Tory is a native Bulgarian who has traveled extensively through the Balkans (specifically Greece, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia).
Balkans Travel Guide
The Balkans is one of the least talked about regions in Europe. A lot of travelers have been to countries in Western Europe such as France and Germany, but not many have heard more than just a few words about the Balkans.
Where Are the Balkans, Exactly?
The Balkan peninsula is located on the southeastern edge of Europe. It is bounded by the Black Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Adriatic Sea. The Danube, Sava and Kupa rivers shape the northern boundary of the peninsula.
These are all the countries that have full or partial territory in the Balkan peninsula: Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Romania and Italy (less than 0.5% located in the Balkans).
So Why Travel the Balkans?
This gorgeous region has so much to offer. Its various countries all bring something different to the table—whether you're craving museums or moussaka, waterfalls or city walls, the Balkans have it all.
1. Stunning Scenery and Nature
One of the things that makes the Balkans amazing is its beautiful nature and scenery. Even if the area does not cover a large portion of Europe, it is rich in diverse, picturesque landscapes that simply beg to be seen. A short few day trips would not be enough to see all the beauty that the Balkan peninsula has to offer.
Coastlines and Beaches
If you are a fan of the beach, most countries in the region offer you beautiful warm beaches in the summer. Albania has some of the bluest turquoise-colored beaches in Europe. Greece has the longest coastline and it is the country that gets the most tourists for its beautiful beaches.
Most tourists visit the southern coast of Greece, but many are missing out by not giving a chance to the northern beaches. I remember when my group and I went to one of the tranquil beaches in rural northern Greece. We were rewarded with perfect weather, and unlike in the South, there were no tourist crowds.
Lakes, Rivers and Mountains
Balkan states that do not have access to the sea also have lakes and rivers worth seeing. If you are not the biggest fan of the seaside and you prefer the mountains, there are plenty of them too.
The countries in the region also have canyons, numerous caves, and valleys with lovely countryside. No matter what you choose to visit, you will find a lot of new things to see and experience. Also, make sure to ask locals about where the best place to go is because there are too many sights to cover in one article.
Natural Landmarks in the Balkans:
- Meteora, Greece
- Durmitor National Park, Montenegro
- Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
- Bigar Waterfall, Romania
- Seven Rila Lakes, Bulgaria
- Lake Ohrid, Macedonia (and Albania)
- Davolja Varos, Serbia
- Perućica Rainforest, Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Komani Lake, Albania
2. Rich History and Culture
One of the things that separates and unites Balkan people is their ancient—and at the same time recent and conflicting—history. These are lands where different cultures clash. There, you can possibly find orthodox and catholic churches, as well as mosques, located all in one city or area. There are strong Ottoman (Turkish) and, depending on the country, Soviet influences.
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You can find recent and ancient ruins, fortresses, and monasteries from many different empires and peoples that have influenced each of these countries: Thracian, Greek, Roman, Slavic, Persian, Ottoman, and more influences.
The ancient Greek alphabet was created there thousands of years ago. The Cyrillic alphabet, which is now used by countries such as Russia, had also been created there during the First Bulgarian Empire. In these lands, you can find the oldest gold on Earth.
In a few words, this is your place to go if you are a history and culture lover. So if you want to discover ancient historical sights, here are a few notable places to visit:
- Acropolis of Athens, Greece
- Hagia Sophia, Turkey
- Dubrovnik City Walls, Croatia
- Butrint National Park, Albania
- Stari Most, Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Rila Monastery, Bulgaria
- Heraclea Lyncestis, Macedonia
And a lot more...
3. Delicious and Fresh Cuisine
One of the things many visitors love is trying the delicious and fresh food in the region. The Balkans have a suitable climate for producing different fruits, vegetables, spices and herbs. The climate varies a little in different areas.
In Greece, which is the southernmost part of the peninsula, the cuisine is very Mediterranean, while the countries north of Greece, while sharing many similarities with Greek cuisine and while also being partly Mediterranean, have some influences from Eastern and Central European cuisines. All of the countries in the Balkans have been highly influenced by Ottoman cuisine, so you may find a lot of similarities with Turkish and Middle Eastern food.
The region is rich in herbs and spices, so you will rarely find dull or tasteless food. Some of the best tomatoes and olives in the world are coming from the Balkans. Even though people in those countries love grilled and spiced meat, the place has a lot of salads and vegetarian food options to offer.
My personal favorite food is Moussaka. At first sight, it looks like lasagna, but the flavor and ingredients are different. Depending on the region, Moussaka is an eggplant- or potato-based dish with minced meat and covered with béchamel sauce on top.
These are some local dishes or foods that are very popular in those countries:
Doner Kebab/ Gyros/ Shawarma
Pizza - Balkan Style
Snezhanka/ Katak/ Tzatziki
Tulumba (Similar to Churros)
4. The Landmarks
Even though some natural and historical landmarks have already been listed above, there are many more cities that have a lot of landmarks that are worth seeing and visiting:
- Ljubljana, Slovenia
- Kotor, Montenegro
- Dubrovnik, Croatia
- Istanbul, Turkey
- Belgrade, Serbia
- Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Plovdiv, Bulgaria
- Santorini, Greece
One of the things that all travelers love about this region is that many of the places are very cheap compared to the rest of Europe. Some of the countries located in the Balkans are some of the cheapest in the world.
The cheapest possible vacation destinations there include Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Bulgaria. You can expect to pay more in Greece, Slovenia, and Croatia. Be aware that the Euro is not the most common currency there, and only a few countries use it.
Overall, the Balkan peninsula is rich in culture, nature and a lot more, making it very difficult to decide where to go. But don't fret—the Balkans are great for taking a spontaneous and unplanned trip because wherever you go, something new and exciting will always be waiting for you.
© 2019 Tory Peta