Travel guide: Less busy Balkans destinations to visit this summer

Travel guide: Less busy Balkans destinations to visit this summer

India-Jayne Trainor shares alternatives to popular Balkan holiday spots

A heady mix of sun, sea and millennia of history, the Balkan peninsula has long been an alluring destination for travellers, however, in high season, the region’s most famous fortified cities, sandy beaches and spectacular national parks certainly make for a varied holiday but they can get a little busy.

With Balkan nations such as Montenegro and Albania boasting some of the fastest-rising visitor numbers in Europe, we’ve examined the best places to book for clients seeking a dose of Balkan beauty with fewer crowds. Point them towards these lesser-known but no less beautiful destinations 'dupes'.

Medieval Cities

Bucket list: Dubrovnik, Croatia (lead picture)
Dubrovnik’s orange-tiled rooftops and sparkling Adriatic waters never fail to impress. Walking along the medieval city walls, visiting gorgeous filming locations (hello, Game of Thrones) and hopping to pine-covered isles are just a few of the activities clients can get up to. 

The alternative: Kotor, Montenegro
The walled town of Kotor, Montenegro (just 55 miles from Dubrovnik) is backdropped by mountains, sits on the deep-blue shores of Europe’s southernmost fjord and boasts similar copper-coloured rooftops to its Croatian counterpart. The Unesco-listed Old Town is home to cobbled streets, stone fortresses and medieval churches, while getting out on the water is easy with boat trips around the scenic Bay of Kotor. This summer, airlines including easyJet and Jet2 are launching direct routes to Tivat, a 10-minute drive away.

Kotor, Montenegro

Cultural Cities

Bucket list: Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Minarets and bell towers dot the skyline of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s much-loved Ottoman city, Mostar. Renowned for its striking Old Bridge, Mostar is home to dozens of zigzagging lanes lined with shops and restaurants. The blend of cultures and landscapes mean visitors can explore vineyards, waterfalls and mountain trails alongside churches, mosques and bazaars.

The alternative: Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnian capital Sarajevo’s colourful history is reflected in its streets. The Old Town is filled with cafes in Ottoman-era buildings, while the Latin Bridge to the old Catholic quarter is where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot, sparking World War One. Elsewhere, bazaars and mosques sit next to opulent Austro-Hungarian public buildings, offering a cosmopolitan city break.

BosniaMostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

National Parks

Bucket list: Plitvice National Parkm Croatia
Roughly halfway between Croatian capital Zagreb and the port of Zadar are the emerald lakes and cascading waterfalls of Plitvice National Park. The falls are connected by wooden walkways and surrounded by dense forest, making them ideal for hiking, kayaking and cycling. Visitors may spot deer, wolves and birds.

The alternative: Krka National Park, Croatia
Croatia’s Krka National Park – just over an hour’s drive from Split – is home to 17 waterfalls that tumble into impossibly blue pools (and, unlike Plitvice, this park features some areas you can swim in). Boat tours take in the best of Krka, including a stunning monastery on Visovac island.

Beach Resorts

Bucket list: Sunny Beach, Bulgaria
Sunny Beach is Bulgaria’s most popular beach resort, with a vast swathe of golden sand and endless activities to enjoy. Pair this with the country’s affordability and water parks, and it’s a strong choice for families.

The alternative: Albanian Riviera, Albania
The sun-drenched Albanian Riviera is where you’ll find stunning beach towns like Sarandë, Himarë and Ksamil, all of which overlook an aquamarine Ionian Sea. Although popular with locals seeking sunshine, there are dozens of secluded sandy coves and even semi-secret Maldivian-style overwater restaurants to discover.

Albania BeachKsamil beach, Albania

Mountain Hikes

Bucket list: Julian Alps, Slovenia
The mirror-like waters of Slovenia’s Lake Bled, set against the snowy Julian Alps (which some say is where the Balkan peninsula begins), are nothing short of astonishing. Outdoor activities abound, from hiking to soaking in thermal springs.

The alternative: Valbona National Park, Slovenia
In the Albanian Alps, unspoiled Valbona National Park is all jagged peaks, forested valleys and rushing rivers. Incredible trails, such as the 120-mile Peaks of the Balkans transnational track, traverse lakes and waterfalls, while other activities such as horse riding, kayaking and foraging offer a truly wild experience.

Albania OutdoorsValbona National Park, Albania

Travel Agent Q&A

Lynsey Jones, National Sales Manager of Balkan Holidays answers our quickfire questions on Balkans holidays. 

Q: What should agents focus on when selling lesser-known Balkan destinations? 
A: Value for money – and that there’s more than just the beaches. A common misconception is that certain spots are hard to reach, but we offer transfers to all our destinations.

Q: Which country is best to recommend for clients who have never been to the region? 
A: I’d say Croatia. We offer an Adriatic cruise that hops around Croatian islands, which means clients can explore a range of places.

Q: What’s your favourite destination in the Balkans?
A: Sozopol in Bulgaria; it has both history and culture.

 Bulgaria ask the expertSozopol, Bulgaria



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