The Most-Breathtaking Balkan Peninsula Cities

A large swath of Europe’s landscape is occupied by the Balkan Peninsula, one of the continent’s oldest and largest settlements. Natural wonders and historic landmarks dot the territory, merging with unique culture, making it a popular destination with people from around the globe. From untainted beaches to towering mountains, luxurious resorts to ancient buildings, tempting dishes to homemade brews–the Balkans will draw you in, surprise you, excite you, and ante up abounding and unforgettable hospitality. From Albania to Macedonia and breathtaking Serbia, a journey across the Balkans offers a unique angle on Europe.

9. Bitola | Macedonia

Bitola is the second largest city in Macedonia yet the atmosphere feels so much more small-town than anything large. Sophisticated and charming, central Bitola is an easy place to get around, the food is fresh, uncomplicated, and tasty, and the locals have an easy, friendly way about them. Bitola has a handful of attractions to engage you easily for a few days. Sirok Sokak Street is the main artery, a lively backdrop of bars, restaurants, and shops lining the pedestrian-only, broad lane. Café culture is full-blown, creating endless opportunity for people-watching. Macedonian’s, along with the rest of the Balkans, love chatting over coffee, showcasing a social and relaxed way of life. Historical sites also abound, from fetching mosques to the imminent Clock Tower visible from all across the center of the city. The 15th century enclosed Bazaar, imposing Church of Sveti Dimitrij, and views from Bitola’s towering position at the base of Pelister Peak, the city is filled with appeal.

8. Belgrade | Serbia

Belgrade is Serbia’s most celebrated capital where layers of history, abundant cultural points, and a party almost each and every night has given the city an appealing reputation. Proud, outspoken, and adventurous, Belgrade is one of Europe’s most lively capitals, and though it’s more gritty than pretty, the rolling city hills showcase immense charm. Slowly, things are changing from good to better with plenty of gentrification happening citywide, seamlessly pairing with Hapsburg leftovers, art nouveau mastery, and socialist quarters, all dramatically contrasting with relics from the Ottoman empire. In Belgrade, the renowned Danube meets the Sava River where parkland unfolds alongside chaotic urban sprawl. A new world is evolving while keeping the old within its clutches. Quirky sidewalk kiosks, magnificent coffeehouses, and restaurants passed through generations flank Knez Mihailova, a vibrant pedestrian avenue lined by historic buildings leading to Kalemegdan Citadel, the city’s crown jewel.

7. Kotor | Montenegro

Magic seems to carve through every crevice of Kotor, Montenegro on the stunning Adriatic Coast. Enfolded in the Bay of Kotor’s south side, the city is enveloped by panoramic mountain scenery. Charm and authenticity are more than evident here, even with swaths of people spilling into the city during the later summer months, flocking to Kotor’s medieval and divine Old Town. Tucked between Kotor’s unpredictable bay and lofty mountains, the town of Kotor is ideally at one with its comely backdrop. History here began in the 9th century, evident in old buildings wedged together in one perfect assembly. At night, Kotor’s walls are spectacularly illuminated, seemingly protecting the treasures within–labyrinthine lanes of marble, small family-run shops, drool-worthy restaurants, and animated bars set around clandestine colonnades. Marina’s are crowded with the yachts of the super elite in warm weather but there’s no real downside–decent swimming conditions are lacking–any true history, romance, or architectural enthusiasts will have a hard time finding the heart to leave.

6. Split | Croatia

Croatia’s second biggest city, Split is one of the most profound of all European cities showcasing abounding ancient ruins. Traditionally one of the main ports for visiting the Dalmatian Islands, it’s become more of a destination than merely a gateway. Split has blossomed, and beautifully so, offering very much to fill the curious mind. Planning in the city has been fruitful with plenty of new, elegant hotels and trendy restaurants and with Krka National Park and the Mosor Mountains close by, the list of possible endeavors is plentiful. As the Riva (seafront) gets an old look updated by marble, the journey into Split is even more impressive and the atmosphere along the old walls immeasurable. Authentic Dalmatian life is at its best here, and always lively, it perfectly balances tradition with vicissitude. The UNESCO World Heritage Site Diocletian’s Palace is one of the most dramatic of Roman testaments and more than enough to wow even those who have “seen it all.”

5. Ohrid | Republic of Macedonia

Ohrid is one of those must-see places, a traveling cliche but a truth nonetheless. If in Macedonia, it is the place to go. Sitting on the sidelines of dramatic Lake Ohrid, Europe’s deepest, oldest, and most endearing lakes, it’s one of the Balkans’ most prominent summer resorts. Glorious Ohrid is Macedonia’s crowning jewel, stunning historic churches lining a rolling hill in the ethereal Old Quarter topped by ancient St. Jovan Kaneo, and with close by Gali_ica National Park and the not-so-distant and fairly isolated beaches on the lake’s east side, there’s not much to complain about. Most of Macedonia seems to make their way to the lake between mid-July and mid-August. From that point, nightlife is utterly chaotic and prices skyrocket–best to visit outside of the festive season. May and June, or late summer and early Fall are excellent, and far more quiet, times to visit.

4. Plovdiv | Bulgaria

Plovdiv is an explorer’s utopia–smaller than Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia but just as interesting. Delve into the ancient Philippopolis amphitheater–this Roman relic is a 2nd century marvel, only stumbled upon in 1968. Plovdiv is considered one of the oldest cities in Europe to have been constantly inhabited–the enormity of this fact is hard to swallow until a walk through the gorgeous amphitheater. The center is entirely charming, with cloisters of houses each topped with unique roof lines and architectural details so pleasing to observe and with just the perfect amount of eye-catching steeples for a small town. Cobblestone streets wind through Plovdiv, diverting to beatnik cafes, high caliber museums, and art galleries, captivating until the sun sets and another kind of entertainment comes alive. The nightlife in Plovdiv is excellent with a good choice of lively bars and clubs catering to the university town that also boasts some of the best Bulgarian, Thracian, Byzantine, and Roman antiquities in Europe.

3. Prizren | Kosovo

Prizren is Kosovo’s cultural capital and a top choice to strike out and explore one of the world’s most newly formed nations. Under the Ottoman Empire, Kosovo was thriving, and today, architectural details remain from the Ottoman period. Scenic Prizren is a shining star with plenty of infectious post-independence elation and eagerness. In August, Dokufest sees the city come entirely alive and fill up with film-industry people from around the world. The international short film and documentary festival takes over the town with parties, exhibitions, and screenings. When on route from Albania to Pristina, the enchanting mosque and church-laden old town deserves a few hours of your time. The old town is one of the most impressively preserved in the Balkans, with a horde of buildings dating back to the 14th century. Check out an art exhibit in the old Pristzen hammam, explore the remains of the Serbian Quarter, see a panoramic view of Prizren from Roman-era city castle, and don’t miss the Shadervan, the city’s old stone piazza and social gathering point.

2. Bled | Slovenia

Lake Bled steals the show in Slovenia with seemingly glowing aquamarine water, waterfront homes nestled along the riverbanks, and a 17th century castle smack dab in the middle of it all on its very own island. Idyllic it is, scenic and relaxing, and on almost every postcard you’ll find in the country. Blue skies seem to crack open above the lake, shining down on calm waters and illuminating all that’s naturally perfect in the surrounding area. Walk the two-kilometer path encircling Lake Bled and you’ll what it means to take the “perfect walk.” If romance is in the cards, Lake Bled is a great choice but it’s also an exciting destination for canyoneering, cycling, hiking, and boating so bring your adventurous side along. As with any fantastic lake, Bled is swarming with tourists come summer–they come from far and wide. A fall or spring visit is just as picturesque and although the water temperature isn’t quite as soothing all of Lake Bled’s finest points stay strong.

1. Tirana | Albania

A possibly unforeseen addition to the list, Tirana makes the cut as a quirky and vibrant portal into Albania and a city with some of Europe’s most beautiful beaches. One of the most unusual capitals on the continent, Albania’s isolation from the rest of the globe for more than 50 years has created a city unlike any other. Spirited and dynamic, Tirana is Albania’s thumping heart, this diminutive part of the country has high aspirations that have coalesced into an animated scene of unabashed fun and bold consumerism. Since its communist period, Tirana has undergone an evolution of massive proportions, with a transformed city center and bold, vibrantly painted buildings, pedestrian-only boulevards, and public piazzas. Sweeping avenues are flanked with Ottoman empire relics and pieces of its communist and Italian past, from flagrant socialist murals to exquisite cupolas while traffic congests the streets in a stifling way, meeting headlong with pedestrians in a kind of controlled chaos that’s dazzling to watch.

8 Things to see and do in Kotor

It has been rated as one of Lonely Planet’s top destinations to visit in 2016, and this tiny town of Kotor delivers big on things to see and do. Although many who visit here, do so for just one day, we encourage you to take your time exploring the town as you never know what’s around the next corner. From palaces to cathedrals to incredible restaurants, Kotor offers a unique and unforgettable adventure. Make sure not to miss out on these 8 things to see and do in this town.

8. Hike to the top of the Fortress

If you only visit for a short time and have time for just one thing, hiking to the top of the Fortress should be on the top of your list. Start from inside the Old Town and look for the signs that lead to the trail. The very top of the fortress sits 280m above sea level. Make sure, we repeat, make sure you have your camera with you on this hike as the views of Kotor and the bay of Boka Kotorska will blow you away.

The climb is said to have more than 1,000 stairs and you will more than likely be sharing the route with others, but the view from the top is well worth it. Kotor Bay will stretch out before you, in all its glory, framed by fjords and church steeples. Take a snack up with you, sit atop ancient ruins and relish at the moment, that you can never possibly begin to capture on camera.

7. Visit the Maritime Museum

The Maritime Museum is situated in the baroque palace Grgurin and preserves the fame of Boka and Boka nay, a must visit for anyone interested in anything maritime related. Kotor’s proud history as a naval power is celebrated in this three-story museum which features a collection of photographs, paintings, uniforms, antique furniture, decorated weapons and models of ships.

There is a free audio guide that will help explain the collection for visitors. Opened to the public in 1900, this museum has seen its fair share of wars, earthquakes, and restoration. See it at its best today.

6. Visit the Sveti Tripun Cathedral

In the very center of the Old Town sits one of the oldest cathedrals in the territory of Europe and a must visit when in Kotor. The cathedral was built in 1166, in the place where are the beginning of the IX century there had been a smaller church dedicated to the same saint. Earthquakes have caused this cathedral to be renovated over the years and today it stands as a beautiful church, restored to look as much as it did when it was first built.

Visitors who go inside will be privy to fabulous decoration, including a stone ornament above the main altar that tells the story of Sveti Tripun’s life. In the cathedral also lies the relics of Sveti Tripun in the coffin made of silver. Throughout the cathedral, there are various gothic sculptures, marble altars, and a silver golden rake. Step back in time and wander through this gorgeous cathedral.

5. Spend a night at Palazzo Radormiri Hotel

This historic hotel is the perfect place to spend your nights while you explore the town of Kotor and surrounding areas. What was once a noble ship owner’s family house has been turned into a beautiful hotel. In 1979 a devastating earthquake destroyed all but the walls of this residence and with the help of an architect the family restored the ruin and rebuilt the villa to create an intimate boutique hotel.

Things to enjoy while staying here include the balcony on the main façade, said to be one of the most beautiful in the area, the seafront garden, relaxing courtyards and swimming pool. Rooms are beautifully decorated, service is impeccable and the amenities are plentiful. Do yourself a favor and make sure to spend at least one night here.

Via booking.com

4. Take the Hop-on/Hop-off Tour

Kotor has an awesome open top hop-on/hop-off tour bus. It doesn’t drive through the walled city but it does drive all the way down the road to the next largest town of Perast. This is a great opportunity for visitors to learn more about the history and take in the incredible landscape. Make sure you get off at Risan and explore the small excavation site which charges a meager admission price to pay for the work they are doing.

Discover the remains of a Roman house that dates back to the 2nd century A.D, with a guide that leads you through it. Perast is the last stop on the tour bus and make sure you stop and get off to walk around this pedestrian only town. Is here where you will find Baroque palaces, a slew of beautiful churches, Orthodox structures and a total of nine defensive towers!

3. Visit Our Lady of the Rocks

Hop on a boat and ride out to the man-made island Our Lady of the Rocks. How this man-made island came to be is interesting. According to legend, the islet was made over the centuries by local seamen who were said to keep an ancient oath after finding the icon of Madonna and Child on the rock in the sea in 1452. After each successful voyage they took, they laid a rock in the Bay and eventually over time the islet began to emerge from the sea.

The first known church was built in 1452 and taken over the Roman Catholics who in 1632 built the church that now stands presently on this islet. The interior of the church is simply spectacular and is not to be missed. Lavishly decorated with works by Tripo Kokolja, 68 painting in total, as well as from other Italian artists. Adjoining the church is a charming museum and it well worth the meager admission price. Go with a local guide to get the real authentic experience.

2. Dine at Galion

If you really want to treat yourself in Kotor make sure to head to the sophisticated seafood restaurant, Galion, located just five minutes walk from Old Town along the coast. The restaurant is set in an old stone building complete with a glass-and-steel terrace extension that overlooks the bay and gives sensational views of Kotor’s medieval walls.

Funky modern furniture, chilled-out music and a superior menu featuring such items as homemade gnocchi and octopus salad are what you will find here. Enjoy the friendly service, charming atmosphere and excellent wine, all for an excellent price.

1. Explore Old Town

It is by far the most famous part of Kotor, where history, culture, and tradition are preserved. A slew of monuments including churches, palaces, and cathedrals, all done in medieval architecture are found here. Combine those with narrow cobbled streets, town squares, markets, ancient walls and more. The walls that surround this Old Town may just be the most impressive feature, standing at 20m high, 10m wide and running 5km long.

Over a thousand years old, these walls are completely preserved and downright impressive. Old Town is also loaded with a number of stylish gates and stairs that provide the perfect photo opp. Wander through the streets and discover the friendly locals, boutique shops and a charming atmosphere that will make you want to stay even longer.

 

Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Cities to Visit in 2016

The ever popular publisher of travel guides has come out with their ‘Best of Travel 2016’ guide which lists the best of the best for the next year of travel in all sorts of categories from best budget travel to best family travel experiences. If you’ve been planning ahead for next year’s vacations here is the list of the best cities to visit in 2016 to get your imagination running wild. All cities were reportedly chosen for their “topicality, unique experiences and ‘wow’ factor”.

10. Rome

Is there ever a year that it’s not a good idea to visit Rome? We say no, and Lonely Planet agrees saying that the Eternal City “never goes out of fashion.” But in 2016 there are a few special events happening in addition to the myriad of usual reasons why Rome deserves your time; for starters, Pope Francis has declared the coming year as The Year of Mercy, a global celebration which is sure to attract people to the city to celebrate their faith. The non-religious spotlight shines on Rome as well, the city is featured in the soon to be cinematic blockbusters Spectre -the latest installment in the 007 series and the upcoming remake of Ben Hur.

collesseum rome

9. Nashville

Nashville aka ‘Music City’, has been synonymous with country for as far back as we can remember, and while the city will still meet these expectations of boots and spurs, it will also surprise you. Lonely Planet says that this Southern city is booming, thanks to a rapid gentrification by a new crop of residents attracted to the city’s relatively low cost of living and expanding job opportunities. So you can still get your fix of country crooners on Broadway, but elsewhere you can enjoy new galleries, coffee shops, craft breweries and independent clothing retailers.

Nashville downtown skyline

8. Manchester

Lonely Planet says that the #8 city on this list, Manchester is the “UK’s cultural boomtown” so if you’re at all interested in The Arts, you might want to take note of this former industrial city for your 2016 travel plans. The government has committed £78 million to build a new, multi-purpose arts space called ‘The Factory’. The space will be home to a 2,200 seat theater and host the Manchester International Festival. There were several other openings this year including the re-opening of the Whitworth art gallery after a £15 million revamp, and the newly opened HOME multi-artform center. And let’s not forget the stunning Central Library, the city’s official public ‘living room space.’

Whitworth Art Gallery Manchester

7. Fremantle

Anyone familiar with Australia knows that the West has been on the rise for years now, so it’s not surprising to see the city of Fremantle make this year’s list. This Western port town is situated on the Swan River, about 14 kilometers from the Western Australian capital of Perth. It’s a far cry from Sydney, both in geography and in vibe, but don’t underestimate ‘Freo’, because if you do you’ll be missing out on a lively and thriving counterculture of hipster bars, live music rooms, craft breweries, alternative book stores, seafood shacks and beach buskers.

MEzairi / Shutterstock.com
MEzairi / Shutterstock.com

6. Mumbai

You may be thinking to yourself “India, booming? Really?” Well, yes. In fact, in 2016 India is predicted to overtake China as the fastest growing economy in the world. A fact that makes the city of Mumbai seem a little more worthy of its nickname ‘Maximum City’. With rapid reinvestment of its wealth in development and expansion, you’ll find everything in Mumbai is getting an upgrade. From the creation of a shiny new terminal at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, to the new air-conditioned commuter monorail to old cotton mills finding new life as shopping centers, one thing is for sure, Mumbai will surprise and delight you in 2016.

silentwings / Shutterstock.com
silentwings / Shutterstock.com

5. Rotterdam

One look around at the landscape and scenery of Rotterdam tells you this city is cutting edge. Futuristic architecture and contemporary construction are on display everywhere including the Markthal Rotterdam, a public food hall and residence which opened in 2014 and still has people talking, or the Netherlands largest building; De Rotterdam. In 2016 we’ll see the opening of the Museum Rotterdam inside the Rem Koolhaas-designed Timmerhuis building, this and a slew of new bars, restaurants and nightlife venues prove that life in Rotterdam is anything but ordinary.

VanderWolf Images / Shutterstock.com
VanderWolf Images / Shutterstock.com

4. George Town

Malaysia hasn’t exactly seen a lot of recognition for modern arts and culture and the city of George Town in Penang state is probably more well-known for its UNESCO World Heritage-listed streetscape than anything else. While any UNESCO designation is nothing to glaze over, Lonely Planet says it’s not the only reason to head to George Town in 2016. It’s a city that’s setting the pace for modern arts and culture in the country and visitors can experience this while visiting the Hin Bus Depot Art Centre, a re-purposed formerly abandoned transportation hub or checking out the Urban Xchange: Crossing Over festival which features funky street art throughout the city.

manzrussali / Shutterstock.com
manzrussali / Shutterstock.com

3. Dublin

It’s estimated that currently, 40% of the population of Dublin is under the age of 30. As such, the vibe of this city right now is one that’s youthful, vibrant and on the rise. A stroll along the bustling banks of the River Liffey will convince you of this fact for sure. In 2016, the Irish capital will be celebrating the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising -a brutal insurrection against British Rule that ultimately led to the formation of the Irish Republic. Lonely Planet says you can be sure that celebrations throughout the city will be loud and they will be long.

Dublin bridge

2. Quito

The #2 entry on this years top travel list is another city steeped in history and old world charm, after all the entire city of Quito, Ecuador is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is a fact that many are already familiar with and has long been a reason to visit, but Lonely Planet says it might just be the addition of some new along with the old, that might convince you of its worth. Tourists who prefer things easier than the backpacking travel lifestyle will enjoy the city’s new metro system which will open in 2016 as well as the refurbished train station and the shiny new airport. Everyone will enjoy the city’s old town architecture and towering mountains that have had adventure-seekers heading here for years.

Fotos593 / Shutterstock.com
Fotos593 / Shutterstock.com

1.  Kotor

What’s an up-and-coming travel list without at least one city that you’ve probably never heard of? Well Lonely Planet insists that this one is worthy of their #1 top city to visit in 2016 spot. Kotor is a secluded coastal city on Montenegro’s Gulf of Kotor. According to Lonely Planet, it’s amazingly beautiful from every angle and “is one of the most photogenic spots in all of Europe.” That’s certainly saying something considering the kind of places it’s up against for that title. Unlike other coastal cities in the same region, the cruise ships haven’t touched Kotor, leaving the city’s maze of alleys, plazas and cafe’s all for you. But don’t say Lonely Planet didn’t warn you, the cruisers will discover this piece of European paradise soon enough.

Kotor Montenegro