- 1. Experience the wonders of Ohrid, Macedonia, a beautiful and scenic city famous for having 365 churches, one for every day of the year.
- 2. Learn about the Skull Tower in Nis, Serbia, built by a Turkish general in 1809 using the skulls of the defeated Serbs.
- 3. Explore the pretty Roman port town of Apollonia, in Albania.
- 4. Take in the serene beauty of the Arabati Baba Tekḱe Monastery in Tetovo, and discover the rich religious history of this part of Macedonia.
|18 September 2022 |
Ends 06 October 2022 • 19 days
|19 September 2023 |
Ends 07 October 2023 • 19 days
Balkans Small Group Tour: Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Albania, Serbia
The Balkans small group tour takes you over 18 days through Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Albania. With some of the best local guides to show you around each destination, you will have the chance to learn about the history and culture of each place we visit. Throughout the journey through this region, we will cover as far back as the Roman settlements through to the unfortunate events of the last century pausing for Medieval towns and meeting the Dervishers. It is a history tour with some terrific journeys deep into the Balkan region exploring beyond the tourist trail.
The Balkans small group tour starts and finishes in Dubrovnik. The tour uses nine locations as its base from which the program leader leads the tour. After Dubrovnik we move onto Sarajevo, Belgrade, Kragujevac, Nis, Skopje, Ohrid, Berat, Tirana and Kotor. The natural scenery is often breathtaking and the ancient Roman settlements lend a fascinating aspect to the region's history. We will also gain an insight into the role of religion and religious settlement and its influences in the towns and cities explored. Many attractions throughout our journey are recongised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Balkans small group tour is for senior or mature or solo travellers who are seeking a tour that provides you with more than just a view from the road experience. This tour has an extension into Croatia.
The Balkan Small Group Tour Itinerary
We'll visit many wonderful cities on this small group tour, read about some of the highlights:
The capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo is sometimes described as the city where east meets west. It is ringed by mountains and has a diverse heritage, once known for being a religious melting pot. Despite a dark history, including experiencing one of the longest sieges in European history in the 1990s, Sarajevo is a beautiful place to visit with vibrant architecture, colourful street life, quaint shops and an enduring spirit. During our time here, we will have the opportunity to see the spot where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, an event often seen as the trigger for World War One.
A vivacious city, Belgrade, Serbia's capital, enjoys a reputation as a party city. However, it is also drenched in history with Roman ruins, Ottoman relics and remnants and the Hapsburg legacy. Lying where the Danube and Sava Rivers meet, Belgrade's riverside Savamala quarter is the city's lively, creative precinct.
Kragujevac is the fourth largest city in Serbia and was the chosen capital when the country broke away from the Ottoman Empire in 1818. It is the industrial centre of the country and is found on the banks of the Lepenica River.
Nis is one of the oldest cities in Europe, founded in 279 B.C., and now Serbia's third largest city. One of the most popular sites in the city is the majestic fortress, which is one of the most well-preserved structures in the area. Here you can expect to find small, laneway bars, live music in the streets and summer funfairs. However, there is a dark history here and many sites in Nis, such as the Red Cross Concentration Camp, offer an insight into the horrors of WW2.
The capital of the Republic of Macedonia, Skopje has experienced Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman rule which has contributed to its rich history. With many historical monuments, a beautiful fortress and interesting archaeological sites, it is steadily becoming a popular destination for travellers.
One of Macedonia's most appealing destination, Ohrid sites on the edge of the turquoise Lake Ohrid and is home to stunning churches and delicious local cuisine. Expect to enjoy food with hint of Mediterranean, Turkish and Italian flavours and plenty of fresh seafood.
A world heritage city, Berat in Albania is often known as the White City for its collection of white Ottoman houses that cover its hillside. With a rugged mountain landscape, it oozes charm and is often considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in the country.
Albania's capital, and largest city, Tirana is a bright, colourful city that has undergone a significant transformation since the 1990s. The cultural and entertainment centre of the country, prepare to enjoy great cafe culture, the city's controversial concrete pyramid and bustling street life.
A fortified town on Montenegro's Adriatic coast, Kotor sits amongst rugged mountain ranges. A medieval town of churches and museums, this is one of Europe's most underrated holiday locations.
You can learn more about Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Albania, and Serbia with our country profiles where all the other tour departures for these destinations are listed as well. For more details about this tour, click the ‘Top 5’ or ‘Itinerary’ buttons above! If you’re keen to experience this tour, please call or send an email. Or, to book, simply fill in the form on the right hand side of this page.
Travel tips and articles of Interest
For Odyssey Travellers articles that maybe of interest are often published on this website to assist you with your tour planning. For this Tour of the Balkans these articles on Clothing & Footwear, or suggestions on Packing or this two part article on travel tips part one and travel tips part two. Plus these two pieces on the how to manage queues and why take a small group educational tour may also be useful.
Day 1: Dubrovnik
After making your own way to the hotel we meet in the evening for a welcome dinner and program orientation with the group leader.
Day 2: Sarajevo
This morning, we travel into Bosnia, stopping on the way in Mostar, where we view the famous bridge. We take a guided, educational walk through the Ottoman and also take in the medieval quarter of the town. We then continue on to Sarajevo.
Day 3: Sarajevo
After breakfast, we take an extensive tour of Sarajevo, taking in the main sights of the city, including the spot where the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot, which that led to the start of the First World War. We also see the tunnel connecting the resistance under the city during the war of 1992-1995.
We then head north to see two most unusual sights: our first stop is Stone Ball park, an area where there are many very large stone balls – some believe these to have been man-made, others say they are natural. Afterwards, we visit the valley of the pyramids. Again, some believe that under three of the large hills here are hidden man-made pyramids, while others believe that they are natural – this is still a matter of debate.
Day 4: Belgrade
Before crossing into Serbia, we stop to view the pretty UNESCO-listed Mehmed Pasa Sokolovic bridge. The first stop in Serbia is the Drven Grad village, which was created by a local movie director for one of his films. This site is now an interesting stop, sine it displays the old-style wooden buildings. We then take the scenic train ride known as the Sargan 8, it loops around and through the mountains in a figure of eight to cope with the elevation change on this section of the track.
Day 5: Belgrade
Morning city tour in Belgrade visiting the large fortress parts of which date back to the early Roman period. Visit to the Royal palace (so long as this day is a Saturday or Sunday), the palace is still occupied by the current royal family so closed on weekdays. Visit to the Residence of Princess Ljubica built in the 19th century, but now a museum with artefacts to show what it was like to live in at the time it was built – for the nobility.
Afternoon free to take in the market and old parts of the city.
Day 6: Kragujevac
This morning we head south, making a stop at the memorial dedicated to those who died in the Balkan wars and WWI. We then continue south to Topola, where we visit the Temple of Saint George and the mausoleum of the Karadjordjevic dynasty built in the early-19th century. This mausoleum has an absolutely stunning interior that must be seen to be believed.
The next stop is a very different site, a fortified monastery, Mansija, built in the 15th century and in a wonderful location.
Day 7: Nis
After breakfast, we experience a picturesque drive through the hills and valleys to the pretty and architecturally significant Kalenic monastery. Here, we learn about the history of religion in the area and take a walking tour of the monastery ground. Our second stop of the day is the Dvorac Belimarkovica manor house, which has been transformed into a vibrant museum.
Day 8: Nis
This morning we enjoy a guided tour of Nis, taking in its fortress as well as the city’s unusual tower of skulls, which was built by a Turkish general in 1809 using the skulls of the defeated Serbs. Later on, we drive to one of the most important Roman sites in the region, Felix Romuliana in Gamzigrad. It is of an unusual design for the Romans, but you can still many of the original floor mosaics in-situ.
On our return leg, we make a brief stop to see the Roman remains at Medijana, the birthplace of Emperor Constantine, who was the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity.
Day 9: Nis
This morning we visit two important sites in Nis: the Nazi concentration camp and the memorial at Bubanj to those that died. Today we also take a short trip to view the unusual Devil’s Towers rock formations at Kursumlija.
Day 10: Skopje
Today we head south again to visit another Roman ruin that features an overgrown mosaic grass floor. We stop for lunch in Vranje, where there is an opportunity to find a local meal of your choosing. This town features a noticeable change in architectural style from previous locations,
We then cross into Macedonia and visit the pre-historic archaeological site of Kokino, set high up in the mountains. A local guide gives us an extensive tour, with a particular emphasis on local history. Our time here takes in spectacular views, but some say that Kokino is orientated in such a way as to show the equinoxes. On our way to Skopje, we also stop to see the magnificent aqueduct on the outskirts of the city.
Day 11: Skopje
After breakfast, we take a walking tour of Skopje, a city under transformation that is an unusual site in itself. We also stop to see the Ottoman Daud Pasha Baths, now named the National Gallery, and the Mustafa Pasha Mosque, which is unusual in that it has hardly been modified since it was built in the 15th century. Here, we visit the old bazaar area as well as the Memorial house built to honor Mother Teresa, who was born on the site.
In the afternoon, we explore two local vineyards, and enjoy a delicious seasonal-produce-based lunch together.
Day 12: Ohrid
Today we leave Skopje and head to Tetovo, where we visit the Arabati Baba Bektasi Teke with a local guide. Here, we learn about the fascinating history of this place, which was originally used by the Dervishes but was later taken forcibly by the Islamic community. It has since been returned to the Dervishes.
Heading south, we travel on winding, picturesque roads through the mountains and forests to the huge complex of the St John Bigorski monastery, which also claims to hold the forearm of John the Baptist.
Day 13: Ohrid
Today is primarily a rest day, with a short tour in Ohrid that takes in the museum with displays of the archaeology of the region. We also stop off at the Sveta Sophia church, which has wall paintings dating from the 11th century, some of the oldest in the world.
In the afternoon, we take a leisurely cruise across the lake to the monastery of Naum. We take in spectacular scenery along the way, passing by the Bay of Bones, a replica of a stick pile village built in the lake.
Day 14: Ohrid
Today is set aside as a free day to explore this pretty town to relax at your own pace, or else simply enjoy soaking up the scenery and local atmosphere. You might also like to visit the Roman amphitheater, walk through the old town, or take in the promenade beside the lake.
Day 15: Berat
Today we leave Ohrid and followthe route of the ancient Roman road, Via Egnata, passing into Albania and travelling up over the mountains. We make a key stop in Mirake to see the ancient bridge, which is possibly Roman. While on the Via Egnata, we see remnants of the old Roman road here too.
We also stop in Elbasan, a staging post on the Via Egnata, to see the castle and eat lunch within the grounds.
After arriving in Berat, we take a guided walking tour of the citadel.
Day 16: Tirana
Today we drive to the coast, taking very small and slow roads to reach the pretty Roman port town of Apollonia. On the road leading to the town are many of the old communist era fortifications – including an extensive concrete tunnel network built for defence – that are unique to Albania.
We have allowed for some free time in Tirana upon arrival, where we will be free to explore this lively and cultural town.
Day 17: Tirana
Today we explore Tirana, a strange and intriguing city. We take in many of the important sights, from the Pyramid built originally as Hoxha’s tomb, but now left empty, to the Ottoman era buildings. Across the day we see a complete contrast in architectural styles.
In the afternoon, we drive to Kotor, in Montenegro, with a short stop to view the Shkoder castle.
Day 18: Kotor
After breakfast, we enjoy a brief walking tour in Kotor to learn about the history of the town, followed by an excursion to Lovcen national park. The road up the side of the fjord is an experience in itself, with lots of hairpin bends as it climbs the steep gradient, taking in phenomenal views. We then venture into the park and up to the top of the mountain to see the mausoleum to Prince Njegos, who was buried here, then had his remains moved to Cetinje and moved back again. The views over the fjord and bay of Kotor are truly breathtaking.
We then take the longer route back via Cetinje, the old capital of Montenegro, with a short stop and walking tour to see some of the older houses. After, we head down the mountain to the seaside town of Budva. We stop enroute to take in the views over the sea and the small island of Sveti Stefan, a private resort.
Later on, we enjoy a farewell dinner in the hotel.
Day 19: Kotor
After breakfast, we take a group transfer to the airport. After saying our farewells, the tour draws to a close.
- Luggage limit of one medium suitcase with wheels and one carry on, that you can manage independently.
Includes / Excludes
What’s included in our Tour
- 18 nights of hotel accommodation
- Meals as Indicated
- Transport and field trips as indicated.
- Applicable entry fees and services of local guides.
- Services of a Tour Leader.
- Gratuities and necessary tips.
- Detailed tour information booklet.
What’s not included in our Tour
- Return international airfares and departure taxes.
- Comprehensive travel insurance.
- Items of a personal nature such as telephone calls and laundry.
Participants must be able to carry their own luggage, climb and descend stairs, be in good health, mobile and able to participate in 3-5 hours of physical activity per day, the equivalent of walking / hiking up to 8 kilometers per day on uneven ground.
Make it a private tour
Easing your journey
Crossing international borders with restrictions
The list of requirements to travel internationally has changed and will continue to change for several years. Odyssey is here to assist you in managing your way through these requirements:
For more information see our Crossing international borders with restrictions page.
Book With Confidence
If less than 30 days before your tour starts you are unable to travel as a result of Government travel restrictions, Odyssey Traveller will assist you with a date change, provide you with a credit or process a refund for your booking less any non-recoverable costs.
See Terms and conditions for details.
Peace of Mind Travel
The safety of our travellers, tour leader, local guide and support staff has always been our top priority and with the new guidelines for public health and safety for keeping safe for destinations around the world, we’ve developed our plan to give you peace of mind when travelling with us.
See Peace of Mind Travel for details.
Reading List Download PDF
Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History
From the assassination that triggered World War I to the ethnic warfare in Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia, the Balkans have been the crucible of the twentieth century, the place where terrorism and genocide first became tools of policy. Chosen as one of the Best Books of the Year by The New York Times, and greeted with critical acclaim as "the most insightful and timely work on the Balkans to date" (The Boston Globe), Kaplan's prescient, enthralling, and often chilling political travelogue is already a modern classic.
This new edition of the Balkan Ghosts includes six opinion pieces written by Robert Kaplan about the Balkans between 1996 and 2000 beginning just after the implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords and ending after the conclusion of the Kosovo war, with the removal of Slobodan Milosevic from power.
By Robert D. KaplanAmazon
The Balkans, 1804-2012: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers
In this celebrated, landmark history of the Balkans, Misha Glenny investigates the roots of the bloodshed, invasions and nationalist fervour that have come to define our understanding of the south-eastern edge of Europe. In doing so, he reveals that groups we think of as implacable enemies have, over the centuries, formed unlikely alliances, thereby disputing the idea that conflict in the Balkans is the ineluctable product of ancient grudges. And he exposes the often-catastrophic relationship between the Balkans and the rest of Europe, raising profound questions about recent Western intervention. Updated to cover the last decade's brutal conflicts in Kosovo and Macedonia, the surge of organised crime in the region, the rise of Turkey and the rocky road to EU membership, The Balkans remains the essential and peerless study of Europe's most complex and least understood region.
By Misha Glenny
War in the Balkans, 1991-2002 - Comprehensive History of Wars Provoked by Yugoslav Collapse: Balkan Region in World Politics, Slovenia and Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus
This book was written to address the need for a comprehensive history of the Balkan wars provoked by the collapse of the Yugoslav Federation in 1991. These wars, and the instability that they have provoked, became preoccupations for international security management through the 1990s. After an initial phase of distancing and hesitation, Balkan conflict drew the United States and its most important European allies into an open-ended commitment to peace enforcement, conflict management, and peace-building in the region, importantly supported by the U.S. Army. These efforts are still underway, and significant tensions and potential flashpoints remain in place within former Yugoslavia and the entire Southeastern European area. The lessons learned from the new Balkan wars, and the successes and failures of U.S. and international engagement, provide a significant foundation for future efforts to manage intractable regional conflict.
Dr. Nation's work has been supported by a research grant provided by the U.S. Army War College, and is published under the auspices of the Strategic Studies Institute. The Army War College's primary mission is to prepare new generations of strategic leaders to assume positions of responsibility within the U.S. armed forces and civilian arms of the national security system. That mission includes a serious confrontation with the most pressing security issues of our time, to include the nature of contemporary armed conflict and the changing nature of war itself. The Balkan conflict of the 1990s, as a case study in state failure and medium intensity warfare, international conflict management and intervention, and U.S. military engagement, provides an excellent framework for asking basic questions about the dynamic of international security at the dawn of a new millennium. War in the Balkans, 1991-2002 is intended to provide a foundation for addressing such questions by surveying events in both contemporary and larger historical perspectives and posing preliminary conclusions concerning their larger meaning.
There will, regretfully, be other situations comparable in broad outline to the violent decline and fall of socialist Yugoslavia. The policies of the international community in the Yugoslav imbroglio have been criticized widely as ineffective. However, in the end, after years of futility, the conflict could be contained only by a significant international military intervention spearheaded by the United States, and a long-term, multilateral commitment to post-conflict peace-building. Few would wish to pose the outcome as a model to be emulated, but it should be a case from which we can learn.
By U.S. Government (Author), Department of Defense (Author), Army War College, U.S. (Author), Strategic Studies Institute (Author)
Croatia: A History from the Middle Ages to the Present Day
In this updated edition of his acclaimed history, Marcus Tanner takes us from the first Croat principalities of the Early Middle Ages through to the country’s independence in the modern era.
By Marcus Tanner
The Balkans; A Short History
Throughout history, the Balkans have been a crossroads, a zone of endless military, cultural, and economic mixing and clashing between Europe and Asia, Christianity and Islam, Catholicism and Orthodoxy. In this highly acclaimed short history, Mark Mazower sheds light on what has been called the tinderbox of Europe, whose troubles have ignited wider wars for hundreds of years. Focusing on events from the emergence of the nation-state onward, The Balkans reveals with piercing clarity the historical roots of current conflicts and gives a landmark reassessment of the region’s history, from the world wars and the Cold War to the collapse of communism, the disintegration of Yugoslavia, and the continuing search for stability in southeastern Europe.
By Mark Mazower