The Most Cultural Cities in the Balkans

Maribor, Slovenia
Maribor, Slovenia | © KMW2700/Flickr
Maria Angelova

Einstein once said, “Logic will lead you from point A to point B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” The Balkans have proven that imagination, art and culture can survive through all circumstances. If you are a culture buff, follow our guide to the best cultural spots in the Balkans.

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Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Plovdiv has long been a cultural hub in Bulgaria, so it was no surprise when it was named the European Capital of Culture for 2019. The city transforms into an open-air art museum venue during the Night of the Museums and Galleries festival in September. If you’re still in town at the end of the month through mid-October, be sure to stop by One Dance Week. In the summer, visit an open-air opera or theatre performance at the Ancient Theater in Plovdiv’s Old Town. The city also recently designated a small quarter called Kapana for arts, cultural venues and craft workshops.

Plovdiv’s Ancient Theater

Sibiu, Romania

Sibiu was a European Capital of Culture, too, back in 2007. The picture-perfect Romanian city in Transylvania is a treat for the culture traveller, with art galleries; weird museums, such as the Pharmacy Museum and Museum of Hunting; and a collection of beautiful churches with towers to climb for great views over the city. May is reserved for the Sibiu Jazz Fest and the Este Film Fest, and the Classics for Pleasure festival takes place in the main square in August.

Sibiu, Romania

Thessaloniki, Greece

Whether you’re in the mood for some ancient Medusa heads at the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, or for traveling back in time and delving into Byzantine art at the amazing Museum of Byzantine Culture—one of the most impressive museums in Greece—Thessaloniki is always a good idea. Although it lacks the island atmosphere often associated with Greece, the city has an overall feel of calm, which is surprising for the second largest city in the country. Don’t miss the famous White Tower, one of the symbols of the city, for a spectacular panoramic view and some history of the city.

The White Tower in Thessaloniki

Maribor, Slovenia

Maribor is the second largest city of Slovenia and the European Capital of Culture for 2012. Take a walk in the historic centre, where the Austro-Hungarian past of the city is apparent in the architecture. Maribor is most famous for the music and art festivals that take place here every year. Lent Festival is among the biggest music festivals in the Balkans, with Stereo MC’s and James Brown among its headliners in years past. For classical music, Festival Maribor officially opens the art season in September.

Maribor, Slovenia

Niš, Serbia

When travelling, many come to Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, or to Novi Sad, but for a dose of Serbian cultural life, you must visit Niš. Every summer, Niš hosts one of the best Balkan jazz festivals, Nisville, which has a decades-long tradition. At the beginning of September, the walls of the Niš Fortress tremble in the rhythm of pop, rock and electronic music during the Nisomnia Festival. As the birthplace of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, Niš also organizes the annual Days of St. Emperor Constantine and Empress Helen (June 1-5) with many cultural and sports events.

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