Officially “born” in February of 2008, Kosovo is still a relatively new country. After the wars in 1999, it was governed under transitional UN leadership until it formally declared independence. It is now recognized by 112 countries including most of its neighbors, but not Serbia. Things are still a bit tense between Kosovo and Serbia, at the border and within the country. Not everyone in Kosovo supported independence and groups of ethnic Serbs still remain in the country. Although tensions remain, all the people I met were friendly, helpful, and excited to have tourists in their country. Kosovo is safe and primed for tourism, as long as know what to expect.
Understand the border
I’m not an expert on the border between Serbia and Kosovo. This is simply my own experience plus the experience of other travelers who have been to both countries without issue.
Serbia doesn’t recognize the border or even recognize Kosovo for that matter. The trick is to leave through the same land border you entered through if you want to be able to return to Serbia. If you are in Serbia, you can go down to Kosovo and return to Serbia with little to know problem. You can also leave through Kosovo, but if you try to return to Serbia they will say you left the country illegally. The same goes if you enter Serbia through Kosovo. If you enter through Kosovo then try to leave in the north of the country, they will say you entered Serbia illegally.
I did it the most stress free way I could think of. I went to Serbia, left through Serbia and went on with my travels through Romania, Bulgaria, and Macedonia. I then entered Kosovo through Macedonia, and left through Macedonia. I had no trouble at either border. Apparently if you go to Kosovo then Serbia this way, you may have some trouble at the border if the Serbian border patrol sees the Kosovo stamp on your passport. I can’t confirm this, but for the easiest border crossing, do Serbia then Kosovo.
Other things to note
Language: They speak a dialect of Albanian in Kosovo, which is very different from other Balkan languages. However most people, especially young people, servers, or those in tourism speak some English.
Currency: Kosovo uses the euro.
Getting around: Within Pristina, the capital city, there are buses, but it’s a small, very walkable city. There isn’t a direct bus to the center to and from the bus station, so I took taxis. All the branded taxi’s in Kosovo are also metered, so there is no need to negotiate a price before you get in the cab. A ride from the bus station to the city center costs around 2.5-3 euro depending on traffic.
Other cities within Kosovo and Macedonia are very well connected to Pristina via bus.
What to do in Pristina
Pristina is the capital city of Kosovo. It’s quite small, so you really only need a day or two to get to know this newborn city.
Bill Clinton Statue
Bill Clinton was a big supporter of Kosovo’s independence and is therefore quite a popular figure. He has a highway named after him along with a giant statue. Visiting it is a right of passage for any U.S. citizen in Kosovo.
As the name suggest, this monument commemorates Kosovo’s status as a “newborn” country. The cool thing about this monument is that they repaint it every February 17, Kosovo’s Independence day to represent a new issue. When I visited, the monument was taking a political stand against both Trump and Serbia. The letters were painted with bricks and the N and the W were knocked over, to represent No Wall. Just before the monument was repainted, Serbs in the northern town Mitrovica built a wall, separating the Serbian and Kosovar parts of the city. Eventually, the wall was demolished and artists behind the monument want to keep it that way, stating that it is in the interest of all humanity to bring walls down, not build them.
The Granicia Monestary is just a 15 minute bus ride from Pristina. This 6th century monetary is one of few places of worship that wasn’t destroyed in one war or another. All of the frescos are original, and a recent cleaning has left them as vibrant as they were when they were first painted.
Take the bus headed to Gjilan and Granicia is one of the first stops. You buy your ticket for 75 cents on the bus and the driver will let you know where to get off. There are buses going to and from Pristina about every hour.
Pristina Bear Sanctuary
Combine the trip to Granicia with a trip to the Pristina Bear Sanctuary. Across Kosovo, brown bears were privately owned and kept as pets. They lived in tiny cages and were forced to perform in restaurants. In 2010 after a country wide ban on privately owned brown bears came into effect, 15 bears found their new home in the Pristina bear sanctuary. Unfortunately I went in the winter and I didn’t pay enough attention in preschool to remember that bears hibernate. I got out to the sanctuary to find it closed. This is one thing I really wish I had been able to do, so I encourage anyone going in the summer to take the time to visit.
To get there, just get on the bus towards Gjilan, and tell the driver to let you off at the petrol station by Mramor village. Cross the street and take the back road around to the other side of the lake from the highway, from there simply follow the signs to the bear sanctuary. It’s about a mile walk from the stop to the sanctuary, but it’s a lovely walk through the mountains by a lake.
To get back to Pristina, go back to where the sanctuary road meets the highway. Stay on the same side of the highway as the sanctuary road. Walk through the parking lot, and right after there is a small shoulder in the road. This is the shoulder where the bus will pull over. Buses come about every hour, as long as it isn’t super late.
What to do in Prizren
Prizren is another popular city along the backpacker route. It’s even smaller than Pristina, so I did it in a day trip. It’s about a 2 hour bus ride from Pristina and bus tickets cost around five dollars. There are buses going to and from Prizren almost every hour, so you can spend a full day in the city, or a few hours.
It’s quite small. The main draw of the city is the fortress. The fortress sits high above the city and it’s a great view of the mosques and the river. In the winter, it can be a little difficult to get up to. It’s quite steep and can get very snowy and slippery.
If climbing to the fort isn’t your thing, there are plenty of mosques and cafes to explore. I definitely wouldn’t spend more than a day here as it’s quite small.
Did you go to the bear sanctuary? Tell me all about it in the comments!