Eastern Europe is developing a terrific reputation for affordable hotels and great nightlife in some of the world’s most historic and beautiful cities. If you haven’t considered visiting the Balkans, now’s the time to start thinking about it. You’ll see stunning architecture, visit world-class museums and have urban adventures for a fraction of the cost you’d pay to see Rome, Paris or Venice. We’ve put together a few of our favorite destinations to whet your appetite for what’s waiting at the end of those increasingly cheap flights.
Geography Tip: The Baltic countries are Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The Balkans are the dozen countries located on the Balkan Peninsula stretching from Slovenia to Greece and over to the tip of Turkey.
Dubrovnik – Croatia
You’re going to have to put up with crowds, but even loads of tourists is a small price to pay for walking the streets of this fortified town. Dubrovnik was heavily damaged during the war, but intensive reconstruction has brought the city back to its former glory. Wander the cobbled streets within the fortress walls, check out the cozy cafes and pubs, and shop the open market for a host of handicrafts and fresh produce. The churches are magnificent, the people are friendly, and the view of the old city from the top of the hills is breathtaking.
Skopje – Macedonia
Macedonia’s capital is close to the border with Kosovo and people have been living in these parts for over 6000 years. The city was devastated by an earthquake almost 60 years ago, but several important Roman ruins remain, including the historic bridge over the Vardar River. After achieving independence in 1991, the city underwent massive renewal and modernization which means lots of luxury hotels and casinos. Skopje still has a unique charm, however, with great squares, parks, museums, statues and monuments.
Ljubljana – Slovenia
This pedestrian friendly city in the center of the country is a very pretty town split in two by the Ljubljana River. On one side you’ll find the historic old town that’s filled with cafes, galleries, shops and local restaurants. The other side of the river is home to the city’s commercial district with more museums, parks and fountains. Climb up the hill to the old castle before enjoying a drink at one of the dozens of small bars that line the riverbanks. Ljubljana also has a large student population so there’s no shortage of nightlife when the sun goes down.
Belgrade - Serbia
The Kalemegdan fortress looms over the Danube in a city that’s a living testament to its turbulent past. You’ll see socialist architecture butting up against art nouveau buildings, ancient streets and modern boulevards. In summer, the party moves onto moored river boats that come alive with music and dance. Visit Tito’s tomb or marvel at the Church of Saint Sava, one of the largest religious structures in the world. Belgrade has no shortage of things to see and do in a vibrant city that’s keen to welcome visitors to its affordable attractions.
Kolasin – Montenegro
This one is for outdoor enthusiasts looking for a great mountain retreat. Kolasin is in the northern part of Montenegro, a ski center that’s close to the Biogradska Gora National Park. That’s where you’ll find one of Europe’s last remaining virginal forests with pristine glacial lakes and trees that were around over 500 years ago. There’s a great spa in the center of town, inexpensive lodging for backpackers, and miles of hiking trails. If you’re looking for a major time-out in an unbelievably beautiful setting, this is it.
Wherever you travel in the Balkans, you can expect a warm welcome, great food and affordable places to stay. Why not make your travel dollar stretch a little further by exploring some of the most underrated cities in Europe before they get “discovered” by the maddening crowd.