It’s funny how after many years of travel, a place can still take you by surprise. We were meant to spend one night in Prizren, Kosovo, as a way to refresh our passport visas. But we spent three, because we fell in love with this beautiful little city, one of the most affordable we’ve found in all of Europe. The people are so friendly and welcoming, the history is fascinating, the food is not only delicious but cheap—and did we mention that you can get a pint of beer at a nice bar for as little as $1.50? Score.
Things to know
After spending the later part of the 1990s embroiled in war with the Yugoslav Republic (as it was known then), Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008—though Serbia and some other countries around the world have yet to recognize that status.
Because of these issues, and memories of the war on our TV screens, many tourists are hesitant to visit Kosovo. Even my parents were concerned when we said we were visiting. “Are you sure you should be going there?” they asked.
But it didn’t take us long to see that Kosovo isn’t some impoverished war-beaten place. It’s wonderful. All you have to do is ask any local and you will hear the same words from every mouth: “Kosovo is safe, Kosovo is beautiful, please tell people to come visit.” And that’s what we promised we would do – because they are 100 percent right.
Don’t be fooled by the Eastern bloc feel around the city’s dreary run-down bus station. Just ten minutes walk from there, the depressing architecture transforms.
We were so pleasantly surprised at what a beautifully designed, trendy, yet historic city we had walked into. There is a bustling downtown area that is mostly for pedestrians. The cobblestone streets are bordered with boutique clothing stores, restaurant,s and bars all full of locals out enjoying coffee and life—the essence of Balkan lifestyle.
The Bistrica river (which means ‘clear water’ in Serbian) runs through the center of town. You can wander across the stone bridges from side to side, exploring the numerous cafes and restaurants along its shores.
Things to Eat
Much of the food in the Balkans is fairly similar, with local variations, and is based around grilled meat, stews, salads, breads, and cheese. You can go to a really nice, even fancy restaurant, eat yourself stupid, have a couple of beers and still pay around ten dollars for two people.
Here are a few of the must-try dishes in Prizren, each less than four bucks.
Pljeskavica: Pljeskavica is a ground meat patty that is often stuffed with cheese and served with fries and salad. You can choose to have it without the cheese, but that just seems crazy to us. Price: $3-$4.
Pide: Pide is a flatbread similar to a pizza. These are common in many countries in Eastern Europe, however we’ve found they are each a little different and well worth trying. Price: $1.50-$4, depending on size.
Sharr cheese: Sharr is a local specialty from the Sar mountains of Kosovo. It’s a salty hard cheese of both sheep and cow’s milk and it’s often grated on top of salads and main dishes. Price: bread $1, cheese $1.50.
Burek: Burek is the number 1 cheap and tasty dish you can find all over the Balkans. They’re filled with cheese, spinach, or meat. Price: $0.25-$1.
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Things to Do
A few of the attractions around the city are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the 14th-century Decani Monastery and three other medieval buildings. Some are currently under renovation, but you can gain access if you know the right people; or you can just wander around and enjoy them from the outside. As the city is doing its best to improve these sites for tourists, please be patient and understand that these things take time—but still go and check them out.
Kalaja Fortress: There aren’t many places in Prizren where you can’t see this fortress towering high above the city. Opinions vary on the exact history of Kalaja Fortress, but it has probably been an armored settlement since the 5th or 6th century BC. This newer medieval fortress dates back to the 11th century when Prizren was occupied by the Byzantines. The view of the city from here is not to be missed.
Church of St. Saviour: On the way to the fortress (on the town side) you’ll come across this old church about half way up. Although it is in ruins now, it’s quite beautiful to walk around here and get some Instagram-worthy pictures.
Take a walking tour with Mr G (the owner of the Prizren City Hostel): Mr. G’s tour is a great way to see the sites of Prizren. He has inside knowledge to get you into places that you may not be able to get into on your own. Plus, his tour is completely free; a minimum of five people is usually needed—just ask around the hostel and you’ll find eager participants. The hostel itself is cheap too: about $30 a night for a private double room with shared bath, including free Wi-Fi, free breakfast, free coffee, and free beer and wine.
Catch a basketball game: Turns out basketball is the sport of preference in Prizren. Who’d have guessed! Locals love to watch the games, which often feature international players—even from the USA on occasion. Dates vary, but weekends are the most common time for games, and tickets are normally around $2. Ask at your accommodation about upcoming events.
All in all, there wasn’t a place in Prizren where we weren’t welcomed and made to feel at home. Many people spoke enough English that visiting this beautiful city wasn’t a hassle in any way—in fact we loved it so much we didn’t want to leave. And what makes it even better, it’s one of the most affordable cities we’ve visited in Europe so far.
But our favorite thing about Prizren was simply the life. The locals are out, drinking coffee, eating meals with family, having a beer with friends. Even in the off-season, there are always people around enjoying themselves and this can be infectious, in the best possible way.
So now that you’ve heard of it, come to Prizren, Kosovo. It’s safe, it’s friendly and it’s waiting for you to visit.
This article was originally published by Yahoo! Travel under the headline The Best Value European Destination You’ve Never Heard Of. It is reprinted here with permission.
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(Photo: Prizren, Kosovo via Milosk50/Shutterstock.com)