Prizren, in Kosovo, is a pretty city of mosques and monasteries dating to the 14th century. Happily spared (mostly) from both the "destroy the old, build the new" drive of the communists during the early years of their rule in Yugoslavia, as well as the ethnic and religious atrocities that plagued the Western Balkans in the last decade of the 20th century, Prizren has the best-preserved old town in the country by far, and is often referred to as the cultural capital of Kosovo.
Clinging to the slopes of the lush Sharr Mountains, and divided by the river Bistrica (Serbian for "clear waters", which is more of a wishful thinking than a precise description nowadays), Prizren, including its modern suburbs, is home to about 180,000 people, making it the second largest city in the country, after Pristina, the capital. The majority of the population is, as with most of the rest of Kosovo, the ethnic Albanians, but there is a Turkish community as well (most of the Turks of Kosovo live in and around Prizren). As such, the usual duo of Albanian and Serbian you'll see on the street and road signs in the country are complemented here by Turkish, which can be freely used particularly in the old town, even on the conversations with the Albanians. The local Serbs have left the city in the aftermath of the Kosovo War of 1998–99, when Kosovo was de facto detached from Serbia, with their charred houses standing vacant on the upper streets leading to the fortress.
Prizren is also where the Albanian national awakening began, as the League of Prizren, a political organization for defending the rights of the Albanians, was founded here in 1878.
- Main Bus Station (To get to the main bus station take the road along the river and turn right at the traffic circle. The bus station is on the left. There are a couple of travel agents in the area.). Buses are available to almost anywhere in Kosovo, usually via Pristina or Gjakova, Macedonia and Albania.
The best way to get to Prizren is by bus from Pristina (€4, 2 hours or a little less than that). You can also take buses from Peja (3 euro) where the famous Serbian monasteries are located. You can also catch a bus from Skopje. Most bus companies that run from Istanbul to Pristina continue onward and terminate in Prizren. There are several direct buses from Belgrade (7hours, 1 day bus & 2 night busses, run by Kosovo Albanian companies, cost about 10 Euro, stops depending on the route in Nis or Kruševac, Pristina and other towns on the road, information dates from February 2005).
From Albania, there are two good ways
- from Tirana on the newly-constructed highway via Kukes. This masterpiece of civil engineering takes you over and through the mountains with dramatic views - about 3 hours.
- the more adventurous route is from Shkodra via Lake Komani. Catch a furgon from Shkodra at 6:00 to Koman. Catch the passenger or car ferry to Fierze, then furgon to Bajram Curri. At Bajram Curri get another furgon to Prizren via Gjakovë, arriving in Prizren mid-afternoon.
The main event in the town is yearly international documentary DOKUFEST and short film festival held in August.
Daytripping from Skopje
With direct buses from Skopje arriving in the evening, and making their return in the morning, a day-trip from Skopje may not seem possible, but if you put some thought and effort into it, you'll realize it's entirely feasible. Read on:
Take the 6:00 in the morning bus from Skopje to Pristina. If the bus is not very crowded (and it doesn't seem to be at least in the weekdays), you won't lose much time in the border, and arrive in the bus station of Pristina just in time for the 8:20 bus to Prizren. (You could have got off in Ferizaj on the way at 7:30, but you'll need a lot of creativity to spend time there until the departure of the next bus to Prizren at 9:15.) This bus will arrive in Prizren at about 10:15.
Upon returning, the last bus to Skopje leaves Pristina at 17:00, making a stop at Ferizaj bus station at about 18:00. This means that you'll have to catch the latest the 13:45 bus to Pristina from Prizren (which will let you stroll around Pristina for a little more than an hour—to spare more time for Pristina, take the 13:00 bus), or the 17:00 bus to Ferizaj (and pray it arrives in its scheduled time of 18:00, and doesn't miss the last bus to Skopje—the 14:30 bus, which arrives in Ferizaj at 16:10, is probably a better bet). Note that the evening bus to Skopje is often almost completely full by the time it arrives in Ferizaj, which means that, should you decide to take it there, you may have to travel standing for part of the route, and then take a taxi in a village near the border for the rest of the route to Skopje, perhaps because of a rule regulating border crossings.
From the bus station everything is within walking distance
- Prizren Hammam, Adem Jashari, (located near the center of town, just up from the main post office.). It is a distinctive complex of low brick domes. No longer used as public baths, the building is occasionally used for art exhibits. - The Hammam of Prizren is an early Ottoman-era monument in which oriental and local traditions combine. It was built in the heart of the city in 1563/4 by Gazi Mehmet Pasha, at the time when he was also building the nearby mosque. The hammam has two large and nine small domes and is separated into men’s and women’s sections. As one of the most precious hammams in South-East Europe, it embodies special architectural, historical, cultural and social values. Integrated for centuries in the lives of the citizens, it has become a symbol for the spiritual and cultural heritage of Prizren and its region. - The building functioned as a hammam until 1944. It then served for cheese production, as a warehouse, and later the entrance area was used for cultural events. In state protection since 1954, the hammam was repaired and maintained until 1981 when it was left at the mercy of time. After the NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999, some limited measures were undertaken for the monument’s protection.
- Serbian Quarter remains. The mostly destroyed Serbian Quarter above the city - from the center of the city, start heading up hill. You will see the remains of the walls on the crest of the hill - head up paths in that direction. There are no signs along the way.
- Orthodox Cathedral (Our Lady of Ljevis), Sahatkulla (Serbian Quarter). that is being guarded by armed KFOR soldiers. The Cathedral was badly damaged during the ethnic riots of March 2004, but has largely been repaired. As of April 2010 however it was still not open to the public (there's a sign on the gate to contact the Prizren Police office for entry). There is usually a police officer guarding the Cathedral. If you show him your passport and reassure him that you intend no harm, you will get access. Occasionally an Orthodox monk is present who will happily tell you the history of the Church. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site
- Small chapel (across the street from the Cathedral which was also destroyed in March 2004.).
- There are other Serbian Orthodox Churches in Prizren
- Mosque of Sinan Pasha, Mimar Sinani. The largest mosque in the city, dominating the town center is the Mosque of Sinan Pasha. This is one of the most important monuments from the occupation of Ottoman Empire in this territory. According to the inscription inside the mosque Sofi Sinan Pasha, built it for his co-citizens, on hijrij year 1024 (1615). The mosque was built with walls over 2 m thick, it contains more than 50 windows, and the minaret is one of the highest in the city. - Its the airy inside of which is adorned by floral paintings, slightly reminiscent of (but much plainer than) the Painted Mosque of Tetovo, on the Macedonian side of the Sharr Mountains. The mosque is very rich in ornaments of many colors and shapes. The interior of the mosque is decorated by arabesques and other decorations of flora and fauna in the baroque style. There are two layers of paintings in it, the paintings of the time when the mosque was built (17th century) and a second layer of paintings (19th century). In the entrance the mosque has a fountain, built by the founder. The mosque also used to have a madras and a library with numerous books of different contents.
- Bajrakli Mosque. - the 14th century Mosque of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, can be reached on the first left street infront of The Hamam.. Bajrakli mosque dates from 1566 and is possibly the most beautiful mosque in Prizren with ornate wood work and detailed blue-and-white paintings.
- Church of St. George, Marin Barleti.
- Prizren League House. An old complex where Albanian political organization founded on June 10, 1878 in Prizren. Albanian Prizren League officially started with gathering of 300 representatives of all Albanian regions. In the meeting there were also Bosnians from Bosnia and Sanxhak. The aim of the meeting was to form an autonomous Albanian state that would cover the otoman regions (vilajets) of Prizren, Shkodra, Manastir and Janina. The league was the first serious effort to create united Albanian region since the failure of Skenderbeg forces in medieval.
- Catholic Church (Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour), Papa Gjon Pali II (- stands at the top of the stone street that leads from the “Shadërvan Square”.).
- City castle. - has a wonderful view over the town. The castle dates from Roman era.
- Shadervan, the main square. There is much more going on in Prizren during the Summer than any other time of the year. The main square in town, a stone piazza known as Shadervan, is the gathering point on most evenings. The piazza is surrounded by cafes, bars, restaurants and ice cream parlors. During the day this is an excellent place to sit and have a coffee, or have lunch and watch the town go about its business. The fountain in the center of the piazza is safe to drink from and is a central gathering point during hot summer afternoons. From about 9:30pm to midnight on almost every night in the summer the streets around Shadervan are crowded with locals walking the corso, meeting, chatting and drinking.
- Brezovica, the ski resort (to the east and southwest). The area around Prizren, particularlyto the east and southwest is also scenic. Heading east from town toward the old Yugoslav ski resort of Brezovica takes you through the Zupa valley. There are numerous restaurants following the river along this route. The ski slopes at Brezovica are open and for skiing during the winter. The runs were once considered some of the best in Yugoslavia, and the site was a back-up for the Sarajevo Winter Olympics in 1984.
- Dragash,the mountain town (To the southwest). To the southwest, toward the Albanian border the landscape is also dramatic. About an hour's drive from Prizren is the mountain town of Dragash. Although there is no skiing in the mountains surrounding Dragash, the area is beautiful. Friday is market day in Dragash.
- Riverside walk up to the castle (circular walk, distance about 4.5 km - follow the river east out of town "Maresh" district). through the attractive river valley, past the site of the Dokufest camp. At one point the path seems to come to a dead-end, retrace your steps and cross the bridge. Eventually the path leaves the river and turns right, uphill through woods where there is abundant wildlife - we saw buttlerflies, woodpeckers, lizards, a salamander and a tortoise! The path eventually leads to the castle, from where you can make your way back down past the Orthodox Cathedral.
In August the town hosts the Dokufest International Documentary and Short Film Festival www.dokufest.com. During the Festival the town is full of people and various parties go late at night in the bars.
There are few traditional crafts that are still practiced in Prizren and the surrounding area. In Prishtina, there are some women's cooperatives selling carpets and embroideries, and there may be one or two in Prizren as well. Ask around and someone will be able to direct you. The most traditional craft for Prizren itself has always been filigree. Very ornate pieces are made for traditional local wedding feasts, but more simple pieces are available in any of the shops that line the road leading into town. Poke around and ask to see the older pieces.
- Market. Market day is Wednesday. The town fills up with merchants from all of the surrounding villages. In addition to crafts such as wordworks, there are also cheap mass produced tchotckas and knick-knacks.
The center of the town is full of barbeque restaurants (qebaptore). Prizren is well known in Kosovo for its barbeques as they make everything right infront of your eyes. In the downtown or in Shadervan you can get plenty of these restaurants.
- Restaurant Sharr, Brezoviza (10 mile from Prizren, in National Park Sharr). One of the best lamb and traditional pastry (flia).
- Downtown sweets shops, Vary. you can get sweets such as baklava, tullumba which are traditionally made in Prizren. One of the best places for traditional sweets is Shendeti (near Shadervan), which also sells Boza (fermented cornflour drink)
- Restaurant Ambienti, Vatra shqiptare, (in the center). offers a nice view to the town. Walk east from Shadervan, and the restaurant is up a slope overlooking the river. International fare at modest prices.
- Restaurant ODA (right next to the Stone Bridge). Offers menu food
- Restaurant Pauza. offers you a really delicious food, starting from traditional food, wine, raki, picas like you never ate somewhere else, spaghetti, salads, soups and really nice tasting cafe with new interior design. In Edit Durham, contact nr.044/49 243415 or 044/49 218188, the opposite way of Kep Institution.
- Besimi-Beska Restaurant, 56 Sheshi i Shatërvanit, ☎ +381 29 233668.
There are plenty of coffee shops, bars, and pubs located in the downtown Shadervan. Also, various bakeries exist in the area with the most outstanding pastries and fresh daily specials. There is a nice coffebar "La Linea" just behind the Sinan Pasha's Mosque.
There are a number of places to stay in Prizren. The most prominent was the Hotel Therande in the center of town, which as of July 2007 appears to be closed for renovations. The Prizreni is on the road toward Albania, and getting there is another option due the new highway of Albania. It had been used as a collective center for internally displaced after the 1999 conflict and does not seem to have recovered.
- Only during the Film Festival Dokufest might be hard to find places in hotels
- Pension Oltas (around the corner from the Catholic Church in the center. Someone should be able to direct you from the church.), ☎ +377 44 113252, +381 29 231628, e-mail: email@example.com. This is also a small hotel / pensione. All rooms have their private bath. The price includes breakfast and laundry. The rooms are very clean and quite nice. They all have cable television, air condition, refrigerator and wireless. Also,computers with internet access are available in rooms and reception. Keep in mind that check-in is closed between midnight and 8am. Sgl/dbl €25/35.
- Hotel Pik-Nik. This is very reasonable, and the owners and staff are more than willing to cater to your every whim. Hotel Pik-Nik also has a beautiful restaurant and upstairs rotunda and seating for privacy. The restaurant menu is filled with traditional Balkan cuisine, and serves the best calzone in Prizren.
- Hotel Tirana (In the downtown), ☎ +37 74 4216155. €35.
- Hotel Alvida (10 minutes of walk from bus station), ☎ +37 74 4217167. Breakfast costs 2 euro extra. The staff is very hospitable and the hotel is very clean. Sgl/dbl €20/25/40.
- Hotel Residence (8 minutes of walk?), ☎ +37 74 4256774.
- Hotel City (10 minutes of walk), ☎ +37 74 4952392.
- Bujtina (Downtown), ☎ +37 74 4113252.
- Hotel OK (5 minutes of drive), ☎ +37 74 4131761.
- Prizren City Hostel, Ilaz Kuka nr 66, ☎ 00386 49466313. 3 minutes walking distance from the city centre. - Hostel can accommodate a total of 33 guests and has 4 floors. It offers rooms for 1,2,3 or 4 people, private and mix dorms. Showers and toilets on each floor, 4 of the rooms have private bathroom. Central heating, a multi-purpose room with a WiFi internet access, laptop and a fully fitted guest kitchen. All rooms have WiFi access, TV and air conditioning.
- Driza's House - Hostel, Remzi Ademaj (Search google maps or maps.me for Driza's House.), ☎ +38649618181, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 09:00, check-out: 11:30. 200 year old family house, renovated in typical oriental Prizren style, opened as a hostel in the summer of 2015, 100 m from the main city square. Take the main one way street in the city center and go left at the parking lot sign between the Blue Bridge of Love (known as Ura e Kalter) and Stone Bridge (Ura e Gurit). That's the alley between Vector Tours agency and a small Library (DITURIA). 9€-20€.
- Pristina (mini-buses to 4 euro paid on the bus, leaving from the main road out of town.).
- Gjakova (buses to 2.5 euro paid on the bus, leaving from the bus station 36 km, 45 mins away). closest city in Kosovo with the largest Ottoman-era bazzar in the Balkans
- Ulcinj, Montenegro (Closer to summer you can also get buses to here).
- Skopje (Buses at 5:30 and 9:00. Cost 5.5 euro).
- Tirana (The buses stops at the kiosk outside the bus station at about 5:30 and 16:30. It is a through bus from Pristina, buy your ticket on the bus (not in the bus station).). Albania is generally considered safer than it once was, although it is not recommended to take a Taxi to Albania unless you are traveling with a known and trusted local.
- Istanbul (Buses costs €50.).
- Zhupa National Park (Get a bus to Sharr). pretty nature.
- Tetovo, Macedonia. Well, that's possible, but not so easily due to the almost impenetrable ridges of the Sharr Mountains in between. There's a remote road crawling through the mountains into Macedonia, but that's not much of a shortcut, really, and those that want to take a bus are better off detouring through Skopje, anyway.