Kosovo may not find its way onto many a travel bucket-list but Europe’s newest nation is not without its charms and ten years on from its declaration of independence, a few more travellers are passing by this mostly overlooked corner of the Balkans. Its continued status as a disputed territory and war-torn reputation puts many off but while Serbia still fiercely claims the territory as their own, in reality Kosovo today is as safe to visit as any other European country. On this page you will find five cool things about travel in Kosovo!
Things to do in Kosovo & why you should go!
1. Ancient towns and medieval fortresses
Kosovo is steeped in history and its historical significance is one of the reasons why its status today is so widely disputed. Serbia sees it as part of its cultural heartland and Kosovo’s second largest city Prizren was the capital of Serbia in the Middle Ages with its imposing fortress still boasting an amazing view over one of the most picturesque cities in the Balkans. Like many of Kosovo’s most notable sights, it’s free to visit and is open 24-7 while the town itself has a very well preserved Ottoman quarter.
The Novo Brdo Fortress just outside the capital Pristina is another that dates back to the 13th Century and was a significant site during the fall of the Serbian Empire and the Great Turkish War. Meanwhile the town of Peja in the North-West of the country, not far from the Albanian, Montenegrin and Serbian borders is another real cultural crossroads with a pleasant riverside setting and a wealth of Ottoman and Serbian Orthodox heritage.
2. Religious diversity and harmony
From the top of the Kaljaja (Prizren Fortress), you can see literally dozens of minarets and Islam is the majority religion in Kosovo although it’s a very liberal brand and one of the most notable features of both Kosovo and Albania is just how strong inter-faith relations are. Prizren is a good example with its multitude of mosques but also an Orthodox cathedral and many churches including the Church of Our Lady of Ljeviš, one of many UNESCO world heritage sites in Kosovo.
Another is the Monastery of Gračanica just outside the capital. The religious diversity is best summed up in Ferizaj where the Serbian Orthodox Church of Saint Emperor Uroš sits literally next door to the Derviş-Paşa Mosque. While there are plenty of places in Kosovo where tensions between Serbs and Albanians remain high, it’s refreshing to see such genuine examples of religious harmony.
3. People speak great English in Kosovo and there is a genuine warmth towards foreigners
Travel in Kosovo is made a great deal easier by the fact so many people speak an excellent level of English and often German too. With the continent’s youngest population, most of whom have grown up studying foreign languages almost out of necessity due to the difficulties finding work in Kosovo itself, it’s easier to communicate with people in Kosovo than in just about any other part of the Balkans.
That makes life a lot simpler and helps you get a better grip on the history and culture of the region. Not only that, people are genuinely curious about foreigners and will often go out of their way to help them. The lack of tourists and visitors is a big reason for that while hospitality is also a big deal in Kosovan culture.
If you’re American or perhaps even British these days and are sick of visiting countries where you’re judged negatively because of your nationality, then come to Kosovo! People are very friendly towards Western European and particularly American visitors due to the support of NATO during the Kosovo War and the role those countries have played in supporting Kosovo’s independence from Serbia. From Bill Clinton Boulevard to children named Tonibler in ode to the former British Prime Minister, Kosovo is proof that not all Western interventions in predominantly Muslim lands turned out badly.
Read more: Backpacking Route for the Balkans (Includes the best of Kosovo, Croatia, Albania, Serbia & Montenegro)
4. Getting around Kosovo is cheap and easy
Car ownership in Kosovo is low at around 150 vehicles per 1000 people compared to more than 600 in Canada, USA or Australia for example. While there is a limited train network, the result is most people uses buses to get around the country and they are both cheap and regular on any of the main routes. The trip from Prizren to Pristina for example has 38 services per day and costs as little as €4. No journey in Kosovo should cost more than €10 and you can even get to neighbouring capitals such as Skopje and Podgorica for less than that.
Inside the cities, clearly it’s even cheaper to get from A to B and in truth all the of the major towns are small enough to explore on foot. Therefore by European standards Kosovo is an extremely budget-friendly destination to get around.
5. Discovering hidden talents
Kosovo is a small, poor country, still picking up the pieces from a devastating war at the turn of the century and still fighting for international recognition (only 111 of the 193 UN member states formally recognise its independence). However despite its limitations, Kosovo tends to punch above its weight in many fields and there are countless examples of Kosovan talents from musical stars such as Rita Ora and Dua Lipa to the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka on the football pitch.
More traditional forms such as Albanian folk music and epic poetry are also still alive and finding the odd cultural gem on your travels through Kosovo is one of the charms of visiting a country that is perhaps best defined by untapped potential and promise.
This article was published in June 2018.