Bazaars, museums, architecture and designer cafes – Kosovo’s biggest city does it all incredibly well. This culture and coffee-oriented guide covers my favourite things to do in Prishtina.
Of all the big Balkan cities we’ve visited thus far, I think Prishtina, Kosovo’s capital, is probably the one that’s surprised me the most. Unlike most travellers to Kosovo, we didn’t start our trip in Prishtina—we ended it there. I’m not sure if my impressions of Prishtina would be different had we done our itinerary in reverse, but ending in the capital was the right choice for us and certainly felt like finishing on a high.
Prizren is considered Kosovo’s cultural hub, Gjakova is the most ‘authentic’ of Kosovo’s small towns, and Peja is the gateway to nature. Having already experienced all three, we found Prishtina to be a nice combination of all of the above—with some interesting architecture thrown in.
Laid-back and lively all at once, with a hip cafe and bar scene and some fantastic outdoor public spaces, Prishtina is one of my top choices to include on your Balkans itinerary. Here are my favourite things to do in Prishtina city, Kosovo. (Note that instead of providing an address for each individual place, I’ve included everything on a map at the end of the post.)
In This Post:
- Where to stay in Prishtina
- Getting around Prishtina city
- Awesome things to do in Prishtina
- Ascend the cathedral tower for a view of the city
- Cathedral of Saint Mother Theresa
- People-watch on Bulevardi Nënë Tereza, Prishtina’s main pedestrian street
- Lap up Prishtina’s cafe culture
- Imperial Mosque
- Lose yourself in Prishtina’s old market, Tregu i vjeter
- Ethnological Museum
- Go inside the National Library of Kosovo
- Take a selfie at Newborn
- Eat lunch at Hotel Gračanica
- Visit the Kurrizi Complex, Prishtina’s biggest housing estate
- Sample Prishtina’s famous nightlife
- Where to eat in Prishtina
- Map of things to do in Prishtina
- Visiting Prishtina as a day trip
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A quick note… Throughout this post (and elsewhere on this blog) I refer to Prishtina as the capital of Kosovo. I do this while also acknowledging that Prishtina is not officially considered as such because Kosovo is not recognised by the UN as a nation state. Being from one of the countries that does recognise Kosovo’s independence (Australia), I defer to that position. This is not meant to be a political statement or a sign of disrespect: I hope the vibrancy and beauty of Prishtina and Kosovo is something we can all agree on.
Where to stay in Prishtina
Prishtina offers a good mix of budget and mid-range accommodation. ODA Hostel (dorms + privates with shared bathroom) is the top choice among Prishtina’s hostels. Stay Ok is a good no-frills choice. A room at City Inn will set you back a few more Euro, but the stylish decor and central location are worth it.
If you want to experience Kosovo’s first boutique hotel, Swiss-owned Hotel Gračanica is superbly styled, with a luxurious pool and an on-site restaurant (mentioned again later in this post). It’s located 15-20 minutes’ by taxi (a 5 Euro fare) from Prishtina, close to Gračanica Monastery.
When researching for our visit, we were surprised at how many cool apartment rentals there are in Prishtina. I’ve gone to the liberty of curating a list of the city’s most stylish Airbnb apartments – find it here.
Getting around Prishtina city
Prishtina is pretty compact and flat; everything on this list (apart from Hotel Gračanica) can be reached from the centre on foot. A DIY walking tour is a great way to take in the highlights—information tablets have been placed throughout the city to mark important landmarks, and there are large tourist maps positioned prominently on every other block. Just know that Google Maps isn’t always reliable, especially in the back streets around the Ethnography Museum.
I’ll admit that I don’t know anything about public transport in Prishtina because we never had occasion to use it. I encourage you to read-up on Prishtina’s city buses here.
Awesome things to do in Prishtina
A culture and coffee-lover’s guide to the best things to do in Prishtina, Kosovo.
Ascend the cathedral tower for a view of the city
Whenever I arrive in a new city, I like to start with a bird’s eye view so I can better visualise its size and layout. (By this stage of the trip, I honestly couldn’t count the number of clock towers, bell towers, fortresses and hillocks we’ve climbed!). The view from the tower adjoining the Cathedral of Saint Mother Teresa is probably the best vantage point in Prishtina.
From 250 feet up, you can look down on Miti Park and the iconic National Library of Kosovo to the east. To the south and west, Prishtina’s suburbs – huge conglomerations of socialistic-style concrete blocks – roll out along sparkling highways.
The tower is accessible by elevator and entrance costs 1 Euro. There are no official opening hours that I could find, but locals assure me the tower is open daily until sunset, with a short break in the middle of the day for lunch.
Cathedral of Saint Mother Theresa
While you’re there, take some time to visit the cathedral itself. The biggest Catholic church in Kosovo, it only opened to worshipers in 2009. I’ve really enjoyed observing the differences between Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches in the Balkans – and the contrast in Prishtina couldn’t be starker. Everything is shiny and new, and the sparsely decorated, spacious interior truly sparkles.
Take note of the stained glass windows that line both sides of the nave, and the pews adorned with eagle heads. (Side note: The Mother Teresa window pictured was gifted to the church by a benefactor with the family name, Lush!)
People-watch on Bulevardi Nënë Tereza, Prishtina’s main pedestrian street
Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta is beloved in Kosovo (she spent time in the country as a teenager after her family sought refuge from Macedonia). In Prishtina, she also lends her name to the main pedestrian mall, Boulevard Mother Teresa.
Traipsing up and down one of the city’s main arteries is an activity in itself. The boulevard is lined with shady trees and delightful little shop cubes, where stallholders trade flowers and second-hand books. A small farmers’ market is also held on the street every morning.
Watch elderly gents, always in pairs, chatting away the afternoon while groups of friends crisscross the boulevard, hopping from one trendy cafe to the next. Pause for just a moment and someone is bound to approach you and strike up a conversation.
At its northern end, the boulevard terminates at Skanderbeg Square, where an imposing statue of the Albanian general stands in wait.
Lap up Prishtina’s cafe culture
Not familiar with Kosovo’s coffee culture? I have two words for you: Big macchiato.
Pretty close to an Australian flat white, the humble macchiato is the beverage of choice across Kosovo. Hand on heart, coffee in Kosovo is the smoothest and tastiest I’ve had since we left Colombia, and probably the best I’ve had anywhere in Europe (sorry, Italy). Even the smallest, most unassuming (and downright dodgy looking) cafes make a mean macchiato. Kosovar baristas sure know how to work an Italian coffee machine – and a big macchiato will never cost you more than 1 Euro (the cheapest we had was 80 cents, and it was still fantastic!).
Prince Coffee (a popular Kosovar chain that recently opened a branch in The Bronx) and Soma Book Station are the two cafes in Prishtina you can’t leave without trying.
There are more than 500 mosques in Kosovo; if you’re going to visit just one in Prishtina, make it the Imperial Mosque (Džamija cara). Constructed in 1461, it’s a beautiful example of Ottoman architecture. It’s definitely more pared-back than other mosques we’ve seen in the region, but just like the nearby cathedral, it has an understated beauty. The stone ablution fountain, set in the front garden, is particularly impressive.
I’m not entirely sure of the visitor’s policy at the Imperial Mosque. After some confusion over whether or not we should buy a ticket, we were shown inside free of charge (although our chaperone didn’t turn the lights on for us, maybe because he didn’t know where the switch was!). There is an Islamic bookstore on the street just below the mosque where you can probably find someone to let you in. If there’s no one there, don’t fret: I actually thought the paintings on the exterior domes were just as impressive as the interior.
Lose yourself in Prishtina’s old market, Tregu i vjeter
We got completely disoriented trying to navigate our way from the mosque to the Ethnological Museum and happened upon a raging green market in the winding back streets. We later learned that Tuesday is market day in Prishtina, when the alleys around what used to be the Prishtina Bazaar fill up with fruit, veg and dairy vendors from the surrounding villages.
In the 16th century, the Prishtina Bazaar was known throughout the region as a trading hub. At its peak, it contained more than 300 shops, as well as a hamam and a mosque. Sadly, most of the complex was destroyed in the 1960s as part of the city’s urban ‘regeneration’ program. From old photos, it looked a lot like the bazaar in Gjakova, which is the biggest in Kosovo today.
The buildings may be gone, but the tradition still continues. Inside a permanent undercover market adjacent to the Ethnography Museum people sell electronics, hardwear and other products. To see the green market in action and the streets abuzz with shoppers and men pulling wooden carts, you should try to time your visit for a Tuesday.
Keeping with the regional tradition of turning former private residences into house museums, Prishtina’s Ethnological Museum (also called The Ethnological Treasure of Kosovo) is set in the Emin Gjiku Complex, an 18th-century property that belonged to one of Prishtina’s wealthiest Kosovar-Turkish families.
Three buildings, each one with outstanding architectural flourishes, houses artefacts collected from Prishtina and around Kosovo. Textiles, furniture, dowry trunks and kitchen utensils tell the story of how the city’s wealthiest traders once lived and practiced their culture. In the sitting room, a raised bench for guests and lowered seating for the family speaks to the Islamic tradition of welcoming guests unequivocally into one’s home. The house, the Museum Curator told us, was even used to shelter Jewish refugees.
Two of the museum’s three buildings were closed for renovation at the time of our visit, but luckily we could still tour the main house. The curator is usually on hand to show guests around (note that the museum is closed on Mondays). Entry is free, but donations are appreciated. More information and opening hours can be found here.
Go inside the National Library of Kosovo
Does the National Library of Kosovo deserve the title of one of the world’s ‘ugliest’ buildings? I’ll let you be the judge. Wherever you fall, I think it’s worthy of a visit – if only to see the unusual facade of the building, which looks like a huge coil of chain, up close.
Finished in 1982, the library’s design is the fever dream of Croatian architect Andrija Mutnjaković. Its more redeeming design features can be found inside: A stunning geometric floor mosaic (it’s actually tiered with shallow stairs) dominates the entryway. Elsewhere, there are some nice wall mosaics and retro fittings to be found.
Visitors get free reign of the library, including the upstairs reading rooms. I feel a pang of sadness when I see books being mistreated: I’m sure staff here are doing their best (and there were a lot of staff members and visitors around), but we saw a lot of disheveled piles and ripped books laying about. In one of the rooms, there is a conveyor belt that looks as if it hasn’t been used in decades.
The best views of the library are available from the cathedral tower.
Take a selfie at Newborn
Another Prishtina icon, the Newborn monument was unveiled on 17 February 2008, the day Kosovo declared its independence. Every year, to mark the anniversary of the declaration, the sculpture is reimagined and reinvigorated by repainting it with different motifs, often to echo broader political or cultural conversations. In 2019, Newborn was decorated with patterns to represent energy, water, oxygen, nature, biodiversity and recycling.
Make sure you also visit the much more sombre Heroinat Memorial opposite Newborn, which pays tribute to the women victims of the Kosovo War.
Eat lunch at Hotel Gračanica
If you’re planning a trip to Kosovo, you’ve probably come across Gračanica Monastery, one of the four monasteries that makes up the UNESCO-listed Medieval Monuments in Kosovo. If you plan to go there from Prishtina (and you should – it’s only 10 km or less than 30 minutes from downtown by bus), I highly recommend stopping for lunch at the nearby Hotel Gračanica while you’re there.
Hotel Gračanica is Swiss-owned and one of very few venues in the country to employ people from a range of ethnic backgrounds (Kosovar, Serb and Roma), including in management positions. The hotel has serious eco credentials and there’s also a pool that you can pay to use. Even better, you can spend the night and use all the facilities as a guest.
I plan to include full instructions for how to get to Gracanica from Prishtina in an upcoming post. It’s very simple: Just take a bus bound for Gjilan from the station in Prishtina and ask the driver to let you off in Gracanica.
Visit the Kurrizi Complex, Prishtina’s biggest housing estate
As you’ve probably guessed from my recent dispatch from Bratislava, I’m fascinated with socialistic-style housing projects. When I studied architecture history as part of my bachelor’s degree, this was one of the topics I chose to focus on!
In Prishtina, there are a number of large-scale modernist housing projects, civilian microcosms that were intended to be self-sustaining. Dardania and Ulpiana are two Prishtina neighbourhoods where this post-1945 style of robust architecture – dominated by concrete, glass and iron – prevails.
The Kurrizi Complex is another great example. Meaning ‘Spine’, it was designed by Yugoslavian state-owned firm Plan Zagreg, and remains the largest shopping and housing project in the city. It’s comprised of three sections: A ground floor with an enclosed shopping street and tunnel so that cars can pass under the building (cool!); a 400 metre ‘boulevard’ lined with more shops; and multi-storey housing towers with hundreds of apartments.
We were lucky enough to stay in an Airbnb inside Kurrizi Complex – it was a very unique experience! Even if you just drop by for a visit, it’s a fun place to observe a slice of daily Prishtina life. There are plenty of cafes and bars on the boulevard level where you can stop for a drink. One of the bakeries inside the complex (just to the left of the market pictured above) makes the best burek we ate in Kosovo.
The Kurrizi Complex is located directly behind the Bill Clinton statue and ‘Hillary’ boutique – two of Prishtina’s quirkier tourist attractions.
Sample Prishtina’s famous nightlife
Prishtina is renowned for its bars and late-night cafes. Design fiends should start with Hamam Jazz Bar, which has recieved awards for its mudbrick interior. Nightlife certainly isn’t my area of expertise – you can find more recommendations from a local here.
Where to eat in Prishtina
If you need a wee break from Balkan cuisine, Prishtina is a great place to reset your palate. We only ate out a couple of times and cooked at home (read: ransacked the local bakery!) the rest of the time. If we ever make it back, we’ll have to remind ourselves to check out more of the international dining options, including Himalayan Gorkha Restaurant and one of the many Mexican joints in town.
- ⚑ Home Restaurant & Bar | This cosy restaurant is a Prishtina institution and favourite among expats. The menu covers both Balkan and European cuisines, and the Lebanese salad with hummus and falafel is to die for.
- ⚑ Thai Restaurant | Finding good Asian food in the Balkans feels like stumbling on El Dorado. As soon as the owner of the laconically named Thai Restaurant greeted us with an animated sawatdee kaaaa, we knew we were in for a treat. We ate two curries, massaman beef and chicken pineapple. Both were a little thin but tasted top-notch.
Map of things to do in Prishtina
Visiting Prishtina as a day trip
If you’re short on time or you don’t want to stay overnight in Kosovo, a popular option is to visit Prishtina as a day trip from Skopje, North Macedonia. The two cities are less than 100 km apart and interconnected by regular buses and vans.
When we travelled from Prishtina to Skopje by minivan, the journey took just over 2.5 hours, including border control. We did notice a new highway was being constructed, which could speed up travel time in the future.
If you plan to visit Prishtina as a day trip from Skopje, I would seriously consider booking a tour that includes a private car transfer to maximise your time in the city. Otherwise, you’ll be spending most of your time on the bus. This full-day tour departing Skopje visits both Prishtina and Prizren, thus giving you a good overview of Kosovo’s two biggest (but very different) cities.
Have you been to Kosovo? What are your favourite things to do in Prishtina?