The Balkans are an often overlooked corner of Europe. Although not as wealthy as Scandinavia or as iconic as Western Europe, the area is a treasure trove of history, culture and beauty. Here are six amazing, yet mostly undiscovered, European cities in the Balkans.
Sarajevo is an elegant city with a dark history. From 1992-1996 the city was besieged by the Serbian Armed Forces, utterly cut off from the world. Walking through the city today this legacy remains visible in the bullet pocked sidewalks, fields of tombstones and collapsed buildings. Even so, the city today still retains the noble and brave attitude that helped citizens to survive the war.
Recent history aside, Sarajevo has many layers for visitors to uncover. The city traces its roots back to the OttomanEmpire and this is reflected in the many mosques, the Turkish architecture and the cobbled streets of the Old Town. The Latin Bridge near downtown played a central role in early twentieth century history: Franz Ferdinand was assassinated here, sparkingWorld War One.
Dubrovnik is known as the Pearl of the Adriatic and, despite the hordes of tourists and cruise ships, it more than lives up to its reputation. Once a powerful city-state, much of Dubrovnik's Old Town was built during the middle ages. The white stone walls and orange capped buildings jutting into the sparkling sea make for amazing postcard-perfect views wherever you look.
The best way to experience Dubrovnik is to simply wander the complicated warren of streets, tiny shops and restaurants thatmake up the walled city. The two-kilometer city walls make for a beautiful walk as well.
Macedonia's capital city has a diverse history, playing a pivotal part in the Byzantine, Ottoman and Roman empires. Unfortunately much of the city was decimated by an earthquake in 1963. Upon being rebuilt Skopje is one of the most modern and exciting cities in the region. Under the Skopje 2014 Project, statues, fountains and museums are being erected all over the city.
The main symbol of Skopje is a massive monument to Alexander the Great in Macedonia Square.
The hot and gritty capital of Serbia is home to 1.5 million people, making it one of the biggest cities in the entire region. Once the capital of Yugoslavia, the city is still smarting from the NATO bombings of the late twentieth century, and it's common to see the ruins of bombed out office buildings even in the center of town. Even so, the city has bounced back as one of the most energetic nightlife capitals of Europe.
The perfect symbol of Belgrade is Kalemegdan Fortress in the city center. Thismajor fortification stood for nearly two centuries, despite over forty invasions. Now the fortress has been converted into a public park.
After being reduced to rubble during the Bosnian War, Mostar has bounced back beautifully and somehow managed to retain its old world charm. The city is the most ethnically diverse in the country — home to Bozniacs, Croats, Serbs and Yugoslavs alike.
Thecity is most famous for the enormous Ottoman style central bridge that spans the icy Neretva River. The bridge was blown up in the 90's, but has been lovingly rebuilt as a symbol of the city's strength and unity. The Old Town borders both sides of theriver, and is a jumble of beautiful mosques and medieval buildings.
While not as famous as Bulgaria's capital, Sofia, Plovdiv is unique in its own right. With over 6,000 years of history, it claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe. It was originally settled during the Neolithic Period, around 4000 AD. Since then it has been a pivotal city in the Greek, Roman and Ottoman Empires.
Today visitors to Plovdiv can visit more than 200 archeological sites from many different periods of history. The Roman city has been particularly well preserved, includinga stadium and amphitheater.
Which one of these cities tops your travel bucket list?