The Ultimate Balkan Road Trip Itinerary: Travel To The Hidden Gems of Southeast Europe

The Balkan road trip itinerary is a road trip for those who have seen most of Europe and are now looking for something more exotic. 

Honestly, I’ve been wanting to do this road trip for so long, and I’m extremely thrilled to have done this extensive trip in May 2023.

The Balkan road trip itinerary is a road trip for those who have seen most of Europe and are now looking for something more exotic. 

Honestly, I’ve been wanting to do this road trip for so long, and I’m extremely thrilled to have done this extensive trip in May 2023. 

Why did I decide to visit the Balkan countries?

My dream of visiting all European countries by the end of 2023 is so close to being fulfilled, and this Balkan trip has been a big part of it. For me, when I travel to a new place, I assess the location and try to add as much as possible to my itinerary. If there’s a country nearby that I haven’t been to before, then I make it my goal to make a detour and see that country, too. 

In the case of the Balkan countries, these are not much smaller countries compared to other European countries, and it made sense to plan a trip that would include more than one trip. 

To be completely transparent and help you understand my obsession with travelling in Europe, I have to tell you the complete backstory of this trip. 

First of all, the Balkans were only a part of a larger European road trip, which had started about ten days before reaching my first Balkan destination. My home base is in Romania, and I often prefer to do road trips around Europe, when possible, because it allows me to travel off the beaten path. 

The entire road trip before getting to the Balkans

The first destination of the trip was Berlin, to attend Elton John’s farewell concert, which was postponed by 3 years thanks to the infamous pandemic. The concert was fabulous, so thank you, Elton! 

Berlin is like a second home for me and my boyfriend. We have often travelled there before. In 2020, we stayed in Berlin for about a month and have been there at least once a year since 2018. Check my 2 days in Berlin itinerary

From there, I drove all the way to Bavaria, which was super nice in May. Honestly, I love Western Europe a lot, and I will never get bored of it. So it was nice to discover some small towns in Bavaria, right by the border with Switzerland. We stayed for about 4 days in Langenargen. We wanted something new since we had visited Munich in October 2022 (just 6 months prior). I have an older post about the coolest places in Munich

From there, I went to Liechtenstein. While this isn’t a travel bucket list destination for most, it was for me. When I said that I wanted to see all European countries, I meant all of them – even the micro-states. And yes, Liechtenstein is gorgeous. It’s like a tiny Switzerland. 

The next stop was Innsbruck in Austria, which is also so charming if you’re into medieval cities and mountain places. 

I also wanted to see the Dolomites, but the weather was moody in May and I decided to skip it so I would have more time for the Balkan countries. 

From Austria, I drove straight to Zagreb, Croatia. This was my first time in all these Balkan countries, and I spent at least a day or 2 in each of the locations in this Balkan itinerary. So now that I gave the complete backstory, let’s see this detailed Balkan itinerary or Balkan tour, ready for you to use on your next European road trip. 

Balkan road trip itinerary 

As I said, I did some travelling around Europe before starting this Balkan tour. 

You might be doing the same, or you might simply fly directly into one of these countries. I designed my tour of the Balkans in such a way that would allow me to continue my trip back home to Romania without having to drive back the same route. 

Some also consider Romania part of the Balkans, but it’s not. However, this is not about geography lessons, so if you want to drive all the way up to Romania, then go ahead. Romania is also gorgeous and a top destination in Europe! As I said, I saw it all, so I know. 

Ok, let’s get through this Balkan road trip itinerary, starting from Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. 

The Ultimate Balkan Road Trip Itinerary: Travel To The Hidden Gems of Southeast Europe zagreb croatia

Day 1-2: Zagreb, Croatia

Zagreb is the capital city of Croatia. 

Unfortunately, it was rainy violently most of the time I was in Zabreg, but I still managed to see most of it. If possible, join a free walking tour of the centre of Zagreb to better understand its history and see the most important parts of the old centre. 

To be completely honest, it’s not as exciting as some of the most famous coastal cities in Croatia. But it definitely deserves a stop, and I also include it on my 7-day Croatia itinerary.

So make sure to visit the city centre and eat strukli at La Štruk restaurant. Whatever you do, don’t miss this place. Make sure to book a table, it’s a small restaurant and it’s always full. I’m not a foodie, but absolutely everyone recommended this place, and it did not disappoint. 

The Ultimate Balkan Road Trip Itinerary: Travel To The Hidden Gems of Southeast Europe

Day 3: Opatija

Opatija used to be where kings would take their holidays, a pearl of the Dalmatian Riviera. It’s a gorgeous little gem and a pleasure to walk along the coastline. 

The Ultimate Balkan Road Trip Itinerary: Travel To The Hidden Gems of Southeast Europe ROVINJ CROATIA

Day 4: Rovinj and Pula

If you want, you can combine these two locations and see it in one day. If you have more time, you can spend one day in each, but this Balkan itinerary is already super long, so it’s up to you.

Rovinj is a gorgeous city, like many of the coastline cities in Croatia, built by the Venetians. You’ll notice the strong Italian influence wherever you go. That’s because this place was basically Italian at some point. 

The Ultimate Balkan Road Trip Itinerary: Travel To The Hidden Gems of Southeast Europe POLA CROATIA

The city of Pula, or Pola in Croatian, is where you’ll find one of the best-preserved colosseums. The parking place is right next to it. I was shocked! Then, discover the old city and the fortress. There’s so much to do and see everywhere you go in Croatia; it’s so hard to make a top of must-see places. 

Day 5: Rijeka

Rijeka is a vibrant port city located in Croatia along the Adriatic Sea. It is known for its maritime history and a mix of architectural styles. 

Here, you will discover a lively arts scene, diverse cultural influences, and a range of bars and restaurants. Rijeka offers a unique blend of the old and the new. It’s a lesser-known gem that provides a mix of natural beauty and urban charm.

Day 6: Rastoke and Plitvice Lakes National Park

Both Rastoke and Plitvice Lakes National Park are natural wonders in Croatia that offer stunning landscapes and unique experiences.

Rastoke

Rastoke is often referred to as “the Small Lakes of Plitvice.” It’s a small, picturesque village located at the confluence of the Slunjčica and Korana rivers. The standout feature of Rastoke is its series of waterfalls and cascades, which integrate seamlessly with the village’s traditional wooden architecture. Here, watermills are still in use, and you can see how the locals have harnessed water power for centuries. It’s like stepping back in time while also enjoying the serene natural beauty of the place. Besides the scenery, Rastoke offers fishing, rafting, and hiking opportunities.

Plitvice Lakes National Park

This National Park is one of Croatia’s most famous natural attractions and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s best known for its 16 terraced lakes that are connected by waterfalls. The lakes have distinct colours, ranging from azure to green, grey, or blue, depending on the minerals and organisms in the water as well as the angle of sunlight. Walking paths and wooden boardwalks allow you to explore the park relatively easily. You can also take boat rides on the larger lakes. The park is home to a variety of flora and fauna, including rare bird species and animals like brown bears and wolves. It offers various trails for all levels of hiking expertise, making it a must-visit destination for nature lovers.

While Rastoke provides a more intimate and historical water experience, Plitvice Lakes is grander in scale, offering expansive landscapes and a greater variety of activities. Both are prime spots for nature photography and are an absolute must if you’re travelling through Croatia, particularly if you’re keen on experiencing the country’s natural beauty.

The Ultimate Balkan Road Trip Itinerary: Travel To The Hidden Gems of Southeast Europe ZADAR CROATIA

Day 7-8: Zadar

Zadar is more relaxed than the other big coastal cities in Croatia. I would recommend taking this time to relax a bit. Enjoy Zadar, and then also check out some nearby beaches because there are so many. 

Day 9: Vodice and Šibenik

Vodice is a quiet coastal village, perfect holiday location for those looking to just chill and enjoy the sun. 

Šibenik is another popular but smaller city, with a beautiful cathedral and a few hill fortresses. The more you explore Croatia, the more you’ll feel like one month in the Balkans is not enough. It’s simply so much history everywhere you look. 

The Ultimate Balkan Road Trip Itinerary: Travel To The Hidden Gems of Southeast Europe split croatia

Day 10-11: Split

Split, located on the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia, is a city that offers a wonderful blend of ancient history, modern amenities, and stunning natural beauty. 

At the heart of Split is the Diocletian’s Palace, a Roman ruin that is not just a museum but also a living, breathing part of the city. People still live, work, and dine within its ancient walls. Walking through the narrow cobblestone streets, you’ll feel like you’ve travelled back in time.

Split offers a culinary scene that’s deeply rooted in the Mediterranean diet, offering an abundance of seafood, olive oil, and locally produced wine. Whether you’re grabbing a quick bite from a konoba (traditional Croatian eatery) or enjoying a leisurely meal at a high-end restaurant, the food experience in Split is nothing short of amazing.

The coastline offers a series of beaches, like the famous Bačvice Beach, where you can enjoy a day under the sun. Whether you prefer pebble beaches or sandy stretches, there’s a spot for everyone to relax and take in the beautiful Adriatic Sea.

Apart from lounging on the beach, the area around Split offers numerous outdoor activities like kayaking, hiking, and sailing. The nearby Marjan Forest Park provides hiking trails and panoramic views of the city, making it a great spot for both nature lovers and photographers.

Split has a vibrant nightlife with plenty of bars, nightclubs, and cafes that offer a variety of entertainment options. The city also hosts several festivals throughout the year, celebrating everything from films and music to food and culture.

Split serves as a key transport hub for exploring nearby islands like Hvar, Brac, and Vis. These islands offer their own unique attractions, from ancient forts and lavender fields to secluded beaches and coves.

Day 12: Brac island trip

From Split, you can take a few day trips to the nearby islands. Splid is a rather big city, even outside its historical centre. So get on a boat and don’t miss out on Brac. 

Both Brac and Hvar are stunning Croatian islands with distinct personalities and attractions. 

On Brac, you should visit:

  • Zlatni Rat Beach. Often cited as one of the most beautiful beaches in Croatia, Zlatni Rat is a golden pebble beach in Bol that changes shape and position depending on the current and winds. It’s an excellent spot for windsurfing and sunbathing.
  • Supetar. This is the main entry point to the island and has its own share of lovely beaches and historic sites, including the Church of the Annunciation.
  • Vidova Gora. This is the highest peak on the Adriatic islands, offering panoramic views of the sea, nearby islands, and even the mainland on a clear day. It’s a great spot for hiking and photography.
  • Skrip. The oldest settlement on the island, Skrip offers a historical perspective on Brac. The Museum of Brac is located here and showcases artifacts that span thousands of years.
  • Olive Oil Tastings. Brac is known for its olive groves, and many estates offer tours and tastings. It’s a delightful way to spend an afternoon and learn about the local agriculture.

Day 13: Hvar island trip

Then spend another day on Hvar. Here’s what not to miss on Hvar:

  • Hvar Town. The island’s hub is rich in Venetian architecture, including the stunning St. Stephen’s Cathedral and Square. Hvar Fortress offers breathtaking views of the town and sea below.
  • Pakleni Islands. Just a short boat ride from Hvar Town, these islands offer pristine beaches and secluded coves, making it a great day trip for swimming and snorkeling.
  • Stari Grad. This is one of the oldest towns in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The town has charming streets, old stone houses, and several churches that date back to medieval times.
  • Lavender Fields. Hvar is famous for its lavender, and depending on the time of your visit, the lavender fields can be a beautiful sight to behold. You’ll find numerous lavender products sold all over the island.
  • Wine Tours. The island’s climate and terrain are ideal for wine-making. Join a wine tour to learn about the local grape varieties and to sample some delicious Croatian wines.
The Ultimate Balkan Road Trip Itinerary: Travel To The Hidden Gems of Southeast Europe sarajevo bosnia

Day 14-16: Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is a city that captures the essence of cultural diversity and historical depth, making it an intriguing travel destination. 

Often referred to as the “Jerusalem of Europe,” Sarajevo is where the East meets the West, literally. Islamic, Orthodox, Catholic, and Jewish communities have coexisted here for centuries. You’ll find mosques, churches, and synagogues within a short walking distance of each other.

The city has seen a lot, from the times of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires to the more recent Yugoslav era and the 1990s conflict. Visiting sites like the Sarajevo Tunnel Museum and the Latin Bridge, where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, triggering World War I, provides a profound insight into European and world history. This is the number one historical fact that draws many tourists to Sarajevo. 

Sarajevo is surrounded by hills and mountains, offering various vantage points for panoramic views. The Miljacka River winds through the city, adding to its scenic charm. It’s a great base for exploring the natural landscapes of Bosnia, which include waterfalls, rivers, and mountains. You can go up the mountain with the cable car and enjoy some super cool views. 

When I was there, I was super unfortunate, and a storm was about to start, as I was in the cable car. It was terrifying, but don’t worry, the cable cars are super new, and it was all safe. Also, don’t get in a cable car if a storm is about to start. 

Bosnian cuisine is a delightful fusion of Eastern and Western influences, with dishes like ćevapi (grilled minced meat) and pita (a flaky pastry filled with cheese, potatoes, or pumpkin) standing out. Also, the coffee culture here is strong, inspired by both Ottoman and European traditions. You’ll find plenty of cosy cafes where you can enjoy Bosnian coffee, which is similar to Turkish coffee.

Compared to other European cities, Sarajevo is relatively affordable, making it a great destination for travellers on a budget without compromising on experiences.

Bosnians are known for their hospitality and are generally welcoming to tourists. English is widely spoken by the younger generation, making it easier for travellers to navigate the city.

The Ultimate Balkan Road Trip Itinerary: Travel To The Hidden Gems of Southeast Europe mostar bosnia

Day 17: Mostar and Kravica Waterfall 

On your way back from Sarajevo, stop by the magical city of Mostar. You’ll notice that this famous bridge isn’t the only one of its kind in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but it’s certainly the most famous. If you want, you can even rent kayaks to go around the river. 

For them, the most striking was the colour of the river – it truly is turquoise. 

As for the bridge, it’s nice, but I actually enjoyed more the views from the bridge than the actual bridge. Also, watch your step. The limestones are pretty old, and you might slip. 

The Ultimate Balkan Road Trip Itinerary: Travel To The Hidden Gems of Southeast Europe

Day 18-19: Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik, often referred to as the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” is one of Croatia’s most iconic cities and a must-see destination. 

The UNESCO-listed Old Town is the heart and soul of Dubrovnik. Encircled by monumental stone walls, the Old Town’s cobblestone streets are a treasure trove of historic architecture. Walking along these walls gives you breathtaking views of both the city and the sparkling Adriatic Sea.

For fans of the hit TV series Game of Thrones, Dubrovnik will be instantly recognizable as the fictional city of King’s Landing. Guided tours will take you to key filming locations, making you feel as if you’ve stepped right into the Seven Kingdoms.

For the best panoramic views of Dubrovnik and the surrounding area, hop on the cable car that goes to the top of Mount Srđ. It’s not cheap, but what is cheap in Dubrovnik? From there, you can see the Old Town, Lokrum Island, and even parts of neighboring countries on a clear day.

Just a short boat ride from the Old Town, Lokrum Island offers a natural escape from the city’s crowds. With its botanical gardens, small saltwater lake, and peacocks wandering freely, it’s a perfect spot for relaxation and outdoor activities.

Also known as Dubrovnik’s Gibraltar, this fortress offers more great views of the city and was another filming location for Game of Thrones. It also has a rich history and is an integral part of Dubrovnik’s defense system.

The Ultimate Balkan Road Trip Itinerary: Travel To The Hidden Gems of Southeast Europe kotor montenegro

Day 20: Kotor and Lovćen, Montenegro

Kotor is a medieval town tucked in a stunning fjord-like bay, known for its Old Town and the ancient Kotor Fortress that offers panoramic views. Nearby Lovćen National Park is home to the Mausoleum of Petar II Petrović-Njegoš, set atop one of Montenegro’s highest peaks.

Day 21: Sveti Stefan, Montenegro

This iconic islet connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway offers luxury and seclusion. Known for its pink sandy beaches and exclusive resorts, Sveti Stefan is the epitome of Montenegrin Riviera glamour.

The Ultimate Balkan Road Trip Itinerary: Travel To The Hidden Gems of Southeast Europe podgoriga montenegro

Day 22-23: Podgorica, Montenegro

Podgorica is the capital city, featuring a mix of modernity and tradition. Attractions like the Millennium Bridge and the ancient Clock Tower give you a taste of its diverse history and contemporary culture.

The Ultimate Balkan Road Trip Itinerary: Travel To The Hidden Gems of Southeast Europe tirana albania

Day 24-25: Tirana, Albania

Tirana is a vibrant capital city with colourful buildings and bustling squares. Don’t miss Skanderbeg Square and the National History Museum. The city offers a mix of Ottoman, Italian, and modern architecture.

Day 26-27: Dhërmi

Dhërmi is known for its pristine beaches and crystal-clear waters, making it a paradise for beachgoers and water sports enthusiasts. The local churches and monasteries add a layer of cultural depth.

Day 29: Plazhi Ksamilit

Located in southern Albania, Plazhi Ksamilit is famous for its turquoise waters and white sandy beaches. The nearby Four Islands offer excellent snorkelling and swimming opportunities.

The Ultimate Balkan Road Trip Itinerary: Travel To The Hidden Gems of Southeast Europe ohrid north macedonia

Day 30-31: Castle of Gjirokastra and Ohrid

Gjirokastra’s fortress offers sweeping views of the old Ottoman town and surrounding landscapes. Ohrid, in North Macedonia, is famous for its freshwater lake and ancient churches like St. John at Kaneo.

The Ultimate Balkan Road Trip Itinerary: Travel To The Hidden Gems of Southeast Europe skopje north macedonia

Day 31-32: Skopje, North Macedonia

Skopje combines the old and new, featuring the Stone Bridge that links the Ottoman Old Bazaar to the modern city. Don’t miss the towering Millennium Cross and the Mother Teresa Memorial House.

Day 33: Drive to Sofia, Bulgaria, or continue to Bucharest, Romania

I know that this is a rather long European road trip. I am a professional traveller, and after all of this, I was exhausted. Looking back at my itinerary, I realize that some of these places deserve more than a few hours or even more days. 

For sure, I will be back in the Balkans to explore more slowly. But for now, I simply wanted to share this ultimate Balkan road trip itinerary. 

If you have the time and energy, I stand by it and recommend that you stop in each of these locations. I can assure you that this will be a life-changing trip in Europe

However, I realize that not many travellers are blessed with unlimited holidays and budgets. 

In that case, if you have a limited time, I would only recommend focusing on one or two countries. You can also focus on one part of this massive coastline. It’s up to you, and you’re preferred holiday activities. 

If you need more help, check out my guide on how to plan a Europe road trip. And one more thing – Enjoy!! It’s going to be epic! 

Iulia Vasile

Iulia is a travel expert, blogger, engineer, freelance copywriter, and a curiosity-driven personality. She sees travel as the ultimate tool for self-improvement and personal growth, and that's the main topic of her blog, Juliasomething.com.

View stories