Balkan Road Trip

We’re scheming. This time, planning a Balkans road trip itinerary.

Browsing where to travel next is how I spend the bulk of my free time. An obscene number Excel spreadsheets help me keep track of potential flights, routes, attractions, cities, beaches and restaurants. I find the whole process calming and inspiring. For some people, the anticipation of something fun is just as good as the actual thing and I am one of those people, to the nth degree.

This autumn, we are planning a full on Balkans road trip. In our explorations of Europe, it’s the one region we’ve left mostly undiscovered, with the dream in the back of our minds that one day we would see it all at once.

The time has come. Spreadsheets are open, Pinterest board created, we’re done dreaming and ready to start planning.

But here’s the catch. I haven’t found too many other itineraries online from which to draw inspiration. There are a handful of articles and blog posts, which are helpful, but let’s just say that ’48 Hours in Paris’ posts exceed ‘Balkans Itinerary’ posts by about a factor of a million.

Thus, we’re throwing our itinerary into the mix, both as a helpful reminder to ourselves about where we plan to go, as well as a resource for others traveling to the same region. Maybe we’ll see you there!

Venice Italy

Days 1-5: Albania

We plan to enter the Balkans by way of overnight ferry from Italy. Albania has a bit of a reputation for being a secret beach destination for those in the know, so we will relax on the Albanian Riviera, based in the beach town of Saranda. With access to a car, we will be able to hop around to the beaches of the area, including Ksamil, The Blue Eye (Syri Kalter), Himarë and Dhërmi. Most of the info we’ve gathered thus far on the beaches of Albania are from Heart My Backpack and Adventurous Kate.

Days 6-9: Thessaloniki, Greece

Greece isn’t technically part of the Balkans, but it is in the middle of our driving route. Our current plan is to break up the drive by spending a few days in Thessaloniki. We chose this city (as opposed to Athens) because it’s a university town, which in our minds usually brings with it a lovely diversity, good food and plenty of things to do, thanks to the student population.

We will likely base ourselves near Aristotelous Square, one of the most famous squares in Greece. I want to visit the Photography Museum, take a harbor cruise, and see the sunset from the old city walls. Factor in plenty of time to consume obscene quantities of Greek food, and I’m sure our few days in transit will fly by. A few good resources we’ve found on the city are from Emily Luxton Travels, and Aspects of Style.

Greece Panorama

Days 10-16: Macedonia

I get such a kick out of visiting countries that people aren’t aware of. When my mom says, ‘Well, I’ve never heard of that place,’ I know I’m on the right track to find a real hidden gem. Macedonia has two major draws – Lake Ohrid and Skopje, the capital city. Lake Ohrid is stunning, a sentiment noted over and over again in my research.

The small lakeside villages are great for exploring and there are plenty of water activities to fill the days. Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, is known as the ‘Capital of Kitsch’ which is reason enough for me to be interested in a visit. Nearby, a day trip into Matka Canyon, will round out our visit. On the research front, Leah at The Sweetest Way has published a lot on her visit to Macedonia, including deep dives into both Lake Ohrid and Skopje.

Days 17-21: Montenegro

Of all the Balkan countries, we’ve been most excited to visit Montenegro. Years ago in New York City, Drew’s boss was from Montenegro and would rarely stop talking about the beauty of his home country and how we must go there sometime to see ‘the next Croatia.’

We heard so much about the seaside towns, the warm weather, the Mediterranean vibe without the crowds, we were sold. If the stars align, we will use our time to catch up with Drew’s boss in the small town of Ulcinj, where he is from.

If, however, a meet-up doesn’t work out, we are ready to split our time between the capital of Kotor, and a house rental on the coast somewhere. Potential side trips include Lovcen National Park, Ostrog Monastery, and Moraca Monastery. We’ve uncovered a few great articles from Adventurous Miriam and On the Luce that have been further inspiration for Montenegro.

Kotor Montenegro

Days 22-25: Dubrovnik, Croatia

After our recent visit to northern Croatia, we’re a bit obsessed with this country. By far the most visited in the Balkans, Croatia has had tons of press, highlighting its beauty, character and masses of summer tourists. In the off season of the autumn, we’d like to visit Dubrovnik, the Pearl of the Adriatic, to see what the fuss is all about.

In addition to walking the perimeter of the city walls, we might go on a Game of Thrones tour (lots of the series is filmed here), and we’ve heard great things about the daily ferry trips out to the islands of the Elafiti archipelago. This four day itinerary we found online from Savored Journeys is a great starting point for our research.

Croatia

Days 26-30: Bosnia & Herzegovina

We are old enough to remember the Balkan conflict of the 1990s, when the city of Sarajevo was forever etched in our minds as a center of sadness and trauma. We think it’s important during our road trip to spend some time here, digging deep into the thriving Sarajevo of today, as well as nearby Mostar, and pay our respects to an important time in recent history.

In addition to exploring the Old Town in depth, we will visit the Tunnel Museum in Sarajevo, as well as an attraction from before the conflict, the Olympic bobsled track (Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Olympics). Not lacking in historically important moments, I’m sure we will also take a look at the exact place where WWI started, that fateful location where Archduke Ferdinand was shot, sparking the Great War. We’re still doing some research on Mostar, but we’ve found thorough Sarajevo resources from Norway to Nowhere and Flirting with the Globe.

Misty Lake

Day 31-35: Serbia

Serbia’s capital Belgrade was also the capital of the former Yugoslavia and the historic capital is currently a center for rapid growth, and a vibrant (rowdy?) nightlife. Here we will make sure to duck into Belgrade Fortress, visit Saint Sava Temple (the largest Orthodox church in the Balkans seating 10,000!), people watch in Republic Square, and explore the cobblestone neighborhood of Skadarlija, which used to be the gypsy center of town but is now known for its nightlife and food.

After our fill of the capital, we will head to the smaller city of Novi Sad, located on the banks of the Danube. We’ve found the images of Novi Sad compelling, from the imposing Petrovaradin Fortress to the less-than-polished Old Town, overflowing with that all important character.

Nearby monasteries provide plenty of day trip opportunities and the city also has a calendar full of festivals throughout the summer and autumn. So far, we’ve been reading up on Serbia from Blue Sky Traveler and Solo Kate.

Days 36-41: Back to Croatia

Finally, our driving route will point us in the direction of Croatia once more, this time in the Central North. We missed both Zagreb and Plitvice National Park recently, so they are high on our list of remaining Croatia destinations to check out. Seriously, we can’t get enough of Croatia. Zagreb has a big city buzz but it’s also a manageable size to explore in a few busy days.

I can’t wait to go the Museum of Broken Relationships, one of the most unique museums I’ve ever heard of. The bustling Dolac Market will certainly claim more than its fair share of our money as we stock up on snacks and wander around town.

Plitvice National Park is famous for these unique looking waterfalls that seem to fall from the foliage, unlike the normally rocky version we’re all used to. The vibrant and lush greenery with waterfalls of all shapes and sizes, narrow and wide, short and tall.

They’re just waterfalls but honestly, they’re worth a quick Google as my words don’t do the UNESCO Heritage Site justice. Weather permitting, we’ll spend a whole day here, in photo heaven. Where’s Sharon? and Chasing the Donkey have great resources on this area of Croatia.

Exit Here

And there you have it!

Our itinerary, so far, in it’s draft version glory. We are so excited to explore the Balkans in depth and this route will allow us to drive leisurely and cover tons of ground. If you want more resources, check out our Pinterest board on the subject. All of the articles referenced here are also available there.

And, as always, happy planning.

Balkan Road Trip Itinerary

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  • June 6, 2016

    Sounds like quite a trip! I adore the Balkans — it’s my favorite region in the world. I’ve got posts on every Balkan country if you’re looking for more guides and advice.

    A few tips I’d like to throw in:

    –Albania’s beach towns will be mostly shut down in the fall. You can visit them, yes, but don’t expect much to be open.

    –Bitola is a wonderful town in Macedonia with a kickass walking street and bazaar. A good counterpoint to Skopje and Ohrid.

    –Try to do a whitewater rafting trip on the Tara River in Montenegro if you can. INCREDIBLE beauty. And if you can catch Sveti Stefan at sunset, do! One of my best sunset photos ever is from there.

    –In Mostar, the tour from Hostel Nina is a must. Zika is an outstanding guide. The tour is now open to non-guests as well.

    Have a wonderful time!
    Adventurous Kate recently posted…How to Spend Three Days in SavannahMy Profile

    • June 8, 2016
      Julie

      Thanks so much for the additional tips. I hadn’t seen much on Bitola or the Tara River, so I’m adding those to my (ahem…) spreadsheet 🙂

  • June 7, 2016

    Holy cow! 41 days sounds amazing. I’m so jealous that you have that amount of time to really explore this area.

    So far I have only been to Albania and we loved it! We were only there for a week but felt like we got a nice little taste of the country and I would happily go back. One day I will.

    The Blue Eye is absolutely beautiful and we did spend a little time at the beaches of Himara and Ksamil. The water was really cold at Ksamil but my son braved it anyway and he had a good time. My boyfriend and I enjoyed the cool breezes and just relaxing.

    I can’t wait to read about your trip to see what you think of Albania, and to learn more about the other countries on your itinerary.
    Stacey recently posted…Hiking Waterfall Canyon Trail in the White Tank MountainsMy Profile

    • June 8, 2016
      Julie

      Thanks Stacey! I’m so excited to really explore in depth. Albania looks beautiful! I know some people from Serbia who swear by Albania as the best vacation spot in the world. Can’t wait!

  • June 7, 2016

    Stop, that trip looks nothing short of epic!! I’ve not had an opportunity to explore the Balkans myself so I’ll be keeping an eye out on your blog!

    • June 8, 2016
      Julie

      The epic-ness of the trip is due to expiring visas and unsettled work plans. We’ve never had this kind of time to explore the area (or be off work!) so I can’t wait!!!!

  • June 9, 2016

    What a great itinerary, Julie! I’ve become OBSESSED with this part of the world, so I’m looking forward to following along. I just got back from Slovenia and LOVED it! It’s not like the other Balkan countries, but it really is a beautiful place where you can easily jam pack a lot of locations and different experiences in a short amount of time since they are all so close to each other. If you are able to fit it in, I would highly recommend it! (I have my itinerary posted and can also answer any questions you may have, of course). Also, thanks for referencing my Sarajevo post. 🙂
    Karisa @ Flirting with the Globe recently posted…Ultimate 1 Week Slovenia Road Trip ItineraryMy Profile

    • June 10, 2016

      We were just in Slovenia last month for a road trip, funny enough. Soca Valley was probably our favorite spot on the trip, with the vibrant green waters of the Soca River and the surrounding Alps. Slovenia gives Switzerland a run for its money for most beautiful European country, and, so much more affordable than Switzerland!

  • June 11, 2016

    What an impressive list! I’ve always been interested in the Balkans, especially Bosnia. I cannot wait to follow along on your adventures this summer!
    Julia recently posted…Adventures and Eats: May 2016My Profile

    • June 11, 2016

      It should be interesting, that’s for sure. We’re excited to see how it goes too!

  • June 11, 2016

    That’s a looong trip! We’re doing something similar (minus Greece) but “only” for a month. This will be in September.

    Having just come back from Slovenia and Croatia, I’m really looking forward to exploring the rest of the Balkans as well!

    Cheers!
    Hugo Cura recently posted…Valle de Viñales: a Cuban gemMy Profile

    • June 13, 2016

      It will be our longest trip ever, so it will definitely be an adventure. Good luck on your trip!

  • June 11, 2016

    I’ve been wanting to hit up Bosnia as well as Montenegro for sometime now. It’d be quite a drive from Germany (where I am now), but I think totally worth it. We LOVED Croatia, so I’ve been wanting to explore more of the Balkans!
    LeAnna Brown recently posted…How One Couple Went from Beginner Travel Hackers to ExpertsMy Profile

    • June 13, 2016

      I’m really excited about Montenegro, since my old boss would talk about it nonstop to me during work. Glad I will finally get to see if for myself!

  • June 11, 2016

    You will love the Balkans, especially with an itinerary like that. It’s becoming my favorite place in Europe and I’ve already been back two times these past few months 🙂 I might see you around if you’re there in September as I’ll be in Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania and Greece.

    Have fun!
    Miriam recently posted…Swiss chocolate and fun activities in InterlakenMy Profile

    • June 13, 2016

      Great! Maybe we can meet up in the Balkans!

  • June 11, 2016

    We’re in planning mode as well. Both my travel buddy and I have relatives still living in Croatia and Slovakia so our itinerary will focus there. Bookmarked your recommendations and I look forward to hearing more as your trip unfolds.
    Elaine J Masters recently posted…Diving Tubbatha Reef – UNESCO World Heritage SiteMy Profile

    • June 13, 2016

      Good luck with your planning!

  • June 11, 2016
    Caroline

    This sounds like an amazing trip. It’s an area I don’t know much about so looking forward to reading all your travel tales

  • June 12, 2016

    I have never been to the Balkans but this seems like an interesting itinerary (incl. Greece 🙂 Do you think it is safe for female travelers?

    • June 13, 2016

      Definitely. Obviously, you need to be a little cautious, but that is not different than a lot of destinations. Check out Adventurous Kate. She has spent a lot of time doing solo travel through the Balkans.

  • June 12, 2016
    Lindsay

    Hello! Your travels sound amazing! Thank you so much for sharing this road trip plan, as my fiancé and I are set to embark on a Balkans road trip of our own this summer, and all of your information is so very helpful! We’ve only recently decided to fit this road trip into our RTW plans, and so are pulling our trip together on relatively shorter notice. One key question we have that we’d love your insight on: do you have any advice/intel on renting a car in Albania for the road trip. As far as you know, are you able to rent one round trip in Albania and take it into all of the countries you listed ok? And/or any other related color on what you intend to do for your vehicle plans would be much appreciated! PS – Love your blog!

    • June 13, 2016

      Taking a car into Albania is challenging, as it is not typically covered by insurance due to car theft problems in the country. You could rent a car just when you are in Albania, and then rent a more long-term car from a neighboring country. I think you can also purchase additional insurance through World Nomad, which on top of the medical coverage usually includes some rental car coverage as well. We are planning on working with AutoEurope and their long-term rentals through Peugeot, where you pick up a brand new car from the factory and have great long term rates for renting over 30 days.

  • June 12, 2016

    I am SO jealous of this trip! You are going to have an amazing time. Definitely don’t worry about planning things too much – the Balkans are the perfect place to just explore. Driving around the Albanian Riviera and finding secret beaches is one of my favorite memories ever. And in Montenegro I stayed in a gorgeous apartment on the bay – in Lepetane, I think (I wrote about it somewhere I know). The perfect place to relax!
    Silvia recently posted…Scotland’s Most Magical Train JourneyMy Profile

    • June 13, 2016

      Our itinerary is a certainly a rough overview, so I’m sure there will be some changes along the way!

  • June 12, 2016

    I’m soooooo jealous, I’m so fascinated by the eastern European countries (plus they’re tiny compared to my native Canada, so I feel like it’s easy to see a lot!). Have a fantastic trip!
    Tamara Elliott recently posted…Epic outdoor adventures in and around Sundre, AlbertaMy Profile

    • June 13, 2016

      Thanks!

  • June 13, 2016

    Thanks for laying out such a great itinerary – I’ll bookmark it for when I go. I think the only place I’ve visited on your itinerary is Croatia, and I didn’t get to explore it too much. Zagreb is interesting and Split is fantastic. Now on my list is the Albanian Riviera!
    Wandering Carol recently posted…Hotel in Evian: Hilton Evian-les-Bains reviewMy Profile

    • June 13, 2016

      We are really excited about the Albanian Riviera. We don’t know what to expect, but it sure looks beautiful!

  • June 13, 2016

    This sounds like a great road trip and a lot of fun. I would love to drive through all these places and take several weeks to do it.
    Jennifer Melroy recently posted…Hipmunk Hotels: Period-Style Northeastern B&Bs in Ithaca, Stamford, Newport, and More!My Profile

    • June 13, 2016

      We’ve been talking about doing it for a while now, and we’re excited that we are finally doing it!

  • June 13, 2016

    Its always so much fun to see an itinerary lasting for 41 days! This really looks like a trip of a lifetime, looking forward to read the many stories you’re going to experience 🙂 (and incredible pictures!)

    • June 13, 2016

      It is going to be a fun trip, and I’m sure there will be some alternations to the itinerary during the trip!

  • June 13, 2016

    You’re going to have such a great time!! I hear nothing but good things about Croatia. And I use excel spreadsheets too! A lot of people look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them, but I use them with pride. 😉

    • June 17, 2016
      Julie

      Thanks Vicky! Nothing like a good spreadsheet to help organize everything, right? You’re in good company!

      • December 25, 2016
        Lynn

        Well done arlcite that. I’ll make sure to use it wisely.

  • June 20, 2016

    How fun! I, too, have a ginormo spreadsheet with many tabs of future trips – I think planning is half the fun! Very envious of your 40 day trip – that is really the best way to see a region…lots and lots of time! Happy planning 😉
    Leigh | Campfires & Concierges recently posted…Solo in SouthEast AsiaMy Profile

    • June 21, 2016

      Thanks! It is going to be a little crazy, but looking forward to it, that’s for sure!

  • June 21, 2016

    This sounds like such a fun plan! These sights are all beautiful, and it sounds like you plan to make the most out of every second! Best of luck! Thanks for sharing your adventures!
    Morgan recently posted…Terry C.My Profile

  • August 29, 2016
    Áine

    Really good blog post, I’m just back from a 3 week interrail through Central Europe but planning next summers adventure to the Balkans, I’m also finding very little articles/blog posts about these countries – where to go, what to see, also I’ve never rented a car before so I would love to know how you got on!

  • October 19, 2016
    Heather

    Hi, I’m hoping to do a similar trip although shorter — but, what have you found in the way of rental cars? I’ve heard maybe you have to get a new one in each country? Any tips? Thanks!

    Heather

    • October 19, 2016
      Julie

      Hi Heather! We’ve done a ton of research in this area. We rented a car through EuropeCar, and their policies allow for travel pretty freely around the Balkans (Kosovo and Albania are exceptions…we cannot drive there…our insurance doesn’t cover them). We found that different car companies have different policies, but if you dig on the websites you can find everything. For our rental, we did notify them where we were traveling specifically, just to make sure there wasn’t an issue. It’s such a beautiful area to drive, we highly recommend it!