The Ultimate 2-Week Balkans Itinerary: 3 Perfect Routes

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by Maggie Turansky


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When it comes to planning a Balkans itinerary, it can be difficult to know where to start. As one of the least-visited regions in Europe, there is much of the Balkans that remains undiscovered to most foreign travellers.

This makes travelling in and around the countries that made up former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Albania a perfect place to get off the beaten path while also sticking to even the tightest of budgets.

The Balkan region has something to offer any type of traveller — from thriving, metropolitan cities, to sprawling bucolic idyll, ancient Greek and Roman ruins to pristine blue seas and inviting beaches.

However, with so much on offer in the area, the prospect of piecing together a route can seem slightly overwhelming. The itineraries below will, hopefully, take some of the guesswork out of planning and help you see the highlights of the Balkans over the course of a fortnight!

Planning a Balkans Trip

Best Time to Visit the Balkans

One of the biggest things you’ll need to consider for your trip to the Balkans is the time of year in which you plan to visit the region. All Balkan countries experience four seasons — from cold, snowy winters to hot and muggy summers. Also, many places in the Balkans tend to book out far in advance in the summer high season, especially along the Adriatic and Black Sea coasts.

Personally, I think that the best time to visit the Balkans would be in the shoulder seasons. Either in March-May or September-November.

In regards to the weather, with the exception of a handful of cold snaps early on, we found the weather to be mild and pleasant — averaging about 20ºC (68ºF) with abundant sunny days.

I tend to think that travelling in the shoulder seasons would be ideal for the more active traveller as well. There are a wealth of mountains and outdoor activities for the nature lover in the Balkans and the milder weather would make it all the more pleasant to enjoy these.

Planning your itinerary in the winter might prove fruitful as well, however, as many countries (especially Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and North Macedonia) offer world-class skiing at a fraction of the cost to their Western European counterparts.

View from the Yellow Fortress in Sarajevo
View from the Yellow Fortress in Sarajevo

Trip Length

Though the area of the Balkans seems small, these countries are incredibly diverse and complex and one could easily spend years in the region and barely scratch the surface. In fact, even after spending over three months exploring the Balkans, we feel that there was still so much we missed out on and are desperate to return and see more.

That being said, we understand that the majority of people don’t have an unlimited amount of time in which to devote to a Balkans itinerary. So, if you’re keen to dip your toe into exploring this amazing and diverse region, we would recommend going for two weeks at a minimum.

When planning a two-week Balkan itinerary, there are several things you might want to keep in mind. First off, especially if it’s your first time visiting the region, is that you need to take it slow.

If you can only spend two weeks in the Balkans, try to limit your travels to two or three countries at maximum. While travellers may think the only thing to see in certain Balkan countries is their capital or most popular city, there are a number of beautiful and interesting places to visit in each country and that takes time.

If you have more than two weeks to spend, all of the itineraries in this article can easily be combined or added to in order to suit any trip length. The only limit is your imagination!

Finally, have you considered taking out travel insurance for your Balkans trip? If you’re travelling on a budget and are only after travel medical insurance it’s worth checking out SafetyWing’s nomad insurance.

church of Saint John the Theologian ohrid
Church of Saint John the Theologian in Ohrid, Macedonia

Getting Around the Balkans

If your visions of travelling through Europe include a lot of train travel, it’s time to give you a harsh dose of reality: the train network is extremely lacking in the Balkans. Therefore, if you are going to be relying on public transit while visiting the corner of Southeastern Europe, you’re going to be spending a lot of time on the bus.

Intercity buses in the Balkans are frequent and affordable throughout the region, but there can be some idiosyncrasies depending on where you are visiting and when. Not all bus routes are listed online, for instance, and those that are can sometimes be inaccurate or out of date.

The best way to make sure that you’re aware of all potential bus routes is to either check at the station or ask someone at your accommodation. This will usually point you in the right direction.

If a particular bus route is erratic, there is also another public transit option that is quite popular among Balkan travellers and that is the minibus. There are a few transfer companies that organise door-to-door intercity transfers in small, privately owned vans.

These do cost more than a traditional bus, however, they operate more frequently and at more agreeable hours than many intercity routes and have the added convenience door-to-door pick-up and drop-off.

If you are interested in using a minibus as transport in the Balkans, they can normally be arranged by your accommodation or privately through a quick Google search. Just type “city A to city B minibus transfer” and you will surely find something.

If you aren’t planning on using public transport to get around and are keen to embark on a Balkan road trip itinerary, then there are a few things you should keep in mind about driving in the Balkans. First and foremost, make sure that your car has the proper insurance so you are able to cross the border.

Most Balkan countries are outside of the Schengen area and therefore have different laws concerning international car travel, so make sure to check with your rental car company to ensure you are able to visit all of the countries on your itinerary.

Generally speaking, roads in the Balkans are fairly well-maintained, especially those going between the large cities. The exception to this, however, is Albania where there isn’t as much money to invest in the infrastructure and the roads can be quite precarious.

Balkan drivers can also be a bit aggressive, so make sure that you are comfortable driving defensively if you want to go on a Balkan road trip.

Sunset at Kalamegdan Fortress
Sunset at the Belgrade Fortress

Accommodation

As mentioned earlier, if you’re not travelling in the high season it’s not essential to book accommodation more than a few days in advance. However, if you happen to find yourself in the Balkans between the months of June and August accommodation can be in a lot higher demand, especially along the coast.

If you are travelling in the high season, we highly recommend booking accommodation as far in advance as makes sense for your travel style – typically a couple of weeks to as much as a couple of months in advance.

If you’re on a budget, then these are some of the accommodation options that we recommend in the Balkans:

  • Booking.com – You can generally book anything from budget guesthouses to luxe hotels on this platform throughout the Balkans (and the rest of the world!).
  • Hostelworld Balkan hostels are some of our favourite hostels in the world as they are often run by locals and tend to be smaller than the typical larger Western European hostels
  • Airbnb – a great budget option if you’re travelling as a couple or with friends as private rooms can be cheaper than two dorms.
Prizren, Kosovo old town
The historic old town of Prizren, Kosovo

Balkan Highlights Itinerary

This Balkan itinerary will see you visiting the highlights of the central Balkan nations of Serbia and Bosnia & Herzegovina. Both countries have long and complex histories, incredibly diverse and vibrant cities, and friendly and hospitable residents. One thing is certain, however: you will leave longing to come back and see more.

Days 1-3: Belgrade, Serbia

There is really no better major city to begin a sojourn through the Balkans than in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia and the former capital of Yugoslavia.

Belgrade is an incredibly special city that, though certainly a bit rough around the edges and not traditionally beautiful, has a tendency to charm travellers off their feet. There aren’t a ton of typical tourist sites to see here, but it is worth spending at least three days exploring and getting to know the Serbian capital.

Spend your first day exploring the Dorcol and Skardalija neighbourhoods of the city – the oldest part of Belgrade with a range of different architectural styles and fascinating history. Take the time to visit the Kalemegdan Fortress Park which sits above the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers.

And, of course, no visit to Belgrade is complete without experiencing its infamous nightlife.

On your second day, tour the St Sava Cathedral, one of the largest Orthodox cathedrals in the world. Visit the Nikola Tesla museum and geek out over the inventions of this celebrated scientist and maybe sample a craft beer or two in one of Belgrade’s many pubs.

On the third day in the city, opt to visit the Zemun neighbourhood – which used to be separate from Belgrade entirely and was a part of Austria-Hungary. You could also take the time to wander around Novi Beograd or venture a bit further out and visit the Museum of Yugoslavian History.

Where to Stay in Belgrade

Garni Hotel Opera – Located in the city centre, this is a great hotel if you have a higher budget when visiting Belgrade. They come very highly rated, are within walking distance to all of the best attractions, they have several clean and comfortable rooms available, and breakfast is included in the nightly rate.

El Diablo Hostel – If you’re travelling to Belgrade on a budget, then this hostel is the best place to stay. This place has an incredible atmosphere, a wonderful and helpful local staff, clean dorms and private rooms, and they also organise social events in the evenings. 

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Belgrade!

Zindan Gate @ Kalamegdan Fortress
Zindan Gate at the Kalamegdan Fortress in Belgrade

Day 4: Novi Sad, Serbia

Novi Sad, Serbia’s second-largest city, is an excellent place to visit for a day trip from Belgrade, especially if you want to see a bit more of Serbia. Easily reached in a bit over an hour via bus or train from Belgrade, spending one day in Novi Sad is a wonderful idea.

Selected as the European Capital of Culture 2021, Novi Sad is finally getting the attention it deserves on the international tourism scale. Famous already for its notorious EXIT music festival each summer, Novi Sad also has a beautiful old town that is worth wandering through and a thriving cafe culture.

One of the main sites to see in Novi Sad would be the Petrovardian Fortress which sits atop the banks of the Danube. The city also has a great nightlife and arts scene which ensures that you won’t be bored for a day trip.

Petrovaradin Fortress in Novi Sad
Petrovaradin Fortress in Novi Sad

Day 5: Belgrade to Sarajevo

The fifth day of this itinerary should be treated as a travel day as you make your way from the capital of Serbia to the capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina: Sarajevo. Sarajevo is a delightful city to visit, but it does take basically a full day to get there.

There are buses that leave from Belgrade’s main train station and arrive at the East Sarajevo bus station, which is a fair distance from the city centre – however, it’s easy to hop in a taxi and make it to the old town.

Once you arrive in Sarajevo, simply spend your evening wandering around, getting your bearings or maybe snacking on some burek or classic Sarajevski cevapi.

Where to Stay in Sarajevo

Hotel VIP – This hotel, located in the Old Town, is within a stone’s throw of all of Sarajevo’s best sites. They have a range of comfortable and clean rooms available, a restaurant on site, and a fantastic breakfast included in the nightly rate. 

Hostel Franz Ferdinand – A great hostel for solo and budget travellers. They have a range of dorms and private rooms with helpful staff and breakfast included.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Sarajevo!

Days 6-7: Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Sarajevo is a wonderful city to explore and it has a completely different feel to it than Belgrade. With two days here, you can take the time to visit the city’s many museums and learn about its place in history…from Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian rule to the devastating siege in the 1990s.

Though the war ended here more than 20 years ago, there are still reminders of the devastation that Sarajevo saw scattered throughout the city and it is incredibly important to educate yourself on this contentious matter.

Other interesting sites in Sarajevo include the bazaars of the Old Town, the Latin Bridge (the site where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, which many historians believe was an inciting incident to the beginning of the First World War), and the Yellow Fortress. To learn more about the war od the ’90s, make sure to visit the heartbreaking War Childhood Museum.

On your second day in the city, it can be worth heading out to learn more about the siege of the 1990s by taking a tour the visit the War Tunnel Museum or even riding the cable car up to the abandoned bobsled tracks from the 1984 Winter Olympics. Today they are covered in graffiti and can be fascinating to walk along.

Also, take the time to visit the harrowing 11/07/95 Gallery to learn more about the horrors of the Srebrenica Massacre in 1995.

Sarajevo Old Town
Sarajevo Old Town

Days 8-9: Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina

After spending time in the Bosnian capital, it’s time to head south to one of the country’s most popular tourist cities: Mostar.

Mostar is perhaps most famous for the iconic, Stari Most, or Old Bridge, which was reconstructed in 2004 after being destroyed by Croatian forces during the Balkan Wars in 1993. Before then, the same bridge had connected the two sides of Mostar for over 400 years.

While Mostar is becoming ever more popular purely because it is incredibly picturesque, small, and walkable, it is important to learn about the history and culture that has shaped this Bosnian city.

Take the time to go on a tour of Mostar in order to learn how the city is still very much ethnically divided today and to try and understand the horrors that residents have had to live through.

On your second day, you can also venture out to visit the lovely Kravice Waterfalls and Blagaj Monastery, along with many other historic sites.

Where to Stay in Mostar

Hotel Eden – This hotel is excellently located in the Old Town, has a number of great rooms available and also has a free breakfast each morning.

Hostel Majdas – This small hostel located close to everything in Mostar is one of the best hostels in the entire region. Run by incredibly hospitable owners, the rooms are clean and comfortable, they organise day tours of Mostar and the surrounding area, and a hot and delicious breakfast is included in the nightly rate.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Mostar!

Stari Most in Mostar
Mostar’s iconic Old Bridge

Days 10-12: Dubrovnik, Croatia

Now that you’ve been relatively off the beaten tourist trail in the Balkans, it’s time to visit arguably the most popular destination in the region: Dubrovnik. Yes, Dubrovnik is touristy but it’s for a reason – it is absolutely beautiful!

You can reach Dubrovnik from Mostar in about 3 hours, so if you get an early start you will have lots f time to devote to exploring a bit on your very first day.

On the 11th day of this itinerary, take the time walk the city walls (get there early!) and explore all of the highlights of the Old Town. And on your final day in Dubrovnik, take the time to dig a little bit deeper, head to the lovely nature reserve on Lokrum Island or spend some time working on your tan by lounging on one of Dubrovnik’s many beachy areas.

Where to Stay in Dubrovnik

Boutique Hotel Porto – Located within easy reach of the old town, this boutique hotel is perfect for a plush stay in Dubrovnik. They have plenty of lovely rooms and amenities like free parking and an on-site restaurant.

Old Town Hostel – This hostel, located in the centre of the old town, is perfect for those visiting Dubrovnik on a budget. They have several dorms and private rooms to choose from and great common areas.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other options in Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik at sunset
Dubrovnik at sunset

Days 12-14: Kotor, Montenegro

The final stop on this Balkans itinerary is the lively town of Kotor in Montenegro.

Kotor is a popular day-trip option from Dubrovnik, however, we believe it is an incredible city that deserves more time than just one simple day.

Your first day in this beautiful place can be spent wandering through the charming cobbled streets of the Old Town and walking the famed city walls. It is also worth hiking around the surrounding hills to gain some truly spectacular views of Kotor and the harbour below.

Your second day in Kotor can be spent either exploring more of the city itself or venturing a little bit farther afield to the nearby town of Perast. This is a smaller and less touristy area of coastal Montenegro, however, it is incredibly beautiful and very much worth visiting.

If you have a little bit more time, you could also opt to continue on to the lively coastal town of Budva or the beautiful town of Bar. From the latter, you can also take a train (considered to be one of the most scenic in Europe) back to Belgrade and make this trip a circular route.

Where to Stay in Kotor

Hotel Monte Cristo – This hotel is located in the centre of the Old Town and has a number of great, clean, and comfortable rooms on offer. They also have breakfast included in the room rate and a helpful staff to give you recommendations about Kotor.

Old Town Kotor Hostel – Located, as the name suggests, in the Old Town, this hostel is a fantastic base for exploring Kotor. They have a very friendly staff who organise social events, clean facilities, affordable breakfast options, and a range of both dorm and private rooms.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse the best options in Kotor!

Bay of Kotor from the City Walls
Bay of Kotor from the City Walls

Central Balkans Itinerary

If the draw of the Balkans for you lies in getting considerably off the beaten path and exploring nations like Albania, North Macedonia and Kosovo, then this is the itinerary for you!

Days 1-3: Belgrade, Serbia

Like the route listed above, one of the most logical starting points of any trip through the Balkans is in Belgrade. So if you’re following this itinerary through the Central Balkans, then make sure to start with a few days exploring the Serbian capital.

Days 4-5: Skopje, North Macedonia

From Belgrade, it’s time to hop on a bus (or into your hire car!) and head to the capital city of North Macedonia: Skopje. Skopje is an interesting city, one that has seen some massive renovations in the past decade.

There are many interesting things to see in Skopje, such as the statue of Alexander the Great, the Kale Fortress, and the Stone Bridge. There are numerous monuments to historical figures in the country’s history littered throughout the capital, as well, most of which were erected within the past fifteen years or so.

Another great thing to do in Skopje is to take a day hike and enjoy the natural scenery surrounding the capital. Spending the day hiking to the Matka Canyon, for instance, is very popular amongst visitors to the North Macedonian capital.

Where to Stay in Skopje

Hotel Old Konak – This centrally located hotel is a fantastic base for exploring Skopje. It has a number of clean, comfortable rooms available and breakfast is also included in the nightly rate.

Shanti-Hostel – Located in the centre of town, this hostel has great common areas, is clean and comfortable, and has both private and dorm beds available. They also have friendly staff to ensure your visit to Skopje is a great one.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Skopje!

Alexander the Great Monument
Alexander the Great Monument in Skopje

Days 6-7: Ohrid, North Macedonia

After spending time exploring the capital, it’s time to head to one of the most beautiful towns in North Macedonia: Ohrid. Situated on the banks of the eponymous Lake Ohrid, this wonderful town is a great place to visit, recharge your batteries, and enjoy the beautiful lakeside scenery and relaxed way of life.

It is worth riding a bicycle by the lake to take in the scenery away from the (albeit minimal) tourist crowds. Visit the main attraction in the city, the Church of St John the Theologian, take the steep hike up to Samuel’s Fortress which offers spectacular views of the city, and ensure you don’t miss the Ancient Theatre of Ohrid.

There are a number of other beautiful hikes you can do in and around Ohrid if you are keen to explore some of the mountainous terrain of the Balkans, along with some watersports available on the lake itself.

Where to Stay in Ohrid

Villa Jordan – This hotel, located directly on the lake, is one of the best places to stay in Ohrid. Their clean, spacious, and comfortable rooms include lake views, there is a pool and other recreational facilities, and there is a fantastic breakfast included in the nightly rate. 

Old Town Hostel – A great option for both budget and solo travellers alike. Centrally located, they have a great local staff who are keen to help out their guests with anything, they have many rooms available, and great common areas to meet others. 

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to see the best hotel deals in Ohrid!

Banks of Lake Ohrid
Banks of Lake Ohrid

Days 8-10: Tirana, Albania

After enjoying the order and beauty of the previous towns and cities mentioned in this particular itinerary, it’s time to head to the wonderful chaos of the Albanian capital: Tirana.

Tirana isn’t always everyone’s favourite city, with its lack of traditional tourist sites and visible outward beauty. However, visit this city with an open mind and speak with locals and you are sure to have an amazing visit to this underrated Balkan destination.

Tirana has a thriving cafe culture and one could easily spend a day hopping from one cafe to another, enjoying some of the best coffee in the region. There are also a number of interesting museums and historical sites to visit which will help you learn more about Albanian history and isolation.

Where to Stay in Tirana

Hotel Antigone – This hotel located in Tirana’s city centre is a great option. They have a number of clean rooms available, a restaurant and bar on site, and breakfast is included in the room rate.

Trip’n Hostel – This small hostel run by a friendly and helpful local staff has a great atmosphere and fantastic common spaces to meet other travellers. They also have a range of dorm and private rooms available.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Tirana!

Skanderbeg Square in Tirana
Skanderbeg Square in Tirana

Day 11: Berat, Albania

As one of the most beautiful cities to visit in Albania, spend your eleventh day of this itinerary on a day trip to historic Berat. Driving, Berat is only located only about 1.5 hours from Tirana, however, it may take a bit longer if you’re on the bus so make sure to get an early start.

Once in Berat, make sure to explore its UNESCO-listed historic centre and hike up to the incredible castle. Here, you can get excellent views and also enjoy the charming, village-like atmosphere.

Berat is one of those places that is simply a joy to wander through and get a bit lost in. It makes for the perfect place to expand on your experience of Albania when you don’t have a whole lot of time.

Streets of Berat
Streets of Berat

Days 12-13: Prizren, Kosovo

After spending some time exploring beautiful Albania, it’s time to venture even more off the established tourist trail and head to Kosovo.

Prizren is the second-largest city in Kosovo and also one of the most beautiful, which makes it a perfect addition to this Balkans travel itinerary.

It has a more laid-back pace of life than the capital of Pristina and there are a number of lovely historic sites to visit in the city as well. The picturesque old town is filled with beautiful mosques, bridges, and the Prizren Fortress which offers great views over the rest of the city.

It is quite small in size, so you can see a great portion of the sites in just a day or two. Take the time to really get to know Prizren during your time here and maybe take advantage of a day trip or hike nearby.

Where to Stay in Prizren

Hotel Edi Imperial – This small hotel is a great place to base yourself in Prizren. Located in the Old Town, they have a few cosy and clean rooms on offer, a helpful staff, and a great breakfast included in the nightly rate.

Ura Hostel – This hostel has a fantastic and hospitable local staff who are keen to show off the best of what Prizren has to offer. They have both dorm and private rooms available and clean and comfortable facilities. 

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Prizren!

Beautiful Prizren from above
Beautiful Prizren from above

Day 14: Pristina, Kosovo

End this route through the Central Balkans in the capital city of Kosovo: Pristina. Kosovo sees very few visitors as Balkan countries go but this is a huge shame as this young nation has a lot to offer travellers.

It might seem like there isn’t much in Pristina, however, this is another city that needs time to get to know and appreciate. Take the time to get lost in its streets, visit some of its fantastic historical sites, a enjoy its thriving cafe culture.

Pristina also has some great restaurants that would be a great introduction to Kosovan food, which is unique to that of other countries and draws from a number of influences. It is also a fantastic base to go on some day trips to other, smaller towns and villages in Kosovo where few tourists ever venture.

Where to Stay in Pristina

Hotel Prima – This hotel is in a prime location for exploring Pristina. They have a few great clean and comfortable rooms available and also have a free breakfast that is included in the nightly rate. 

Oda Hostel – Situated in a great location, this small hostel has a friendly and involved staff that have a ton of great recommendations and organise evening social events. They have a few rooms on offer for visitors. 

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Pristina!

National Library in Pristina
National Library in Pristina

Coastal Balkans Route

Those who are after beautiful coastal scenery but still want the atmosphere and travel challenges associated with the Balkans, then this itinerary is for you! Winding through Croatia, Montenegro and Albania, this is a great route for those who want the perfect mix when it comes to Balkan travel.

Days 1-3: Dubrovnik, Croatia

There really is no better place to begin an itinerary such as this one than in the Pearl of the Adriatic, Dubrovnik. Though it can be an expensive destination to visit (especially when compared to the prices in the Balkans elsewhere), spending your first few days exploring Dubrovnik is a pure joy.

This is going to be the busiest place you visit on this particular itinerary, but if you spend more than a day in Dubrovnik, you will be able to find ways to avoid the crowds.

Dubrovnik's City Walls
Dubrovnik’s City Walls

Days 4-6: Kotor, Montenegro

From Dubrovnik, continue along the Adriatic to the beautiful town of Kotor in Montenegro. There’s a lot to do in Kotor and it’s especially great for those who want to be a bit active during their holiday.

You can get your heart rate pumping by climbing up to the iconic fortress which offers beautiful views over the Bay of Kotor!

Spend two days in Kotor enjoying all that the town has to offer before moving onto our next destination – wonderful Albania!

Streets of Kotor's Old Town
Streets of Kotor’s Old Town

Days 7-9: Tirana, Albania

After spending time in and around Kotor, it’s time to cross the border once more and head to Albania, where we’ll spend the remaining week of this itinerary. Begin your time in Tirana and plan to spend two days exploring the Albanian capital before moving south and exploring more of this beautiful country.

Day 10: Berat, Albania

From Tirana, hop on a bus (or in the car) and begin making your way south – including a stop in the lovely town of Berat, where we’ll be spending the night.

Known as the “Town of a Thousand Windows,” Berat is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is noted for its historic castle and countless Ottoman-style houses lining the picturesque streets.

Spend a day exploring the joys of Berat and make sure to get a good night’s rest, because there are even more great places to visit tomorrow!

Where to Stay in Berat

Hotel Bila Nino – This cosy little hotel in the centre of Berat is a great, comfortable option for those after a mid-range stay. They have several lovely rooms and an inviting terrace and garden on site.

Berat Backpackers Hostel – Those after a good budget choice in Berat will like this hostel. They have a great location for exploring the town and plenty of dorms and private rooms to choose from

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Berat hotels!

Town of Berat
Town of Berat

Days 11-12: Gjirokaster, Albania

From Berat, head even further south to the historic town of Gjirokaster. This is another of the well-known UNESCO-listed towns and has an incredible collection of Ottoman-era stone houses and a grand old bazaar to explore.

Gjirokaster is also the birthplace of the infamous and brutal dictator Enver Hoxha, who ruled Albania from 1941-1985 and made it one of the most isolated and oppressed countries in Europe during his rule.

It can take about 3 hours to get from Berat to Gjirokaster, but depending on bus timetables, this can vary in how long it will take to reach the town. Therefore, plan to spend at least one full day exploring all this incredible town has to offer.

Where to Stay in Gjirokaster

The Stone Sky Hotel – A delightful hotel in the old town of Gjirokaster, they have several great rooms on offer, a fab breakfast available in the morning and an on-site restaurant.

Stone City Hostel – Backpackers will love this highly-rated hostel in a central location. There are several types of rooms available and excellent common areas along with day trips arranged.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Gjirokaster hotels!

Clock tower in Gjirokaster,
Clock tower in Gjirokaster

Days 13-14: Sarande, Albania

Though we’ve spent a bit of exploring the inland areas of this area of the Balkans, it’s time to end your itinerary in the coastal town of Sarande – located in the south of Albania not too far from the border of Greece.

Sarande itself is nice enough to explore – with a lovely beach and views of the gorgeous Ionian Sea and even the island of Corfu in the distance – but it’s also a great base to see some incredible scenery of fascinating ancient ruins.

So during your time in Sarande, ensure that you take a day trip to Butrint. which is home to an archaeological park filled with excellently preserved Greek ruins. You can also make a stop in Ksamil, which is home to one of the region’s few beautiful sandy beaches.

This is a great place to end your fortnight in the Balkans, however, you could venture into Greece if you have a bit more time. The island of Corfu is only a stone’s throw from Sarande or, if you’d like to visit Mainland Greece, you can head further onto places like Meteora or even all the way to Thessaloniki.

Where to Stay in Sarande

Hotel Kanes – Offering several rooms with views over the Ionian Sea, this hotel has plenty of amenities like free parking and even an airport shuttle.

Saranda Backpackers – Great for backpackers looking for a lively seaside atmosphere, this hostel has a great location right on the waterfront. There are several rooms to choose from and fantastic common areas, as well.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Sarande hotels!

City of Sarande
City of Sarande

Mapping out the perfect Balkans travel itinerary can be a daunting process, with so many wonderful places to explore in this diverse region. Make sure to devote an adequate amount of time to each destination you visit and you will ensure that your Balkan trip is the best it can be!

Are you planning to visit the Balkans? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments

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Maggie is a co-founder and writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from the US, she has lived in five different countries and has travelled to dozens more, both solo and with her partner, Michael. She particularly loves exploring Spain and spending time in the Caucasus and the Baltics. Read more about Maggie

Comments

  1. Hi Maggie,
    Thanks for your travelogue and suggestions. You are doing a great public service which is greatly appreciated. We are planning to travel from Ljubljana to Split to start our Balkan trip in Nov/Dec this year. We plan on stopping at a number of places along the way before making our way from Kotor to Tirana, then from there south to Corfu and onwards to Thessaloniki. We want to do the entire trip by bus and train and have been looking at travel options in Rome to Rio. I’m not sure how accurate the website is. What is your advice on public transport in winter, Are buses in the Balkans reliable and what about in Albania and into Greece? I heard that the roads are a bit iffy in Albania. Thanks again.

    Reply
    • I’m so happy you’ve found this information helpful! Sounds like you’re planning a great trip 🙂 In general, buses are reliable in the Balkans, though some routes may have fewer connections in the winter. I don’t think you should really encounter a problem. I wouldn’t rely completely on what Rome2Rio says, but it can be a good overview of what routes exist. Generally, your best bet is to see the connections available while at the bus station itself (or by asking around – perhaps at your accommodation). Hope this helps and you have a wonderful time!

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  2. It is interesting – only te Western part of Balkans is covered. I wonder what is the reason? Probably Greece is widely covered, but there are Southern parts, that are not so popular. Bulgaria is not mensioned at all too. Even Turkey has its part on the Balkans!

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  3. Hello…want to travel to the balkans with my group of well travelled friends around 15 seniors in good health.., with interest in culture history n cuisine.
    we are Indian nationals of Xtian origin….so we have visa issues which we organise with your support data…these are the countries.. Serbia, Bostnia &Herzegovina,Kosovo Albania, Macedonia , Montenegro. We need a slow pace trip n not rush , days can be 15 or more.
    Thnx n regards Wynoma
    Thnx wynoma

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  4. Thank you for your email, sounds awesome. What would it cost me to do this tour.(BALKANS)
    2 people traveling, sharing accommodation.

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  5. Hi Maggi,
    We are a travel enthusiast couple from India . Could you please help me to plan a route for these destinations by public transport . Flying in to Tivat – Montenegro -Kotor, Montenegro-Tirana, Albania-Berat and Gjirokaster -Sarandë -Butrint-Skopje, Macedonia- Ohrid, Macedonia-Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina-Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina-Novi Sad, Serbia- flying out of Belgrade, Serbia. I have 3 weeks plus and we don’t want to rush every day with suitcases so day trips wherever possible are preferable. We don’t mind doing some if not all these destinations, though from your itinerary account they all seem fabulous. Thanks

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    • Hi Aradhana, sounds like you’re planning quite the trip. Bus timetables and public transport in the Balkans can be hard to plan, but you can check up on a lot of routes by using BalkanViator.com. However, this isn’t always 100% accurate and it’s a good idea to check the routes at the bus stations when you’re there on the ground. Hoe you have a great trip!

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  6. Hi Maggie
    Great site – I really enjoyed reading about your journeys. We are planning a trip to the Balkans in September. Unfortunately, and unusually for us, it has to be a little less ‘off the beaten path’ as I broke my leg and ankle badly last year and my hiking and stair walking abilities are much compromised. That said, we are planning to see some of Bulgaria, Romania, a quick pass through Zagreb before going to Bosnia and then on to Montenegro. We have been to the Istrian Coast of Croatia and a bit of inland Croatia but are not planning to go down the dalmation coast (I did this many years ago). We’ll be driving ourselves – we’re pretty comfortable with this as we’ve driven around Turkey and Morocco and Spain and Italy. We have about 6 weeks for this trip. Things we are keen to see include Brasov, drive the transfargarian road, Sarajevo, Mostar, Durmitor NP, Perast, Trebinje and anything ancient! Have you got any recommendations? Do you think we are trying to do too much?
    We also hope to duck over to Bari from Dubrovnik and spend an additional week in the Lecce area (depending on finances :-/ )
    Thanks in anticipation Rana

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  7. Hi Maggie!
    Thank you so very much for all of this excellent information. I scored a round trip ticket to Belgrade from JFK for $193 – how could I NOT DO THIS??? In APRIL?? I will be visiting solo and your advice has helped me feel super excited instead of nervous. I have been taking Bosnian/Croatian language for a year and my teacher here will hopefully be able to arrange meet-ups with family he has still in the area. But I’m much happier being overly prepared than underprepared!

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    • Thanks for your comment, Helena! Sounds like you snagged a great flight deal and I hope you have a great trip to the Balkans. I’m so glad that our advice has been helpful for you 🙂

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  8. Hello Maggie,
    Your itineraries sounds very exciting! I plan to do a solo travel in the Central Balkans for 2 weeks in September. Is it a good idea to travel solo?
    Thanks

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    • Hi Shini, glad you like the itineraries and sounds like you have a great trip planned! September should be a great time to visit the Balkans. In my own experience, travelling solo was safe and easy in that area of the world. It was always easy to meet other people and I never felt like my personal safety was at risk. Hope you have an amazing time, I’m sure you will love it 🙂

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  9. Hi Maggie. Great page! I am likely going to mirror your Central Balkans itinerary in July 2019. Can you expand on how you traveled in between destinations? And how you managed booking the transportation? Thanks!

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    • Hey, Greg, thanks for your comment! Your best option when it comes to travelling between destinations is to take the bus — it is more often than not the only public transport option, as well. If you want to make absolutely sure that you get a seat, I recommend heading to the bus station to book your place a day or two before you intend to travel. Some bus companies may have online booking, but in our experience, it can be unreliable. Hope that helps and you have a great trip!

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  10. Hi Maggie. At the end of 2017 my wife and I sold our house, most of our furniture and our car and embarked on a year long travel in Europe. Our plan is to stay a month at a time in one location (to both save via a month long discount and immerse ourselves at least a little in the culture) central enough in various countries and take day or overnight trips to nearby sites. So far we have spent a month in southern Spain and are concluding a month in southern France. Next up is Greece. As you know we will then need to spend 3 months outside Schengen countries and our thought was to do that in the Balkans. I could not have read your Balkans piece at a better time! As an authority on the area where would stay if you were to spend a month in 3 locations including Romania, Bulgaria and the Adriatic Balkans? Just so you know we have taken a tour of the Adriatic Balkans with Road Scholar that included Montenegro north to Slovenia and loved all of it. We know very little about Romania and Bulgaria. We have been using Airbnb to find lodging.

    I look forward to any advice you can throw our way.

    Cheers,
    Wayne

    Reply
    • Hey Wayne! That sounds like an absolutely amazing journey and I hope you’re having a great time! As for a place to settle for a bit outside of the Schengen area, Sofia can be quite a good option — people generally have mixed opinions about the city but we, personally, loved it — and it has a great restaurant and arts scene and a lot of really interesting things to do. Plovdiv is also a great option in Bulgaria, it is definitely prettier than Sofia and has a lot of ancient Thracian ruins as well. It’s also located close to a lot of Bulgaria’s best wine country.

      In Romania, our favourite city we visited there was Cluj-Napoca and it definitely feels very livable and vibrant. However, if you’re keen to do a few more day trips, it might be better to base yourselves somewhere like Brasov, which is closer to a lot of the “highlights” of Transylvania.

      I hope this helps!

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