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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.