I travelled 3 times to the Balkans each time to a different destination but passing by Serbia most. And every time, I travel during winter expecting tons of snow and extremely quiet streets and boring people. But no, it is the opposite of my expectations!
Enjoy being the only guest
Winter nights can be quite cold so deciding on where to stay can be challenging because several factors should be taken into consideration: location and heating system. Indeed, an accommodation without heating in winter is not worth paying the money for! In my case, I find that most hostels and hotels in the Balkans are very well equipped with heating. Even staying at The Doctor’s House in Sarajevo as the only guest, the heater was on! And usually as it is off-season, service is fully devoted to few people so I enjoyed chats with staff, had almost a very privileged service in all places I stayed. Location is important too because you don’t want to be in a remote area, in my case, I chose accommodation as close as possible to the city centre.
So many things to do…
Again, winter season is also off-season. So most attractions are not to be shared with other tourists. In Montenegro, I was the only one walking around the Old Town of Kotor under pouring rain. Ok, it is not the best feeling being all soaked but it is worth it because in summer apparently this place is hell. It is crowded and full of tourists which is exactly what I hate. I’m sure other travellers can identify with me! In Belgrade, I enjoyed walking tours with Belgrade Walking Tours taking us to see some amazing things with a tour guide. Museums and art galleries are also open as usual so plenty of choice!
Tricky to get around but it’s easy after all!
It is fairly simple getting around within a city in the Balkans. But between two cities or two countries it can be quite tricky during winter. I found it hard especially in Montenegro when 2 days of rain resulted in landslides and huge diversion on the main highway. So the bus I was taking from Kotor to Podgorica diverted to Niksic. And overall a way of 80km took 5 hours to complete. The poor roads in Montenegro and Albania can cause severe delays. For linking country to country, I chose to fly to avoid spending hours on a bus or a train and border controls to clear immigration in the cold. Although, I chose to take the bus from Podgorica to Shkoder and it went fine, we cleared immigration within 30 minutes, as again, it was off-season, less travellers on the border.
Are bars and clubs empty? Hell no!
Let me tell you something… It’s not 2 inches of snow or few millimetres of rain that stop Balkan people from party. I saw that in Serbia. People are not lazy at all to go out during winter. I even partied in a cool boat club called 20/44 on Sava River at the middle of January, this is awesome! Bars are not full but people are definitely out any day of the week no matter the weather or the temperatures! Even when the river is frozen as you can see here!
My highlight from winter travels: Orthodox New Year.
There are several events and things going on in the whole region including Christmas and New Year which I hear can be interesting in Croatia or Bosnia. And apparently Belgrade becomes very busing for the NYE parties on 31 December with huge celebrations in front of the Serbian Parliament. And thankfully to the religious diversity of the region, Orthodox Christians have another Christmas on 7th January and another New Year on 14th January. You know what that means, my friend? Another party! 13 th January is the new ‘must do’ in Serbia. I visited twice and I can say: go for it! Welcoming the Orthodox New Year is really a good experience. I partied in Belgrade last year and Novi Sad the following year which was quite an unforgettable night for me with Goran Bregovic’s free concert in Liberty Square.