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Insiders Guide To The Best of Europe – Hottest Destinations For 2014

They’re trashy. Cheesy. Opinionated. Gimmicky. But, enough about travel bloggers, for today I’m joining their gang and adding my own opinionated list article to the pile of pulp. Considering travelling through Europe in 2014? Well, this is made for you. This is the best that Europe has to offer – in my humble opinion. Not one to do things by halves, I spent more than a year “researching” my way through 27 European nations, before writing this piece. And the end result? The first Yomadic Guide To The Best of Europe.

Summarising an entire continent into an arbitrary list resting entirely on one man’s opinion? It’s brazen, to put it mildly. Unlike many other lists you may come across on the bigger travel sites like Nat Geo or Lonely Planet, this one has been deeply considered, and offers an insight into places that aren’t exactly international tourist hotspots. Yet. In formulating this list, I’ve travelled through hundreds of cities and towns, urban areas and countryside, spent thousands of miles on the road (and more than a handful of airports), visiting 28 European countries, just in the last 12 months (and another 5 or 10 in the six months before that).

However, Europe is a constantly evolving place. Cities that were, not so long ago, unknown and forgotten – are now the tourist hotspots of the continent. With more than 750 million people all living within a short flying distance, destinations can transform seemingly overnight once tourists get a sniff of the “hip” new spot. With that in mind, this list is going to help you avoid the crowds, and stay ahead of the throng. Planning a European getaway in 2014? Perfect. Read on.

east gate belgrade

Belgrade, Serbia.

Belgrade, Serbia.

Belgrade, Serbia.

Best City to Visit in Europe, 2014

Winner: Belgrade, Serbia.

A divided city, but not in the way you might expect. Architecturally, the largest city in the Balkans is half filled by leafy streets lined with proud and ornate classical buildings, interspersed with mid-century-modernist towers. This half, the “old” part of Belgrade, has a downtown area capped off with Kalemegdan – a centuries old enormous castle/fortress complex that once was the entirety of Belgrade. Many buildings are preserved, others run down, and a few sit half-destroyed, as a stark reminder to the recent, and yet finalised, tumultuous history. The “white city” is beautiful, honest, and raw. On the other side of the river is “Novi Beograd” – quite simply the largest collection of Brutalist concretes buildings, in the most incredibly socialist-planned neighbourhood anywhere on Earth. Depending on where you are, Belgrade is whatever you want it to be – European, Socialist, quiet, noisy, empty, bustling – all at the same time.

Serbians are warm, hospitable – and dare I say it, an attractive bunch. English is reasonably widely spoken, but the predominant use of Cyrillic text will have you feeling that you really are definitely in a foreign land. Belgrade is a party city, with a bar, club and cafe culture – every day and night of the week. Food is fresh, with a predominance of fresh salads, grilled meats and fantastic deserts – with just enough high-end eateries to keep a foodie happy (as well as the best low-class Chinese food I’ve had anywhere in Europe), Belgrade suits all holiday-makers.

Belgrade is a real city, warts and all. It’s a conundrum – Belgrade is the winner here, but it’s not going to be everyone’s winner. Ironically, that made the decision to award Belgrade the winner, even easier. I’ve returned several times this year, and each time my impression of the city has grown favourably.

Worthy Contenders: 

Skopje, Macedonia : undergoing a transformation unlike any city anywhere on Earth. Is 2014 the beginning, or the end, of Skopje?

Budapest, Hungary : grand European city, rapidly approaching critical-mass of tourism. Bargain prices may not last for much longer. 

 

 

Butrint, Albania.

Butrint, Albania.

Berat, Albania

Berat, Albania

Sunset at Serande, Albania. At first, I thought this was a one-off. But it was like this almost every night for a month.

Serande, Albania.

Albanian Riviera.

Albanian Riviera.

Albanian Riviera.

Serande, Albania.

 

Best Country to Visit in Europe, 2014

Winner: Albania

Although there are other worthy contenders, Albania knocks them all off the perch. The combination of historical sites, beaches, culture, food, and ridiculously good value for money, makes Albania a winner. From the southern beaches of the Albanian Riviera, through to snowy mountains, all dotted with an overwhelming number of castles, as well as UNESCO sites like Berat and Gjirokastër, a unique capital city, and hidden gems like tiny “Tushemisht” – a village that sits on a 3 million year old lake with natural spring water running through the streets and lounge-rooms of the settlement, I have never experienced a country that has so much to offer, with so few tourists. Indeed, summarising all there is to see in Albania is an impossible task.

But why 2014? Albania still retains some rough edges – rough as in lack of infrastructure, and a very undeveloped tourist market. Safety issues, prevalent in the past, are no longer concern. Transportation around the country is not always simple, but has improved. The roads are bumpy, and some areas still suffer with a litter problem. However, the country is changing very rapidly – Albania is not the wild frontier it so recently was. You won’t believe the astounding areas you have all to yourself.

The timeline of Albania’s future tourism boom, remains an unknown. Albanians have been waiting for “changes” for a long time. After a sad history over the last half century, many locals have simply given up and left the nation for greener pastures. When the tourism market gets going in earnest, Albania will change rapidly. In my opinion it’s not a question of “if”, but “when”.

Worthy Contenders: Macedonia/Romania (tie) 

 

kotor montenegro - looking down

Bay of Kotor, Montenegro.

kotor montenegro - old town streets

Kotor, Montenegro.

Pretty girl of Kotor, Montenegro.

Kotor, Montenegro.

 

Best Destination For a Short Getaway in Europe, 2013

Winner : Kotor, Montenegro.

Kotor is quite simply stunning. Few towns anywhere on Earth could match the natural beauty and history of Kotor. With a historic and authentically preserved old town, fortresses, the Northern Hemispheres southern-most Fjord (OK, technically it’s a “Ria”), a great variety of restaurants, bars, day trips, and accommodation, Kotor is unbeatable for a short-term European getaway. Kotor isn’t exactly a secret anymore, but once tourists en-masse finally realise exactly how special Kotor is, it’s game on. For a glimpse of the future – look at Dubrovnik, just a few short hours from Kotor, where tens of thousands of tourists arrive every hour.

Worthy Contender : Ohrid, Macedonia

 

 

Ohrid Macedonia. Beautiful lady.

Ohrid, Macedonia.

Ohrid, Macedonia.

Ohrid, Macedonia.

Lake Ohrid, Macedonia.

Lake Ohrid, Macedonia.

 

Best Small City in Europe, 2014

Winner : Ohrid, Macedonia

An incredibly easy choice. Let’s break it down, because Ohrid’s resume of attractions is stupendous. A mysterious three million year old lake fed by underground spring water. A compact city with a preserved history thousands of years old, including castles, historic churches, and monasteries. Great value accommodation. Developed tourist infrastructure. Range of restaurants, nightclubs, nature walks, lake-front cafes, all in an old town of winding streets paved with cobblestones and stunning Ottoman-era architecture. Friendly laid-back locals, seasonally good weather, swimming, snow-capped mountains, boat rides, roman amphitheaters, and plenty of day-trips.

Indeed, Ohrid is one of the very few places on Earth with two UNESCO listings – for both culture, and natural environment. Need I say more? I’m convinced that Ohrid is one of those rare places that really is for everyone. I liked it so much the first time around, I returned again – with some trepidation, wondering whether my own hype would live up to reality. It did. My travelling companions, who had just visited Lake Como in Italy, said “this is much better than Como”. So there you have it. Ohrid, Macedonia is the most clear winner on this entire list.

Runner Up : Plovdiv, Bulgaria

 

 

Wrapping It Up – Is 2014 The Year of The Balkans?

Paris will always be Paris. London will always be London. But throughout Europe, there are some places that are changing so rapidly, that their future is hard to predict. Who knows – as travel destinations they may get better, they may be worse. If you’re considering a European getaway in 2014, why not hedge your bets, and head further afield?

I’m calling it. 2014, is the year of the Balkans.

To read more about any of these places, check out these links here on Yomadic:

Nate.

PS, whether you’re new to Yomadic today, or one of the many regular readers who have been around for some time, you’re really, really, really, going to want to know about what comes next. Especially if you enjoyed this article. 

Yes, I want to find out a big secret before anyone else does:

PPS, agree, disagree with the above? Let me know your opinion. You know what they say about opinions –  everyone has one. And mine is no more valid or important than yours…

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68 Responses to Insiders Guide To The Best of Europe – Hottest Destinations For 2014

  1. Laurence Zankowski Dec 6, 2013 at 1:31 am #

    Nate,

    This region could turn out to be the new Prague/ Czech destination craze of the mid nineties. I would like to see it, engage with it like you did. Life is full dreams.

    Be well

    Laurence

    • Nate Robert Dec 6, 2013 at 5:01 am #

      Hey Laurence – absolutely. I saw it in Budapest, which IMHO is already the new Prague. Extremely busy with tourists, much more than it was three years ago when I first visited. So, soon a new Prague will have to come along, and different places in the Balkans have all the requirements. It’s like there is a mass European migration of tourists from West to East, North to South – and there is only one area they can end up in – The Balkans.

  2. Megan Dec 6, 2013 at 2:48 am #

    ive been to all of these places. oh no wait, i havent. i really need to make the balkans a priority next year as ive heard nothing but incredible things about the region.

    • Nate Robert Dec 6, 2013 at 4:58 am #

      Have you visited the Balkans Megan? (I can’t remember!)

  3. Megan Dec 6, 2013 at 5:49 am #

    nope. only slovenia but i dont really consider that the balkans. it has historically been an expensive flight from norway but is now becoming cheaper and cheaper to get there since budget airlines have moved into the region. pretty sure 2014 will be the year that i finally make it down there. lets hope, at least ;)

    • Nate Robert Dec 6, 2013 at 6:02 am #

      I really hope so as well Megan! I have a feeling it just might be possible… ;)

    • Agron Dec 16, 2013 at 6:35 pm #

      Hi Megan, I am originally from Prishtina, Kosova but living for more then 20 years in Zurich, Switzerland. I know the whole region, from Slovenia till Greece, I have visited so many places, all important ones. Croatia has very beautiful coast with crystal water and old dalmatian-venetian villages, Montenegro has a very beautiful landscape with small beaches and pretty busy in the summer. Albania, is very different to both countries, it has a very beautiful landscape, the coast with sandy long beaches and a long dry summer. The gan, I am originally from Prishtina, Kosova but living for more then 20 years in Zurich, Switzerland. I know the whole region, from Slovenia till Greece, I have visited so many places, all important ones. Croatia has very beautiful coast with crystal water and old dalmatian-venetian villages, Montenegro has a very beautiful landscape with small beaches and pretty busy in the summer. Albania, is very different to both countries, it has a very beautiful landscape, the coast with sandy long beaches and a long dry summer. The climate in Albania is Mediterranean. The south of Albania, which is also cold: Albanian Riviera, you can bath almost the whole year, last I was there on 29.11.2013 I could bath by water temperature of 20*C…if you need more information, don’t hesitate contact me…climate in Albania is Mediterranean. The south of Albania, which is also cold: Albanian Riviera, you can bath almost the whole year, last I was there on 29.11.2013 I could bath by water temperature of 20*C…if you need more information, don’t hesitate contac

    • Eni Dec 26, 2013 at 2:19 pm #

      You can use ryanair or easyjet to fly to Thessaloniki from Oslo and than get the bus from Thessaloniki to Tirana, it costs around 45 euro round trip and aprox. 5-7 hrs depending on the border, sometimes it gets busy.

  4. Steve Whitty Dec 7, 2013 at 7:02 am #

    I would have to agree with you about Belgrade. I enjoyed my time there. The Balkans are ready for exploring.

    • Nate Robert Dec 7, 2013 at 11:51 am #

      Yes! There’s a few of us Steve – I chat to a few people that share my opinion on Belgrade. I met a well travelled lady here in Tbilisi, and she said her favourite cities in the world (apart from her home – Tbilisi) were “Belgrade, and New York”. The future for Belgrade, and the Balkans, is IMHO very very bright.

      • Drazen Dec 14, 2013 at 11:16 pm #

        Small note -

        In socialist times, Belgrade, and whole of old Yugoslavia was considered the far West for most countries that have recently joined EU or are in the process. If only it weren’t for the politics and nationalism in 90′s, your review would have been one in the sea of such.

        The lady from Tbilisi, I could bet, probably even studied in Belgrade or vicinity, as Yugoslavia had amazing programs for students from East and Africa. (The Non-Aligned Movement).

        One could write books about Balkans, but my 3 top things about Balkans are:
        1) People and the cities (just don’t ask the folks about politics :D )
        2) FOOD!!! (go to any smaller city or village and ask for Prsut, Kobasica and any domestic alcohol).
        3) Nature. Just so much of it…And most of it completely intact.

    • Jane Jan 10, 2014 at 4:33 am #

      I am from Indonesia and I have visited more than 60 countries in my life but nothing compares to Belgrade. That is the only city that I returned 5 times in a raw and every time was different. I cannot describe the vibe the city has… absolutely amazing.

      In the Balkans, loved the Danube Delta in Romania. Cheers!

      • Nate Robert Jan 10, 2014 at 6:46 am #

        Absolutely agree Jane. I can’t stay away from Belgrade (back here now!). Funny… the Danube Delta is *very* high on my list as well!

  5. Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) Dec 11, 2013 at 12:36 am #

    Really interesting post, Nate. I’ve been reading a lot of great stuff about Serbia lately and about Belgrade in particular, so whenever we make it Europe we’ll certainly make time to explore it.

    The thing that I actually found most fascinating, however, was your view on how Eastern Europe is changing so quickly. Whenever we think about leaving Asia and finally checking out Europe, we always stop and say that Europe just isn’t changing at the rate and in the same way that Asia is… but of course we’re always thinking about Western Europe and the UK when we make statements like that. Your post was a good reminder for me that when we do actually switch continents, it would probably be worth our while (and our travel budget would likely thank us for it too) to start in the east and dig in there for a while before moving west.

    • Nate Robert Jan 9, 2014 at 11:30 am #

      Hey Steph (apologies for the slow reply).

      It’s an interesting comment you make – the rate of change in Europe vs Asia. And you’re right on the money – it’s an Eastern European thing. I recently visited Budapest (which is kind of inbetween Western and Eastern Europe). After just three years, the changes were really obvious. Former ghetto’s now had Irish Bar’s and McDonalds. Old communist-era public transport replaced with modern electric trams and light rail. HUGE amounts of tourists. The list goes on.

      I’m back in Belgrade right now, and it has occurred to me that this city is undergoing the same changes as Budapest – I’m certain that in three years from now, the changes will be really obvious. So I can 100% recommend, when you get to Europe – start in the East, and the South East. To me, it’s the best that Europe has to offer.

  6. Puzzle Group Dec 11, 2013 at 6:07 am #

    Just come, you will enjoy this place :D

  7. HI Youth Club Ferks Dec 14, 2013 at 10:04 am #

    You are welcome from all the continents in Belgrade and Serbia.

  8. Drazen Dec 14, 2013 at 11:08 pm #

    Heh, your review left me with series of pleasant goosebumps during the entire read.

    I have to add small tips to this review of yours. In Serbia, there’s another city, Novi Sad. It’s called the Athens of Serbia.
    Been there but a few times, but the city is just amazing. I personally much prefer it to Belgrade, but that’s just personal preference, as I’ve got lots of friends there. And if you are a guy, the people say, and I actually agree, the most beautiful women in Balkans are from Novi Sad.

    Seeing that you also mentioned Bay of Kotor, which is practically where I am from, I can only suggest that you make sure to make a full trip around surrounding areas. Climb to the Mausoleum of Njegos, just on Lovcen mountain directly above Kotor, would take you about 1-2 hours (beware – there are many steps :D ), once you climb there, you will be left speechless and breathless (both from the view and the climb). In old Montenegrin capital there’s lot of history, Montenegrins are usually called the Spartans of the Slavs,(or Serbs, but due to politics, you are not allowed to call Montenegrins Serbs -.-). The turbulent history filled with clashes with all the great empires in last 1000+ years has left a huge cultural mark and signature on the area.

    Also, do not forget, if you are into outdoors kind of tourism, Montenegro’s north is a place to go. Durmitor national park is probably one of the most pristine nature reserves in Europe. Check “wild balkans” documentary by BBC, and you will get those same goosebumps I got earlier tonight.

    P.S. Visiting Ostrog monastery is a must. It is probably the most revered spot in the tiny country.
    P.S.2 Mentioning Skopje, Macedonia. I have just recently been there, and the city is actually much more live than Belgrade.
    Has quite better climate, and Macedonians are even nicer people than those in Belgrade, which are also an amazing bunch.
    Definitely 2014 should be it’s year!

    • Gjergj Balsha/Djuradj Balsic Jan 3, 2014 at 5:34 am #

      “Montenegrins are usually called the Spartans of the Slavs”

      That’s because they have that Albanian warrior blood in them ;) but anyways, let’s not get into the politics…

      • rentinalbania.com Feb 25, 2014 at 5:27 pm #

        For the sake of history it is very well known that many Albanian tribes were gradually assimilated into the new Montenegrin nation.
        Tribes of Vasojevic, Kuci etc were originally catholic and eventually changed religion I to Orthodox and gradually adopted Slavic language.
        Nevertheless, Albanians get along very well with Montenegrins nowadays.

    • Nate Robert Jan 9, 2014 at 11:33 am #

      Hey Drazen – glad you enjoyed the article. I’m actually back in Belgrade right now, and I’m looking forward to checking out Novi Sad this time! Also, I spent a lot of time in Skopje during 2013, and it’s really one of my favourites as well. It’s much smaller than Belgrade, but no less interesting. I’d be happy to live in either place for an extended time!

  9. Stefan Dec 15, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

    Nate,

    luck as I am I have been to Montenegro and Albania this and last year. I totally agree with your choice here, Montenegro is nothing but beautiful and Albania is easily one of the best holidays we’ve ever had.

    Cheers,
    Stefan.

    • albaniapropertygroup Feb 25, 2014 at 5:22 pm #

      It is so true.
      many Westerners visiting Albania more often are being surprised by the beauty of this original country which has so much to offer to the holiday makers and travelers.

      Welcome to Albania, land of Eagles :)

  10. Stephen Dec 16, 2013 at 10:47 am #

    Awesome list. Very heavy on the Balkans… I can see where your heart is. You really have got some inspiring photos and words about these place…really makes me want to visit. It’s a region I’d like to devote some time to in the next couple years.

    • Nate Robert Jan 9, 2014 at 11:35 am #

      Hi Stephen.. it’s funny, I never expected to enjoy the Balkans as much as I have. I first came here early in 2012, just due to visa issues in Western Europe. Now, here we are in 2014, and I’m typing this reply from where else… Belgrade!

  11. Leone Portugal Dec 16, 2013 at 6:24 pm #

    All these cities in the past were populated with Albanians except Belgrade.
    You will find a new way of thinking about Albanians there.
    You will feel that all belongs to one nations, one culture one direction from the past.
    I was wondering why I was there then I realize that history is unfair.
    From my visit there I am fascinated with Albanian origin and their past and I am reading at Google books everyday for them.

    Very exciting places to visit, also don’t forget to travel in Dubrovnik, Croatia (historically Albanian old tribes lives there (Napoleon Bonaparte, 1800 -1810 called Dubrovnik : Provinca di Illyria) ), Prizren in Kosovo, Skopje (real name : Shkupi) Macedonia (Alexander the Great was from ancient Macedonia), Ksamil (near Saranda) in Abania, Thessaloniki (original name : Selaniku in albanian) Greece etc.
    Have a great journey!

    • Boki Dec 19, 2013 at 10:34 pm #

      WTF? where do you get your history facts, all baklans popullated by Albanians… No need to post nationalistic lies here.

    • Mr.No Feb 28, 2014 at 9:21 pm #

      As you can see everyone here is posting great things about cities and countries in Balkans, Serbia, Croatia, Albania, Hungary even Montenegro (being incredibly small). No one is going into politics, and stating fake history and most certainly not making up facts and writing bull**** like your post is. So please, everyone, just keep it real and write comments about these places if you have visited them or know something about them, enjoy reading other posts, and of course planing your visits to these magnificent places :)

  12. Ricardo Dec 19, 2013 at 6:16 pm #

    I traveled the Balkans from Slovenia to Albania by car for six month until I fell in love with the country that seemed one of the last white spots of the map of Europe. I have been around Albania for two years now , spending as the first foreigner a winter in the cut-off mountain village Theth and visiting countless places that give you the feeling you would be the first visitor there ever.

    Putting my experiences and friendships at work I launched a tour operator business. We’re running active holidays in Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro and see a steep increase in interest as Albania and Montenegro have been nominated during the last years by several influencers as top to visit destinations. Kosovo is struggling a lot with its bad reputation though it boosts cultural (orthodox monasteries and Ottoman architecture) as well as natural beauties (Accursed Mountains, Sharr Range).

    Kotor unfortunately already suffers from those cruise ships that ruined Dubrovnik for me, turning honest balcony hospitality into greed for money and driving prices up so that locals can’t afford them anymore. Visiting Croatia’s coast I encounter more often flashing dollar signs in the eyes of people instead of warm smiles on their faces.
    Reason why I’m quiet happy that still many places in Albania don’t have asphalt roads, a natural protection against coach buses and other touristic nightmares – with the words of UNWTO secretary general: “Adventure [sustainable] tourism is what tourism should be today and definitely what tourism will be tomorrow”. Hope we can make the difference.

    • Nate Robert Jan 9, 2014 at 11:38 am #

      Hey Ricardo – I completely understand – Albania is hard to escape, it is simply so incredible.

  13. B_2 Dec 19, 2013 at 7:08 pm #

    Leon, it’s impressive the fact that you understood “it” for the Albanian history. Here you can find one collection from google books for this subject: https://www.facebook.com/notes/besir-bajrami/all-in-one/249209335121598
    Regards.

  14. Niko Dec 25, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

    Excellent guide, Nate!

    Thank you

    SimplyAlb

  15. Gentos Dec 25, 2013 at 6:46 pm #

    I love Albania! Big LIKE from Switzerland!

  16. Always welcomed to discover “the fantastic Albania” Here we are plased in the south part of the country, city Called Saranda, a small touw whith fantastic and lovely comunity,
    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.410632492377423.1073741835.396028260504513&type=3

  17. Don Dec 26, 2013 at 7:50 am #

    Hello. My name is Don and i came from Zagreb. I was this year in Albania and i had a wonderful summer with my family. I totally agree with you guys, Albania is and allways will be one of the best Balkan countries which has a fantastic nature. I recommend you all to visit this country because you won’t be dissapointed. Also before i get there i had heard that in Albania are lots of thiefs, thing that wasn’t true. We had no problem and the people were so friendly with us. Also i learnt one interesting thing, Albania is a country which is sorounded by Albanian speakers. Goodbye and have a nice day :) .

  18. Andreas Jan 7, 2014 at 7:34 am #

    Impressive and surprising choices.
    As a European who hasn’t seen anything of the Balcans (shame!) I really should give the region a try.
    Heard good things about Belgrade from as others as well.

    If I may add some other places in Europe to consider for 2014:

    - Malta (during low season)
    - La Palma (Canarias) for hiking
    - Trentino (Italy) for hiking, food and wine
    - Lithuania
    - The city of Wroclaw (Poland)
    - Exploring Germany by bus (it’s cheap and wasn’t existing before 2012)

  19. Gemma Jan 9, 2014 at 5:02 pm #

    Totally agree with Albania, though we visited in 2011 and I hope it hasn’t changed too much even since then. It has so much to offer. We weren’t too fond of Montenegro, I’m still not really sure why. I think I was mainly surprised how busy and built up it seemed around Budva – completely put us off.

  20. Sofija Jan 9, 2014 at 9:54 pm #

    Nate, beautifully written and amazing photographs !

    I’m a bit biased, coming from Belgrade, but it’s a beautiful city, even more when you’ve grown up getting to know the little corners and read the declarations of love and jokes on the walls of the buildings .
    For anyone coming : eat in local restaurants, bakeries are always a great choice for breakfasts, meet as many people, wander around and just have a lot of fun, ask anyone for directions if you get lost, even if people don’t speak English, gesticulation and mimic always work. Best come in May/June for just wandering about, or July/August for parties (exams end beginning of July, clubs are empty until then usually)

    Same for Kotor more or less, it gets really really crowdy June-August and it gets worse every year, there were more Russian tourists than locals last year, but you can spend a day or an afternoon in Kotor and find a remote beach when you want to go for a swim.

    Ohrid is beautiful and peaceful, if you need a proper relaxing holiday, it’s a place to go.

    I have sadly never been to Albania, due to the issues in politics that have arisen in the past couple of years, but hopefully, everything will calm down soon. It looks amazing from the photographs and I hear people are very nice.

    I hope this helps someone, if not, sorry for the spam :) ћао

    • Nate Robert Jan 10, 2014 at 6:50 am #

      Thank you for the compliment Sofija, and thanks for all the advice. One thing I would comment on – I’m a little worried about Kotor, that perhaps it will turn into another Dubrovnik – with ten’s of thousands of tourists every single day. Perhaps 2014 is the last chance to see Kotor with out excessive crowds ruining the experience? It’s an incredibly beautiful place, and the secret is well and truly getting out…

      I also understand the Serbian/Albanian thing… and I hope that you do get to visit soon, it’s truly worth it (and I think you will find that people are just people, and will be happy to see Serbians visiting Albania).

  21. Frannie Jan 12, 2014 at 10:18 am #

    Loved this article!

    I originally heard about the Balkans from my Serbian friend when he studied at my university in the US on an educational grant for 1 yr. He spoke about all the places he’d been and it sounded great, so when I studied abroad in Germany the next year, I made sure to hop on a low-cost German Wings flight and meet him up in Belgrade. Great people, great food, great city! November, 2009

    Fast forward 2 yrs–Got an invite from my friend & his girlfriend to extend my business trip & visit them in their new home–Sarajevo! I loved everything about my visit to Sarajevo, despite the deep snow & falling icicles from the streets. While it’s a small city, I loved walking around everywhere and stopping at cafe’s to have a turkish coffee or smoke shisa. We were able to go skiing at the Olympic mountain, Jahorina. February, 2012

    Most recently, I headed back to Belgrade for my friend’s wedding. I have recently relocated to Dubai in the UAE, and was able to take a direct flight with Fly Dubai for under $300. Ethiad recently bought out JAT airways so flights may be even cheaper via Abu Dhabi (they often have BOGO deals). As mentioned, the best thing about Belgrade are the people & food–so imagine what a wedding reception would be like?!?!?! This was one of the best weddings I have ever been to…Rakia was flowing! Stayed at a great furnished apartment in New Belgrade. August, 2013

    Looking forward to planning the next trip to the Balkans in summer 2014, so I’ll try and check out some of the other cities you’ve listed!

  22. Emilia Jan 12, 2014 at 2:24 pm #

    Lovely! All my favorite places….Albania, Skopje, Kotor, Ohrid. I’ve been visiting Albania since 1994, and I’m always drawn back. Now living in Belgrade, but Skopje really stole my heart. Thank you for all your great guides.

  23. Irina Jan 13, 2014 at 1:41 am #

    Thank you Nate, your article is very impressive. My husband and I live in Albania and we can say though we travel constantly as we run a travel company, there is still much left to see in this beautiful country – the nature, the historical sites, the local people who are more than happy to meet foreigners and help them even if they do not speak the same language…Here is our page in fb just in case if someone can be interested in our daily posts about the life and holidays in Albania – https://www.facebook.com/travel4you.albania
    You are welcome for any questions!

  24. frank Jan 14, 2014 at 1:00 pm #

    I think Albania is my first desire.Wonderful place with wonderful people.The cheapest holiday in all over Europe till now.Everything change with passing time.

  25. Giulia Jan 15, 2014 at 6:05 am #

    I love travelling, especially in Balkans. I lived 2 years in Slovenia and now I’m coming back into Balkans as often as possible, visiting all former yugoslavia countries, people are lovely and very welcoming, natural landscapes are amazing and food is so good! enjoy balkans!!! here some Balkan review from my travel blog: http://blocal-beatravellernotatourist.blogspot.it/search/label/Balkans

    • Nate Robert Jan 15, 2014 at 10:48 am #

      Hey Giulia…I agree with everything you have said. It’s hard to stay away from the Balkans for too long!

  26. Vanja Jan 28, 2014 at 10:56 pm #

    Great post!
    These are all amazing places. I had an out-of-this-world enchanting wedding in Kotor. So glad to see it on your list… and Belgrade? Definitely an amazing destination!

  27. Raffaella Feb 14, 2014 at 12:30 pm #

    It’s always fascinating to see who the “up and comers” are from year to year. You’re right – Paris, London, Rome, etc. will likely remain hot spots no matter how pricey they get. There’s so much to cover in Europe I can’t imagine picking a few. I have indeed noticed the burgeoning popularity of Macedonia and Montenegro in particular, and now they’ve been added to my ever growing wish-map! Oh, and apparently Albania too. :-)

    • Nate Robert Feb 17, 2014 at 7:23 am #

      Hey Raffaella… yes, they’re really getting popular! I predict big things in the coming years, now the “secret” is getting out.

  28. Sophie Feb 19, 2014 at 8:12 pm #

    Hi Nate

    I’m glad I found you! This is a wonderful list and much food for thought.
    do you know what it is like to catch trains through the Balkans? I’d like to visit many of the places you list un July with the kids but I like to do it by train. Is that crazy? Or we might just head to Albania….

    • Nate Robert Feb 20, 2014 at 12:09 am #

      Hi Sophie – there are many trains throughout the Balkans – but in general, buses are easier/quicker. So no, I don’t think it’s crazy at all. Albania could be a little difficult, but if you have time, and can put up with the odd delay – I think it would be a great place to take a family!

    • Ricardo @Zbulo! Discover Albania Feb 20, 2014 at 2:22 am #

      Hi Sophie, I agree, train trips can be awesome. The route between Belgrade and Bar (Serbia to Montenegro) is awesome and a real delight. Albania has very slow and battered trains, they can be still a nice alternative when the roads are clogged during the summer holidays. Albanians are very family friendly and the kids curious to make friends with visitors. Enjoy!

  29. Roy Marvelous Feb 25, 2014 at 7:20 pm #

    Good list. I was going to also say that Budapest is already too touristy for my tastes.

    • Nate Robert Feb 26, 2014 at 10:40 pm #

      Thanks Roy. I would add, the good thing about Budapest is that it’s easy to escape the touristy areas. The tourists are all reasonably concentrated – but, go for a 15 minute walk in a different direction, and it’s a whole other city, and no less interesting in these lesser-travelled areas. Despite my hatred of over-touristed locations, I remain a huge fan of Budapest and hope to return again soon.

  30. Terry Holmes Feb 25, 2014 at 9:38 pm #

    I am student artist and would like permission to draw one of your images. I am practicing the Five Pencil Method by Darrel Tank. The image I am interested in is in Kotor on this page above, labeled Kotor, Montenegro. My drawing and a link to this page would be included on the 5PM web site as I develop my drawing. The finished drawing would not be sold but would be framed and displayed in my home. I would also send you a digital file of my drawing when I finish. Please let me know if I have permission to proceed. Thank you very much. Your images are simply wonderful.

    If this is not doable, thank you for the opportunity to see the world through your camera.

    Terrence (Terry) Holmes

  31. Danka Feb 28, 2014 at 10:39 am #

    Hi Nate,

    just came across this page while researching possibilities of traveling to some villages near Aosta, IT this summer. I’m coming from Belgrade, and living in Germany. I’m more than delighted about your choice&description of destinations for 2014, especially regarding Belgrade and Bay of Kotor. I fully agree with your observations and can only encourage and invite everybody to Belgrade – an amazing, 24 hours-pulsing city and a real Balkan metropolis. Walk along Danube in Zemun, go for a fish soup in small restaurants on the banks of Danube&Sava, visit the Adventure park on Ada Ciganlija, make a photo on the Saint Sava Temple plateau at the sunset and go for the night clubs on rafts lined at Sava river bank in New Belgrade. Then, go for a good pljeskavica in the Old Town well after midnight, and there is a good chance to meet some frends there while queuing for it outside “Loki” grill, for example…All the guests are warmly welcome!!!! Also, Bay of Kotor is really amazing – be sure to visit Perast too, with its splendid Marine museum and to avoid July and August down there.
    Unfortunately I have never been to Albania, and I’m not sure if it would be safe to do so yet, considering the fact that I’m Serbian. But I’m sure that this country with an unspoiled beauty has to offer a lot for those who are not going for “all-inclusive” resort tourism.
    And Nate, if you are still in Belgrade now – lucky you, and enjoy!!!!
    Best regards, Danka

  32. Danka Feb 28, 2014 at 10:41 am #

    Hi Nate,

    just came across this page while researching possibilities of traveling to some villages near Aosta, IT this summer. I’m coming from Belgrade, and living in Germany. I’m more than delighted about your choice&description of destinations for 2014, especially regarding Belgrade and Bay of Kotor. I fully agree with your observations and can only encourage and invite everybody to Belgrade – an amazing, 24 hours-pulsing city and a real Balkan metropolis. Walk along Danube in Zemun, go for a fish soup in small restaurants on the banks of Danube&Sava, visit the Adventure park on Ada Ciganlija, make a photo on the Saint Sava Temple plateau at the sunset and go for the night clubs on rafts lined at Sava river bank in New Belgrade. Then, go for a good pljeskavica in the Old Town well after midnight, and there is a good chance to meet some frends there while queuing for it outside “Loki” grill, for example…All the guests are warmly welcome!!!! Also, Bay of Kotor is really amazing – be sure to visit Perast too, with its splendid Marine museum and to avoid July and August down there.
    Macedonians are great bunch of people, with an amazing sense for music. Beautiful traditional songs, great cultural heritage and big hearth!
    Unfortunately I have never been to Albania, and I’m not sure if it would be safe to do so yet, considering the fact that I’m Serbian. But I’m sure that this country with an unspoiled beauty has to offer a lot for those who are not going for “all-inclusive” resort tourism.
    And Nate, if you are still in Belgrade now – lucky you, and enjoy!!!!
    Best regards, Danka

  33. Ashlee Mar 30, 2014 at 11:08 am #

    I’m so surprised only one other person has mentioned Sarajevo so far. I travelled through some of the Balkans last year (didn’t make it to Albania unfortunately but would like to), and Sarajevo was definitely my favourite, but the Bay of Kotor was stunning! It seems people are cottoning on and making day trips from Dubrovnik, but that is good and bad because its filled with day trippers and cruise passengers by day, thankfully you can have a lot of it to yourself at night, which is good, but a shame for those people who don’t bother to stay longer.

    As for Belgrade my feelings were mixed whilst visiting, but I’m not opposed to visiting again to see if my mind can be changed :-)

  34. bony Apr 2, 2014 at 6:11 am #

    I think holidays in Albania are very special.Wonderful places and wonderful seaside.Many historic places and friendly people.i want to back again there.

  35. Jason Apr 3, 2014 at 5:55 pm #

    Thanks for sharing, you provided some great locales! I really liked how these aren’t the typically chosen European tourist destinations. Really enjoying your articles, keep up the great work!

  36. Simon Jun 17, 2014 at 10:05 am #

    We went over to Kotor about a week ago, was having high expectations but was quite dissapointed :(
    After seeing Trogir, Split and Dubrovnik it was just more of the same, it was 34 degrees Celcius and no wind at all, lots of tourists and restaurant tents obstructing the views.
    I can imagine it would be nice in like May or September when its a bit cooler and the tourist crowds are gone, but it just didnt do it for me (Having a tired 3 year old that just wanted to find a playground or go back to the ocean didnt make it much better ^^)

    But from Kotor we headed up to the Durmitor National Park which was just my cup of tea, loved it so much there :) And from there the long but exciting and beautiful drive to Sarajevo which was another city that stole my heart :)

    • Nate Robert Jun 17, 2014 at 12:23 pm #

      Hey Simon… that’s a shame! I can imagine the hike to the top, with a 3 year old, on a hot day, would have been quite a killer. I’ve never seen restaurant tents obstructing the views before (visited three times), so that must be new. Heading up again in a few days, so it will be interesting! Even just a few weeks ago, at night, there was barely another tourist around… sounds like the Kotor secret might be getting out!

  37. Ricardo @Zbulo! Discover Albania Jun 17, 2014 at 12:33 pm #

    Cruise ships dock there, spitting out hundreds of visitors, on top come countless coaches that pass through every day, doesn’t sound like a place anywhere close to being a secret ;)

    • Nate Robert Jun 18, 2014 at 6:47 am #

      For most of the world… it’s a secret …until it becomes another Dubrovnik, that is ;)

  38. SarahB Sep 13, 2014 at 3:55 pm #

    Great info re the Balkans. Having recently relocated to Central Bulgaria after 15 years of living in Hong Kong, I very much welcome the heads up on where, in this new corner of the world, is worth a visit. I saw some of what I thought were the most breathtakingly beautiful places in SE Asia but it certainly seems the Balkans have their own fair share.

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