Balkan holidays map & highlights

Overland small group trips are a fantastic way to discover this region. Transport is typically by private vehicles which can take you to lesser-visited towns, although there are spectacular train journeys such as the sleeper from Budapest to Belgrade, too. These holidays offer myriad Balkan combinations, from undeveloped Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia, to more of a grand tour taking in Croatia, Slovenia and Montenegro, where Dubrovnik, Lake Bled and Lake Skadar are respective highlights. With added gems such as Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Pelister National Park in North Macedonia and other great capital cities such as Pristina, Tirana and Skopje. It’s one beautiful Balkan map.

1. Albania

Albania is a forgotten part of Europe, It is tantalisingly close to home, yet a whole world away in terms of culture, history and landscapes. Slowly, it is making its return to the tourism scene, and we reckon it won’t remain forgotten for long. Albania offers magnificent mountains, beautiful Ottoman towns, Greek and Roman ruins and gorgeous Mediterranean beaches – all with a fraction of the visitors of its Balkan neighbours.
Bosnia & Herzegovina

2. Bosnia & Herzegovina

BiH for short is one of the Balkans’ hidden wonders. Tragically known for years of civil conflict and huge loss of life, we like to celebrate its relatively new found peace by using the correct name: Princedom of Bosnia. Majestic it is too, with the Dinaric Alps, lakes and waterfalls, Rakitnica Canyon, Ottoman architecture and ancient capital of Sarajevo. The train journey from Sarajevo to Mostar is a treat.

3. Croatia

Already celebrated for its array of archipelagos, Croatia also boasts eight national parks. Balkans holidays nearly always include Dubrovnik, its Adriatic ‘pearl’ and walled city, or the less well known ancient marvel of Split. If you are approaching from Slovenia, Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula is all things beautiful and baroque. It’s also popular as part of tri-destination cycling holidays, with Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina part of the pannier.

4. Kosovo

Europe’s newest country, Kosovo is not only open for tourists but also totally open hearted. Its cities are culturally cool, such as capital Pristina, which boasts mosques, churches and other sites dating back to the 15th century. Prizren has Roman, medieval and Ottoman architecture. Don’t miss Decani Monastery at the foot of the Prokletije Mountains, where monks gave refuge to all ethnicities during the war years.
North Macedonia

5. North Macedonia

North Macedonia is often included in an Albania-Kosovo package, or on a tour from Dubrovnik to Athens. You will want to come back for more but, for starters, try Mavrovo National Park, home to the country’s three highest peaks, Lake Ohrid, with its waterside churches, and the magnificent Matka Canyon. This karst limestone valley is just 17km from the capital Skopje, which features just about every ancient influence you can imagine.

6. Montenegro

Montenegro boasts a triumvirate of leading highlights, its mountains, lakes and coast all hiding secrets and surprises. Coming from the north, Durmitor National Park and Tara Canyon are musts. The centre has the historic capital of Cetinje, while Lake Skadar and the Prokletije Mountains, bordering Albania, dominate the south. Cycling holidays combining Montenegro with Croatia are greedy in their gorgeousness.

7. Slovenia

The northern starting point for many Balkan holidays, Slovenia’s lovely capital of Ljubljana is a ‘pretty’ hard act to follow. Lake Bled is another favourite stop, with its romantic fairytale church on an islet, medieval castle clinging to a rocky cliff and Julian Alps backdrop. If you are looking for a dream photography holiday, look no further, especially with Croatia, the next stop south, thrown into the mix.
Sofia, Bulgaria

8. Sofia, Bulgaria

Some Balkan overland trips include Sofia on their itineraries, as the sandwich city visit between Belgrade in Serbia and Skopje in North Macedonia. A very cosmopolitan city, with cafés and boutiques along Vitosha Boulevard as well as sacred marvels like Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and other Byzantine churches. Enjoy a mineral bath or the Natural History Museum, both in the shadow of the great Mount Vitosha.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Balkans or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Why book a multi-country Balkans holiday?

Whether small group tours or tailor made trips, our Balkans holidays usually take in at least three countries – and sometimes more. There’s a clear financial benefit to doing so. As they’re packed together like a bunch of grapes in Eastern Europe, it’s easy to cross borders between them, and means you only need to book one set of flights.

But the main reason that we recommend multi-country Balkans tours is that this is the best way to appreciate their varied histories, cultures, cities, cuisines and landscapes. The region’s convoluted history has affected each country in a different way: Croatia is highly developed for tourism, for instance, whereas in countries such as Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, things are a lot quieter.

Chris Ellis, product manager at our holiday partner Explore, recommends seeing the Balkans by rail: “From a low-carbon perspective, travelling by train is clearly beneficial. But it’s definitely better experientially too. Seeing seven countries in 16 days gives you such a wide range of history, culture, religions and scenery. For example, North Macedonia is known for its history with its Roman ruins, whereas with Croatia a lot of the attraction is in the landscapes. With just one country in isolation, you’re only getting one perspective. With a multi-country tour, you get a more rounded understanding.”

Suggested multi-country Balkans routes

Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina & Montenegro

A round-trip overland route from Dubrovnik takes in wine regions, places of worship, mountain passes and traditional villages off the regular tourist map. As well as visiting key cities such as Dubrovnik, Sarajevo and Mostar, it allows you to try optional activities such as cycling and canyoning, and escape the more crowded coastal hotspots.

Balkans by rail

Skipping between the cities of seven countries including Albania, Croatia, Serbia and North Macedonia in just over two weeks, a rail tour of the Balkans is as romantic as it is convenient. As part of a small group, you’ll be accompanied by a tour leader throughout, so you’ll have no issues making your connections. And besides the historical appeal – from the Sarajevo tunnel museum to a Roman amphitheatre in North Macedonia – this kind of trip is exceptional for foodies, as it seeks out traditional restaurants all the way.

Balkans by bike

A two-week cycling tour through Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia offers a mix of climbs and flat terrain easily achievable for regular cyclists. You’ll explore fast-developing cities such as Tirana, remote hilltop villages where small group trips such as this provide a useful income for local businesses, and some dramatically beautiful views including the majestic Bay of Kotor.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Boudewijn Boer] [Albania: Lenar Musin] [Bosnia & Herzegovina: Datingscout] [Croatia: Mike Swigunski] [Kosovo: Besart Ademi] [North Macedonia: Shalev Cohen] [Montenegro: Shant Dem] [Slovenia: Neven Krcmarek] [Sofia, Bulgaria: Valeri Terziyski] [Suggested multi-country Balkans routes: Ilse]