5 Things You Should Know About the Balkans

Cycling in the Balkan Mountains of Bulgaria
Cycling in the Balkan Mountains of Bulgaria

An active holiday is the best way to immerse yourself in the unique landscapes of the Balkans in southeast Europe. The region is so named thanks to the Balkan Mountain range that runs for 560km or 348mi from eastern Serbia eastward through central Bulgaria. From the postcard-perfect villages of Croatia to the forest-covered mountains of Bulgaria, there’s no shortage of sights and natural wonders for the active traveller to explore.

The Balkans has had a turbulent history with several major wars raging throughout the region. However, it remains a remarkable travel destination for active travellers hungry for adventure and new experiences. With its charming multicultural towns, impressive monasteries, citadels perched on hillsides, gorgeous mountains, forests and lakes, hearty food and traditional folk music, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to a different world. With hundreds of kilometres of coastline on both the Adriatic and Black Seas, beach lovers will feel right at home here as well.

Trekking to Musala peak

1. There are varying definitions of the Balkans region

The list of countries included in the Balkans region changes depending on whether you are talking about geography (countries that are in the Balkan Peninsula) or taking into consideration historical and cultural factors. The Balkans are usually said to include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, BulgariaCroatia, mainland GreeceMacedoniaSerbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, part of Turkey and Slovenia. Each of these countries offers something unique to active travellers, and we are proud to offer over 40 boat-based, cycling and walking holidays in the region.

2. Balkan is Turkish for "mountains"

The Balkans are covered in magnificent and rugged mountain ranges that are a natural paradise for hikers. The five main ranges are:

• the Balkan Mountains (Stara Planina in Bulgarian), which run from the Black Sea coast in Bulgaria to the Serbian border; 
• the Rhodope Mountains in southern Bulgaria and northern Greece;
• the Dinaric Alps on the Adriatic coastline;
• the Pindus Mountains, which span from southern Albania to Northern Greece and the Albanian Alps; and 
• the Šar Mountains, which extend from Kosovo and the northwest of North Macedonia to northeastern Albania.

Resting below the limestone peaks of Piatra Craiului National Park |  <i>Lilly Donkers</i>

3. The Balkan Peninsula is surrounded by water

The coastlines that surround the Balkans give the region’s mighty mountain ranges a run for their money. To the west is the Adriatic Sea, to the south lies the Mediterranean Sea (which includes the Ionian and Aegean seas) and the Marmara Sea, and to the east you’ll find the Black Sea. Extend your Balkans walking holiday and have a well-deserved rest on one of its beautiful stretches of coastline, or combine it with one of our popular Bike & Sail trips in Turkey or Croatia. 

4. The Balkans is home to some of the oldest cities in the world

There is no shortage of ancient cities for history buffs to immerse themselves in on a Balkans walking, cycling or boat-based holiday. Some of our favourites include: 

  • Plovdiv and Sofia in Bulgaria
  • Zadar, Croatia
  • Athens, Argos and Chalcis in Greece
  • Mangalia and Constanta in Romania
  • Istanbul in Turkey.

5. The Balkans is renowned for its stunning architecture

From churches and mosques to castles and museums, you’ll find awe-inspiring architecture throughout the Balkans region. Some must-see masterpieces include: 

  • Belgrade Fortress in Belgrade, Serbia
  • Cathedral Saint Alexandar Nevski in Sofia, Bulgaria
  • Avast Twist Tower in Sarajevo, Bosnia
  • Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Croatia
  • the City Walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia
  • Krujë Castle in Krujë, Albania
  • the Church of St. John at Kaneo in Ohrid, Macedonia.

Browse our range of cycling, boat-based and walking holidays in the Balkans and get in touch with our global team to find out more or for help choosing the right active Balkans trip for you.

Balkans, Serbia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, North Macedonia, Turkey, Slovenia, Boat, Cycling, Walking

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