As one of few regions in Europe still not fully explored, the Balkan Peninsula employs the oldest trick in the book. The lure of the unknown. A last standing barricade where you still can find places to enjoy “all by yourself”, being the first in your circle of friends going there. A jigsaw of countries forming their own future after the dramatic breakup of former Yugoslavia.
1 Tirana, Albania. Take a walk through downtown Tirana on a Friday night and you’ll wonder why you never heard about this place. A mishmash of cocktail bars, night clubs, and rooftop parties. Cars circulating, honking in the roundabouts. This is where handwritten menus translate into world-class food and 24-hour open bakeries supply you with the after hour snacks. The city isn’t vibrant, it’s vibrating. With close proximity to the Adriatic Sea, Tirana is a double win.
2 Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Looking down on Ferhadija Street, the people of Sarajevo are busy drinking cezve-served coffe and eating lepinja, the traditional pita bread of the Balkans. A rich coffee culture and nostalgic charm that makes the city stand out, even on the Balkan Peninsula. Raise your eyes and you notice the thousands of white crosses scattered on the mountains slopes. A constant reminder of the civil war and an inevitable reason to visit the Sarajevo Tunnel Museum.
3 Zagreb, Croatia. Best described as the “Prague of the Balkans”, with the sophistication of Vienna and half the tourists, Zagreb will charm even the most blasé world traveler. This is where you go for a fortuitous bar hopping Friday night, enjoy a cozy old town dinner on Saturday, and cultivate yourself at the world famous opera house Sunday evening. A refreshing getaway from the crowded mainstream spots along the Adriatic Sea.
4 Belgrade, Serbia. Touch down on Nikola Tesla Airport and head to Hotel Moskva, assuring you a royal welcome to the most diverse capital in the Balkans. A trailblazing experience of historical proportions, from the electrifying Tesla Museum to the mythical Tito Mausoleum. But it’s the alternative nightlife and floating ”river clubs” that put Belgrade on the travel map. A summer night loving that makes every day of the week feels like Friday.
5 Pristina, Kosovo. The reasons for visiting Pristina, the self-declared capital of Kosovo, might seem limited. The tension with neighbouring countries still prevails and you will get a hard time entering Serbia with a Kosovo stamped passport. But it’s the semi-recognized status of the country and its role in the dissolution of Yugoslavia that make it so exciting. Except, of course, for the National Library of Kosovo, considered one of the ugliest buildings in the world.
6 Skopje, North Macedonia. One of the first thing you notice arriving in Skopje is the cable car connected Millenium Cross, the city’s own “Christ the Redeemer” overlooking the Vodno Mountains. The second thing is that you ended up in one of the most strange places of Europe. Totally destroyed in the 1963 earthquake, the city was restored in the ”Skopje 2014” project. The result? A bizarre bonanza of kitsch. A complete city of ancient looking buildings, archaic monuments, and gold plated statues, not older than a couple of years.
7 Athens, Greece. For being the coolest city on the Balkan Peninsula, Athens is too often overlooked by international travelers. Except for the mandatory stop at the Akropolis, the majority of visitors miss out on the majority of things offered. Catch the sunset at Mount Lycabettus and head into a night of unlimited possibilities. Go for cocktails at the Grande Bretagne’s Alexander’s Bar and explore the alternative club scene at Exarchia. Wake up hangovered in Plaka and go for a Omega-3 reviving brunch in Piraeus. It’s as good as it gets.
Copyright © 2021 Erik Ekberger.
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