Finding Something New in Kosovo, Europe's Newest Country
Discover Beautiful Kosovo
Depending on who you talk to, Kosovo is either a brave little country or not a country at all. Maps still show Kosovo’s border with Serbia as a dotted line and only around half of the world’s nations have granted Kosovo diplomatic recognition. Despite this, when traveling through Kosovo, this tiny nation’s distinct identity is undeniable.
Kosovo’s status as Europe’s newest country is defiantly spelled out in the Newborn monument in the country’s capital, and this sentiment is felt throughout Kosovo as people excitedly work towards a new and independent future. Part of this future is establishing a solid name in tourism.
Kosovo tourism has plenty to offer visitors — picturesque towns, idyllic countryside, thriving nightlife and lovely people are just the beginning.
Although Kosovo is now perfectly safe to travel, understanding the history and conflicts that led to independence is important. With a predominantly Albanian population, Kosovo has been struggling for independence from Serbia since the disintegration of former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Despite being recognized by major European Union countries and by the United States, Serbia still refuses to acknowledge Kosovo’s independence. Having officially declared independence in 2008, Kosovo is now emerging as a nation in its own right, catching up on decades of underdevelopment. Progress is slow, however, and more than half of the population still lives in poverty.
What’s more, tensions between Kosovo Albanians and Serbians still run high; the Serbian minority in Kosovo are watched over closely by NATO peacekeepers. The town of Mitrovica in the north of Kosovo has long been infamous for strained inter-ethnic relations; the Ibar River divides the town in two, with the northern half populated by Serbs and the southern half by Kosovo Albanians.
The main Mitrovica Bridge connecting the two communities is a powerful symbol of the divide and has been the scene for clashes in the past. It is also not recommended to attempt crossing the border from Kosovo into Serbia: Serbian authorities will categorically refuse entry to anyone arriving from Kosovo without a Serbian entry stamp in their passport.
Off the Beaten Path
Don’t let this put you off — Kosovo may have a long way to go, but it has come a long way already. Right now, it is still a hidden gem, its natural beauty and charm off the radar of all but a few travelers. Despite sharing borders with four other countries and being surprisingly well connected to the rest of Europe thanks to EasyJet flights, Kosovo is well and truly off the beaten tourist track.
The tourists that do trickle through tend to gravitate towards Pristina, stopping by for a few days on their way to the next destination. In smaller towns and villages, visitors are a rare sight and are greeted with friendly curiosity. With all Kosovo has to offer though, it won’t be long before word spreads and Kosovo becomes an essential stop on any trip through the Balkans.
Pristina is Europe’s youngest capital in both senses of the word; half of the people who live here are under the age of 25. While this is not a city anyone would describe as beautiful, there is a vibrant, cosmopolitan air about Pristina that charms visitors. Sightseeing is fairly unconventional — there is not a lot to see.
There are the usual suspects, a National Museum, an art gallery and a theatre. But the best way to discover the city is to simply wander down the Mother Teresa Boulevard, enjoying the city’s youthful energy before heading to one of the many cafes.
Pristina’s buzzing café culture lends itself to leisurely afternoons enjoying a good cup of coffee and people watching. Later in the evening, the leafy streets around the boulevard transform again, with the bars coming alive with music and dancing.
Pristina also shows off one of the more curious aspects of Kosovo: Kosovars’ love towards the United States. From boulevards named after Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to the enormous Clinton statue, affection for Americans is obvious. Thanks to the States’ support of Kosovo’s independence, Americans are welcomed with open arms.
The Jewel of Kosovo
Not to be confused with Pristina, Prizren is the real jewel of Kosovo. Prizren has all the elements of a postcard perfect town: a charming historic center with a delightful tangle of cobbled streets and Ottoman architecture, a river complete with a 16th century old stone bridge curling through the middle, and a medieval fortress watching over it all.
Prizren is also home to a surprisingly lively nightlife scene. Surrounding the main square are many restaurants and bars and after dark the streets are flooded with people out for their evening stroll, while still more spill out from bars where live music can be heard.
In summer many music and cultural events take place, the most notable of which is world class international documentary and short film festival, DokuFest.
There are many other towns and villages with buckets of charm and photo opportunities aplenty. But the beautiful countryside of Kosovo is where you will discover the true magic of the country: the hospitality.
Outside of the larger towns you will be welcomed into people’s homes without hesitation. Hospitality is something of a sacred duty and visitors are often amazed by the genuine warmth and kindness of Kosovar people. Don’t be surprised if locals seem a little perplexed at first that you’re there though — they are still getting used to the idea that people want to visit their country.
Aside from the generous cordiality of the Kosovar people, perhaps the best thing about Kosovo is that so much of it remains undiscovered. Gorgeous villages, promising vineyards, and spectacular hiking through Kosovo’s many peaks are all slowly being discovered and mapped by curious visitors.
Soon enough, the secret will be out and the trickle of tourists will become a flood. So if you were wondering when the best time to visit would be, the answer is most definitely as soon as possible.