The Balkans is a region that includes countries on the Balkan Peninsula in the southeast of Europe, including most of the former Yugoslavia.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Slovenia is sometimes considered to be part of the Balkans, but it is increasingly being included in tour packages as part of Central Europe, such as Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland. The same applies only partially to Croatia. Slovenes consider themselves Central European, due to their long ties to Austria.
The Balkan peninsula is, according to some definitions, what lies south of the rivers Sava and Danube from the city of Belgrade. This definition, however, then would rule out part of northern Serbia, known as Vojvodina, a good part of Croatia, Romania and, of course, Slovenia. Historically, all these countries/regions were usually considered to be part of the Balkan countries, as Slovenia, too, was once part of Yugoslavia. It is their recent independence that has allowed for the Slovenes to re-proclaim their desire to be considered Central European.
Lastly, much of Greece also resides upon the Balkan Peninsula; however, the Greeks, like the Slovenes and Croats, also distance themselves from the Balkans, and, as its major travel destinations (apart from Athens) lie upon its islands, it is almost exclusively considered as a part of Southern Europe, anyway.
Click on the city’s name for hotels and activity ideas
- Belgrade – The capital of Serbia and former capital of Yugoslavia. Regional transportation hub with world-renowned nightlife and history.
- Bucharest – The Romanian capital is a diverse mosaic of different ideologies and historical periods with hidden charms.
- Chişinău – A trip back to the Soviet Union, the Moldovan capital can offer to the visitor an unexpectedly enriching experience.
- Podgorica – Capital of the newly-founded Republic of Montenegro.
- Prishtina – Off-the-beaten-path capital of the disputed Republic of Kosovo with more to offer than might be expected.
- Sarajevo – Sometimes referred to as the “Jerusalem of Europe”, the Bosnian capital has a lot of attractions like the old town (Bascarsija), the Jewish Museum of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Sarajevo War Tunnel, and Jahorina (a popular ski resort which hosted the womens’ alpine ski events of the 1984 Winter Olympics). Sarajevo offers a lot of different cultural influences and therefore is different to other “typical” Western European cities.
- Skopje – Capital of North Macedonia with major restoration works underway and landmarks of its Ottoman-dominated past.
- Sofia – The Bulgarian capital at the foot of Mount Vitosha is famous for its nightlife, old Roman ruins, hot springs, museums and monuments. It has a bit for every traveler which may even include hiking and skiing on Mount Vitosha. Sofia is also the gateway to historical gems including Plovdiv, Koprivshtitsa, and the Rila Monastery as well as ski resorts such as Bansko.
- Split – Dalmatian capital city
- Tirana – Albania’s capital. Off-the-beaten path but currently undergoing modernization and has a lot of history.
- Zagreb – Capital of Croatia; during any time of the day and every day of the week people living in Zagreb are enjoying the city with a cup of coffee. The Flower Square is full with chairs to sit and enjoy the city. Zagreb also offers a lot of different museums, parks, the Jarun lake (with a lot of nice clubs that are working during the spring and summer), shopping opportunities, restaurants, and small bakeries. Something odd to visit but totally recomendable is the Cemetery Mirogoj
- Bansko — Bulgaria’s biggest ski resort. Located at the foot of the Pirin Mountains. Popular among European tourists for its affordable price and authentic Bulgarian atmosphere.
- Bitola — Sometimes considered the most “European” city in the Balkans due to its neoclassical architecture. Te people are always dressed chic and trendy. Must see – Wide Alley (Широк Сокак).
- Budva — A vibrant and pristine town in Montenegro on the Adriatic Coast.
- Burgas — Famous for shopping, nightlife, beaches, sand sculptures, and the “Sea Garden” Park. Transportation hub for Bulgarian Black Sea resorts such as Sunny Beach. Has a vibrant city center with pedestrian-only avenues. Nearby is the quaint ancient Greek town of Sozopol (known in ancient times as Apollonia).
- Dubrovnik — An ancient walled city on the Adriatic coast. One of the most visited places in the Balkans.
- Durres — An Albanian coastal city on the Adriatic Sea with a popular beach.
- Kopaonik — One of the most popular mountains for skiing.
- Makarska — One of the most visited tourist spots on the Adriatic Sea.
- Ohrid — Considered the jewel in Macedonia’s crown, Ohrid is situated on a beautiful lake. There are many old churches and Bulgarian Tsar Samuil’s fortress.
- Peć — Kosovo’s most beautiful place for mountaineering, climbing & rock climbing. It has Hajla Summit with 2403m.and the only Via Ferrata in the Balkans.
- Plitvice Lakes — Beautiful nature landscape of lakes.
- Plovdiv — The oldest city in Europe and cultural capital of Bulgaria. It is famous for its landmarks dating back to Roman times, charming Old town with cobblestone streets, and pedestrian-friendly city center.
- Ruse — A city on the Danube River known as “Little Vienna” for its architecture.
- Sunny Beach — Largest beach resort in Bulgaria and in the Balkans. Popular among Western European and Russian tourists for its 6 km-long golden-sand beach and vibrant/wild nightlife. Situated next to Sunny Beach is the popular ancient Greek island-town of Nesebar, which is connected to the mainland by a short bridge.
- Veliko Tarnovo — Bulgaria’s medieval capital. Famous for the ruins of the Tsarevets fortress – the seat of the Bulgarian tsars and Bulgarian patriarchs, and its traditional Bulgarian 19th century architecture.
- Zlatibor — A mountain with the healthiest air in Europe.
While lately the very word of Balkans may translate to ethnic strife and civil wars in people’s minds due to the headlines in the last decade of 20th century (and unfortunately, there is some truth in this perception), Balkans, with its rich, though often turbulent history and wonderful nature, offers much more than that. Charming multicultural towns, impressive monasteries and citadels dotting the hillsides, mighty mountains sprinkled with a liberal dose of beautiful forests and pleasant lakes, and last but not the least a great folk music tradition—coming off both as much joyful and melancholic as it could be—all survived various wars, if sometimes suffered a bit from the atrocities. With hundreds of kilometres of coastline on both the Adriatic and Black Seas, beachgoers won’t be disappointed in this region, either.
Languages on Balkans include:
- Albanian, which is spoken mainly in Albania, Kosovo, and parts of Macedonia;
- Bosnian which is spoken in Bosnia and Herzegovina;
- Bulgarian, which is spoken in Bulgaria;
- Croatian, which is spoken in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina;
- Macedonian, which is spoken mainly in North Macedonia;
- Montenegrin, which is spoken mainly in Montenegro;
- Romanian, which is spoken in Romania;
- Serbian, which is spoken mainly in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and portions of Kosovo .
- Turkish, which is spoken in Turkey and portions of Bulgaria , Greece, Romania, & Bosnia;
Before nationalist tension rose in the wake of the Yugoslav Wars, Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, and Montenegrin were all considered a single language, Serbo-Croatian. And indeed the distinction is purely political, as, except for a few specific words, it is the exact same language with different names. In fact, national languages of most of the countries in the former Yugoslavia (Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia) and Bulgaria are members of the South Slavic language group — therefore, due to much commonality between words and language structure, it is possible to communicate verbally between countries if you have a basic understanding of Serbo-Croatian, Macedonian or Bulgarian.
Some other useful languages might be Turkish, which some people in Greece and Bulgaria speak, and Romani may be useful in all of the Balkan states. Most of the people, especially in cities and touristic areas speak English, and sometimes German, Italian, French (in Romania).
There are numerous international airports in the Balkans. The major airports in the region are (by country):
- Albania: Tirana
- Bosnia and Herzegovina: Sarajevo, Banja Luka
- Bulgaria: Sofia, Plovdiv, Burgas, Varna
- Croatia: Dubrovnik, Zagreb
- Kosovo: Priština
- North Macedonia: Skopje, Ohrid
- Moldova: Chisinau
- Romania: Bucharest
- Serbia: Belgrade, Nis, Vrsac
- See Ferries in the Mediterranean
Though three of the Balkan countries (Bulgaria,Romania and Croatia) have joined the European Union with others on the way, no countries in Balkans have implemented the Schengen Treaty yet, which means, unlike most of the rest of Europe, border controls are still a reality in the region—which is rather inconvenient but a joy for the ones who want all those entry and exit stamps on their passports.
Detailed maps of most of the countries in the Western Balkans you can find with torrent downloaders; look for “Topografske karte EX YU” (Topographic maps former-Yugoslavia), a file of approximately 4.13 GB. Note that this does not include Bosnia. To download only the maps you need, see the matrix at the Military Geographical Institute of Serbia.
A cheap way for traveling around the Balkans is the Balkan Flexipass, which is valid in Bulgaria, Greece, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Turkey.
BalkanViator is a new website that aims to make life easier for anyone travelling by public transport in the Balkans. As many travellers in the region are aware, details of bus routes in the region can be frustratingly difficult to pin down when planning a trip. Websites with bus timetables are often fragmentary and provide limited information (for example departure times but no arrival times, or routes listed by final destination with no indication of intermediate stops). The idea behind BalkanViator is to put an end to all this by making available in a single website the information about bus routes held by the Ministries of Transport of Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Kosovo, and Bosnia – more than 20,000 routes in all. Blog about BalkanViator on Balkanology.com It is, however, far from complete at this point and you might be better off going to the local bus station to inform about arrival/departure times. It is common to pay an additional (cash) fee for any luggage you store in the baggage bays of the bus. Prices are around €0.50 in local currency. It is important to note that this is also the case during transfers. Taking the bus from Sofia to Belgrade, with a transfer in Niš, you will have to pay the bus driver in Niš 50RSD to stow your luggage. Be prepared and bring some currency of the country you are travelling to or through.
- ICFF Manaki Brothers, Bitola (Битола) North Macedonia,  – International Cinematographers Film Festival Manaki Brothers held in Bitola every year September-October. Popular in the region and the festival has great connection with France.
- Guča festival, Guča (Гуча) Serbia,  – An annual trubački (trumpet) music festival held in the summer. This genre of music is best known as ethnic jazz, and is best played by the Balkan Roma people. 6-12th of August, 2012
- EXIT Festival, Novi Sad, Serbia, , 12-15 July 2012 – An annual rock festival held in early July, which many musicians and bands from all over Europe attend.
- Ohrid Summer Festival, Ohrid, Macedonia – An international culture festival held annually from July through August.
- Acrobatics festival, Krupa na Vrbasu, BiH  – 20-26th of August 2012. Circus skills in the canyon.
- Peaks of the Balkans Hike , – The only permitted and guided hike of its kind. The trail and peace park concept is a nominee for the 2013 World Tourism Awards, and with this new project, border-crossing procedures for hikers have been simplified and a mountain security system has been established.
- Kosovo – Climbing Hajla Summit 2403m
- Bosnia and Herzegovina was the host for the 1984 Winter Olympics, and after the 1990s, the alpine facilities are well restored. Around Sarajevo and Travnik are Olympic-grade mountains.
- In Serbia, you can ski in Kopaonik and Zlatibor.
Whereas it is generally not safe to openly display gay behaviour in the Balkans (See “stay safe” section below) there are many underground alternatives which are supportive of the LGBT community.
Regional firewater of choice is rakija (spelling varies from country to country; very similar to Turkish raki), a hard liquor (around 40%, and can be higher if home-made) common to all countries in Balkans. Rakija is distilled out of just about any fruit grown in the region, with the most popular varieties being plum, apricot, mulberry, and grape.
Another local drink is boza, a thick and sweet ale made of millet, maze, or wheat with a very low (less than 1%) alcohol content and traditionally drunk in winters.
There are excellent local beers to be had in each country in the region. Wine is also common, the peninsula being dotted by vineyards from one end to another.
Low taxes on alcohol coupled with a laid-back lifestyle and a liberal attitude towards alcohol consumption mean even smaller towns in the region has a considerable nightlife scene. Belgrade in particular is noted as the region’s party hotspot.
While the horror stories of 90s are long gone and the likelihood of an armed conflict in the foreseeable future is next to none, unexploded land mines as a legacy of Yugoslav Wars continue to be a safety risk, especially in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Serbia. What is worse about them is that they are where you don’t expect them to be at all—they tend to be moved away from their original positions by the abundant rainfall in the region, and therefore riverbanks close to former hotbeds of conflict are especially dangerous. Don’t stray too far into wilderness unless you are absolutely sure where you are heading is free of mines.
In most Balkan countries it is not a good idea to display openly gay behavior. Slovenia and Croatia are more liberal exceptions and the situation more similar to Central Europe.
Sex trafficking happens in the Balkan states.
The Balkan countries are surrounded by Greece and Turkey to south, Ukraine to northeast, Central Europe to northwest, and Italy to west across the Adriatic, all of which have greatly influenced the regional culture now and then.
Content (Copyleft) courtesy of the marvelous Wikitravel.