11 Days in the Balkans Itinerary

Before I travel somewhere I love reading blog posts by people who’ve just been there, so I thought I’d share my trip report and some tips from my recent trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Montenegro.

Trip summary: On this short 11-day trip, my husband and I flew from Raleigh, North Carolina to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina via Newark, New Jersey and Geneva, Switzerland. We used miles for this trip so each flight only cost us taxes.

We rented a car for 9 days for about US $250. It’s possible to use public transportation to get to the places we visited but having car made everything easier and gave us a lot of flexibility.

We started our trip in Mostar, drove to Dubrovnik for a couple days, spent day driving around Montenegro, and finished our trip with a few days in Sarajevo. It was just the right amount of ground to cover in the time we had.

Of course you can buy raclette in a Swiss airport!

If you need raclette while traveling, the Geneva airport has you covered.

Mostar

Picking up our rental car at the low-key Sarajevo airport was a breeze, and after a beautiful 2-hour drive we arrived in Mostar.

We stayed right in Mostar’s old town, and so it was an easy 3-minute stroll to the famous old bridge (that was recently rebuilt after the original old bridge was destroyed during the war). On our first night we ate dinner on a patio overlooking the river and had a gorgeous view of the bridge at sunset. Beautiful way to end our long day of travel!

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Dinner1

In my sleep-deprived state that first night I not only turned off the light in our hotel room, I also turned off the hot water, which I discovered the next morning when my shower water options were cold and…colder.

Oops.

Fortunately, it only took 30 minutes for the water to heat up. Unfortunately, that was just enough time for both of us to fall asleep after breakfast. We didn’t get an early start on our first day but we were well rested!

We spent our first full day wandering around Mostar…after coffee…

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And tea. I love Turkish tea.

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We saw the major sights…and then just poked our heads into various shops and wandered around the older and newer parts of town.

We really enjoyed the War Photo Exhibit that documented the daily life of Mostar residents during the war (near the bridge above the diver’s club). Seeing the parks that were turned into cemeteries and buildings that have still yet to be rebuilt put things into perspective.

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The old and the new.

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We ended the day at the river’s edge as the sun went down, just gazing at the old bridge. Heavenly. Mostar was a lovely place to start our trip.

Where we stayed: Motel Emen

Great little B&B right in the old town. Very clean, friendly staff, and they even had a parking space reserved for us. Each morning for breakfast they gave us coffee/tea, an omelet, and bread with various kinds of butter, jam, and spreads. The only downsides were the 3-minute showers (because there wasn’t much hot water, even after I turned it back on), and the very loud party that was celebrated in the restaurant across the street until the wee hours of the morning…but neither of these things bothered us too much. We’d stay here again.

Tips:

1. For a different view of the old bridge, walk down to the little park area at the river’s edge (photo above).

2. If you don’t see a crowd of people at the bridge, you won’t see a diver jump into the water below. They don’t jump until they’ve collected a certain amount of money. So wait until there’s a crowd or be ready to donate a larger sum of cash!

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik really grew on me. Sure, it’s 90% tourists but I actually felt myself relaxing as we wandered the streets of old town, drank wine in a cliff-side bar at sunset, ate our meals outside, and swam in the Adriatic.

In early May it was comfortably hot but not yet crowded with cruise ship day-trippers. We had blue sky 90% of the time we were there. Overall, it was a great place to relax and celebrate Aaron’s birthday.

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Definitely walk the old city wall – just look at the views!

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Dubrovnik is all stairs. Walking the 100+ steps up to our AirBnB apartment = more gelato.

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This guy joined us for lunch on the Lokrum island cliffs. He was beautiful but obnoxious.

Where we stayed: AirBnB apartment in the old town.

We loved Ljubica’s apartment! Near the old city wall, our apartment was clean, quiet, cozy, and had fantastic city views from the upstairs window. I’d stay here again in a heartbeat.

Tips:

  • Walk the old city wall. It takes about 2 hours and you’ll take 1,000 pictures because the views seem to get better every 10 feet. We walked it on our first day and it gave us a nice overview of the old town.
  • Eat at Lady PiPi. Our AirBnB host recommended this restaurant and we’re so glad he did! Not only do you get a nice view of the city, you can watch them grill your food on their outdoor grill. Everything we ate – mussles, chicken, salad, homemade french fries – was delicious. It’s worth the effort to climb the stairs to eat here!
  • If you’ve got the time and are looking for a mellow day of easy hiking, sunbathing or swimming (especially if you don’t have enough time to visit other islands), take the 15-minute ferry to Lokrum island. Even in early May the water was warm enough to swim.

 

Montenegro

Montenegro is an easy day trip from Dubrovnik, especially if you have a car. We drove to Kotor and then toured a little of the interior. Kotor was a cute town but full of cruise ship tour groups. It’s probably better at night when all of the cruise ship/Dubrovnik day-trippers are gone, so it might be worth overnighting here if you’re traveling through Montenegro. That said, we spent a few very pleasant hours wandering the old town, walking some of the wall, and having coffee in a quiet cafe.

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Kotor from the old city wall…gorgeous!

Then we drove a 1-lane road up a huge mountain. Our guidebook described the route as “white knuckle” driving and that it was! More than once we had to stop and back up so a car – or bus – could pass.

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Kotor from half way up the mountain…

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Kotor from the top of the 25th switchback. These photos don’t do justice to how beautiful the area was (and how terrifyingly high up the mountain we were).

After admiring the view we drove to Podgorica and then circled back to Dubrovnik. I definitely want to explore more of Montenegro.

Where we stayed: We just took a day trip from Dubrovnik, so we didn’t overnight anywhere.

Tips: Just go! If you visit Dubrovnik and have access to a car, it’s easy to drive to Kotor and the surrounding area for the day (less than 2 hours from Dubrovnik to Kotor). If you don’t have a car, you can join a day tour or even hire a guide and driver. Because we were there in early May, crossing the border was quick and easy both ways. If you’re there during the high summer season, get to the border as early as possible to avoid spending all morning in line.

Sarajevo

Our final two days were spent in Sarajevo. The first day we explored the city as it is in 2015. The second day we joined a 3-hour tour that gave us the historical perspective. Our tour guide, who was my age, shared his stories of living through the siege.

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Sarajevo from a hill near our hotel.

 

A street in the old Ottoman part of town.

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Shopping street in the Habsburg part of town.

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Beautiful path along the river in the – as our guide called it – Yugoslavian part of town.

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The road to Sarajevo. Gorgeous!

Where we stayed: Ada Hotel

I highly recommend this hotel. Everyone was super friendly and helpful, it’s ideally located near the old town and public transportation, and they even have parking. Each morning we got a HUGE breakfast with eggs, cheese, meat, fruit, veggies, rolls, yogurt, pastries, cake, juice, coffee, and tea. We didn’t get hungry again until late afternoon! It was a wonderful place to stay.

Tips: Hire a guide. I rarely sign up for guided tours so I didn’t think about getting a guide in Sarajevo until another couple at the hotel mentioned the fabulous day they had with their guide, who showed them around the city and gave them an insider’s perspective. Some guides will show you around the city and some will drive you to more far-flung locations. Definitely something to consider.

After our 11 days in Balkans my husband flew home and I headed off (by train) to Zagreb, Lublanja, Munich, and Prague.

Note: If you book an AirBnB through the links in this blog post you’ll get $25 off your next rental (and so will I!).

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About Author

I love baking, traveling, and sharing delicious recipes for European Christmas Cookies! I used to live in Germany, have worked on 4 continents, and now enjoy baking and blogging from my adopted home in North Carolina, USA.

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