The countries of southeastern Europe all have wonderful capitals but there are other super cities in the Balkans for visitors to explore and enjoy. With 11 countries crowding the Balkan Peninsula there’s plenty for every kind of holidaymaker: those who love to lie on the beach all day; those who have a passion for ancient and modern history; nature lovers and culture vultures. Another great thing about cities in the Balkans is that they are among Europe’s cheaper destinations.
1. Pula, Croatia
Croatia is a wonderful tourist destination and Pula is definitely one of the jewels in her crown. Located on the scenic Istrian Peninsula, Pula is a large city by the sea with a small town feel. The center of town is anchored by a magnificent Roman amphitheater, the largest and best preserved example outside of Italy, and there are plenty of other historical attractions to explore before heading to one of the glorious beaches that are fringed by fragrant pine groves. The protected Cape of Kamenjak on the Premantura Peninsula is another reason why Pula is one of the best cities in the Balkans to visit.
2. Saranda, Albania
Located on a horseshoe-shaped gulf on the Ionian Sea, Saranda may be little heard of but the secret is out. Albania is going to be one hot tourist destination in the next decade and Saranda will be one of the main draws. It has a great location, beautiful climate, gorgeous beaches with crystal waters and cheap but excellent restaurants. It too has history and sights include the bombed remains of the Ayii Saranda monastery and the remains of the ancient town of Butrint.
3. Maribor, Slovenia
One of the charms of the cities in the Balkans is their size. They are more like large towns. Maribor is the second largest city in Slovenia but it is about one-third the size of the national capital, Ljubljana. Maribor has nothing big and showy but it oozes charm. Sights include the Jewish Tower, the Water Tower and the Judgment Tower and the city’s Cathedral. The pedestrianized streets are buzzy with cafe culture and there’s so much life during the Lent Festival when Maribor is a haven of theater, ballet, opera, rock and jazz.
4. Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Mostar came to the world’s attention during the Croat-Bosniak war when the town’s high bridge – Stari Most – connecting the two parts of the city was destroyed. It became a symbol of the conflict but now rebuilt, it is one of the country’s premier attractions. Enjoy the walks along the Neretva River, buy trinkets in Kujundžiluk – Gold Alley – and stroll narrow cobbled streets in the restored Ottoman Quarter.
5. Ohrid, Macedonia
Macedonia is a tiny country that offers a big warm welcome. And although Skopje is the capital, Ohrid is a far better option as a tourist destination. It is a World Heritage city and is full of churches, picturesque monuments and traditional houses in its atmospheric old quarter. A medieval castle overlooks the shores of Lake Ohrid and there are secluded beaches on the lake’s east shore.
6. Novi Sad, Serbia
Overlooked by the Petrovaradin Citadel, Novi Sad is very convenient for tourists. All the main attractions of Serbia’s second city can be walked to from Zmaj Jovina, a hip and happening thoroughfare that leads off the main square. Novi Sad is a relaxed place where you can enjoy pretty parks, a relaxed cafe culture and a vibrant nightlife. In the summer, it hosts EXIT, Serbia’s huge music festival.
7. Prizren, Kosovo
Another of a country’s second cities in the Balkans I recommend is Prizren. Once a capital of the Serbian Empire it is now a baby of the post-revolution and growing up fast – and loving it. Luckily the city didn’t suffer much in the Kosovan War and it is a major cultural center filled with lovely mosques. Sights include the Old Stone Bridge, Our Lady of Ljevis monastery, and the Tannery. Shadervan with its big square, cafes and restaurants is popular with visitors. Be sure to take a drink from the ancient water fountain as the legend says you’ll come back to the city if you do.
The Balkans is a fascinating and fabulous area of Europe well worth a visit. Any of these places interest you?