The Balkans: Ultimate 2-week route guide

When you think about "road trip" images of freedom, dirt and sunglasses pop up in your head. Well, this trip will be exactly like that and more than you could ever imagine. Brace yourself for 2 weeks full of sunshine, excellent food, intense history, heart-warming hospitality and funky Balkan Beats.

We started our road trip to Southeast Europe from Berlin in an Audi A4 convertible. If you are considering doing the same but do not have a car at hand, consider renting one in e.g. Bratislava via one of the many car rental car agencies like Europcar. You will need some documents when driving in the EU countries as well as outside the EU. Make sure you have your valid driving license and a proof of third party liability insurance at hand. Check the requirements of the countries you want to enter beforehand if potentially drivers from your home country need to get an international driver’s license. A Green Card for the vehicle is e.g. required at border crossings to Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Get a Green Card before departure from your chosen insurance company, it will reduce the chances of not being able to pass through border control. Also most of the highways require a toll which can be easily purchased at any gas station on the road.

Day 1: Start your journey and don’t forget to charge your camera for the ride

Depending from where you start your journey off the first day will mostly be spend in the car on the highway down to the southeast. You can also directly fly in to Bratislava or Praha and take the first day for organizing your car, your papers, checking your route and baggage.

Route for the day: arrival in Bratislava

What to bring: Toll for highways. Purchasable at any highway gas station. A jolly road trip singalong playlist (Spotify link).

Where to stay for the night: Airbnb in Bratislava Štefánka (our recommendation). The city’s best-known sights and museums are all within an easy walking distance.

Day 2: Stroll around Bratislava – The city where you find real life

The official motto of the capital of Slovakia inspires to dive directly into the cities’ sightseeing opportunities and museums. A visit to the Bratislava Castle is highly recommended. Stroll around the impressive castle and get to know all the interesting stories about the castle and its former rulers. Appreciate the great gardens and artwork exhibited there. Feeling hungry? Great! A lot of hipster cafés and bars mushroomed in the are around the Main Square. You will not leave hungry. Hit the road in the late afternoon for Belgrade, the White City.

Route for the day: Bratislava – Belgrade

Distance: 570 km

What to bring: Your passport and vehicle papers to enter Serbia. Prepare for some waiting time at the border control as Serbia, for the time being, is not part of the EU.

Where to stay for the night: Hostel in Stari Grad (Old Town), you will be close to all the touristic spots for the next day as well as clubs in case you want to hit the clubs in the night.

Good to know: There are plenty of hitchhikers on the highway, usually young folks from all over the World travelling on a small budget. It is ok to take some with you if you feel like it but it is advisable to check if they have the needed visa for the country you are heading towards, especially if you are leaving or re-entering the EU. At the border control you as the driver are liable for your passengers and if you try to bring guests without a valid entry permit into a country it might get very nasty for you and trust us - you do want to avoid any queries with those gentlemen at the border control stations by any means.

Day 3: Belgrade – The White City

Belgrade by all means is not the most beautiful city on this list but during last years it became one of Europe’s most vibrant cities and turned into a recognizable newcomer for techno music in Europe. If you had enough from the snappy Berlin Berghain queue, Belgrade will be a welcome change and you will be able to find true underground techno parties taking you to a leap in time to Berlin in the 90’s. In summer do not miss out to hop on one of the splavs (rafts) on the river Sava for an open air techno party on a boat deck.

Locations to go:

  • Splav 20/44 – Savski kej BB, 11070, New Belgrade open all year round Thu-Sat. Located at the Sava river. The 20/44 offers a good music selection ranging from Detroit techno and soulful to disco, funky, house and dub step.

  • Barutana – Donji grad, Kalemegdan, 11000 Belgrade. Open air club only open in spring/summer. During the fall/winter season Barutana is closed and the crowd moves to the DOT club.

  • Drugstore – Bulevar Despota Stefana 115 – Poenkareova, 11000 Belgrade. The ”new” Drugstore is a homage to Berghain Berlin: dark, raw and rough around the edges, located in a former slaughter house. Brace yourself for a night full of underground acts from local and international scene.

Take it easy the next day and start with a good Serbian breakfast where you will have the opportunity to try various sorts of pastries (often with cheese or meat or filled with jam) and hit the road for your next destination – the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Route for the day: Belgrade – Sarajevo

Distance: 300 km

What to bring: Prepare for another potential lengthy border control timeslot and make sure you have your Green Card at hand as the Bosnian officers put a lot of emphasis on this document.

Where to stay for the night: Airbnb in Bascarsija Sarajevo's old bazaar and the historical and cultural center of the city.

Day 4 and 5: Sarajevo – A place steeped in history

The capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina is by far the highlight of the journey. Take some days to explore the city and plan that you will leave with the utter wish to return. Sarajevo is one of the rare places where during a 10-minute walk you can see places of worship for the most important religions: Catholic and Orthodox churches, mosques and synagogues. Sarajevo was for hundreds of years at the crossroads between two great empires – the Ottoman and the Austro-Hungarian. The mix of both traditions give Sarajevo a unique flair and cultural mix.

Don’t miss out to visit the museums and get a tour about the Sarajevo siege. Although truly not easy to digest it is worth it to deep dive into the Bosnian War and the connected siege of Sarajevo which was the longest of a capital city in the history of modern warfare.

Good to know: Take a city tour for extra information on the city and historical events. We got the 4-hour “War tour and Sarajevo siege” via the Get-Your-Guide-App. During this tour we had the possibility to access the bobsleigh track from the Olympic Winter games hosted in Sarajevo in 1984 which definitely remained our personal highlight. If you are a foodie do not miss to try the country’s national dish Ćevapi: minced meat formed into sausages and served inside a flatbread with onions and sauce. Best location to do so is the Food Market.

Option: Hit the road again early afternoon of day 5 for the Tara River Canyon. Alternatively you can switch the rafting at Tara river for hiking the Tara mountain (1,544 m), which is located in the Serbian Tara National Park. The national park is 200 km south-west from Belgrade and offers great hiking routs through forests of rare Serbian spruce trees which are classified as endangered.

Route for the day: Sarajevo – Tara River Canyon

Distance: 110 km

What to bring: Prepare your camera for scenic routes with almost no traffic through majestic mountains. Gravel routes and potholes will make the journey going on a rather slow pace. Have – again – the Green Card ready if you choose to stay on the Montenegrin site of the river.

Where to stay for the night: GRAB Riverside Ethno Village and Camp (link) with amazing views of the surrounding mountains and the Tara river. Activities on the Tara river or in the Durmitor National Park can be directly booked in the camp and are organized by the trained and fully licensed camp staff.

Day 5 to 7: Tara River Canyon – Paradise for outdoor activities 

Besides the scenic view of peacefully resting mountains and turquoise shining water the Tara River canyon is with 1,300 meters the deepest canyon in Europe and after the Grand Canyon the second deepest in the World. The Tara river also known as “Tear of Europe” due to its clear water is one of the “must do” in the world of rafting. We booked our rafting tours directly via the Grab camp as they offer different routes depending on your skill level. It is also possible to do a several days tour going down impressive rapids on Tara river. Depending on your skills and water level it can get quite intense but definitely an item to cross off your bucket list while in the area.

Canyoning is a mix of sliding, swimming, climbing and jumping off cliffs into deep plunge pools. Canyon Nevidio is located on slops of Durmitor mountain. It is one of the still untouched canyons in Europe offering a large number of waterfalls, whirls and passages.

If you still can't get enough of the views get on a hiking trip. All around the area you can find different hiking routes with levels from “easy” to “tough”. For some you will need appropriate shoes to be able to master rocky and slippery terrain. We did an easy going half day hike to the Sokoline peak, a place with the beautiful panoramic view of the landscape of a Tara gorge, Durmitor and Piva mountains.

Option: Take a short break at Priva Lake near the town of Pluzine and do a fun and thrilling slip line across the lake (link) which claims to be the longest in Montenegro.

Route for the day: Tara River Canyon – Podgorica (capital of Montenegro and an easy half a day stop on the way down to the coast) – Budva

Distance: 210 km

What to bring: Again, prepare for steep gravel routes with plenty of potholes and going at a slow pace. Drive carefully!

Where to stay for the night: Hostel in atmospheric Stari Grad the beautiful old town of Budva

Day 8 to 10: Budva and Bay of Kotor – The Montenegrin Miami and Norwegian fjord

Budva is definitely a very special place on the list and one of the most ambivalent ones. The Old Town of Budva – Stari Grad is dated back to the 5th century BC. In Stari Grad you will find plenty of cute little streets with tiny restaurants lovely decorated where you can have the best sea food ever (much recommended!) and wash it down with great local red wine. But outside of the old town you will have a hard time to find something not new and shiny. The mass tourism has ramped up super-fast over the last years and not all of the new developments seem to be well thought through. In high season you will find the town and the beaches packed with tourists and it gets quite tricky to find a spot which is more private.

Good to know: Swim north from the Old Town Beach for approximately 10-15 minutes to get to an entrance to some stunning cave formations. There is a tiny entrance which you can swim through and you will be in an inside cave swimming pool which is really cool! The water is stunning and warm so you can float around there for a bit. It is advisable to equip yourself with a pair of swimming shoes as the corals and rock formations are really sharp around the beach in Budva. You can get some everywhere around the beach area or in the city at almost all small shops.

When staying in Buda a trip to the beach near Sveti Stefan is much recommended. Sveti Stefan is approximately 10 km to the North away from Budva and definitely the money shot of the Adriatic shoreline. The small fortified island village is connected via a narrow bridge with the mainland and is dated back to the 15th century. Today it hosts a 5-star luxury resort and is unfortunately only open for the guests of the resort. The beach however is open for everyone and offers you an impeccable pink-sands and incredible turquoise water and a perfect destination for a half a day getaway.

The Bay of Kotor is another dreamy destination which is easily accessible from the home base in Budva. It is the most gorgeous and breathtaking place you will come across on the whole trip and will most likely struggle for superlatives to describe the beauty of this unmissable place. Already the geographic description results in a struggle. It looks like a fjord with cobalt water surrounded by steep cliffs of the Dinaric Alps. The bay has been inhabited since antiquity and is scattered with small, cute photogenic medieval towns: Kotor, Risan, Tivat, Preast, just to name a few are all worth the visit. The Bay of Kotor is UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Orthodox and Catholic Churches around the bay are important sites for numerous religious pilgrims.

Route for the day: Budva – Dubrovnik

Distance: 120 km

What to bring: Don’t forget to charge your camera, you will hop out the car every 10 km to take stunning pictures of the Adriatic coastline.

Where to stay for the night: Airbnb in quarter Lapad Dubrovnik close to Lapad beach.

Day 11 Dubrovnik – Or should we call it “Kings Landing”?

Dubrovnik was a touristic hot spot already but after the series “Game of Thrones” put their capital Kings Landing into the walls and streets of Old Town Dubrovnik, it joined the ranks of the stars of European cities attracting travelers from all over the world. In masses. Having said that, be prepared for a super crowded old town of Dubrovnik. Still, there are options to get the most magnificent spots just for yourself: be an early bird and explore the city in dawn when the vendors are about to open their shops and the locals are strolling around the cities market. There is another benefit to start your day at 6am: the temperature is very comfortable when wandering around the old city and climbing the old city walls. The best way to explore the city is to be there at dawn and get lost in the narrow streets and observing all the locals going about their daily business bracing themselves for the armada of tourists which is about to arrive around 10am in the morning. After being consumed by the crowded old town of Dubrovnik take an afternoon off at the Lapad beach to enjoy a refreshing swim and a sun downer.

Route for the day: Dubrovnik – take a stop in Mostar for half a day – Plitvice Lakes

Distance: 510 km

What to bring: You will be re-entering into Bosina and Herzigovina again to visit Mostar. So be prepared for another potentially lengthy boarder control episode. And again – Green Card wins!

Where to stay: Family House Ana, Rakovica 46, Rakovica, 47245 Croatia is close to the main gates of the National Park Plitvice Lakes

Day 12 Mostar – City of “Stari Most”

Mostar by all means should not be missed out, it is close enough to Dubrovnik for half a day stop when on the way to Plitvice Lakes. The Old Bridge (Stari Most) was built in the 16th century and is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most visited landmarks. It is considered an exemplary piece of Islamic architecture in the Balkans. Mostar was named after the “Mostari” which means as much as Bridge Keepers today. For hundreds of years the around 20m high (depending on the height of the water) and 28m wide bridge has stood as an icon of the multicultural coexistence, connecting the Muslim in the east and west Catholic communities. Unfortunately the original Stari Most which managed to stand for almost 430 years was blown away in the Croat-Bosniak War in 1993. In 2004 it was rebuilt stone by stone according to the original architecture and became UNESCO World Heritage Site shortly after.

It is a legend that jumping off the Stari Most is how a boy becomes a man in Mostar. It a tradition as old as the bridge itself to jump off the Mostar Bridge into the green Neretva River rushing by below. Most boys jump off the bridge only once in their lifetime but there are some daredevils, members of the local diving club, called the Mostarski Ikari who in summer times take turns in jumping off the bridge for money. It is a fair deal of 25 Euro for a jump as the divers still risk their lives for the thrill. The diving club Mostarski Ikari even offers to teach you the arts of bridge diving for a bargain of 35 Euro so you can take the step yourself. You will be credited with a certificate proving your courage and your name will be added into the Diving Clubs record book. Also you will be allowed to jump off the bridge whenever you want – what a cool feature to have in ones resumé! Would you dare to do it?

Day 13 and 14 National Park Plitvice Lakes – Wondrous waterfalls and blue lakes

This area is definitely one of Europe’s most beautiful natural features and correspondingly included to the bucket lists of many travelers leading to busy times in summer. The national park contains of a series of sixteen lakes connected by hundreds of streams and waterfalls. Watch the water glow in every shade of blue as the limestone lakes reflect the sky.

As it gets super busy (almost as busy as in Dubrovnik) it is recommended to start the day early. There are two entrance points and the tickets can be purchased directly at the entrance. Prepare for some waiting time in queues but the views are definitely worth it. As recommended by our hosts we targeted the second entrance and spend only a limited time queuing. In the park itself it can be quite crowded at the most scenic spots but you also always will be able to find hidden spots for a recreational break between the hikes.

Route for the day: Plitvice Lakes – Zagreb (and back to your start location)

Distance: 140 km

What to bring: Start early on your last day to arrive in Zagreb for breakfast. Zagreb is the capital city of Croatia and has many fine sites and plenty restaurants. Take a stroll around the city to stretch your legs before the last part of your journey and have some Štrukli, dough filled with cottage cheese and sour cream the most Zagreb-like dish there is. Sadly it is also time to say goodbye soon and be on the way to the start location with a crying eye and a pocket full of unforgettable memories.

Bonus material for you: full map of the Balkan road trip

  • approx. 2,500 km (starting from/ ending in Bratislava)

  • 6 countries: start in Slovakia, transit Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzogovina, Montenegro and Croatia

  • 9 border crossings

  • approx. 34 hours of driving, adding loads of hours at border crossings ;)

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