touring | the balkans - by land, sea & air
'the former yugoslav republic has come along way since the war'
i actually started the tour of the the balkans in the non balkan countries of czech republic and hungary. i wanted to take the night train from budapest to belgrade as i'm a big fan of train journeys. even though this trip was a short one its really a pre cursor to a summer trip that i plan here but since i had a few weeks for free i decided to come here in the winter time. everyone told me only come to this region in summer due to the adverse weather in the winter. i can actually tell you i was very lucky to have most of my trip with clear skies.
so i started this journey in prague. if you have no idea about prague then i can tell you truly that this is one of the most amazing cities in the world. the culture and history of this place is truly amazing, especially the medieval architecture in the old town. now since i wrote about prague in the past i just wanted to highlight one of the most amazing food tours that i had the privilege of taking in the city with eating prague food tours. we visited more than 7 different food outlets all with there own unique style from a local butchers that cook the meat in front of you to a gingerbread store. the whole experience was something very special the quality of the places we visited was top class, every detail was thought about. our guide also gave us little history lessons on the way to each restaurant that went well down very well with all the clients. this will be a food tour you will remember the rest of your life and a must while in prague. i also have to give a big shout out to the post hostel. if you looking for a super cool hostel with lots of daily activities so your never bored and especially cool if your travelling alone. the hipster vibe, super clean rooms and keycard security are also a nice touch. unlike most hostels the breakfast here is amazing.
budapest is truly a city of unbelievable beauty that was created during the austro-hungarian empire. when you arrive in the centre of the city you are struck by the huge old building that have such a presence on each street corner. i arrived in the morning to my first hostel, maverick lodge. its a luxury boutique hostel in the centre of budapest with dorms & private rooms. the central location makes it easy to get to all the main tourist attractions around the city. they also have bike rental if you need to get out of the main area to explore some of the lesser known but equally cool residential areas in the city.
i stayed a few nights in budapest and truly its a city where you can do anything. it has a super cool international bar & restaurant scene with some absolutely sublime local food my favourite being the street food staple langos. make sure to take the free walking tour that happens every day in the city centre. after a few days in budapest it was time to do what i had come for, the night train to belgrade leaving at 10pm. now the train looks a little scary from the outside as its old but the experice is amazing. when booking the ticket at the office make sure to ask for a bed otherwise they will put you in a standard chair for the night and its not as comfortable or interesting. but just a reminder that you have a wake up a few times during the night for the border police in both countries.
i arrived at 5am. yes super early but it nice to have the whole day there and i did get some well earned sleep on the train. its was a little wet when i arrived to belgrade but luckily i had organise to stay at the hostel bongo. this is a cute little hostel run by a bunch of ultra cool girls that are happy to help you at anytime. my few days here was very cozy and i felt like i was a home away from home.
belgrade has mostly been taken over by communist architecture that in its own way is very interesting but they also have some super old areas and the best way to see them is on the free walking tour. serbia is a huge meat eating country so if your veggie its not so easy here but you can find some nice places. but im here to try local food so i decided to go to what is known as an upscale restaurant in 'serbia' called manufaktura. it specialises in meat dishes, i had the sausage and beans dish that was delightful. now when i said upscale before it means its expensive for serbian prices but you have to understand that serbia is an incredibly cheap country. average full meals cost around €4 and a coffee you should find for around €1. so after exploring the city for a few days i had to move to my next destination sarajevo. now i thought it was a little tricky to get there as the web was saying you need to take two buses but the hostel ordered a private transfer for me. six individuals go with a private driver, you can book as many places as you want as it was only me it worked out very well as i only paid €20 for the 8 hour drive. i would highly recommend this as the public bus takes much longer and costs around the same price.
sarajevo - mostar, bosnia & herzegovina
i have been wanting to visit the old city of mostar for years but my first stop was sarajevo. now i only spent a night in sarajevo so i cannot comment to much but the time that i did spend there was very interesting they had a lot of snow at the time and the mountains surrounding the city where breathtaking. now for the main reason why i came here was for the famous sarajevo - mostar train. it is known to be one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world and even in winter the 2 hour journey was jaw dropping. the train line mostly hugs the cliffs along the river this makes for some awesome views down the valley.
the city if mostar has been on my list for years after seeing a photo of the old bridge in a magazine. this special places has been fought over for centuries the mixture of different religions made it a place of extreme hostility in the past but today its super safe and the surrounding views are unbelievable you really feel like your in a movie in this town the people are super friendly and most hostels are full all summer long so make sure to book early. your main areas of interest will be the old town, the bridge and the surrounding mountains but if your adventurous i suggest you make your way to whats known as 'sniper tower'. its an old unfinished building where the army snipers where located during the war but has now become a graffiti artists dream place. it has been un touched since the war and actually blocked off so you will need to climb a wall to gain access but as you go through the seven stories to the top you will find some wonderful pieces of graffiti then arriving on the rooftop it has one of the best views in the whole of mostar of the city and surrounding mountains. another cool place that is just a short bus ride away is blagaj its the site of a river that comes directly out of the bottom of a cliff make for some spectacular photos. it is known to be the place of some of the cleanest fresh water in the world.
i took a 9 hour local bus from mostar to kotor and although it was way too long the views along the route were jaw dropping. montenegro is a small mountainous country with medieval villages, the bay of kotor resembles the fjords of norway but with medieval villages. after the bus ride i was
exhausted after watching a 6 hour documentary from morgan freeman on religion. netflix is for sure the best way to pass time on a bus ride. tired and hungry i arrived to old town kotor hostel right in the heart of the medieval old town. i was so glad to get there and the staff were so friendly and helpful. the hostel is set over a few building with dorms and private rooms available, they have everything you need like the huge communal space where the hostel hosts nightly dinners for a reasonable price, its a great way to meet other travellers from around the world. now another great thing about this hostel is the tours that they operate on a daily basis around this beautiful country. montenegro is small in size but big in attractions from mountains to waterfalls this is truly a place that needs to be explored and this hostel makes it easy for you as all the tours are at backpacker friendly budgets. now my favourite place in kotor was the fort at the to of the cliffs (photo above) its about a 30min walk up. when you arrive to the top and i would recommend going for sunset you are near the opening of the valley, the views are not be missed i think it was actually one of my life. kotor is a place where you can easily stay a week exploring the local area some od the bust views are actually coming from the boat trips that set sail most days. if your into coffee that have a great cafe culture here especially in the main square that has some of the best views in the old town.
i decided to take a night bus from kotor to skopje, its takes around 12 hours and you pass through albania & kosovo. now skopje is an interesting city with a difficult history but it has shaped this capital into the place it is today. the city has a most definite communist vibe about the central areas but they also have a lot of ancient history that you can learn about on the free walking tour around the central areas. i would also recommend to visit the modern art museum that has amazing views of the mountains that surround the city, its also free on thursdays. unfortunately i only had a few days here so did not get the opportunity to explore the city in full but what a did notice is a burgeoning craft beer pub culture you can find quite a few around the city. now it was on to my next destination sofia, i took the bus. its €17 and goes around 4 times per day.
i arrived at 5am in the morning on the night bus from skopje on one of the coldest days of the year. the snow had just started to fall when i arrived at the bus station so i decided to get to my hostel as quickly as possible. i managed to book one of the last beds avaible at hostel mostel in the centre of sofia. it was strange that at this time of year they had such high occupation rates considering most other hostels i stayed in only had a few people but then i realised that included in the price you get free breakfast, dinner & beer so you can imagine a lot of travellers were very happy to stay here just for the beer.
one of the top things you can find to do on trip advisor is the 'free food tour' yes free. this was the first time that i have come across the concept of a free food tour as it would be to expensive in other countries but bulgaria is a very cheap country so its possible to offer this service. the tour was a fascinating incite into the regions food and a must do while in the city. this city really has over 4000 years of epic history, its a city that can keep you occupied for weeks with all the historical sites in and around the city. now if i could recommend a place to eat it would be the sun and moon vegan restaurant, the food is fantastic especially the soups here. bulgaria also has a super high quality wine scene and believe me all of the bottles that i tried where just as good as french or italian, especially the reds. sofia has over 4000 years of history that dates back to the times of spartacus this was the country of his people. close to the city you can find lots of hiking trails, unesco world heritage site and attractions all less than an hour from the centre.
my recommended places to visit
places to eat
- manufaktura (serbia)
- free food tour (sofia)
- ribs brothers (sofia)
- sun & moon (sofia)
- aviator cafe (belgrade)
- mr funk (budapest)
how to get around
- bus & train
- uber (super cheap here) (use code; carlm5078ue for a free ride)
where i stayed
- maverick hostel (budapest)
- hostel bongo (belgrade)
- old town kotor hostel (kotor)
- hostel mostel (sofia)
length of stay
- i think the best time to go to this region is in the summer time. you really get a feel for the place i would recommend at least a month to travel the region.
- they use different currencies in each country. this region is extremely cheap.
- if your a european citizen and you travel often see my blog post on the curve card its the best travel card around i have saved hundreds of euro's using it. download the app and enter my promo code to get a free card & €/£5. click here to see the post
country travel tips
atm: any is fine they all charge a small fee.
taxi: can be expensive here. take an uber.
sim card: each country requires a different sim. no free roaming here.
uber: use code; carlm5078ue
airbnb: get $20usd off your booking here: www.airbnb.com/c/cmuies