geopolitical and cultural region of southeastern Europe
The Balkan Peninsula
in southeastern Europe
is located between the Adriatic Sea and the Black Sea. The region has a mixed scenery with many tall mountain ranges, as well as deep forests, plains and rivers. The Balkans have many historical ruins, including those of some of the oldest cities in Europe.
Some strictly geographical definitions define the Balkan peninsula as the lands south of the rivers Sava and Danube from the city of Belgrade. This however is not an expedient division when considering countries. Slovenia
is sometimes considered to be part of the Balkans, but it is increasingly considered part of Central Europe
clearly occupies the tip of the Balkan Peninsula; however, most of Greece's major travel destinations (apart from Athens
) lie upon its islands, which makes it more aptly aloof from the rest of the Balkans. The very southeast of the Balkan Peninsula is Eastern Thrace
, the European part of Turkey
Map of Balkans
1Belgrade – known as the White City, the capital of Serbia
2Bucharest – nicknamed the Little Paris, the 10th largest city in the EU
3Chişinău – a modern city with over half a million inhabitants
4Podgorica – the locals ski in winter, and head for the beaches in summer
5Sarajevo – the heart of the Balkans and the trigger for World War One
6Skopje – near the Matka Canyon in North Macedonia
7Sofia – Bulgaria's lively capital in the mountains
8Tirana – Albania's economic hub and a former Ottoman city, renowned for the beauty outside the city's limits
9Zagreb – the capital of Croatia gets plenty of visitors each year
The Balkans contain charming multicultural towns, impressive monasteries and citadels dotting the hillsides, mighty mountains sprinkled with a liberal dose of beautiful forests and pleasant lakes, and last but not the least a great folk music tradition—coming off both as much joyful and melancholic as it could be—all survived various wars, if sometimes suffered a bit from the atrocities. With hundreds of kilometres of coastline on both the Adriatic and Black Seas, beachgoers won't be disappointed in this region, either.
The Balkans have been the borderland of many great powers; the Roman Empire
(surviving as the Byzantine Empire until the 15th century), the Ottoman Empire
, the Austro-Hungarian Empire
, and the influence sphere of the Soviet Union
. From the end of World War I
the Western Balkans were unified in Yugoslavia
, until the country fell apart in the 1990s, with a series of wars between the new states. In the 2000s, the Balkan nations have either joined the European Union
, or applied for membership.
In this patchwork of countries and peoples, language learning is as complicated as one wishes to make it. At the simplest level, there are four main languages: Albanian
and Serbo-Croatian. A bit of Russian
also goes a long way, especially in Moldova
Looking deeper you have:
Nationalists and some linguists will assert that a unified Serbo-Croatian language does not exist. However, the traveller with even a fairly strong grasp of things linguistic will find them one and the same. The distinct branches of Serbo-Croatian are:
Together with Slovene
, the Serbo-Croatian languages are members of the closely knit South Slavic language group
Some other useful languages might be Turkish
, which many people in Greece and Bulgaria speak, and Romani may be useful in all of the Balkan states. Most of the people, especially in cities and touristic areas speak English, and sometimes German, Italian and French.
used to be common in the area during the heyday of the Austro-Hungarian Empire
and some time afterwards but has been largely supplanted by English as a lingua franca
. However, areas frequently visited by German and Austrian tourists still have many people speaking German. Russian was a compulsory second language during the communist era and may be spoken by some older people, but has declined in importance, and with the exception of Moldova has largely been supplanted by English as the foreign language of choice among younger people.
The viewing lodge at Split
There are numerous international airports in the Balkans. The major airports in the region are (by country):
- Albania: Tirana
- Bosnia and Herzegovina: Sarajevo
- Bulgaria: Sofia,Plovdiv,Varna, Bourgas
- Croatia: Zagreb, Split, Rijeka, Zadar, Dubrovnik
- Kosovo: Priština
- North Macedonia: Skopje, Ohrid
- Moldova: Chişinău
- Romania: Bucharest, Timisoara
- Serbia: Belgrade, Nis, Vrsac
Only the capital city airports have many regular flights throughout the year. Croatia's coastal airports are well served by low-cost airlines during the summer, while in winter there are only a few flights to Zagreb and Germany. Ohrid is served primarily by seasonal flights, and Serbia's airports other than Belgrade and Niš have no commercial flights as of 2018, even though they have international status.
Though three of the Balkan countries (Croatia
) have joined the European Union with others on the way, no countries in Balkans have implemented the Schengen Treaty yet, which means, unlike most of the rest of Europe, border controls are still a reality in the region—which is rather inconvenient but a joy for the ones who want all those entry and exit stamps on their passports.
have well developed rail networks and getting around by train is fairly convenient. Train travel in Bulgaria
is a little more rough and ready. Elsewhere, the once decent networks have been neglected. While there are services and there are some stunning journeys to be had, train travel in the other countries cannot be done on a whim and requires a little forward planning but the effort is worth making.
Fares on trains within each country are very cheap. International fares are also very reasonably priced.
Old city of Dubrovnik
Fortress on the Carpathian Mountains
- Bosnia and Herzegovina was the host for the 1984 Winter Olympics, and after the 1990s, the alpine facilities are well restored. Around Sarajevo and Travnik are Olympic-grade mountains.
- In Serbia, you can ski in Kopaonik and Zlatibor.
Whereas it is generally not safe to openly display gay behaviour in the Balkans (See "stay safe"
section below) there are many underground alternatives which are supportive of the LGBT community.
Regional firewater of choice is rakija
(spelling varies from country to country; and despite the similarity in the name it has little to do with Turkish raki
), a hard liquor (around 40%, and can be higher if home-made) common to all countries in Balkans. Rakija is distilled out of just about any fruit grown in the region, with the most popular varieties being plum, apricot, mulberry, and grape.
Another local drink is boza, a thick and sweet ale made of millet, maze, or wheat with a very low (less than 1%) alcohol content and traditionally drunk in winters.
There are excellent local beers
to be had in each country in the region. Wine
is also common, the peninsula being dotted by vineyards from one end to another.
on alcohol coupled with a laid-back lifestyle and a liberal attitude towards alcohol consumption mean even smaller towns in the region has a considerable nightlife
in particular is noted as the region's party hotspot.
The Iron Gates, a gorge separating Romania and Serbia. The river is the Danube.
While the horror stories of the 1990s are long gone and the likelihood of an armed conflict in the foreseeable future is next to none, unexploded land mines
as a legacy of Yugoslav Wars continue to be a safety risk, especially in Croatia
, Bosnia and Herzegovina
, and Serbia
. What is worse about them is that they are where you don't expect them to be at all—they tend to be moved away from their original positions by the abundant rainfall in the region, and therefore riverbanks close to former hotbeds of conflict are especially dangerous. Don't stray too far into wilderness unless you are absolutely sure where you are heading is free of mines.
In many Balkan countries, it is not a good idea to openly display gay behavior.
The draft (propuh, promaja) is considered dangerous in the Balkans. Locals will nag you to keep doors and windows closed except during hot weather.
The Balkan countries are surrounded by Greece
to south, Ukraine
to northeast, Central Europe
to northwest, and Italy
to west across the Adriatic, all of which have greatly influenced the regional culture now and then.
Last edited on 13 July 2021, at 01:10
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