So, how many Balkan capitals can you name? Don’t feel bad if the answer is just one or two. Throughout history, the Balkan region has always had a mysterious connotation. Often referred to as enfant terrible of Europe, it has never been quite understood by other cultures and till these days there are many who are still not sure if travelling to the Balkans is even a good idea.
We say it is! The Balkans has always been an intriguing place to visit where you never know what to expect. The Balkan nations could not be more different and similar at the same time. To get an idea about this amazing melting pot of cultures and religions check out the complete list of Balkan capitals which represent the very essence of differences and similarities between the numerous Balkan nations.
Let’s start at the top of the Balkan peninsula although Slovenians don’t like to hear that they are even part of the Balkans. At least not since the independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Before becoming part of a pan-Slavic state, the pretty Ljubljana has long been a part of the Habsburg Empire and still feels more connected to the West than to its Balkan sisters. The influence of Vienna is still obvious in the architecture of numerous elegant secession buildings.
After closing the old town for traffic, Ljubljana has turned into one of the Europe’s most liveable capitals, earning the title European Green Capital 2016. The pretty river of a similar name (Ljubljancia) cuts through its centre creating a vibrant environment full of bars, restaurants and shops. It’s a great place to take a stroll for visitors and locals alike.
Conveniently placed in the centre this small country, Ljubljana is a great base to explore Slovenia and its other tourist attractions.
Just over an hour drive from Ljubljana, lies Zagreb – its closest friend in the Balkans and at the same time its most notorious competitor. Like Ljubljana, the Croatian capital too feels strong tendencies to leave the Yugoslav past behind and is eagerly turning towards the West. Slovenia and Croatia were the first ex-Yugoslav countries to enter EU.
Much of the historic Zagreb is concentrated on two hills called Gradec and Kapitol. Together they are know as the Upper town and feature all the most important sights such are the two-towered cathedral, the picturesque church of St. Mark, parliament building (Sabor) and government’s headquarters (Banski dvori). Meanwhile the Lower town mainly developed after the arrival of the railway and is full of turn-of-the-century architecture. Both parts are great for strolling and offer numerous opportunities for a coffee stop, souvenir shopping or selfie posing.
Explore the vibrant Balkan capitals
Continuing the path of the Balkan capitals we find yourselves in Belgrade, once the capital of the whole Yugoslavia. This vibrant metropolis lies on the confluence of two mayor European rivers (Sava and Danube) and has maintained its strategic position since the Celtic times.
Belgrade – which translates as “the white city” – doesn’t lack impressing historic buildings, interesting museums, long shopping strips, trendy bars and traditional restaurants. While being the cultural heart of Serbia, the city is also a popular party destination.
Alongside world’s second largest orthodox church (the not-yet-completed temple of St. Sava), other mayor city attractions include the historically significant Kalemegdan Fortress and the mausoleum of Josp Broz Tito.
You will definitely need at least a long weekend to get the true spirit of this exciting place which can also be a convenient starting point of the Grand Balkan Tour.
SARAJEVO, BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA
The most notorious of all Balkan capitals, Sarajevo has an amazing history considering its size. This is where the WWI was triggered and changed the world forever. Decades later the city was hosting the first Winter Olympics in Eastern Europe and nobody who was watching the glorious opening in 1984 could imagine the suffering that was coming to Sarajevo just a few years later. The nearly four-years siege by the Bosnian Serbs has changed the face of the city and the scars are still visible. Pay attention to the pink spots in the ground while walking its streets – the so-called Roses of Sarajevo mark the places where bombshells were dropped.
After the gory Balkan war Bosnia & Herzegovina emerged as a mysterious travel destination which is fighting hard with the nearby Croatia to attract tourists who flock to the Adriatic Sea. It is a place definitely worth visiting, especially if you are looking for less crowded and more authentic places. Sarajevo with its charming old bazaar called Baščaršija is certainly one of them. Taking its place in the heart of the Balkans, this amazing city continues to be a meting pot for various religions from east and west.
Travel to the Balkans – Europe’s most mysterious region
It is the smallest and perhaps the most boring of all Balkan capitals. Pogorica is no match to the otherwise amazingly beautiful country. Travellers who visit Montenegro normally don’t even stop in the capital although it is conveniently placed right between the Bay of Kotor, the Skadar Lake and Biogradska gora national park.
In the past known as Titograd, Podgorica has a turbulent history of passing from one owner to another. The result is a mix of different architecture – Ottoman and Habsbrugs influences are still visible in the midst of Soviet blocks and modern shopping malls.
Little Podgorica sits on the confluence of two rivers – Morača and Ribnica. Among its most popular attractions are the historic ottoman neighbourhood of Stara Varoš and the new Orthodox complex – the Cathedral of Christ’s Resurrection with a bizarre interior image depicting Tito, Marx and Engels burning in hell. Certainly worth peeking in, if you are passing through on your trip to Montenegro.
SKOPJE, NORTH MACEDONIA
In the past years the centre of Skopje has turned into an eccentric place that looks like a set for a historic epic move. In the attempt to boost national pride, the government of North Macedonia (as the country is known since recently) has erected numerous gigantic statuettes and other specific architectural features like the Triumphal Arch. The most notorious one is the enormous horseman situated in the middle of Macedonia Square widely recognised as the ancient Greek hero Alexander the Great. It certainly didn’t help in negotiating the agreement about the country’s name with Greece.
Other, less controversial, attractions of Skopje include the picturesque Turkish bazaar known as Čaršija, the old Stone bridge, the newer Art bridge, the fortress of Kale and of course the memorial house of Mother Teresa who was born in Skopje when it was still part of the Ottoman Empire. If you are vising Skopje in the summer, the nearby Matka Canyon or Mt. Vodno above the city are both great places to escape the heath.
Visit the Balkan capitals with local experts
The newest addition to the list of Balkan capitals, Priština is not yet globally recognised. As you probably know, Kosovo is still fighting for a full international recognition as an independent country which declared its separation from Serbia in 2008.
In the meantime, Priština is trying to establish itself as a serious European capital city and is developing pretty rapidly, mainly due to the considerable support from the international community, especially the EU. You can feel the excitement and hope for the bright future as you stroll the city’s main boulevard named after the probably most famous nun of all time – Mother Teresa. Among other interesting attractions of Priština are also the Sultan Mehmet Mosque and the “ugliest building in the world” – the Kosovo National Library.
Maybe not the prettiest, but definitely one of the most exciting and off-the-beaten-path places to visit in the Balkans.
Albania, together with its capital Tirana has long been totally closed for tourists. For a big part of the 20th century this Mediterranean country has been ruled by truly hard communist regime which prevented any contact with the outside world. Things have changed after 1991 when travelling to Albania became possible.
The first visitors were amazed by the pristine nature and undeveloped coastline of the Ionian Sea, but with the arrival of capitalism the image of unspoiled landscape has faded pretty quickly. Tirana is rapidly becoming a modern and fleshy European capital full of colourful buildings, chic boutiques and international restaurants. Taking a stroll through its trendy neighbourhood called Blloku will make you feel like you in a western city although there still numerous authentic elements reminding you of Tirana’s recent past.
After a tour of Tirana we recommend taking daily excursions to the countryside where time still passes at a different pace. Trip to Albania feels like owning a time-machine.
Experience the Balkan soul by visiting its capitals
With 1,8 million inhabitants Bucharest is one of largest not just Balkan capitals but also European cities. In the past known as Little Paris, Bucharest has changed a lot in recent years. Numerous booming infrastructure projects (partly funded by the EU) are changing the old face of the Romanian capital. Especially charming has become the long neglected historic old town called the Lipscani where narrow cobblestone streets still hold the names of the ancient guilds that resided on them.
When talking about greatest attractions of Bucharest, one simply cannot avoid mentioning the Parliament Palace, the largest legislature building in the world. Other important buildings worth visiting are Patriarchal Cathedral, the centre of Romanian Orthodox faith built in the 17th century and the picturesque Stavropoleos Church.
Bucharest is large enough to visit on its own, but it is also the main entry point for everyone who is travelling across Romania and trying to trace the legend of Dracula.
Bulgaria was – alongside Romania – one of the first Balkan countries to enter the European Union in 2007. Since than it received a lot of funding which also resulted in the makeover of its capital, Sofia.
Sofia is now a dynamic Balkan capital, distinguished by its unique combination of modern architecture, Communist-era buildings and numerous beautiful orthodox churches. The most famous among them is of course the elegant Alexander Nevsky Cathedral functioning as de facto symbol of the city. Close by is on of the city’s oldest churches, St. Sofia’s which also gave a name to the Bulgarian capital. Not to be missed is also the beautiful 13th-century Boyana Church, located in a calm suburb around 8 kilometres south of the centre.
When visiting Bulgaria, one simply cannot just leave out other attractions close to Sofia, such are the UNESCO-recognised Rila Monastery,and the trendy town of Plovidv.
And last, but most definitely not least – Athens, probably the most famous of all Balkan capitals. With a registered metropolitan population of 3,7 million inhabitants it is also the largest one, although within the official city borders there are only 0,66 million.
Athens is regarded as the birthplace of Classical Greece, and therefore of Western culture. Its beginnings can be traced back to 3rd millennium BC when first settlements were constructed on the hill known today as the Acropolis, the most visited tourist attraction in the region. The glory of ancient Athens is legendary as it was the world centre for the arts, learning and philosophy. Besides the Acropolis, visitors also spend time in the charming historic districts of Plaka, Monastiraki and Thissio where you can admire the restored neoclassical buildings and Roman ruins.
However, many people come to Athens before sailing to one of the many Greek islands on a yacht or a gulet which are still a prime summer holiday destination.
Did we get you excited about travelling to the Balkans? Get in touch with our friendly agents at ➨ firstname.lastname@example.org to get a personalised tour to all the Balkan capitals. You can visit them all at once or you can opt for separate city breaks.
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