The Balkan region of Eastern Europe is a place blessed with beautiful architecture, a long and fascinating history, friendly people and wonderful food. A trip through these countries is not only affordable when compared to other parts of Europe; it's exhilarating and eye-opening as well. One of the most common activities on your Balkan adventure will be walking around old towns. Here are 5 of our favourite cities in the region.
This friendly little town is surrounded by some of the area's best wineries and most beautiful countryside. Take the time to head out on a wine tour to get a better understanding of the viticulture in Bulgaria.
Once you've eaten and drunk around the surrounding vineyards, you can wander the old town of Plovdiv and get lost in a maze of alleyways aptly named “The Trap.” If you don't want to get trapped here, consider joining the free walking tour to get your bearings in the neighbourhood.
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One of the best parts about travelling to Plovdiv is getting to know the people. Plovdivians have invented their own word for how chilled out they are: “ailak.” Once you've spent a day or two here, the laid-back vibe will probably rub off on you and you'll be feeling ailak as well.
Some main sights to check out in Plovdiv include the longest pedestrian street in Europe, Alexander Bottomburg Street, the Roman amphitheater and the Roman Coliseum in the center of town. There are plenty of buildings of historical significance in Plovdiv, so you won't get bored exploring.
The old town of Ohrid is a fantastic sight to behold. Pair it with the breathtaking Lake Ohrid that shimmers at its doorstep, and you have one of Europe's most scenic destinations.
Jason Rogers, flickr.com/photos/restlessglobetrotter CC by 2.0
You really can't get bored easily in Ohrid - there's always something going on. Walk the wooden boardwalk that hugs a cliffside overlooking the water. Follow the path after the walkway ends and you'll end up in the beautiful St. Joven Church that has amazing panoramic views over the lake and the surrounding mountains.
You can also hike up to Samoil's Fortress for even better views. Hire a car and drive around the lake to check out some great day trips including Sveti Naum and The Bay of Bones. Tuck into any lakeside eatery to enjoy delicious Macedonian cuisine like Burek and Musaka.
Bosnia & Herzegovina
Michał Huniewicz, flickr.com/photos/m1key-me, CC by 2.0
Bosnia & Herzegovina's capital has one of the most attractive, pedestrian-friendly old towns in all of the Balkans. There are a number of excellent restaurants and great day trips to embark on from town, including the Tunnel Museum.
Travelling around Bosnia, and especially Sarajevo, you may notice that many buildings are riddled with bullets and shell craters. The Tunnel Museum will give you a good idea of what happened during the siege on Sarajevo in the nineties.
Jennifer Boyer, flickr.com/photos/jenniferboyer, CC by 2.0
Walking through the tunnels, seeing the staged rooms and soaking in the photos is a truly visceral experience.
Another, more pleasant day-trip can take you to one of the Balkans top cities (that didn't make this list): Mostar. There's a charming old town and a famous bridge where the city fought off the Serbian invaders in 1992.
The second largest city in Croatia buzzes with a wonderfully metropolitan vibe, and yet the uneven marble stone streets and shiny white columns of the neoclassical old town seem as though they are trapped in time.
Neil Thompson, flickr.com/photos/williamsdb CC by-sa 2.0
Split has it all. A beautiful seaside locale, a nearby park, many beaches and Diocletian's Palace - one of the best examples of roman architecture anywhere in the world.
You can spend a day, a week, a month or a lifetime in Split. It has that kind of draw on people. We recommend visiting in the Spring or Fall as the winters can be pretty cold and quiet, while the summers can be too crowded.
There's nowhere in the world quite like Dubrovnik. Step through an 11th century entrance way into the fortified city and find yourself in a Castle fairytale. It's no wonder why HBO decided to film Game of Thrones here. The old town of Dubrovnik screams King's Landing.
Eric Hossinger, flickr.com/photos/hozinja, CC by 2.0
It's not just beautiful churches, countless archways and jaw-dropping architecture that make Dubrovnik so unique. There are plenty of nearby beaches, a beautiful harbor, a large park outside of the city walls and numerous cafes, bars, bistros and restaurants.
Make sure you leave time in your itinerary to walk the walls. It takes 1 to 2 hours to complete and costs $20, but it's worth every penny. Also, if you're a fan of the HBO fantasy series, make sure you take the Game of Thrones tour. We went with Tom from ToursByLocals.com and it was amazing! Tom pointed out all of the major scenes that were shot in the captivating city of Dubrovnik.
There Are More... Many More.
Eric Hossinger, flickr.com/photos/hozinja, CC by 2.0
The Balkan countries of Eastern Europe are perhaps some of the most underrated travel destinations in the world. They are incredibly affordable and very easy to travel around. Transport is efficient and there are lots of great hotels. If you want to step back in time and explore fascinating history, look no further than the Balkans.
Nick Wharton is one half of the couple behind Goats On The Road, and the bi-weekly travel column on CreditWalk. Their website is designed to show others how to turn their travels into a lifestyle. Masters at making money online and on the road, they've been travelling since 2008 and have explored some of the least visited places on earth, finding adventure wherever they go.
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