The old Yugoslavia has now been divided into 7 countries, although some say six, not recognizing Kosovo as an independent state: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo. Below are our trip notes for the cities we visited that were once part of Yugoslavia
A magical place, fun to visit, and doing the best economically of all the former Yugoslavian republics.
For a great seafood dinner sitting right along the river and where the action is, we highly recommend Zlata Ribica.
If you like wild game, go to Sokol.
For an inexpensive typical lunch, try the basement seafood bar below the Plecnik Colonnade on the river near the fish market – fish menu at 7.5 euros, excellent. Ribca.
Lake Bled (Slovenia)
Hired a van to take us from Ljubljana to Lake Bled for 40 Euros. This is truly one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.
Stayed at the Hotel Levoc, a 4* hotel with a view of the lake. Excellent.
Hop on a gondola to go to the tiny island in the middle of the lake and visit the church there. When you return you can rent a bike and take a leisurely ride around the lake. You can also walk up to the castle if you have more energy.
Have dinner at Restavracija Panorama (Cesta Svobode 12, 4260 Bled), which lives up to its name with a beautiful view of the lake and the castle lit up at night. Wow! In addition, they have great local food. I had a mushroom soup in a bread basket which was to die for. And don’t forget to try the famous local pastry kremna rezina.
We stayed at the Hotel Moskva, a great old hotel in center of city and loved it. Elegant and go for the breakfast.
For a more romantic 5* boutique hotel, we recommend Square 9, probably the best hotel in the city but $$$$$
Other options for accommodations include “hostels” which are really hotels with far fewer services and can run the gamut between “great” and “what was I thinking?” Generally, the location of these places is not central to the main part of town and they can be much cheaper than hotels but pay attention to the address (which can be sketchy in some cities).
In Belgrade we recommend the Plaza Hostel Belgrade .The Plaza, a little ways out of the center of town, but still safe, clean, comfortable and well run by trustworthy locals and one American ex-pat.
For a great seafood meal with wine and jazz on the river, try Iguana.
Little Bay Beograd is an English Restaurant with a décor that mimics an opera theatre
Be sure to try some of the traditional Serbian specialties like Cevap and fresh pecenje (either from pork or lamb). For great lamb roast, try Restaurant Talija, every day from 2 PM fresh from the spit.
The archeological wonder that is the Sirmium Palatium Imperiale is not to be missed if that is your “thing”. Discovered accidently in 1957 during the construction of an apartment building, the remains of a third century Imperial Roman palace have been excavated and now protected. This site is the only known Roman Circus in Serbia. The mosaics and the re-productions are stellar.
Driving in rural Serbia: If time permits, visit the small baroque town of Sremski Karlovci and sample the local wine at one of the many wine cellars in this area. If you are lucky you will be witness to a wedding or two at the local Orthodox Cathedral on the main square.
Stop at Mokra Gora village on Tara Mountain and ride through part of the old touristic railway called Sargan Eight from 1925. It is a narrow-gauge railway that passes through 22 tunnels, over 5 bridges, an altitude difference of 300 meters, and a total distance of 15 kilometers.
After, drive along Sargan Eight railway road through beautiful scenery and visit ethno village Drvengrad (wooden city), built by famous Serbian film director Emir Kusturica, who won the Palm d’Or twice at the Cannes film festival.
Continue to Visegrad Town in Republica Srpska in Eastern Bosnia & Herzegovina, resting on the Drina River. Sightseeing of Visegrad, includes the Turkish Ottoman-era Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge from the 16th century, on the UNESCO world heritage list, popularized by Nobel prize winning author Ivo Andrić in his novel The Bridge on the Drina River.
If you would like a guide and a car to drive around Serbia to see the above places and also to tour the city of Belgrade, we recommend TravelTime.
Sarajevo (Bosnia & Herzegovina)
Sarajevo is the capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina, founded in the 15th century. The city is famous for its traditional cultural and religious diversity, with adherents of Islam, Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Judaism coexisting there for centuries, and due to this it was sometimes called the “Jerusalem of the Balkans”.
We stayed at the Hotel Hecco Deluxe Sarajevo, on the main pedestrian street with the best view of the city. You can’t beat the location, however the room was small and very light. The desk staff are very accommodating; they even sent a load of laundry out for us for a few Euros.
The best hotel in the old city is the Hotel Europe, (five stars and also well situated; it doesn’t have the views of the Hecco but makes up for it in comfort).
We had lunch at Cevabdzinica Zeljo 2 vl. Memeti Hasan, where we had the best cevap anywhere.
Dinner at Park Princeva a traditional restaurant on a hill with view of Sarajevo. Excellent!
Also highly recommended is the national restaurant called Kibe.
We drove into Montenegro, visiting 3 beautiful towns in Herzegovina: Mostar Town, Počitelj, and Trebinje.
Mostar has a spectacular Rue du Crapola and tons of good cheap eateries. Some jack up their prices if you are obviously a tourist so be prepared to argue if you think you’re getting profiled that way. Wear good shoes. The hills and cobblestones will kill you.
In Budva we stayed at the Apartments Vidikovac Budva, up a hill and about a half a mile (not very pleasant walk) from the old city. The apartments had a terrific view, a well appointed kitchenette (i.e. a corkscrew) and they were quiet and very clean.
An alternative very good hotel right in old city is Hotel Astoria (they also have a hotel in Kotor).
Have breakfast at Hemingways, you might think you’re been transported to Key West Florida.
Another good breakfast option is Mozart Café on the main square. Neither Hemingway nor Mozart made an appearance!
If you’re in the mood for pizza, the best is Pizzeria Lav in the old city – very charming and good pizza.
For dinner we found two excellent seafood restaurants right on the port:
Kod Krsta (National Restaurant) “Jadran” – on the water and excellent seafood. We had octopus salad & fresh Dorado. You will be entertained by a “traditional” small band, kind of like Mariachis of the Balkans.
Konoba “Dona Kod Nikole” Marina Budva (excellent, very romantic, we had sea bass and mussels and homemade white wine). You will be entertained by an excellent keyboard and songstress duo. Mellow tunes and a western playlist.
Don’t miss a visit to old Kotor Town dated 2 millennium ago with a beautiful fortress first built at 6th century and now on the UNESCO list. Climb up to the top of the fortress (2+ hours climb). Stop at one of the many beaches for a swim in the afternoon to relax after your climb.
We stayed at the Hotel Zagreb, at the hart of Lapad peninsula about 20 minutes from the old town of Dubrovnik.
Eat on the peninsula, a 15 minute walk from the hotel along the ocean path is a very romantic restaurant with views of the Asiatic LevAnat Café Restaurant
For fabulous seafood on a terrace in the old city, Pronto is a must.
Also, consider having a meal at Konoba Amoret, where you can enjoy great local food while being entertained by a guitarist playing classical music. We are partial to restaurants that employ guitarists.
We stayed in the heart of the city at the Art Hotel, a comfortable place with character but a walk from the old town and the water.
For a great informal local restaurant where you can get fabulous steaks, try Konoba Stare Grede.
For inexpensive local food at the far end of the Riva you must try Konoba Fife Trumbiceva obala 11
Visit Diocletian’s Palace and climb St. Dominus’ Bell Tower for beautiful view of Split.
We stayed at the Hotel Pastura, right on the sea.
Check out Zlatni Rat beach for a swim in the ocean on a hot day.
For a wonderful pizza in a beautiful little town on the water, try Pizzeria Topolino Bol before your ferry ride to Jelsa, Hvar.
We stayed at the Hotel Podstine, a hotel with a beautiful view of the water and the city but a short walk to the old town.
The best restaurant of the trip was Macondo 21450 Hvar hrvatska, in the old city of Hvar on a small romantic street with very well prepared fresh fish.
For the best pizza in town, try Pizzeria Leonardo, Car Samoil 31
A good place for lunch is at the Potpes Beach & Restaurant. I had the Lake Ohrid ‘forbidden’ Trout, a special kind of trout only found in this lake.
For dinner you must go to Restaurant Dalga (Kosta Abras 3, 6000 Ohrid, Macedonia). This was perfection – great wine, grilled shish kebab, and right on Lake Ohrid. Beautiful food and wine in an even more beautiful location. Very romantic (and of course inexpensive, as everything is in this part of the world).
We drove to Skopje with stops along the way at a winery (Stobi Winery for tasting of their Vranec dry red wine with cheese) and two archeological sites (Heraclea and Stobi) along the route. The trip took over six hours with stops.
We stayed at the Plaza TCC Hotel in Skopje, the capital of Macedonia – a 5* hotel in center of city with full spa and gym.
We had a memorable dinner at a traditional restaurant Stara Gradska Kuka. We had a slow cooked boneless lamb and grilled veges with Macedonian Bovin Alexandar 2009 red wine and desert all for just over $60US for two.
A very worthwhile visit is to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, dedicated to the 7148 Sephardic Jews who perished here during the war (98% of Jewish culture).
We drove from Skopje to Sofia with a stop at a beautiful monastery just before entering Bulgaria, visited the site and had a fabulous traditional lunch there. (Monastery of St. Joakim Osogovski, Kriva Palanka. 19th c.). The entire trip including the stop at the monastery, took about 6 hours.
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
We visited all of the former soviet block in Europe that have declared independence including the Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia), the East-Central Europe States (Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus), and other eastern European nations of Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungry, Check Republic, Slovakia, and Poland.
Tirana is a big unattractive city but the area called Blloku is where the action is – a very lively quarter with many cafes and bars and lots of young people enjoying themselves.
We had dinner in a traditional restaurant called Era, an informal locals place where you can sample the typical foods of the region.
We took a very worthwhile walking tour of the city that included the historical museum and the pyramid structure built by the old communist dictator that is now abandoned and in ruins.
Berat is about a 3 hours drive from Tirana, a city that can boast the UNESCO world heritage site “the city of a thousand windows” and a living castle above the old city. Like Tirana, there was a lively promenade where the locals walked around at night.
We stayed at the Hotel Mangalemi, fabulous find, inexpensive and charming in the center of the old city and great atmospheric rooftop restaurant with traditional cuisine.
Albania is a poor country and the trip by car was highlighted by terrible roads and partially built houses all over the countryside. Immigrants start to build houses then leave them for a year and come back in the summers to continue construction. They put teddy bears on the roofs to keep the evil spirits out. One could mistake the Albanian countryside for rural Mexico or any third world country. But overall, Albania is fast moving away from its communist past and is now quite a bargain for tourists – a beautiful country that is incredibly inexpensive to travel in.
You can hire a driver with a car and drive from Berat to Lake Ohrid in Macedonia, about a 3.5 hour drive.
For lunch, try Flocafe
For dinner, we recommend Pri Yafata (ul Solunska 28), for an excellent traditional meal of roast lamb with some Bulgarian red wine (disappointing).
If you are interested in what happened to all those statues of Stalin and Lenin after the fall of communism, visit the Museum of Socialist Art, 7 Lachezar Stanchev St., Iztok Area.
Sofia Synagogue (third largest in Europe) is in Sofia and is worth a visit. The Bulgarians supported the Jews during the war and refused to let them be deported by the Nazi’s. Of the original 50,000 Jews here, most left for Israel after the war and only about 5,000 remain today.
We stayed at the Rembrandt Hotel, a wonderful hotel in an old building in the historical center of town where all the action is. Many young people filled the cafes, and were walking around and listening to music.
We had dinner on the main square at Caru’ cu bere. Excellent traditional food, atmosphere and people watching.
We hired a driver with a car for a 3 day adventure in Transylvania.
We drove to Brasov with visits to the Sinaia Monastery, Peles Royal Castle and Bran Castle where Vlad the Impaler lived and tortured people and was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s 1897 book, Dracula. The trip took about 10 hours with stops to visit the castles.
In Brasov, we stayed at the Bella Muzica, a hotel in a great location, which had a fabulous restaurant, and appeared to be attractive. However, there was no air conditioning (and the heat was oppressive) and rooms look out onto a very noisy alley. So it is difficult to recommend this hotel. Perhaps it is best is to stay somewhere else and eat at their restaurant.
Take the cable car up to the top of the mountains surrounding Brasov for a great view of the city and surroundings.
We drove to Sibui with stops along the route at Prejmer, (a fortified church), Sightisoara (where Vlad Dracul was born and spent 5 years) and Biertan. The entire trip was about 8 hours.
Have dinner at Crams Sibiatia, off the main square. We had a delicious white bean soup in bread and mici, grilled sausages without the skin and mustard. Yummy. And we watched soccer finals and enjoyed a classical music concert on the main square.
While in Sibui, be sure to visit the outdoor Astra Museum of Folk Civilization in Sibiu Park.
Moldova has a strong Russian influence still today. The people are very poor, authoritarian and unfriendly; the city (a population of about 1 million) was big and dirty and crowded. Unimpressive. In the 19th century 40% of the population was Jewish, now almost all are gone, only one synagogue left, no mosques.
We stayed at the Best Western Hotel Flowers (4* luxury rooms, very good tourist services).
For dinner, try some traditional food in the lively city center at Pani Pit (Str.31 August1989)
We drove from Chisnau to Odessa, crossing the boarder at Palanca, circumnavigating to the SW to avoid Tiraspoll, the capital of the breakaway republic of Transdniestr.
En route to Odessa we stopped at the best winery in Moldova for lunch and wine tasting, highly recommended. Purcari Winery
We stayed at the Hotel Ayvazovsky, a good choice in excellent location.
Have breakfast at Kompot, a French Cafe where you can get an apple croissant, orange juice and cappuccino. Delicious.
A good traditional dinner in the old town can be obtained at Kumanets (Vul Havanna 7) a Ukrainian restaurant where the waitresses are dressed in traditional costumes. I had Ukrainian borscht and pork chops.
Another recommended traditional restaurant is Ukpaihcbka Lacyhka. I had Raviolis stuffed with potatoes, stuffed cabbage, eggplant stuffed with veges and listened to traditional music while eating outside – lovely.
Be sure to walk around the harbor and up and down the famous Potemkin Steps!
Take one of the city buses out to Arkadia Beach. This is a grand Russian tourist scene. Many Russians jammed into small areas of the beach, old ladies in bikinis. What a scene. (Not in a good way.) Have lunch at one of the many beach cafes there, with views overlooking the Black Sea.
Take a boat ride out on the Black Sea for an hour or two, you will be the only non-Russian on board.
Kosice (pronounced “ko she ta”) Slovakia
We stayed at the Hotel Bristol, a fabulous boutique hotel (with Roman Spa on bottom level).
Have dinner at Med Malina Havana 81, an authentic traditional restaurant in the old town. Try the goulash soup and typical dumplings in sour cream.
We drove from Kosice to Zakopane, Poland, stopping at the UNESCO rated Spis Castle and the old town of Levoca.
Zakopane is a ski and summer tourist resort in the mountains. Take a ride on the funicular to enjoy the views of the city.
Have a pizza for lunch at Trattoria Adamo
We stayed at the Hotel Wit-Stwosz, a hotel with cozy rooms in an old building in the center of town. We recommend this hotel but don’t get a third floor room with the skylight or you will not be able to sleep (unless you like bright lights in your room all night long).
Walk around the old Jewish neighborhood of Kazimierz and visit the JCC (Jewish community center) and the Galicia Jewish Museum.
Take a walk along the river to the new town for beautiful views of the castle.
Try a Pierogi for lunch at one of the many charming city cafes.
Climb the 239 step tower of the Veit Stoss Altar, the largest and most impressive in Europe, in St. Mary’s Basilica, for beautiful views of the city of Krakow.
Try a traditional Polish dinner at Chlopskie Yadto, SW Hana 9. This is a simple traditional pub, I had Borscht and Bigos.
For a more upscale dining experience, arguably the best in town, try Restauracja Wierzynek on the main square. This restaurant lived up to its reputation.
Side note about evil: No visit to this part of the world would be complete without a visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau. This has got to be the most evil place on earth, the Nazi’s efficient machine for torturing and killing 1.5 million people, mostly Jews. Dr. Josef Mengele, called the angel of death, conducted gruesome experiments on human beings there, especially twins. He escaped and was never found or punished for his crimes. Arbeit macht frei is hung over the entrance, a big joke since nobody was set free. The famous quote “those who cannot learn from the past are condemned to repeat it” also hangs in the Auschwitz Museum, but what have we really learned since the Nazi’s murdered 6 million Jews? Mass genocides have continued, notably in Serbia and Cambodia. Does studying history really help, or will human beings continue to kill each other until we perish from the earth completely?
Rent bicycles for a great way to tour the city.
Eat at Traktir Restaurant where you can have a wonderful roast pork chop and potato pancakes while watching Russian entertainment.
Another wonderful option for sampling the traditional food is Talaka Restaurant
A train runs from Minsk to Vilnius, Lithuania (just over 3 hours), for a convenient way to travel between the two countries.
We recommend a 5 hour bicycle tour of the city, a very enjoyable way to tour Vilnius. VeloCity
For a breakfast of delicious pancakes with fruit inside, try Gusto Bynine.
Try the traditional cepelinai (potato dough zeppelin stuffed with meat, mushrooms or cheese) and saltibarsciai (beetroot soup served with fried potatoes) at one of the many restaurants in the old city.
Be sure to walk around Uzupis Republic, a “breakaway republic of artists and drunks” with its own constitution.
Take the 4 hour tour of Trakai, sight of a red brick fairy tale island castle (about half an hour from Vilnius). The Karaite live here, often called the kara, which means literally to study the torah in hebrew and Arabic. We ate kibinai for lunch, a meat filled pastry similar to an empanada. Paneriai is nearby, a location made famous when the Nazi’s, with a little help from the Lithuanians, murdered 100,000 people, mostly Lithuanian Jews.
For upscale dining, go to Zemaiciai, Vokieciu 24, for a fabulous dinner of Flounder and mushroom soup on their courtyard patio.
If you want to try the wild game, we recommend Lokys, Stickliu 8, a wonderful “cave” restaurant in the old city. Get the venison and borscht.
If the cave is too dark for you and you prefer an outdoor café with a fire heater, listing to bands playing old American music, try Restaurant Zila Govs (the blue cow). I had wonderful sturgeon with little black peas.
Stayed at the Hotel Albert, a hotel with a very helpful staff, near the city center and with a very creative Albert Einstein motif.
Riga is another wonderful city for a bike tour. Toured the Moscow section of town and the old Jewish ghetto, as well as the art district and central Riga. Eat Riga (3 hour bike tour)
Pizza? Try Charlie Pizza (good inexpensive mushroom pizza in an outdoor café.)
Pastries? Try Rigensis (best pastry place in town.)
Really good Indian cuisine? Try Spicy Affair – Indian and Asian Cuisine
We stayed at the Hotel Bern, a simple hotel with basic rooms near the old town center, with a very pleasant and helpful staff.
Tallinn is another fine city to tour by bicycle. City Bike. I recommend both the city tour and the self guided day bike trip to Lahemaa National Park
Found a wonderful restaurant with home made food in a fabulous garden setting. Enjoyed it so much we ate there twice (once for lunch and then we went back for dinner.) Leib Resto ja Aed. Try the local perch, and the cheese balls and have a wonderful strawberry purée desert.