Balkans travel advice

Foodie tips

Andrew Villone, from our partner Savour the Experience, lives in Ljubljana and is well-versed in Balkans cultural travel. He says: “In Croatia, Albania and Montenegro, look out for anything related to olives and olive oil. There are a lot of good stories about how they’ve historically produced it. These are Balkan but also traditionally Mediterranean cultures, remember, and Croatia’s Istria region is one of the world’s top oil producers. One essential is honey. In Slovenia, they’re crazy about it; it’s a great way to meet some interesting people. Some call the Balkans the land of blood and honey.”

Tom Wilkinson, from our partner Exodus Travels, with his personal recommendation for foodie travelers: “I recommend trying peka in Croatia– it’s slow-roasted meat, often lamb or beef, cooked in a clay pot that has been buried in ashes for hours. We often take our groups to traditional restaurants and this very simple dish is absolutely lovely. Obviously, you also get good fish all the way down the Dalmatian coast, but I particularly like the peka.”

John Penge, also from Exodus Travels, on what to have on the side: “When eating, make sure you order a side salad. They don’t do a lot to it, but the produce is fantastic (especially the tomatoes) and you get pickled shredded cabbage every time, which is also delicious on the side of whatever grilled meat you’re ordered for main.”

Chris Ellis, from our partner Explore Worldwide, raves about Albanian cuisine: “Food would be a very good reason to visit the Balkans. In Albania, it’s perhaps surprisingly good for food, with flatbread, baba ghanoush and hummus all from Ottoman influences, and also Greek with the salads, the gyros. Corfu is just off the Albanian coast.”

Managing expectations

Joanna Simmons, travel writer at Responsible Travel, on what to expect in Montenegro and Albania: “Don’t come expecting Montenegro to be sleek and well-organised. It’s a small country with a tiny population and beyond the coast people live a pretty simple, basic life. It’s not like a vacation to France, say, where the roads are great and you will always find a hypermarket or massive local market where you can stock up on food. Here, there isn’t much in the way of shops (people are quite self-sufficient), petrol stations can be miles apart, road signs non-existent and roads narrow and perilous. You don’t tend to meet a lot of women, either, as the culture seems to be fairly male-orientated.

“Towards the Albanian side, you’ll find mosques alongside churches, reminding you that this is a multi-ethnic country with a very Balkan, rather than familiar European, flavour. It is, though, a fascinating place, incredibly beautiful – the scenery is spectacular and dramatic – and the people we met working within the tourist industry were friendly, warm and helpful. You’re routinely greeted with a tot of homemade brandy and a gigantic meal, too – what’s not to like?”

Albania advice

Olly Pemberton, from our partner Exodus Travels, discusses the strength of Albanian traditions: “Albanians wear these white felt hats, and in the rural areas people wear more traditional dress; you see it every now and again. They like to cling onto their culture – and quite rightly so. No one’s been able to see their culture for so long, and they’re not about to change it any time soon just to cater for tourists. The fact that you’re still in Europe and you’ve got so much culture and tradition is always quite nice to see. They’re very proud of it, and so they should be.”

Kosovo tips

Mark Huggins, from our Kosovo vacations supplier, Undiscovered Destinations: "Kosovo is a small country and one of the most undiscovered in Europe. It has lots of interesting sites including UNESCO Decani Monastery and the architectural heritage of picturesque Prizren. Anyone who is interested in both modern and ancient European history will be fascinated by Kosovo. One can also enjoy beautiful scenery and walking in the Rugova Valley and also do some wine tasting at a local vineyard. We would recommend combining visiting Kosovo with Albania and North Macedonia for a wider look at the region.”

Bosnia & Herzegovina tips

Stefan Hellmuth from Intrepid: “My absolute favourite place is Sarajevo. This city is poised to become a major destination in south-eastern Europe in the coming years. So best to go now before the secret gets out.”

“Visitors to Bosnia and Herzegovina and The Balkans should go there without prejudice in regards to the causes of the 1990’s war. Listen to stories from different angles and from people of different ages in different regions, and stay open minded. After all, the majority of the people suffered, and no one wanted this to happen in the first place.”

Adventure tips

Stefan Hellmuth from our leading Balkans tour operator, Intrepid Travel: "My favourite adventures in the Balkans would be cycling and hiking in the Velebit (Croatia), which is great and most people don’t know about it. Otherwise, Durmitor National Park (Montenegro) is great for hiking."

Serbia tips

Stefan Hellmuth from Intrepid: “I think that Belgrade is consistently underrated. It’s very bohemian, with beautiful architecture, and a young student population that keeps the city very lively.”

John Penge from our supplier, Exodus Travels: “I think that Belgrade is well worth a visit. On the journey from the airport it may not look like the prettiest of cities but when you get into the center things vastly improve. Belgrade Fortress & Kalemegdan Park is a very nice place to explore with some good views of where the Sava & Danube rivers meet. Outside of Belgrade, I enjoyed the train ride to Mokra Gora and my stay in the village of Sirogojno. Sirogojno is a little village to the west of the country where you can enjoy the tranquil setting as well as learn about how the community used to live.

“When eating, make sure you order a side salad. They don’t do a lot to it but the produce is fantastic (especially the tomatoes) and you get pickled shredded cabbage every time which is also delicious on the side of whatever grilled meat you’re ordered for main.”
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Balkans or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Health & safety in the Balkans

HEALTH

Visit your doctor at least six weeks before departure to ensure that your vaccinations are up to date. Tap water is fine to drink in Croatia, but in other Balkan countries such as Albania it’s best to bring a water filtration device such as a Life Straw. If in any doubt, stick to bottled water and avoid ice in your drinks. Joining a small group trip, your tour leader will ensure that you’re aware of when and where it is safe to drink the water. When hiking in countries such as Albania and Montenegro, carry plenty of water and be wary of ticks that can cause Lyme disease between early spring and late autumn. Wear long trousers and long-sleeved tops, and carry a pair of tweezers with you so that any ticks you find can be safely removed, and then seek treatment. It’s rare, but not something you want to ignore. Following Brexit, British travelers whose EHIC cards have expired will need to replace it with the new GHIC card which provides the same level of reciprocal health coverage. Apply for your card at least two weeks before travel and remember that it’s not a replacement for travel insurance. Rabies is rare but it does still exist in some parts of the Balkans. Make sure you’re vaccinated and don’t go petting any stray dogs or cats. Health services are generally of a good standard throughout the Balkans, but those of more developed countries such as Croatia tend to be the most extensive.

SAFETY

Liam Neeson and his (genuinely objectively awful) Taken series did Albania’s nascent tourism industry no favours. There is crime here, much of it gang-related, but for tourists it’s no more dangerous than anywhere else. In fact, the Balkans as a whole is considered very safe for travelers – you’re at much greater risk of being pickpocketed in a major European city like Barcelona or Rome. You’ll find that every Balkan country is very welcoming to travelers, but do be aware of the tensions bubbling under the surface in some communities. Respect for cultural and religious differences is key. Some areas in the Balkans, such as around the Albania-Kosovo border and in parts of Croatia and Serbia, are still plagued with landmines, an unwelcome leftover from the Yugoslav Wars. Our Balkans vacations avoid anywhere you might be at risk. LGBTQ+ travelers should be aware that especially in rural areas a level of discretion is still wise when it comes to public shows of affection. Also, while Pride events have taken place in some Balkan cities over the years, they are often subject to violence and occasionally state repression.

Tips from our travelers in the Balkans

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travelers are often... other travelers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do – and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful Balkans vacations travel advice that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your vacation – and the space inside your suitcase.
Take some clothes for going out to dinner in the evenings. Balkan people dress well.
– Hava Feary on our Western Balkans tour
“[The highlights were] driving through the Julian Alps, seeing people (and being inspired by them) living out the next stage of their lives setting up goat cheese farm, cultivating new business ideas in the local community catering to tourists, continuing family legacies in small agriculture farms, eating at small restaurants run by young creative chefs, staying at farmhouse/private lodging provided by locals (and not hotel chains), interacting with locals and hearing their stories.” – Chek Khiaw Tan on our Balkans cultural vacation

“Be aware that two of the walks described as gentle are in fact quite strenuous, but of course they are optional. If you are nervous being driven on narrow mountain roads with sheer drops this tour may not be for you, but I always felt perfectly safe. If you do not like very hot weather choose to go in the spring or autumn. Good trip for solo travelers.” – Carol Tremaine on our vacation to Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina

“The variation between the coast and the mountains was amazing and we enjoyed the trip immensely. We saw some beautiful countryside and towns, villages, monasteries, castles, etc; it was great. And do visit Albania now, as it is just getting into the tourism business. Unemployment in Albania is high. By visiting and touring and enjoying – and spending, of course – you will benefit the young and old. The young wish to expand their English language skills; help them along, as it will give them future opportunities.” – Michael Cain on our Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia vacation
And, do visit Albania now... By visiting and touring and enjoying - and spending of course - you will benefit the young and old...
- Michael Cain
“Travel light and take warm clothes for the mountains as well as cool clothes.” – Sue Reynolds on an Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia vacation

“I loved the whole vacation but the people on the vacation were so great that they will remain in my memory for a long time. The places we visited were in the main superb. Sarajevo was perhaps the place I liked best for many reasons. Budva was beautiful. Go for it and enjoy. Make the most of every minute, you won't regret it.” – Katie Coates on a Balkans explorer vacation

“Make sure you have Euros with you. Many places will accept Euros, if you run out of local currency.” – Sara Detmer on a Balkans explorer vacation

“It can bit quite chilly during the Easter vacations! Take cash because typically restaurants etc don't take cards although you won't need too much because prices are very low compared to other European countries.” - Hazel Edwardson an activity vacation in Montenegro
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Boudewijn Boer] [Foodie tips: sailn1] [Kosovo tips: AgronBeqiriPh] [Health & Safety: Luke Vodell] [Hava Feary quote: sailn1] [Michael Cain quote: Nigel Hoult]