We considered titling this post “Best of the Countries of the Former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia”, but it just didn’t flow off the tongue in quite the same way.
Having now spent more than 6 weeks in all but two of the former countries that made up Yugoslavia (sorry Macedonia and Kosovo!), we felt is was high time we articulated our favorite experiences from this often overlooked region of the world. While not as popular as Southeast Asia or Central America, the entire Balkan region provides diverse history and culture at a fraction of the cost of Western Europe (we averaged $94/day total for 2 people, and we didn’t scrimp on comfort or meals out).
So without further ado, here is our list of the most unforgettable experiences we had in the Balkan region (in no particular order):
Witnessing the spectacular views from Dubrovnik’s Old Town Walls
Hiking the Old Town Walls is perhaps the quintessential Dubrovnik experience. The same structures that once provided protection for the city now provide visitors with some of the most amazing views around. Get there early to avoid the crowds!
Surviving the Eternal Derby in Belgrade
Attending (and surviving) the Eternal Derby between Red Star and Partizan in Belgrade was probably one of the most thrilling things we’ve ever done while traveling. From the noise to the flares to the fires in the stands, this was not your mother’s North American sporting event.
Hearing the call to prayer for the first time in Sarajevo
Sarajevo (and most of Bosnia for that matter) is an exotic departure from the rest of Europe. Coming from British Columbia, where Muslims constitute less than 2% of the population, hearing the call to prayer from our open window in Sarajevo for the first time was a surreal experience – and one we will not soon forget.
Hiking through Plitvice Lakes National Park
Plitvice has it all, crystal clear turquoise lakes teeming with fish, countless waterfalls, beautiful wooden walkways and bridges, and hundreds of kilometers of hiking trails. It is truly one of the most beautiful national parks we’ve ever been to – and we live in British Columbia!
Stuffing ourselves with fresh seafood on the Adriatic Coast
One of the best things about traveling through the Adriatic towns in Montenegro, Croatia, and Slovenia was the abundance and affordability of seafood. Fresh fish and squids are available nearly everywhere along the coast, and you can easily get more than you can eat for less than $10.
Getting lost in Sarajevo’s Baščaršija
Sarajevo’s old Ottoman market (or Baščaršija) is unlike any other market you are likely to see in Europe. Built in the 15th century, the marketplaces contains a maze of wooden shops selling everything from traditional Turkish coffee pots to tourist souvenirs. Be sure to fill your water up at the fountain in the courtyard of the 16th century Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque.
From the moment we put Slovenia into our plans we knew that Lake Bled was going to be a must-see place – and it didn’t disappoint. However, what we didn’t expect was to find one of the most beautiful little parks we’ve ever set foot in, the Vintgar Gorge.
Discovering Ancient Cities along the Bay of Kotor
The UNESCO-listed Natural and Culturo-Historical Region of Kotor is one of the most dramatic locations in all of the Balkans. A place with something for everyone, this region of Montenegro has everything from hiking and kayaking to walled cities and island churches. If that wasn’t enough, the bay is breathtakingly beautiful.
Kayaking the crystal blue waters of the Adriatic
A spur of the moment email to a young tour company based out of Split, Croatia ended up providing us with one of the most fun adventures we had in the whole region. Spending a day seeing the city from the sea is a completely different experience, and one we would wholeheartedly recommend.
One of the things that we found most prevalent among the incredibly friendly people we met throughout the Balkans was their openness in talking about the wars and the breakup of Yugoslavia. From tour guides to our hosts to people we met in trains, everyone was willing to share their stories of the war times with us – and we were more than happy to listen and learn about such an important subject (and one we knew relatively little about before visiting!).
So there you have it…our favorites from the Balkan region. Have you ever been to any of these countries? What did we miss?
Sharing this post over at Chasing the Donkey – check out all the submissions for some great travel inspiration!