The Balkans are made up of some of the most fascinating, beautiful, interesting, odd countries that I have ever been to. Earlier this year, I decided to ditch my travel plans and head for the Balkans. I had heard a few things about the Balkans and the beauty of its regions but never made plans to visit – until one random day when I decided to book a flight to Bosnia. I knew nothing and to be honest, couldn’t find a lot online about it either, which always fascinates and excites me a little but also scares the crap out of me (21st-century girl).
I made my way through Bosnia and Herzegovina then onwards to Dubrovnik, Croatia for a few days before departing for Montenegro and finally Albania. I only had a few weeks before I had to make my way to Turkey so I tried to visit as much as I could before burning out in Albania! I visited Slovenia last year and wow, that blew my mind. The landscapes, the food, the people and the affordability too. Although I have a few more countries to visit in the Balkans, I want to give you a taste of what I have explored so far as I have had many questions about the places I visited and, in future, when I visit the rest of the Balkans I will update this guide. So, here’s your guide to backpacking through the Balkans!
Transport through the Balkans: Catching buses is basically the only option when travelling through the Balkans. I prefer trains over buses but don’t worry, the buses are comfortable, clean and reliable. Usually you will pay for the ticket and then extra for any luggage you have that must go under the bus so remember to always have a few coins handy. Buses are a fantastic way to see the country and you will not be disappointed with the views that you are blessed with.
My adventure through the Balkans started in Bosnia and Herzegovina where I flew into Tuzla, as most cheap flights do coming from London. I would recommend heading straight for Sarajevo if you can and wouldn’t suggest staying in Tuzla for more than one night if you must.
Sarajevo is the beating heart of Bosnia and a must-see if you visit the country. It’s a good place to learn more about the history of the war. Sarajevo is a cool city and I really enjoyed my time here. Guide coming soon!
My next stop was Mostar, which is probably the most famous place in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s famous for its bridge and is possibly the cutest town I have ever seen. Although it’s touristy and absolutely packed in the summer, it’s still worth visiting. I only spent one night here but I wish I had more time to spend a couple more as I really fell in love with this place.
For €16 catch the bus to Dubrovnik, it’s well known for the set of Game of Thrones. I had never watched GOT myself so I went simply because the city looked beautiful – and I wasn’t disappointed. Dubrovnik is on route to Montenegro so it makes sense to stop here for a couple of nights and see this beautiful and historic city. It’s cheaper to stay out of the old town but if you have the budget I highly recommend staying inside, it’s such an experience! I stayed at the Celenga Studio Apartments, which is in the perfect location and a great spot to stay here. Read my guide on Dubrovnik here.
The next stop on the Balkans trip for me and that you should visit too is Kotor, Montenegro. This quaint town is probably the most picturesque town I have ever stayed in. If you can, come here in the off-season, there are thousands of more people in the summer due to cruise ships docking here. Kotor really captured my heart and I was only supposed to stay here for a couple of nights, but I actually ended up staying a few more than I intended. There are plenty of day trips you can do from Kotor. I highly recommend staying in the Old Town Hostel. The managers are really great fun and will be able to show you a fantastic time in the town. 360 Monte Tours also offers tours around Montenegro from here, which I also highly recommend doing because Montenegro has some of the most impressive landscapes in the world (blog post coming soon on that tour!).
Now it’s time for Albania! From Kotor, you can catch a bus to Tirana (the capital of Albania) but also to a city call Shkoder and I recommend you stop off to break the trip up (but also, it’s such a beautiful place to see). Stepping into Shkoder is like stepping back in time. The food here is fantastic, it’s even cheaper than the rest of the Balkans and the people are super friendly. You can stroll around the city and check out all the old buildings and go for a short hike up to the fort where you can get a great view over the city.
From here you can easily catch a bus to Tirana. There is not a whole lot of information about Albania and transport on the internet but it’s better to ask a local anyway. Catch the bus at the second roundabout in front across from the radio station. The locals will ask where you are going so just tell them you want to go to Tirana and they will help you, trust me. I had about 10 men yelling at the buses to stop to take me to Tirana, they are super helpful!
From Tirana, you can take buses to the South, and I recommend that you do so. I missed staying in Tirana because I wanted to check out the beaches in the South and I wasn’t disappointed. The buses in Albania don’t really have stops – you just tell the driver when you want to get off. Make sure you get off at the first bus station (buses that go to the South) otherwise you will end up at the last station and will have to walk back to the other bus station like I had to. It’s not far, but when you have luggage it seems like a lifetime. The buses to Saranda (Sarandё) leave about every hour but, again, just tell the men where you are going and they will be able to tell you which bus to take and when it leaves or comes. It takes about 4-5 hours and it’s a great way to see the country.
There are plenty of places to stay in the South of Albania. I got recommend Himare, Ksamil and Saranda. I was only going to stay one or two nights in Saranda but I had the best time and ended up spending the rest of my time in Albania there. I highly recommend staying at the Hairy Lemon Hostel if you decide to stay in Saranda. They have the most amazing view and epic beach BBQs. It’s a great base if you would like to explore Ksamil (the most beautiful beach EVER!) and Blue Eye. Plus, Saranda is a cool place with a waterfront, good restaurants and links to transport all over the country. Make sure you stay at the Hairy Lemon Hostel if you do end up staying in Saranda, it’s so much fun. If you’re not convinced on travelling to Albania you haven’t read my 9 reasons why you need to visit this amazing country!
From Saranda, I travelled back to Tirana to catch my flight to Istanbul. I am currently based back in Albania for the long-term so if you have any questions about Albania specifically, leave them below!
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