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Kosovo (Albanian: Kosova, Serbian: Kосово и Метохија, Kosovo i Metohija) is a country in South Eastern Europe. After a lengthy and often violent dispute with Serbia, Kosovo declared independence in February 2008 and is recognised by 111 countries out of 193 around the world, despite heavy opposition from Serbia, which continues to consider Kosovo an illegitimately separated province of Serbia. Kosovo's far north and two small regions elsewhere are under the control of local Serbian authorities, indicating a Serb majority in these parts. Kosovo is largely an Albanian-speaking and Muslim area (though secular), but there are also significant numbers of minorities living within its borders, especially Serbs.
Albania lies to the west, Montenegro to the northwest, Macedonia to the south, and Serbia to the northeast; the Serb frontier is viewed by Serbia as an internal boundary separating Kosovo as an internal province of Serbia.
- Pristina — the capital; many parks and a lively downtown are to be found here
- Brod — one of the most spectacular villages in the Balkans
- Ferizaj — local church and mosque are literally side by side
- Gjakova — although heavily damaged in the war, this city features the best nightlife in Kosovo by far, and trips to nearby lakes; the Qarshia (market) has been renovated and is well worth several hours
- Gračanica — a historic Serbian Orthodox monastery dating to the 14th-16th centuries; inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List
- Kaçanik — a peaceful and quiet town, with an ancient fortress
- Mitrovica — town divided into southern (Albanian) and northern (Serb) sides, with a wealth of ruined communist industrial architecture; the bridge dividing the city is the political and ethnic dividing line of the country
- Peja — town with much Ottoman and Orthodox (Serb) heritage. A hub for outdoor sports in the spectacular surrounding mountains: the nearby Rugova Canyon is one of the outstanding areas of the country and a ski site in the winter
- Prizren — the best preserved Ottoman old town in the country, watched over by a stately hilltop castle
- Brezovica - a ski resort with old infrastructure but great slopes, located in Sharr Mountains in southern Kosovo.
- Rugova Canyon - Located in the northwest of Peja, has extremely steep walls possibly up to 300 meters. Has a length of 25 km (16mi) and a depth up to 1,000 metres, making it one of the longest and deepest canyons in Europe.
- Sharr National Park - proclaimed in 1993 within the temporary boundaries of 39,000 hectare in South Western Kosovo. The Shar Mountains are a mountain range that border the Republic of Macedonia. The Shar Mountains are the home of many animal species, such as bears, wolves, deer, and foxes.
The population of Kosovo is about 92% Albanian, who use the name Kosova in their Albanian tongue. Although the official name in English Republic of Kosovo is approved by Kosovo's Albanian-speaking authorities, the word Kosova finds its way into the English vernacular of locals.
If you are interested in more than just seeing beautiful mountains and ancient ruins on your vacation to the region, Kosovo strongly recommends itself.
- Seeing the UN and the international community in action (or lack thereof) is quite interesting.
- Speaking to people in a post conflict environment is an eye-opener that tends to cause a person to stop thinking of people in countries of civil conflict as simply nuts.
- You'll get a first hand view of more than 6 different cultures (Albanian, Serb, Roma, Ashkalia, Bosniak, and Turkish)
- You'll gain an understanding of what happens when governments allow industry to function when both environmental regulations and solid, defensible property rights are scarce.
- You'll come to enjoy a lot of coffee-shops around Pristina.
- The Kosovars tend to be very friendly towards the USA for its support of their independence (i.e., they have "Bill Clinton Boulevard" in Pristina, and a large mural of him on the side of a building). They also are very friendly to Western European and Middle Eastern countries.
The climate is continental, with very warm summers and cold and snowy winters.
Citizens of countries such as Albania, Australia, Canada, the European Union, CIS, Lebanon, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa and Turkey do not need a visa, but if you are planning to stay in Kosovo for more than 90 days you should, as in any other Balkan country, register at the Police Department for the Registration of Foreigners. This is next to the central police station in Pristina. Citizens of other countries that have significantly contributed to the rebuilding of the Kosovo probably also do not need visas either, although Kosovo is starting to implement a stricter visa regime. The 90-day rule for the registration of foreigners applies to everybody .
You can enter Kosovo through the northern border with Serbia through Kosovska Mitrovica or near Pristina. There are bus connections from Belgrade and Nis to Pristina and Prizren and from all the major towns in Serbia to the northern parts. Most used transport route is through the Republic of Macedonia and Pristina airport. Skopje is only one and a half hour from the capital city of Kosovo, Pristina. Travelling from Pristina to any other city of Kosovo does not take longer than an hour and a half. For instance, from Pristina to Prizren takes 45 minutes. Travelling to Peć takes a hour and a half.
Several European airlines have started to offer direct flights from their hubs to the International Airport of Pristina. Examples are British Airways, SAS Scandinavian Airlines, Norwegian Air Shuttle, Turkish Airlines, SWISS, Belle Air, Croatia Airlines, Air Berlin and Austrian Airlines. Adria Airways has a regional hub in Pristina. During the summer, several additional charter flights are available for travellers.
From Montenegro, you can enter through Rozaje to Peja/Pec (approximately 2.0 hours).
From Macedonia (Skopje), you can take a bus to Pristina (less than 1.5 h)
There is a border crossing in the Presevo Valley in Serbia.
There are a couple companies offering buses from Istanbul via Skopje.
From Albania, you can enter through Prizren on a nice new road; gone are the days of the "nightmare" 10-hour mountain ride. The trip from Tirane costs 10€ and takes less than 4 hours, with two stops.
There are also trains crossing the Kosovo border. Two daily services connects Kraljevo in Serbia with all towns on the Leshak, Fushë Kosovë (Kosovo Polje). Connections from Beograd are possible but includes a long stay between train at Kraljevo, thus bringing the journey to more than 12 hours for 399 km. This service has vanished from Kosovo Railways' timetable but it is reported that Serbian Railways run a twice daily service from Zvecan (just after Mitrovica) all the way to Kraljevo. Check their homepage for details. No passenger trains run between Fushe Kovove/Kosovo Polje - Mitrovica - Zvecan.
Since March 1, 2006, an identical service, twice daily, has run from Skopje in Macedonia to Pristina in Kosovo. It is hard to gets timings for these trains. Trains are very slow and convey second class only, but they give the opportunity to see a lot of the country and are a good value at approximately €4 each way. This service has been reduced to once daily, leaving Pristina at 7.10, arriving in Skopje at 09.52 (return leaving Skopje at 16:35). The timetable is available at the Kosovo Railways website.
To enter Kosovo, the validity and acceptance of the International Motor Insurance Card is in doubt. At the border you will need to pay €30 for an insurance extra which will cover you throughout Kosovo for two weeks. Ensure also that you have your vehicle registration and a power of attorney from the owner if the car is not yours. During the summer holidays in Germany and Switzerland expect long queues at the border crossing in Merdare (up to 3 hours).
The best way to travel intercity in Kosovo is by bus. The buses are relatively cheap (Pristina to Peja, €4).
in 2006, Kosovan Railways (Kosovske Zeleznice - Hekurudhat e Kosovës)  were running the following passenger train services: from Fushë Kosovë (Serbian: Kosovo Polje; a city near Pristina) to Leshak (a town North at the Serb frontier) three trains a day. From Fushë Kosovë at 07.35, 11.18 and 14.15 and from Leshak at 09.55, 13.19 and 16.50. The train passes through most of the Serbian enclaves that are strung up through the northern part of Kosovo. The system is seen as a way of helping to make the lives of the Serbs in the enclaves easier but also as a way to help integration. The service is free of charge to local people. Another service runs twice a day from Fushë Kosovë at 04.17 and 19.00 to Hani i Elezit (former General Jankovic) on the border to Macedonia, return journeys from Hani i Elezit starts at 05.53 and 20.44. A local suburban services runs from Fushë Kosovë to Grazhanica with departures from F. Kosovë at 05.40 and 19.17, returning from Grazhanica at 06.30 and 20.05.
There are two daily trains from Pristina to Peja/Pec which are a comfortable way to make this journey (€3) The service to Gracanica has been suspended, and the service Fushe Kosovo to Leshak seems to have been taken over by Serbian Railways between Zvecan and Lesak (no trains between Fushë Kosovë -Mitrovica - Zvecan)
In addition to the traffic jams on the highways leading to Pristina, and narrow roads full of turns through the craggy mountains elsewhere, Kosovo has furious and careless drivers who like to use their horns constantly—it's best to park your car somewhere safe and pick up public transportation or settle with a taxi driver for a price for the day.
Should you find yourself still wanting to drive around no matter what, you can get a superb atlas of Kosovo from the OSCE that has detailed ethnic maps (before and after the war), vital statistics, along with navigational maps. To get the map, ask for the NGO Information office near the OSCE building in Pristina.
In the supposedly bilingual country, all highway directional signs show the names of the towns in Albanian and Serbian (the Kosovar government prefers the Roman alphabet for all official use of Serbian); sometimes a third language joins in the fun as well, such as Turkish in Prizren. However, as a matter of national pride, in many locations, either one of the languages (read: "Serbian" for the most of the cases) has been crossed out by the locals, which is kind of convenient so you know the wrong language to avoid, and won't meet with angered locals by trying a smattering of it on them.
Most people in Kosovo speak Albanian. Although almost everyone understands Serbian, it may result in hostile reactions from the mostly Albanian population. Many people in northern Kosovo are ethnic Serbs, so Serbian will come in handy there.
English and German are languages that the majority of population speak. Italian is also spoken to a lesser extent.
The Turkish minority speaks Turkish and Albanian. Turkish is also spoken by some Albanians also, especially the older generations.
- Pristina is the capital city of Kosovo. Places that should be visited in Pristina is the quarter near the National Museum of Kosova. In addition to visiting the museum where a lot of archaeological artifacts are presented, in both ways when you exit, you see the old mosques from the Ottoman Empire era.
- Waterfall of the Drini River - Located north of Peja behind the Berdynaj village. During the summer, this place is fantastic, and the road to the river is an amazing, narrow road with wires on one side and the river on the other; this is a great part of Kosovo.
- The Peć Patriarchy. The Peć patriarchy lies 2 km to the north west of the Peja (Pec) city center. This location was the seat of the Patriarchy of the Serbian Orthodox Church starting in 1302 and for many Serbs is considered to be of extreme national importance. All of the Serbs who lived in Peja have either left or been forced to do so by Albanian nationalists leaving the Patriarchy to be heavily guarded by NATO troops, with a few remaining clergy. It is a beautiful monastery with many spectacular paintings. If you go, dress conservatively.
- The Rugova Gorge. The Rugova gorge is also to the north west of Peja and can be found by following the same road that leads to the Pec Patriarchy. Just drive further. The canyon has extremely steep walls reaching possibly up to 300 meters.
- The Gjakova Old Bazaar. A very beautiful old "shopping center" from 17th century. It was burned down during the war in 1999 and reconstructed recently. Also in the center of the bazaar is located an old mosque that was built in the 15th century.
- The Mitrovica Bridge. An interesting symbol of the division of the population in Kosovo. This bridge is the dividing line between Serbs and Albanians in Mitrovice/Mitrovica. It will almost always be safe to approach the bridge and look at it, although the French soldiers who guard it may not let you cross if the political situation is worse than average (average not being so good).
- Prizren. The most historical city in Kosovo. It has plenty of examples of beautiful Islamic architecture.
- The Roma quarter (mahalla) in Gjilan. Gjilan is located to the South East of Pristina.
- Brezovica Ski Centre - Old infrastructure but great slopes, located in Southern Kosova.
- Novo Brdo (in Latin documents written as Novaberd, Novus Mons or Novamonte; and in Saxon miners' documents as Nyeuberghe) was mentioned in the historical documents as early as 1326. Novo Brdo was a metropolis at the time, with a huge medieval fortress built on the top of an extinct volcano cone, the remains of which can be visited today, and residential sections sprawling all around. In the outer wall of the fortress, a large cross is visible, built into the stones. The castle, or fortress, was thought at one point to have dated back to the Byzantine Empire.
- Ulpiana, one of the oldest cities in the Balkan peninsula, is just 20–30 minutes away from Pristina towards Gjilan and that is the city that is known to have been re-constructed by Justinian I emperior.
Medieval Monuments in Kosovo
A UNESCO World Heritage listing consisting of four religious edifices:
- Decani Monastery — One of the most important monasteries of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo. It is famous for its elegant and peculiar architecture. As an orthodox monastery from the 13th century, it successfully mixes western and eastern church building elements to form a particular hybrid style only known on the territory of old Serbia. This monastery is particularly noted for some of the world's finest medieval frescoes adorning its walls.
- Gračanica (Kosovo) Monastery — One of the most beautiful examples of Serbian medieval (14th c.) ecclesiastical architecture. This monastery was built by the Serbian king Milutin in the Serbo-Byzantine style, reportedly its shape being inspired by a cloud. It is noted for its frescoes, and being the only medieval Serbian monastery found in an urban setting complete with an old school and archives.
- Our Lady of Ljeviš — in Prizren, southern Kosovo
- Monastery of the Patriarchate of Peć
Visit a coffee shop in Pristina, and have a macchiato.
Kosovo uses the euro. It is one of several European countries that uses this common currency. All euro banknotes and coins are legal tender within all the countries.
Countries that have the euro as their official currency:
One euro is divided into 100 cents.
The official symbol for the euro is €, and its ISO code is EUR. There is no official symbol for the cent.
- Banknotes: Euro banknotes have the same design in all the countries.
- Normal coins: All eurozone countries have coins issued with a distinctive national design on one side, and a standard common design on the other side. Coins can be used in any eurozone country, regardless of the design used (e.g. a one-euro coin from Finland can be used in Portugal).
- Commemorative two euro coins: These differ from normal two euro coins only in their "national" side and circulate freely as legal tender. Each country may produce a certain amount of them as part of their normal coin production and sometimes "Europe-wide" two euro coins are produced to commemorate special events (e.g. the anniversary of important treaties).
- Other commemorative coins: Commemorative coins of other amounts (e.g. ten euros or more) are much rarer, and have entirely special designs and often contain non-negligible amounts of gold, silver or platinum. While they are technically legal tender at face value, their material or collector value is usually much higher and, as such, you will most likely not find them in actual circulation.
The Serbian dinar is the official currency in the Serbian-ruled four northern municipalities and in larger enclaves with Serbian majority such as Gracanica and Strpce. Exchange offices are found almost everywhere. Note that while Euros are accepted generally, all prices are listed in dinar.
In Kosovo generally tipping is not expected by anyone. In Albanian parts, tipping is generally not recommended at all.
Best restaurants to eat at are those that are located in the villages near by big cities; they tend to have the best meat dishes and the best sea food. Trout, seabass and salmon fish are very common and popular and are kept fresh in their pools and are nearly always fried when you order. Prices are pretty average and, for some European countries consider, cheap.
Lots of great burek (baked pastry stuffed with cheese, meat or spinach). Try the drinkable yogurt (Ayran) - it's superb. Lots of kebabs and other Ottoman Turkish style food.
As far as you are in an Albanian territory, you could try Albanian food as well. Fli, a very good pastry, can be found in different traditional restaurants.
At the bakery, you can buy a fantastic loaf of bread for under €1.
The grocery stores have a plentiful supply of Western food.
Beer at Peja is a pretty good brew. It is brewed in Peja (Pec). Peja Premium is a slightly stronger beer from the same brewery but less widely available. Sabaja is the second beer in Kosova. It is a home brew beer and it's ale (not pilsner). It is mostly found in Pristina but maybe also in different cities.
Kosova was very known for wine production. There are a lot of plantations on the south side of Kosova. The price is ridiculously cheap and the taste is good enough. Even though the Albanians are predominantly of Muslim heritage, drinking is quite liberal.
Raki is also another alcoholic beverage in Kosova. It is made from local fruits (the most common one is from grape) and can be best described as a hard liquor similar to vodka. It can be quite strong so if you have a weak stomach or do not often drink liquor, avoid this beverage.
Yogurt/Ayran is common local drink and is consumed with pastry foods.
Boza is also another common sweet drink drank with cakes and pastries.
Frutomania and Ask produce 100% natural juices and they're quite common in Kosovo.
Accommodation in Kosovo can be expensive in hotels, but in Pristina and Prizren cheap accommodation (hostels or apartments) is very easy to find.
Basically you can find:
- Small hotels (motels)
- Two and three star hotels (more common)
- At least two five star hotels in Pristina
Avoid getting too much into politics in Kosovo, although ask as many questions (within reason) as you like. They are very open about their hatred of each other and more than willing to tell you about it.
Don’t let the politics stop you from visiting; tensions have risen in a few moments in the past decade, but nearly all have been in the divided city of Mitrovica in the north of the country and with a more than 10,000-person NATO peacekeeping force and a large international police force, you are very safe from pretty much everything and the chance of a full out conflict is very low with such international supervision and even if one is to occur, all foreigners would be evacuated within 48 hours. You will most likely find peacekeeping soldiers from your own country to help you if you need it.
There is pretty much no physical or criminal dangers you need to worry about people in general—both Albanians and Serbs—are extremely friendly and hospitable to tourists. Kosovo is a country that is used to having a vast amount of foreigners from all over the world. Since the end of the war, there were more than 200,000 international workers from over the world came to aid the rebuilding and peace effort in the country and the locals are very used to people from outside and very friendly.
The corruption level is extremely low and the Kosovo police corruption is again very low thanks to the supervision of the EULEX international police, which means it is one of the only countries in Eastern Europe where bribery is pretty much unheard of unless you have committed a major crime and are offering tends of thousands, but that is a different story between the police and organised crime and has nothing to do with regular people and tourists.
Use only registered taxis as they have fixed fares and you will not get scammed with unlicensed taxis; they are safe, but they will always scam you if you use the meter, so if you have to use an unlicensed taxi, make sure you come to a deal before hand so he does not use the meter.
Homophobia is some what of an issue and people don’t take kindly to homosexuals, but again, physical harm is not an issue unless you openly display affection or manners.
Like much of the Balkans, land mines were heavily used during the Yugoslav civil wars. Though this was a major problem in the country in the first four years after the war, now it’s a very rare that you encounter them, most suspicious areas are listed in local tour guide books, most of the mined areas are places where conflict took place (Central Kosovo countryside and Kosovo–Albania border region).
It's very safe to go hiking and camping — just ask before you do so to make sure it's not a suspicious area and most hiking and camping takes place in areas where war did not occur, like the Sharr mountains where there is a ski and camping resort.
Manholes are sometimes stolen to sell as scrap metal. Therefore, one should be aware of uncovered manholes. Whilst not an issue on busy city streets, walking even a few kilometers outside downtown Pristina can be dangerous — particularly when walking in tall grass beside roads or sidewalks. Local residents have been known to use a small pile of sticks and stones to cover an open sewer pit and care should be taken not to step on these either.
It is possible for foreigners to obtain treatment at the public hospital in Pristina (staff from your accommodation may come in handy as translators). However, the state of the hospital is far from ideal: The toilets have no soap, infusions are hanging from improvised stands. Kosovo has no public health insurance system and you will be required to pay your bill in cash. A visit to the doctor and a few pills from the pharmacy will cost you around 20 €. If you know what you need you may visit the pharmacy directly as no prescription is needed.
Don't try to pet any dogs you may come across, stay away from them!
Whilst most dogs are not aggressive when they are in packs, they can very well be, so make sure you stay away and don’t run away from them either as dogs chase you when you run; some times, the best defense is an attack so charging at them a little usually scares them away. But again, this is only a problem in the outskirts of the cities and at night, as during the day, you will hardly encounter them and they will stay away from humans.
There are flights from Pristina International Airport to London, Frankfurt, Berlin, Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Hannover, Bremen, Munich, Stuttgart, Geneva, Zurich, Vienna, Copenhagen, Gothenburg, Rome, Milan-Bergamo, Verona, Budapest, Ljubljana, Zagreb, Podgorica, Tirana, Istanbul and Antalya. Soon, there will be direct flights to Sarajevo and other destinations.
There are direct bus links to most cities in Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Albania, Turkey, Macedonia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Serbia.
Note that if you plan to go to Russia after Kosovo, you may encounter a bit of trouble entering the country as Russia still considers the declaration of independence of Kosovo to be illegal.