If you’re like us, you don’t have large blocks of time reserved for world travel—which can make planning a trip to a gorgeous region like the Balkans difficult because there are so many beautiful spots to choose from. On this particular trip, we decided to explore Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Montenegro—and we had one of the best adventures of all our travels together.
Here’s how we spent a week exploring 4 Balkan countries without feeling like we rushed the trip or overextended ourselves.
3 Nights in Dubrovnik
Croatia offers stunning views along the coast of the Adriatic Sea, and Dubrovnik is one of the easiest and most popular spots to visit. Because of this, the town suffers from overcrowding, particularly when the cruise ships arrive. So we recommend staying a bit outside of the old town but close enough to walk into the walled city and explore the main attractions when they’re less crowded.
Figuring out where to stay will depend on how comfortable you are with climbing lots of steps. We stayed at a simple but comfortable Airbnb with amazing sunset views—which we earned by climbing many stairs! For a flatter experience, check out the Hotel Excelsior. Full disclosure: We didn’t love our meal there, but the views of the water and old town are outstanding and the hotel is quite elegant. It’s also close to Banje Beach Restaurant and Night Club—a fun spot for lounging in the day and partying at night.
From Hotel Excelsior, you can easily wander into the gorgeous walled old town, which looks like a movie set (and obviously was a filming location for Game of Thrones). Our favorite place to hang out was the Gradska Kavana Arsenal, which is a huge place designed to hold a lot of tourists, but the food and wine were surprisingly great, as was the service and the view overlooking the port. We love seeing the three arches of this place every time Dubrovnik is featured on television. You can also dine on the town side of the restaurant, which is great for people watching while the many tourists wander by.
We highly recommend giving Lokanda Peskarija a try—where we had a delicious meal with prawns and muscles.
While in Dubrovnik, you must take a walk along the wall and absorb the devastating and tumultuous history of such a lovely city.
Day Trip to Kotor
One or two full days in Dubrovnik is probably enough for most visitors to get a good feel for the old town. Even if you have only two full days, we still highly recommend spending one on a day trip to Kotor, Montenegro. You can easily drive, take a bus, or join a group tour. We hired a private guide to take us on the round trip journey, which made it more relaxing and enjoyable on such a quick trip.
We stopped in a few towns along the way and had a wonderful lunch before heading back to Dubrovnik for dinner and drinks.
2 Nights in Sarajevo
This is a region where you really want to explore the countryside. So we hired a local guide to drive us from Dubrovnik and make a few stops in Bosnia and Herzegovina along the way to Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo.
Bosnia was absolutely our favorite place to explore, especially the picturesque city of Mostar.
Sarajevo is beautiful and easy to walk around. We also made some great friends who took us out on the town on our second night in Sarajevo. We had a blast!
While in Sarajevo, you should take the gondola up to the abandoned bobsled tracks from the 1984 Olympics.
2 nights in Belgrade
For our last two nights in the Balkans, we decided to check out Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, which is located on the enormous confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers.
We stayed in one of the cutest and most comfortable Airbnbs ever, which was in walking distance to the fortress.
We spent our one full day in Belgrade walking around the fortress, parks and waterfront. We also checked out the Nikola Tesla Museum—which was interesting but strangely propaganda-y (is that a word?)
For great dinning options in Belgrade, go to the promenade, which also offers high-end shopping on a long pedestrian street.
Bonus: Add a few nights in Amsterdam
Flights from the U.S. to the Balkans can be expensive if you don’t find a deal. At the time we traveled, a flight from Washington, D.C. to Dubrovnik with a layover cost $1200 per person for economy seats. So, we added two nights to our trip and flew to Amsterdam for $600 on United, then hopped on EasyJet for $50 to Dubrovnik. We then flew back to Amsterdam from Belgrade for $150 each to catch our connection home. So we saved $800 on airfare for a couple (which we promptly used to explore Amsterdam instead). If we didn’t have the time to spend in Amsterdam or just wanted to pocket that savings, we easily could have made a same day connection at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport to Dubrovnik.
Have you explored the Balkans? What’s your favorite spot? What travel tips do you have for exploring the region? Let us know in the comments.