This area of Europe has very similar draw cards for travellers. Great landscapes, interesting cities, widely accepted free camping and really affordable prices. The one thing that trumps the Baltics is the great weather in the Balkans, being that bit further south and bordering the Mediterannean.
So if you’re on your way to Scandinavia or Russia or feel like heading North you can read our Ultimate Baltics Roadtrip Itinerary. But if you’re Balkans bound then read on for our favourite stops in this amazing part of the world. This post covers Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo. Stay tuned for part two: Montenegro, Albania and Macedonia.
Slovenia was a brilliant place to start our road trip. Since this country became independent 20 years ago and it’s recent introduction to the EU it has been on a steady path to success. They have great roads, super-friendly locals and a thriving tourism industry built around their stunning nature which is well cared for. As a result it is a little more expensive than some of the other Balkan countries but it is more than worth visiting on any Balkan road trip.
Lake Bled and Bohnij
This area is no secret and is probably one of the most touristed areas of the Balkans. But you can’t go to Slovenia and not see the beauty that is Bled! A stunning lake set among mountains complete with an island church in the middle and a castle looking out over the lake. It really is a fairy tale destination.
For some slightly less touristy lake vibes head to nearby Lake Bohinj. A little more difficult to get to the water but stunning mountain scenery and crystal clear waters make for a worthwhile stop.
Slovenia’s capital city has a brilliant mix of old town historical and young, artsy vibes. A great place for a couple of days exploring and as a base to see the rest of the country. For more ideas of things to do, places to stay and things to eat check out our Ljubljana city guide.
Caves and the Rakov valley
This area of the country is home to some brilliant landscapes and places to see. There are plenty of caves in Slovenia but the two most well known are Postonja and Skocjan.
Nearby is the Rakov Skocjan valley which is great place for hiking and adventuring. This area was once a giant cave which collapsed forming a vast valley filled with walking tracks, rivers, smaller caves and natural bridges. For more info and photos read about our day in the Rakov valley.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
We skipped Croatia as it was peak tourist season and our patience and budget didn’t stretch that far. So we continued onwards to a country we knew very little about but we found plenty of reasons to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina.
For us, the most beautiful parts of Bosnia were the in between parts. The random mountain tops, rivers and lakes we continuously stumbled upon as we struggled to understand the logic behind out GPS -selected routes. But if you don’t have a vehicle or you’re on a limited time frame make sure you don’t miss these spots.
The capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina is a focal point for road trips in the Balkans as it is located within driving distance of Belgrade, Montenegro, Zagreb and Dubrovnik. Sarajevo is also so packed with history it’s hard not to be interested in what has happened here in the last few hundred years.
There are many good museum exhibitions and sights to see in the old town, I loved the town hall which has been amazingly restored. But also some quirky sights such as the Olympic bobsled track from the 1984 Olympics which remains mostly intact but abandoned.
Sarajevo has great food and café options as well as several places to enjoy great views of the city.
The biggest tourist attraction in Bosnia and Heregovina, this place can be very busy during the summer months. But the charm of the old town and its famous bridge can still be found. Take some time to wander the cobbled streets, eat at one of the many traditional restaurants and watch people jumping the 27metres off the old bridge into the river below.
We stayed a really nice campground about 12km out of Mostar in a little town called Blagaj. There were other campgrounds along the river too and it was a great place to chill but still be within a short driving distance of Mostar.
Jajce and nearby waterfalls and lake
The old town of Jajce makes a good stop when driving through Bosnia and Herzegovina. There is a castle and old town walls to wander. There is also an impressive waterfall which is worth stopping off at but a little too built up for tourism. Instead head along the river and you will pass Konoba Slapovi a gorgeous restaurant set next a cute little waterfall and hanging trees. Further along the river are good swimming spots and a lake where you can hire boats.
We only visited the South West of Serbia due to time constraints and the route we chose to take. But we found some nice areas and met some very friendly locals who invited us for beers and dinner.
National Park Tara
This covers a huge area and is perfect for hiking. You can stay in small bungalows in villages, camp in the forest or stay in the towns and walk from there. A really nice area to explore.
The Uvac river
We spent some time by the lakes free camping and then went further to the gorge. We almost went on a boat tour along the gorge and then to a view point to see the meanders of the river from above. There is also a chance to spot the white eagles that live in the area. Unfortunately the day we picked to go was about the only cloudy day we’ve had on our trip and the low hanging cloud meant we might not be able to see much. But from the pictures the trip definitely looks worth it on a clear day.
Often skipped out from people’s Balkan road trip intinerary is the small and beautiful Kosovo. But it was one of our favourite places on our trip and somewhere we definitely recommend for other travellers. Safe, affordable, friendly locals and hardly any other tourists. Read our article for a full list of things to do in Kosovo. But here’s a quick summary of the top stops.
The country’s capital is a bustling city filled with great cafes and bars. We tend to judge cities by their cafe culture and Pristina passed with flying colours! There are several interesting attractions to see in Pristina such as the ‘Newborn’ monument and the National Library. Locals here will be quick to strike up conversation in their excellent English and/or German and will tell you all about their country. For great coffee and snacks head to Dit' e Nat' or for a good hearty meal head to Home restaurant.
This town has all the charm of an old Italian town with the prices of South East Asia and the tourism levels of Mallorca in the winter. Wander the old town, grab a coffee or beer for some fuel and get yourself up the hill to the fortress. Here you’ll find beautiful views of the town and surrounding area. If you’re there in August try and time your visit to coincide with Dokufest, a large film festival.
We spent a few days in this area on our way to Montenegro. There are plenty of amazing hikes in this area as well as activities such as ziplining and caving. There is an information centre at the start of the road which will provide you with maps and advice for different tracks and things to see. There is plenty of accommodation within the gorge but free camping is also easy.
Other Stops on a Balkan Roadtrip
These are the must-sees on a road trip in the Balkans but if you're travelling by car you'll discover lots of little places in between which are just as wonderful but able to be explored in a lunch time stop or just overnight. Here are a few honourable mentions!
Vipava Valley, Slovenia
This was our first stop in Slovenia and a made a great first impression - look at those views! Vipava is a small town with some beautiful streets to wander but the main attractions in this area are the wine and the hiking, both equally good!
Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina
We booked three nights here without knowing much about the city. We needed a place to relax, do some washing and get acquainted with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Banja Luka did the job! There are a few cool things to see such as the church, mosque and castle. This is also a base for rafting trips.
Kravice Waterfalls, Bosnia and Herzegovina
These waterfalls were beautiful and absolutely worth stopping at if you're in the area. The only thing that put us off was the amount of tourists and consequently rubbish in the area. But the water is lovely and if you walk further along the river you'll come to lots of swimming spots with noone else around.
We stopped for a coffee and to check out the bazaar but ended up staying the night. The old town is gorgeous and has a great cafe and bar scene. The place is buzzing in the evening and the main street is just cafes and bars next to each other so pick one you like the look of and sit and watch some local life. We splashed out and had a comfortable stay at Hotel La Villa.
This was our first stop in Kosovo and was a really interesting introduction to the current situation in the country. The town is divided into two parts, the North speaks Serbia, uses dinar and has Serbian flags hanging in the street. In contrast, the South speaks Albanian, uses the Euro and is decorated with Albanian and Kosovan flags. We found it very safe and the people on both sides of the town were very welcoming and friendly.
These were our favourite places during the first part of our trip through the Balkans. Look out for part two featuring Montenegro, Albania and Macedonia!
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