Day trip to Prizren, Kosovo

The 2nd largest city in the country is over in the West, close to the Albanian border and is said to be the cultural capital. Although the main language here is Albanian, you will also find Serbian and Turkish dotted around too, making it an ethnically rich and vibrant place to visit. Only a 2 hour bus ride from Pristina for €4, I couldn’t resist a visit.

Buses leave the main station in Pristina starting from 07.20 and there’s a new one every 20 minutes, so even if you miss one, you wont have a long wait before the next. Although the bus service may have changed since Covid and quite possibly has been reduced.  You could travel in from N Macedonia, with buses taking around 2hr 20 from Skopje and around 3hrs from the Albanian capital of Tirana as well.

There is definitely enough to do for a day trip here, there is the gorgeous River Lumbardh which divides the city in two, with cafes and shops lining both sides and stone bridges to cross over and explore.

The main square is called Shadervan a stone piazza surrounded by cafes, restaurants and bars, it was here I got my bearings and mentally ticked off a place to return to later for some lunch, as well as picking up a couple of souvenirs and postcards to send back home.

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There is a UNESCO protected monastery here too, the Our Lady of Ljevis. Unfortunately you could only see the outside, as the building was locked and I believe you can only enter as part of a group with advanced bookings needed (because it has been broken into a number of times and many of the ancient artefacts have been stolen). So if you turn up unannounced like I did, this will be the closest you will get to it. Still . . . it’s an attractive, impressive building.

Overlooking the main part of the city, you cannot fail to miss the Mosque of Sinan Pasha which has been designated a monument of cultural importance. Built in 1615, its large dome and minaret are an integral part of the cities skyline, and although weather and time have damaged the building, and there was a call to turn it into a museum, UNESCO donated some money for renovations and to preserve its religious heritage, and so 400+ years later, its still standing proud.

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Another interesting religious building in the area is the Roman Catholic Cathedral known as Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Succourwith an impressive clocktower built by a Croatian monk in the 1870’s. It was open too, and has some cool frescos to explore.

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The highlight for me was the walk up to Prizen Castle and Fortress. You may want to grab lunch first, as its a bit of a steep walk, taking about 15 minutes to get up to the site, but the views are absolutely worth it. It’s really easy to find the path as its well signposted around the city centre, look out for the orthodox church and there will be a road and signpost upwards.

History goes back as far as the 1100 BC up here on the hillside, with records of a fortress being build a little later in the 6th Century. There’s lots to explore with information boards to give you an idea of what it would have been like when it was a thriving fortification. But best of all, the view is spectacular (and a bit windy up top too) you can see across to the Albanian border and the Šar mountains with the city of Prizren and River Lumbardh below.

And that was pretty much my day trip to Prizren, being plant based it was as struggle to find a lunch that suited, so I ordered vegetarian & made a few switches, added a diet coke and I was fully replenished before the bus ride back to the capital.

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On the bus to Pristina, Kosovo

With regular flights from London to both neighbouring capital cities of Skopje and Pristina, it made total sense to tie them both together in one trip and explore more of the Balkans for my birthday treat. Buses leave the main international bus station of the N Macedonian capital every hour or so and takes around 2 hours. Head to counter 6 to buy your ticket and it costs around £5 for a single journey. I say bus, it was more like a large mini van, but it was clean, left on time and got us there safely, so I’m definitely not complaining. Make sure you have your passport handy too, as you’re likely to need it at the border crossing. Arriving at the bus station, it’s a little bit on the outskirts of this Kosovan capital city, so if you’re walking to your accommodation, head north east, along Bill Clinton Avenue. It takes about 35 minutes to walk to the city centre, if you pass the statue of Bill, you know you’re heading in the right direction, and I think its only tradition to reward yourself with a 30p pastry and coffee or beer on arrival!
I was staying in a little hotel, just north of the main city square, so once unpacked, I headed out for a wander. The city felt quite grey and serious, and of course it’s not famous for being a popular tourist holiday spot, so you have to work a little bit to feel orientated in a city that is busy going about its every day business. It definitely felt like a city in the middle of its transition from a country recovering from a war and developing its own new identity, as well as still experiencing difficulties with its neighbours, most especially Serbia, who still consider Kosovo to be part of their country, whilst Kosovo declared independence back in 2008. There is absolutely enough to do in Prishtina for a couple of days if you just take your time, get creative and if you incorporate some rest time in the many little coffee shops along the way. A great place to start and the perfect photo opportunity is the NEWBORN monument, erected the day the country declared independence and each year it is repainted in a different style to represent another years anniversary. About a 10 minute walk South, takes you to the tall and impressive Mother Teresa Cathedral, still being built and one of the tallest buildings in the capital, it’s easy to spot, just look for the bell tower. There is a lift to the top which costs about €1 and well worth the trip upwards for the great views across the city. Once atop the bell tower, you will easily spot what is said to be one of the ugliest buildings in the world, a place I have wanted to visit out of curiosity for some time. The National Library of Kosovo, from afar and in the photos I had seen, to me looked strange but beautiful in a way that far away unfamiliar places sometimes do, like a collection of boxes filled full of chocolates with bows on top. But up close and personal, I got to say, I did find it rather ugly it turns out, more like concrete squares with chain mail draped over them. That said, I loved the interior!
When its time to refresh, get a coffee fix or hot meal, head back towards Mother Teresa BVLD. All around here are great coffee shops, bars, cafes and restaurants as well as the odd tourist shop if you fancy some postcards or gifts. You know you are back in the heart of the city centre when you see the statue of Zahir Pajaziti, the first commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army.
A few places I really liked for coffee and snacks whilst I was in Kosovo, all based just off the main boulevard were Green Protein for tasty vegan breakfasts, smoothies and delicious coffee. Cup O’ Tea was a delightful little place, serving all kinds of tea as well as snacks, I rested my feet, read a book and sampled quite a few brews whilst there. You cannot miss Soma Book Station though, a really creative space, serving coffee, food, hosting events, selling records and crafts as well as books, I loved the vibe in there. And of course, if you just want a snack to go, grab pastry for a few pence at the many bakeries found on most street corners! Often when I arrive in a country or city that I am not too familiar with, I like to take a deep dive into the local history museum. With the history of the new country and its recent struggles with war and occupation, coupled with the history of former Yugaslavian region as a whole, this museum does well to try and explain it from its point a view. A short walk from the boulevard, as most things are, its close to the Jashar Pasha Mosque, so head North East towards the minaret. The museum is free and open 7 days a week, divided into 3 parts, the main museum, the Ethnographic museum as well as the Museum of Independence, so I spread my visits over the 2 days. I was the only tourist when I arrived at the Ethnographic museum and was given a lovely solo tour by one of the guides around the fascinating 18th century housing complex.