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If you’re doing a Balkan trip, you might be passing through Kosovo. Often, Pristina, Kosovo is a transfer point for Balkan buses, but Kosovo is much more than Pristina.
If you only visit Pristina, you’ll miss out on the many other things to do in Kosovo. Kosovo tourism is still developing, so expect friendly locals, cheap hotels, and a lot of beautiful places. Keep reading for a Kosovo itinerary with the best places to visit in Kosovo.
This is a travel guide to Kosovo for independent travelers. Although many people take tours in Kosovo, they are not necessary as Kosovo is safe with a robust bus system, friendly locals, and low crime. It is not a war zone.
However, there are regions (Mitrovicë) more prone to ethnic tensions that may not be advised for visitors (check travel advisories beforehand). I consider it one of the best countries to visit on a budget. Let’s just get this of the way now saying that Kosovo is a country is political.
Table of Contents
- Introduction to Kosovo
- Where is Kosovo?
- A brief history of Kosovo
- Kosovo travel basics
- Which currency is used in Kosovo?
- Is Kosovo safe? Yes
- Visa to Kosovo
- Why Visit Kosovo?
- Quick summary of things to do in Kosovo
- Pristina. Best things to do in Pristina & Day Trips from Pristina
- Peja. Best things to do in Peja & Day Trips from Peja.
- Gjakova. Best things to do in Peja & Day Trips from Gjakova.
- Prizren. Best things to do in Prizren & Day Trips from Prizren.
Where is Kosovo?
Kosovo is nestled in the Balkans. It’s in between Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, and Macedonia. It’s okay if your geography isn’t great, however Kosovo has a great bus network to/from other countries, which makes both Prizren and Pristina great transfer points for buses in the Balkans.
Many people only visit Prizren or Pristina en route to other places; however, this tiny country has incredibly friendly locals who speak good English, gorgeous architecture, great transportation, a unique blend of cultures, and natural beauty.
Kosovo’s History: A Quick Explanation WHY it matters
That said, Kosovo has had many difficulties becoming recognized by different institutions (including the United Nations) as a result of Serbia’s contention that Kosovo is part of Serbia. As a result, Kosovo citizens have some of the worst passports in the world, marginally better than the passport of South Sudan and North Korea.
Kosovo is getting recognized by more countries, but Kosovo is not universally recognized as an independent country (hence why you might read that Kosovo is a disputed territory). Simply, writing that Kosovo is a country is inherently political.
However, I call Kosovo a country and I am lucky to call Lavdi, a born and raised Kosovo citizen who has struggled to travel with a Kosovo passport, a friend.
(Edit: I’ve now visited Serbia and I understand this post may be very difficult for many Serbians, but I’ve met Serbians who have visited Kosovo recently. They commented that they did not feel that people were hostile in any manner and if anything, many Albanians that they met wanted to practice Serbian with them as it had been many years since they had spoken with them. However, others preferred to speak in English.)
Kosovo Travel Basics
- The currency that is used is the Euro.
- The predominant language and ethnic group is Albanian. Serbians and Serbian speakers are the biggest minority group. There are other ethnic groups as well.
- Albanians and Serbians are culturally and religiously distinct.
- Cities often have two names: An Albanian name and a Serbian name.
- Kosovo has a robust bus system although you need to double-check the schedule one day before you leave (or just hop on the next bus). You typically pay on the bus.
- Hitchhiking is easy (and fairly normal). Buses in Kosovo run regularly between major cities, but schedules are less regular for smaller cities/natural parks.
Visiting Kosovo and Serbia on one trip
Why visit Kosovo?
Kosovo is one of those countries that make you want to travel more and it’s also one of the best countries for Americans to visit. People in Kosovo are very kind to travelers, sometimes to the point that you wonder what you’ve done to deserve the kindness that others show to you.
If you’re American, it’s due to America’s role in advocating Kosovo’s independence. If you’re from anywhere else, it’s simply because you’re a tourist and Kosovo is developing itself as a European destination for tourism.
Simply: You will feel welcome here.
People from Kosovo are often happy that you’re visiting their country as a tourist and out of ALL the countries in the world, you’d decide to spend your money visiting their country. Be expected to answer the question on why you’ve decided to visit Kosovo.
It might seem strange, but given Kosovo’s issues being recognized as a country, you will feel like a beloved guest everywhere you go.
Expect random acts of kindness: free desserts, strangers thanking you for coming to Kosovo, free rides to faraway towns, and strangers offering to help you.
As someone who has traveled many places, I have never experienced a country like Kosovo–and it’s really become a special place to me.
Kosovo is a place that can seem like a backpacker’s paradise as it’s inexpensive, but do not mistake its low costs for a lack of interesting things to do. It just means that Kosovo tourism will be booming in a few years once people realize how much is possible within this tiny country.
Quick summary of the best things to do in Kosovo
- Visit Kosovo’s gems: Prizren, Peja, Gjakova, and Pristina
- Visit Kosovo’s beautiful mosques!
- Visit Kosovo’s UNESCO protected medieval monasteries.
- Explore Kosovo’s beautiful markets
- Go hiking in Kosovo’s mountains!
- Experience the ridiculously warm hospitality of Kosovo citizens.
- Experience Kosovo’s historic cities and its new cities’ fascinating architecture
How many days to spend in Pristina? One day in Pristina is probably enough, but maybe two days if you’ll be using it as a transit hub.
This modern capital of Kosovo hosts some of the most fascinating architecture and quirky statues that I’ve seen in a long time. Pristina isn’t the most beautiful city, but it’s full of things to do.
Admittedly, if you only visit Pristina, you might be wondering where all the beautiful places in Kosovo are, but I encourage you to continue reading as Pristina is lovely and modern, but it’s not beautiful in a historic way as the other cities in Kosovo.
One of the best things to do in Pristina includes the National Library of Kosovo, which reminds me of the Hunger Games. I was just fascinated by the architecture! It’s surrounded by the University of Pristina.
If you’re a fan of the Clintons [or not], say hi to Bill Clinton’s statue in Pristina and stop into Hillary I or Hillary II. A fan of Hillary Clinton created a line of women’s business clothes inspired by her wardrobe.
Of course, you’ll find the infamous pant suits, but you’ll also find other suitable business clothes. Gender equality remains a significant issue in Kosovo with many women not part of the labor force. As a result, I found this quirky store inspired by Hillary Clinton interesting.
If you’re into shopping, I recommend saving some euros to shop in Pristina in stores that aren’t necessarily inspired by Hillary Clinton. Overall, Pristina felt even more fashionable than Amsterdam.
I ended up splurging on a fashionable jacket (30 euros) that I still use regularly. I routinely felt horribly underdressed when we were in Pristina as I went in my backpacker chic combination of hiking sneakers with jeans, and a hiking jacket.
Some other things to do in Pristina include visiting the NEWBORN sign built to celebrate Kosovo’s independence, visiting the free Ethnographic Museum about Albanian traditions, and visiting some of Pristina’s ornate mosques.
Where to eat in Pristina
Pristina has some really cool and modern places to hang out in that make you feel like you’re anywhere in Europe. If you’re looking for a more chill alternative place, eat at the cafe/restaurant Dit’ e Nat’ or hang out at Soma Bookstation, a bookstore/cafe/restaurant in Pristina. We had a formal and delicious meal at Pishat for those looking for a good restaurant in Pristina.
Where to stay in Pristina
How to get from Pristina Airport into City
Day Trip from Pristina
Gračanica Monastery is a Serbian Orthodox monastery only about 20 minutes from Pristina that has been recognized by UNESCO. They are in the process of preserving the frescos and renovating the beautiful church in accordance with UNESCO requirements.
Peja was a city in Kosovo that surprised us in a good way. Everything I read focused on Prizren and Pristina, but Peja felt very cosmopolitan yet accessible.
We spent our evenings trekking along Esad Mekuli street stepping into the various cafes for a drinks and macarons. We had a tasteful dinner in a beautiful environment at Art Design.
The Bazaar of Peja was also non-touristy and fascinating for travelers interested in learning more about Kosovo’s cultural traditions. I spent a while admiring the extravagant and traditional gowns outside the many dress shops.
I was standing outside of one of the shops admiring a beautiful gold and white dress when the shopkeeper invited me in. She showed me her technique of hand-sewing each of the dresses with gold thread, which was incredible to see. These elaborate gowns are created for brides as well as recently married women.
However, the other beautiful gowns are for married women attending a traditional Albanian wedding. Next to the Bazaar, you’ll find Peja’s historic mosque. Women will need to dress modestly to enter the mosque and it’s possible to pick up a hijab at one of the nearby shops in the market.
At night, we spent our evening cafe hopping along the main cafe street although I fell in love with Green Cafe for their delicious drinks and their live Albanian music.
Albanian folk music varies depending on the region, however we heard something that resembled Tallava [one of the styles of Albanian music you’ll hear] the most. I found Albanian music to be upbeat and energetic. (It will make you want to dance!)
Finding live Albanian music can take some work, but it’s worth checking ahead online which cafes will have live music.
Day Trips from Peja
The Patriarchy of Peja (Serbian: Patriarchy of Peć) is a must if you visit Peja. This UNESCO Serbian monastery dates back to the 13th century.
This Eastern Orthodox church is actually a series of three churches that were connected together at a later point in time to form one church, however it is absolutely magnificent in terms of its interior.
It is an easy day trip, even on foot from Peja. You’ll need to carry your passport with you and possibly have to give it to the police outside of the monastery.
The setting itself is very calm, however there have been some attempts to burn down this historic building, which has resulted in the police verifying the identities of everyone who enters the property.
From the Patriarchy of Peja, you can see the beauty of the Rugova mountains with its dazzling streams and views, even if you don’t have much time in Peja.
If you’re into hiking, you will want to spend at least 2 days hiking in the Rugova canyon and the surrounding Accursed Mountains.
It’s even possible to do a climbing course / via ferrata Ari for an epic view of the canyon. Similarly, there’s just a lot of hiking in the Rugova canyon and a lot of beautiful waterfalls.
Without a car, this area is harder difficult to access, however hitchhiking down the main road is possible (according to others) with a lot of patience for waiting… (We were not successful.)
There are some other stunning areas along the road between Peja and the Montenegro border, however you’ll need to plan where you want to go accordingly as there are specific entry points to various “famous” areas in the National Park, including Gjeravica (the second tallest mountain in Kosovo).
We did not give ourselves enough time to do proper hiking in the Accursed Mountains in Kosovo, but there’s also some mountaineering possible for those interested in more intense outdoor activities in Kosovo.
One of the prettiest waterfalls in Kosovo is White Drin Waterfall (Ujëvara e Drinit të Bardhë). This beautiful waterfall (and one of the largest waterfalls in Kosovo) is about 20 minutes from Peja by car, but it is easy to spend most of a day here. It’s possible by mini-bus (which doesn’t run often) or hitch-hiking towards Fierze [plus walking].
We struggled to find this waterfall until we realize that you had to pass directly through one of Peja’s best restaurants, Ujvara e Drinit, which has situated itself directly before the waterfall. The food at this restaurant is exceedingly fresh with massive portions and you’ll want to have the smoked trout if you eat here.
The White Drin Waterfall is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Peja–and certainty one that you’ll not want to miss. The surrounding water has a beautiful color and it’s especially beautiful in autumn.
After walking near the top of the waterfall, you can follow a sign to the newly opened Radac Caves (Shpella e Radacit). These beautiful caves, known as the Sleeping Beauty caves, are home to hundreds of bats. It’s possible to explore the public areas with a reservation.
It is also possible to go caving in the underground canyon (which is still being explored and mapped out). However, you must make a reservation at least 2 days beforehand to allow them to get the equipment.
Cave spelunking (with a private guide who speaks quite good English) costs about 20 euros. (Click for more information about caving in Kosovo).
The Decani Monastery is another Serbian UNESCO protected monument in Kosovo. The monastery dates back to the 1300s and is one of the most well protected monuments as a result of the various arson attempts to destroy it.
The Decani Monastery has some of the best preserved frescoes of the Serbian Orthodox monasteries in Kosovo, so it is worth a visit.
You will need to give your passport to the NATO troops (who protect the building) at the checkpoint prior to entry. It’s a possible day trip from Peja although it’s probably best to stop off in Decani en route from Peja to Gjakova.
This market town has a really interesting laid back vibe. If you’re traveling from Peja to Prizren, it’s likely that you’ll transfer (or at least pass through) Gjakova by bus.
Gjakovë is famous for the oldest bazaar in Kosovo [Grand Bazaar] (although it’s partially rebuilt now). There’s something so charming about the beautiful wood lined stalls with artisans showing off their crafts and the many cozy cafes to sip coffee in as night falls. (It’s pronounced like Jack-o-va.)
If you’re not entirely sold on Kosovo, you need to spend even one hour strolling the romantic and wide Çarshia e Madhe to soak in the culture and architecture.
Unfortunately, the main street of the Grand Bazaar in Gjakova was partially destroyed in World War I, World War II, and during the Kosovo War, however the residents have come back following a mass exodus of the population during the war.
Gjakova has many artisans that specialize in horse-related crafts if you’re looking for a unique gift to bring home with you although there’s no shortage of shops in this historic Balkan trading town.
Most important of all is the Hadum Mosque, which dates back to the 1500s. This beautiful and ornate mosque is built in a classic Islamic-Kosovar style, but its ornate paintings all over amazed me.
We had visited several mosques by this point, but the ornate decorations lining the dome certainly amazed me.
The most famous mosque of Gjakove is typically open day time to tourists, so however it’s good to say hi to the friendly imam who welcomes anyone into his mosque.
Non-muslim women aren’t required to wear a hijab although appropriate dress is still important , but it’s considerate to cover your hair when entering a mosque. Part of the mosque, including the historic library, was destroyed during the war, but they are slowly restoring the building to its pre-war beauty.
It is also possible to visit some of the preserved homes of traditional homes, including the home of Abdullah Pashë Dreni. He was an Albanian tribal leader and a member of the Ottoman army, however his home boasts traditional Kosovo style architecture and artifacts. (We spotted a cute kitty there too!)
If you’re considering staying in Gjakova, you’ll find a few guesthouses. As there aren’t that many options, I recommend booking in advance.
Day Trip from Gjakova
Prizren is one of the most beautiful cities in Kosovo and the second that you arrive, you’ll understand why anyone who visits only Pristina is missing out on one of Kosovo’s most beautiful places.
Prizren is a historic city in the southern part of Kosovo. Those passing through Kosovo from Macedonia are likely to travel through Prizren, which makes it an important transfer point for Balkan buses.
Prizren itself was mostly untouched by the Kosovo war, however the areas around Prizren suffered. However, Prizren is considered to be one of Kosovo’s most diverse cities in terms of ethnicities, which makes Prizren a nice introduction to Kosovo in terms of food/culture/history/nature.
You’ll also find many historic ruins around the city for history lovers. Note: There are easy bus connections to Skopje from Prizren and Pristina from Prizren.
Any visitor to Prizren cannot miss Prizren fortress (Kaljaja) for an free and epic view over the city. It’s best to visit close to sunset. The Kaljaja dates back to medieval times and was built by the Byzantines with some later renovations from the Ottomans. I found it fascinating to wander around its spacious grounds and to sit on the edge enjoying the best view of Prizren.
On your way up to the fortress, you may pass the entrance to the Church of the Holy Savior, a Serbian Orthodox church viewable from the fortress which dates back to the 1300s.
It was set on fire in 2004 and as a result, it may not be open for visitors when you visit Prizren. There is a gate and a security guard, however if the security guard is not there, you cannot enter the church property.
One another must-see in Prizren (and Kosovo) is the historic and iconic Stone Bridge (Ura e Gurit) of Prizren.
This bridge was originally built back to the 1500s, however heavy floods in the 1970s destroyed it. The locals rebuilt it with love and it serves as the major pedestrian bridge in Prizren.
Those interested in Kosovo’s cultural heritage will want to visit the Sinan Pasha Mosque. It is an Ottoman-style mosque dating back to the 1600s, however this large mosque is also said to be built with parts of a nearby Serbian monastery that fell into disrepair. Some of its paintings have faded due to water damage.
Most locals and tourists hang out in the main part of the city at night, which has a lively bar/cafe culture around the square surrounding Sheshi i Shadervanit. We were also lucky enough to spot a wild hedgehog, which made its way into the city centre (somehow).
Thanks to the recommendation of our hosts at Driza’s House, we ended up visiting a small local traditional restaurant (with amazing food) at the top of the stairs above the movie theatre DokuKino with live traditional Albanian music (and dancing) on the night that we were there.
Most cafes in Prizren typically play modern Albanian music and some standard European music, so we enjoyed this cafe.
We stayed at Driza’s House, which is a small hostel with a lot of character. It’s run by a young Albanian couple, one of whom grew up in the very house that you’re staying in. It’s ridiculously clean and social. If you’re looking for a memorable experience, stay here. We found the owners so helpful in terms of figuring out logistics for Kosovo.
Weekend trips from Prizren & Day trips from Prizren
Prevalla is one of the easiest day trips from Prizren up into the mountains from Prizren, possible with a day trip from Prizren.
If it’s a weekday, you can catch a minibus early in the morning (be sure to ask the last time) as students come down from Prevalla to Prizren. The bus does not run on Sundays, however it is possible to get out here by taxi/hitch-hiking.
Once you get into the main town, you’ll want to follow the road out of the town towards these GPS coordinates (42°09’53.9″N 20°58’23.4″E). You’ll find a beautiful mountain stream leading up to the top of Prevalle’s Rock.
There is not a formal path, so you may need to hop over the mountain stream. There is a delicious Turkish restaurant for after your hike. It’s very quiet out here, but there may be some couples/families hiking alongside you on the weekends.
Sharr Mountains National Park (Parku Kombëtar “Malet e Sharrit”). This beautiful mountain range, only 30 minutes from Prizren, is absolutely beautiful. It’s fairly untouched and you’ll see why people from Prizren are so proud of the hiking near Prizren.
It doesn’t take too much effort to get out here although 20 euros should be enough for a taxi although it’s also possible to take a cheap minibus (not on Sundays) in the direction of Prevalla. Hitchhiking to the park is possible, but most people will tell you that you’re crazy. 😉
You can hike near Kosovo’s newly appointed highest point, Rudoka, which sits along the Macedonia/Kosovo border. It turns out that it was assumed that the summit point of this tall shared mountain actually is in Kosovo, which makes it taller than Djeravica.
Brezovice. I really wanted to visit Kosovo’s famous ski resort; however, it can be difficult to access. We were there in mid-October and we were told it was only accessible via snowmobile at this point.
The NYTimes recently visited this semi-abandoned ski resort and there are significant plans to renovate it into a fully functional, renewed ski resort. Plan on adding a few extra days (and some extra euros) to your trip if you want to ski in Kosovo.
I heard from a few people that the hiking in Brezovice is quite beautiful (and epic), but it’s most accessible in summer. (More details about skiing in Kosovohere.)
Brod. This remote town is the ultimate traveler’s challenge to get to (and you’ll get some serious bragging rights if you make it out here). It’s not possible without some spare days (or a car).
First, you must get to Dragash, which is about one hour from Prizren. (Easy huh?). From Dragash, you might be able to hitchhike, otherwise you will need to walk.
The road isn’t great out to Brod and we heard that it’s hard to access in late fall/winter/early spring, so it’s good to ask locals in Prizren before you go.
There are supposed to be seven peaks accessible on foot from Brod and you can even rent your own horse once you arrive (along with accommodations).