Love road trips? The Balkans is one of the best regions in Europe for self-driving. This post brings together 18 tried-and-tested Balkan road trip itineraries to help you plan the perfect 3 -10 day adventure.
Balkans Travel Guide
“He who was lucky enough to wake up this morning in Belgrade shouldn’t ask for anything more in life. More than that would be immodest.”
– Duško Radović
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Why You'll Love the Balkans
Caught between Western and Eastern Europe, the Balkans combines the best of both worlds. In traveller’s terms, this is probably the most underrated (and undervalued) part of the continent.
Geographically, ‘the Balkans’ is the 12 countries that share the Balkan Peninsula, including the six ex-Yugoslavia republics (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and North Macedonia), plus Kosovo, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece and Albania. Much of their history is shared – yet when you look beneath the surface, you’ll see that each country is completely distinct.
The Balkans countries each boast national parks, old towns and cosmopolitan cities to rival any of their more popular neighbours. All with a much more palatable price tag and in most cases, far fewer other tourists to share with. On a practical note, the region is small and well-connected, making it easy to fit a lot into a short itinerary.
I spent more than 6 months travelling around the Balkans by bus, train and car, with a minimum of 14 days in each country and at least a week in each of the capitals.
Explore the Balkans by Country
Things to Do in the Balkans
A journey through the Balkans is like 12 trips for the price of one. In the space of a day, you can travel from an Illyrian town that’s as old as the hills to Europe’s youngest country, Kosovo.
If, like me, you grew up in the 1990s, your preconceptions of the Balkans were probably shaped by the six-o’clock news. A lot has changed in the intervening years, and the region is now an overwhelmingly safe place for travellers. From the scars of past conflicts spring the green shoots of creativity, most visible in the vibrant cities of Tirana, Pristina and Zagreb.
Trace the region’s omnipresent Ottoman influence all the way from the Old Bazaar of Skopje, the minarets of Bulgaria and the coffee houses of Sarajevo back to its point of origin in Istanbul. Be prepared to adopt a steady diet of cevapi and burek – hearty, meaty food, as you’ll see, is one thing all of the Balkan countries can agree on.
From the pink churches of fairytale-like Ljubljana and the iconic half-moon Stari Most bridge in Mostar, all the way to 50-shades-of-cement Belgrade, the nerve centre of the old Yugoslavia, a journey through the land of spomeniks must be laced with either strong coffee, wine or a shot of rakia, depending on the time of day.
Incredible hiking can be found in the region’s national parks, most notably Albania’s Accursed Mountains, Croatia’s Krka, Montenegro’s Durmitor, and Slovenia’s Triglav that envelops the iconic Lake Bled. Take a boat out on the marshy Lake Skadar, the largest on the peninsula, or through Romania’s Danube Delta.
Be transported back to the time of Saxon craft guilds as you wander through Transylvania’s fortified towns. Hop between the walled Venetian cities that stud the Adriatic Coast – from Croatian Istria to Dubrovnik all the way to the Bay of Kotor. Trust me when I tell you that each one is more charming than the last.