The same goes for calls and text messages.
If you suspect you might need these services often while traveling, it is best to choose an additional travel data plan. This initial investment will save you from high roaming charges.
Country calling codes for Western Balkan countries are as follows:
Bosnia & Herzegovina +387
North Macedonia +389
The Balkan region lies in the Central European Time Zone and follows Central European Standard Time (CET). CET is one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT +1).
The Balkans follow Daylight saving time, so in the summer the clocks are shifted forward by one hour (GMT +2). This is true for most of Europe. With the coming of fall, the time is shifted back to Central European Time.