What are the pros and cons of the popular cities in the west Balkans (Split, Ljubljana, etc.)?

I have been interested in traveling to the balkans for a while, and the cities I’ve been delving most into are Ljubljana, Zagreb, Split, and Sarajevo (also Prague and Budapest). I’m interested in hearing about these places from anyone who has travelled there, especially to multiple of the cities, or to any other place in the region.

In particular, I’m interested in pros and cons of the cities vis-a-vis each other, and interested in tidbits about the vibe of the cities, the culture of the people, and any other first-hand things that are hard to pick up by reading (I already know the sizes of the cities, that they each have beautiful architecture, that Split has the beach, etc. :slight_smile: ). How youthful do the cities feel? How walkable are they? How friendly are the locals? How likely would a 26 year old digital nomad be to meet his bride there ;)? What are the biggest unique things that stand out about each place?

I’ve been to Split and Ljubljana for longish stretches and Zagreb for a day. Split feels very hip to me. I was there in the winter and it still felt very bustling (but in a good way, not an overcrowded way). The culture is very conservative and Catholic, but everyone’s very extremely friendly. Plenty of young people around and some good hip bars in the center to go to. I met a few great people on Couchsurfing.org, which seems to have a healthy community there. Very walkable/ferryable/busable. I loved the fresh markets and how cheap everything was. Loved the warmish weather even in Nov/Dec. Really liked the laid back vibe of the people.

Ljubljana feels less beachy and more put-together. It’s also a bit more cost-wise (though not expensive by any stretch of the imagination). Very touristy in the summertime and felt like a diverse mix of ages. There are some great burger joints along the river that seem to attract a young crowd. And everyone speaks English, which makes it way easy to get around if you don’t speak Slovenian (which most of us don’t, I assume). Food festivals in the summer are epic (burgers and beers = yes, please). Friendliness is over-the-top (sometimes too much, honestly, when you just want some introvert time). And the city is perfectly walkable due to both its layout and small size.

Zagreb also felt walkable, though I wasn’t there long. The main strip wasn’t as lively as I expected in the evening, but I could have been there on an off time.

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Hi asin.sam, I was recently in the Balkans for about a month. The Croatian coast is gorgeous but relatively pricey and touristy in high season. Split and Hvar are great, but for something a little cheaper and less touristy you might try Zadar. I’ve never been to Zagreb or Slovenia (the latter is in the schengen area and I’m rationing my remaining visa days until they reset). Sarajevo was a surprise! It’s incredibly cheap and drop dead gorgeous, nestled in beautiful green hills. It felt like Switzerland. It has a weird mix of Turkish and Austrian architecture, and for not much money you could live large downtown in a beautiful Austrian apartment with high ceilings. In general I think the food in the Balkans isn’t great, though they’re certainly proud of it. The people are warm and friendly. Memory of the war hangs in the air (and pock-marks the buildings), but everyone I spoke to was quick to say that they hold no grudges. Bosniac culture was explained to me with this joke: “You say to a Bosniac: want some alcohol? They say ‘sure.’ Want some pills? ‘Sure.’ Women? ‘Sure.’ Want some pork? ‘No thank you, I’m Muslim.’” If you want a night life, Sarajevo is decent for its size, but its highlights are really the low cost of living, incredible views, rich history, and hiking. If you are a party animal or want a bigger city with a view of the water, then Belgrade is your place - though it’s not as cheap as Sarajevo.

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Hey sorry I should have read your query more closely when I replied. For future brides, imo the girls in Split and Belgrade are knockouts. Less so in Bosnia, but that’s a matter of personal taste. Any of those three towns are very walkable. The nice thing about Bosnia and Serbia is a cab costs almost nothing. I really like cheap places - not because I’m frugal, but because I like to live like a sultan whenever I can lol. I was in Split for the high season and while Ultra was going on, so it was pretty wild, but I imagine the coast dies down in the off season. In Belgrade everybody lives with their parents, so young people get out as much as they can.

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Hey @asin.sam

I’ve travelled to Prague. Budapest and Slovenia for a week each (Ljubljana for a day). While not ideal, I’ll throw in my experiences as they might be helpful.

Prague is a really touristy city - I’m sure Old Town is full of tourists even in winter! But the rest of the city feels nice - very youthful (I guess the older people stay outside the city and commute), very walkable with its subway system and people seemed friendly for a touristy city. A lot of expats seem to prefer Brno though, which is similar to Prague but minus the tourists.

Budapest also gets lots of tourists but it’s bigger and its attraction aren’t all at one place so it doesn’t feel that touristic. It’s a much more older crowd compared to Prague and I felt that people there were much more ruder to outsiders especially if you can’t speak the local language but it seems to have a thriving expat community (I guess because it is so cheap).

Ljubljana is actually a very small city and if you’re used to big cities and nightlife - it can feel like a small town to you. Probably much more harder to find your future bride in Ljubljana compared to Prague and Budapest. The main advantage of Ljubljana I would say are access to so many beautiful lakes and mountains within Slovenia as well as beaches in Italy and Croatia. And Slovenes are hands down the most friendliest people in Europe :slight_smile:

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Thanks for the great answers, guys! I have a few follow-up questions if you don’t mind!

@greenhorn, I’ll look more into Brno, as I’ve already heard such great things about Prague. Fortunately, the small size of Ljubljana isn’t a concern for me, because size-wise it’s practically the same as Bergen, Norway, which is one of my favorite cities in the world. I can be happy in big cities, but I’m just as, if not more, in smaller cities!

I love that the main topic of this thread is becoming finding me a bride… join the club of my friends and therapist who are constantly worried about me and my love life! Are you saying that Is the main reason why Ljubljana would be harder to find a wifey is because it’s smaller? Or is there another factor? I love the sound of beautiful lakes and mountains, but even more, I’d be excited to meet the friendliest people in Europe. Why do you describe them as the friendliest people?

@kevin.frei, wow that’s a really tempting description of Sarajevo. You really moved it up my list as a place that’s at least worth a visit. For some reason I think I had a misconception that it was a bit uglier and more polluted. I’m by no means a party animal, I’ve never even been to a nightclub, but I definitely like the idea of having cool coffee shops and bars where I might actually strike up conversations with people I don’t know. In my limited nomading experience so far, there were some cities where I ended up making a bunch of local friends and integrating into the culture a little, and others where I didn’t, and that’s probably the most important thing to me (especially since I am already picking from great cities with a lot of history and nature). Also, I hear you on wanting to live like a Sultan :slight_smile:, that was definitely a fun part of being in Saigon.

@gigigriffis, I’ve actually read your posts elsewhere on this site haha, I think you’re a big part of how I got turned onto Ljubljana in the first place! Out of curiosity, could you go into more detail on what makes Split feel “hip.” I think I’m into that, just curious for more info. Also, how does the conservative, Catholic culture manifest itself? I’m certainly not licentious or wild, but I am pretty liberal, easy-going, and generally skeptical of manners/religion/snootiness etc. Also, what’s the deal with the over-the-top friendliness… are people like in your face trying to help you with stuff? Just very outgoing? Do you have any funny anecdotes :smile:?

Aww, that’s great! I love Ljubljana. Glad to be an ambassador for it.

When I say hip in relation to Split, I mean that the people are young and well-dressed, stylish, and there are coffee shops with cute, modern, pinteresty-interiors. Bars have interesting layouts and furnishings that feel young and eclectic (at least the very few bars I went to), and I heard lots of murmurs about there being good dancing in town (though I never went). Little burger joints abound.

It is an interesting dichotomy: Split feels hip and young in some ways, but it’s also an incredibly ancient city and the architecture and city itself feels old, well-kept, and grounded.

I’m also pretty liberal and laid back and I got along well there. But the Catholic culture comes through in the fact that many, if not most, people do attend mass on Sundays, conservative dress is the rule of the day, and the liberal locals I met all bemoaned the culture for not letting loose more. They’re also very traditional in a few ways that might be important to note, especially if you are dating there. One is that the man always pays for the meal, even if it’s just a male and female friend dining out. People got really weird and maybe a little offended when I tried to pay and I think the women there would be shocked if you didn’t pick up the tab. The people I met weren’t religious for the most part, but they talked a bit about how much they feel it in their culture, so possibly it’s worth noting. Just like anywhere, you can find your own little enclave of people.

As for the over-the-top friendliness in Ljubljana, people just go way out of their way to help you and if you’re an introvert, sometimes it gets to feel overwhelming. But whoever said these are the friendliest people in Europe was right! My landlord, when I arrived, had invited a friend over to welcome me and we all had watermelon (unfortunately I had a horrible headache from the travel day and had a really hard time getting those sweet ladies to leave so that I could lay down). Things like that. They are amazingly friendly, and just expect everyone to hang out with you whether you want them to or not. :slight_smile:

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I also agree with @kevin.frei. The girls in Split are stunners. If I was batting for the other team, I’d hang out there.

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Btw guys please log this in your brains and set a reminder for next year: Edinburgh in August for the Fringe Festival is the best place on Earth, bar none. Actually it may be my favorite city year-round, but during the festival there’s no contest!

@asin.sam - Ljubljana isn’t as “cosmopolitan” or “international” as cities such as Prague or Budapest (or even possibly Split even though I’ve never been there). I don’t mean that in any sort of negative sense, it is just that I am struggling to find a better word to describe it. So they are a lot less opportunities to interact with the opposite gender in a “dateable”(? - one again struggling for a better word) setting - a lot less trendy bars or coffee shops where the young crowd hangs out, a lot less social groups or activities or meetups that you can join in on weekends and meet people. You are more likely to find yourself at dinner at some family’s house on a Saturday evening rather than at a bar with friends.

As for the friendliness of Slovenes, I think you’ll find that most non touristy cities are generally friendly in general since they don’t suffer from “tourist fatigue” which is lots of tourists trying to chat them up in hopes of getting an “authentic local experience”. Slovenes just step it up a notch to be a friendliest of all them. Not sure why, guess it’s something in their culture that dictates they must be good hosts. :).

@gigigriffis, you and @kevin.frei are really selling me on this beautiful women thing ;).

Thanks for the followup! I appreciate the clarification on it being hip, that sounds like what I thought you meant, and exactly what I think I’m looking for (except for the dancing, since I’m far too shy, and the good burgers because vegetarian :slight_smile: ). It does sound like a really interesting dichotomy, not only with the town being old, but also between that “hip”, “young” vibe, and with conservative, religious culture. I’m not sure if I’d be happy there, but it sounds very intriguing!

@greenhorn, I get what you’re saying better, now, thanks for the clarification! The dateable coffee shop thing I think is a huge thing for me, which goes along with what @gigigriffis was saying about Split being hip. Like, I think an ideal DN experience for me is:

The first few days: Walk around a ton the first few days and get a feel for different neighborhoods and specific bars and coffee shops and so on.

Every other day: Go into my favorite coffee shop and set up to work (where ideally I’m a regular and I can chat with the employees). For example, in Bergen, there was this little “book cafe” that had fresh cinnamon buns every few hours, with cute furniture, a piano, tons of books, and a lot of young people. Ideally, a lot of people come in and out during the day, and maybe I end up having a conversation with one or two. I just want to meet people and hopefully find people that I have a good vibe with. If I’ve made friends, at night it’d be fun to go to bars or play a board game or something like that.

So, given that, maybe fewer interesting coffee shops and bars where people hang out could be a big detriment to me. But, I really only need a few, so maybe I could get by? And, the friendliness thing sounds really ideal to me. Ljubljana sounds very “me.” A lot of the positives, and actually the negatives as well, apply to Bergen, I think, and I’m obsessed with Bergen. I think I’d really appreciate the friendly culture. Coming up with descriptors for cultures can be so tricky, especially because there are a lot of different ways to be friendly and subtle shades of differences across cultures, and then of course, like you said, there are always enclaves of all sorts of people everywhere.

@kevin.frei, Edinburgh is actually extremely extremely high on my list! I’m a bit put off by the cost, but I guess with the brexit and everything it looks like the whole UK is down in price on this site at least. I’ll note it for August of next year if not sooner :slight_smile:.

Anyways, thanks for all the help guys! Any further advice is welcome, as well, as I am always changing my plans. I think right now all 3 of these cities sound amazing. I’ll probably start in Split (although now I wanna look up other coastal cities in Croatia as well), and see how I’m feeling after a week or 2. Sarajevo and Ljubljana are pretty close by, so I would still go check them out, either for a quicker trip if I’m absolutely loving Split and making friends, or set up there for an extended period if I’m not quite as much. Edinburgh, Prague, Stockholm, and Copenhagen are probably my main follow-up destinations if I end up not feeling fulfilled in the Balkans!

Do you ever feel like a mute in any of these countries / cities in Eastern Europe not speaking the language?

We’re finishing 1 month in #Belgrade and it’s great ! People are cool and speak english, cool cafés everywhere, great weather… We’re staying in Dorcol area and there are 4 or 5 nice cafés, a japanese bar and a nice restaurant within 2 blocks. For the party people it seems excellent too (floating bars and clubs, bars everywhere, many with gardens…)

Ljubljana is small but cute and a bit hype-ish :slight_smile: I would try Kamnik next time…

Ljubljana does have plenty of coffee shops. It’s just a smaller city (which I prefer). Look out for the coffee shop where some of the tables have swings instead of chairs. So fun. There’s also this older rustic kind of place where the owner is obsessed with good coffee back by the tourism office. I forget the name, but I bet you could find it by asking the tourist office.

Hey @gigigriffis, yeah, honestly I’d imagine it’ll have plenty of coffee shops for me. I’m so torn about which city to start in (and also about Prague and Edinburgh and Berlin and the rest of the world)! The coffee shop with swings sounds really fun, I appreciate the tip! I’ll let you know if and when I get over there!

I also saw your tip about that little town in Mexico on another thread, sounds great as well!

I’m not going to comment on the women part because that’s just a bit too creepy sex tourist for my tastes, but I will give another vote for Sarajevo. It is a great city to be in.

@wanderingdev, hope it didn’t come off too creepy, wasn’t really asking about looks as much as asking about dating culture and so on! I’d love to get over to Sarajevo, thanks for the tip!