Prishtina (or Pristina) is the capital of one of the newest states on the planet - Kosovo. Although not recognized by all the nations, it's de facto an independent country with full government and organizations. Prishtina (with the exception of Minsk in Belarus) is probably the least visited capital in Europe. Having suffered tremendously turbulent events in recent history - it's not the most beautiful or charming city in the world. Many of the old parts were destroyed during the war and now Prishtina has an appearance of a newly built city - many districts still look like big construction sites. Nevertheless, Prishtina has that "something" and I really miss it - the relaxed and friendly locals, crazy architecture, superb food and the vibrant streets in summer evenings.
How to get to Prishtina
You can fly to Prishtina from quite a few European airports, however the easiest way to get there is simply to take a bus from one of the neighboring countries: from Albania - Tirana and Durres, from Serbia - Belgrade, Sarajevo - Bosnia and Herzegovina or Montenegro - Podgorica.
My visit to Prishtina was completely spontaneous - while visiting Macedonia, me and my friends had just decided to jump on the bus to Prishtina at the Skopje bus station - it's only 5 EUR (5.50 USD) one way. (Skopje is also a very interesting city to visit - I'll write about it soon). This is by far the quickest, cheapest and easiest way to enter Kosovo. The journey to Prishtina from Skopje takes only around 2 hours.
Getting to the city center from the bus station may be a bit tricky - but don't take a taxi. There's no point. The walk will take around 25 minutes and you'll see some interesting things on the way. From the station, walk under the bridge and get to Bill Clinton Boulevard (yes - they named the street after Bill Clinton!) - walk up to Mother Teresa Cathedral and turn left. Now keep going straight for another 5 minutes and you're in the main city square.
Is Kosovo safe?
I was a bit concerned about the safety situation, but Kosovo is perfectly safe (with the exception of border areas with Serbia - even though it's not dangerous anymore), as normal as any other country in Europe. The locals are extremely friendly towards visitors and, you'd be surprised how many people actually speak English!
On the bus to Prishtina, we met a very nice young man who walked us from the bus station to the city center, showed us the most important things to see and told us a few stories about the tragedy he suffered as a child during the war and about the limits of Kosovan passport - although he lives in the center of Europe, he has the right to enter only Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro and Turkey without a visa - unlike with all the other countries in the region - it's not possible for Kosovo citizens to travel to the EU without a visa.
Impressions of Prishtina
Before coming to Prishtina I had an image of a depressing, communist era city, full of grey concrete buildings and heavy architecture. I kind of had this feeling in Belgrade, which was my least favorite city in the Balkans. But Prishtina is surprisingly more colorful, a bit similar to Tirana in Albania.
Similarly to all the countries in the Balkans and Caucasus - in the evening, all the locals with families go out to the restaurants and cafes in the main boulevard (they are full and open until 2 AM every day!) It gives the city such a warm vibe - and although Prishtina lacks the old town square and little narrow streets - it still has the amazing, cozy atmosphere. And the food! It's premium quality - all the grilled meat, pizzas and even simple kebabs are amazing. A simple roll from a fast food stall you buy at the bus station is prepared in front of you - the meat is freshly grilled and you can choose some salad and the type of bread you wish. It's really filling and it costs around 1 EUR (1.20 USD)! I wish there were fast foods like that everywhere in Western Europe instead of tasteless, cold sandwiches and plastic McDonald's.
All the restaurants have the menus available in English so there is no problem with understanding. When you open the menu you'll be shocked looking at the prices. Positively shocked! Kosovo uses EUR as its currency and the meals will cost from 2 - 5 EUR! A coffee - also superb quality will be 40 cents. A pint of beer is not more than 1.50 EUR. But it all cannot be that perfect can it? Well, if you are a non-smoker (like me), you'll have to put up with the cigarette smoke everywhere.
People in Kosovo, like Albania seem to love European Union and the US. The flags of EU, US and Albania can be found side by side all around the country (n contrast, in the neighboring Serbia - just a few hundred kilometers to the north, you can observe strong attachments with Russia). And, like in Albania, they also love foreigners. It's a weird feeling because usually locals are fed up with annoying tourists, especially in post-communist countries.
What may come as a surprise is that in our hostel in Prishtina, in such an off the beaten path destination, we met so many interesting people! I don't have to mention that in unknown countries like Kosovo, Georgia, Armenia etc. you'll meet the best, most honest and cool travelers! No fake people with the "I'm the best" attitude like in, for example, Bangkok, Thailand.
We met tourists from all over the world, for example: Australia, Canada, the UK and US. They all had amazing stories about hiking, camping, traveling to crazy places across the region. That's what I love the most. And that's why I love Balkans and Caucasus! It's like an oriental mix of Asia and South America - exceptionally culturally diverse, a bit undiscovered, messy and chaotic and, at the same time - perfectly safe for tourists and backpackers.
Things to see in Prishtina
Although you don't come to Prishtina to admire its medieval architecture (but for its cool atmosphere), there are a few things you might want to see. Kosovo's capital has many very weirdly shaped and one of a kind modernist, communist era buildings. While they may seem as an eye sore to some, they are undoubtedly interesting and so different! And the good thing is, all the things to visit in Prishtina are within a short walking distance strewn around the city center. Most of it you can actually see by walking from the bus station to the main square! Have a look:
Near the bus station - after a few minute walk, you'll reach Bill Clinton Boulevard - a wide road named after the US president. There's also a monument depicting Bill Clinton and a huge billboard on one of the communist era buildings. Kosovo and Albania seem to be two of the very few countries on the planet that actually love the US...
Walking up Bill Clinton Boulevard, on your left, you'll notice a large church -Blessed Mother Teresa Cathedral. It seems as if it was built in medieval times but actually it has just been completed! For 1 EUR (1.20 USD), you can get to the top of the bell tower which offers excellent views over Prishtina.
Right behind the cathedral you can "admire" a strange construction which looks like a UFO headquarter combined with the shape of a church - it's Prishtina Sport Hall. Right in front of it - you can find the famous NEWBORN monument made of huge letters (check it out in the Rita Ora's video "Shine Ya Light"). Completed in 2008 - it expresses the birth of the new country - Kosovo. In 2008, it was painted with all the flags that recognize Kosovo as a country. Its design, however, changes every year. When I was in Prishtina, it was covered with graffiti.
On the other side of the road you'll find another building taken straight from a science-fiction film about aliens. Designed by Croatian Architect Andrija Mutnjaković, the National Library of Kosovo was finished in 1980s. Composed of dozens of square units, covered with white glass domes and a metal net, sparked some controversy at the time of completion. Without a doubt, this is the most extraordinary and astonishing building in Prishtina.
A few steps from the National Library, you'll find another controversial building - unfinished Serbian Orthodox Christ the Savior Cathedral. Its construction began in 1995 and from that time it'sbeen associated with the Yugoslav regime - thus the locals called for its demolition. Nevertheless, the church's skeleton stands to this day.
Now you're basically in the center and only a stone's throw away from the heart of the city - Mother Teresa Boulevard. Here you can find some modern buildings, posh Swiss Diamond Hotel and also a backpacker's hostel. The boulevard comes to life after sunset during summer when the heat subsides. All the cafes and restaurants are filled with people and the kids cool themselves in the dancing fountains.
Passing the main boulevard, right beside the clock tower there's the 15th century Sultan Mehmet Faith Mosque from the time of the Ottoman Empire. Nearby, you can find a bazaar but it's more like a flea market than an oriental Ottoman style bazaar.
Also, while getting into or out of Prishtina, notice all the modern construction that's going on around.
Not far from Prishtina, only around 2 hour drive (buses run every 20 minutes and cost 4 EUR/4.50 USD) lies the historical, beautiful town of Prizren. Here, you'll find everything the little cozy medieval oriental towns have to offer: extraordinary white houses, bazaars and baths from Ottoman Empire, a fortress on top of the hill which provides spectacular views over the red roofs and of course lots of restaurants and cafes with superb food at great value. You'll love Prizren if you've ever been to and fallen in love with Tbilisi, Ohrid, Mostar, Berat or Gjirokaster.
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