The Balkans are a fascinating and multi-faceted region that’s still relatively unexplored by tourists. Breathtaking mountains, thousands of kilometres of warm beaches, ancient monuments still standing, an ethnically and religiously diverse (and always welcoming) local environment – it really doesn’t get any more varied than that!
However, with a region as broad and as varied as Southeastern Europe, it can often be a challenge to choose where to go. Read on to learn about 8 charming Balkan towns where you can truly delve into the spirit of the Balkans – whether in better-known locations like Greece and Bulgaria or in still-undiscovered corners of the peninsula like southern Albania and Herzegovina!
1. Bridge over the ages: Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
The arched Old Bridge of white stone spanning the turquoise waters of the Neretva River is Mostar’s main symbol. It is present not only in the Herzegovinian town’s coat of arms but even in its name, alluding to the main occupation of the local residents as bridge keepers.
The Old Bridge, a work of legendary 16th-century architect Sinan, connects the cobblestone streets of Mostar’s old town on either side of the river, as well as the mix of Ottoman, Western and Mediterranean influences that shaped this charming place. Tragically, the original century-old bridge was destroyed during the Bosnian War, but its reconstruction now reminds of the fragility of tangible heritage.
2. A church for each day of the year: Ohrid, Macedonia
Ohrid is a delightful Macedonian town panoramically located on the shores of the crystal-clear Lake Ohrid. A religious and cultural centre since ancient times, it has been called “Jerusalem of the Balkans”, and not without reason. Reputedly, Ohrid once hosted 365 individual churches, one for each day of the year, and though far from all of these are around these days, those that remain make up for the numbers in their fabulous design and decoration.
Medieval churches, lavish merchant houses from Ottoman times and the mighty walls of Emperor Samuil’s fortress attract visitors to this heavenly town on the lakeside… but the innumerable wild beaches still remain Macedonia’s best-kept secret. And for some unforgettable hiking with lake vistas, you can always wander into the nearby mountain of Galičica, nested between Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa on the other side.