Kosovo isn’t a traditional European backpacking destination.
On a solo travel adventure around the Balkans, I ended up in Prizren, Kosovo.
I knew little about Kosovo before traveling to Prizren. I knew there was a war. I knew it was part of Yugoslavia. That’s….literally all I knew.
Prizren is beautiful. Every Kosovar person I met (there were zero exceptions – seriously) was friendly and welcoming. People spoke enough English for me to get around safely and efficiently.
Thinking of traveling to Prizren, Kosovo? You should. Here are things to do in Prizren.
1) Hike to Prizren Fortress
No matter where you are in Prizren, you can look up and see the fortress. It’s built on a hill overlooking the city.
It takes 20 minutes to walk to the fortress from the city center of Prizren. Follow the path to the top. It’s on Google Maps.
The fortress is large, and you’re free to explore everything. Poke your head into nooks and crannies. Climb on top of old structures. You get a genuine 360-degree view over the valley. Walk all the way around the ramparts. There’s something to see in every direction.
Today, Prizren Fortress is pretty much a crumbling pile of rocks. However, the fortress played a big role in Serbian history. Also known as Kaljaja or Dusan’s Fortress, Prizren Fortress was first built in the 11th century and served as the capital of the Serbian Empire.
The Byzantines built the first fort in 1019, and Emperor Stefan Dusan (the King of Serbia) expanded the fort in the 14th century. The Ottomans controlled the fort for the next 400 years. The nation of Serbia declared Prizren Fortress a Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance in 1948.
Prizren was a crucial town in medieval times. An important trade route passed through the valley, connecting the Adriatic Sea (near Albania) with the interior of the Balkan Peninsula.
It’s possible that Prizren Fortress is even older: Ptolemy’s Geography mentions a Roman town of Theranda in the region around the year 200 century (fun fact: there’s a Hotel Theranda in Prizren named after the original Roman town). Other Roman texts mention a town called Petrizen in the 5th. The name “Prizren” comes from an old Serbian phrase meaning “fortress which could be seen from afar”.
Anyways, when you walk to Prizren Fortress, you’re standing in thousands of years of history. I walked up during the day for the view.
One evening, I grabbed take-away food and a beer and walked up to see the sun setting over Prizren. It seemed like a popular spot among Prizren’s teenagers – so you certainly won’t be alone. Be aware that the pathway down gets very dark at night. I had to use my phone’s flashlight.
2) See Sinan Pasha Mosque
Prizren has a huge mosque in the city center called Sinan Pasha Mosque. Like Prizren Fortress, you can see the mosque from almost anywhere in the city.
The Ottomans built it all the way back in 1615. Today, the mosque overlooks the main street of Prizren.
Just like every religious building in this part of the world, there’s some controversy about this mosque. It’s suspected (but not confirmed) that the Ottomans tore down a nearby Orthodox church to build the mosque.
You can visit the mosque (take off your shoes to go inside). I believe women have to be fully covered from neck to ankle (with a headscarf) to go inside.
3) Visit Our Lady of Ljevis Church
Sinan Pasha mosque is not the oldest religious building in town. Our Lady of Ljevis church, on the other side of the city center, is 300 years older.
The Serbians built this church in 1306. The Ottomans later converted it into a mosque, and then it was converted back into a church.
This church is extremely controversial. In fact, locals can’t visit it: in 2004, a group of “Kosovar Albanians” (according to Wikipedia) tried to burn the church down. It’s still partly damaged.
Because of the 2004 arson, there’s now an armed police officer guarding the site 24/7. You have to show him your passport (as a non-Kosovar tourist) to gain access. He may or may not let you in, depending on his mood.
Looking at recent reviews for the church, it seems you can no longer see inside (even as a tourist). The church is undergoing repairs and renovations.
Anyway, to see a very old church – and a very crucial part of Kosovar/Serbian history – check out Our Lady of Ljevis Church.
4) Eat and Drink
I really liked the food in Kosovo. It’s similar to most Balkan food – expect lots of meat, vegetables, and potatoes.
I ate at a popular restaurant called te Syla two nights in a row. It’s a large restaurant known for serving traditional Kosovar food. There’s a patio outside in the summer.
As with any place in the Balkans, you can find good burek for a cheap price anywhere in Prizren. I also recommend trying the pleskavica, qebapa, qyfte, shish qebapa, or virshle, all of which are different versions of roasted meat (all available at te Syla).
Expect a patio culture in Prizren. Just like many other European towns, people enjoy sitting on patios and watching the world go by.
And yes, Kosovo may be 99% Muslim, but I had no problem finding beer. There are pubs and bars around town, and most will serve beer, alcohol, and shisha.
5) Hang Out Around Shadervan Square
Shadervan Square has been the center of Prizren for 1,000 years. It’s still the center of Prizren.
I visited in November and there was an outdoor concert sponsored by some type of Kosovo beverage company. The place was bumping.
There are a dozen cafés, bars, pubs, restaurants, and coffee shops around Shadervan Square. The square is small compared to any other European city (more of an extra-large roundabout), but the streets around Shadervan Square have plenty of places to see and eat.
Where to Stay in Prizren
Prizren has plenty of B&Bs, hotels, and other accommodations available on all of the usual websites.
There are also a surprising number of hostels around town (I count six hostels).
I strongly recommend staying in the hostel I stayed in: Driza’s House. It’s a family-run hostel built inside a building the family has owned for centuries. The owner took me for coffee and explained the history of the city. The rooms were comfy and well-equipped. There’s a breakfast for 1.50 EUR offering very good value.
Driza’s House had a puppy (Nano) when I visited in 2016. They were also preparing for significant renovations – so I assume the hostel is even nicer now.
I’m glad to see Driza’s House is still getting rave reviews online. It has a 4.9 star out of 5 rating on Google and hundreds of happy reviews.
How to Get To and From Prizren, Kosovo
There’s daily bus service to and from Tirana, Albania. I left Albania in the mid-morning and was in Prizren by dinner time. The bus takes you through a mountain pass up into the valley. It’s a pretty drive on a surprisingly nice highway (they recently spent a ton of money building or upgrading this highway).
I left Prizren to go to Skopje, North Macedonia – also by bus. It’s only a 2 hour drive away, connecting through Pristina.
Speaking of Pristina, you can easily do a day trip from Pristina to Prizren. It’s a 1h drive away.
Kosovo has its own train service. As with most Balkan countries, bus is the fastest and most reliable way to get around, but rail is certainly an option.
Transportation is cheap in this part of the world (roughly €4 for a 2-hour bus trip).
What’s Kosovo Like?
Traveling through the Balkans is bizarre. They all hate each other.
Everyone in the Balkans tells stories about the atrocities committed by the other side. And then you visit each country and you realize they’re mostly normal, friendly people.
The Kosovar people were friendly and polite. The owner of my hostel took me for coffee and told me a bit about the history. There’s a lot of sadness: Kosovo has been treated like a problematic stepchild for a lot of its past.
Here’s how I roughly understand the history of Kosovo: Kosovo is a Muslim country (97% Muslim) surrounded by Christian countries. Kosovo is very similar to Albania – they speak the same language (different dialects). People in Albania call the Kosovar language “mountain Albanian” or something, and there’s significant Albanian history in Kosovo. Somehow, Kosovo never joined up with Albania. Instead, it became part of Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia didn’t treat Kosovo that well.
Serbia especially hates Kosovo. Serbia does not consider Kosovo to be its own country. They consider Kosovo part of Serbian territory.
Be prepared for a bizarre level of hatred towards Kosovo by Serbian and North Macedonian people. My cab driver in North Macedonia called Kosovars terrorists and seemed surprised I survived my trip. He kept repeating “Serbia good” and giving me a thumbs up, before saying “Kosovo bad” and giving a thumbs down. That guy also shortchanged me 3 EUR on cab fare.
As with anything in the Balkans, try not to talk to people about history or religion with someone unless they’re ready to talk about it. It’s a touchy subject, to say the least.
One funny thing about Kosovo: they use the Euro as currency. After traveling through six Balkan countries, I had six different currencies in my backpack., so it was refreshing to use the Euro.
What I will say is that I’m very happy I visited Kosovo. Prizren is a great place to visit – and its people were friendly (again, with zero exceptions).
How Long to Spend in Prizren?
One full day or two nights is plenty of time to see the sights in Prizren.
I spent two nights there, arriving late the first night, and felt I had seen the main sights by the end of the next day with time to spare.
Final Word: Is Prizren Worth a Visit?
Prizren is absolutely worth a visit if you’re traveling through this area of the Balkans. I picked Prizren over Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, and I’m glad I did.
My hostel was excellent, and the hostel owners made me feel like family (I know that phrase gets tossed around a lot in the hospitality industry, but this is one of the few places I mean it).
If you have a night or two on your Balkan travel itinerary, then Prizren is a cool stopover in a part of the world most people know nothing about.