From exploring the sand pyramids of Bulgaria to trekking to ancient castles in Macedonia, these are just some of the best day hikes in the Balkans.
For lovers of the outdoors, there are plenty of great choices of destinations in Europe.
While tonnes of people flock to check out the hiking in Switzerland or elsewhere in the alps, there are tonnes of other great options to check out if you love getting off the beaten path.
One region that still seems sorely under-appreciated though is the Balkans, the peninsula in the continent’s south east.
Home to a dizzying array of mountains, rivers, lakes and forests, the Balkans have everything you could want in an outdoor playground.
While places like Albania and Montenegro are known for longer hiking routes, there are also heaps of possibilities for day hikes in the Balkans as well.
Many of the region’s major cities have pockets of nature in their backyards but I think to enjoy the best spots it often means venturing to smaller and less common parts.
Admittedly, the following day hikes are just a few to get you started, since each country seems to have countless options themselves.
The Best Day Hikes In The Balkans
If you’re making your adventure plans to explore the Balkans, don’t miss these awesome day hikes!
Sand Pyramids Of Melnik, Bulgaria
Why not start with the most unusual first?
Hidden away in the foothills of Bulgaria’s Pirin Mountains lies one of its strangest landscapes that you just have to see, the Sand Pyramids of Melnik.
And of course, the best way to see it is with one of the most majestic day hikes in the Balkans.
Officially the smallest town in Bulgaria, Melnik is surrounded by rippling sandstone hills that often are actually shaped like pyramids.
The best way to appreciate these geological oddities is with a hike that brings you up a valley outside the town to a view point that looks out across the entire area.
The nearly unmarked trail actually leads to the historic Rozhen Monastery, taking you along river beds and up almost concealed stairs.
It may only be about 3 km as the crow flies, but with the deviations and hills it can take close to an hour to reach the monastery from town.
The trail lets you see different sides of the terrain from dry to dense and from vantage points below and above.
Marko’s Fortress Of Prilep, Macedonia
One of the more culturally interesting destinations in the Republic of Macedonia has to be the tobacco city of Prilep.
Near the country’s center, Prilep is situated in quite a dry basin with a ring of hills and mountains around it.
With a great deal of local folklore to it, the city is often known as the “city under Marko’s towers”.
This moniker refers to the ruined towers of Marko’s Fortress that overlooks the city from its hilltop perch.
For views of the city and an up-close look at this untouched historical site, Marko’s Fortress is just begging to be hiked.
The giant cross positioned by the fortress is a beacon of sorts and you can basically follow it as you leave the city behind.
Arriving in the outer village of Varosh, you can deviate from the main roads and soon find yourself on an open hiking trail that leads to the towers.
Leading between the boulders and bare grassy slopes of the hill it’s hard to get lost at this point.
Soon enough you’re walking through what was a gateway and you’re given free rein to explore the ruins. It’s rare to find such a large historical site totally unattended in Europe, but here it is.
Continue up the stairs and you’ll reach the cross season earlier where you get the best view of Prilep you could hope for.
All told the hike up is about 4 gentle kilometres.
If you’re feeling adventurous you can attempt to find the trail leading to the St. Archangel Michael but don’t get lost and kind-of stranded like I did.
The Castle Of Vrsac, Serbia
The small city of Vrsac in the east of Serbia may not have a long list of attractions, but one not to miss is the city’s hilltop castle.
While it’s an easy drive up on the city’s outskirts, it’s also probably the easiest day hike in the Balkans to do.
Its hilltop position is clearly viewable from the center of the city.
Simply head east from the center out towards the Calvary Church and you’ll gradually pass up a number of staircases that take you further through the outskirts of Vrsac.
Within several kilometres you’ll already find yourself with decent views of the city from the Calvary Church.
Past the church you’ll get your first direct signpost to the castle and see little but fields and the forest covering the summit.
Following a dirt trail off into the forest, you’ll soon come across an inexplicable bar, left alone with another quality view down over the city.
Pressing on past the bar, a much thicker, greener forest surrounds you, before spitting you out at the foot of the castle.
Alternatively called a tower or castle, once there you’re free to climb up on its remains and admire the enormous panorama before you.
The hilltop is also a popular launching spot for local paragliders so if you’re lucky you might be able to watch them float out over Vrsac.
Only several kilometers walk and with fairly well-defined paths, there’s nothing really formidable about this hike.
Valleys And Hills Of Dryanovo, Bulgaria
In the shadow of Bulgaria’s Balkan Mountains sits an unusual collection of attractions outside the town of Dryanovo.
Near the city of Veliko Tarnovo, this area is home to a fascinating mix of nature and history.
Here you’ll find a storied orthodox monastery hidden in a river valley, a deep dark cave system and secluded hilltop ruins of a medieval fortress.
Hiking trails through the landscape allow you to not only move between each site but bask in the peaceful forest and admire the small waterfalls.
From the local road it’s a pleasant walk down to the first site, the Dryanovo Monastery.
After appreciating this concealed gem, you’ll soon find yourself by rivers, which if you follow will lead to some splendid waterfalls.
Heading up the valley will bring you to the mouth of Bacho Kiro Cave into which you can delve.
Beyond the cave, the trail leads higher and higher up to lookout points on top of the hill that show the entire valley.
Wander along minor trails and you’ll soon arrive at scattered remains of the medieval fortress, reclaimed by nature after centuries of neglect.
Paths back down the hill will take you back past the caves and monastery, but not before showing you a couple more waterfalls, that will leave you wondering just what else can be found upstream.
All in all, allow a few hours to explore the area and be prepared for a lot steeper walking than actually going very far.
Njegos Mausoleum In Lovcen, Montenegro
If there’s one thing that seems to define the small nation of Montenegro, it’s mountains, such as Durmitor National Park.
While most of the country’s mountain ranges are found in the north (and said to be awesome to hike), some can be found closer to the coast too.
One in particular draws most of the attention, Mount Lovcen.
This mountain is a backdrop for many of Montenegro’s most scenic spots, like Kotor.
While one option is to start in the old royal capital of Cetinje, a more manageable approach is to begin in the park itself.
One particularly useful waypoint is the Hotel Monte Rosa as it’s in the closest thing Lovcen National Park has to a major village.
From the hotel, you can simply follow the road as it works its way through craggy landscapes and light forest, up to the summit of Jezerski Vrh.
It is here at 1657m that you bear witness to the most unlikely of sights, the Njegos Mausoleum. Inside this monumental resting place lies the remains of Petar II Petrović Njegoš, a 19th century icon of Montenegrin literature.
Besides the striking mausoleum, on clear days you might even be able to spy the Bay of Kotor from its lookout points.
Even just from the hotel to the summit you’ll climb up over 300 metres in altitude and if you simply cling to the road, it should take a little under 2 hours.
However, there are other trails about that fork off the road and which might lead to other fascinating spots or viewpoints.
Monasteries Of Fruska Gora, Serbia
Although much of northern Serbia is relatively flat, there is one blip in the landscape just south of the city of Novi Sad.
Across the Danube, you’ll find the hilly forests of Fruška Gora National Park spanning 266 km2.
Linked up by untold number of trails going this way and that, Fruska Gora is also home to 16 remaining orthodox monasteries scattered about.
From either Novi Sad or a small village like Vrdnik, you can use these monasteries as waypoints to carve your own way through these almost eerie woods.
From Vrdnik, one of the simplest options is to simply head out of the village and make your way up hill to the Vidikovac Zmajevac lookout point that looks south back over the village.
Either by following the road or taking the trails that pass up by the Vrdnik Ethno Village, it should only take you roughly an hour to find your way up.
From the viewpoint, you’ll uncover even more trail possibilities.
Another way to go is to head east in search of Bešenovo Monastery.
The first stretch will take you to along the main road through neighbouring villages but when you reach Jazak Monastery, a proper trail will present itself.
While shortcuts and other trails may show up on maps, they’re often tricky to make out and overgrown.
The path from Jazak Monastery to Bešenovo Monastery is relatively easy to follow, but the forest’s cold shade and dead silence makes it kinda creepy, in a cool way.
One way from Vrdnik to Bešenovo Monastery takes about 1 hour 45 min. If you haven’t got the legs to make it back, hitchhiking back as probably your best bet.
Tips For Hiking In The Balkans
- In countries like Bosnia Herzegovina, there are certain areas that are still plagued with land mines from the conflict in the 90’s. Make sure to read up on areas and when in doubt, stick to marked trails.
- As always, make sure to pack supplies like food and water to help keep you going and in case of emergency.
- Even on day hikes, it’s best to let someone know your plans in the case of emergency and you don’t return back as planned.