People don’t know much about Kosovo, let alone visit Kosovo – in fact, one of the most commonly Googled things about it is “where is Kosovo?” (hint: it’s in Europe). Those that do know about Kosovo 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 Kosovo 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 As such, I have decided that comments negating its existence as a country will not be published, as it’s counterproductive to what I’m trying to do: to prove that Kosovo is not a dangerous, conflict-riddled place. While I won’t deny there are problems that still need to be worked out, these involve communities within Kosovo — not tourists. As a tourist, you’ll have no problems if you visit Kosovo today.
Kosovo’s primary language is Albanian due to the fact that most people from Kosovo are ethnically Albanian. There is a large Serb ethnic minority, who speak Serbian as their main language. English is pretty widely spoken by the younger population (and half the country is under 25!). I had no trouble being understood in my eight days traveling Kosovo. So without further ado, enjoy this quick Kosovo travel guide – and feel free to ask me any questions in the comments.
21 of the top things to do in Kosovo – Pristina and beyond
For the few travelers who do visit Kosovo, there’s a tendency to visit Kosovo’s capital, Pristina (also written Prishtina in Albanian language) and then move on, skipping Kosovo destinations like Prizren and Peja. 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 are so many things to do in Kosovo, it’s hard to know where to start, but here are some of the best Kosovo destinations and experiences you should add to your bucket list!
1. 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 Kosovo’s capital, 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.
2. Stay in a 5 star hotel at a 2 star price
Because tourism in Kosovo is only just beginning, that means prices are seriously undervalued. Accommodations in Kosovo offer great value. You can stay in a massive suite at the nicest hotel in the entire country for less than the price of an average hotel in an American city.
If that’s out of your budget, luckily for you Airbnb is big in Kosovo and there are plenty of Airbnbs that look basically like boutique hotels. This sweet little yellow studio can be yours starting at a mere $36 per night, and if you’re a first-time Airbnb user, sign up with my code for $40 off your first stay — meaning you’d get the first night 100% free!
3. 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 that year’s 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. An odd but important Kosovo tourist attraction.
4. 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, another very famous Kosovo attraction. 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
5. Absorb the coffee culture
All over the Balkans, coffee culture is huge. Kosovo 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 my time visiting 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.
All over my time visiting 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.
6. 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!
If you’re in need of a boost, Prince Coffee is basically the Starbucks of Kosovo. 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, all for under 2 euros (most closer to 1!). Of all the things to do in Kosovo, this may be the most delicious.
7. Check out the hostel scene
Not many backpackers travel Kosovo. It takes an intrepid and curious spirit to visit a country that there is so little information about. As I was traveling solo through Kosovo, I opted to stay in hostels – even though the hotels and Airbnbs were so cheap – just to meet other travelers. And good thing, too — I met so many amazing travelers who I really connected with.
In Prishtina, I stayed at Buffalo Backpackers and loved it — the people were incredible and it was just the right kind of social where you could sleep easily or go hang out with everyone outside by the nightly campfire. However, I should note that a friend of mine who went there after I did reported having bedbugs.
It can happen to any hostel, but my inner New Yorker knows I will die a thousand karmic deaths for not mentioning it. If you want to play it safe, check out Han Hostel instead, which I also heard great things about. Buffalo is a little more party, Han is a little more upscale, so pick what suits you.
In Prizren and Peja, you’ll be a little less spoiled for choice. I stayed at Driza’s House in Prizren, which is one of the most beautiful places in Kosovo, and absolutely loved it. While a little more expensive than most hostels in the region, it offered a delicious free breakfast and free coffee plus the cutest puppy ever — Nano — although sadly he’s probably fully grown now! As of the time of writing, Peja only has one hostel – Hostel Sarac – and it is absolutely excellent as well.
8. Copy the locals and take a nightly xhiro
Kosovo isn’t exactly known for its tourist spots or “top 10s”, so some of the best things to do in this country are just people watch and experience the culture the way the locals do.
The xhiro, confusingly pronounced the same way some people say “gyro”, is the Albanian word for the nightly stroll Kosovar people take through the main pedestrian plaza of whatever town or city in Kosovo you happen to be in. It’s great to stroll there or grab a seat at a cafe and people watch.
9. 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. Definitely one of the quirkiest points of interest in Kosovo.
10. 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 Kosovo tourism since it’s a relatively recent phenomenon. Tourism in Kosovo is not that big – 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?” when visiting Kosovo. They don’t mean it in an aggressive or foreboding way; they are genuinely curious.
11. Visit the fortress in Prizren
Prizren is definitely one of the most picturesque places to visit 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. Definitely one of the best tourist attractions in Kosovo.
12. 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. Kosovo nightlife is pretty much limited to Prishtina – you won’t find that much in the way of bars or clubs in other smaller cities.
13. Drink as much rakia as you can handle
Rakia (or rakija) is a way of life in the Balkans. Some hardcore Kosovar 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!)
14. 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 – a true Kovoso must-see. Of all the things I saw in my week visiting the country, I’d say that hands down the Peć Patriarchate is one of the best places to visit in Kosovo.
15. 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.
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 Kosovo 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.
16. Go caving in Peja
Give it time and Peja will become the adventure hotspot of Kosovo’s tourism sector. The nearby Rugova Canyon is gorge-ous (pardon the pun) and there’s plenty of fun adventures to be had there. Explore the crystals,
Explore the crystals, stalactites and stalagmites while searching for underwater waterfalls and lakes in this cave that was only discovered in 1990! While this excursion would cost you a fortune outside of Kosovo, you can get a day trip for an incredibly cheap price here.
17. 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. If you’re an animal lover, this is a definite must see in Kosovo. They have tons of space to roam free,
The bears have tons of space to roam free, high quality food, and they enjoy taking only-slightly-menacing walks around the perimeter with visitors. One of the more unique places to visit in Kosovo!
18. 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.
19. 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! A must if you visit Kosovo.
20. 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!
21. Admire Kosovo’s mountains
Kosovo’s terrain is mountainous and lovely, with tons of potential for hiking. Unfortunately, because Kosovo 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.
That’s why even though I’m a very independent-minded traveler, I prefer to travel with a guide. Luckily, guided tours of Rugova are quite cheap and can be booked online – I even found one for $17!
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.
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