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Discovering The Balkans: Explore This European Gem With An Epic 12D11N Muslim-Friendly Itinerary


Nursyazana Kahardy •  Jul 20, 2018


[UPDATED 26 Nov 2019] This is dedicated to those adventurous, outdoorsy types who want to make the most out of a 2-week long Balkans itinerary and would like to visit as many countries as possible ? So first off, in case some of you might not know this, the Balkans is not actually a singular country. Instead, it is a region that includes countries on the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe - including most of the former Yugoslavia.  If you need an extra push for this trip, just have a look at these amazingly picturesque photos, and you’re sure to start planning your trip. This guide will take you on a winding journey starting from Croatia, then on to Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Macedonia before finally ending in Greece, so just kick back - here's the only itinerary you'll need to explore the Balkans ? Credit: GiphyP.S. Before you plan your trip, check which of the Balkan countries are among those that Malaysians can visit without a visa!
Travelling to Croatia
Credit: Syazana Kahardy Unfortunately, there is no direct flight from Malaysia or Singapore to Croatia. The fastest way is to take a transit flight via Istanbul before finally reaching your destination. The flight time from Malaysia and Singapore to Croatia (including the transit) is a good 15 hours via Turkish Airlines. So, I urge you all to invest in a good neck pillow and book your tickets online in advance. Not only will you be able to get a cheaper flight, but Turkish Airlines also gives you a comfort pack that includes a little pouch filled with earplugs, compression socks, slippers, lip balm and an eye mask to make your long flight as comfortable as possible ❤️ Besides Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways provides the next best option in terms of flight time and price - around 16-17 hours (including transit at Doha). Once you’ve landed in Croatia, you can choose from a myriad of different travel options to get you to your hotel; that includes the airport taxi, bus shuttles to the central bus station or even Uber. Sometimes, depending on which hotel you’re staying in, you can also arrange for a private pick up at the airport and they’ll deliver you safely to your hotel ?
1. Croatia  ??
Day 1: Zagreb (5h)
Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia (30-min away from the airport), is a pedestrian-friendly city and getting around the place is super easy because of how convenient the public transport system is. There are various options available, including taxis, buses, trams, bikes and again, Uber  ?? One of the main things to do in Zagreb is to take the walking tour of the upper and lower towns in order to learn more about the rich history of the city that dates as far back 1094 A.D. ?
Credit: Syazana Kahardy
Jelacic Square
Named after the general who fought for Croatian independence against Hungary, the Jelacic Square or Main Square boasts one of the most attractive collections of Baroque-style buildings in Southeastern Europe. It’s hard not to fall in love with the gorgeous architecture and their colourful facades that completely complements the dynamic city streets.
Credit: Syazana Kahardy Lined with various cafes, sculptures, and pop-up stalls selling handmade souvenirs, there’s plenty to see and capture for your Instagram stories ?
Credits: Syazana Kahardy
Dolac Market
Located just behind the main square is the Belly of Zagreb, the Dolac Market, which is the largest farmer's market here and it spans over 2 floors. If you love local produce and want to find a place to get souvenirs without breaking the bank, this is the place to be ?
Credit: Syazana Kahardy Here is where you get to really see the locals' day-to-day lives. Plus, it is super entertaining just watching the friendly interactions between the vendors and their customers. Best of all, nearly all the vendors here can speak English so you’ll have no trouble making purchases! Do take note to get there early though as the market closes at 3pm on weekdays, at 2pm on Saturdays and 1pm on Sundays ?
Credit: Syazana Kahardy#HHWT Tip: The currency used in Croatia is the Kuna. When making purchases, do use their local currency as only a select few stores are licensed to accept Euros.  €1 is approximately 7.4-7.5 Kuna.
Cathedral Square
Credit: Syazana Kahardy One of Zagreb’s most treasured landmarks is the gothic-styled Zagreb Cathedral which is over 1000 years old and is located on Kaptol. It is the tallest building in Croatia, with spires reaching a height of 354 ft and can be seen from most part of the city. ? Fun fact: The cathedral is also the biggest sacral building designed in gothic style southeast of the Alps.
Credit: Syazana Kahardy Just before going up to see the cathedral, you’ll also get a chance to see a large, 3D metal map of the entirety of Zagreb. The base of this map is engraved with the story of how modern-day Zagreb was developed out of 2 medieval settlements, Kaptol and Gradec which thrived over centuries on 2 adjacent hills before they were finally united.
Strossmayer's Promenade
Strossmayer’s Promenade is basically what I would call Zagreb’s balcony as it's perched along the escarpment of where the upper town sits - located just next to the Lotrscak Tower (which shoots a cannon at noon to mark the time, definitely not to be missed!) and offers a spectacular view of the city below. ?
Credit: Syazana Kahardy There are also several unique art pieces to be found as you stroll through the promenade, including a statue of the famous Croatian poet, writer, journalist and travelogue writer, Antun Gustav Matos. Make sure to sit next to him because the guy has one of the best views the city has to offer! ?
Credit: Syazana Kahardy Just a little further down you’ll also come across Zagreb’s very own Love Lock Bridge! So, if you want to lock that relationship in place, here’s where to do it! As a bonus, the view from this point is also pretty romantic ? If you’re into the museum scenes, there are about 40 unique museums in the city alone, including a couple of quirky ones like the Museum of Broken Relationships (which is exactly what it sounds like) as well as the Museum of Innocent Art. It’ll take you a whole day just to explore the city and attractions on foot.
Credit: Syazana Kahardy Unfortunately, there are only a handful of halal eateries in Zagreb, one of them being Sofra, which serves traditional Bosnian food such as hearty soups, breads and a meat dish called Ćevapi. ?
Credit: Syazana KahardyĆevapi is kind of like a kebab, only it’s made with grilled, mincemeat that is shaped into a type of skinless sausage. It’s considered as a national dish in Bosnia and Herzegovina and is usually served with flatbread, chopped onions and feta cheese with the options of minced red pepper and salt.
Credit: Syazana Kahardy The other place where you can get halal food would be at the Islamic Centre (Zagreb Mosque ?), located about 16 km from the city centre. The beautiful mosque also features some interesting architecture with its 3 unique layers of domes and is the biggest mosque in all of Croatia ❤️
Day 2: Plitvice Lakes & Bihac
Plitvice Lakes National Park (4h)
Start your day early by grabbing some breakfast before heading to Plitvice Lakes National Park to see the stunning lakes and waterfalls. If there’s something the Balkans are famous for, it’s definitely their water! ?
Credit: Syazana Kahardy The Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the oldest in Croatia and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Entrance to the park varies but averages around €24 per adult during peak season. According to the guides, spring and autumn are the best times to visit the park to experience its full beauty because, during the winter, some routes must be closed due to its hazards.
Credit: Syazana Kahardy Once you arrive at the park, take the guided tour for 3 different routes that spans between 1 hour (the shortest) to 3 hours (the longest, but more encompassing), depending on your own walking speed (including time taken to stop for pictures, because how can you not?) and physical ability ???.
Credit: Syazana Kahardy But honestly speaking, once you’ve started the tour of the park you won’t even realise how long you’ve really walked when surrounded by the stunning scenery. Words are not enough to describe how beautiful and serene this park is with its majestic waterfalls and cool, crystal clear lakes. ✨ There’s even a relaxing, panoramic boat ride so you can rest your legs a little as you get up close and personal with some of the waterfalls. After spending the better part of the day at Plitvice Lakes, have lunch before travelling to Bihac in Bosnia and Herzegovina to spend the night. ?
2. Bosnia and Herzegovina ??
Day 3: Bihac – Travnik – Sarajevo
Between its culture, beauty and heritage, many say that a trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina is life-changing. The key to this trip is to keep moving! After spending the night in a hotel at Bihac, grab some breakfast and prepare for a drive to the town of Travnik and Jajce that is located about 90km away from Sarajevo. The best thing about Bosnia is that you don’t really have to worry about what to eat since there are plenty of options to choose from due to the fact that Bosnia is a Muslim country! ❤️
Pliva Lakes and the Watermills (1h)
Credit: Syazana Kahardy Just 5km away from Jajce, you’ll come across the beautiful Great and Small Pliva Lakes. If you’re interested at all to do some fishing, swimming, or any kind of water-related activity, this is the place to be as the high levels of hydrogen in the water makes it particularly still and perfect for kayaking ?
Credit: Syazana Kahardy You can also opt for a picnic near the public barbecue facility that overlooks the row of twenty small watermills that sit on a limestone partition that separates the Great and Small Pliva Lakes.
Credit: Syazana Kahardy These mills are no longer in use but they do date as far back to the Middle Ages and reflect the historical architectural style of the time as well as the carpentry skills of that region. Due to the historical, architectural, and geological value of the Pliva lakes and watermills, both were declared to be “National Monuments of Bosnia and Herzegovina” in 2009! ? #HHWT Tip: Be very careful when you go in for a closer look at the watermills because the path is super slippery!
Pliva Waterfall (1h)
Credit: Syazana Kahardy The Pliva waterfall in Jajce (which means ‘small egg’ ) is also part of the UNESCO registry and is amazingly beautiful. ? The stunning 17m-high waterfall is not as big as the one in Plitvice but is still rather breathtaking.
Credit: John Copeland on Facebook The waterfall is situated at the place where the river Pliva flows into the river Vrbas and was once said to be about 30m high, but due to an earthquake during the Bosnian war and attacks on the power plant up the river, it caused the area to flood and thus making it smaller. There’s also a small platform for those who would like to get closer to the waterfall but getting there takes a short walk and a small entrance fee of about €4.
Travnik (1h)
Next, make your way to the old town of Travnik to visit the unique Sulejmanija (Colourful) Mosque. Built in the 16th Century, this Ottoman Era mosque was built on pillars and the outside façade is covered with colourful murals ?
Credit: Syazana Kahardy Just below the main prayer hall is a ‘Bezistan’, or small bazaar area whereby locals could sell their goods and handcrafted souvenirs to the public. At the time I visited, the mosque was undergoing restoration efforts so the Bezistan was closed off to the public (please note that as of July 2019, restoration work has been completed and the mosque is opened in its entirety to the public).
Credits: Syazana Kahardy Fortunately, the main prayer hall is still open so you’ll be able to come inside and marvel at the beautiful, colourful woodwork. ? Once you’re done, grab a quick lunch in the old town of Travnik before making your way to Sarajevo to spend the night.
Day 4: Sarajevo
Tunnel Museum (2h)
One of the must-see attractions in Sarajevo is the Sarajevo Tunnel Museum which was built onto the historic private house of the Kolar family whose cellar served as the entrance to the Sarajevo Tunnel. The tunnel called the ‘Tunnel of Hope’ or Tunnel Spasa was constructed between the months of March and June in 1993, during the ‘Siege of Sarajevo’ that took place during the Bosnian War ?
Credit: Syazana Kahardy The tunnel was built by the Bosnian Army and was the only thing linking Sarajevo (which was entirely cut off by Serbian forces) to Bosnian-held territory on the other side of Sarajevo Airport, an area that is controlled by the United Nations.
Credits: Syazana Kahardy Visitors will be able to walk through the public part of the tunnel which is a 25m-long section of what was originally an 800m-long hand-dug tunnel that ran right under the airport runway. ? #HHWT Tip: In case you go without a guide, the museum also comes with a mobile application that tells you about the history of the place and its significance to the people of Sarajevo.
Credit: Syazana Kahardy There are also several archival materials available at the privately-run museum, including letters, war photographs, military equipment and uniforms, flags, news clippings and an 18-minute long video clip of Sarajevo during the siege ? The museum is open 9am to 5pm from April through October, and 9am to 4pm November through March. Admission costs 10 KM for adults and 5 KM for students with a student card (about €6 and €3 respectively).
Baščaršija (4h)
A visit to Sarajevo isn’t complete without exploring the old part of town - the Baščaršija which was built in the 15th Century when Isa-Beg Isakovic founded the town. The name ‘Baščaršija’ is derived from Turkish and roughly translates to ‘head or big market’.
Credit: Syazana Kahardy It makes sense since the place is actually Sarajevo's old bazaar and the historical and cultural centre of the city. Unfortunately, due to a large fire that happened in the 19th century, the ‘Baščaršija’ is only half the size of what it used to be back in its heyday ?
Credits: Syazana Kahardy But don’t let that statement fool you. There’s still plenty to see and the bazaar is still thriving, so you’ll have no problem finding the perfect souvenir to take home ?️
The Sebilj
Credit: Syazana Kahardy At the heart of the town in what is fondly dubbed ‘Pigeon Square’ is a ‘Sebilj’, a pseudo-Moorish fountain that was built by Mehmed Pasha Kukavica in 1753 ? It was relocated by Austrian architect Alexander Wittek in 1891. It is one of the city’s most recognisable symbols and there’s a story that a long time ago, people used to give out coffee at the ‘Sebilj’ and those who could recite the surah al-Fatiha would be given a free coffee ☕
The Gazi Husrev-Beg’s Mosque
Credits: Syazana Kahardy The other major landmark in Sarajevo has got to be the gorgeous Gazi Husrev-Beg’s Mosque ? Not only is it stunning, but this mosque happens to be the most important Ottoman structure in Sarajevo!
Credit: Syazana Kahardy Other points of interest in Sarajevo includes the Sarajevo Meeting of Culture line - a literal line on the cobblestone floor that showcases the point in which Austro-Hungarian architecture meets traditional Ottoman architecture, the brightly painted Vijecnica or Town Hall that has since been converted into a library, as well as the Latin Bridge where the Austro-Hungarian Archduke, Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, triggering the 1st World War. ?
Day 5: Jablanica – Blagaj – Mostar
Restoran Bagrem – Jablanica (1h)
Credits: Syazana Kahardy The next stop on our Balkans trip is Mostar. On the way there, just before you go through the tunnel, stop by the Bagrem restaurant in Jablanica for lunch and try their famous roasted lamb dish ???
Credits: Syazana Kahardy The tasty dish is served with soup, a side salad, as well as rice and the lamb had been marinated with a special mix of spices from the Balkans - using a technique that somehow involves windmills! The portions are pretty decent in size and it costs about 20 KM (about RM50), much cheaper than any other restaurant in the area!
Credit: Syazana Kahardy Plus, not only is the food delicious, the staff are super friendly and helpful as well. If that isn’t enough to convince you to visit, might I add that the restaurant also comes with some stunning views of some majestic mountains as well as the Neretva River ?
Tekke Blagaj (2h)
Credit: Syazana Kahardy Another stopover before reaching Mostar is the Dervish House or ‘Blagaj Tekke’. This rare, Turkish-baroque style structure has been dated back to the Middle Ages and is built on the right side of the Buna river with a huge, 240m cliff looming over it in the background. The main purpose of the tekke was to serve as a dervish Zikr (praise-chanting God and His Names) location. ?
Credits: Syazana Kahardy Another draw is the cave that’s located right next to the Dervish house that leads to an underground karst river. When in season, you can ride a little boat into the cave and marvel at the magical blue colour of the water ?️
Mostar (4h)
Credit: Syazana Kahardy Once you’ve finished exploring the tekke in Blagaj, it’s time to head onto a tour of the historic city of Mostar, which is the 5th largest city in Bosnia and Herzegovina. ‘Mostar’ was named after the bridge keepers, the mostari who, in the medieval times guarded the Stari Most (Old Bridge) over the Neretva River. ? #HHWT Tip: The bridge can be super slippery so be careful when you walk across it. Also, please be hyper-vigilant of pickpockets in the area. ?
The Stari Most (Old Bridge)
Credit: Syazana Kahardy A definite must-see attraction in Mostar is the famous Stari Most Bridge. It was built in the 16th Century by the Ottomans and is one of the most recognisable landmarks in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The bridge is considered to be one of the most amazing examples of Islamic architecture in the Balkans and has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2005 ?
Old Bridge Museum
Credit: Syazana Kahardy If it strikes your fancy, you can even pay a visit to the Old Bridge Museum to learn more about the rich history of the Stari Most ? The museum was opened in 2006 to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of the bridge’s reconstruction and is located in the Tara Tower. Comprising of 3 sections, you’ll be able to learn more about the original bridge as well as the process of reconstruction after the war. There’s also one section of the museum that affords you with a stunning 360° panoramic view of the city ?
Karađoz Bey Mosque
Credits: Syazana Kahardy Another attraction is the Karađoz Bey Mosque that was built by Mehmed Bey Karagöz, the brother of Ottoman vizier Rüstem Pasha ❤️ With its impressively tall minaret and a huge dome, the mosque is the largest in the region. Like the rest of Mostar though, the building took heavy damage during the war but underwent extensive reconstruction between the years of 2002 to 2004.
Day 6: Mostar – Blagaj – Trebinje
Kravica Waterfalls (2h)
Credit: Syazana Kahardy What better way to start a new day than by going on a short nature walk? The Kravica Waterfalls is a popular place for people to swim and have picnics and is located about 40km south of Mostar. The 25m high waterfall is simply beautiful and during the springtime, you can see nothing but green ?
Credit: Syazana Kahardy There’s also a path that you can take that leads to an observational point where you can snap a few insta-worthy shots with the falls in the background. Additionally, the path does go lower so that you can get an up-close view of the falls ?
Credit: Syazana Kahardy The loud, thundering rush of water and the way the sprays gently mist over your skin as you approach is an experience you don’t want to miss. Plus, there are also some stalls nearby where you can purchase some snacks and even bottles of pure, delicious honey! ??
Pocitelj (2h)
Credit: Syazana Kahardy After the visit to Kravica, make sure to keep your walking shoes on as the next stop involves a bit of climbing. Pocitelj is a historical little village that’s located about a 30-minute drive from Kravica waterfall and is home to an Ottoman fortress. The fortified stone architectural designs of the village showcase 2 stages of style evolution; one medieval and the other, Ottoman.
Credit: Syazana Kahardy Climbing up the Kula or fort tower is a bit of a task. The path up is steep and there may be some obstructions like plant growth, large rocks and debris but the view you get at the top makes the climb well worth it. ?
Credit: Syazana Kahardy Besides the fortress, Pocitelj is also home to other historical sites such as the Hajji Alija Mosque that was built in 1563 (made notable by its dome that provides a unique acoustics within the mosque), the Sahat Kula or bell tower that’s located closer to the river on the south side of the old town and finally the Gavrakanpetanović house that was built at the end of the 16th Century and is the only house in the town to have 2 separate rooms for men and women.
Trebinje (Overnight stay)
Credit: Syazana Kahardy Once you’ve finished your visit at Pocitelj, it’s time to head on over to the beautiful town of Trebinje, where the Trebišnjica river flows through the heart of the city; making it a truly postcard-worthy scene ? Trebinje has a rich cultural history and the town is sprinkled with various monuments from the Roman Empire, the Ottoman and the Austro-Hungarian Empires.
Osman-Paša Mosque
Credit: Syazana Kahardy If you’re taking a stroll through the old town of Trebinje, you’ll come across the most famous mosques in Herzegovina; the Osman-Paša mosque. ? It was originally built in 1726 by Dubrovnik craftsmen under the order of Osman-Paša Resulbegović; giving it a unique and distinctive Mediterranean style appearance.
Andjelka’s Gate ?️
Credit: Syazana Kahardy Another interesting landmark in the old town of Trebinje is the Andjelka’s Gate which happens to be the location where the famous Serbian Film, Wounded Eagle (Ranjeni Orao) was shot.
Day 7: Trebinje – Dubrovnik – Trebinje
Credit: Syazana Kahardy After grabbing breakfast in Trebinje, it’s time to drive to the border and head back into Croatia to visit the stunning city of Dubrovnik. ? As some of you might know, Dubrovnik is the main filming location in Croatia for King’s Landing - the capital of the Seven Kingdoms in the HBO cult series, Games of Thrones ? The Old City of Dubrovnik is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is chocked full of beautiful architecture, exciting history and killer views of the clear, blue Adriatic Sea. ❤️
Old Town (3h)
Credit: Syazana Kahardy When wandering past the gates and onto the main street of the Old Town, it’s hard not to be in awe of the ancient city walls or the white limestone streets that are lined on each side with gorgeous baroque-style buildings. ? Taking a guided walking tour through the city is a must as you’ll be able to learn more about the history of Dubrovnik and the importance of some of its structures like the Pile Gate, the Franciscan Monastery and Old Pharmacy, the Big and Small Onofrio’s Fountains, and the Old Town Harbor just to name a few!
Panoramic Boat Tour (45 mins)
Credit: Syazana Kahardy If you’ve had enough of walking, you can always head down to the Old Town harbour and book yourself a panoramic boat tour?️ Choose either a wooden boat or one with a glass bottom, but either way, you won’t be able to resist going a little trigger happy with your camera as you sail by the stunning views of the monumental city walls, the island of Lokrum and the Betina Beach cave.
Walk on Walls (2½ h)
If you’re craving for more adventure and are feeling up to it, for 150KN (€20), you can also opt to walk on top of the ancient city walls. Just walking along the walls at a leisurely pace would take about 2½ hours but the views are worth it! ? Once you’re done with exploring Dubrovnik, it’s time to head back to Trebinje to spend the night before moving on to Montenegro.
3. Montenegro ??
Day 8: Trebinje – Kotor – Budva – Shkoder
Finally leaving the area of Bosnia and Herzegovina, we move on to Montenegro - making sure to stop by the famous fort and beautiful coastal town of Kotor to explore. ?
Kotor (3h)
Credit: Syazana Kahardy With its fortified walls and the overhanging cliffs looming in the background, Kotor makes for an impressive landscape that cannot be contained by mere photos alone (although you’re welcome to try!) ? The town with its narrow streets and multiple alleyways is a veritable maze of museums, churches, café filled squares and repurposed palaces. You can even walk along the old fortress walls, just like in Dubrovnik! ?
Kotor Clock Tower
One of the most recognizable symbols of Kotor is the clock tower that’s located just opposite the main gate. An interesting fact about the clock tower is that it’s slightly tilted towards the west due to an earthquake in 1667 before the tower’s completion. ? Also, if you’re wondering what the little structure is below the tower, it’s something called the Pillar of Shame and was used as a way to punish people. Those who were accused of a crime were actually tied to the pillar so that the whole town would know of their crimes. ?
Credit: Syazana Kahardy There are plenty of cool museums scattered around the town and the Kotor Maritime Museum is something you don’t want to miss out on. Housed in a former Venetian style hotel, the museum has a lot to offer on the history of Kotor as a whole, given the towns Maritime past.
Credit: @k_lubovina on Instagram Besides that, another interesting museum you could drop by and visit is the Kotor Cat Museum ? Cat lovers would be interested to know that Kotor just happens to be crazy about these fluffy felines; thus, you can expect to find plenty of cat-related souvenirs available for purchase!
The Pima Palace ?
Credit: Syazana Kahardy Another interesting place worth seeing is The Pima Palace that’s located in Flour Square. Architecturally speaking, it’s one of the prettiest palaces in Kotor; what with its green shutters and unique mix of both Renaissance styles for the portal and terrace and Baroque style for the upper windows and balcony. Above the main portal, you can see the coat of arms of the Pima family that’s supported by two angels ?
Budva (2h)
Credit: Syazana Kahardy Our next stop is Budva, another well-preserved medieval walled city that is estimated to be over 2,500 years old; making it older than Kotor and the oldest settlement on the Adriatic coasts. The whole town is encircled by the tall city walls and a good majority of the buildings were erected during the Venetian rule. Inside of Budva, there is a surprising number of churches as well as small, narrow streets that are lined with cute cafes, souvenir shops, jewellery stores and fashion boutiques.
Poet Square ?
Credit: Syazana Kahardy The Old Town of Budva is an artist’s paradise. Music is always playing in the city and the way the city was built makes it a perfect performance space. There have also been many world-renowned performers that have come to Budva to perform; including the Rolling Stones, Madonna and even Lenny Kravitz. ? Apart from that, you can also expect to find some marvellous writers from all over Montenegroand other parts of the world in Poet’s Square; where you’ll be able to see a giant stone statue of the mathematical symbol for Pi.
Credit: Syazana Kahardy The citadel in Budva is the main historic attraction within the walls of the Old Town. Built in 840, it was reinforced twice; once in the 15th century when the town was under Venetian rule and again in 1836 when Austrian troops were stationed here. In order to enter the citadel, there’s a small entry fee of €2 and from there you’ll be able to get gain access to the roof and see some stunning views of the St. Nikolas Island in the Adriatic. ?
Credit: @ineedatrip.pl on Instagram Other than that, there are also a couple of canons and a small museum inside the citadel; as well as a turnstiles gate that will give you access to walk along the city walls. Once you’ve finished with walking around Budva, it’s off to Shkoder, Albania to spend the night.
4. Macedonia ??
Day 9: Shkoder – Ohrid
After spending a relaxing night in Shkoder, make sure to get up early in order to head down to Ohrid, Macedonia. Crossing borders are a bit of a nightmare so it’s best to start your journey as early as possible as border checks take between 30 minutes to 2 hours; depending on the size of your group.
Credit: Syazana Kahardy Ohrid is the biggest city on Lake Ohrid, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is Europe’s oldest and deepest lakes. The city is charming with a good mix of ancient, medieval and modern architecture. That being said, the city was also once famous for having 365 churches, one for each day of the year ?
The Old Bazaar (2h)
Credit: Syazana Kahardy To really get to know the city, you’re going to have to walk (surprise, surprise). Like many of the old towns in the Balkans, Ohrid is rich in beautiful architecture, picturesque views, impressive sculptures and ancient monuments with rich, historical backgrounds. ? To get to most of their locations though, you’re going to have to go through the Old Bazaar.
Credit: Syazana Kahardy Of course, you’ll also be able to find modern boutiques stores, souvenir shops (Ohrid is also pretty famous for a special kind of pearl, but only a couple of shops sell the real deal) and restaurants in the area as well. Luckily, halal food is not a problem in Ohrid as the second most practised religion here is Islam.
The Zeynel Abedin-Pasha Mosque
Credit: Syazana Kahardy One of the things you’ll see in the main square is the Zeynel Abedin-Pasha Mosque. The mosque was built in the 17th century by Zeynel Abedin-Pasha as a monastery of the Halveti Order. Nowadays the mosque contains a burial chamber in which rest the remains of Haji Muhammad Hayati, a Persian ancestor of the first ruler of Ohrid. ?
Church of St. Sophia
Credit: Syazana Kahardy The church of St. Sophia is one of the most important places in Macedonia as it houses art and architectures that dates back to the Middle Ages. What makes this church so interesting is the history behind it. Originally it was built during the rule of the First Bulgarian Empire and later on, during the rule of the Ottoman Empire, the church was converted into a mosque. ? The Turks took great care in reshaping the church almost entirely; whitewashing the frescoes, using the ornamental plates from the iconostasis for constructing the internal staircase and adding in a minaret above the northwest dome. During the early to mid-50s, extensive restorative works were performed on the Church of St. Sophia to recover the frescoes and return the church back to its original looks.
Day 10: Ohrid – Kalambaka
Ohrid might be a small city but it is impossible to see and do everything in one day. Therefore, before we move on to Kalambaka, make sure to take a boat tour on Lake Ohrid.
Credit: Syazana Kahardy The boat Aleksandrija cost €10 for a return trip that starts from Ohrid to St. Naum; making a stop at the Bay of Bones where you’ll be able to find the Museum of Water before heading back to Ohrid.
Monument of St. Cyril and Methodius
When getting to the lake, you’ll be greeted by some stunning monuments. One of them is the monument of St. Cyril and Methodius.
Credit: Syazana Kahardy The two brothers were the ones who invented and then spread the alphabet that is currently used throughout the entire Slavic speaking world. Found nearby are also the monuments of St. Naum as well as the ‘Catcher of the Cross’. ? Once you’re done in Ohrid, it’s time to move on to the last leg of our journey. That’s right folks; we’re finally heading to Greece. The drive from Ohrid to Kalambaka takes about 4 hours, (not including the time spent at border checks to actually get into Greece), so make sure to grab lunch and get as much rest as you can!
5. Greece ??
Day 11: Kalambaka – Athens
Visiting the Meteora (2h)
After having some breakfast at the hotel, it’s time to pay the Meteora rocks a visit. I’ve you’re afraid of heights, it’s okay to admire them from a distance, but if you crave an early morning adrenaline rush, why not climb on top of one of these immense, natural pillars. ?
Credit: Syazana Kahardy Meteora is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the view from one of these pillars is literally breathtaking. It’s said that in the 9th century A.D. hermit monks lived in the fissures in the rock tower; some as high as 1800 ft (550 meters) above the plain. Due to the great height and sheerness of the cliffs walls, only the most determined of people ever made it up the Meteora.
The Great Meteoron Monastery
Credit: Syazana Kahardy There are six functioning monasteries up in Meteora and the biggest one by far is the Great Meteoron Monastery. It was built in the mid-14th Century. One of the buildings serves as the main museum for tourists but one of the most interesting parts of the monastery has got to be the sacristy which contains shelves of the skulls of the monks who have lived there over the years ???.
The Monastery of Varlaam
Credit: Syazana Kahardy From the entrance of the Great Meteoron Monastery, you’ll also be able to see the second largest monastery in Kalambaka; The Monastery of Varlaam. It has the largest number of monks in residence of all the male monasteries and was built in 1541. The old refectory of the monastery has since been converted to a museum.
Athens (Overnight)
After paying the Meteoron a visit, it’s once again time to make the long drive to Athens. The drive takes about 4 hours and depending on when you leave, you might arrive late in the evening. There’s nothing for it but to grab an early dinner before relaxing in the hotel in preparations for the next day; but if you manage to reach at a reasonable hour, there’s no harm in going on a rapid tour via Athen’s Sightseeing Bus Tour. ?
Credit: Syazana Kahardy Those of you who are familiar with the ‘Hop-On, Hop-Off’ bus concept would be delighted to know that in Athens, they have something similar. The bus will take you to all the notable places in Athens and with the built-in audio guide, you’ll be able to learn the basics about certain spots from the comforts of the bus seat. A perfect way to scope out and plan just where you want to be spending your time in for the next full day ?
Day 12: Athens – Istanbul – Kuala Lumpur/Singapore
Equal parts grunge and grace, Athens is a lively, urban city that just mesmerises all those who visit. There are so many things to do and places to see that you’re going to want to get an early start on the day. Here’s a short list of some of the must-see sights while in Athens! ?
Panathenaic Stadium (1h) ?️
Originally built in the 4th Century B.C. as a venue for the Panathenaic athletic contests, this stadium can fit up to 70,000 people and is the only one in the world made entirely out of marble. After centuries of disuse, wealthy Greek benefactor, Georgious Averof had the stadium fully restored in 1895 to host the modern Olympic Games ? While it looks amazing from the outside, you can also enter the stadium if you wish. The only catch is that there’s a small fee; €5 for adults, €2.50 for students with a valid student card and free entry for children ?‍?‍?‍? There’s also a funny yet romantic story attached to the stadium, involving a Greek postman who ran the marathon for his love (in exchange, he had wanted the then-ruler of Greece to convince his future father-in-law to let him marry his daughter ? (wild, I know.)
Parliament & Changing of the Guards (1h)
Credit: Syazana Kahardy The Hellenic Parliament is located in the Old Royal Palace, overlooking the Plateia Syntagmatos (Syntagma Square) in Athens. It’s also where you’ll be able to find the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; located at the formal forecourt of the building and guarded round the clock by the Evzones of the Presidential Guard.
Credit: Syazana Kahardy The presidential guards' uniform of the fustanella (white skirt) and pom-pom shoes is based on the attire worn by the klephts (the mountain fighters of the War of Independence). The changing of the guards occurs every day, every hour and on Sundays at 11am sharp, a whole platoon matches down Vasilissis Sofias to the tomb, accompanied by a band and much fanfare. ?
The Odeon Herodes Atticus (1h) ?
Credit: Syazana Kahardy On the way up to the acropolis, you’ll pass by the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a magnificent stone amphitheatre that was built in 161 A.D. by the wealthy Athenian magnate, Herodes Atticus in memory of his wife; Aspasia Annia Regilla. Used as a concert venue, the amphitheatre can seat up to 5,000 people and was originally built with an expensive cedar wood roof. ?
The Acropolis (2h) ?️
Located on a rocky outcrop that overlooks the city of Athens, the acropolis is an ancient citadel that houses some of the greatest architectural and historically significant ancient buildings of all time. This includes the Parthenon, the Propylaia, the Erechtheion and the Temple of Athena Nike ? The buildings are breathtaking up close; definitely worth the mildly steep and slippery climb, but do take care not to touch any of the ancient pillars as it will apparently damage the stone.
Monastiraki Square (4h)
Credit: Syazana Kahardy Shopping is a favourite pastime for both tourists and Athenians alike. So, for those of you who love bargain hunting, one of the best places for you to buy just about anything is at the Athens Flea Market, located at Monastiraki square ? Sundays are the best days to be here as you’ll never know what you’ll find, but on regular shopping days, the small stores carry literally everything; ranging from t-shirts, magnets, jewellery and scarves to miniature statues of the Parthenon, painted plates bearing the faces of mythological Greek gods, intricate backgammon sets, postcards and so much more ✨
Credit: Syazana Kahardy Also, nearby and overlooking the Monastiraki square is the restored Turkish Mosque that now serves as an annexe to the Museum of Greek Folk Ark. Built in the mid-18th century, it was once called the Tzistarakis Mosque, named after the Viovode (governor) of Athens at that time, Mustapha Agha Tzistarakis. Credits: Giphy So that just about wraps up the whole trip, folks. ? Overall, this whole trip will definitely test your physical fitness capabilities. It involves a lot of walking and climbing but the stunning sceneries and unforgettable memories you take home are more than worth it ??