Map tips: each color represents a different day. Click a marker to learn more about the spot, and click the star in the map header to save the entire map under Your Places in Google Maps.
Day 1: Sarajevo to Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Museum of the Battle for the Wounded Neretva
- Latin Bridge
- Mostar Bridge
We arrived in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, at 2 pm and planned on making the 2-hour drive to Mostar right away. However, one of our friends who was coming from a different part of the US was delayed by 6 hours. I really wanted to see the mountains along the drive during the day; while it didn’t make much sense since we had to make the exact same drive later, we got our rental car from Avis and drove a little over an hour to just south of Jablanica and back. The views from Konjic to Donji Jasenjani are spectacular and were worth the 2+ hours of extra driving. We made many stops along the road to take pictures and admire the scenery. We didn’t go into the Museum of the Battle for the Wounded but made a quick stop to view the bridge that was destroyed.
We drove back up to Sarajevo, paid for parking near the old town (Parking sa naplatom Liberty), had dinner and explored the area on foot. The old town is very compact – there are mosques and a wooden fountain called Sebilj that’s famous, but not that special in my opinion. The Latin Bridge is very close and we got to see where the assassination of Franz Ferdinand kicked off World War I. We were going to skip Sarajevo completely because there wasn’t anything that we considered a must-see there. However, since we had to wait to pick up our friend it let us see the city for a couple of hours. It was exactly as we assumed – nice but not a must-see.
After the 2-hour drive to Mostar we checked in to our apartment. This place has the best view in the city and maybe the best of any place I’ve ever stayed. A straight-on, unobstructed view of Stari Most. Even though it was after 10 pm and we’d had a very long day traveling, we walked around Mostar for hours and had it all to ourselves. Exploring the old town in the dark until about 1 am was one of my favorite memories of the trip.
Day 2: Mostar and Blagaj
- Kriva Cuprija
- Stari Most
- Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque
- Blagaj Fortress
- Dervish House
Started the day walking around Mostar again, this time in the light. You can cover the entire old town in about 1-2 hours on foot and it is very, very easy to get around. Just take every alley and staircase you see as they could lead to the water or a neat view, and you’ll never be more than a couple of minutes from the good stuff if you lose your bearings. Make sure to see Kriva Cuprija, the smaller bridge that is about a 3-minute walk from Stari Most (the big, famous bridge). Also, you can pay 7 Euros to go to the top of Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque for the highest view of the old bridge. It’s hard to say it’s worth the high cost of admission, but it gives an excellent 360-degree view of the city.
We then drove 20 minutes to Blagaj, which is known for the Dervish House. We first drove to “Parking Old Town Blagaj Fortress” on Google Maps for the 15-minute steep climb to the Blagaj Fortress. The parking “lot” is just a big stone clearing but there is a sign that marks the start of the trail (switchbacks the entire way up). If you don’t have a rental car and are visiting Blagaj by bus, you can hike to the fortress from the Dervish House but it takes at least twice as long. We had the fortress all to ourselves and loved it. Only saw 2 other people that were going up when we were leaving. It’s quite small and only takes about 10-15 minutes to explore the entire thing (1 hour total with the hike up and down). Drove to the parking lot for Dervish House (small fee) and walked to the viewing area. For the best pictures, you’ll have to cross the river along the closest bridge to the house and take a very short walking path that dead ends across the river from the Dervish House. Perfect less-than-half-a-day trip from Mostar and we liked the fortress more than the Dervish House (we did not pay to go into the house).
We drove to the Bunski Kanal only to learn that it’s a seasonal thing that only happens in the summer. Worth the ~5 minute detour if you’re there at the right time but it was just a regular river for us. Got back to Mostar and walked around, climbed the diving platform, and had dinner.
Day 3: Mostar to Kotor, Montenegro
- Provalije Waterfall
- Old Town Kotor
We had a leisurely morning in Mostar and started the 3-hour drive to Kotor, Montenegro after an early lunch. While they aren’t exactly on the way, you could add Pocitelj, Kravice waterfalls, and Dubrovnik when in this area. Our only stop was the Provalije Waterfall, which was right on the way and definitely worth the stop. There’s also Stolac Castle right by the waterfall but we didn’t make the trek up to explore it.
The drive descending into Kotor would usually be full of jaw-dropping mountain scenery but the weather was atrocious. Visibility was less than 25 feet at times and it was a huge bummer. We got to our apartment in Muo, which is across the bay from Kotor, around 5 pm. After getting settled we walked about 20 minutes to old town and explored. There is a decent-sized public parking lot that runs the length of the old town (charges by the hour). Oddly, we had Kotor pretty much all to ourselves as well. Another place to basically wander around aimlessly and enjoy the different alleys and architecture. The entire old town is surrounded by fortified walls so you can’t really get lost.
Day 4: Perast and Kotor
This was the day I was most excited for as we had a full day to see some of the most beautiful places in the world. It was showing 100% chance of rain the entire day with thunderstorms for much of it, however. We still drove to Perast (20 minutes from Kotor, passed it on the way in) but it was pouring. You can park for free at “Parking 2” on Google Maps, which is where the main road that goes all around the bay splits and a smaller road takes you through Perast right next to the coast. We walked the entire length of Perast and back to our car, then headed back to Kotor. Make sure to make a quick stop at the “Perast viewpoint” on Google Maps. It’s on the main road and you get an elevated view of Perast with the water and mountains in the background. You could cover all of Perast in about an hour or spend the better part of a day there but we were moving quickly because of the rain.
It miraculously stopped raining when we got back to Kotor so we did the hike up the fortress walls. It costs a few Euros in high season from 8 am – 8 pm but is free outside those hours and from November – April. There are 2 entrances – one by the North Gate and the other closer to the back of the center of town. There are signs and they’re both marked “Entrance Fee Kiosk” on Google Maps. Both paths will converge and lead to the Church of Our Lady of the Remedy, which is probably the most popular picture of Kotor.
We kept heading up the stairs (there are over 1,300 total) to San Giovanni (aka Fortress of St. John) at the top. You could get up to the top in 20-30 minutes without stops (depending on fitness level) but the rain was holding off so we took our time exploring lots of the side trails and staircases and spent a little over an hour on our way up. We took a break at the fortress and admired the view for awhile. Even though it was very cloudy, it was much better than we thought we would get so I was elated. We descended pretty quickly and it started pouring again as we were just getting all the way down. We got very lucky. Had dinner, walked around old town some more and called it a night.
Day 5: Kotor to Ohrid, North Macedonia
- Horizont Bar
- Sveti Stefan
- Church of Saint John the Theologian
- Church of Saint Sophia
The view from Horizont Bar is what I know to be the best view in the entire area and the thing I wanted to see the most on this trip. Even though it was cloudy, again, we made the 40-minute drive up the Kotor Serpentine road. There are 26 switchbacks up the mountain and it can be a challenge if there are vehicles coming the other way. Luckily there weren’t any at 8 am on a Saturday and we had an easy drive. We had some relatively clear views at the top – much better than we imagined there would be and felt really lucky again. Spent about 15 minutes there taking pictures (again, had it all to ourselves) and as we were getting ready to drive back down the clouds moved back in and completely obstructed the view.
It’s a 6-hour drive from Kotor to Ohrid, North Macedonia if going straight there, but you could make lots of stops. In Montenegro you’ll go right through Budva, Sveti Stefan, and Bar (or Stari Bar) if taking the coastal route (fastest). If you go around Lake Skadar, you could stop at the Pavlova Strana viewpoint which I think would be awesome. Our only stop was “Sveti Stefan great view” on Google Maps, and we ended up there on accident. I missed the turnoff to follow the road along the coast and stayed on the main road that gains some elevation above Sveti Stefan. I didn’t know this view even existed and it’s better than what we planned on seeing at ground-level.
Continued on straight to Ohrid, only stopping for the border crossings (quick and easy). We stayed at Villa Varosh in the penthouse, which is one of my favorite places I’ve ever stayed. It’s right in the middle of old town and a 5-minutes or less walk from every attraction. We dropped our bags and headed to the Church of Saint John the Theologian, which is the picturesque church right by the water that is basically the official photo of Ohrid. We had an amazing dinner at Kacje and walked around in the dark. You guessed it: we had the city all to ourselves again. Ohrid is also very easy to get around on foot but it is much more hilly so it may seem a little more difficult. There’s a saying that Ohrid once had 365 churches – one for every day of the year. There are churches all over the place and all of them are neat. Like Mostar, it’s best to try and get lost by taking every alley and staircase you can. It’s such a compact place that you won’t get lost.
Day 6: Bovilla Reservoir and Tirana, Albania
- Labino Beach
- Ohrid Boardwalk
- Ancient Theatre of Ohrid
- Samuel’s Fortress
- Ohrid Bazaar
- Bovilla Reservoir
- Skanderbeg Square
Woke up and explored all the areas we visited the night before and more. Labino Beach is about 5 minutes from the Saint John church – it’s a nice place and you might as well because it’s so close, but not a must-see. The boardwalk stretches from where old town meets new town to Potpesh Beach and you should do it at least once. The Ancient Theatre is closer to the North Gate, up the hill from the water, and can be seen on the way to Samuel’s Fortress. The fortress is worth going in (around $1.50 USD but accepts local currency only) and you could spend 30-45 minutes covering it all. We walked through the bazaar, which is lined with shops and restaurants. It’s in the newer part of town so there are some higher-end shops mixed in with souvenir stalls.
After getting lunch we drove 3 hours back into Albania to the Bovilla Reservoir. There is a restaurant, Bovilla Restaurant, where a short trail leads to an amazing view of the reservoir. It is a pretty rough road to get to the reservoir and an even rougher and steeper one to get to the restaurant. We ended up parking about halfway between the water-level and the restaurant as the road got pretty steep. Walked the rest of the way up. It costs 1 Euro to climb the stairs, which is well worth it. The view standing on the rock overlooking the water is fantastic. Unfortunately, the sun had passed over the mountain when we got there and the water wasn’t the stark green that it usually is but it was still stunning. Had a beer at the restaurant, drove back into Tirana, dropped off our stuff at our apartment, and set out on foot. Tirana is the capital of Albania and it is a huge, modern city – much different than the smaller, old towns we’d been. Had an amazing dinner at Tymi then walked to Skanderbeg Square (not too much to see). Walked past the Resurrection Cathedral, which is gigantic and looked neat lit up at night. Had an early flight home the next morning.
This was my first time in the Balkans and I loved it. The food was fantastic, everything was cheap (especially compared to western Europe), and the cities were so easy to navigate. I was originally drawn to this area to hike in Durmitor National Park and the Accursed Mountains but I knew they wouldn’t be accessible in March. I’m very glad I went and have a feeling I’ll return in the summer sometime with my family to explore the mountains.
Traveled in March 2023