The Balkans is a region that includes countries on the Balkan Peninsula in the southeast of Europe, including most of the former Yugoslavia.


A beautiful and diverse country with impressive castles, long coastlines and a unique culture and history.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
A political hotbed, but also an impressive mix of cultures with beautiful historic cities.
A melting pot of East and West, with beautiful beaches.
One of the most visited countries worldwide, Croatia has renowned natural beauty. Long coastlines, party islands, lots of sun hours and its Venetian history make it one of the Mediterranean's top travel destinations.
One of the more adventurous places in the region; the traveller looking for something different won't be disappointed.
Known for its traditional villages and churches, Macedonia also has some of the best wildlife.
A pastoral and multi-ethnic country, only considered Balkan due to its cultural ties with Romania.
The Bay of Kotor, the Budva Riviera, winter sports and natural scenery, Montenegro is one of the most traveller-friendly countries in the region.
While technically not entirely Balkan (the region of Transylvania lies in Central Europe), Romania offers a wonderful combination of old and new, mixing dance halls with Dracula.
Historic cities, monasteries, national parks and a good nightlife, Serbia has a lot to offer the traveller.
This unrecognized, de facto republic claims eastern Moldova; visiting it comes closest to what life in a communist state in the Cold War must have been like.

Some strictly geographical definitions define the Balkan peninsula as the lands south of the rivers Sava and Danube from the city of Belgrade. This however is not an expedient division when considering countries. Slovenia is sometimes considered to be part of the Balkans, but it is increasingly considered part of Central Europe. Greece occupies the tip of the Balkan Peninsula; however, most of Greece's major travel destinations (apart from Athens) lie upon its islands, which – along with its general culture – make it more aptly aloof from the Balkans.


The Stone Bridge in Skopje

Other destinations

Monastery of St Jovan overlooking the Lake Ohrid


While lately the very word of Balkans may translate to ethnic strife and civil wars in people's minds due to the headlines in the last decade of 20th century (and unfortunately, there is some truth in this perception), Balkans, with its rich, though often turbulent history and wonderful nature, offers much more than that. Charming multicultural towns, impressive monasteries and citadels dotting the hillsides, mighty mountains sprinkled with a liberal dose of beautiful forests and pleasant lakes, and last but not the least a great folk music tradition—coming off both as much joyful and melancholic as it could be—all survived various wars, if sometimes suffered a bit from the atrocities. With hundreds of kilometres of coastline on both the Adriatic and Black Seas, beachgoers won't be disappointed in this region, either.


Street sign in Veliko Tarnovo

In this patchwork of countries and peoples, language learning is as complicated as one wishes to make it. At the simplest level, there are four main languages: Albanian, Bulgarian, Romanian and Serbo-Croatian. A bit of Russian also goes a long way, especially in Moldova and Transnistria.

Looking deeper you have:

Nationalists and linguists will assert that a unified Serbo-Croatian language does not exist. However, the traveller with even a fairly strong grasp of things linguistic will find them one and the same. Formally, the distinct branches of Serbo-Croatian are:

Together with Slovene, Bulgarian and Macedonian, the Serbo-Croatian languages are members of the closely knit South Slavic language group.

Some other useful languages might be Turkish, which many people in Greece and Bulgaria speak, and Romani may be useful in all of the Balkan states. Most of the people, especially in cities and touristic areas speak English, and sometimes German, Italian, French (in Romania).

German used to be common in the area during the heyday of the Austro Hungarian Empire and some time afterwards but has been largely supplanted by English as a lingua frnaca. However, areas frequently visited by German and Austrian tourists may still have people speaking German.

Get in

The viewing lodge at Split Airport

By plane

There are numerous international airports in the Balkans. The major airports in the region are (by country):

Only the capital city airports have many regular flights throughout the year. Croatia's coastal airports are well served by low-cost airlines during the summer, while in winter there are only a few flights to Zagreb and Germany. Ohrid is served only by seasonal flights, and Serbia's airports other than Belgrade have no commercial flights as of 2014, even though they do have international status.

By boat

Get around

Though three of the Balkan countries (Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania) have joined the European Union with others on the way, no countries in Balkans have implemented the Schengen Treaty yet, which means, unlike most of the rest of Europe, border controls are still a reality in the regionwhich is rather inconvenient but a joy for the ones who want all those entry and exit stamps on their passports.

Detailed maps of most of the countries in the Western Balkans you can find with torrent downloaders; look for "Topografske karte EX YU" (Topographic maps former-Yugoslavia), a file of approximately 4.13 GB. Note that this does not include Bosnia. To download only the maps you need, see the matrix at the Military Geographical Institute of Serbia.

By train

Croatia and Romania have well developed rail networks and getting around by train is fairly convenient. Train travel in Bulgaria is a little more rough and ready. Elsewhere, the once decent networks have been neglected. While there are services and there are some stunning journeys to be had, train travel in the other countries cannot be done on a whim and requires a little forward planning but the effort is worth making.

Fares on trains within each country are very cheap. International fares are also very reasonably priced.

The Balkan Flexipass rail pass is valid in Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Turkey. However given the low price of normal tickets, it may represent false economy.

By bus

The bus networks are extensive throughout the Balkans, and is often the fastest way to move around. More info at the Bus travel in the former Yugoslavia page.


Old city of Dubrovnik
Râşnov Fortress on the Carpathian Mountains





Winter sports


Whereas it is generally not safe to openly display gay behaviour in the Balkans (See "stay safe" section below) there are many underground alternatives which are supportive of the LGBT community.


Regional firewater of choice is rakija (spelling varies from country to country; and despite the similarity in the name it has little to do with Turkish raki), a hard liquor (around 40%, and can be higher if home-made) common to all countries in Balkans. Rakija is distilled out of just about any fruit grown in the region, with the most popular varieties being plum, apricot, mulberry, and grape.

Another local drink is boza, a thick and sweet ale made of millet, maze, or wheat with a very low (less than 1%) alcohol content and traditionally drunk in winters.

There are excellent local beers to be had in each country in the region. Wine is also common, the peninsula being dotted by vineyards from one end to another.

Low taxes on alcohol coupled with a laid-back lifestyle and a liberal attitude towards alcohol consumption mean even smaller towns in the region has a considerable nightlife scene. Belgrade in particular is noted as the region's party hotspot.

Stay safe

The Iron Gates, a gorge separating Romania and Serbia. The river is Danube.

While the horror stories of the 1990s are long gone and the likelihood of an armed conflict in the foreseeable future is next to none, unexploded land mines as a legacy of Yugoslav Wars continue to be a safety risk, especially in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Serbia. What is worse about them is that they are where you don't expect them to be at all—they tend to be moved away from their original positions by the abundant rainfall in the region, and therefore riverbanks close to former hotbeds of conflict are especially dangerous. Don't stray too far into wilderness unless you are absolutely sure where you are heading is free of mines.

In many Balkan countries, it is not a good idea to openly display gay behavior.

Go next

The Balkan countries are surrounded by Greece and Turkey to south, Ukraine to northeast, Central Europe to northwest, and Italy to west across the Adriatic, all of which have greatly influenced the regional culture now and then.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Wednesday, March 09, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.