The first thing that everyone asked me when I told them what my next destination would be was:
“Why THERE? Out of all places?”
Well… Why the hell not?!
… is what I wanted to say. However, I saw where the confusion was coming from. When people think of Kosovo, the first things that spring to mind are not exactly ‘those beautiful old towns’ or ‘the most incredible sandy beaches’ or ‘the first-class culinary experience’. Not quite. What comes to mind almost immediately: images of a war zone, of people fleeing their country, of violence, hate, destruction.
So, instead of responding with a stroppy, sarcastic comment, I wanted to explain what attracted me in visiting Kosovo:
During my studies in London, I’ve met many amazing people from all over the world. And some of the MOST amazing people (no bias here) were actually from Kosovo — a country that, until then, I only knew from the news and geography lessons.
So when my Kosovan friend invited me over to Pristina, the country’s capital, I didn’t hesitate for a moment. Three months later, I found myself at a bus station, welcomed by the incredibly hospitable, friendly, caring, generous folks of Kosovo.
Getting to Pristina
Getting to Pristina was a bit of a mission at the time (May 2015). Now, however, you can fly directly from London and many other European cities, including Cologne, Dusseldorf, Budapest, Oslo or Zurich, just to name a few.
As I only had a student budget, I booked a flight from London with WizzAir – the “RyanAir of Eastern Europe” – and bought a return ticket to Skopje (Macedonia) for ~ £80. I didn’t book additional luggage (again: student budget) and soon regretted it. WizzAir’s hand luggage allowance is veeery different to most airlines’. So, watch out for those guidelines and have your measure tape ready before you get all packed up!
Many other (budget and non-budget) airlines fly to Pristina now, so you’ll have plenty of choice!
Once you’re already in the Balkans, getting to and from Pristina is super easy. The Balkans are very well-connected through a great number of coaches, a great way of travelling if you’re keen on a more picturesque route.
Having changed my itinerary slightly to fit in a week in Sofia, I decided to take a bus from Sofia (Bulgaria) to Pristina at 10am in the morning. With one change on the way and after what felt like a million border controls I made it to Pristina in the early evening. Despite long travel times, I would definitely recommend this means of transportation. Not only do you get to see the beautiful mountainous landscapes of the region, you also travel for peanuts. For as little as € 5-10 you cross entire countries – compare this to London where you travel in and out of the city for the same amount. Say whaaaat?!
What to Expect When in Pristina
Pristina is not pretty. Let’s just put that out there before you get your hopes up. If you’re looking for those cute little alleyways with cute little shops and cute little delicacies, book your flights to Italy.
Pristina doesn’t need to be pretty to be interesting: What is most striking about this city is that even though the war has left its horrible marks, it FEELS indestructible. Rather than hiding them, the city heals its wounds and proudly shows its scars that speak of its past horrors. Every building that is left from pre-war times almost yells at the visitor “I’ve survived!” and every new addition says “And we won’t forget”, thus creating a city with character where every stone tells a story.
If you want to know more about the country or Pristina, about what happened in the past, present or future, you can talk to the people. They will share a cup of tea with you in one the centre’s streets in the somewhat improvised market area or you can have a beer with them in one of the city’s amazing tavernas, and ASK. Simply ask them and they will share their stories.
What to See in Pristina
Most of Pristina’s museums and galleries address the country’s long history, the Kosovo War and its Post-War period.
Despite the country’s turbulent past, a great number of monuments are still preserved, dating back up to the Byzantine and Ottoman periods, including its mosques, baths and cultural houses, for instance.
If you’re interested in history, go to Pristina’s Ethnological Museum. The best decision you’ll ever make.
Also, if you get a chance, come visit the Jashar Pasha Mosque. While I was wandering around in the streets, a lovely old man invited to join him and his friends for a cup of tea, which led to a private tour of the nearby mosque with the Imam himself. (I just want to mention here: This friendly man spoke 6 languages fluently, Albanian, Italian, French, German and English, and one more that I cannot remember, and he did make use of all of them in our conversation. Some of them I understood, some not so much – my Albanian linguistic skills cannot be considered anything but non-existent.)
Another highlight for culture lovers is the Kosova National Art Gallery. Rarely have I ever been so touched by an exhibition before. Every piece showcased the people’s incredible pain and strength at the same time, which deeply resonated with all visitors that were there with me.
Pristina is not big. You will be able to walk anywhere by foot and most of the main monuments can be covered in a day’s walking tour. However, always plan with a bit of a buffer in case you want to visit a gallery or museum on the way and take your time to go with the flow of the city’s inhabitants. There is no rush in Pristina, that’s for sure!
Where to eat in Pristina
Kosovo is until this day still building and rebuilding. Jobs emerge slowly, especially for young people. Being the sociable, friendly and open-minded people they are, you’ll find many of them in the city’s numerous bars, tavernas and coffee places.
If you’re into tender, grilled meat garnished with flavoursome home-grown vegetables and accompanied by delicious beers, explore Pristina’s numerous tavernas! Often run by very young people building themselves a career in their hometown, these places usually have a rich variety of delicious meals on offer, bringing together the flavours of the Mediterranean, Ionian and Turkish cuisines. Honestly – if you don’t find anything that suits your taste buds, it’s your own fault!
My personal favourite is the Taverna Tirona. If you go there, say hi to Agon, one of the owners. He’ll serve you the best food (and the best rakia if you’ve still got it in you!)
While in Pristina, you’ll notice that the American influence makes itself noticeable by a number of burger restaurants. I promise you, though: these burgers are the tastiest burgers you will eat in the Balkans. If you feel extra-Metropolitan, there’s usually a refreshing cocktail or three on the menu. And if you feel a bit full after all those delights, down a few rakias after dinner — this local fruit brandy (in some cases homemade >40% ABV) will definitely sort you out!
Taverna Tirona: 2 Korriku no.12, Mother Theresa Boulevard, Pristina
If you are still alive after the second round of rakias, you can make your way to Soma Book Station. This place is not only good for lunches and coffee, it is also THE place to be at night and the bartenders mix up cocktails that New York can dream of. So grab your travel bestie and get the good vibes going!
And finally, I do recommend a visit to Pristina’s numerous coffee shops, such as Dit’ e Nat. A perfect break from sightseeing!
Dit’e Nat: Rr Fazli Grajqevci, Near EU Information Center, Pristina
So, Thinking of Visiting Pristina?
If you want your standard beach holiday, Pristina won’t be for you. But who needs a beach when they can have a real story to tell when they go home? You will meet some real people, make some real experiences, and have some tasty meals and drinks on the way… be open and explore!
And if you go and someone asks you “Why PRISTINA out of all places?”, then smile and say:
“Why the HELL not?!”
Over to you! Have you been to Kosovo before? Let me know in the comments!