The Balkans travel guide


This Balkans travel guide focuses not only on the Balkan region but also, for the main part, on vacations that take you to more than one country here. The first question on most people’s lips is: where exactly is the Balkans? Well, it comprises one of Europe’s three main peninsulas (the other two being the Italian and Iberian peninsulas). And the word Balkans comes from the Turkish for ‘mountains’, because although the peninsula is surrounded by four seas, namely the Adriatic, Ionian, Aegean and Black Sea, there is also the most colossal collection of mountain ranges running through it. The most prolific are the Dinaric Alps, which stretch down the Adriatic coast like an additional decorative ribbon to the already exquisite package consisting of Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro. These countries, along with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia make up one big load of Balkans.
Balkan vacations are...

for the most part, small group tours taking in a combination of countries.

Balkan vacations are not...

for fly and flop travelers. History and culture, adventure and architecture are what make them so very appealing.

Balkan vacations map & highlights


Overland small group trips are a fantastic way to discover this region. Transport is typically by private vehicles which can take you to lesser-visited towns, although there are spectacular train journeys such as the sleeper from Budapest to Belgrade, too. These vacations offer myriad Balkan combinations, from undeveloped Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia, to more of a grand tour taking in Croatia, Slovenia and Montenegro, where Dubrovnik, Lake Bled and Lake Skadar are respective highlights. With added gems such as Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Pelister National Park in Macedonia and other great capital cities such as Pristina, Tirana and Skopje. It’s one beautiful Balkan map.
Albania Bosnia and herzegovina Croatia Kosovo Macedonia Montenegro Slovenia Sofia, Bulgaria


Albania is a forgotten part of Europe, It is tantalisingly close to home, yet a whole world away in terms of culture, history and landscapes. Slowly, it is making its return to the tourism scene, and we reckon it won’t remain forgotten for long. Albania offers magnificent mountains, beautiful Ottoman towns, Greek and Roman ruins and gorgeous Mediterranean beaches – all with a fraction of the visitors of its Balkan neighbours.

Bosnia & Herzegovina

BiH for short is one of the Balkans’ hidden wonders. Tragically known for years of civil conflict and huge loss of life, we like to celebrate its relatively new found peace by using the correct name: Princedom of Bosnia. Majestic it is too, with the Dinaric Alps, lakes and waterfalls, Rakitnica Canyon, Ottoman architecture and ancient capital of Sarajevo. The train journey from Sarajevo to Mostar is a treat.


Already celebrated for its array of archipelagos, Croatia also boasts eight national parks. Balkans vacations nearly always include Dubrovnik, its Adriatic ‘pearl’ and walled city, or the less well known ancient marvel of Split. If you are approaching from Slovenia, Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula is all things beautiful and baroque. It’s also popular as part of tri-destination cycling vacations, with Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina part of the pannier.


Europe’s newest country, Kosovo is not only open for tourists but also totally open hearted. Its cities are culturally cool, such as capital Pristina, which boasts mosques, churches and other sites dating back to the 15th century. Prizren has Roman, medieval and Ottoman architecture. Don’t miss Decani Monastery at the foot of the Prokletije Mountains, where monks gave refuge to all ethnicities during the war years.


Macedonia is often included in an Albania-Kosovo package, or on a tour from Dubrovnik to Athens. You will want to come back for more but, for starters, try Mavrovo National Park, home to the country’s three highest peaks, Lake Ohrid, with its waterside churches, and the magnificent Matka Canyon. This karst limestone valley is just 17km from the capital Skopje, which features just about every ancient influence you can imagine.


Montenegro boasts a triumvirate of leading highlights, its mountains, lakes and coast all hiding secrets and surprises. Coming from the north, Durmitor National Park and Tara Canyon are musts. The centre has the historic capital of Cetinje, while Lake Skadar and the Prokletije Mountains, bordering Albania, dominate the south. Cycling vacations combining Montenegro with Croatia are greedy in their gorgeousness.


The northern starting point for many Balkan vacations, Slovenia’s lovely capital of Ljubljana is a ‘pretty’ hard act to follow. Lake Bled is another favourite stop, with its romantic fairytale church on an islet, medieval castle clinging to a rocky cliff and Julian Alps backdrop. If you are looking for a dream photography vacation, look no further, especially with Croatia, the next stop south, thrown into the mix.

Sofia, Bulgaria

Some Balkan overland trips include Sofia on their itineraries, as the sandwich city visit between Belgrade in Serbia and Skopje in Macedonia. A very cosmopolitan city, with cafés and boutiques along Vitosha Boulevard as well as sacred marvels like Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and other Byzantine churches. Enjoy a mineral bath or the Natural History Museum, both in the shadow of the great Mount Vitosha.
Photo credits: [Topbox: Mario Micklisch] [Map topbox: Jorge Franganillo] [Bosnia and Herzegovina: Michal Huniewicz] [Kosovo: Fatos Katallozi] [Macedonia: xiquinhosilva] [Montenegro: SarahTz] [Slovenia: Marika Bortolami] [Sofia: Silvia Albini] [Helpdesk: Berat Hoxha]
Written by Catherine Mack
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