Budapest to Belgrade the Long Way: An Introduction to the Balkans
(Hungary) Budapest (Slovenia) – Maribor – Ljubljana (Croatia) – Zagreb – Zadar – Spilt – Dubrovnik (Bosnia & Hercegovina) – Trebinje – Mostar – Sarajevo – Visegrad (Serbia) – Zlatibor – Belgrade
Leaving Budapest, Maribor is a great place to break the journey to the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana itself is not only a lovely city in which to while away a day or two but also the jumping off point for visiting the Julian Alps’ two star attractions – Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj. It’s a mystery why Zagreb doesn’t receive more visitors than it does and personally, we thought both Zadar and Split were nicer than Dubrovnik, but you definitely shouldn’t miss the latter if you haven’t been before. Trebinje in Bosnia & Hercegovina was a real find and Mostar is one of those cities in which you could linger for ages. East meets West in Sarajevo and the recent history is fascinating, while Visegrad, on the Bosnian/Serbian border, is home to one of the most attractive, arched bridges in the Balkans. Zlatibor is all about skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer and the Serbian capital, Belgrade, certainly needs no introduction.
Number of countries: 5
Number of UNESCO sites: 5
Best time to travel: Mid–April to early October but don’t travel in July and August if you want to avoid the bulk of the tourists on the Dalmatian Coast and steer clear of the hottest part of the year
Recommended duration: 3 weeks
Best places to slow the itinerary down: Mostar and Split
Mode of transport: Train and bus
Travelling along Croatia’s Adriatic coast – having your own transport for this part of the journey would be worthwhile
Belgrade – one of the coolest cities in the Balkans
The rugged scenery between Trebinje and Mostar
The Mokra Gora/Sargan 8 gauge narrow railway, which is situated between Visegrad and Zlatibor. Getting seats can be tricky as the train is often fully booked but the journey is definitely a highlight if you can get them (try the tourist board in Zlatibor if all else fails – they managed to get us two seats at the last minute)
OPTIONS FOR EXTENDING THE ITINERARY
See more of the Balkans by heading south to Nis and then cross the border into Macedonia and either travel up through Kosovo and Montenegro or cross into Albania
Head north from Belgrade and return to Hungary via Novi Sad and Subotica (Szeged is a worthy stopover on the Hungarian side of the border)
Head east to Romania or southeast to Bulgaria
WHERE WE STAYED
Some of our favourite places we stayed in are:
Hi5 Apartments in Budapest, Hungary – we’ve stayed in two of their apartments on two different occasions and both were great.
Studio 15 in Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, is a great little studio apartment, perfect for a short stay with lovely hosts!
Zlatibor in Serbia has an abundance of accommodation options, especially apartments but we really enjoyed our stay at Apartments Žunić MM
You may also like to read some of our blog posts featuring the region…
OTHER TRAVEL PLANNING RESOURCES
Balkan Viator is a useful resource for finding bus and train schedules in the region, although it’s not 100% reliable so double-check timings locally.
Depending on our itinerary, often we just find our accommodation as we go, particularly in smaller places. In big cities, we tend to make a reservation in advance using Booking.com.
There are a lot of guidebooks to this part of Europe available but we’ve always used Lonely Planet and it’s hard to change a habit of a lifetime!
Although the Eastern Europe guide is sufficient for a short trip like this one, we think Lonely Planet are missing a trick by not having guides to Serbia or Bosnia and Herzegovina. If you like more detail, Bradt travel guides are excellent and have just published an updated guide to Bosnia and Herzegovina and a new guide to Serbia due out in September.
And if you need a few more reasons to follow this itinerary…
Hungarian Parliament Building, Budapest
Glavni Trg in Maribor, Slovenia
St. Mark’s Church in Zagreb, Croatia
Svrzo House Bjelave in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Trebinje Old Town, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Sargan Eight Railway Mokra Gora, Serbia
Street art in Belgrade, Serbia
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