What’s not to miss in the Western Balkans (western part of southeast Europe)?
So many things. First of all, the region is full of spectacular natural sites; mountains and beaches, islands and vivid little places with its own unique festivals, alternative clubs and chilly lifestyle experiences. I mean, if you have ever visited this part of the world, first thing you have noticed must be a café culture in the streets where people hang out literally every single day. And that chilly laziness is an awesome metaphor for what to expect in Western Balkans.
So, since I imagined this to be a sort of indie travel guide to southeast Europe (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia), here are a few local tips for you to know when you’re visiting this still (unfortunately) underrated European region:
If you’re a festival fan, it’s likely that Exit in Serbia or lately Ultra Europe in Croatia are two most attractive brands you’ve encountered coming from Western Balkans. And they are really cool… But, there’s a whole other festival world out there you haven’t even heard of yet, that just might blow your mind. Nisville Jazz Festival, Outlook and Dimensions Festivals, Motovun Film Festival, Seasplash, Goulash Disko or Rainbow Gathering (for this region) are just a few names you have to check out.
In the last 15 years, festival culture of the area literally exploded so during the summer season, you can party in different countries, listen to alternative, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, electronic, chillout music, watch the weirdest and indie movies on dozens of film festivals; attend alternative parties and all types of cultural initiatives.
If you’re into hitchhiking, you’ll find it quite easy to get a ride, wherever you try to hitchhike; people are friendly and open and will help you reach your destination. Most people do speak English, especially younger than 30 (English is mandatory from grade 1 in elementary schools throughout the region), so communication, I’m pretty sure, won’t be a problem.
Prices are pretty low – especially if you’re coming from most of Western Europe, US, Canada, Australia and other countries with higher incomes according to some fancy world’s economic institutes and websites. If you have a limited budget, you can even get lower (price) deals if you buy groceries in supermarkets, where, for example bread or beer cans or all sorts of cream cheeses cost as low as 50-70 euro cents each.
The most expensive areas are Croatian coastline (especially touristically attractive places) and Slovenia; countries with the lowest prices are Serbia, Bosnia and Macedonia.
Tap water is safe to drink almost everywhere.
Railway is an affordable transportation option. 280km route in Croatia costs approx. 15 euro; 200km route in Serbia – less than 10. For that price, don’t expect to “fly” on the tracks as the average speed of trains is still ridiculously slow (lol).
Also, for some reason, people love to chat in trains.
Why you would pay a psychiatrist when you can tell everything that bothers you to a total stranger in regional trains – this kind of thinking, I suppose.
The cheapest drinks in the region are in places locals call “kafana”. Now, you would assume that the place named “kafana” serves mostly coffee, and you’re partially right, but also these vintage places with (very often) torn tablecloths on weird plastic, metal tables are favorite hotspots for “local alcoholics” where you can buy cheap drinks like “rakija” and listen to how these guys passionately argue about football or politics. Pretty interesting scene, I’ll tell you that.
In some cases, some“kafanas” reached a whole other level, and they are considered even fancy tourist hotspots, so while visiting this part of south-east Europe, don’t miss checking one.
If you’re a vegetarian, well, this region probably won’t be among your favorite cuisine discoveries. If you’re a meat lover – welcome to paradise!
ATMs / EXCHANGE OFFICES
You’ll find ATMs and exchange offices on literally every corner, and exchange rate from local currencies to euro or $ in all exchange offices is set by the National Banks of the countries so you can exchange your money without worrying of a fraud.
Camping outside of properties marked as camping sites is not legal, but you’ll find lots of places to pitch a tent, on the coastline or in the mountains.
Summers can be extremely hot. I mean, I’ve just checked out the temperature, it’s early July, 10pm and 25 degrees Celsius (77 ºF)… And this is awesome! Who, for heaven’s sake, loves rainy and cold-ish summers…?
Rakija, (and you read this as rakiya) mentioned earlier in “kafana” part of this weird guide, can be considered as a national drink of the countries. It’s basically a killer strong homemade brandy mostly made of plum, and after a few shots, well, you’ll party like never before in your life. Lol Trust me on this. People often like to joke changing the original Nokia company slogan with: “Rakija (instead of Nokia) – connecting people.”, and if I ever meet any of you guys, I’m willing to prove this changed slogan really works in reality. 😉
So, you’ve decided to place south-east Europe on your bucket list? Awesome! Hope I’ve helped a bit with these tips and suggestions and if you have some additional questions on hitchhiking, festivals, camping, or whatever – feel free to contact me through DM on Indie Voyager’s twitter account!
(Also check out Alternative Travel Guides to some really cool places from this area of Europe here)