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.

10 Emerging Travel Destinations You Need to Visit NOW

Italy. Australia. Thailand. These popular destinations are on most everyone’s travel bucket list, and for good reason. They’re rich with history, vibrant culture and sensational food. And while the language, landscape and customs may be different in each country, they share one thing in common: tourist crowds.

Some people may not mind sharing their vacation with hordes of strangers, but for those who prefer to visit places that are off the typical tourist’s radar, here are 10 incredible locations you should consider traveling to now before the secret’s out and the crowds start rolling in.

10. Nepal

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Since a devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake shook the country in 2015, Nepal’s tourism industry has suffered tremendously. In the two years since, the people have been doing all they can to repair infrastructure and treasured monuments to draw travelers back to the area.

Home to Mount Everest, Nepal is most commonly visited by those who dare to climb the Earth’s tallest mountain. But this South Asian country, which is landlocked between Tibet and India, has plenty to offer for adventurers of all kinds—including trekking, wildlife safaris, rafting, paragliding and bungee jumping, among others. If your preference is to visit urban areas, the country’s capital city, Kathmandu, is overflowing with bustling markets and historic temples to explore.

9. Myanmar

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For many decades, it wasn’t possible to visit Myanmar (formerly Burma) due to the military dictatorship that ruled the country. And even though it’s now welcoming of tourists, Myanmar is often overlooked in favor of more popular neighboring countries like Thailand and Vietnam. But that will most certainly change in the near future.

Known as the “Golden Land,” Myanmar is home to the historic region of Bagan, a vast landscape dotted with over 2,000 temples and pagodas built between the 9th and 13th centuries. This magnificent landscape can be explored on foot or by bike, but a hot air balloon ride offers the view of a lifetime.

8. Mongolia

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With over 250 sunny days per year, Mongolia is aptly known as the “Land of the Eternal Blue Sky.” It is also one of the least densely populated countries in the world, which makes visiting feel like a truly off-the-beaten-path experience. An adventure lover’s paradise, Mongolia offers pristine landscapes that extend as far as the eye can see, perfect for trekking mountains, horseback riding and searching for dinosaur fossils in the Gobi desert. You can also camp anywhere for free (yes, really).

In fact, half of the country’s population still lives nomadic lifestyles, endlessly traveling and setting up their gers (white felt tents) wherever they stop. But this number is shrinking, as many are abandoning the pastoral lifestyle for work within the cities. So if you wish to experience Mongolia at its most authentic, be sure to get there sooner than later.

7. Canada

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The United States’ northern neighbor turns 150 this year, and to celebrate the country is offering free admission to all of its near 50 national parks. This incentive, along with a favorable US dollar, has drawn international travelers to many of Canada’s most popular areas, including the mountainous coast of British Columbia in the west and the laid-back vibe and wildlife of the Maritimes in the east, a region that consists of Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. This sudden spotlight on the country’s beauty has skyrocketed it to the top of many people’s bucket lists; so don’t delay your visit if you wish to experience the land as if it were your own private paradise.

6. Montenegro

This small country, which gained independence from Serbia in 2006, has attracted the famous and wealthy for many years. But the rest of the population is only just starting to catch on to the pristine beaches and the historic medieval villages it boasts. The adventurous can explore the dense forests and beautiful waterfalls of Durmitor National Park or raft along the river in the Tara River Canyon. And with over 250 days of sunshine each year, it’s a sailor’s heaven. Needless to say, this paradise likely won’t stay under the radar for much longer!

5. Madagascar

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After breaking off from India 88 million years ago, Madagascar became a secluded island paradise home to countless plant and animal species that cannot be found anywhere else on Earth. Its landscape is diverse, ranging from dense jungle to desert to incredible coastline. Visit Parc National de Ranomafana for its relaxing natural hot springs or head to Camp Bandro at Lac Alaotra for a day of lemur spotting. But such untouched beauty won’t last forever, as some of the landscape is already transforming into the tourist resorts. Visit now to experience the country at its most natural.

4. Serbia

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Western Europe gets all the attention. Consisting of countries such as France, Spain, Switzerland and Portugal, it’s no wonder. But those who’ve already visited such places, or others who simply want to experience a different side of the continent, are now looking to Eastern Europe for their next adventure.

Serbia is just one of the emerging countries in this region. Its capital, Belgrade, boasts not one, but two riverfronts, as it’s located where the Danube and Sava rivers meet. The pedestrian-friendly streets make it easy to take in the elaborate nineteenth-century buildings of the old town, and its nightlife is among the best in Europe. This gem of a city certainly won’t stay hidden for long!

3. Patagonia

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Mountains, abundant wildlife and a sprawling coastline are just a few of reasons drawing people to Patagonia, a region that is shared between Chile and Argentina. You can trek across glaciers in Los Glaciares National Park or travel to Península Valdes, a UNESCO heritage site that is home to Magellanic penguins and a stunning location to go whale watching. You can also drive inland and visit an authentic Estancia (ranch) in Argentina to learn about the country’s history and culture from the locals. Head there soon to enjoy Patagonia’s unspoiled land; this adventure lover’s paradise won’t be kept secret for long!

2. Colombia

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Long associated with drug cartels and corruption, Colombia has transformed from a nation in crisis to a budding new South American travel destination. Urban explorers should travel to Bogota, the country’s capital, which has seen a recent boom in unique hotel and restaurant offerings. Or visit Cartagena on the Caribbean coast, one of the best-preserved colonial cities on the continent.

Or, if you’re feeling especially adventurous, trek the six-day hike to the lost city of Ciudad Perdida, located atop the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range. Only just discovered in 1976, the city’s construction dates back some 650 before Peru’s famous Machu Picchu.

1. Sri Lanka

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India is a popular travel destination at the moment, but it can be quite challenging to navigate. For a similar experience, tourists are now turning to Sri Lanka, which is just as rich with history, culture and customs, but without the complications. The country is home to vast amounts of wildlife; visit Yala National Park to spot elephants, leopards, sloth bears and buffalo roaming in the wild.

Or see the country’s spectacular landscape by train. Board the Yal Devi Express for an unforgettable journey from Colombo to Jaffna. You can also surf some waves in Arugam Bay, with a beach of golden sand located in the south east of the island. You can truly choose your own adventure in Sri Lanka, but get there soon before others catch on to its abundant beauty!

5 Overlooked Eastern European Destinations Worth Exploring

Western Europe is more common with European tourists; the travel is easier, the landmarks more popular, the language barrier less frightening. But Eastern Europe is a multicultural haven for seasoned travelers and tourists alike. For years it was the undiscovered part of Europe; it is less traveled, and thus less crowded- but that is what makes it so exciting! And it is relatively easy to get around too, with people as friendly as the locals in Eastern Europe, getting lost should be no problem! So next time skip London, and head instead to one of these awesome destinations!

5. Tallin, Estonia

Tallin is a vibrant, cultural hub located on the Baltic Sea in Estonia. Tallin feels very much like a European capital city-; it is clean, historic and interesting- but there is something pulsating and unique about it too. It is frequently named one of the top 10 digital cities in the world, and as such is ultra-modern and brimming with all the new technology, yet it’s still rich in years of history and culture! The people in Tallin are very friendly and eager to show you around, and it is super easy to get around the capital city. The old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and best explored on foot. Tallin is a vibrant city with a unique and inviting culture.

Tallin, Estonia

4. Riga, Latvia

Riga, the capital of Latvia and the heart of the Baltics, is a cultural and historical blend of the old Europe and the modern, new Europe. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a long time location of international trade, Riga has developed into a multicultural mecca and a tourist destination for European travelers and tourists from abroad. This city has impressively managed to maintain its heritage and historical status- the colorful buildings and intricate architecture take you back in time- and yet, represent forward thinking at the same time managing to create a harmonious, cultural destination, inviting for all walks of tourists.

Riga, Latvia

3. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Hercegovina

Not too long ago, Sarajevo was on the brink of near extinction; a war ravaged city with a dim looking future. Today, it is a bright, inviting city, brimming with history and an intoxicating atmosphere. Both Austro-Hungarian and Turkish influences are felt here, in the architecture, the people and the food, and that is what makes this place such a world class destination. The mix is almost eclectic; old bullet holes adorn the walls of many of the cafés and shops, yet those very same walls are covered with a variety of colorful and vibrant pictures, fabrics and all sorts of neat trinkets. There are many walking tours available, which are great for people looking for the story of each building and monument in town, but you would be perfectly content strolling along the cobblestone streets absorbing this friendly and cultural town ideal for an Eastern European visit.

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Hercegovina

2. Belgrade, Serbia

Belgrade isn’t traditionally beautiful; it isn’t colorful, or overly clean, but it is tough, gritty and a bit wild- which is what makes it one of the best places to explore in Europe. The people in Belgrade are loud and over-the-top; a personality trait that has seeped into every cultural aspect of the city. Belgrade is proud of its history and it’s residents are eager to move forward; while sometimes intimidating, the locals can’t wait to show off their beautiful city. The architecture is dark and astounding, and the streets are filled with large coffee shops and history and heritage loom at every corner. Belgrade is one of the most happening places in Europe, and the atmosphere is palpable from the minute you arrive.

Belgrade, Serbia

1. Minsk, Belarus

For many, the only reason Minsk is even on their radar is due to the frequent Friends references, and there it is referred to as a dark, drab, isolated place. And yet as hilarious as those references were, they carried little truth to the Minsk of today. Minsk will surprise you, that is for sure; at every corner a new layer is pulled away and something new, vibrant and wonderful is uncovered. There are many posh cafés and restaurants adorning the pedestrian filled streets, and the loud and rhythmic music from the various nightclubs can be heard into the early morning hours. Minsk is actually very modern and cosmopolitan; because most of the city was destroyed in WWII, very few traditional buildings are left, yet you can still catch some historical and cultural nods to the Soviet Era scattered around the city.

Minsk, Belarus

10 Things to See and Do in Belgrade

Serbia’s capital will never woo tourists with its grandeur or seduce them with its beauty. Belgrade’s charm is much more hidden, but once it’s discovered, it’s difficult for visitors to tear themselves away. The city is known for its nightlife, with clubs spinning an eclectic mix of music and revelers straggling home at dawn. But Belgrade’s café culture will perk new life into tired souls, providing that needed second wind to explore its fortress, seek out traditional cuisine, learn about its socialist past and find their own reasons for loving this ancient city.

10. Fuel Yourself With the City’s Street Food

Let’s be honest: there’s not a lot of healthy snacks to be found on Belgrade’s streets. But once you sample some of the delicious goodies to be had (on the very cheap) you’re not likely to care. For breakfast, make like a local and head to a pekara. Belgrade bakeries offer plenty of treats to satisfy a sweet tooth, but natives breakfast on pita, a savory pastry stuffed with minced meat, cheese or spinach. After a night spent clubbing, head to Loki, an all-night joint famous for their pljeskavica, which is the Balkan version of a hamburger yet somehow much better.

Belgrade Food

9. Pay Your Respects to Tito

Josip Broz Tito, the man that created the second Yugoslavia, a socialist country that lasted from 1943 to 1991, is still revered throughout much of the region. After his death in 1980, this “beloved dictator” was interred in the House of Flowers, now part of the Museum of Yugoslav History. In addition to illustrating the federation’s history, the museum houses an extensive collection of unique and intriguing gifts given to Tito by other world leaders. Visitors will also find rotating art exhibitions and displays illuminating other aspects of communist history, an excellent background for a stay in Belgrade.

Nebojsa Markovic / Shutterstock.com
Nebojsa Markovic / Shutterstock.com

8. Cruise Without Moving

Belgrade is situated where the Sava and the Danube rivers meet, and one of its most distinctive features is its riverboat culture. While many residents own boats near Ada (see below), it’s not necessary to angle for an invite in order to enjoy a refreshing escape from the city’s heat. Riverboat cafes and clubs line both rivers, so it’s just a matter of choosing whether you want to enjoy a laid-back coffee or a classy cocktail. This is a great way to experience Belgrade’s justifiably-hyped nightlife – rock the boat dancing to Balkan turbo-funk, get up close and personal with gypsy bands or show off your moves to tunes spun by an internationally-renowned DJ.

Belegrade River

7. Sip a Glass of Rakija

This fruit brandy is Serbia’s national drink. Typically made from plums (šljivovica), apricot and grape are also popular, while honey and cherry appeal to those wanting a sweet beverage.  If you’re invited to stay at a Serbian home, you may even be served this liquor before breakfast. Tread cautiously. Most rakija served in bars weighs in at around 40 percent alcohol, but the type known as “homemade” can go as high as 80 percent. Although it’s served in what appear to be shot glasses, the liquor is typically sipped, so do your best to savor – even when the fiery heat hits the back of your throat and makes you gasp.

Seriba's National Drink

6. Join the Hipsters in Savamala

This formerly run-down area, home to neglected mansions from its days as a posh address, is getting a new lease on life as Belgrade’s creative hub. The old warehouses have been turned into venues for musicians and alternative artists and often give space for designers to work on their latest projects. Along with the city’s ubiquitous cafes and clubs, Savamala features trendy restaurants, art galleries and comedy clubs, and plays host to various cultural festivals throughout the year. This is the place to come see the future of Belgrade, in a city that often seems to cling too tightly to the past.

Photo by: Fif' via Flickr
Photo by: Fif’ via Flickr

5. Swim in the Sea

Ok, it’s not a real sea. But the artificial Lake Sava feels like one, and it’s become one of Belgrade’s most popular attractions, drawing up to 300,000 on summer weekends. Ada Ciganlija, often called “Ada” by the city’s residents, is a six-kilometer long peninsula bordering Belgrade’s Sea, featuring bicycle paths, plenty of cafes and, most importantly, lots of trees. Between the shade and the sea, Ada tends to be much cooler than the rest of Belgrade, making it an essential escape from summer’s often stupefying heat. Be sure to check out the water-jet fountain and its accompanying light show on summer nights.

Ada Ciganlija, Belgrade

4. Embrace Tradition in Skadarlija

Skadarlija is Belgrade’s former bohemian quarter, where writers, artists and actors flocked around the turn of the 20th century. Musicians would wander through the streets, performing their songs for restaurant and café patrons. It’s a tradition that continues today. Those visiting the many restaurants along this cobblestone street can feast on typical national cuisine, such as roštilj, or grilled meats, while listening to roving bands play traditional music. The atmosphere is that of a street party, with tourists taking in the sights while residents stroll the streets, hopping from kafana to restaurant to say hello to friends.

eFesenko / Shutterstock.com
eFesenko / Shutterstock.com

3. Explore Zemun

Many cities have neighborhoods that feel like distinct towns. Belgrade takes it a step further, with a distinct city within a city. Technically part of Belgrade, this historic town was once its rival, and residents still take pride in calling the capital “a city near Zemun.” Whether you consider it a town or a neighborhood, Zemun, built on three hills, is one of the prettiest parts of the region. Climb the Gardoš tower for a fantastic view, stretching out over red and orange rooftops and church towers on to the Danube, past which you can see downtown Belgrade in the distance.

Zemun, Belgrade

2. Wander Through Kalemegdan

Kalemegdan Park sits at the intersection of the Danube and Sava rivers, on a cliff overlooking the water and on to New Belgrade. The park surrounds Belgrade Fortress, rebuilt by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in the 6th century and modernized under Austrian rule. The fort’s walls, gates and even old arsenals can be explored, but don’t neglect the rest of the park. Stroll through the trees, gaze out at some of the city’s best views, and be sure to visit The Victor. It’s said this naked man, reaching over 45 feet high, originally faced toward the city, but it was decided for modesty’s sake to turn him to the river.

Kalemegdan, Belgrade

1. Sit and Have a Coffee

The one thing you absolutely must do on your visit to Belgrade is sit in a café with a coffee. Don’t like coffee? Worry not – you’ll be permitted to choose tea, or water, or even a beer. No matter the beverage, though, the locals will ask, “should we sit and have a coffee?” Spinning out a beverage is an art form in the region, and even a small espresso can be made to last over an hour. That purchase will allow the customer to sit as long as they so choose, so sit back and savor the excellent espresso.

Serbian Coffee

The 10 Coolest Observation Decks in Europe

Observation decks come in all shapes and sizes. Although many of them are located in the middle of major cities in the form of telecommunications towers, there are also natural lookout points that people have turned into attractions by constructing platforms and monuments. All across Europe, a mixture of human-enhanced lookout points and soaring skyscrapers offer panoramic views of some of the continent’s major cities and most breathtaking natural landscapes. Between cityscapes and seascapes, these 10 observation decks and lookouts are some of the best places in Europe to get a new angle on the world around you.

10. Avala Tower, Serbia

The Avala Tower in Belgrade has an interesting history. It was first built on Avala Mountain as a telecommunications tower during the 1960s. During the 1990s Balkan War, the tower was destroyed by a NATO bombing. In 2006, Serbia was determined to rebuild the tower, and the current structure was opened in 2010. Over 1 million euros were donated to help in rebuilding the tower, which is the tallest in the Balkan region. It still functions as a telecommunications tower, but now has an observation deck as well. With its antenna spire, the tower is 205 meters high, meaning it’s quite a bit shorter than some of the other towers in Europe, with only 38 floors. Nonetheless, it provides awe-inspiring panoramas of Belgrade and the surrounding area. The tower’s construction is also unusual: rather than being sunk directly into the ground, it uses a triangle cross-section and stands on three above-ground legs.

Avala Tower

9. Jubilaum Swarte Lookout Tower, Austria

The Jubilaum Swarte, known in English as the Jubilee Tower, is located just outside of the Austrian capital of Vienna. Sitting atop the Gallon Tzinberg, a forested hill west of the city, the tower juts up 31 meters, with a total altitude of 483 meters above sea-level. Visitors climb a spiraling staircase, 183 steps in total to the observation deck where they can look out over the landscape, seeing up to 60 kilometers on clear days. A tower was originally constructed in 1889 to commemorate Emperor Franz Joseph’s Golden Jubilee, but the wooden structure was quickly demolished in a storm. Another tower was erected, but decayed and was demolished in 1953. The current structure was last renovated in the 1980s, and a small museum dedicated to local ecology is nearby. Admission is free, although the tower is closed during the winter months.

Photo by: Doris Antony, Berlin via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Doris Antony, Berlin via Wikimedia Commons

8. Tour Montparnasse, Paris

From the top floor of the Tour Montparnasse in central Paris, you can see 40 kilometers in almost any direction; you can watch aircraft take off and land at Orly airport. The tower, which is an office building, was built in the early 1970s. After its construction, there were complaints about how out of place it seems in Paris and shortly thereafter buildings over 7-storeys high in the city’s center were banned. The result was that, at 59 floors and 210 meters, the skyscraper remained the tallest skyscraper in France until 2011. The top floor is open to the public for viewing Paris, and the 56th floor is home to a restaurant, le Ciel de Paris. A running joke is that the view from the tower is the most beautiful in Paris—only because you can’t see the building, which has been voted the second-ugliest building in the world.

Tour Montparnasse

7. Fernsehturm, Germany

Located in central Berlin, Fernsehturm is a television tower that rises 368 meters over the city. As the tallest structure in Germany, it has become a symbol of Berlin and is often pictured in establishing shots of the city in films and TV shows. It is the 4th tallest free-standing structure in Europe, following two TV towers in Russia and one in Riga. Two elevators send guests up to the visitor platform, 666 feet above the ground, in about 40 seconds. The revolving restaurant located above the visitor deck, Telecafe, rotates once every half-hour. Visibility on a clear day is about 42 kilometers in any given direction. Since construction was completed in 1969, tourism has increased and, today, the tower receives around one million guests annually.

Fernsehturm, Germany

6. Torre Jaume I, Spain

Forming part of the Port Vell Aerial Tramway, Torre Juame I maybe isn’t the tallest tower on this list, but that doesn’t mean it’s without merit. Standing at 107 meters (351 feet) high, the tower is a steel truss construction, and the second-tallest aerial pylon lift in the world. Built in 1931 by Carles Buigas, it stands near the harbor of Barcelona, providing gorgeous seascape views and panoramas of the city, toward Montjuic. To reach the tower’s observation deck, you ride the cable car across the city, from Torre Sant Sebastia to Torre Alta Miramar on Montjuic and back again. A one-way trip lasts about seven minutes and provides a unique, bird’s eye view of almost all of Barcelona’s iconic landmarks. The Torre Jaume I also serves as a telecommunications tower.

Torre Jaume I, Spain

5. Ostankino Tower, Russia

Constructed during the 1960s under Soviet rule and decidedly Brutalist architectural influences, Ostankino Tower in Moscow isn’t much to look at. Between 1967 and 1974, it held the world record for tallest free-standing building, and it remains the tallest free-standing structure in Europe. An observation deck, with indoor and outdoor platforms, offers visitors 360-degree views of Moscow’s Ostankino district, and a restaurant, Seventh Heaven, is located in the tower at a height of approximately 368 feet above ground, but has been periodically closed following several incidents in the tower, the most serious of which was a fire in 2000. Although the tower survived, the Russian government has taken steps to ensure the tower remains intact, especially since it is also a telecommunications station. Elevators carry visitors up to the observation deck at a speed of six miles per second. The tower has also been a popular attraction for BASE jumpers.

Ostankino Tower, Russia

4. Istanbul Sapphire, Turkey

Completed in 2011, this skyscraper is the tallest structure in Turkey, and once ranked 4th in Europe, although subsequent constructions have moved it back to 7th. The mixed shopping and luxury residence building rises to a height of 261 meters, including its antenna—which is a design feature, not a telecommunications feature. It has 54 above-ground floors and features an open roof where visitors can get a panoramic view of the surrounding Levent district. It is strategically situated on Buyukdere Avenue, a main thru way, near two major highways and a subway station, which makes it easy to get to. Its central location also means that much of Istanbul near the Bosphorus is visible. Conversely, the tower itself is visible from other districts in the city, such as Khedive Palace across the strait. Since completion, it’s become one of the most recognizable features of Istanbul’s skyline.

Istanbul Sapphire

3. The Shard, UK

Just shy of 310 meters high, The Shard—also known as the Shard of Glass, Shard London Bridge and London Bridge Tower—is currently the highest building in the EU. It was completed in 2012 and its open-air observation deck, located on the 72nd floor, was opened to the public in early 2013. The elevators travel at six meters per second and use multimedia interfaces to create the illusion of the sky receding with the streets of London coming into focus on the way down, and the illusion of rising through iconic London buildings during ascent. The attraction is fully interactive, with lots of information about various landmarks and cityscapes, accompanied by a soundtrack composed by the London Symphony Orchestra. Visitors can see up to 40 kilometers from the observation deck, offering excellent views of London. Tickets can be purchased in advance.

The Shard, UK

2. Tyrol Overlook, Austria

Located at the top of Mount Isidor in Austria, this sculptural outlook was designed by Aste Architecture in 2008. Officially called the “Top of Tyrol,” it blends seamlessly into its environment, becoming almost invisible in the wintertime. Providing access to an observation point most people couldn’t reach otherwise, the Tyrol Outlook is 10,500 feet above the ground. The platform cantilevers 27 feet over the side of the mountain, providing a spectacular—if somewhat dizzying—view. From the platform, you have an unobstructed view of the Stubai Glacier, the Zillertal Alps and the Dolomites. Given the platform’s unique position on the glacier, it also has potential as a monitoring station to check rates of glacial retreat in the summer months. In any season, however, the Top of Tyrol offers an unparalleled experience of the Austrian Alps—even if it is a bit scary.

Photo by: un6org
Photo by: un6org

1. Aurland Lookout, Norway

Towering nearly 2,000 feet above the valleys and fjords of scenic Aurland, this lookout was commissioned by the Norwegian Highway Department. Designed by Todd Saunders and Tommie Wilhelmsen in 2006, it is part of a series of national tourist routes administered by the Norwegian government. Aurland, 200 kilometers inland from Norway’s west coast, is composed mainly of deep fjords, soaring mountains and rolling valleys. The lookout, known as Stegastein, offers visitors an unparalleled view of the valley floor and fjords; it juts out over the edge of a cliff. The 14 by 110-foot wooden platform plunges, but a piece of glass prevents visitors from falling over. Nonetheless, the architects say that the effect is to give people the illusion of “falling” into the landscape—some have even dubbed the construction the “ski jump” or “diving board.”

Aurland Lookout

Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Countries to Visit in 2015

As 2014 has started to wind down, no doubt many of us are already looking ahead and planning those vacations for the coming year. If you’ve been having trouble deciding just where you want to cross off your travel bucket list next, check out this list of the top countries to visit in 2015 as per Lonely Planet’s new guidebook; ‘Best in Travel 2015’. All countries were reportedly chosen for their “topicality, unique experiences and ‘wow’ factor”.

10. Morocco

Lonely Planet describes Morocco as one of the most diverse countries in Africa and we agree with this choice given the countries array of ancient cities, vast dessert landscapes and rough coastline. With 9 UNESCO World Heritage listings, the history in this country is rich and opportunities for exploration are endless.

Marrakesh, Morocco

9. St Lucia

While most noted for its abundance of luxury beach resorts, St Lucia has so much more to offer outside the obvious (not that being waited on hand and foot in paradise is a bad thing). While beaches are definitely the top attraction of this Caribbean island, there’s also amazing rainforest adventures to be had along with unique markets, bazaars and tiny beach towns to be explored.

St. Lucia

8. The Philippines

Lonely Planet states that the placement of The Philippines in this list is long overdue. With beautiful white sand beaches, picturesque coastlines and enchanting coral reefs it’s much more of a vacation destination that you might think. The country is also known for its love of food, music and street festivals creating an almost carnival like atmosphere.

El Nido bay and Cadlao island, Philippines

7. Serbia

While many European destinations are notoriously pricey, Serbia makes the top 10 for its amazing value for money and was called one of “Europe’s best kept secrets” by the travel guide. The countries ‘Exit Festival’ was also just named ‘Best Major European Festival’ at the European Festival Awards. The nightclubs in Belgrade are also said to rival those of major party meccas like Ibiza and Berlin. Now is this time to check out this value destination because now that word is out, the crowds will be coming.

Saint Sava temple, Belgrade Serbia

6. Republic of Congo

Quite possibly the biggest surprise on this list, the Republic of Congo comes in 6th place, ahead of some clear vacation favorites like St. Lucia. Along the reasons for this are improved tourism infrastructure, better roads and new safari attractions with chances to see gorillas and elephants in the wild. This country is also packed with dense barely touched rainforest making it a nature lover’s dream destination.

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5. Ireland

Coming in 5th in this group, Ireland can almost certainly look forward to a boost in tourism in 2015 as a result of this ranking. The influential guidebook calls Ireland “stunningly scenic” and “the real deal”. It’s true, as the traditions of music, dance, beer, whiskey and food are firmly rooted and just waiting for enthusiastic travelers to come experience.

Kylemore Abbey, Ireland

4. Nicaragua

With a resurgence of travel to Central America in recent years it’s no surprise to see one of these Latin American Gems on this list. Nicaragua, once best known for its political turmoil and civil unrest has come a long way to become a recognized tourist destination. Along with wild jungle landscapes, you’ll find vibrant cities and some amazing food. The country has also become a premier destination for eco-tourism, one of the hottest trends in the industry.

Conception Volcano, Nicaragua

3. Lithuania

Another one of Europe’s hidden gems, Lithuania comes in number 3 on the Lonely Planet rankings for being a “rebellious, quirky and vibrant” country. Located on the majestic Baltic Sea the country is full of history, scenery, and mystery. With other popular European tourist destinations becoming increasingly more crowded, you can be sure you’re going to start hearing about Lithuania a lot more.

Vilnius, Lithuania

2. Namibia

Celebrating its 25th anniversary of independence in 2015, Namibia is the second African country to make this year’s list. While the Congo was recognized for its rugged wilderness, Namibia is being included for its progress in sustainable development. The country is even the first in Africa to include environmental protection in its constitution. With loss of habitat being a global theme, now is the time to support a country who takes the opposite stance.

Namibia

1. Singapore

Landing in first place and making its debut in the top 10 list, Singapore is clearly a travel destination on the rise. Influential factors for this choice were reportedly the many new developments within the country like a number of new luxury hotels, and attractions like the Singapore Sports Hub and the soon to open National Art Gallery. Increasing in popularity are also the countries high fashion scene and wide array of high end shopping centers. Couple these with the fact that in 2015 the country celebrates its 50th anniversary of independence and we agree that Singapore is a must visit for the coming year.

Singapore city at night