Located in the county’s west roughly halfway between Prizren and Peja, the gateway to the Dinaric Alps, Gjakova is only 12km from the Albanian border. With barely 150,00 residents, it feels more like a mid-sized town than a city.
It may seem slow-paced today, but Gjakova was once a major trading hub. During the Ottoman period and Silk Road days this was a stop on the coveted route between Shkodra and Constantinople.
And it has the Grand Bazaar to prove it. One of the largest and oldest in the region, Gjakova’s Çarshia e Madhe stretches over a kilometre and accommodates 500 delightful little shops, where artisans practice woodwork and hawk beautiful wedding costumes.
Though it feels completely serene today, it wasn’t always peaceful either. Gjakova was seriously impacted by both the Balkan Wars in 1912/13 and the Kosovo War in the 1990s, and most of its historic buildings were flattened.
Restored minarets, inns, Sufi Tekkes and Turbes (mausoleums), stone bridges, and a colourful pedestrian street lined with cafes and shisha bars – Gjakova is a city you must explore on foot with camera in hand at a sauntering pace.
I spent three nights in Gjakova as part of my fortnight in Kosovo and six-month overland journey around the Balkans. It will forever stand out as one of my favourite places in the region – a town that captured my heart and imagination completely.
Now, I want to convince you to put Gjakova on your Kosovo itinerary. Here is a brief introduction to the city and 10 wonderful things to do, plus my travel tips and map.
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Inhabited since prehistoric times, Gjakova – AKA Gjakovë (Albanian) or Đakovica (Serbian Cyrillic) – rose to prominence in the Ottoman period. A significant trading city in this part of the Balkans, there was a time when its Grand Bazaar or Çarshia e Madhe was counted among the largest in the region, alongside Istanbul’s Kapalı Çarşı and Skopje’s Stara čaršija.
Because of that, Gjakova has a long heritage of craftsmanship that is still alive today in the woodworking studios and bazaar shops. The town is known for its folk music and dance traditions and a couple of food specialities, which I’ll cover in detail later.
In 1998/9, Gjakova was a war zone. The city’s population shrunk to a quarter of its size as families fled for their lives. Many of the most important historical monuments – including the bazaar – were all but flattened in the fray.
After the war, families slowly returned to Gjakova and went about the unenviable task of rebuilding their town and their lives. Mosques and Catholic churches alike were restored, and the Çarshia e Madhe was rebuilt shop by shop.
Today Gjakova has that melancholy feel shared by all Balkan cities of a certain age. The streets are quiet, but the heart of the city is lovingly tended, full of history and brimming with spirit.
English is widely spoken among the younger generations and diaspora community, which makes it easy to get around. The city is walkable and pedestrian-friendly, with lots of excellent restaurants and cafes, and a very special guesthouse that ended up being my favourite accommodation in the entire region.
Where to stay in Gjakova
There are several excellent hotels in Gjakova but there’s really only one place to stay if you ask me, and that’s Kulla Dula, a guesthouse on the southern side of the city.
The stone house has been in the family for eight generations and is full of history and stories. During our stay, a local TV channel dropped by to profile the owners, so I got to learn a bit more about the building. The stone archway is original and you can see bullet pockmarks in the door, a reminder of the war. The owners stayed on throughout the conflict in the 1990s and opened their home to refugees.
The upper level is decked out like a heritage home, with a coffered wood ceiling and beautiful textiles. Bathrooms are modern and guests get access to the family’s garden. More than that, the couple are wonderful hosts and people – it’s a privilege to be able to stay in their home.
10 wonderful things to do in Gjakova
I recommend spending a full day in Gjakova. The city is small and everything is within walking distance of the old bazaar, so you’ll have no trouble getting around on foot.
Here are my favourite things to do in Gjakova, Kosovo.
Explore the Grand Bazaar
The Gjakova Grand Bazaar (Çarshia e Vjetër e Gjakovës) is a huge open-air marketplace that defines the shape and flow of the entire city. It runs for 1km at its longest point – making it the lengthiest bazaar in Kosovo – and has a total footprint of 35,000 square-metres.
The stone-clad streets have a slight upward slope while the low-set Ottoman-style wooden buildings that line either side are reminiscent of Sarajevo’s Old Bazaar. There is room for around 500 small small shops, which range from silversmiths and gunsmiths workshops to terzinjtë tailors and wedding outfitters, woodworkers and Qeleshe woolen hatters.
In 1662, Evliya Çelebi – the famous Ottoman explorer who spent four decades exploring the empire and cataloguing its geographical and cultural landscape – described Gjakova as a city of shops like “nightingale-nests.” The bazaar does define the shape and tone of the city; it’s hard to imagine there would be a Gjakova without it.
Each shop has pane glass windows that you can peek through. Many of the antique vendors and craftspeople display their goods out front. Other nooks have been turned into small cafes and bistros.
Meet the cradle makers keeping Kosovar woodworking traditions alive
Wooden baby cribs or Djepaxhiu are a longstanding tradition in Kosovo. Traditionally gifted to new babes, they are handcrafted and painted with bright floral patterns. On either end you’ll see an Arabic inscription – popular phrases are Me fat (meaning good luck) and Mashallah (an expression of respect) – accompanied by the year.
Gjakova is known for its cradle makers and many people come from across Kosovo to purchase them here. There are only a few artisans left who know the ins and outs of the tradition, and they all keep their workshops inside the bazaar.
We met one such artist, Ruzhdi Qarri, who kindly invited us into his studio-shop to look around. He took us on a tour of his attic where he had a couple of treasures to show us, including a cradle his father made in 1935. You can see how the colour scheme has changed over the generations but the patterns remain largely the same.
Decked out in overalls and spectacles, Ruzhdi was a true gentleman (like every man we met in Kosovo) and generously invited us to sit for coffee as he flicked through old family photos.
We later learned that Ruzhdi is a bit of a celebrity in Gjakova. He has his own Facebook Page and regularly appears on local TV. You can find his shop inside the Gjakova Bazaar – I’m quite sure he will welcome you in with open arms.
Also have a peek at the horse saddlers’ shop next door, where there is an interesting display of brightly coloured leather bridles.
Go inside the stunning Hadum Mosque
Along with the bazaar, the Hadum Mosque (Xhamia e Hadumit) is one of Gjakova’s defining features. It has such permanence, it feels as though it’s been here forever and the rest of the city sprung up around it.
Built between 1594-95, the complex once included a hammam bathhouse and a library. Both have since been destroyed. The graveyard, a final resting place for many of Gjakova’s notable citizens, survived. Take a moment to wander through and admire the beautiful inscriptions.
After sustaining damage during the war, the mosque was reconstructed and its delicate wall and ceiling paintings retouched. The interior with its Arabic characters and floral motifs is really quite stunning.
The mosque is open every day outside of prayer times and is free to visit.
Stop by the Clock Tower
Sitting at the end of the Grand Bazaar, Gjakova’s Clock Tower (Sahat Kulla) was constructed in 1597, a few years after the mosque was completed. It was completely destroyed in the Balkan Wars in 1912/13 – apart from the belfry, which was salvaged and relocated to Montenegro.
Years later, the 30-metre-high tower was rebuilt using stone and lead for the roof. The area it sits on has been creatively dubbed ‘Field of the Clock’. We didn’t get a chance to scale the stairs and visit the wooden observation deck at the top, but I bet the view is pretty good.
Visit the Ethnographic Museum
Gjakova’s Ethnographic Museum (Muzeu Etnografik i Gjakovës) is a treasury of heritage objects collected from families in the area. We were lucky enough to get a guided tour with a young English-speaking staff member when we visited.
There are carpets, stringed instruments and various household objects (including a few antique baby cribs), and quite unexpectedly a nice collection of Olivetti typewriters!
The house was built in 1810 for the Sina family by architects from Debar in North Macedonia and was known at the time for its sophisticated heating system. The second level has been restored to resemble its original appearance and features a beautiful curved sitting room at the front.
Climb Cabrati Hill for a city view
On the western side of town, Cabrati Hill (Kodra e Çabratit) is the best place in Gjakova for a city view. It’s a short but steep climb to the top, around 30 minutes by foot from the bazaar.
As you wander up you get nice views of the city through the trees, with the top of Saint Paul and Saint Peter Church (Kisha e Shën Palit dhe Shën Pjetrit) prominent on the horizon. There are a couple of restaurants and bars at the top. We ate at Oxygen, which has an impressive outdoor seating area overlooking the city. Just make sure you bring your bug spray as there are lots of mosquitoes in this area.
There are a couple of intriguing buildings on the hill, including Memorial Charnel House, a monument to Albanian fighters who perished in WWII. It was sealed off and semi-abandoned at the time of our visit, but we could still peek through the fence to see the decorative stone mosaics.
Admire Gjakova’s beautiful stone bridges
There are two historic arched stone bridges over the River Erenik near Gjakova. The first, Tabak Bridge, is close to town and walking distance from the church. Built in 1771, it used to be a bounding bridge between Gjakova and Shkoder in Albania. It’s closed to traffic now but you can still walk across the stones.
A second bridge, the Terezi Bridge (Ura e Terzive), is much larger at almost 200 metres, with 11 perfect arches. This bridge was important to traders as it connected Gjakova and Prizren. At some point in its history it was destroyed and later rebuilt with money donated from a local guild in Gjakova.
You’ll find it on the road to Prizren, roughly 20 minutes by car from Gjakova.
Eat inside an old traders’ inn
Located next to the Hadum Mosque, Haraçia’s Inn (Hani i Haraçisë) was built some time after 1600, making it one of the oldest buildings in Gjakova. The beautiful Ottoman-style house served as lodgings right up until the end of WWII when it fell into disrepair. Its current owner gave the house some much-needed TLC and has turned it into a restaurant.
The highlight is the interior courtyard, now an open-air dining room that’s perfect for lunch on a sunny afternoon. Intricate carved wooden balconies called çardak line the upper level.
The menu here is quite small but everything we tried was delicious. The qebapa and qofte are great, and they also do fresh salads and fish plus a few Gjakova specialty dishes.
Feast on Tave Gjakovare & baklava
Tavë kosi (‘sour casserole’) is an Albanian national dish that has been given its own twist in Gjakova. Instead of being made with lamb and rice, Tavë Gjakovare as it’s known uses veal. Slow-cooked in a rich tomato sauce for 4-6 hours, it’s a bit like a rich ragout. Some chefs serve the dish like a French onion soup with gratinated cheese on top.
You can find Tavë Gjakovare on just about every restaurant menu in town. I enjoyed the versions at both Hani i Haraçisë and Hotel Çarshia e Jupave.
Gjakova is also famed for its sweets so make sure you try the local baklava, which is sausage-shaped. Hotel Çarshia e Jupave does a popular rendition.
See more restaurant and cafe recommendations in the next section.
Bar hop on Sylejman Hadum Aga
Sylejman Hadum Aga is a long pedestrianised street within the old bazaar area that’s been transformed into a strip of cafes and bars. Much like the Old Bazaar in Korca, venues have colourful facades and seating spills out onto the street.
In the evenings the area is lit up with lanterns. The atmosphere is great. It’s also worth taking a stroll down this street during daylight hours – see if you can spot the street murals by local artist, Mimoza Rraci.
Where to eat & drink in Gjakova
- Hani i Haraçisë: Meals are served in the courtyard of this historic inn.
- Hotel Çarshia e Jupave: Another great choice, this hotel-restaurant is located inside a beautifully restored complex of old houses. Service is excellent and the vibe is a bit fancy. Try the baklava here.
- Bar & Restaurant Oxygen: Good food with a city view from the top of Cabrati Hill.
- Cafe-Bar Corbusier: My favourite of the cafes we tried – there are dozens to choose from.
How to get to Gjakova
- From Pristina | Departs for Gjakova every 30 minutes | 1.5 hours | €4
- From Prizren | Departs for Gjakova every 20 minutes | 1 hour | €2
- From Peja | Departs for Gjakova every 15 minutes | 40 minutes | €2
- From Tirana (Albania) | Departs for Gjakova 2-3 times daily | 3.5 hours | €15
Use Gjirafa.com to check schedules and fares. Always confirm times locally before you travel.
Coaches arrive and depart from Gjakova’s intercity bus station, Stacioni i Autobuseve (see the location here on Google Maps).
Click here to open the map in Google Maps. Use the star icon to save a copy to your Google Drive.
6 things to pack for Gjakova
- A good quality backpack. If you plan on moving around Kosovo by bus, it’s a good idea to travel light. I recommend using an anti-theft backpack for your day pack when you’re in the cities.
- A scarf (women). A lightweight cotton scarf is my number one travel essential. In Gjkova, it will come in handy for covering your hair when entering the mosques. This neutral travel scarf goes with anything and it even has a hidden pocket.
- Good walking shoes. Gjakova is very pedestrian friendly. Comfy shoes are essential – I love these ones for women, while my partner lives in these waterproof shoes.
- A reusable water bottle. I always travel with a S’Well water bottle.
- Biodegradable wet wipes. Try this convenient travel pack.
- Entertainment for bus journeys. If you don’t suffer from motion sickness, an e-reader is great for passing the time on road journeys. If you have a travel buddy, pick up a headphone splitter – probably my favourite travel gadget of all time – so you can share a screen or a podcast.
Have you been to Gjakova? Do you have any extra travel tips you’d like to share?