Af Paloma Fjord
There is always something fascinating about discovering an area of Europe that everyone knows, but few have visited such really thoroughly where one gets into the corners. One such area is the Balkans.
Here, therefore, is the editorial board's first bid for the most beautiful, interesting and often overlooked cities in the Balkans, which is a region we highly recommend you explore as a traveler.
The cultural city of Rijeka in Croatia
Rijeka has been selected as the European City of Culture by 2020 and with good reason: Rijeka is Croatia's third largest city and an important port city in the Balkans. In addition, it is a northern and more relaxed alternative to Croatia's more famous destinations such as Zadar, Split and Dubrovnik.
It is obvious that rent a car from DKK 85 per. day, start in Rijeka in the north and then otherwise drive down the Croatian coast, or drive east to Osijek, which is described further down in this article. Before departure, you can advantageously orientate yourself around Croatia: Natural gems and undiscovered trails and plan the perfect road trip in the Balkans.
Rijeka has a strong Italian influence, but also an Austrian and French vibe in the form of the distinct café culture. You can clearly feel the charm of the many outdoor cafes on the city's largest boulevard, Korzo, where the locals take a well-deserved rest after a long day, and where you are also more than welcome to settle down as well.
Rijeka's culture and nature
Rijeka is known for being politically well to the left of the rest of the country; in fact, for being decidedly fox red and for having a lively punk rock scene worth checking out.
In Rijeka it is also clearly recommended to take the steep walk up the hill to Trsat Castle. Here you can be overwhelmed by the impressive panoramic view, where you can follow the long winding Rječina river through the city with your eyes.
Also take a day trip to the island of Krk, where you will find the most beautiful beaches, the nicest small villages and one of Croatia's most delicious wines, Vrbnicka Zlahtina, which has a golden color and is originally from a white grape variety.
Osijek for foodies, Croatia
Osijek is far from one of Croatia's most touristy cities and is therefore a nice break from the more visited cities along the Dalmatian coast. If you are still in Rijeka to experience the sights of the Capital of Culture, Osijek can be reached in a four-hour drive.
The easiest and cheapest way to get to Osijek is by flying to Zagreb, to which there is a good flight offer. From there you can fine rent a car (from DKK 30 per day) and drive the approximately three-hour trip to Osijek.
Osijek is the capital of Croatia's northeastern region of Slavonia. The city was hit hard during the Balkan Wars in the 90s, but most of it has thankfully been rebuilt.
The Slavonia region is known throughout Croatia and throughout the Balkans for its fantastic food. It is a good mix of Croatian, Serbian and Hungarian cuisine. The gastronomy reflects Osijek's multiethnic heritage and is famous for its freshness and generous use of both herbs and strong spices.
The accommodation options in the city are not so many, however here we have gathered a good selection - click on "see offer" to get the final price
To experience delicious local wine, you can go wine tasting at a winery a short distance outside Osijek. Here you must finally taste Graševina, Croatia's most famous wine, bottled directly from the wine barrel.
Mediterranean atmosphere in Trebinje, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Trebinje in Bosnia and Herzegovina is just a short drive 18 km east of Dubrovnik in Croatia. The drive is a perfect transition to Bosnia's lesser known Serbian half, Republika Srpska.
Here you can check this wild car offers out, where car rental in Dubrovnik costs from DKK 30 per. day
Trebinje is surrounded by high scenic mountains, and the city's clear Mediterranean atmosphere is complemented by Byzantine domes and signs with Cyrillic characters. The glorious blue-green Trebisnjica River flows calmly from the old town to the new part of town.
To appreciate the glory of Trebinje properly, head up to the nearby mountain Leotar and experience a beautiful paragliding trip over the surrounding mountainous Balkan landscape.
The city also offers parties! On summer evenings, the old town is transformed into a big outdoor party with both live music outdoors and with DJs at the city's surprisingly many nightclubs. It's a pretty lively city.
Azure Kotor in Montenegro
Kotor has one of the most scenic coastlines in Europe, and without a doubt the most beautiful in the Balkans. Located deep in the bay of the same name, Kotor is actually one of the longest bays in the Adriatic. It is even said to be the southernmost fjord in Europe.
You can see more about Montenegro here in our cheerful article The Soviet Union is haunting Europe's new country: Montenegro.
The city is adorned with old towers, villas and steep mountains, which abruptly rise from the turquoise blue water with the small sailboats. The massive 1400th-century Venetian walls protect a regular beehive of winding medieval streets packed with restaurants, bars, churches, shrines and small hotels.
Montenegro is actually a bit like a cheaper and smaller version of Italy, and Kotor is completely irresistible. Therefore, it is advisable to start by getting to know Kotor and then continue exploring other beautiful, Montenegrin small towns like Perast and Budva. Montenegro is also part of the editorial staff top 15 overlooked destinations in Europe.
At Kotor's Old Town you can experience the most beautiful sunset from the top of the city. All you have to do is go 1300 wobbly steps up to the fortress on the mountain top… Today's exercise and lots of sweat are guaranteed, but it is a view without equal in return as well.
The fortress itself is worth a look as it reigns steeply and proudly all over Kotor. And the view over the whole city is magical.
The Bay of Kotor, which reflects the sunset and the two islands barely visible at the farthest point of the horizon, is magical. Without a doubt one of Europe's best panoramic views.
The cultural capital of Serbia Niš
Serbia's third largest city is full of relics from the past, and the city can be dated all the way back to Roman times. It is even said that Constantine the Great was born in Niš over 1800 years ago.
During its lifetime, the city has changed hands countless times due to its geographical location, where it was the gateway from the Balkans to the east. This means that there is still an impressive wealth of fortifications around the city. That is why Niš is also rightly known for being Serbia's cultural city and gives its name to a large number of festivals that are worth visiting all year round.
When you have experienced enough culture in Niš, you can mash yourself in Belgrade gastronomic temptations here.
As a tourist in Niš, you must experience the city's violent past in the form of the remains of the 'Skull Tower'. The tower was built by the vengeful Ottoman general Hurshid Pasha and is made of skulls from his defeated enemies as a warning to future opponents.
A rather bizarre must see on your turn.
The Albanian Riviera
Albania has what can be described as the Mediterranean Sea's most pristine coastline, and it is one of the longest in the Balkans. The rocky stretch is 150 kilometers long and runs from the towns of Vlorë in the north to Sarandë in the south.
Do you want to experience Albania? Here comes a good flight offer to Tirana - click on "select" to see the final price
The Riviera was once part of Epeiros in northwestern ancient Greece. From there, the area's magical Mediterranean culture originates, and even the small colorful coastal towns that cling to the steep cliffs exude the stories of the past.
Overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, the Albanian Riviera has perhaps the most spectacular location. Here you can visit the crumbling castle of Himare, which sits on a hilltop with stunning views.
You can rent a car in Tirana, from where it is just a few hours drive to Vlorë and from there a few more to Sarandë. Here is a good car rental offer for Tirana - click on "see offer" to get the final price.
Speaking of accommodation, the absolute best way to experience the magnificent nature of the Albanian Riviera is actually in a tent - surprisingly enough. And fortunately, there are plenty of campsites in the area, which allows for an alternative, exciting, and not least economical, accommodation under the open starry sky.
To complete the Riviera experience, do not deceive yourself to drive to Jala and enjoy an extraordinary beach day. The water is superb and crystal clear and its inviting blue waves are just waiting for you to jump in.
Albania's mythical Alps
The northern mountains of Albania are one of the least developed parts of Europe and home to tribal culture with roots stretching back centuries.
The towering cliffs of the Albanian Alps surround villages frozen in time, primeval forests and barren pastures, making the wild region a well-known destination for nature lovers.
It is recommended to take the old, rusty Koman ferry from Koman to Fierze. On the three-hour walk over the lake's shiny surface, you pass steep cliffs and lush green mountains. One of the most beautiful boat trips in the Balkans.
City life in buzzing Pristina, Kosovo
Kosovo's period of turbulence and war of independence means that the capital Pristina may not be in the top ten of many wishful travel destinations in the Balkans. But stop for once, because Pristina is actually a little ultrahip gem that has a lot to offer.
It is the capital of Europe's youngest country - the youngest in more ways than one, because the average age in the country is only 28 years, and that's not the only thing that is surprising.
Due to former US President Bill Clinton's involvement in the Kosovo conflict, the Kosovo people today seem to love Americans. There is even a 3,5 meter high statue of Bill Clinton in the middle of Pristina.
The EU is very visible in the city as it is home to many expatriates. Pristina therefore has a lively, international city life with a lot of bars and cafes that are definitely worth checking out.
Romanian scenic Danube delta
'Why should I go to Romania?' you might be wondering. The answer comes here:
The vast delta of the Danube is an absolutely stunning wetland that cannot be compared to anything else. Europe's second longest river, which stretches all the way from southern Germany down across the Balkans to the Black Sea, empties into this delta. It says not so little.
The large and sparsely populated waterways are in fact the country's livelihood, and not least they are home to a UNESCO-protected wetland that is very rich in wildlife and biodiversity.
Finally, to experience all the glory, do not deceive yourself to rent a canoe or sail through the scenic waterways. From there you can enjoy the fauna and flora, the deep orange sunset with the wildlife singing around you and eat delicious local fish and caviar.
When you are in Romania anyway, it is obvious that rent a car (here is an offer from only DKK 15 per day!) and thus experience the diversity of the great country. Prepare for Romania by reading this article: When corruption becomes a job.
Kække Skopje in Northern Macedonia
Northern Macedonia is the country's relatively new name, as until 2018 it was officially named 'The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia'. Northern Macedonia is a greatly underrated country to travel in and that is a shame.
Read the article On a weekend trip to Macedonia to better understand the Balkans' little gem, Northern Macedonia.
It is snuff cheap to travel around there; pictorial, and the country boasts both Greek and Byzantine ruins. As if that were not enough, the population is also one of the friendliest you can imagine.
In the capital Skopje, it is recommended to explore the Albanian quarter with old mosques, markets and a festive nightlife. Close by, you can even experience the newly built government building, which, like a real Las Vegas "Caesars Palace" palace, stands and towers over the river Vardar in memory of Macedonia's glory days with Alexander the Great more than 2000 years ago.
In addition, Skopje is a really good hub if you have to travel around the Balkans, as it is located right in the middle and borders many of the exciting cities and countries that this article deals with.
Therefore, it is obvious to rent a car in Skopje. Here is a good car rental offer - click on "see offer" to get the final price. For example, you can easily drive from Skopje to Bitola and Ohrid, which are described later in the article.
In Skopje, finally, do not miss the controversial big man in all his metallic glory in the middle of the big 'Macedonia Square':
A statue no less than 24 meters high for an (for political reasons) unnamed warrior on a massive, anatomically correct horse with bronze balls as big as beach balls shining proudly in the sunlight. This must be said to be a sight you will soon forget.
Another thing that is definitely recommended to do in Skopje is to experience Kapan An in the Old Bazaar area. It is a nightclub built in a historic caravan station from the 1400th century. It has previously been a traditional Muslim inn and trading house.
If you visit Skopje in the warmer months, there is even a party in the building's courtyard until the bright morning hours.
Bitola, the nice little putt
Bitola is one of the oldest cities in Northern Macedonia, and if you stroll through the city you can clearly spot the traces of the past in the architectural development. Bitola is also - compared to Skopje - the cultural and historical center of northern Macedonia and a small town of about 74.500 inhabitants.
Bitola has many nice and cheap accommodation options that we have gathered here: Click on "see offer" to get the final price
The city boasts beautiful romantic architecture from the 19th century; the time when European consuls ruled in the Ottoman Empire.
The blending cultural history of the past also allows Bitola to boast the most authentic colorful bazaar in the Balkans. The ancient Turkish bazaar is simply like a sight taken out of Aladdin's cave.
It may be advisable to take a day trip to Ohrid; a beautiful old town located on a stunning mountain lake of the same name. The small town has several churches, basilicas and orthodox shrines. Read on in the article to find out more about Ohrid.
Northern Macedonia's most beautiful lake, Ohrid
Probably northern Macedonia's most famous and primary tourist destination is the majestic lake Ohrid. The surrounding town of Ohrid has a charming older town with Ottoman heritage, beautiful ancient monasteries and then of course the large and famous lake that has given the town its name.
A must is to take a small boat trip and from the sea side experience the beautiful and spectacular church 'St. John at Kaneo 'from the 1200th century. It is really nicely situated on a hill with a formidable view; here nature and culture merge into a higher unity.
Tip: With the 2,5 hour ferry ride that takes you across Lake Ohrid, you get to see some of the most beautiful surroundings you can imagine.
The ferry sails to the spectacular 1000 year old monastery 'St. Naum 'at the Albanian border. It is definitely worth a visit and the nature in the area is unique. Therefore, do not deceive yourself for one of the most magical day trips in the Balkans.
The ancient city of Sozopol on the Black Sea coast is one of the most historic cities in Bulgaria and not least in the Balkans. The city's old town dates back to before ancient Greece and has cobbled streets and the characteristic dilapidated two-storey houses typical of Ottoman cities.
Explore Sozopol by strolling through the small winding streets of the picturesque old town. Eventually you will hit the waterfront - unless you are extremely lost. Here you can enjoy a refreshment and a round of world-class sunbathing on the beautiful beach of Harmani.
In late summer, there is pressure in Sozopol: here it is filled with Bulgarian and international tourists who come to get sun, good food and fantastic beaches. It simply exudes life and holiday atmosphere in the city and it is definitely worth experiencing.
Aladzha Monastery, Bulgaria
This monastery in northeastern Bulgaria is an absolutely stunning limestone gem in the Balkans. It is built into a vertical rock wall and is one of the most unique Christian monasteries in Europe. In their time, the monks carved dwellings, crypts and even a small chapel in the limestone. It is a very impressive piece of work that you must not deceive yourself for.
Alternatively, one can too rent a car in Bulgaria's third largest city, Varna, - click on “see offer to get the final price, from which there is only a 20 minute drive to the monastery.
Tip: Throw a few coins on the carpeted floor in the monastery chapel. Reportedly, it brings good luck.
A short hike through the woods leads you to a catacomb that dates back even further.
If you are interested in experiencing several of Bulgaria's enchanting monasteries, read on Top 5 overlooked World Heritage Sites and be surprised.
Relaxed metropolitan atmosphere in Thessaloniki
Although Greece is one of the more well-visited countries in this article, Thessaloniki is probably still a bit of a well-kept secret. And that's lucky, because the city exudes authenticity, history and local culture.
Thessaloniki is located in the Macedonia region and is Greece's second largest city. Thessaloniki served for millennia as the gateway to the Balkans for sailing from the Aegean Sea. This caused many to try to gain control of the city, and it has gone by many names, including Salonika and Salun.
Are you interested in other less touristy cities in Greece? Then read about Volos and Pelion near Thessaloniki in Europe: 15 overlooked destinations and came very close to the areas in Volos and Pelion - my own favorite places
Thessaloniki was once known as the cosmopolitan second capital of the Ottoman Empire, and later the great Spanish-Jewish immigration led to the city being called "Madre de Israel" / "Mother of Israel."
Today, the architecture of the big city reflects that much of the old has been lost. One hundred years ago, fires broke out in the city, and much was lost forever. Few ruins and ancient monuments today stand alongside the modern, which was simply built on top of the old.
In Thessaloniki's new metro, there has recently been an opportunity to experience the underground ruins of the past. At the open archeological site of 'Venizelou' metro station, metro travelers can experience the 84-meter-old marble-paved road from the heyday of the past.
After admiring the history and architecture, you should end the day in true Thessaloniki fashion: Eat kilos of seafood and drink liters of wine.
The city's life can be found in the street cafes, which Thessaloniki actually houses more of per capita than any other city in Europe. Afterwards, a long stroll along the water is much needed and alluring, and Thessaloniki offers the perfect backdrop and the most beautiful sunset for the purpose.
Turkish charm in Edirne
Last stop in the southern part of the Balkans is Turkey. The Turkish part of the Balkans is small, but in turn rich in history and culture, and the Edirs contain it all.
The city was known as Hadrianopolis in antiquity and is close to the border with Bulgaria. Its location means that it has been the center of many great battles in Hellenic times.
The most famous attraction in the area is the giant Selimiye Mosque from the 1500th century, which can be seen from a long distance. If you want to learn more about traditional Ottoman architecture, Edirne is an obvious destination.
The city's architecture is world famous, partly because of the beautiful bridges. Take a walk along the Maritza Bridge and experience a sea of decorative minarets.
The Edirs are also known for a somewhat atypical, old tradition, namely oil mining. Every year in June, an oil wrestling festival is even held in honor of this bizarre sport.
Turkey is a huge country, and not too far from the Edirne lies a completely unique natural area, which is included in our fantastic article on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Read in Crazy about world heritage and be blown backwards.
Edirne is also known for the 'Thracian Wine Route', which in Turkish is called Trakya Bag Rotasi. The route starts in Edirne and continues through historic vineyards, each of which boasts its own distinctive wines and flavors. Worth checking out!
Read here about why Turkey is included in the article Here you get the most value for your travel money
If you are interested in reading more about Turkey's many magical destinations, you can check it out Alanya - more than bazaars, bars and beaches
Have a good trip to the Balkans!