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We can’t believe it has taken so long, but finally, the Balkans are starting to receive the type of attention it should as a tourist destination.
Over the last decade, tourism in the region has become widespread with budget bus lines and Eurail making areas more accessible and putting smaller towns with a lot to show on the map.
With mountains and valleys which will steal a part of your heart, small towns, and history that hold secrets, a paradisiacal Adriatic coast, and the ever-popular Black Sea with all of its things to do, you are sure to find enjoyment in this under-traveled region of Eastern Europe.
Gazing from the Balkan mountains or sitting with the Adriatic sea breeze to your back and the low-hanging sun lighting the eastern sky a neon orange, you will rejoice in your decision to go off the beaten European tourist trail to explore a destination which is special to the minority of travelers who take a chance on it.
The Balkan peninsula is a geographic region in the southeast of Europe usually consisting of a dozen or so countries: Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Greece, and the European part of Turkey. Although this is not defined, generally, these are the countries which are referred to as part of the Balkans.
The region is named after the Balkan mountain range which extends nearly all the way across the peninsula. The peninsula is trapped in between the Adriatic Sea to the West, the Black Sea to the East, and the Mediterranean in the South and is one of the best regions for nature escapes in Europe.
The easiest way to get around Europe, which we will explain in the article below, is via Eurail. And there is no better way to spend a month than with a Balkan itinerary to some of the best places to offer and a month-long Eurail Pass to get you there.
What is Eurail?
A Eurail Pass is an all-inclusive train ticket giving you flexible routes to destinations all across Europe including the Balkans. You simply board the train you want to travel on and fill in the details as you go.
It is a prepaid ticket which makes your life easier when traveling and can be as planned or as unplanned as you like. It allows you access to rail travel across 31 countries in Europe — with at least 10 of those being Balkans countries if not more depending on the area you define as the Balkans.
Skip the queues at the ticket desk, save time on your commute, and make decisions as you go.
An open-ended train pass through Europe — what could be better?
Your Choice of Eurail Passes
Fortunately, Eurail Passes come in a variety of packages. For starters, you can pick an open border pass or a one country pass. Obviously, the one country pass is more affordable, but if you plan on making a trip through the entirety of the Balkans, you will be better off getting the “Global Pass” option. There is not a huge price difference and will save you hours of planning and routing.
Eurail then gives you the option of 1st or 2nd class. If you are on a budget, second class is an excellent option. Make sure if you are under the age of 28, you select a “Youth” ticket as it will be cheaper.
Building your pass includes ten options of length of activation and varying numbers of train trips allowed. Anything from unlimited travel for two months to only three train trips within a month — you will have to decide which suits your itinerary best.
To fit our example itinerary below, we have selected the pass which allows travel for ten days within two months. This is the most cost-efficient option for a worthwhile month-long Balkans itinerary, in our opinion.
Where Can I Go?
Like mentioned, the Balkans are a great place to use the Eurail Pass because it is a relatively small region with many countries and destinations on the Eurail route. That means your travel time will be minimal and experiences and destinations maximized.
Below are the Balkans countries which you can travel to with a Eurail Pass:
Other countries could easily be accessed via a short bus ride from given destinations in the countries listed. In that case, it may take extra transportation planning on your part.
1 Month Balkans Itinerary with Eurail Pass
You have one month to ride the train across the Balkans; one of the most beautiful regions in Europe. You have ten train rides and unlimited freedom. Let’s check out some of the best cities to choose to visit in the Balkans in an appropriate geographical order.
Cities to See
Below are some of our favorite and most popular destinations in the Balkans, starting with a flight into Ljubljana, Slovenia and ending with a flight home from Athens, Greece.
Ljubljana is Slovenia’s capital city and has the largest population. Students make up nearly a fourth of the population which means it has a vivacious nightlife in the town. Restaurants and cafes set up outside terrace spots along the river, and at night this makes every night have the liveliness in the city of a weekend.
Ljubljana is one of Europe’s greenest capital cities with open park space being set as a priority. There are also a bunch of design elements to the architecture and monuments around town to make it one of the prettiest urban cities in Europe.
On top of its beautiful Old Town and unique museums and delicious restaurants inside the city, there is also the renowned Lake Bled which is not more than thirty minutes outside the city. Lake Bled is a big-time tourist attraction where you will find locals also out on a sun-shining day.
Ljublijana’s Top Attraction: Tivoli Park
Zagreb is Croatia’s stunning capital in the northern part of the country only 2.5 hours by train from Ljublijana. It is one of our favorite cities to walk around with its electrifying atmosphere and culture beaming from its walls.
You will notice many more quirks about this city if you spend the afternoon galavanting around. I would argue it is the best way to spend your time in Zagreb not for the lack of things to do, but for pure intrigue.
Check out the upper town of Gornji Grad with its cobblestoned streets and architecture which will send your head spinning.
Check out the thriving art scene which has turned dull walls into lively pieces of youth culture and made the city as pretty as ever. And don’t forget to check out the Museum of Broken Relationships (yes, it is a real thing)!
No matter what is happening in Zagreb, it seems this place is always abuzz with something to keep you entertained — whether it is busy cafes, street performers around every corner, or parks with many young people participating in outdoor activities, there’s always something going on.
Zagreb’s Top Attraction: Advent in Zagreb
Take the overnight train (about 5-6 hours) from Zagreb to central Serbia and get off once you have reached the capital city of Belgrade.
Belgrade is an interesting city. While not nearly as beautiful as the first two cities you have visited, it has plenty to do to keep you busy. However, our favorite was to rent a bicycle and take it cruising down the trail which runs along the Sava River. Ride it all the way until you get to Ada Ciganlija, which is an exceptional park for people watching.
When you return, check out all the action consuming Belgrade’s busiest street, Knez Mihailova, with all of its shopping, restaurants, and artisan shops. Be entertained by the street performers while sitting in front of a bustling cafe.
It is by no means a beautiful place, but definitely worth a day of your time to witness the blend of communist-era architecture and art nouveau masterpieces. Afterward, catch a train or taxi to Novi Sad for an afternoon in a prettier side of Serbia.
Belgrade’s Top Attraction: The Belgrade Fortress
Hop in the overnight train and take it seven hours to the southwest to south-central Bosnia and Herzegovina where its capital, Sarajevo, is making a name for itself as a booming tourist city.
This city, over its history, has been plagued by violence. Look no further than the start of World War I when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo to set off the entire war.
It used to be considered a melting pot of cultures until World War II separated it — removing its Jewish population and dividing Catholicism and Muslims.
However, there are peaceful times in Sarajevo, and it is becoming a beautiful place to travel. Spend your time shopping the bazaars and outdoor markets or strolling its many parks.
And after spending a few days in the city, you can head two and a half hours southwest to the small town of Mostar to check out the famous Stari Most bridge.
Sarajevo Top Attraction: Bascarsija
Split or Dubrovnik
After leaving Mostar, you have a choice of Adriatic seaside Croatian towns; Split or Dubrovnik. While Dubrovnik is closer, Split may offer more to do. However, both of them are equally beautiful and buzzing, especially in the summer months.
For the sake of creating an itinerary, we will take you down to the southern tip of Croatia, two-and-a-half hours to the small but busy town of Dubrovnik where Game of Thrones fans will be delighted to know many of its scenes were shot.
Its baroque architecture and limestone streets within its stunning and renowned Old Town never seem to get old. You could spend hours traversing these narrow lanes within the fortified walls before taking a dip in the turquoise sea.
At night, take advantage of the plethora of boat parties or rocking club scene that has come about in the past decade in Dubrovnik.
This city is full of life and deserves to be reckoned as a top destination of the Balkans.
Dubrovnik’s Top Attraction: Muralles de Dubrovnik
Podgorica/ Budva/ Sveti Stefan
About four hours southeast of Dubrovnik is the capital of Montenegro, Podgorica. With a lot to see and do in the Balkans, Montenegro often gets left off the list; however, it would be a shame to miss because this little country is packed with nature and history and everything in between.
Ever seen a city suffering through an identity crisis? That is Podgorica in a nutshell. The small city at the conflux of the Moraca and Ribnica Rivers is dazzling yet unpronounced at the same time. Between the Austrian and Ottoman Empires, good people of Podgorica struggle to know where their city started.
Budva and Sveti Stefan are two small coastal cities both an hour away, which are worth seeing while you are in Montenegro. Chase down a bus or taxi — whatever you can find — and take a day trip to the coast for unforgettable views of the turquoise sea.
Podgorica Top Attraction: Lake Skadar
Buckle up, because from Podgorica you will board the long (very long) 12-hour overnight train all the way to western Bulgaria; to its capital city of Sofia which isn’t the prettiest city but has a lot going on.
It is a student city, so there’s a certain teeming of life and outlook you don’t get in certain places in Europe where business has become as usual. There is great nightlife and many underground bars and clubs where the scene will surprise you. Food is tasty and cheap, and nature surrounds the city.
Make your way to the foot of Mt. Vitosha which is less than an hour’s ride or so from the city center, and it can be accessed by public bus. From there, there are many hiking trails to occupy an afternoon.
Sofia’s Top Attraction: St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral
Varna is Bulgaria’s second-largest city and its most renowned on the Black Sea coast. It is around seven hours from the capital by train to the northeast corner of the country. Here, you will experience the tale of two worlds. Where Sofia felt grey, Varna is vibrant and lively.
It makes for a great place to pick up on culture, and there is a beautiful archaeological museum — the best in Bulgaria. Although there are resorts, if you are looking for less crowded beaches with a more calm environment, try traveling up the coast a bit to the charming city of Balchik.
Wallow away a few days on the Black Sea where watersports are the thing to do. Try out scuba diving or lounge around on the beach sipping cocktails. The choice is yours!
Varna’s Top Attraction: Varna Sea Garden
Traveling the furthest East our Balkan’s Eurail itinerary will take you, we will travel seven hours down the coast of the Black Sea and move east into Turkey to where continents and culture coincide in Istanbul.
Istanbul is a magical city which many pass through on their way to the Middle East. With a history which can nearly cover the length of humankind, museums, and galleries to fit all fancies and architecture and attractions that pull in visitors by the millions each year, it is no wonder we wanted you to see this place.
The Turkish people are humble and work hard, but when it is time to clock out for the day, they sure know how to have some fun (and cook the best food). Make sure you check out their culinary scene, too! Especially at the popular bazaars.
Istanbul’s Top Attraction: Hagia Sophia Museum
Our last stop is one that you have undoubtedly heard of before — the birthplace of democracy — the ancient city of Athens. It is a long ride south, so take the overnight train and wake up in one of Ancient Greece’s oldest cities.
We don’t have to continue to speak of Athens long history, it will be evident as soon as you arrive and you are sure to check out a few of the many museums and ruins to educate yourself.
We suggest hitting the crazy street and markets of Plaka to get a taste of present-day Athens and take in some of the everyday hustle and trade in Greece. Though, in almost every situation, a Greek will be much more laid back than you find them on Plaka. However, it is great for shopping.
If you have time on your trip, you must go island hopping in Greece. However, you can’t take the Eurail to these places so that you won’t find them on this itinerary. (Hint: Leave time to explore the islands!)
Athen’s Top Attraction: Acropolis
The Balkans are an incredibly gorgeous region of southeastern Europe full of dark history, stunning nature, incredible bodies of water, and some reserved but (ultimately) very friendly people.
A one month Eurail trip through the Balkans is sure to show you a wonderful time. Following the itinerary above, you will get a fantastic scope of the region and culture while seeing some of the best sites there are to check out in the Balkans.
If you have any questions regarding your Balkans trip or Eurail Pass, feel free to reach out, and we will try to answer your concerns to the best of our knowledge.