We all hear about everyone wanting to go to France, Spain, Germany, Italy, etc. but a true gem to visit are the countries of the Balkans. The Balkans consist of countries in Southeastern Europe stemming from Serbia all the way to Bulgaria. The Balkans are considered a peninsula of cultural and environmental diversity. I have not been to all of the countries in this region but I can give you tips on the ones I have been to (Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia).
If you did not know, I am actually Croatian/Bosnian and have family that still live in the Balkans. I go just about every year to visit, so this region is very special to me.
Croatia is located on the Adriatic Sea in Southeast Europe. You can visit the inland capital of Croatia, Zagreb, and experience something out of a history book. The Austro-Hungarian architecture plus a modern twist will leave you speechless. Zagreb Is also a very clean city and the residents there take pride in keeping it that way. Vienna and Budapest may have some competition coming their way because Zagreb is very quickly becoming popular among tourists (check out my Blog Zagreb in One Day for tips on what to do and see in Zagreb).
After seeing the inland of Croatia, taking a trip to the coast is an absolute must (See my Blog post Road Trip on the A1 on renting a car in Zagreb and driving to the coast). Split should definitely be on your list while in Croatia. Visit Diocletian’s Palace and feel as if you are walking among gladiators. Also if you are a Game of Thrones fan Split is right up your alley because some scenes were filmed at Diocletian’s palace.Take a steep climb up to the Bell Tower to get stunning views of the city of Split and the port. Enjoy walking up to Marijan Hill for stunning scenery and views of Split or enjoy a dip in the Adriatic sea. Split offers many beautiful pebbled beaches with crystal clear waters including Mistral Beach.
Next enjoy a trip to the coastal town of Zadar. Zadar is very well known for the sea organ and the greeting to the sun. The sea organ is a musical instrument in the form of marble steps. Music is played by sea waves and tubes located underneath the steps. The greeting to the sun consists of 300 multi layered glass plates on the waterfront that communicate with light. Simultaneously with the most beautiful sunset in the world, the lighting elements in the glass plates turns on and produce an impressive show of light in rhythm of the waves and sounds of the sea organ. Zadar is also a historic town with Roman remains scattered throughout, and was voted the Best European Destination in 2016!
Next take a drive to beautiful Trogir, and soak in the gorgeous drive alongside the mountain from Split. Trogir has to be the cutest little town I have ever seen! It is so scenic and so quaint. Trogir was under the influence of the Greeks, Venetians, and Romans many many years ago. There are many towers, churches, palaces, and even a small fortress on the small “island”. Also with it being so small there were so many different restaurants to choose from, we did not know where to eat :). Enjoy a relaxing and beautiful walk through old town Trogir and take in the gorgeous architecture.
The Makarska Riviera is breathtaking and probably one of my favorite areas. The massive mountains that meet the crystal clear sea is heavenly. The riviera stretches for 60 km and includes many beautiful coastal towns along the massive mountain range in the area. You can take a trip to the top of the Biokovo Mountain to get amazing views of the area. The city is noted for its palm-fringed promenade, where cafes, bars, and boutiques overlook the scenic harbor. While in Makarska make sure and enjoy the wonderful beaches and views, also walk to the St. Peter Peninsula that overlooks the town of Makarska. You can place a lock with your name on the fence on the peninsula.
And lastly, Dubrovnik should be on your list when visiting Croatia. I actually have not been to Dubrovnik yet, but going in May 2017 so stay tuned. Dubrovnik is the pearl of the Adriatic and is full of history. From the fort, to the wall that surrounds the entire city, to the gorgeous beaches, Dubrovnik has something for everyone! Make sure and walk along side the wall that surrounds Dubrovnik for amazing views of the old town and the Adriatic sea. The wall is approximately 1,940 meters (6,360 feet) in length. Take a cable car ride or hike up to the top of Mt. Srd for the most fantastic view of Dubrovnik. The sunset view from Mt. Srd is to die for! Enjoy time at Banje beach, which is the beach located right next to the old town of Dubrovnik and the Buza Bar. The Buza Bar is built on the cliffs next to the old town, enjoy a drink and a view that will take your breath away (or if your feeling spontaneous and risky, dive off of the cliffs from the bar) Also if you are a Game of Thrones fan Dubrovnik is where a large part of the series was filmed!
If you get tired of the coast (which I doubt you will) you can take boat excursions and ferry rides to some of the islands (there are more than a thousand of them). I have been to Brac and Hvar so far but plan on visiting a few more while in Croatia in May so stay tuned for a post about the islands 🙂
Bosnia and Hercegovina
Beautiful Bosnia and Hercegovina, with stunning mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes, and so much history. Bosnia and Hercegovina is still pretty undiscovered by tourists but it will not stay that way for long!
If you haven’t been to Mostar you are seriously missing out! Mostar is situated on the Neretva River and is famous for the Stari Most (old bridge) that was built by the Ottomans in the 16th century. When in Mostar you feel as if your in the East and the West because the influences from both parts are so strong. On one side of old bridge the architecture is rich in Ottoman influenced buildings, and on the other side of the bridge the architecture is rich in Austro-Hungarian style buildings. If you are lucky you will see divers jumping off the bridge from 22 meters (72 feet) into the very cold Neretva River. Make sure and eat the traditional Bosnian Dish called Cevapi (skinless sausage with pita bread) and Burek (flaky pastry filled with meat and onions) while in Mostar. You also cannot leave Mostar without having a cup of the rich Bosnian (Turkish influenced) coffee served out of the dzeza (copper plated pot with a long handle).
Close to Mostar are the breath taking Kravice waterfalls. These waterfalls are so beautiful that they almost seem unreal in pictures. When I first found out about these waterfalls and saw pictures I thought no way this is real! But trust me they are really that gorgeous! Make sure and get there earlier in the morning because in the afternoon it already starts to get crowded. There is a cafe, a rope swing, and camp grounds available at Kravice.You can also swim within the waterfalls and climb the rocky and moss filled cliffs.
Blagaj is also very close to Mostar and is situated on the Buna River. There is a Devish monastery situated in Blagaj right by the river and against the mountain with Ottoman and Mediterranean influences. This is a very peaceful and tranquil place and is perfect when you want to get away from the massive crowds in Mostar.
Pocitelj is a village also located on the Neretva River maybe 30 km from Mostar. Pocitelj is a walled town that was built from the 16th to 18th centuries. This town has medieval and Ottoman influences. Make sure and take a hike to the top where you can get a wonderful view of the Neretva river and the surrounding areas. Everywhere you turn in Bosnia and Hercegovina you are mesmerized by the beautiful scenic mountains and rivers. You even see the remains from the war in 1991, which hold a turbulent and difficult spot in the hearts of those that have fled or stayed in Bosnia and Hercegovina.
Jajce is famous for its beautiful waterfalls that run through the picturesque town. It is located in Central Bosnia on the Pliva and Vrbas rivers. Jajce is situated in the mountains with gorgeous cascading waterfalls and rivers throughout. There is a fortress with a surrounding wall on the mountain that overlooks all of Jajce. The drive to Jajce is also striking with some of the most beautiful scenery in all of Bosnia! This drive may not be for people who get car sick because of the winding and narrow roads, even though it is totally worth it!
Medjugorje is a religious and sacred place in Bosnia and Hercegovina and is located very close to Mostar. Since 1981 when six children claimed that they saw visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary on top of the mountain, Medjugorje has been an important pilgrimage destination. To get to the area where the vision was seen, you have to climb up a very steep and rocky mountain. It is totally exhausting (especially in the heat) but so worth it when you get to the top. A sense of peace and great emotion is felt when reaching the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the exact spot where the vision was seen many years ago.
Belgrade is the capital of Serbia and is situated on the Sava and Danube Rivers. Much like cities and towns in Croatia and Bosnia have Roman, Ottoman, and Austro-Hungarian influences, Belgrade has the same history. You can Stroll through Knez Mihailova, which is the main pedestrian and shopping zone. While checking out the many shops, you can also enjoy the beautiful Austro-Hungarian style buildings. Next you can admire the Roman fort that overlooks the Sava River and the rest of Belgrade. The Roman Fort also houses a military museum with tanks and other military vehicles. If you want to have lunch, dinner, coffee, or just a drink make sure to go to the cafe at the top of the Kalemegdan for breath taking views of the city and the two rivers. Take a moment and visit St. Sava Orthodox Church, which is one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world. This church is radiant with beautiful gold details inside. If you are feeling up to a swim go to the Ada Ciganlija, which is a crystal clear lake surrounded by cafes and a lush green park. Perfect for a cool down after a hot summer day (it gets really hot in Belgrade in the Summer!). There are also many museums in Belgrade such as the Nikola Tesla museum and a mausoleum dedicated to Josip Broz Tito (former leader of Yugoslavia). Belgrade is a very beautiful and large city but like Bosnia and Croatia you can still see some remains from the war in 1991, which are still in the hearts of many who live there.