Equipped with scenic beaches, towering mountains, and a massive array of ancient landmarks to explore, the Balkan Peninsula is perfect for a lengthy vacation—and as an added bonus, vast swathes of the region are still largely off the radar for international tourists.
While Croatian cities like Split and Dubrovnik have seen a colossal surge in tourism over recent years, there’s a wealth of destinations across the peninsula that offer similar stunning architecture with a fraction of the tourists. As you plan your next voyage across the Mediterranean, be sure to save some room in the itinerary for these stunning—and highly underrated—Balkan cities.
Though often overshadowed by the national capital of Sofia, Varna is equipped with one particularly enticing attribute for tourists—a coastline, to be precise. Perched on the western edge of the Black Sea, this historic city currently serves as one of Bulgaria’s most prominent coastal resort towns, offering a wide array of polished hotels operating alongside renowned seafood restaurants. On a sunny day, the city’s lengthy white sand beach is the perfect spot for swimming and sunbathing, while the nearby Archaeological Museum Varna is home to Roman baths, antique jewelry, and one of the earth’s oldest known examples of gold treasure.
Albania’s lengthy coastline is renowned for its idyllic seaside villages, but there’s a wealth of fascinating historic settlements to explore in the nation’s interior as well. Case in point: Berat, a scenic city perched on the banks of the Osum River. Centuries of rule by a wide array of different cultures have infused Berat with a diverse collection of architectural styles, with no shortage of historic houses of worship to admire along its streets. Though mosques and churches abound across the city, one of its main attractions is Berat Castle, a massive stone structure that’s home to multiple 13th-century buildings located within its walls.
Passport: Explore the finest destinations and experiences around the world in the Forbes Passport newsletter.Sign Up
Doboj, Bosnia and Herzegovina
For those exploring the Republika Srpska, the historic city of Doboj is home to one particularly fascinating centuries-old attraction. Known as the Doboj Fortress, this massive stone outpost was first constructed in the 13th century during the reign of the Kingdom of Bosnia, though centuries of conflict have led to its destruction and eventual reconstruction close to twenty times over the years. After a day spent exploring the fortress and sampling Bosnian cuisine in the old town, the nearby Lake Goransko is a particularly charming outdoor destination, providing visitors with an opportunity to swim and search for native Balkan wildlife.
In the southern reaches of Serbia, the city of Niš has given rise to a particularly large number of Roman emperors, with the iconic Constantine the Great being one of many rulers to hail from the city. In the modern era, there’s a rich array of historic buildings and landmarks to discover, ranging from the stately 18th-century Niš Fortress to Skull Tower, a macabre structure that’s decorated with the skulls of Serbian rebels that lost their lives in a failed uprising against the Ottoman Empire. In addition to its wealth of historic attractions, Niš is also home to a booming food scene, with no shortage of top-tier restaurants operating throughout the city center.
Ohrid, North Macedonia
Nestled in the southwestern reaches of North Macedonia, Ohrid is one of the few destinations on earth that serves as both a Cultural and Natural UNESCO World Heritage Site. The first distinction stems from its high concentration of centuries-old Byzantine-style churches, while the sprawling Lake Ohrid earned the city its second distinction, with a diverse array of native Balkan fish and plants found within its waters. While the cultural heritage of Ohrid is certainly fascinating, those in search of a tranquil escape into the wilderness should be sure to spend time exploring nearby Galičica National Park, a gorgeous preserve that’s rife with native Balkan birds.