The Ultimate Bucket List — the Best Cities in the Balkans
Are you looking for a great European road trip? We definitely recommend visiting the gorgeous Balkan peninsula – it is full of amazing destinations. Some of them are well known, and some are still hidden gems. Keep reading and find out what are the best cities in the Balkans and go on a road trip that you will never forget.
Before we start, be sure to check out our Cultural Places Platform and discover the amazing tours that will help you explore your destinations at your own pace.
Let’s explore the Balkans…
The Croatian capital, Zagreb is a great city to explore on foot. The main attractions in Zagreb include the cathedral with its Neo-Gothic façade and twin steeples; the Croatian Sabor (Parliament); the Church of St. Mark with its colored tiled roof; and the 13th-century Tower of Lotrščak, which you can climb for fantastic views over the city rooftops. Walk along the Strossmayer’s promenade, the most romantic promenade in the city of Zagreb that runs along with the remains of Zagreb’s medieval defense wall and you can get to it by a funicular or stairs. You must walk the Ilica street – the longest street in Zagreb and the perfect destination for shopping and people-watching from one of its many cafes.
Šibenik, known as the oldest Croatian coastal city that was actually built by Croats, is the city is full of imposing landmarks, awesome museums, and amazing beaches. One of its most popular landmarks is the Cathedral of St. James – a 16th-century cathedral that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This cathedral is unique in the world because it was built completely out of perfectly carved stone and is geometrically perfect.
Also, you must visit its amazing fortresses – Šibenik is surrounded by four fortresses that you simply must explore. Take a walk around the city’s narrow medieval streets and explore the architecture a bit more – it will leave you breathless. If you need help exploring, find the tour through Šibenik on our platform.
Zadar is a magnificent coastal city that you have to visit, there is so much to see and do, we don’t know where to start. One of the most popular things in Zadar is the Sea Organ (or Morske Orgulje in Croatian) played by waves – they push the air through 35 underwater pipes and play music. It’s a perfect relaxation spot and visiting in springtime when it doesn’t get much crowded is the best option – sit on those marble steps and enjoy the sounds. While you’re there, you must see the Greeting to the Sun installation (Pozdrav Suncu in Croatian) that gives you the best sunset experience in the world. You’ll see amazing light-show connected to the rhythm of waves playing the Sea Organ.
There are many monuments and landmarks worth seeing in Zadar, but one of the most popular is St. Donat’s Church for sure. It’s an amazing Pre-Romanesque circular building, built on the Roman forum. The whole surrounding of this church is just so amazing and picturesque – you’ll love it.
Also, don’t miss out on our free tour around Zadar: “Glimpse into Zadar“
Dubrovnik – the Pearl of Adriatic, with its iconic Old Town is the southernmost city in Croatia and one of the most amazing cities in this part of Europe. Its walls date back to the 13th century and, as we already mentioned, they recently found new fame and a way to attract many visitors from around the world – they were used as a location for King’s Landing in Game of Thrones TV series.
As you will see in our free guide, there are many significant spots inside the city walls but letting the narrow streets guide you is another way to explore Dubrovnik. The main pedestrian area, the street that you have to stroll down, is Stradun that connects Ploče gates with the Pile gates. Outside the city walls, there is another amazing fortress called Lovrijenac – or the King’s Landing from Game of Thrones series, if you prefer. Usually, it is less crowded than the city walls, so you’ll have a really nice time when you get up there, and you’ll enjoy the awesome view of the Old Town and the sea.
Split is another Croatian city that got really famous because of the Game of Thrones series, hence – a lot of crowds are going on. One of the most famous landmarks in Split (even in the whole Croatia) is Diocletian’s Palace – a huge 1700 years old Roman ruin that is bustling with life – it’s full of little shops and cafes and homes to more than 3000 people. Imagine living in such a place, wow. The Palace has four entrance gates – Gold, Silver, Brass, and Iron, and whatever gate you choose you’ll get to its center – the Peristil square, which divides the Palace into four quarters.
Split has many museums worth exploring, one of them is the Archeological Museum that is the oldest museum in Croatia, founded in 1820, and that’s where you’ll learn all about the history of this gorgeous city. Besides this one, you can enjoy Ethnographic Museum and Croatian Maritime Museum, but there is one that we particularly loved – the Gallery of Ivan Meštrović, the most famous Croatian sculptor.
If you need help exploring the city, feel free to check out our tour guide, which is completely free, just like many other guides on our platform.
When you get tired of exploring all the Split’s landmarks and museums, head to its waterfront called Riva (Promenade), sit in one of the cafes, and meditate while watching the sea, or people-watch as the locals do.
We just love Belgrade and write about it often, we just can’t appreciate it enough. The capital of Serbia is one of the oldest European cities and there is really a lot to explore. Belgrade has an amazing fortress that is set on the confluence of two rivers – Sava and Danube and is one of the world’s oldest and most remarkable fortresses. To find out more about the Belgrade Fortress, check out one of our previous blog posts.
There are a lot more sites to see in Belgrade, an urban jungle in Serbia. You must stroll down Knez Mihajlova street to get the 19th-century vibe and explore cafes, restaurants, and shops, and Skadarlija to experience bohemian life in Belgrade. Belgrade is also well-known for its nightlife, so don’t miss that experience.
Novi Sad (Hungarian: Újvidék), the second-largest city in Serbia is the capital of province Vojvodina, is a multicultural city with so many things that you have to see and experience. Novi Sad is named to be the European Capital of Culture in 2021 and it sure deserves it. Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, Novi Sad was the center of Serbian culture, politics, and social life during the rule of the Habsburg monarchy. Today, it is a modern, tourist-friendly, cultural city with many cultural things going on. One of the most important ones is, for sure, world-famous EXIT – an award-winning summer music festival that has been named the best European music festival in Europe.
When you’re in Novi Sad, the main place that you must visit is its main city square – Liberty Square. It’s where you’ll find some of its most beautiful buildings, such as the City Hall or the Catholic church “Name of Mary”. When you’re done here, just keep exploring the city center, there is so much going on. Also, you must see the extraordinary Petrovaradin Fortress, on the opposite side of the Danube river.
© Jovana Šulić
Sarajevo, the capital and the largest city of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has so many interesting and important spots that you need a few days to really enjoy it. It’s one of the most historically interesting cities in Europe and is often called European Jerusalem, due to its centuries-old multiculturality. You have to stroll down the Baščaršija to feel the spirit of the east, to explore many workshops of Sarajevo’s famous artisans and traditional food restaurants and cafes.
Check out the City Hall, one of the most important landmarks of Sarajevo, from the Austro-Hungarian times. Visit Vrelo Bosne (the river Bosna’s springs), it’s a place where you can relax and enjoy beautiful nature. There is soooo much more to say about Sarajevo and that is why we have a separate blog post about this breath-taking city.
Set on the Vrbas river, Banja Luka (Bosnia and Herzegovina) is a gorgeous green city that is known for its tree-lined avenues, boulevards, gardens, and parks. It is influenced both by Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman times and it is pretty noticeable in Banja Luka’s architecture, as it is noticeable in the whole country. Take a walk through Gospodska street, check out amazing landmarks, such as the Temple of Christ the Saviour and Banski Dvor Cultural Centre, and then go a bit outside of the city and admire the amazing nature that is surrounding it.
© Darko Gavric/ CC BY-SA 3.0
If you’re planning to visit the Adriatic coast, the little country of Montenegro is a must. It’s a small country with so many great places to visit. One of the best cities and the second largest port of Montenegro is Kotor – an amazing walled city set in the Boka Kotorska bay.
Visit Kotor and enjoy the Old Town – you’ll see one of the most amazing fortifications ever, it’s around 5 kilometers long city walls, that climb up to the hill. When you climb up to the highest point, you’ll experience the most amazing view of the bay. The Old Town of Kotor is home to a number of fascinating medieval churches, cathedrals, palaces, museums and narrow streets, so be sure to explore it thoroughly and don’t be afraid to get a bit lost.
Ohrid is a small city set on the north shore of the Lake and on the south of FYR Macedonia. The old town, or shall we better say the ancient town, is one of the oldest settlements in Europe – it was built between the 7th and 9th centuries. The Old Town is set on a little hill on the very shore of Lake Ohrid and it is crowded with houses from the Ottoman times and winding streets between them. One street that you have to stroll down is definitely the old Bazaar street – St. Clement of Ohrid, set in the foothill of Ohrid Old Down.
The Old Town of Ohrid is full of monasteries and churches, it is said that there are 365 of them and that is why Ohrid is known as Jerusalem of the Balkans. Those old churches are mostly built in old Byzantine style and they look pretty stunning. Be sure to read more about this gorgeous hidden gem of the Balkans in one of our previous blog posts.
As you can see, there is so much to see in the Balkans, so hurry up and get exploring all that it hides – you will love it.