When planning a short trip within Europe, it will most likely not the first thing to cross your mind, but you should give a weekend getaways in the Balkans a serious thought. All countries on the Balkan peninsula are incredibly beautiful. And there are a lot of picturesque cities and national parks that you can explore.
A lot of these locations have been on my own travel list for years now and so far I have only had the chance to visit Romania for one night. But receiving all these amazing weekend getaways in the Balkans recommendations sure convinced me to move the rest of them forward in my travel plans.
On this list, you will find both commonly known destinations as well as real hidden gems, and I am sure that you will find an affordable weekend trip in the Balkans that suits your wishes.
The Best Weekend Getaways in the Balkans
Obviously there are many possible destinations if you are planning one or several weekend getaways in the Balkans, but these 11 are the very best. Some of them are city trips and others allow you to explore the wonderous nature of the area. You are bound to find a location that is perfect for you, regardless of what you want.
All photos in this post were contributed by the traveler that explored the respective location.
City Trips in Romania
If you’re looking for an easy-going city break in the Balkans that also offers beautiful surrounding views, Cluj-Napoca is one destination that is definitely under the radar – despite being Romania’s second-largest city! Though it’s known as an ‘old town’, Cluj offers a plethora of culture thanks to eccentric bars (including the steam-punk themed Bistro) and a great art scene.
Cluj-Napoca also offers tons of green spaces including The Botanical Garden. For food and drink, don’t miss the fully vegetarian Samsara Foodhouse (also serving vegan and raw food), where the beautiful terrace is just as impressive as the menu, or Bricks for delicious cocktails along the river.
If music is more your scene, surprisingly this old town is on the map for having a decent clubbing scene. Club Midi – one of the top 100 clubs in the world by DJ Mag – is a popular spot for electronic music, and FORM Space is another popular club. It may be worth heading to Cluj in the summer for not only lovely warm weather but UNTOLD festival – four days of EDM, pop and everything in between. Recent headliners include Black Eyed Peas, The Chainsmokers and Tiesto.
If you find the time, it may be worth heading just West of the city to explore Hoia Forest – a recreation ground that also doubles up as a paranormal attraction due to the many ghost stories and unnaturally twisted trees – if that’s your thing! It’s said to be one of the most haunted forests in the world!
Submitted by Louise from formidablejoy
If you are looking for cheap weekend getaways in the Balkans, consider the historic city of Brasov, Romania. Known as one of the seven walled citadels built by the Transylvania Saxons in the 12th century, Brasov is filled with historical attractions that will tell hundred years of history.
Stroll down the Old Town of Brasov and you will inevitably notice many stunning medieval buildings, but none as impressive as the massive Black Church. Receiving its name from a devastating fire in 1689, the Black Church tells a story of constant attacks on the medieval citadel by the Ottoman and Tartar armies.
Besides its historic buildings, Brasov is surrounded by the gorgeous Carpathian Mountains. From the cobblestone streets, you can see the famous Hollywood-style Brasov sign sitting on top of Mount Tampa. Anyone wishing for a nice hike or/and a panoramic view must not miss the opportunity to summit Mount Tampa. Cable cars are also available for a cheap price for anyone that does not wish to hike.
What makes Brasov such a great place to visit for a weekend is the surrounding attractions. The famed Bran Castle (aka Dracula Castle) is located a short drive away. Considered the national monument and landmark of Romania, Bran Castle is a place you cannot miss on your Romania itinerary. The Transfaragarasn Highway, named the best driving road in the world by Top Gear, is also located a short drive away. Tours are readily available in Brasov for anyone wishing to take their adventure in the surrounding areas of Brasov!
Contributed by Sean from Livingoutlau
Lazarea is a small, calm town in Romania and is a tourist and cultural center. It is located between the mounts and a very good place for a cheap weekend trip. Altogether Romania is a budget-friendly country and Lazarea is the one of the best places for the nature lovers.
Things to do in Lazarea
The town has various local attractions including the Lázár-castle which dates back to 1450. Today the castle is home of unique valuables and it is the easternmost buildings of the contemporary western-European styles.
There are several nearby natural sites including the Red Lake, Hargita Mountain, Saint Anna Lake, Békás Gorge and of course a lot of places for a good picnic or hikes.
The Red Lake is a natural dam lake. It formed after the collapse of a slope due to the earthquake of 1838 near the Bicaz Gorge. The Hargita Mountain is the largest volcanic body in the whole of Europe, and the Saint Anna Lake is the only crater lake in Romania.
One of the most popular tourist activities is the bear watching, as there are a lot of wild bears in the forest. Various companies organize tours that last approximately 2,5 – 3 hour for a very affordable price. From the bear watching bases you can watch the bear families without endangering yourself or the animals.
In general the prices are low, an accommodation costs approximately 10€ for a night and a beer costs around 1 euro. A pizza in a restaurant costs 4 to 5€.
Suggested by Lukacs
Weekend Getaways in Croatia
Split is located on the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea in beautiful Croatia and is a perfect European weekend escape. There is so much to see and do in Split and it’s easily accessible thanks to its airport. Some of the highlights of Split include Diocletian’s Palace which is a UNESCO world heritage site and is regarded as one of the best-preserved sights of Roman architecture in the world. This area is located in the old town of Split and a perfect place to grab dinner, a few cocktails, and do some shopping.
Split is also home to a number of beaches perfect for swimming and relaxing, and two of the best are Bačvice beach (which is great for cliff jumping) and Kaštelet which is a little quieter but the sea has many shades of beautiful blue.
Explored by Cazzy Magennis from Dream Big, Travel Far
The capital of Croatia, Zagreb, is one of the best budget-friendly weekend getaways if you want to have a city break with a cultural and historical blend.
It surely is not as popular as other cities of Croatia, like Dubrovnik, Zadar, or Split, but that’s an advantage for any traveler who would like to explore less crowded cities without breaking a bank.
There are plenty of things to do in Zagreb to satisfy any traveler. Wander through the narrow streets of the Kaptol area and admire gorgeous Cathedral, visit the Dolac market in the morning to buy locally produces goods or souvenirs to bring back home, people-watch at Ban Jelacic Square, and appreciate the icon of Zagreb, St. Mark’s Church with its stunning mosaic rooftop to name just a few.
What makes Zagreb so budget-friendly weekend getaway is that most of its attractions are free, while some are quite cheap compared to other cities of Croatia.
Don’t forget to pop-in the shortest passenger cable-car that only takes 55 seconds to reach the second station!
Submitted by Baia from Red Fedora Diary
Weekend Trips in Slovenia
As well as being one of Europe’s prettiest and most captivating capitals, Ljubljana in Slovenia is an extremely budget-friendly city destination. Located smack bang in the centre of the country, it’s easily accessible by train from neighbouring Austria, Hungary or Croatia, or by plane from anywhere in Europe.
With a population just over 250,000, Ljubljana is petite – and you can certainly feel that as you walk or cycle along the decidedly quiet riverfront. This makes it a perfect weekend city break destination. With a couple of days in Ljubljana, you can see all of the main highlights, including the inner city’s quaint architecture, the iconic Dragon Bridge, and a few museums and galleries. Ljubljana Castle towers above the old part of the city and is another must-visit (either hike up or take the funicular).
Slovenia’s food and wine scene is incredibly underrated, and Ljubljana is the perfect place to indulge in local specialty produce. Every day, a bountiful farmers’ market unfolds in the centre of Ljubljana and is a great place to sample honey and other products. Be sure to plan your city break around meals, squeezing in as many cute restaurants and wine bars as humanly possible.
If you’re visiting in summer and don’t mind exploring at a reasonably fast pace, you can squeeze Ljubljana into one day then take a side trip to Lake Bled as well. The most iconic lake in the Balkans is only 45 minutes away by car.
Contributed by Emily from Wander-Lush
Short Trips in Montenegro
The historical town of Kotor in Montenegro is a wonderful place to stay for a budget weekend away in Europe. Not only is Kotor a stone’s throw away from the nearby Tivat airport, but it’s one of many small, fortified towns nestled around the mountainous Bay of Kotor, making it a fun place to explore for both history and nature lovers.
In Kotor you can climb the many steps up to Kotor Fortress, explore the winding streets of the old town, and take a boat to the miniature islands that lie within the bay. A short drive to Perast is a gorgeous addition to these Montenegrin old towns too.
Things to do close to Kotor
If you want an easy escape to nature, from Kotor you can take a day or overnight trip into Durmitor National Park or to Lake Skadar. Durmitor is a particularly beautiful spot due to its many mountain peaks, wonderful glacial lakes, and the fact it is home to the largest cavern in Europe.
Closer to Kotor is Mt Lovcen National Park which has spectacular views back over the Bay of Kotor. Here you can visit the mountaintop Mausoleum of Petar Njegos too. The road from Kotor to Lovcen is particularly memorable since it is reached by a jaw-dropping cliffside road of over 22 hairpin bends!
Contributed by an espresso-fueled Cassie from Cassie the Hag
City Breaks in Bulgaria
If you’re looking for a budget-friendly place in Europe, there are few better options than Bulgaria. Not only is it cheap to get there, but the cost of food, accommodation and public transport is incredibly low compared to that of Western Europe. The capital city, Sofia, is a charming small city, perfect for relaxing and soaking up the vibe and history. While it was once a grey and communist city, it’s become stylish and is especially lovely to visit in the summer months when cafes spill out into public squares.
History lovers visiting Sofia can take a trip to the Red Flat, a fascinating insight into life under Soviet rule. The flat is perfectly decorated as it would have been during the era with household items that tell stories via a headset you’ll be provided with on entry.
Another must when visiting Sofia is a day trip to Seven Rila Lakes, an area of natural beauty created by ancient melting glaciers. Whether you visit by tour, car or public transport, you can spend a day hiking around the seven lakes and soaking up panoramic views from the top peak (if you can withstand the energetic hike).
Explored by Rose from Where Goes Rose
Weekend Getaways in Serbia
Belgrade is an amazing budget-friendly weekend getaway. Flights are cheap and even at the busiest times the city isn’t as packed as most European capitals. Belgrade is an underrated spot that’s perfect to visit for Spring blooms, Summer heat, and Autumn colours. The top three reasons you should visit: the food, the history, and the people!
Serbian food is some of the most delicious you’ll find. From cevapcici to krempita to slatko, you’ll leave with tighter pants for sure.
Belgrade is a really interesting city. It shows the Turkish occupation of Serbia in the old coffee houses (a staple of modern Serbian male culture) and old architecture. There’s a really interesting blend of Turkish, Serbian and Soviet history in the city that all the free walking tours cover.
The people in Serbia are my favourite part. They’re some of the sweetest, loudest, most incredible humans. They will give you the shirt off their back, invite you into their home and cook you a five-course meal within 5 minutes of meeting them.
Of course, Belgrade is also cheap! It’s so budget friendly that you can have a 4-star experience for the price of a backpacking trip.
Eating out, tours and admission fees are all super cheap. The city is full of free tours so you can save even more money!
The best things to do in Belgrade on a budget? Visit the Temple of Saint Sava – a truly beautiful Orthodox church, the Belgrade Fortress and its underground tunnels, Kalemegdan Park, the Nikola Tesla Museum and Republic Square. Wander down Knez Mihailova Street for some historical buildings and great photo opportunities.
If you’re feeling brave, try Slivovitz – the local plum liquor that literally brought tears to my eyes.
Contributed by Nina from Nina out and about
Weekend Trips in Bosnia Herzegovina
Sarajevo might be one of the most budget friendly capitals in Europe. With cheap restaurants, affordable accommodation and excellent public transport a weekend getaway to Sarajevo in Bosnia Herzegovina won’t cost you much. But, for the little money you pay, you get lots of things in return.
Most of the things to do in Sarajevo are in or around the historic Bascarsija. On the one hand you have the scenic cobbled-stone streets, mosques and madrassas from Ottoman times. And at the other hand you will find Sarajevo’s best restaurants and most trendy cafes in this area as well as a number of interesting museums.
Because everything is relatively close by, Sarajevo is best explored on foot. One of the best things to do is to walk from the Bascarsija up the hill to the yellow fortress for beautiful views over the city. Go right before sunset to see Sarajevo at its most beautiful.
Contributed by Ellis from Backpack Adventures
Weekend Getaways in the Balkans: North Macedonia
Be honest: Have you ever considered to travel to Skopje? I know it’s not really high on the list of ideas of many traveler. But you are definitely missing out an exciting destination that is a great weekend getaway in the Balkans. Surely is Ohrid on the lake of the same name THE famous tourist spot in the region, but there is a lot to discover in the North Macedonian capital. Come on an exciting journey from ancient traces to modern kitsch.
Modern kitsch? Decide for yourself! You will be surprised by Skopje’s polished city center: There are imposingly decorated bridges, huge statues of famous Macedonian personalities and new buildings that are more reminiscent of downtown Paris than a post-Yugoslav Balkan city. In the controversial “Skopje 2014” project, the government of North Macedonia is investing huge sums of money to beautify the city center and promote national pride. You should keep in mind that the country in general is not really blessed with wealth.
Things to do in Skopje
To get an overview, climb the towers of the “Skopsko Kale”, the fortress that towers over the Old Bazaar and from whose towers you can enjoy a great view of the city and the Vodno Mountain.
Afterwards, stroll through the historic center, the Old Bazaar. With its Turkish baths (hammam), mosques and caravanserai, the Ottoman-influenced district still reminds of the great importance of Skopje as a trading base.
Don’t miss out this special city on your Balkan journey!
Contributed by Phillipp from Journication
City Trips and Weekend Getaways in the Balkans
If you are like me, learning more about these incredible places in the Balkans made you add at least some of them to your travel list. Maybe you even added all of them, as every single one has a unique charm and things to do. After all, the countries of the Balkan offer so much. And once you get to know them, it is hard to believe that many travelers overlook the area when planning a short trip.
Which one of these weekend getaways in the Balkans will be your next trip?