15 Most Underrated Cities In The Balkans To Visit In 2023

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Are you looking for some lesser-known corners in the Balkans? Having lived in the region for two years myself, I can attest to the fact that many underrated cities in the Balkans are just waiting to be explored. From the rugged mountain landscapes of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the historic towns of Bulgaria, there is so much to see and do in this fascinating region.

In this post, I’ll be sharing my top picks for the 15 most underrated cities in the Balkans to visit in 2023. Each of these cities has its unique charm and attractions, from ancient Roman ruins to ancient city centers to stunning natural scenery. And in case you didn’t know, I wrote a bunch of other posts where I explore underrated cities in Italy, Germany, the United Kingdomthe United States, and many more countries.

So let’s forget about those busy tourist hotspots and jump right into why you should explore these lesser-known destinations in the Balkans!

1) Pula, Croatia

Pula, the largest city in Istria County in Croatia, has a long and storied past. Sitting along the western coast of the Adriatic Sea it has been home to many civilizations over millennia – from Roman empires to Venetian republics. The rich heritage of Pula is still visible today; its old town boasts well-preserved ancient ruins such as the 6th-century Arch of Sergius, which stands guard at one of its entrance gates. 

At the heart of Pula lies the impressive Pula Arena, a Roman amphitheater that dates back to the 1st century AD. This massive structure, which could seat up to 23,000 spectators, is one of the best-preserved Roman amphitheaters in the world and a testament to the city’s rich history.Pula Is the Largest City in Istria and One of the Most Underrated Cities in the Balkans

But Pula is more than just ancient ruins. Its beautiful city center is a mix of Venetian and Austro-Hungarian architecture, with winding streets and charming squares filled with bustling cafes and shops. Here you can wander through the narrow alleyways of the Old Town, stopping to admire the ornate facades of historic buildings such as the Temple of Augustus.

And for those seeking sun, sea, and sand, Pula offers numerous beaches and coves, many of which are just a short drive from the city center. One of the most popular is Verudela Beach, which offers crystal-clear waters and stunning views of the surrounding hills.

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2) Sibiu, Romania

Nestled in the heart of Transylvania, Sibiu is an underrated city in the Balkans that is known for its cobblestone streets, ornate churches, and bustling squares. In the center of Sibiu’s Old Town lies the Piața Mare, a sprawling square lined with colorful buildings and buzzing with activity. Here you can wander through the narrow streets and admire the ornate facades of historic buildings such as the Brukenthal Palace and the Council Tower.

Other cultural and historical sights include the traditional Saxon houses, the 16th-century towers, and the town’s markets which offer everything from local crafts to delicious food treats, perfect for picking up souvenirs or enjoying some regional specialties!Sibiu Is One of the Most Underrated Cities in the Balkans Brimming With Culture and Attractions

The city also boasts a thriving arts and culture scene, with numerous galleries, museums, and theaters showcasing the best of Romanian creativity. One of the most notable is the ASTRA National Museum Complex, which offers visitors a glimpse into traditional Romanian life and culture.

And if you are more into outdoor adventures, Sibiu is surrounded by the stunning Carpathian Mountains, offering plenty of opportunities for hiking, skiing, and other outdoor activities. One of the best and quickest ways to enjoy stunning views of the surrounding countryside is by taking a cable car up to the top of the Păltiniș ski resort, a view that is sure to have a lasting impression on you!



3) Prizren, Kosovo

Prizren in Kosovo is often overlooked as one of the most underrated cities in the Balkans. But, make no mistake; this city has plenty to offer! From stunning views and architecture to a rich history, Prizren deserves much more attention than it gets.

First off, let’s talk about the scenery. The picturesque streets lined with Ottoman-era buildings, cobblestone paths, and old churches make for an incredible sight. Then there’s the view from the Fortress of Prizren which overlooks the famous White Drin river. If you’re looking for jaw-dropping beauty then head over to the nearby village of Lumbardh where the mountains meet the valley floor.Prizren Is a Picturesque Town in Kosovo With Beautiful Ottoman-Era Architecture

But, beyond its natural beauty, Prizren also offers a unique cultural experience. It was once the home of a thriving Jewish population that left behind its mark in the form of synagogues and monuments. Today, remnants of ancient civilizations can still be found around the city – like the 11th-century Kaljaja fortress and the Church of Our Lady of Ljeviš. Not to mention, Prizren is renowned for being the birthplace of the League of Prizren, a political organization created by Albanians in 1878 to protect their rights.

In short, if you’re looking for a hidden gem in the Balkans, look no further than Prizren. Its stunning landscapes, rich culture, and captivating history will transport you back in time and provide you with a truly unforgettable experience.

4) Jajce, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Jajce, a small town in the heart of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is one of the most charming and underrated places to visit in the Balkans. Located at the confluence of two rivers, Jajce is a picturesque town surrounded by lush green hills and forests, making it a perfect destination for nature lovers.

The origins of Jajce date back centuries; it has been inhabited since at least 2000 BC and was once part of both the Roman and Ottoman Empires. This rich history can still be seen today – from its 15th-century fortress built by King Tomislav to its 16th-century mosques and churches. No matter what your historical interests may be, you’ll find plenty here to keep you engaged.The Highlight of Jajce Is the Jajce Waterfall, Often Referred to as the “Bosnian Niagara Falls”

The town is filled with cobblestone streets, traditional Bosnian architecture, and numerous ancient fortifications, such as the medieval castle located on top of a hill overlooking the town. Visitors can take a stroll through the old town and marvel at the charming houses, churches, and mosques that dot the streets.

The absolute highlight though of this town is the Jajce waterfall, often referred to as the “Bosnian Niagara Falls”. This 23-meter tall cascade is formed at the point where Pliva Lake meets Vrbas River, creating an impressive sight. From across the river, visitors can get the best view of the waterfall set against the backdrop of the old town!



5) Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

If you are in search of a unique destination to explore in the Balkans in 2023, you shouldn’t miss Veliko Tarnovo in Bulgaria. Known as the “City of the Tsars,” Veliko Tarnovo is famous for its rich history and stunning architecture.

As soon as you arrive in Veliko Tarnovo, you will be struck by its beauty. The city’s most iconic landmark is the Tsarevets Fortress, one of Bulgaria’s most iconic historical sites that sits atop a hill overlooking the Yantra River. This is the place where rulers from past dynasties have once lived and made their mark on history; it truly is a sight to behold! Veliko Tarnovo Is a Beautiful Small Town in Bulgaria and One of the Most Underrated Cities in the Balkans

Another highlight in this Bulgarian gem is the charming old town, known as the Samovodska Charshia. It is filled with cobblestone streets, traditional houses, and quaint shops selling handmade crafts and souvenirs. Take a stroll through the town’s winding alleys, and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time.

As if that weren’t enough, there are also many outdoor activities to enjoy while visiting Veliko Tarnovo such as hiking trails along the Yantra River, canyoning trips down nearby waterfalls or simply taking time out to relax beside one of the numerous lakes in the area. All these experiences combine to make Veliko Tarnovo not only a great place for exploring but also an ideal location for relaxation too!

6) Novi Sad, Serbia

Novi Sad in Serbia may not be the most well-known city in the Balkans, but it’s certainly one of the most underrated. Located on the banks of the Danube River and surrounded by rolling hills, Novi Sad is a stunningly beautiful place with plenty to offer.

The old town has retained much of its charm over the centuries, and you’ll find cobbled streets lined with historic buildings, churches, and monuments. One of the city’s most iconic attractions is the Petrovaradin Fortress which was constructed in the 18th century and offers magnificent views across the city. The fortress is home to several festivals throughout the year, so if you’re lucky enough to visit at this time you can enjoy music, theatre and art performances.Novi Sad in Serbia Is One of the Most Underrated Cities in the Balkans

Novi Sad is also home to numerous museums and galleries, including the Museum of Vojvodina, which showcases the region’s rich history and culture. Art lovers should not miss the Gallery of Matica Srpska, which houses a collection of Serbian and European art dating back to the 16th century.

And if you’re looking for more peaceful activities, then you can head to Dunavska Street, an area full of parks and gardens where locals come to relax. It’s the perfect place to take a stroll down the tree-lined boulevard or explore the numerous botanical gardens scattered around the city. 



7) Shkoder, Albania

Shkoder, located in northern Albania, is a city that truly captures the essence of Albanian culture and history. Having lived there for 3 months, I can confidently say that it’s one of the most underrated cities in the Balkans, with so much to offer to those willing to explore it.

The city center is filled with ancient structures like Rozafa Castle, which date back centuries to the Illyrian era. The castle stands as a testament to the city’s rich history and offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and Lake Shkoder. Shkoder’s Grand Mosque in One of the Most Underrated Cities in the Balkans

One true hidden gem in Shkoder is the Marubi National Museum of Photography. It showcases the work of the Marubi family, who have been taking photographs in Albania for over a century. The museum offers a unique glimpse into Albanian history and culture through the lens of some of the country’s most talented photographers.

Although most of the cities mentioned in this post are surrounded by stunning nature, Shkoder is particularly blessed! Not only is this city located right at the same named lake, Lake Shkoder, but there are also mountains all around offering incredible hiking opportunities. One absolute must-thing to do is take the ferry on Lake Komani to Valbona and from there hike to the picturesque mountain village Theth. An experience you will never forget for the rest of your life!

8) Piran, Slovenia

In a region known for its stunning coastal views, one city stands out as an oasis of adventure: Piran, Slovenia. This gorgeous seaside town in Istria is located at the edge of the Adriatic Sea, this charming city has a unique combination of Venetian and Mediterranean influences that make it truly special. You’ll find medieval architecture, and cobblestone streets around every corner.

One of the most striking features of Piran is its old town, which is located on a small peninsula jutting into the sea. This area is a pedestrian zone, so you can stroll along the winding streets without worrying about cars. The old town is also home to many historic buildings, such as the Venetian House, the Tartini Square, and the Church of St. George. The latter offers an amazing panoramic view of the city and the sea from its bell tower, making it a popular spot for taking photos. Piran Is a Beautiful Coastal Town in Slovenia and One of the Most Underrated Cities in the Balkans

But the good thing is that the entire waterfront promenade offers breathtaking views of the sea. My favorite thing to do was just to take a leisurely walk along the seafront promenade, enjoying the views of the picturesque harbor and the surrounding hills. And if you wait until the evening you will see how the promenade comes alive with street performers and live music, making it a great spot for a romantic stroll.

Piran’s location also makes it ideal for exploring other parts of Slovenia and Italy – you can take a boat ride to Trieste or explore the Slovenian coastline.  No matter what brings you to Piran, you won’t regret making the trip to this beautiful yet underrated hidden gem in the Balkans!



9) Sibenik, Croatia

Sibenik in Croatia is another underrated gem that is located on the Adriatic coastline. Founded by the King of Dalmatia Petar Krešimir IV in 1066 and known for its rich history, Sibenik offers visitors a unique chance to experience centuries-old architecture and culture. The historic center of town consists of winding cobblestone streets lined with 12th-century churches, Venetian palaces, and ancient castles, making it an ideal destination for those interested in exploring European heritage.

The most famous attraction in Šibenik is undoubtedly the UNESCO-listed St. James Cathedral, a stunning masterpiece of Gothic and Renaissance architecture. This cathedral is unique because it was entirely made of stone and without the use of any wooden or iron elements. The cathedral is surrounded by small alleyways, where visitors can find local shops and cafes.The Sea Promenade in the Lovely Town of Sibenik, One of the Most Underrated Cities in the Balkans

Apart from its impressive historical sites and monuments, Sibenik also boasts a lively cultural scene including art galleries, museums, theaters, and music venues. If you’re looking for a more relaxed atmosphere while visiting Sibenik try some of the many cafes that line the waterfront promenade or explore nearby Krka National Park which provides wonderful hiking opportunities.

The Mediterranean climate in Sibenik provides mild winters, while summers provide plenty of sunshine and warm weather perfect for beach days at one of Sibenik’s seven public beaches or taking advantage of the numerous sailing tours offered along the coast. No matter what type of vacation you are looking for –  there’s something special about Sibenik waiting to be discovered!

10) Timișoara, Romania

Timișoara is often referred to as the “Little Vienna” of Romania and is a must-visit destination for anyone looking to explore Europe’s hidden gems. Known for its rich history and unique cultural blend, this city is a must-visit for anyone exploring the Balkans.

One of the main attractions in Timișoara is the city’s stunning architecture. The old town is the perfect place to take a stroll through the city’s historic center to see buildings that date back to the 18th and 19th centuries when Timișoara was an important cultural and economic hub of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. With many Baroque and Art Nouveau-style structures, as well as its version of the iconic Eiffel Tower, the architecture is sure to impress!Timisoara Is Located in Romania at the Edge of the Balkan Peninsula

One of the most unique features of Timișoara is its role in Romania’s history. The city played a key role in the Romanian Revolution of 1989, which led to the downfall of the country’s communist regime. You can learn about this important moment in Romanian history by visiting the Revolution Memorial Museum or taking a walking tour of the city to see the various sites associated with the revolution.

And as far as culture goes, Timișoara boasts some unique attractions. There are museums dedicated to showcasing everything from the history of the region to modern art pieces by contemporary artists. The city also hosts several festivals throughout the year celebrating music, theater, and dance performances. This makes it a perfect destination if you want to experience a variety of cultural activities while on vacation.



11) Herceg Novi, Montenegro

If you’re looking for a destination with old-world charm and plenty of unexplored beauty, Herceg Novi in Montenegro is the place for you. Located on the Adriatic coast, this small but captivating city is packed full of history and culture.

What sets Herceg Novi apart from other coastal towns in Montenegro is its blend of cultures and architectural styles. The town has a rich history that dates back to the 14th century and has been under the rule of various empires over the centuries, including the Ottoman Empire, the Venetian Republic, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.Herceg Novi’s Charming Old Town With a Beautiful Church

Herceg Novi has a beautiful coastline that stretches along the Bay of Kotor and is perfect for long strolls along the seaside promenade, which is lined with palm trees and offers beautiful views of the bay. Another highlight of Herceg Novi is the Old Town, which is home to narrow streets, charming squares, and historic buildings. The most famous of these is the Kanli-Kula fortress, which was built by the Ottomans in the 16th century and was used as a prison during the Venetian and Austro-Hungarian periods.

Another popular attraction in Herceg Novi is Forte Mare, which was built by the Venetians in 1687. Today, the fortress offers stunning panoramic views of the bay and the town below. And if you’re feeling adventurous, make sure to check out the Orjen Mountains. These limestone ranges offer some of the best hiking trails in Europe, while their highest peak reaches almost 2000 meters above sea level.

12) Gjirokaster, Albania

Gjirokaster in Albania is another one of the most underrated cities in the Balkans to visit in 2023. Sitting atop a hill overlooking breathtaking mountains and valleys, Gjirokaster was once an Ottoman stronghold. Proudly standing strong since 1282 AD, it’s still home to beautiful cobblestone streets that harken back to its proud history.

The city’s Old Town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to a stunning collection of traditional Ottoman-style houses, narrow cobblestone streets, and ancient castle ruins. Part of the old town is also the city’s bazaar, where you can buy traditional Albanian crafts, such as handmade rugs, pottery, and jewelry. The local market is also a must-visit, where you can taste the freshest local produce, including the renowned Gjirokastra beans. Gjirokaster in Albania Is One of the Most Underrated Cities in the Balkans to Visit in 2023

The main draw of Gjirokaster though is undoubtedly the castle which dominates the city skyline. Built-in the 15th century by Ali Pasha Tepelena, it offers stunning views from its walls and terraces. Throughout history, the castle has been used as a military stronghold, a prison, and a royal palace.

Another highlight of Gjirokaster is the city’s many historic museums, such as the Ethnographic Museum, housed in a traditional Ottoman-style mansion. The museum showcases Albanian traditions and customs and provides an insight into the daily lives of Albanians throughout history. All this makes Gjirokaster a must-visit for those who want to experience the authentic charm of Albania and the Balkans!



13) Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Plovdiv in Bulgaria is a hidden gem of the Balkans that often gets overlooked by tourists in favor of more well-known cities. However, those who do visit are rewarded with a charming and vibrant city full of history and culture. I have lived in Plovdiv for two months in 2021 and can say that the city has a special place in my heart.

Founded in the 7th century BC by the Thracians, Plovdiv has seen civilizations come and go, leaving their mark on its monuments and palaces, cobbled streets, colorful markets, and churches. The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site and for good reason. The cobblestone streets are lined with colorful houses and historic buildings, many of which have been turned into galleries, museums, and shops.Plovdiv in Bulgaria Boasts Incredible Historical Architecture From Various Epochs

One of the most impressive sights in Plovdiv is the ancient Roman theater, which is still used today for concerts and performances. Nearby is the Roman Stadium, which is currently being excavated and offers a glimpse into the city’s past.

But Plovdiv isn’t just about ancient history – it’s also a modern and cosmopolitan city. Kapana, the “creative district,” is a maze of narrow streets filled with cafes, bars, and shops, and is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. And for those who love the outdoors, Plovdiv is also surrounded by natural beauty. Just a short drive away are the Rhodope Mountains, where you can hike or simply enjoy the stunning scenery.

14) Kratovo, North Macedonia

Kratovo is a hidden gem nestled in the northeastern part of North Macedonia, often overlooked by tourists. I had the pleasure of visiting this quaint town while I  was living three months in Skopje and it’s safe to say that it exceeded all my expectations.

What makes Kratovo special is its unique architecture, with a collection of Ottoman-era stone bridges, towers, and houses that have stood the test of time. These historic buildings are beautifully preserved, and strolling through the town feels like stepping back in time.

One of the must-see attractions in Kratovo is the Stone Bridge, a majestic structure spanning across the quiet river. The bridge was built in the 1800s and is an impressive feat of engineering, with its perfectly carved arches and sturdy stone pillars. There’s also the Clock Tower, which stands tall in the town square and serves as a reminder of Kratovo’s Ottoman past.Kratovo Is A Charming Town With a Maze-Like Network of Stone Streets, Bridges, and Towers

Beyond its historical landmarks, Kratovo is also known for its stunning natural beauty. The surrounding hills and mountains offer breathtaking views of the town and its surroundings, and there are plenty of hiking trails to explore. And if you are looking for a unique cultural experience, Kratovo is home to the annual Kratovo Carnival, where locals dress up in traditional costumes and take to the streets in a lively procession. This is a great time to visit and witness the town’s vibrant spirit and rich cultural heritage!

If you would like to learn more about North Macedonia and the best places to visit there, feel free to read my blog post “30 Best Places To Visit In North Macedonia In 2023“.



15) Višegrad, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Višegrad in Bosnia and Herzegovina is an underrated city that many don’t know about, but it’s worth a visit. Its culture has been shaped over centuries by different groups of people and despite its small size, it is rich in history and culture, and worth a visit if you are in the area.

What makes Višegrad special is its stunning natural surroundings and its fascinating Ottoman-era architecture. One of the most famous landmarks in Višegrad is the Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge, which spans the Drina River and was built in the 16th century. This bridge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has become an icon of Višegrad.Spending a Day in Visegrad Is an Absolute Must When Traveling Through Bosnia and Herzegovina

In addition to the bridge, Višegrad has several other notable historical sites, such as the Andrićgrad complex, which was built to honor the Nobel Prize-winning writer Ivo Andrić, who was born in Višegrad. The complex is a beautiful combination of traditional and modern architecture and is a testament to the town’s rich cultural heritage.

If you visit Višegrad you can also enjoy the natural beauty of the surrounding countryside, including the Tara River Canyon, which is one of the deepest canyons in Europe and is perfect for rafting, hiking, and enjoying the great outdoors. And in addition to that, Višegrad also serves as a starting point for Sargan Eight panoramic railway line connecting Bosnia with neighboring Serbia.

Conclusion

I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface of the Balkan region’s hidden gems. With each city offering its own unique experiences, there’s something for everyone in this corner of Europe. From the beautiful coastlines of Piran in Slovenia and Sibenik in Croatia to the stunning architecture of Plovdiv in Bulgaria and Timișoara in Romania, these cities have something unique to offer every traveler.

Whether you are looking for history, culture, or natural beauty, the Balkans have it all. So why not plan a trip to one of these hidden gems in 2023? You won’t regret it – I promise!

And if you would like to find more underrated places around the world, feel free to check my other blog posts. There you can find the most underrated cities in Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, and many more countries!

Also, if you do plan a trip to any of these cities (or anywhere else in the world), I’d be happy if you would consider booking your travel essentials such as hotels, flights, rental cars, and more with Giving Getaway.

With each completed booking, Giving Getaway earns a commission, 50% of which will be used to organize charity events like the 2021 Christmas gift drive for kids and teenagers in a children’s home in Montenegro.

So not only will you have an amazing trip, but you’ll also make a difference with Giving Getaway!

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