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Balkans - Travel Photography

I could go on and on about the must-see sights and beaches that dot this stunning Southeast European region in an attempt to convince you why the Balkans need to be on your travel radar. I could craft a top ten list from “must eat” foods to “must dos” that summarize entire countries into single paragraphs.

But what I’d rather do is share some stories through photos, and I’ve partnered with Expedia Viewfinder’s Image Library to highlight my experiences from the Balkans to inspire your next adventure.

Hopefully these personal snippets show you why I absolutely adore the Balkans and they will convince you to explore this region and unearth even more untold stories yourselves.

Balkans Photography

But first, a quick geography lesson – The Balkan peninsular is a region that juts out into and is bordered by the Adriatic Ocean, Ionian Sea, Aegean Sea, and Black Sea.

The countries that share this peninsular are collectively called the Balkans and they include Greece, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia, Kosovo, and Bulgaria. The name “Balkan” comes from the Balkan Mountains which stretch from eastern Serbia to the Black Sea east of Bulgaria.

Balkan Photography

And boy, did I get a grand view of that peninsular when I spent some time in the coastal town of Parga in Northern Greece. One of the things that made Parga memorable for me is Panagia Island and the old church located on it. During low tide, you can actually swim or even wade over to the island.

Balkans

Beyond the panoramic beauty that surrounds Parga, Kryoneri beach is where Greeks themselves escape for their own in-country getaway. The beach curves around the warm-blue coastline and is filled with peach-colored umbrellas, khaki-colored sand, and stolen kisses.

Balkans

I’d never heard of Gjirokastra (Gjirokastër) before. Yet, this tiny town in Southern Albania is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is an example of a well-preserved Ottoman town. According to UNESCO, “Gjirokastra features a series of outstanding two-story houses which were developed in the 17th century. The town also retains a bazaar, an 18th-century mosque and two churches from the same period.” And this is just one of dozens of unique and offbeat UNESCO Heritage sites you’ll find all over the region.

Balkans

It was also in Gjirokastra that my gluttonous indulgence in “burek” began. Burek is a flaky meat-filled pastry that goes down so easily you’ll reach for another one within seconds. I had just polished off two pastries this guy was selling. He had such charisma and was amused by the fact that I was gorging on his piping hot, freshly made bureks like there was no tomorrow.

I had to take home a memorable shot of him.

BalkansBalkans - Seafood

If there ever was a Balkan party town, Budva is it. Yes, it can be overrun by tourists during the peak of the summer in Montenegro but one of the things I found ironically charming about Budva – despite people confidently splayed out on its rocky beaches – was that within all that beehive of activity, you could still carve out your own quiet space and moments to truly disconnect from the world.

Budva, Balkans

When it comes to quintessential old towns, Kotor definitely has that historic charm many travel writers often lazily describe as “quaint” (myself included). Cafes with sprawling umbrellas that line its tiny main square, lots of hidden nooks, corners, and crannies to get lost within, and cats that bask in the sun like they own the whole darn place. It seems every angle of this small town was created for photographers in mind.

Kotor is cute and heartwarming and yes, Kotor is “quaint”.

KotorKotor

Vibrant and vivid, today’s Mostar stands in stark contrast to its violent history. It was developed in the 15-16th centuries as an Ottoman frontier town and this small Balkan town was thrust into the spotlight when its historic old bridge, Stari Most, was bombed during the Bosnia War in the 1990s.Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site with its reconstructed bridge and preserved Ottoman and Mediterranean architecture.

MostarMostar

It was also in Mostar I was introduced to another traditional dish which I added to my gluttonous rampage around the region. Grilled minced meat kebabs (beef, pork, lamb, or mixed) called Ćevapi which are quite popular in the Balkans and are a lot more delicious and moister than they look. They’re served in a flatbread called lepinje along with chopped onions, sourcream, red pepper flakes, salt, and ajvar – a relish made with roasted red peppers, eggplant, chili, and garlic.

Cevapi

Sarajevo fit me like a glove. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it was, but the city’s cosmopolitan yet down-to-earth vibe fit me. Everyone had a story to tell. One of loss, of suffering, of triumph, of perseverance. Stories that have helped shape their outlook on life. An outlook that doesn’t take everything at face value yet gives everything benefit of doubt.

Sarajevo

It was also in Sarajevo I met Dalida (pictured right) whose unbelievable story of survival (another post) during the Bosnian war made me hug my daughter a bit tighter when I got back from my trip. The city is peppered with stark reminders of that time period.

From the tunnel museum to seemingly countless graves in memory of those that were taken way too early.

SarajevoSarajevo

I loved Sarajevo and I’m looking forward to spending more time exploring the city and its surrounding neighborhoods.

Serbia

I met some of the most beautiful souls in Serbia. They happened to be vendors at various open markets I visited in its capital Belgrade as well as the second largest city Nis. Fruit vendors selling the freshest grapes, plums, and nectarines. Vegetable vendors selling organic carrots, cucumbers, and spring onions; the smells and dizzying spin of local markets.

Serbia

I ran into this lady at the fruit and flea market in Belgrade. Her eyes drew me first and we were both excited to meet each other. Though we spoke no common language, we were able to communicate just fine.

SerbiaLola_Akerstrom_Serbia_Belgrade_182

And you definitely need to take an evening stroll around Belgrade just when the sun is about to set. At the confluence of both the Rivers Danube and Sava, the scenes around you turn nothing short of mystical under that warm golden glow.

Belgrade

Photo Galleries from the Balkans

To view more photos from my time exploring the Balkans, check out the image banks below: Greece, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, and Bulgaria.

Have you explored the Balkans too? Share your thoughts below.

  • Men åh, HUR kan jag ha missat det här inlägget! Det gör mig lyckligare än någonsin att vi äntligen bokat en resa dit.

  • Arsim Rexhepi

    Hello,

    I wish to know, why kosovo is not represented on this page. while,Kosovo is the heart of
    the Balkans.

    And all countries around Kosovo, they give a special
    importance to the potential,exploitation of its,natural and cultural. For their
    benefits.

    It is very unfair, that Kosovo is not part of this site.

    • Hi Arsim,

      Thanks for your note. Unfortunately I haven’t visited Kosovo yet that is why it wasn’t specifically highlighted.

      But I do hope to visit Kosovo in the future.

      • Arsim Rexhepi

        Hi Lola,

        Ok if you need any assistance regarding Kosovo, please do not hesitate to contact me.at,kosovo@albania-holidays.com

        or visit our Web Site: http://www.albania-holidays.com

        Best regards

        Arsim Rexhepi

  • Love your pictures Lola!

    • LolaAkinmade

      Thanks so much!

  • Love the photos. I am a Bosnian Aussie (hence my blogs name). I was born in Bosnia and was 4 when the war started. In 2013 i went back home for the first time in 20 years. I now blog to show the world why everyone should add Bosnia & the rest of the Balkan countries to their bucket lists. In 14 months i have gone back 3 times and hopefully going again this summer.

    http://www.thebosnianaussie.wordpress.com

    xx Ariana

    • LolaAkinmade

      Thanks Ariana! Will check out your site as well

  • Me

    Yeah :)) you really should come in Macedonia!! You need to visit Bitola,OHRID, Mavrovo and yeah the capital city Skopje!! I really really like this post!! AWESOME!!! :))))

    • LolaAkinmade

      Thanks so much! Hope to visit Macedonia too.

  • Jazlyn Trent

    Amazing piece and photos. I am actually planning on making the Balkans my next adventure and happily stumbled upon this post and your blog today! You have giving me even more inspiration to go! Can’t wait to explore more of your work.

    • LolaAkinmade

      Thanks so much Jazlyn! Hope you explore the region in 2015.

  • Alexander Necovski

    Great article and photos! Sheds a wonderful light on the Balkans. So much history and natural beauty to discover here. I’ve been living in Macedonia for the past two years and still have so much of the region to discover! Lots of hidden gems in the Balkans.

    • LolaAkinmade

      Indeed! I’m really looking forward to going back and exploring more of the region.

  • Hej, Lola,
    having worked for and in this region since for over 10 years now, I love to see that what we have been trying to get across, is reaching the right kind of people as potential travelers. Thank you for that – your pictures and the tone of voice are just right. I just wish to win you next time to the mountain side (in Montenegro, it´s just 2h drive from the coast), with the authentic way of (often hard) life through four seasons (now here´s more snow than in Sweden probably), with breathtaking, unexpected nature´s beauties, and again – great people.

    • LolaAkinmade

      Thanks so much Kirsi! I definitely plan on returning to Montenergo, God willing, to explore more of the region.

  • Kirsi Hyvaerinen

    Hej, Lola,
    having worked for and in this region since for over 10 years now, I love to see that what we have been trying to get across, is reaching the right kind of people as potential travelers. Thank you for that – your pictures and the tone of voice are just right. I just wish to win you next time to the mountain side (in Montenegro, it´s just 2h drive from the coast), with the authentic way of (often hard) life through four seasons (now here´s more snow than in Sweden probably), with breathtaking, unexpected nature´s beauties, and again – great people.

    • LolaAkinmade

      No worries

  • I just stumbled upon this through viatar and I am so glad I did. Your pictures are really heartwarming and make you want to go to those placed and meet those people. I really should travel more around Europe but for some reason I am always more drawn into faraway lands.

    • LolaAkinmade

      Thanks so much Marta! Hopefully you get to explore more of Europe next year too.

  • Absolutely marvellous Lola. You’ve captured the colourful soul of the region. I’ve not yet been to the Balkans myself but I’m hearing wonderful things LOL! Lovely!

    • LolaAkinmade

      Thanks so much! Definitely check it out in 2015

  • Kerwin McKenzie

    I love it Lola.
    This area of the world is very beautiful as your pictures have shown. Not mamy westerners visit, apart from Greece as they remember the steife the area has been through and think its the same now. How wrong they are

    I’ve visited a few of these places; loved Belgrade and Sarajevo. It’s amazing when you think about what happened there.
    I intend to check out the Kosovo, people don’t talk about it much, plus Albania and Macedonia as time permits in 2015.

    • LolaAkinmade

      Thanks Kerwin! More peeople should definitely explore the region. The people alone are really what make it so inviting. They are down-to-earth, curious without being rude, and warm.

      • Kerwin McKenzie

        I agree @LolaAkinmade:disqus.

    • Petrit Riza

      Dear Kerwin,
      I don’t know why is not any photos from Kosovo. I am main tour operator in Kosovo and every year we have large number of visitors from USA, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, Spain, Turkey, Singapore, South Korea and China. For more information pls feel free to contact us at: info@airtour.net / http://www.airtour.net
      I assure you that you will feel in love with people, culture heritage, hospitality, adventure, traditional food……..

      • Kerwin McKenzie

        Petrit, When I was in Belgrade, I asked how to get to Kosovo, but it was not really a comfortable topic and I understand completely. Actually, I was told its O.K. for me to go to Kosovo, but I should not from Serbia as its much easier. I assume there are ways to get from Belgrade to Kosovo?

        • Petrit Riza

          Dear Kerwin, I am so sorry for that and missing a great opportunity to visit Kosovo as well.
          As you know, Kosovo has dispute with Serbia since Serbia didn’t recognize Kosovo Independence. There is only problem to come to Kosovo Via Serbia and to return back to Serbia as well. In all other direction there is no problem. Actually there is so many Ballkan Tours including a Kosovo which its in heart of region. I hope one day you will come to visit region inc Kosovo. Count on me as a tour operator. Kosovo its safer than EU countries….

        • Petrit Riza

          There is also opportunity to fly to Skopje from which point i will come to pick you up with a great pleasure.

  • Omygosh…seriously! I see why you loved it. It’s so homey and comfortable it appears and the community is just as warm! These are lovely! Thx for sharing!

    • LolaAkinmade

      Thanks so much Jennifer! I definitely see return trips in the future (by God’s grace)

  • Audrey

    Really incredible photos and stories, Lola! We were fortunate to travel a small bit in Sarajevo, Mostar and Belgrade this fall, but after this I’d love to go back to the Balkans to Montenegro and Albania. Thanks for sharing!

    • LolaAkinmade

      Thanks Audrey! I would love to go to Kosovo and Macedonia as well. Wonderful region.

    • Kerwin McKenzie

      Sarajevo, was lovely. I was only there for a few hours, but really enjoyed the architecture, the people and especially the train station.

  • Your pics are amazing. I’d love to visit the Balkans.

    • LolaAkinmade

      Thanks Anna! Even the photos don’t do them enough justice.

  • Monica-USA

    Wow! Breath taking!! The woman from the flea market with the blue eyes they were electric and full of life and energy! I can see why you were drawn to her.

    • LolaAkinmade

      Thanks Monica! The woman was absolutely stunning in person.