SOLO FEMALE TRAVEL: Balkan Edition
Long before the Game of Thrones series was even released, Dubrovnik was one of the top destinations not only in Croatia but in all of the Balkans.
I’ll admit it: the Balkans may not have always had the reputation of the safest region. There have been wars, conflicts, and some rather challenging times - especially during the turbulent ‘90s. While the bumpy history cannot be denied, it does not define the Balkans, its rich traditions, or lovely people.
Before we get into the popular destinations for solo female travelers, let’s talk about this region that hasn’t particularly enjoyed a fair representation in the media over the last few decades. The Balkans comprise Albania, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, and, by some categorizations, Turkey's westernmost part, as well as former Yugoslavian states Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, and North Macedonia.
The messy breakup of Yugoslavia and its tragic aftermath cast the biggest shadow over the region, leaving deep wounds and drastic financial repercussions. Nevertheless, the Balkans have since evolved into a safe, stable region offering an array of beautiful, bucket-list-worthy destinations.
Let’s dive into some of the top Balkan destinations for female travelers while also touching upon the one that may not be the best option at the moment.
Novi Sad, Serbia
When Serbia is mentioned, many will immediately expect to hear about its beautiful capital of Belgrade. While Belgrade certainly deserves every bit of recognition it gets, I’ve decided to shine a little spotlight on Serbia’s second-largest city - Novi Sad. Located in the northernmost Serbian province of Vojvodina, Novi Sad is often referred to as the Serbian Athens. Urban and traditional at the same time, Novi Sad is the destination for history buffs, Serbian traditional food lovers, and art enthusiasts.
While Novi Sad was heavily impacted by the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, the consequences of the war can hardly be felt. All three bridges on the Danube, including the old Varadin Bridge, the Liberty Bridge, and the Zezelj Bridge, were destroyed by NATO bombs. However, today, these three bridges proudly stand as symbols of Serbian resilience and Novi Sad’s emergence as a modern European city.
As a foreign citizen, your short-term stay in Serbia will be reported to the local police station by your place of residence or yourself, which grants you a temporary state permit. A short-stay visa, or Visa C, is only necessary for attending business meetings and conferences, and tourists do not need to apply for one. Now that we’ve got the technicalities out of the way, we can discuss the most popular activities and attractions you can add to your itinerary as a solo female traveler.
Experience the EXIT Music Festival
One of Europe's biggest and most visited summer music festivals, EXIT hosts over 1000 artists in more than 40 festival zones. Awarded as the Best Major European Festival in 2013 and 2017 at the EU Festival Awards, EXIT offers different music experiences that cater to different tastes. Visitors worldwide rush to Novi Sad annually for the unique EXIT experience hosted on the historic Petrovaradin Fortress.
Explore the City’s History
Novi Sad is an oasis of cultural diversity and home to numerous ethnicities, nationalities, and religions. Visit the multiple places of worship, including the Synagogue of Novi Sad, the breathtaking neo-gothic Name of Mary Catholic church standing as the symbol of the main square, the Orthodox Bishop’s palace, and the gorgeous Dormition Church near the Serbian National Theatre.
Novi Sad is known for its tolerance, acceptance, and diversity. Named the European Capital of Culture of 2022 by the EU, it is one of the best and safest Eastern European destinations for everyone - including female travelers on a solo trip through the Balkans.
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Speaking of tolerance and acceptance, Sarajevo is undoubtedly one of the most diverse cities in this part of Europe. The multicultural capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina is home to mosques, Catholic churches, and Orthodox churches. Sarajevo, the European Jerusalem, offers a cosmopolitan feel mixed with a profoundly traditional ambiance. Its architecture best showcases the diversity deeply rooted in every pore of this city. Walking the streets of Sarajevo, you’ll encounter many examples of Ottoman architecture, Austro-Hungarian style, and Royalist Yugoslav and Socialist Yugoslav buildings as reminders of a complex, turbulent past.
Sarajevo was one of the focal points of the Balkan conflicts from 1992 to 1995, and the Bosnian war took its toll on the capital following the Yugoslavia disintegration. The Sarajevo siege, also known as the most prolonged city siege in modern history, lasted 43 months. Today, Sarajevo, as all other parties involved, perceives the tragic period of the ‘90s conflict as a hard-learned lesson as it continues to flourish in its modern glory.
A vital component of the recovery process is the development of the tourism industry and the overflow of visitors from around the globe. The rules for short-term stays are identical to those in Serbia, as no tourist visa is required for stays shorter than 90 days. What should you prioritize during your Sarajevo trip with so many tourist attractions and landmarks?
Get Lost in Culinary Heaven
Do not, and I repeat, do not leave Sarajevo without trying cevapi. This traditional Bosnian minced meat dish can be found in most Balkan countries, but many will agree that Sarajevo has the best cevapi in the world. You also want to try Bosnian pite - a savory fillo pastry with different fillings, including cottage cheese, minced meat, and potato.
Take a Stroll through Historic Ferhadija Street
One of Sarajevo's main pedestrian streets, Ferhadija is an excellent choice for a night stroll and home to numerous important facilities in the city, including Ferhadija Mosque and Sacred Heart Cathedral. It also includes one of Sarajevo’s most prominent symbols - Eternal Flame - a memorial for casualties of World War II.
Sarajevo of the modern age is the cultural, historical, and political center of Bosnia and Herzegovina and one of the leading Balkan destinations. Due to its diversity, it is undoubtedly one of the safest spots for a solo female traveler to explore. Plus, it is extremely affordable!
Game of Thrones fans don’t need much introduction to this fascinating city. However, long before the global hit series was even released, Dubrovnik was one of the top destinations not only in Croatia but in all of the Balkans. Situated on the Adriatic coast of Croatia, Dubrovnik offers beautiful beaches, breathtaking architecture, and an ancient, world-famous old town. Once a trade and commerce center, the old town of Dubrovnik is now under the protection of UNESCO.
Just like Sarajevo, Dubrovnik was also under siege during the ‘90s war period following Croatia’s independence from disintegrated Yugoslavia. While Dubrovnik witnessed rather challenging times, including bombardment, today, it is a touristic force to be reckoned with. Just in 2022, Dubrovnik received over a million visits - almost 99% more than in 2021. It is, without a doubt, one of the most popular Balkan destinations - and not only for summer vacations. You can visit it without a visa, as long as your stay isn’t longer than 90 days.
While it is more on the expensive side compared to the previous two destinations, Dubrovnik is certainly worth visiting - even if just for a daily trip. Let’s dive into the Dubrovnik activities that deserve to be high on your list of priorities when visiting the Balkans.
Take a Game of Thrones Tour
Even if you’re not a fan of the HBO phenomenon known as Game of Thrones, you will certainly enjoy a tour of the filming locations, as they’re just as captivating as in the show. You’ll get to walk the streets of the King’s Landing, explore the Red Keep (Lovrijenac Fortress), see the Pile Gate, and walk the steps of Cersei’s infamous walk of shame. Don’t miss the opportunity to tour the City Walls and experience breathtaking views of the Adriatic coast.
Take a Mount Srdj Zipline Tour
While on the topic of breathtaking views, in addition to City Walls, a zipline from Mount Srdj is one of the most exciting ways to experience the picturesque Dubrovnik panorama. The zipline overlooks Dubrovnik’s old town, and it is an excellent option for adrenaline junkies who like to take sightseeing to the next level.
As a female solo traveler, you can rest assured that Dubrovnik offers a sense of security to everyone. Due to its extreme popularity, especially after the Game of Thrones premiere, Dubrovnik has transcended the Balkan tourism scene and is now a globally known destination. Plus, the majority of people, especially in the tourism industry, speak excellent English, so there’s no dreadful language barrier.
While the majority of Balkan destinations are finally getting the recognition they deserve after years of negative portrayal in the media, some locations are still not the best option, especially if you’re traveling alone. Objectively speaking, Kosovo is a region that has been facing a significant amount of political turmoil - particularly in the last two decades. Recent conflicts, especially in the northern part of the region, have created an overall atmosphere of fear, uncertainty, and tension.
While Kosovo has so much to offer, from natural wonders to architectural beauty and historical monuments, it lacks the stability a tourist, especially a female, prioritizes when embarking on an adventure. On that note, we can only hope for peace, not only in the Balkans but around the world, especially in these difficult times.
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