Lying between the Black Sea and the Adriatic, this south-eastern corner of Europe is home to more than ten distinctive nations, a wealth of cultural heritage and beautiful, natural scenery. Relatively new countries like Montenegro, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina remain untapped in terms of mass tourism, making them appealing destinations that offer plenty of cheap holidays for budget travellers. Here are a few tips on keeping the costs down, while seeing the best of the Balkans.
Good value flights are available from most major airports to places like Montenegro and Croatia but if you’re planning a low-cost trip around the region, it’s useful to familiarise yourself with a few bus timetables. This is often the cheapest mode of transport and for some parts, such as coastal Albania, the only viable option. You can also purchase rail passes that will save you money between Bulgaria, Romania and Macedonia. For the most part, journeys are long and leisurely, but the chance to sit and stare at the mountainous and ocean views makes it more than worthwhile.
Hostels are cheaper here than in more westerly parts of Europe, but the best way to stay is in the abundant family-run guesthouses, known as “sobes”. You may need to research non-English websites to find these but some comparison sites do list them as “apartmans”. The advantages are in the use of your own cooking facilities, as well as access to things like washing machines.
As far as eating goes, you’ll find a food and drink budget goes a lot further in the Balkans, with the price of beer low and cheap takeouts like pekaras (bakeries) nearly everywhere you look in places like Belgrade. A three-course meal with wine in Macedonia is likely to cost around the same as a few tapas in Spain.
In terms of destination highlights, Dalmatian city-on-the-sea Dubrovnik is stunning, but brings tourists in by the boat-load and so the prices are comparatively high. For those on a strict budget, Croatia is best avoided in the high season. Head south instead for the verdant forests of Montenegro, where roadside vendors sell local berries and you can explore at little cost to your pocket. Beaches around places like Kotor are equal in beauty to those in the Italian Riviera and come with a lot fewer expenses.
Those with culture in mind won’t want to miss the romantic bridges of Mostar in Bosnia, re-built after the conflicts of the early nineties and holding a distinct sense of pathos. If you’re after some historical context, the excellent Tunnel Museum in Sarajevo is the place to go, but this capital is also an exciting melting pot of eastern and western influences.
Myth & tradition
The traditions of these neighbouring countries remain strong and if you have the chance, visit Ohrid in Macedonia when the Balkan Folklore Festival celebrates the dance and song of the region in July. Romania has long been associated with mythology, but the seven towns of Transylvania offer some picturesque, surprisingly un-Gothic meadows, while vampire-enthusiasts won’t be disappointed by the crumbling ruins and the soaring Transylvanian Alps.
With living costs so reasonable, it’s worth taking a few weeks to dispel the myths that still linger around the Balkans and get to know the places behind the names. What’s more, the locals from Montenegro to Macedonia are renowned for being friendly and generous, and cities like Skopje have a good reputation for safety. With the chance to discover some of Europe’s best-kept secrets at a fraction of the cost, it won’t be long before there’s a surge in visitors here, so make the most of this affordable and beautiful region while you can!
Author bio: Simon Clark is an accomplished travel writer with over five years of experience. He focuses on holiday destinations in Egypt, Turkey and other Mediterranean hotpots, but his latest adventure was to take photos in forests and reserves all across the Balkans.