Europe & Britain | Destination Guides

Beyond Dubrovnik and Sarajevo: 10 off-the-radar Balkan towns to explore with Trafalgar

Recently updated on July 19th, 2023 at 10:19 am

Feel the magic of Balkan towns, unknown cities, and small historic villages when you go beyond the Balkan Peninsula’s most famous stops. Venture into the hills in search of Dracula’s castle, and set sail for small islands off Croatia. On every tour we always include the biggest and best sights, along with authentic experiences you can only get when you venture off the beaten track.

The Balkans, or Balkan Peninsula, is a fascinating area of Europe. Here many battles and conflicts have taken place over the centuries, and yet peace prevails despite differences in ethnicities, religions and languages. From former Yugoslavia – including Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro – to Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria, Greece and Albania, there are plenty of off-the-beaten-track Balkan towns and cities across this rich and varied landscape to explore. Here are 10 Balkans towns we love, and know you will too.

Want to discover the Balkans for yourself? If you’re a Trafalgar past guest, all you need to do is share your most memorable Trafalgar moment with us for the chance to win, all thanks to the Trafalgar Unlocked Awards. Click here to discover more.

Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina

The small city of Mostar is most famous for the beautiful UNESCO Stari Most, an Ottoman-style bridge reconstructed entirely using traditional methods. The medieval bridge connects the Muslim and Christian sections of the city, crossing the Neretva River. Here lies the story of people with different faiths co-existing at peace until the 90s Bosnian War. 

On our Balkan Delight tour a Local Specialist will lead you through Mostar’s colourful cobbled streets. You’ll hear about how the city was the most bombed in the Bosnian war between the Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbs and Muslim Bosniaks, and visit the most beautiful sites including the Stari Most bridge. If you time it right, brave local men might be diving off the famous landmark. Take time to shop the old town filled with local artisans and try traditional coffee in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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Budva, Montenegro

Ever visited a resort town in Montenegro? The beautiful city of Budva is referred to as ‘Montenegro’s Miami’. It’s here you can kick back at the beach, swim in turquoise waters and enjoy a magnificent seafood lunch. Of course, Balkan towns and cities are known for their rich history and Budva is no different. Venture to Stari Grad (the old town) to explore the 15th-century ramparts and labyrinthine of lanes and small squares within.

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Trogir, Croatia

Considered the most preserved medieval town in central Europe, Trogir is a small gem just outside Split on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast. Sometimes called an open-air museum, wander the streets of the old town, which is set on a small island off the mainland. Here you’ll find many beautiful Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque structures. A Local Specialist will make sure you don’t miss any highlights within the small walled city. That includes the imposing Trogir Cathedral, the stunning stone Clock Tower, and the Loggia with its slim columns. 

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Ston, Croatia

While big cities and famous spots are good fun, it’s the smaller off-the-radar Balkan towns that really charm. Croatia’s Ston is a hidden gem just north of Dubrovnik. The fortified settlement is best known for its oyster trade. So if you’re a fan of the bivalves this might become one of your favourite places in the world. Dive Into Culture on our Pearls of the Adriatic cruise that hops between southern Croatia’s best islands. Here you’ll taste the famous fruits of the sea and learn about Ston’s strategic location. Hear about the turmoil that has occurred over the years, and how the fortress (one of the largest at the time) was built to defend the saltworks.

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RELATED BLOG: Experts tells us why the Balkans should be on your list of places to visit

Nafplio, Greece

A couple of hours’ drive from Athens, the ancient town of Nafplio is touted as one of the best romantic getaways in Greece. Greek legend says this Balkans Peninsula town was founded by Nafplios, the child of the god Poseidon and Danaus Anymone. While this may or may not be true, the town’s origins can definitely be traced back to around the 12th century BC. This was when soldiers set off from here for the Trojan War and the Argonautic expedition. Fun fact: this understated Balkans city was also the first capital of the new Greek state in the 19th century.

If you visit Nafplio with Trafalgar, you’ll spend the evening drinking and dancing with the Karambellas family. The family’s olive and wine estate is the ultimate Be My Guest experience.

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Veliko Târnovo, Bulgaria

The ‘City of the Tsars’, medieval Veliko Târnovo is the former capital of the Bulgarian Empire and one of the oldest Balkan towns in the country. The history of this city dates back more than five thousand years. The best place to explore is the Tsaravets Citadel, a medieval fortress on the Tsaravets Hill. This prime spot was naturally easy to defend. Soak up the fairytale-esque medieval facades and listen as your Local Specialist regales the stories and rich history of this former imperial capital in Bulgaria on our Balkan Adventure tour.

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Korčula, Croatia

Not far from Ston, cruise over to the island of Korčula and visit the namesake Balkan town. Considered one of the best-preserved medieval cities in the Mediterranean, Korčula is said to be the birthplace of Marco Polo. It’s also a land of legends. Apparently, during the 11th century BC a Trojan warrior built his home here after the burning of Troy. Take a guided walking tour through the historic streets, exploring the fishbone street pattern optimised to naturally cool the buildings. Be sure to pop into wine shops or bars and taste the famous local whites grown on the island – the perfect souvenir.

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Braşov, Romania

Swap the coast for the mountains with the medieval city of Braşov in Romania. This gateway city to Transylvania is famous for its big squares, bright Saxon townhouses, skinny laneways, fortifications and the surrounding Carpathian Mountains. A highlight while here is visiting Bran Castle, the legendary home of Dracula himself. While the link as Bram Stoker’s famous literary figure is weak, one look at those imposing walls, towering spires and secret passageways and you might dream up your own legends too. After visiting the favourite royal residence of Queen Maria of Romania, venture back to the medieval streets of Braşov. Once at the crossroads of the Ottoman Empire and western Europe, your Local Specialist will highlight the city’s trading history and Saxon roots. 

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Pula, Croatia

With a 1st-century Roman arena set on the seafront, Pula is worth visiting to see the most famous attraction alone. Built at the same time as Rome’s Colosseum, this ancient amphitheatre is the sixth-largest and one of the best-preserved in the world. You’ll see the resemblance to the iconic Roman landmark – only without the huge crowds! Hear about how this town on Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula played a very strategic role for the Romans, Ostrogoths, Venetians, and – more recently – the Allied Forces in World War II. If you have time for lunch, check if it’s truffle season. This area is famous for white truffles!

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Skopje, North Macedonia

If you’re wondering where to go in the Balkans, an adventure through smaller destinations is a great way to tick countries off your travel bucket list. What North Macedonia lacks in size it makes up for in culture. In the capital – Skopje – you’ll find a vibrant city that was once a medieval trading centre. Explore the Ottoman Empire’s legacy in the mosques and bazaars as you tour the ‘city of statues’. You’ll spot hundreds of curious bronze characters lining the streets.

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Have you visited any of these Balkan towns or Balkan cities? Let us know in the comments…. And don’t forget to enter the Travel Unlocked Awards contest to win a trip to the Balkans for you and a friend!

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