My original plan was to travel to Turkey with Topdeck in August, but due to terrorist attacks in early July, all trips through Istanbul and Ankara were cancelled. I can’t lie, I was really upset, as I was looking forward to this trip so much. Topdeck were kind enough to offer us a few other trips instead, or even a full refund. I chose, Balkans Explored, a 14 day tour to: Budapest, Hungary; Belgrade, Serbia; Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Budva, Montenegro; Zadar, Croatia; Plitvice Lakes, Croatia; Ljubljana, Slovenia. I was so excited to visit these places that I hadn’t even considered going to before. The cancelled Turkey trip turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I was also lucky enough to have the most amazing and genuine trip leader, Kriszti, from Budapest. She went above and beyond for us, and I love her dearly! I met amazing people from all over on this trip and as always, created amazing memories that I will cherish forever.
I arrived a couple of days before my Topdeck and was meant to stay at a party hostel (Grandio Party Hostel), but I got sick last minute and had to cancel, so I ended up stayed at ‘Amazing Hostel’, it was low key and had only 5 bedrooms, but I really enjoyed my stay there and ended up meeting some really cool people. I recommend staying on the ‘Pest’ side of Budapest, as according to locals, this is considered the ‘cool’ side! Once with Topdeck, we were lucky enough to stay at the Gellert Hotel, which was a huge, old hotel with one of the famous bath houses of Budapest connected to it. The currency in Hungary is forints, and 1 euro equals 310 Hungarian Forints.
Now I’ve been to a lot of cities, but Budapest is very high on the list! There are just so many things to do and so many places to explore. I highly recommend the free walking tour, so you can get a feel for the city, and learn a bit about the history, that’s always my go to thing on my first day in a new city. My favourite things to see in Budapest were the houses of parliament (by night as well!), the amazing markets, the fisherman’s bastion, on the other side of the river, the amazing chain bridge or Elisabeth bridge, which amazingly was closed for traffic while we were there, of course the famous ruins bars and the baths!
The most famous baths in Budapest are the Szechenyi and the Gellert baths. I only went to the Gellert baths, as a visit was included in our stay at the hotels, they were beautiful and so relaxing. As well as visiting the Szechenyi baths in the day, they do ‘sparty’ at night, which is literally a party in the baths. I loved just walking up the Danube River and taking in the views and the atmosphere.
I arrived in Belgrade with no expectations, as I really didn’t know anything about it, or Serbia. It was very grey when we were there, which can make it difficult to really enjoy a place. It’s a very cheap city though, accommodation and food wise. We had two nights and one full day here. We spent the day exploring the main park, which had some amazing views over the river, and lovely spots to chill out. The main shopping street has so many different restaurants, which were all pretty cheap, but delicious food. The currency here is dinars, and 1 euro equals around 124 Serbian Dinars. I’m never one to dislike a place, but Belgrade isn’t on the favourites list, nevertheless, we still had a really great time.
I should add, on the way to Sarajevo I definitely recommend a little stop in Mostar! It has a gorgeous old town and it’s famous for it’s amazing bridge, and the dive club that dive off it for the tourists.
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
I was excited to arrive here, because of the history, even though it’s sad, it is very important and needs to be shared and knowledge spread. Our guide told us Sarajevo is known as little Turkey, which I was happy about, since I wasn’t actually in Turkey, like I was meant to be. The city runs along the river, and it was really beautiful to walk along in the evening. What was alarming to us, is that you can see the bullet holes and where bombs exploded, in the city and on the main road, and this is something that happened in our lifetime. Food for thought. The old town was beautiful, and there were so many cute little shops and, restaurants to explore. The currency here is the convertible marc, and 1 euro is about 2 convertible marcs.
One of the main attractions, which I highly recommend, is the Tunnel of Hope. It’s rich in history about the Bosnian War, and the story of the tunnel is truly amazing. I won’t go into details here, as you need to see for yourself. On our way to Sarajevo, we stopped at the memorial of the Bosnian Genocide in Srebrencia, which was a very somber and eye opening experience. Our guide was a man who lived through it and lost people he loved.
Round 2! Read back to my last post for all my Dubrovnik tips! I enjoyed Dubrovnik the second time, just as much as the first. Some people think the city is overrated, but I fell in love with it. I walked the walls again, I ate at the same amazing Mexican restaurant, wandered round the old town and had a few too many buckets at the bucket bar!
Something else I tried this time was a sea kayaking excursion, and I definitely rate it! It was about three hours, with a packed lunch and lots of swimming spots. So much fun, and you’re exercising!
Such an underrated and beautiful place! We stopped in Kotor for lunch and climbed the fort, which is bloody hard work, but do it! We were then greeted by breathtaking views of Budva, which is a beach city surrounded by mountains, very picturesque.
I recommend catching a water taking over to ‘Hawaii’ the island just off Budva and spending the day there, sunbathing, swimming and just relaxing. The water was beautifully warm, but just be careful of the rocky beach, like in Croatia.
It was actually my birthday eve while we were here so of course I wanted to celebrate. There’s a whole strip of bars and clubs literally one street up from the beach and they all have amazing happy hour specials. I had one of the best nights here, and entered my 22nd year in amazing vibes!
The main attractions of Zadar are of course the famous Sea Organ and the Greeting to the Sun. The Sea Organ is a giant instrument that plays sounds from the waves of the ocean, it’s quite amazing, and it’s nice to just sit down on the wall and listen. The Greeting to the Sun is a piece of art with over 300 multi-layered glass plates and solar panels that collect light during the day and display an amazing array of colours by night. The cathedral is well worth a visit, and especially climbing the tower, as it has a beautiful view of the city.
Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is 110% worth a visit! You can hike around 21km of beautiful untouched lakes. I thought I had seen the most beautiful nature in New Zealand, but I was so amazed by these Lakes. Of course going in peak season means there’s literally thousands of people, but thankfully most of them didn’t do the longest path like us, so more of the day we had the trail to ourselves. Our hotel was a 5 minute walk from the lakes and had our meals included. This was a truly wonderful experience.
This was our last city on the tour, and we had just one night here. But that was enough, to explore this tiny European capital city. We used the afternoon to walk around the town, before walking up to the castle to catch the sunset. The hike was well worth it. Don’t miss the pub crawl either! It’s huge and there are lots of free drinks.
I had such an amazing two weeks, and a lot of it was because of the people I was with, but I really enjoyed my time in the Balkans and exploring all of these new places and learning about the history of area. We were lucky enough to end up back in Budapest for the national day of Hungary, and got to experience the fireworks, great timing!