Why Every American Should Visit Kosovo and The top things to do in Kosovo, including things to see in Pristina and things to see in Prizren.
Kosovo – I’m sure you’ve heard of it. You’ve likely seen video footage on the news of its tumultuous past and continuous conflict and war with its neighboring country Serbia, and The Former Yugoslavia. Kosovo is only partially recognized as an independent country in a heavily disputed territory. Although some countries don’t claim Kosovo as an independent country, 113 UN members still do. It was previously territory of Serbia, but claimed its independence in 2008 when it became known as the Republic of Kosovo.
Ask any Serbian, and they will tell you that Kosovo is not its own country and is instead owned by Serbia. But ask anyone in Kosovo or Albania, and they will say it is independent from Serbia. And the people in Spain, Cyprus, Greece, Slovakia, and Romania? They say no. Kosovo is not independent. Spain and Serbia hold very close ties, though.
Kosovo is not a part of the EU. The country has tried desperately and lost every bid. Their current president says joining the EU would bring more stablility; thus making Kosovo a more sustainable country.
It should be noted that they do use the Euro. If you visit, keep that in mind.
Kosovo consists of mostly ethnic Albanians, but some Serbs still reside here. Wars have been fought here for many, many years. Rest assured since gaining their independence, it’s a safe place, even despite what you may hear or read.
I was told by many people not to visit. They told me it was dangerous. They told me there was war. They told me all these things they saw on the media.
HELLO! I’m here to tell you it’s all just #fakenews.
Well, perhaps it’s not fake news. It’s definitely old, outdated news. I read that up until a couple years ago, news stations were reairing footage from the war in 1991! Can you believe that? They were showing footage of the streets of Kosovo from almost 20 years ago.
Shocking. Right? Yeah, not really. Media today is lost. The media has completely lost sight of their purpose informing people of the REAL story. I digress. That’s another topic for another time.
Here are 5 reasons why every American should visit Kosovo.
1. Kosovo belongs on a less-traveled path. The country is sparse with tourists. The land is full of a rich history that I assure you, you will want to learn about if you visit. It enriches your mind and teaches you about hardship and struggle but also how lovely people can be through it all. And of course, saying that you’ve visited Kosovo will be a fantastic conversation starter.
2. They LOVE Americans. Yes, it’s true. The people in Kosovo love Americans. This is the country that is most pro-America in the entire world. Recently, the country has given America a 75 percent approval rating where the average globally is about 30 percent. The country’ s capitol Pristina has a George W. Bush Blvd, A Bob Dole street, and even one of the main roads in Pristina, is called Bill Clinton Blvd. A boulevard that even homes a 11-ft. tall statue of Bill Clinton. There is also a women’s suiting shop next to it called “Hillary”. Pristina isn’t known to be the most beautiful capitol city, but walk around. There are beautiful churches, parks, and unique buildings around. It has a lot of charm and history. It has a lot of statues that also commemorate the heros who made Kosovo what it is today.
So why does Kosovo love us so much? A little history lesson. Back in 1998-1999, the USA led NATO airstrikes that forced Serbians to back off on Kosovo. Serbians were closing in on Kosovo, and the USA stood by them and protected them. I was told this story by a 52-year-old Albanian man fishing by the river. Another man gave me a free water and tea from his shop and said it’s because of America that Kosovo exists. Kosovo and the Clintons have a very special relationship, and since the Clinton administration, every American president has been behind Kosovo as an independent nation.
They even have a song called “Amerike” that goes like this…… “USA, USA, for Albanians Light of day!” So, know that if you come here as an American, there is true hospitality for you and they really will treat you very well. A lot of countries in Europe have mixed or negative feelings about Americans and aren’t afraid to show some of their hastiness. Whether it’s because they dislike our current president or because they think we are a bunch of loud arrogant jerks, I don’t know. But Kosovo certainly does not think of us as such.
3. It is easy to get to from neighboring Skopje, Macedonia. Another beautiful city I would recommend. You take a bus over the border and you’re here. It’s about a 2.5-hour bus and very easy to get from the main bus station in Skopje. The border isn’t an issue. Again, as an American, you don’t need a visa. You could see the whole country in 3-4 days. You could even take 2 days to Kosovo like I did. I spent one full day exploring Pristina and one full day exploring neighboring Prizren, which is stunning with a heavy Turkish/Ottoman Empire influence. You must visit Prizren while in Kosovo. It was the highlight of my trip. It’s gorgeous and full of character. I took a cab, and roundtrip, I paid 70 euro. That’s a great deal. It’s about an hour’s drive each way, but again, it’s a very pretty city. In Prizren, you can visit Sinan Pasha Mosque, and other various mosques and churches. Drink from the Shadrvan fountain. Legends say you’ll come back there, if you do. Take a photo on the stone bridge, it has been around since the 15th century. There is another bridge just parallel to it that has locks on it, similar to the lock bridge in Paris and Wroclaw. It’s called “The Blue bridge of Love.” Take a peak at this bridge also. Prizren is just very picturesque. Also, hike up to the Kalaja Fortress. This is where you get the best views of the entire city of Prizren. If you’re into nature, there is a beautiful national park called “The Sharr Mountain National Park” nearby. Walk past the Mahmet Pasha Hamam, it’s very photogenic and cool on the outside. Inside it’s typically used for art exhibitions. If you are really into nature, I would recommend taking a day trip to Pec where there is loads of outdoor activities including water falls, mountain climbing, and Cave visits.
4. They have great restaurants. Luckily, I knew a few people I had worked with in London who were from Kosovo. They gave me some awesome restaurant and bar recommendations. I also found a really cute spot in Prizren for brunch. It was adorable and totally Instagram worthy! They have a really awesome patio upstairs. I found it totally by accident when I was on my way to the restroom. I would definitely sit up there if the weather is nice. It’s called La Ponte. Another favorite dinner spot in Pristina was Liburnia and the restaurant in Hotel Semitronix for great views and great wine. It’s very cheap. I really just can’t get over how good the food was in Kosovo!
5. It’s insanely cheap. Most of the Balkans are super cheap. You can get a nice meal and wine for around 15 USD. It certainly won’t break the bank, and you can stay like royalty. I stayed at Hotel Semitronix, and it was amazing. They have an excellent rooftop pool and putting range, a lovely restaurant, and the room I stayed in, was huge. It was plenty of room, and the city views off the balcony were incredible. It is also situated close to the bus station and on the side of town closest to the direction you’d go towards Prizren. The staff was really helpful and sweet. It was an amazing stay, and I would 100 percent say this should be your hotel of choice when visiting Pristina as there aren’t too many options and again, I had a great experience.
Tips when visiting Kosovo
1. Have euros on you. Regardless of their unofficial EU status, they use the Euro. Sometimes they will also accept Macedonian denar, but make sure to ask. The ATM’s have a 5-euro fee for taking out cash, so try and bring some euros with you for your stay.
2. Have your hotel or hostel call you a cab. They will get the best rates. Also, make sure they are willing to use a meter. If they are unwilling, negotiate the price before entering the cab. Cabs around the city should cost roughly 3-5 euro per ride.
3. There is beautiful countryside so don’t think you just need to stick to the cities. There is lovely hiking and paragliding. If you are short on time, discover Pristina, the capitol, and Prizren, the charming little city an hour from Pristina.
4. Take in the café culture. If you have spent time in the Balkans before, you know that sitting at cafés outside all day is a serious hobby of locals. There are dozens of different cafés so go immerse yourself in the culture. 50 percent of Kosovo’s population is under 30, so it is great for younger people.
5. Have toilet paper handy. A lot of bathrooms don’t have any toilet paper. Of course, cafés and restaurants will, but bus stations, etc., will not.
6. Stick to bottled water. The tap water is said to be safe but don’t risk it.
7. Kosovo is generally safe, but like all countries there is petty crime. Don’t keep things in your back pocket and do keep purses and other bags zipped up.
8. Check out the shops and the bazaars. You can find some cool treasures. Make sure to barter.
9. Visit the National Library of Kosovo. Some may think it’s ugly, but I thought it was cool looking and unique.
10. If you’re into nightlife, ask your hotel for the best clubs. I was told by friends that the nightlife is a surprisingly active scene.
11. Bonus* Walk around the streets and wander. Explore. Check out the cool street graffiti and artwork.