Hidden historical gems, fewer crowds, spectacular scenery, and cheaper costs. These are just a few of the reasons why the Offbeat Balkans should top your bucket list.

They are top-notch European destinations at a fraction of the costs of the rest of Mediterranean Europe.

Why the Offbeat Balkans Should Top Your Bucket List

If just saying the name “Balkans” conjures up images of war, devastation and ethnic cleansing, you are not alone. In the 1990’s live footage streamed from televisions sets the world over documenting Yugoslavia’s collapse, one country at a time. It started with Slovenia and Croatia, followed by Bosnia and Herzegovina and then Kosovo. Meanwhile, in Albania and Bulgaria, communism in different forms played out and then fell apart along with the USSR.

But all that is history these days. The ‘Offbeat Balkan’ countries – Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia – are on the cusp of a major tourism explosion. Arguably, Croatia is already there. With 12.9 million tourists in 2014, it seems the secret is out about ancient Dalmatia.

European Charm That’s Easy on the Bank Account

Looking for quaint sidewalk cafés and bistros or hoping to stroll down Roman-era promenades and cobbled streets? Look no further than the Offbeat Balkans. You get the charm of Europe minus the heavy cost of the Euro, and there is the endearing quirkiness of a region of the world that is just getting used to tourism.

Dubrovnik, Croatia Offbeat Balkans
The cobbled streets of Dubrovnik, Croatia

Cultural Gems Minus the Crowds

The Offbeat Balkans sat centre stage as empires large and small rose, clashed, and fell. The Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires each touched and left their mark on this corner of Europe. More recently, the Soviet Union reached Bulgaria while Albania was engulfed in an extreme communist regime.

With such a textured and complicated history, it’s no wonder there are so many historical and cultural sites and wonders, and yet, the Balkan Peninsula is relatively unexplored. That means forts, castles, and Roman-era theatres are yours to discover without the crowds. Plus, there is also a wealth of slightly wacky monuments. Like Buzludzha, for instance (which was one of our favourite places in southeast Europe).

For history buffs, the wealth of historical and cultural sites will be well worth the visit. It also puts modern war and recovery into perspective.

Buzludhza Bulgaria Offbeat Balkans
Buzludhza, the House-Monument of the Bulgarian Communist Party

Interested in ancient history? Put these on your itinerary:

  • Diocletian’s Palace – Split, Croatia
  • Dubrovnik, Croatia
  • Plovdiv and Sofia, Bulgaria
  • Lake Ohrid, Macedonia

Interested in communism’s legacy? Add these architectural wonders to your bucket list:

  • Budzludhza – Bulgaria
  • ‘The Pyramid’, aka, the International Center of Culture, Tirana, Albania

Keen to learn more about the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990’s? These places are worth a visit:

  • Sarajevo Bobsled Track
  • Sarajevo, Bosnia
  • Mostar, Bosnia
  • Prizren, Kosovo
  • Pristina, Kosovo
Hope graffiti in Sarajevo
Graffiti on the Sarajevo bobsled track.

Stunning Vistas

The offbeat Balkans span from the Adriatic Sea in the west to the Aegean and Black seas in the east/northeast. In the middle, the Balkan mountains, the Dinaric Alps and the Šar massif provide gorgeous scenery, lots of hiking opportunities, and some long and winding bus rides.

Adriatic Coast

The dramatic views of the Dalmatian coastline are unparalleled. Take a ferry out from Split or Dubrovnik and soak up the sunshine.

Lovćen Mountain, Lovćen National Park, Montenegro

Once at the top of Lovćen mountain, visitors are rewarded with a 360-degree view. On a clear day, you can see as far as the Adriatic and the Bay of Kotor.

Central Balkan Mountains 

Not only is the Buzludzha Monument located in these mountains, this area boasts gorgeous views and hiking trails.

Bay of Kotor – Montenegro

Mountains plunge into the Adriatic sea in the Bay of Kotor and the effect is breathtaking. It’s no wonder it was established as a World Heritage Site in 1979. Hike up the 1,300 or so stairs to St. John’s Fort and you’ll have sweeping views of the Bay and the vast Adriatic sea.

Which Offbeat Balkan nation tops your bucket list?