Many Balkan countries are included on the list of least-visited European destinations. Neither Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania nor Serbia are as famous as western or southern parts of Europe. Out of all the Balkan countries, Kosovo is the one that gets over-looked most often. It declared its independence only in 2008. For many years tormented by wars and conflicts, now Kosovo is finally safe and livable. It’s time for the world to notice this little state lost amongst its bigger neighbors, international influences, and politics. Prizren, as one of Kosovo’s most beautiful towns, is a perfect reason why the country’s worth visiting. Here’s some practical information to help you to plan a trip to Prizren.
Prizren general atmosphere
With about 180,000 population, Prizren is neither tiny nor significant. Instead, it’s perfectly medium: large enough to be colorful and lively, small enough to remain cozy and straightforward. Surrounded by hills, the town feels warm and comfy. During the day, there are always people walking the streets in the city center, but it usually doesn’t get overcrowded. Besides of the attractive, smiley strollers, Prizren also has some still attractions – its diverse, wondrous buildings. The architecture of Prizren represents its complicated history and various influences. Next, to the mystical mosques and gorgeous churches, there are little stores, coffee shops, restaurants, and boutiques. All of that creates a captivating mixture of cultures and ages.
Despite a common assumption, Kosovo isn’t that hard to reach. It’s not a hidden, mysterious country where nobody ever goes. It’s not a dangerous war zone either. Throughout the past several years, Kosovo has significantly developed. Its doors are now open to visitors. Prizren, as one of Kosovo’s largest and most touristy towns, is connected with other Kosovar cities as well as neighboring countries. It has no airport, but there’s one in Pristina, so you can first fly to the capital; it’s connected with several European countries. To get to Prizren from Pristina, you can simply take a bus. There are also bus connections with Skopje (Macedonia), Peja (Serbia), Belgrade (Serbia) and Istanbul (Turkey).
Important info for those who want to visit Serbia as well: if you haven’t been to Serbia right before visiting Kosovo and thus there’s no Serbian stamp in your passport, you should not go there through the Kosovo-Serbia border. That is because Serbia hasn’t recognized Kosovo as an independent country and, if you try to enter from Kosovo, it might be considered as if you were in Serbia illegally at the first place. In case you’ve already entered Kosovo from a country other than Serbia, you’d be better off exiting back to a third country and only then going to Serbia. There’s a way around it for those who are allowed to enter Serbia with an ID card: just don’t show your passport at all.
While mosques, churches, bridges, and cafés are lovely, is it the locals who make Prizren actually charming. Kosovars are welcoming, kind and caring. Many of the people you’ll see on the streets of Prizren have suffered greatly during the war. Nevertheless, they’ve kept their hearts wide open. Hospitality, like everywhere in the Balkans, is a serious matter in Kosovo. Don’t be surprised if locals spontaneously invite you to family celebrations or offer a glass of their favorite raki. Expect them to ask where you come from, how and why. Even though Prizren is relatively touristy in comparison to the rest of the country, it’s still not nearly as popular as many other European towns. That’s why locals still show this unique, sincere openness, hospitality and curiosity about foreign places, which is often hard to find in very famous tourist destinations. Kosovars have a hard time trying to go to other countries. Their passports are not widely accepted, so nearly each trip is connected with lots of bureaucratic struggles. Since it’s difficult for them to go for a visit, even more, so they enjoy receiving guests.
As for the languages spoken by residents of Prizren, Albanian is the most common, but there are also numerous Serbian and Turkish speakers. English is widespread, although not everyone speaks it – prepare for using body language from time to time.
Prizren is a town of countless temples and one fortress. The diversity of religions results in diversity of architecture. Catholic and Orthodox churches, monasteries, cathedrals, and chapels stand next to Muslim mosques. Church of Our Lady of Ljeviš is one of the most significant buildings in the town. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Church of Our Lady of Ljeviš was built in XIV century and represents Serbian architecture. Dating back to 17th century, the Sofi Sinan Pasha Mosque is an excellent example of the Ottoman style. Kaljaja, the medieval fortress, overlooks the city from its hill and offers great views of the region. These are just a few examples of what kind of jewels are to be found in Prizren. A short walk around the town is enough to awaken the sense of awe in architecture and art lovers.
Film Festival Dokufest
On an average day, Prizren is lively and fascinating, but in August, when the Film Festival Dokufest. It’s even more enchanting and incredibly eventful. If you go there before or after the festival, all the locals will recommend you to come back and participate in the festival during your next visit. They’ll be right to say so – the festival is great indeed. It’s become the symbol of Prizren, just as much as the fortress, mosques, and cathedrals. Various films are being screened in the city, both indoors and the open air. People from all over the world gather to watch, analyze and discuss documentaries.
The Prizren cooks are widely recognized as the masters of grilling – their barbecued dishes are top-notch. You can find many restaurants all around the town, with most of them located on the Shadervan (the main square) and in neighboring areas. Besides of grilled delicacies, Prizren can boast with yummy desserts, especially baklava and tulumba. In addition to local dishes, pizza is also popular, good and very cheap. Prices in Prizren are cheap, but it doesn’t affect the quality.
Going out for a drink
Bewitching aroma of coffee and striking power of raki – that’s what dominates the bars of Prizren. Myriad coffee shops and pubs are situated on the Shadervan square and around. It’s very common in Kosovo (like in the other Balkan countries as well) to spend time simply sipping coffee, chatting with friends and watching passer-bys. During the day, you can join locals in this relaxing activity. In the evening, the same places which served coffee before the turn into bars and locals exchange caffeine for alcohol. Raki is the traditional liquor, but softer drinks are available as well, including excellent beers and good wines.
There are a few nightclubs in Prizren, but the town isn’t much of a party place. The craziest parties are usually organized by locals in their homes. If you’re lucky enough to make some friends among residents of Prizren, you’ll see what it means to celebrate with Kosovars.
Prizren normally isn’t overcrowded, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding a place to stay. The only time lodgings get fully booked much in advance is the Film Festival Dokufest. Otherwise, you have several alternatives. There are a few mid-range hotels, such as the Hotel Albatros. There are also comfortable guest-houses, for example, the Otlas Pension. Prizren doesn’t have any very luxurious, fancy hotels. Backpackers will be glad to hear it has hostels though – there’s the Prizren City Hostel and the Driza’s House – Hostel.
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