Highlights of the Balkans


Highlights of the Balkans

I spent 3 months in the Balkans in the summer of 2015 and liked it so much I came back for another month in the winter of 2017. Such a complex history, squabbled over by empire after empire after empire, means a treasure-trove of fascinating historical sites. And hardly any tourists compared to equivalent sites in Western Europe (apart from Dubrovnik – it’s swamped )


#1 Highlights of the Balkans

Belogradchik Rocks, Bulgaria

Belogradchik Rocks and Belogradchik Fortress are inseparably intertwined. And it’s this inseparability that makes them so mysterious, so appealing. The blending of human and natural forces means the site ends up looking like something out of a fantasy novel.

Photo credit: Benjamin White


#2 Highlights of the Balkans

Bran Castle, Romania

Bran Castle, in downtown Transylvania, is the castle the world connects to Dracula. The link is a strange one as there is no record of Vlad the Impaler having ever visited the castle, and Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, never even made it to Romania. The structure he describes in his text, what’s more, is nothing like that of the photo below.

Bran Castle, Romania

Photo credit: Benjamin White


#3 Highlights of the Balkans

Berat, Albania

It’s known as the Town of a Thousand Windows. Berat is full of stunning Ottoman architecture and comes complete with a huge castle and a sprinkling of Illyrian ruins. The town is mostly unrestored, and amazingly un-touristed.

Town of Thousand Windows, Berat, Albania

Berat, Albania. Photo credit: Benjamin White


#4 Highlights of the Balkans

Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina

The famous Ottoman Bridge, Stari Most, was blown up in 1993 during the Yugoslav Wars. It has since been painstakingly restored. Local daredevils jump from the highest point of the bridge as a demonstration of their courage.

Diver jumping from the top of Stari Most, Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo credit: Benjamin White


#5 Highlights of the Balkans

Kotor, Montenegro

The locals like to call the Bay of Kotor a fjord, but in truth it isn’t. Fjords are carved out by glaciers, whereas the Bay of Kotor, in Montenegro, is simply a flooded river valley. Disappointed? You needn’t be.

Cathedral of Saint Tryphon, Kotor, Montenegro

Photo credit: Benjamin White


#6 Highlights of the Balkans

Sighișoara, Romania 

Sighișoara has nine remnant guild towers, a medieval clock tower, and it’s the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler (the man who was the inspiration for Dracula). It’s also one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe.

Sighișoara, Romania

Photo credit: Benjamin White


#7 Highlights of the Balkans

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Call yourself a Game of Thrones fan? Then do yourself a favour and get to King’s Landing… I mean Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik, Croatia. Photo credit: Benjamin White


#8 Highlights of the Balkans

Lake Ohrid, Northern Macedonia

Lake Ohrid is a picturesque, tranquil water body shared between Northern Macedonia and Albania. Locals love telling you how deep the lake is – it’s 288 metres deep, which I concede is pretty deep – but it wasn’t the depth of the lake that impressed me, it was the calmness that welled up inside me whenever I sat and gazed out over its glassy, still waters.

Tsar Samuil's Fortress, Ohrid, Republic of Macedonia

Tsar Samuil’s Fortress. Photo credit: Benjamin White


#9 Highlights of the Balkans

Rock sculpture of Decebalus, Romania 

Like rock-cut architecture? Here’s a unique example that might give you visions of Legolas and Gimli. Guess how many people were at this site in Iron Gates National Park the day I visited? Not a single one.

Rock sculpture of Decebalus, Romania

The rock sculpture of Decebalus, Romania. Photo credit: Benjamin White


#10 Highlights of the Balkans

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Like Roman ruins? Well, you don’t need to visit Italy. Plovdiv holds one of the best preserved Roman theatres in the world. There’s also a Roman stadium, a Roman forum, and many other parts of the Roman city of Philippopolis to explore. Transport info here.

National Revivalist architecture, Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Balabanov House. Photo credit: Benjamin White

 




Worthy contenders:

Gjirokastër, Albania

Gjirokastër, Albania

Photo credit: Benjamin White


Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Martyrs’ Cemetery Kovači. Photo credit: Benjamin White


Magura Cave, Bulgaria

Magura Cave, Bulgaria

Photo credit: Benjamin White


Belgrade, Serbia

Photo credit: Benjamin White


Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

Tsarevets Fortress entrance, Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

The Patriarchal Cathedral of the Holy Ascension of God, atop Tsarevets Hill. Photo credit: Benjamin White


Brașov, Romania

Council Square, Brașov, Romania

Photo credit: Benjamin White


Sofia, Bulgaria

St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia, Bulgaria

St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia, Bulgaria. Photo credit: Benjamin White

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