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21 Awesome Things to Do in Kosovo, Europe’s Newest Country

People don’t know much about Kosovo. Those that do probably have no idea about all the great things there are to do in Kosovo. Maybe they remember how NATO came to its aid in the 1998-99 civil war, or maybe they remember faintly hearing about the continued conflict between Serbia and Kosovo. Today, the dust has settled, and while resentments can still run high, Kosovo is not dangerous. But it’s much more than that. Kosovo is a gem of a country… and yes, I consider it a country. You should be aware that many countries in the world, particularly Serbia but also Russia and other countries within the Balkans, view it as a part of Serbia has that seceded illegally.

However, I stand behind Kosovo’s right to independence. As such, I have decided that comments negating its existence as a country will not be published. Another thing you should know is that the majority people of Kosovo identify as ethnically Albanian, and Albanian is the primary language of the country, followed by Serbian. English is pretty widely spoken, and I had no troubles being understood in my eight days traveling throughout the country.

For the few travelers who do visit Kosovo, there’s a tendency to visit Prishtina and then move on. I urge you to look beyond. Prishtina is fun and modern, and though I thought I’d be there only two nights, I ended up having so much fun that I extended my stay to four. But I also loved the beautiful Ottoman architecture of Prizren and the stunning mountain scenery of Peja. There’s so many things to do in Kosovo, it’s hard to know where to start, but here are some of the experiences I think everyone who visits Kosovo should have.

21 of the best things to do in Kosovo:

Visit one of the country’s beautiful mosques

Kosovo is a majority Muslim country, although you should note that it is a very secular society. While you will see some women wearing hijab and dressing modestly, most women prefer to dress in Western styles of clothing. Kosovo has many lovely mosques that are very welcoming to outsiders. In fact, in Prishtina, a group of four men all but pulled us into the mosque to visit – and then insisted on us taking photos of them afterwards.

 

The gorgeous main mosque in Prizren, Kosovo

The gorgeous main mosque in Prizren, Kosovo

 

Pay homage to its newness at the Newborn monument

Kosovo only officially gained its independence in 2008, making it the youngest country in Europe. The Newborn monument in downtown Prishtina was created in honor of that moment. Every year on the country’s anniversary, they repaint it in a different style representing a theme. When I visited this year, the monument was painted blue with clouds and barbed wire, which is said to symbolize its isolation within Europe due to the continued conflict with Serbia.

The Newborn nonument, unveiled in 2008 upon declaring independence

The Newborn nonument, unveiled in 2008 upon declaring independence

Air high five Bill Clinton’s enormous hands

OK, you can’t really high five Bill, as the monument is quite huge, but it’s definitely worth a visit. Kosovo feels a kinship with Bill Clinton, who came to their aid and rallied NATO to defend them in 1999, and he is memorialized in downtown Prishtina, just a short walk from the Newborn monument. You can also visit the nearby women’s clothing story called – what else? – Hillary, where I’m certain you can buy a sickass pantsuit.

I should note that I tried to troll Donald Trump with a photo of Bill Clinton’s giant hands, tagging him and hashtagging #shortfingeredvulgarian, but since I have like zero followers on Twitter no one cared. #sadness #whyme

visit clinton's statue - things to do in Kosovo

Rock on, Bill.

 

Absorb the coffee culture

All over the Balkans, coffee culture is huge. People often sit for an hour over a single espresso or cappuccino, chatting with friends. One thing I loved is how older people maintain strong connections and friendships. All over Kosovo – especially in Prizren – I saw older men in their 60s and 70s drinking coffee in groups of three or four. The older generation there has such a great sense of camaraderie and connection that I think we lack in North America and Western Europe. Maybe it’s a result of living through so much duress and wartime, but if so, good coping skills.

enjoy coffee - things to do in Kosovo

Make like the locals and enjoy some coffee and the view!

 

Check out the cafes and bars on the sidestreets of Prishtina

Raki Street is one of the small streets just to the right of Nene Tereze Boulevard. There, you’ll find better cafes and bars than on the main street, which is where lots of locals go to hang. This was one of my favorite things to do in Kosovo!

Eat 60 cent macarons at Prince Coffee

Do I really need to get into detail about this? Prince Coffee is basically the Starbucks of Kosovo, and in addition to a wide variety of espresso drinks and teas, they also offer the most epic dessert list of all time. Top billing? Macarons which can be had for only 60 cents apiece! They also have Snickers cake, cheesecake, tres leches cake….. basically all that is good and holy in this world. Of all the things to do in Kosovo, this may be the most delicious.

Three for me....

Three for me….

 

Copy the locals and take a nightly xhiro

The xhiro, confusing pronounced the same way some people say “gyro”, is the Albanian word for the nightly stroll people take through the main pedestrian plaza of whatever town or city you happen to be in. It’s great to stroll there or grab a seat at a cafe and people watch.

Visit one of the world’s “ugliest buildings”

The poor National Library of Kosovo gets quite a lot of flak. It’s certainly not pretty, but I think it’s quite interesting, and maybe not worthy of being on the shortlist for world’s ugliest building.

visit the national library - things to do in Kosovo

Interesting or terrifying? Your call.

 

Talk with the locals

The locals are so incredibly friendly, and they love to talk with outsiders, especially Americans. Most Kosovars are used to Peace Corps volunteers and people from the UN or NGOs living or working in their countries, but they’re a bit perplexed by tourism since it’s a relatively recent phenomenon. Tourism is not really that big in Kosovo – there are only six or seven hostels in the whole country, and I stayed at three of them! Don’t be surprised if people ask you “why are you here?” They don’t mean it in an aggressive or foreboding way; they are genuinely curious.

talk with locals - things to do in Kosovo

The aforementioned adorably enthusiastic Kosovar men checking their photo in Prishtina

 

Visit the fortress in Prizren

Prizren is the most picturesque city in Kosovo, with its gorgeous Ottoman-influenced architecture. For the best view, you’ve got to make your way up to the fortress (kalaja) in Prizren, which is free to enter. You’ll enjoy stunning views of red-tiled roofs, minarets, and the Bistrica River that runs through the city.

views over prizren - things to do in Kosovo

Prizren is beautiful, even on a cloudy, drizzly day

 

Experience Prishtina’s nightlife

I didn’t think Prishtina would be as fun as it was, but it was a blast. There’s a lot of fun things to do in Prishtina going on all the time, a lot of it free! I got to see a free ballet performance of Romeo and Juliet at the National Theatre, a blues show at Soma (the classiest bar in Kosovo), and a hip hop night at Dit e Nat (the best brunch place in Kosovo). There are also plenty of clubs in Prishtina if that’s your scene.

A live blues show on Saturday night in Prishtina

A live blues show on Saturday night in Prishtina

 

Drink as much rakia as you can handle

Rakia (or rakija) is a way of life in the Balkans. Some hardcore people even have it in the morning, claiming it kills the bacteria in your stomach. While I certainly believe that (as certain raki have more in common with nail polish remover than any of their fruity origins), I don’t think I’ll be having any rakia with my toast anytime soon. That said, into the night, rakia is the drink of choice. I tried a delicious homemade pear rakia at Dit E Nat that was actually quite pleasant to sip (note that you sip, not shoot, rakia!)

Visit a Serbian Orthodox Church

The Serbian Orthodox churches in Kosovo are beautiful and historic. Unfortunately, Albanian extremists have regularly tried to vandalize or even destroy these churches due to the conflict. As a result, NATO and local police forces guard many of the churches. At the Peć Patriarchate in Peja (the Albanian word for the town, which is also called Peć in Serbian language), you have to register your passport with the police to be able to enter. It may seem extreme, but it’s worth it to see the incredible beauty of the monastery.

The gorgeous red monastery in Peja

The gorgeous red monastery in Peja

 

Eat at a qebabtore

Like the rest of the Balkans, Kosovars love their meat, and they love it grilled. My favorite qebabtore (barbecue restaurant, similar to a rostilj in the rest of the Balkans) was in Prizren, at a restaurant called Alhambra. There, you can get an epically large mixed meat plate for a mere 6 euros – plenty for two. Definitely one of the best things to do in Kosovo…. as long as you’re not a vegetarian.

meat - things to do in Kosovo

A well-rounded meal

Squee at the Bear Sanctuary

All over the Balkans, bears were kept in cages as entertainment at restaurants. Luckily this practice is now illegal and falling out of favor, and this sanctuary is providing homes in a natural environment to many rescued bears from the region. They have tons of space to roam free, high quality food, and they enjoy taking only-slightly-menacing walks around the perimeter with visitors.

As adorable as he is terrifying, but at least he's happy!

As adorable as he is terrifying, but at least he’s happy!

Take a break from grilled meat

If you’ve been traveling the Balkans as long as I have been, you’re probably growing tired of grilled meat. Luckily Prishtina has some delicious international cuisines! There is a Thai restaurant which, pulling no punches, is simply called Thai Restaurant which serves surprisingly legit curries (the noodles dishes, less so). Just across the street, on the second floor of a shopping center, Himalayan Gorka churns out some fantastic Nepali momos, Himalayan curries, and Indian favorites like butter chicken. All are a little pricier than local food, but at under 10 euros a head including drinks, in the throes of serious AFWS (Asian food withdrawal syndrome), it was well worth it.

See the rural countryside

The modern city of Prishtina turns into rural rolling hills quite quickly. You’ll see farmers herding goats and sheep and cows hanging out on abandoned fortresses, such as Novo Brdo. It’s a fascinating contrast and an insight into the fact that Kosovo is a country still modernizing at its own pace.

Cows hangin' on a fortress, just as they should be.

Cows hangin’ on a fortress, just as they should be.

Visit ancient Roman ruins of Ulpiana

Didn’t know Kosovo had ancient Roman ruins? Yeah, me neither! Just outside of Prishtina, there are some ruins that you’re welcome to visit for free. There’s not a ton of information about them, but they’re fascinating to see nonetheless.

Visit the anthropology museum in Prishtina

This museum is free to all and includes a personal guided tour, often by the curator himself. It’s a great insight into Albanian Kosovars traditional way of life. You get to see what traditional homes looked like, plus you can see wedding dresses, traditional jewelry, and many other fascinating things!

Visit a little slice of the past in Prishtina

Visit a little slice of the past in Prishtina

 

Shop at a traditional bazaar

Need something? Anything? The bazaar will probably have your back. You can buy produce on the cheap, or if you need a deck of cards, hair dryer, iron, whatever, you can probably get that there too

The bazaar in the Old Town of Prishtina

The bazaar in the Old Town of Prishtina

 

Admire Kosovo’s mountains

Kosovo’s terrain is mountainous and lovely, with tons of potential for hiking. Unfortunately, because the tourism infrastructure is just beginning, it can be a bit difficult to plan hiking trips. There are sometimes buses from Peja bringing you to Rugova Canyon, but they don’t always run. You may be left paying for a pricy taxi or having to hitch (luckily, hitchhiking in Kosovo is commonplace and fairly safe). To see the mountains properly, it may be better to take an organized tour. Be aware that there are still unexploded land mines throughout Kosovo (as with most of the Balkans) so it’s inadvisable to hike off the path.

 

things to do in Kosovo

These views are walking distance from downtown Peja.

Kosovo only officially declared its independence in 2008, making it the youngest country in Europe and second youngest in the world. It may be a tiny, landlocked country, but there are so many amazing things to do in Kosovo. Here are just 21 ideas!

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14 Comments

  • Reply
    Kate
    October 13, 2016 at 11:07 pm

    That last photo is ridiculously beautiful. Would love to make it here the next time I am in the Balkans!

    Also, I appreciate your Trump trolling. 😀

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      October 14, 2016 at 10:46 am

      Oh man, it is so worth it! I more than doubled the time I planned to spend there. I’d love to go back and hike the mountains properly next trip.

      And thank you! I really tried 🙂

  • Reply
    Mai Parks
    October 16, 2016 at 9:22 am

    I hadn’t given much thought to the place. I suppose its just hearing it on the news during the troubles that makes you put it on a back burner.
    It looks fantastic and I would certainly give it a wee explore once my hubby retires. Kosovo has much in common with Scotland , we are fighting to regain independence , they are independent but fighting for recognition.

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      October 16, 2016 at 1:09 pm

      I definitely think so… whenever I told people I had come from Kosovo, one of the first questions would be about safety. It’s a small country and you can see quite a bit of it in a week, and now that there are low budget flights to Prishtina you can even just go for a little weekend visit 🙂 I hope you do go and enjoy!

      Interesting point about the parallels! I had never thought about it this way. I’ll be interested in watching to see what happens with Scotland’s independence in the future post-Brexit.

  • Reply
    Jade
    December 15, 2016 at 9:34 am

    Thanks for the tips! I’m headed to Prishtina from Skopje today, and looking forward to checking a lot of these things out.

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      December 15, 2016 at 11:22 am

      I’m so glad you found it helpful!! I hope you enjoy Prishtina and do try to visit Prizren or Peja if you get a chance – they’re both stunning. Enjoy your trip! 🙂

  • Reply
    Pey
    February 22, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    Nice article! do you think it is absolutely safe for a female solo traveller to explore Kosovo?

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      March 1, 2017 at 10:53 pm

      Yes, definitely. Nothing is ever 100%, of course, but I walked alone many times including at night and never felt unsafe. Take normal precautions and you should be fine.

  • Reply
    Juvy
    May 12, 2017 at 8:14 am

    I was undecided to visit Kosovo until I read your article. Thanks and kudos!

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      May 17, 2017 at 6:07 am

      That’s so great to hear, I hope you go soon! <3

  • Reply
    KEITH HILLMAN
    May 15, 2017 at 7:17 am

    Great Blog. Thanks, as a great introduction to Kosovo.

  • Reply
    Nicole
    May 21, 2017 at 9:10 pm

    Hi Allison, about how long do you think it would take to take a drive up through the Rugova canyon and back? I am only going to be there in Peja for an afternoon and am just wondering if I will have time and how best to do it (hire a driver?) Thanks for any info you can provide 🙂

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      May 22, 2017 at 4:20 pm

      Hi Nicole, the best way to do it would be to hire a taxi for the day. It’s about an hour or so each way, and buses are infrequent. Hope you enjoy!

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