When I told people I planned on going to Kosovo, the general response was – Really? Is there anything there?
I visited Kosovo in September and the weather was still sunny. I stayed in the capital Pristina – the youngest capital in Europe. It’s a small country with under 2 million people living there. This makes it easy to explore in a short time.
I travelled to Pristina from Tirana, Albania in an air conditioned bus for €10, it took 5 hours. There was no delay at passport control when I crossed the border. About 90% of people living in Kosovo are ethnic Albanian. There are a lot of similarities, Albanian is the most spoken language in Kosovo.
You can’t go from Kosovo to Serbia if you received a Kosovo stamp in your passport when entering, as Serbia doesn’t recognise Kosovo as a country. So you have to go via Montenegro or Macedonia as they recognise Kosovo’s independence.
Pristina has an international airport which 25 airlines currently fly out of. I flew from Pristina to Budapest, Hungary for €16, this was cheaper and a lot quicker than going over land.
Top 10 things to do in Kosovo
1) The Newborn Monument (NEWBORN)
This is a large sculpture of the capital letters NEWBORN. Each letter is 3 metres high and in total it weights 9 tons. The sculpture was unveiled on 17 February 2008, when Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. Every year on that date it is repainted to represent a political or important issue for Kosovans. This year the N and W were laid flat on the ground and the letters o, a, l, l, s written on the floor. From above it reads – No Walls. This was done to protest against Kosovans requiring a visa to enter EU countries.
Tip: Behind the NEWBORN statue is the Palace of Youth and Sports. It’s really run down and some of it hasn’t been renovated since a fire in 2000. But if you’re into urban exploring and dark tourism, you might want to take a look.
2) Bill Clinton Boulevard
From 1998 to 1999 there was the Kosovo War. This war was between Yugoslavian forces (Serbia and Montenegro) and the Kosovo Liberation Army (predominantly ethnic Albanians).
In 1998 the US and NATO stepped in when there were reports of ethnic cleansing and persecution of Albanians by Serbians. US President Bill Clinton and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair pushed NATO to intervene in the conflict and NATO carried out controversial airstrikes on Yugoslavia. Kosovo hailed Clinton and Blair as heroes and many called their children after them.
To thank Bill Clinton they named a Boulevard after him and put up a 3 metre statue.
3) National Library of Kosovo
This unusual building is worth seeing. It’s based in the university campus and you can’t miss it as it looks like a space ship.
If you’re a fan of brutalist architecture this building will interest you. It was built with concrete in 1989 and then cladded with a cast Aluminium mesh.
Like a lot of things in Kosovo, it hasn’t been well kept.
The currency in Kosovo is the Euro and if you fancy spending some then head to Pristina’s Bazaar. Again, it’s not the most well kept place but there are many shops and stalls selling fruit and vegetables and household goods. It’s where the locals shop.
I found the vendors to be helpful. They don’t speak English but most spoke German and kept saying “Deutsche?” to me. Since the 1970s many people from Kosovo have left to work in Germany due to the higher wages there. They learnt German and when they returned to home they passed on the language to their children. I found German more widely spoken than English. English was very limited, even in the younger population.
I asked a vendor where I could buy a magnet, he replied “Deutsche?” and then another vendor came to help and produced something like the image below.
After I showed them a few photos of fridge magnets on my phone they told me to stay there and 2 minutes later the vendor came back with a selection of fridge magnets.
Pristina Bazaar hasn’t got the same old cobbled street vibe that the Bazaar in Skopje, Macedonia has, but it’s still fun to visit.
Tip: Don’t feel intimidated if people stare at you. As a tall blonde female I had lots of people looking at me. If you’re not typically Albanian looking – short, tan skinned and black/brown hair, people will stare at you. Kosovo isn’t used to tourism yet.
5) Mother Teresa Boulevard
Named Bulevardi Nënë Tereza this wide pedestrianised road is nice to walk down. There are stalls selling knock-off designer sunglasses and jewellery and at the bottom end is a statue of Skanderbeg (it’s not as grand as the one in Tirana). There’s also a small courtyard off the boulevard with a statue of Mother Teresa.
This area is where I would consider the centre of Pristina.
6) Bear Sanctuary
My absolute favourite thing in Kosovo is the Bear Sanctuary Prishtina in Novo Selo, a short trip from the capital. I wrote another blog post on Why and How to Visit Bear Sanctuary Prishtina that provides information on how to get there by public transport.
7) Rakija Street
“Te kafet e rakise” or rakija street is a collection of bars known for serving different types of rakija. It’s located just off Mother Teresa Boulevard.
Rakija is a popular type of brandy in the Balkans made from different fruits – plum, cherry, grape, apple, quince. My favourite is made from grape but in Kosovo, quince rakija is the most popular. While rakija is usually 40% ABV, it can be even higher – up to 80%.
Bars here include; Taverna Tirona, Taverna Baron, SHKA and Pjata. If you wander around this area at night you’ll be able to taste all the rakija you like.
8) Day trip to Prizren
If you’re not too hungover from rakija, then a day trip to Prizren is a perfect way to see more of Kosovo. It’s often nicknamed the culture capital of Kosovo. To reach Prizren you take a bus from Pristina’s main bus station. They run regularly between the two cities and take 1h 40mins. You pay on the bus and it costs €4 each way.
I found Prizren very different from Pristina. It was prettier and more touristy with lots of bar and restaurants. The architecture included Ottomon design as opposed to Pristina’s concrete look. If you’re looking for somewhere to relax and spend time eating and drinking with friends then Prizren is more suitable than Pristina.
The city is full of churches and mosques.
The main attraction is Kalaja Fortress. The climb isn’t anywhere near as challenging as climbing the city walls of Kotor, but it is VERY steep in parts. Yet I saw people climbing up in heels and with pushchairs – they were a lot more capable than me. The view from the top is worth the walk up.
9) Eat onion
People in Kosovo really really love onion. It’s in everything. All meat dishes and salads are served with onion. Pies (pite) are also very common. Most of the food is the same as Albania so make sure you try some flia while you’re there.
Where to get food in Pristina:
Papirun – Great place to get some fast food. They do the best sandwiches.
Pishat – If you want to try some of the heavier traditional foods, like breads and grilled meat, this place is a good choice.
Soma Book Station – While not the best place for traditional food, it has a great bookstore/bar/music venue vibe.
Taverna Tirona – Casual place near the centre, known for its laid back atmosphere.
Remember to wash the food down with a Peja beer!
10) Hiking in Peje
If you’re more into nature than city life, Peje (or Peć ) has great hiking. Peje is located in the west by Bjeshket e Nemuna National Park, which borders Montenegro and Albania. You can take a direct bus from Pristina and it’s about the same distance as Pristina to Prizren.
Near Peje is Rugova Canyon, one of Europe’s longest and deepest canyons.
Kosovo is a unique place to visit. Pristina isn’t a tourist hot spot but in general the people are friendly, even if they do stare a lot. While they use the Euro which is a strong currency at the moment, Kosovo is the cheapest place I’ve ever been to in Europe. They have a history intertwined with the other neighbouring countries, which is why I suggest it should be included with a visit to Albania, Serbia or Macedonia.
If you’re interested in places a bit off the beaten track then head over to the Balkans, visit Kosovo and do these 10 things.