Kosovo is wedged between North Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Albania. It is the smallest and newest country in the Balkans that declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. But Kosovo’s nascent tourism means you can still enjoy authentic experiences, observe how locals live without pretenses or staging and have a taste of genuine Kosovar hospitality. Untouched by mass tourism and underrepresented in the media, it’s a country full of hidden gems. From advanced foodie and coffee scene to vast landscapes, Kosovo is a terrific place to visit if you are curious and willing to step off the trodden path.
Kosovo has a turbulent past, which we won’t cover in detail in this post, but you should read about it before you visit to be aware of some touchy subjects. Now Kosovo is a perfectly safe country that you can traverse without breaking the bank. If you’ve never been to Kosovo before, we are truly excited for you to experience its beauty for the first time. We compiled a list of our favorite major attractions and hidden gems in Kosovo to guide you in planning your trip and ensure you have a memorable stay.
Bill Clinton is a popular man here!
Pristina – The Capital
During our stay in Kosovo, we chose to be based in Pristina, the capital. We took trips out of Pristina since all the main hotspots are located within accessible distance. If you haven’t read up on your history, start at the Independence House of Kosovo, do a walking tour, and visit the Kosovo Museum to learn about history beyond Independence.
Pristina doesn’t have as many attractions as other European capitals. But it has some peculiar sights, like the National Library of Kosovo, that looks outlandish. Follow up the library with a visit to the Cathedral of Mother Teresa and climb up the bell tower for stunning views of Pristina.
Like many other Balkan cities, Pristina reveals a mix of old and new. But we didn’t expect just how modern it is. And for what it lacks, Pristina definitely makes up with friendly locals and a buzzing/highly caffeinated atmosphere. Take a walk down the main pedestrian street, Mother Teresa Boulevard, to appreciate the city’s vibrant energy; people watch and join the locals for their traditional sunset walk.
Books and Coffee
Two things in Pristina deserve a special mention. First is the coffee culture. According to popular opinion, Pristina has some of the best coffee in the world, judging by quality and price. And we can confirm! The coffee to order in Pristina is the macchiato, nothing else. Given the large number of cafes and how busy they are, it seems Kosovars are coffee-crazed, but heading to a café is only an excuse to socialize, sometimes for hours, which explains the cozy atmosphere in every café. Or maybe, it’s the bookstore and art gallery combination that keeps you hanging around.
Here are our top recommendations, but there are many to choose from! It might be overwhelming, but the good news is the coffee quality is fantastic, even in hole-in-the-wall places.
- Soma Book Station – a very trendy and hip café and restaurant. It’s hard not to come back to this place. We visited for breakfast and came back for dinner during our stay.
- Dit e Nat – this place is more than a café with a bookstore; it’s a cultural institution hosting concerts, screenings, and book readings. And they serve vegetarian food, which was a wonderful palate refresher since Balkan cuisine is heavy on meat.
- Half & Half – order the macchiato, their special, and people watch in a cozy space or join for evening beverages under fairy lights.
The second thing to highlight about Pristina is the rich restaurant scene. Here are our favorite restaurants in Pristina.
- Country House Restaurant – this restaurant is located in a small village near Pristina. The Country House is the ideal place to have lunch in the summer amidst rolling hills surrounding Pristina and sample more traditional food.
- Liburnia – this restaurant serves the best Kosovar cuisine in Pristina. It’s popular among locals, which is a testament to its authenticity. Be sure you order the peppers and cream. It’s probably our favorite food of the Balkans!
Prizren – The Cultural Capital
Prizren is the cultural capital of Kosovo, located just an hour from Pristina. Its cobblestone streets, Ottoman architecture, and old town charm are more popular among tourists than in Pristina. But architectural heritage and history aside, Prizren also boasts a gorgeous backyard – the Sharr Mountains.
Fuel up at Pashtriku with proper Balkan grilled meats and flija, a traditional pastry consisting of thin crepe-like layers which take hours to make. (If you get the chance to capture the process on film, it’s really a work of art, maybe ask at the restaurants you’ll be dining) And then take a hike up to Bistra Peak. It’s a moderate 5km hike through a trail that was once a trading path between Skopje, Macedonia (link), and Prizren. You can admire the breathtaking view over Kosovo, Macedonia, and Albania once you reach the top.
Worth the Hike to the Top
We recommend staying for sunset and watching it from the old fortress Kalaja to admire the mountain tops and the old town flooded with hues of pink and violet. It’s a 20-minute walk up that rewards you with stunning views of red roofs, minarets, the sinuous river, and mountain tops.
Perhaps even spend the night and visit the craftsman shops the following day to appreciate traditional textiles, embroidery, and elaborate wedding outfits.
We made friends with Paul and Ann of Vicarious Voyagers in Brasov, Romania, then we discovered we were on the same train, same car on our way to Bucharest, Romania. While there, we met up for dinner! We later discovered we had been at the same performance of Momma Mia in Sofia, Bulgaria, sitting within 25 yards from each other without knowledge the other was there. On this day, we bumped into them on the way to our hotel in Prizren, Kosovo. What are the odds? After that, we’ve learned to ask each other plans so we can do a proper meet up! Stay tuned for Tirana, Albania! Who knows when our paths will cross again? We hope often! But, seriously, four countries!!!
Peja – The Nature Gateway
The town of Peja is only an hour and a half away from Pristina. Decorated in traditional architecture, it is a must if you are into outdoor activities. Peja is the gateway to the Accursed Mountains, part of the “Balkan Peaks” trail that stretches over Albania, Kosovo, and Montenegro. But another jaw-dropping sight here is the Rugova Canyon. It is one of the deepest and longest canyons in Europe. Nature lovers will be cursing themselves (pun intended) for not spending more time exploring the local trails.
Gjakova – The Enchanting Town
Gjakova is a charming town an hour and a half away from Pristina that you should not miss during your visit to Kosovo. The vast Grand Bazaar is a tribute to Gjakova’s history as a major trading hub along the Silk Road. One of the oldest and largest in the region, it stretches over a kilometer and hosts 500 shops.
Gjakova’s historic buildings have been heavily damaged in past wars but have been restored since then. To do this town justice, we encourage you to explore it at a turtle’s pace. Once ready, head to the Sylejman Hadum Aga street, a long pedestrian street within the Bazaar filled with charming cafes and restaurants with seating that spills out onto the street.
Try the local take on an Albanian dish Tavë Kosi, made out of veal instead of the traditional lamb. It is served at nearly every restaurant in town; search for it on the menu. And make sure to try baklava with your Turkish coffee; it’s a local favorite.
To be honest, one day is simply not enough to explore Gjakova in its entirety. There are too many things to see, and every corner is so ornate that you can’t help but spend hours appreciating it. There are floral motifs, Arabic inscriptions, and chandeliers of Hadum Mosque, the heritage treasures at the Ethnographic Museum, and the town view from the Cabrati hill.
With so much to see and do in Kosovo, more people should uncover for themselves what it has to offer. We hope to have enticed you to add Kosovo to your Balkan itinerary (link). If you have any questions, we would be more than happy to answer them in the comments below. Thank you for reading!