Slightly untouched by the throngs of tourists who flock to Europe each summer, the Balkans is a complex region with beautiful natural areas and dynamic cities. A trip to the Balkans is a trip back in time to a place with a difficult history, but also a journey into idyllic towns and villages that set the scenes, literally, of some of TV’s biggest hits (here’s looking at you Game of Thrones). And while there’s plenty to see and do, here are a few experiences you have to add to your Balkans bucket list.
Though Croatia’s beautiful coast is the first thing that comes to mind, the nation is also home to some of the world’s most spectacular national parks. Arguably the most beautiful, Plitvice Lakes National Park is a series of 16 different lakes tied together with a ribbon of trails that wind past picturesque waterfalls and wooded areas that feel straight out of a fairytale. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park gets extremely crowded, so get there when it first opens for unobstructed views and crisp morning air.
Another Croatian attraction that draws major crowds, Krka National Park, located in the Dalmation region, is the perfect spot to spend a day in nature. Take a boat tour to experience the highlights of the park, especially the postcard-perfect island of Visova. But make sure you pack your swimmers for the main attraction, a series of cascading waterfalls where visitors can actually take the plunge and swim. Bring a waterproof camera, because the falls are primed and ready for that IG pic.
If you want to hear the sounds of the sea, head to Zadar, a beautiful Croatian city on the coast. Here, you’ll find the “Sea Organ,” a clever piece of engineering that, without getting too sciencey, is a series of steps on the water that move water and air through various pipes, creating a relaxing, ambient sound that’s the perfect backtrack to a Croatian sunset.
If you’re looking to have a big night out, Split, Croatia should be on the bucket list. Here, you’ll find pubs, bars, and nightclubs of every caliber. And though you’ll find some seriously chill bars, Split is the city to dance your heart out at clubs like O’Hara Music Club and Hemingway Bar.
Croatia is home to over 1,200 islands and 1,000 miles of coastlines, making it the perfect country to explore by boat. If you’re there on vacation, chances are you don’t have a boat, but if you have Uber downloaded on your phone, you can now simply request an UberBOAT. With this service, guests can either go point-to-point or reserve the boat for full-or half-day excursions.
Though Game of Thrones is a fictional television show, Dubrovnik, Croatia is very real, and just so happens to be the filming location of some of the series’ most iconic scenes. From Fort Lovrijenac to Lokrum Island, Dubrovnik is the perfect place to make Game of Thrones a reality.
Located in Slovenia’s capital city, Ljubljana Castle is an impressive fortress with a history dating back to the 11th century. To get to the castle, hop on the all-glass funicular railway, which provides beautiful views of the city, and then let your inner-child loose in the massive structure.
We can’t all live like a Kardashian, but in Montenegro, we can certainly pretend. Here, the world’s rich and famous sail in-and-out of the Bay of Kotor, soaking up the views of paradise while the rest of us snap photos of their luxurious yachts.
Unofficially the “world’s cutest bridge,” the Stari Most Bridge feels like it fell straight out of a Disney movie. A 16th century bridge rebuilt in the early 2000s, the Stari Most Bridge and the area surrounding it is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most photogenic spots in the Balkans.
Though Sarajevo is home to a number of attractions that help explain the city’s wartime history, many consider the Sarajevo War Tunnel one of the most significant. Built in 1993, the tunnel was the only lifeline outside of the city until the end of the siege in 1996. Today the tunnel serves as a museum featuring relics and stories that explain that dark history of Sarajevo.
A scenic spot for a place of quiet reflection, Belgrade’s “Hill of Contemplation” is the perfect place to turn it all off and simply relax.
Traveling through the Balkans can be complicated. Here, you’ll experience a number of border crossings, languages, currencies, and customs. If you’re winging it, check out our beginner’s guide to the region to make sure you have all the facts you need to navigate the area. Or, join a group tour to have a seamless experience. Contiki, a tour company designed for travelers aged 18–35 offers an affordable 15-day journey that covers the highlights of the Balkans. Other tour companies and private providers also specialize in the region. Whichever way works best for you, don’t wait too long, as the secret of the Balkans is starting to spread.