Things to do in Kosovo
After our pleasant surprise at how great Bosnia is as a travel destination we were blown away by Kosovo. The war here was a lot more recent and having met very few people who had travelled here and finding very little online we expected to find a small, struggling nation with not a lot to see but perhaps some interesting local life.
Boy, did we underestimate this amazing little country. The cities are modern, bustling and packed with cute cafes, funky bars and restaurants offering all kinds of delicious cuisine. All the roads are fully sealed, there are major highways and everything is well sign-posted. There are cobbled old towns, national parks with marked hiking trails and plenty of interesting sights to see.
Yes, Kosovo is still developing and changing and there are still many issues to be dealt with. But it is more than ready to welcome tourists and is definitely on par with the rest of Europe in terms of tourist appeal.
Need to know about Kosovo
Kosovo was once part of Serbia and declared independence in February 2008. The road to independence was not easy and there was a lot of conflict within Kosovo. It is still struggling to gain recognition as a country with 115 nations recognising Kosovo’s independent status.
Within Kosovo most people are ethnic Albanian with the exception of the Northern areas where many people are of Serbian origin. The conflict within Kosovo is ongoing and controversial however Kosovans are happy to have tourists visit and are willing to openly talk about the past, present and future.
Population: 1.8 million
Language: Mostly Albanian, some Serbian. Good English and German spoken throughout the country.
So what do you do in Kosovo? Read on, here are all the major towns and best things to see in each area of Kosovo.
In and around Pristina
Pristina is the capital city and is the major transport hub. Stop here to get a feel for the country, stay in a major city and connect to other areas of the country. There are lots of interesting things to see and do here in a couple of days.
Go to a bear sanctuary
The sanctuary was opened in 2013 and is now home to 19 bears rescued from abusive and inhumane conditions. The area is well laid out and takes about an hour to walk around, depending on how long you want to stop and look at the adorable bears. There is a nice little café and a kids playground. Entry is €1.50 in the high season and €1 in the off season. You can also make donations to the care of the bears.
If you want to make a day of it, the area around here is also great for hiking and there are walking paths that lead through a lovely park. A little further down the road is a nice lake which is great for a dip and there are kayaking tours available.
See one of the world’s ugliest building
The Kosovo National Library has become a tourist attraction since it was named one of the world’s ugliest buildings. It was designed by an Albanian architect and kind of looks like boxes covered in chains with white domes on top. An interesting spectacle whether it’s worthy of the criticism or not.
Around 12km outside of Pristina is the spectacular Granica Monastery. It’s on the way to the bear sanctuary and worth stopping at for a look. The monastery dates back to 1321 and has some pretty impressive paintings on the inside.
Visit the Ethnographic Museum
A major part of this was being renovated when we were there but a guide took us around a traditional house filled with artefacts and carved wood that were hundreds of years old. It’s small and a bit random but interesting to see as you wander through the old town of Pristina.
Prizren is the most popular town in Kosovo and it’s easy to see why. This gorgeous little old town set on a river has picturesque views and plenty of cafes and bars.
Prizren is the place for sunset beers in a funky bar. Sitting with views of the fortress and river watching the world go by. The streets of the old town are lined with bars where draught beer is €1.50 and it seems like the whole town are out on a summers night walking the streets.
This is the major attraction of Prizren. A 15 minute steep uphill climb takes you to the old fortress with stunning views down over the town. A great place to watch the sunset or simply sit and enjoy the views. There is also a lovely church to see on the way up but it was not possible to enter when we were there.
If you happen to time your visit right Prizren hosts an awesome little film festival with a great range of documentaries, workshops, performances and discussions. The venues are located all over the town and include outdoor areas such as the grounds of the fortress and the river bank. The whole town comes alive during these 9 days and there is a great atmosphere.
Wedding dress shopping
We still haven’t quite got our head around just how many wedding dress shops there are in Kosovo. Walking straight north out of the old town the main shopping street is lined with shops displaying all kinds of dresses from traditional Kosovan to lavishly decorated puffy numbers. It’s an intriguing place for a wander.
Peja is a great base for exploring the surrounding area which is beautiful. The town is small and compact but there are plenty of things to see in the area. It is also a connection point to neighbouring Montenegro.
The Rugova Valley is a great place for hiking. It is part of the ‘Peaks of the Balkans’ hike which is a 10-13 day hike through mountains in Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro. We did a great hike to Lake Kucisko, right on the Montenegrin border. It was only 1.5 hours from the restaurant we drove to but could also be extended if you started at the main road instead.
Just opposite the zipline is an interesting collection of tents, chairs, art and miscellaneous items all put together to create a little oasis in the river. There was no one around when we were there but there were prices written on the tents so perhaps you can stay there? Otherwise it makes a quirky place to stop for a dip and watch the zipliners go overhead.
About 20 minutes drive from Peja is a zipline through the gorge. It costs €10 per person and lasts just over a minute. It looked like a lot of fun but we were both too chicken to try it!
Patriarchate of Peć
Just outside of the town is a 14th century monastery which is well worth a look. You need to show your passport to get in, we aren’t entirely sure why! It costs €2 to enter which includes an audio guide. You aren’t allowed to take photos of the inside but it is very impressive.
Waterfall and Radaci caves
The Radaci cave is a new feature on the Kosovo tourist attractions list. They are still exploring further under the mountains but right now you can pay €2 to see the first three galleries. It’s open everyday from April- October and by appointment at other times. You can also arrange to climb down 90m to the underground lakes.
Other towns and things to do
This was our first stop in Kosovo and is an incredibly interesting introduction to the country and its conflict. The small town in divided by a bridge built by the European Union. On the north side of the bridge Serbia and Russian flags hang along the main street, everyone speaks Serbian and pays in dinar (the currency of Serbia). On the southern side of the bridge Albanian flags adorn statues, people speak Albanian and use the Euro.
We found the town completely safe to wander and everyone was very friendly and enthusiastic about talking with us and helping us. There are lots of nice cafes, bakeries and bars so grab a coffee and chat with some locals on either side.
We stopped here as a quick coffee break and ended up staying the night. There is not a huge amount to see but the old town is so adorable. The main street is basically bar, café, bar, café and in the evening most are full of locals chatting, joking and enjoying a summers evening. We loved the vibe of this place.
Coffee with cream
It too use a couple of tries to get used to the coffee names in Kosovo. A macchiato is what I would call a latte and a cappuccino comes with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. Whatever you decide on it never costs more than €1 and is really good coffee!
Talk to locals
Everywhere in Kosovo the people were very friendly and had a really good level of English. From the man at the parking lot to meeting a fellow blogger (check out her awesome blog), we tried to make the most of our social interactions and get to know a little bit about the country we were travelling in.
We were so surprised by all the interesting, fun and quirky things to do in Kosovo. It's cheap and in Europe so we thoroughly recommend it to anyone looking for a week away (looking at you teacher friends!)