Last year, I had the privilege of visiting this beautiful city with a good friend of mine while making a mini trip through Kosovo and Macedonia. Many people overlook Kosovo as a travel destination because of its turbulent history from the late 1990s. It has only been a country for a little more than a decade and only recognized by 2/3s of the UN member state. Kosovo carries different connations and sparks many debates, and many leave it out of their travel plans. This needs to change. From a non-political standpoint, everyone traveling through the Balkans should not miss giving Kosovo a chance., especially Prizren.
What makes Prizen so unique?
Prizren is the second largest city in Kosovo with around 160,000 in the metropolitan area. The pronunciation makes it sound like you are saying ” Prison.” I got a giggle when I was hanging out with the owner of the hostel and his friend who told me ” In prison, we speak Turkish.” I believed for a minute that they were cellmates or something and spoke Turkish for privacy. It turns out Prizren has a significant Turkish minority. You can see almost as many Turkish flags as you can with Albanian and Kosovo flags. The majority of the residents are ethnically Albanian. There are a few pockets of Bosnian and Roma minorities. It used to be home to a home to a substantial Serbian community as well. Prizren is still a diamond in the rough. While Prizren gets more tourists than anywhere else in Kosovo, the number of people going to Kosovo is much smaller than the rest of the Balkans. The city is still very unspoiled and quite affordable. The town is great to visit any time of the year. My friend went again later in the winter and was just as pleased. Prizren has a rich history as it was part of being part of many different empires. It was part of the Byzantine, Ottoman, and Serbian empires. It was part of Yugoslavia. It has been its autonomous region. The owner of the hostel I stayed in showed us five different passports he has had in his life. He was not even forty-five years old. The people of Prizren are very laid back, friendly and hospitable. They can be seen drinking Turkish tea and coffee like water and socializing with one another. They are quite helpful. Every time I was staring off in space, someone would ask me if I am lost and need help. Sometimes they would invite me to their table to talk or have a drink with them. It wasn’t in a ” Hey come here and let me sell you some stuff or waste your time,” but more of a “come over here and hang out” manner. They were pretty good with foreign languages, my friend and I were able to get by in speaking English or German. I even met a guy at the bus stop that knew basic Czech. The people are also helpful even in a situation where a common language was absent as well. A sweet old lady that only spoke Albanian was super reasonably to me in a shop, thanks to a little patience, lousy sign language, and google images. Prizren also is surrounded by the Shar beautiful mountains. If you climb to certain overlooks, you can see three countries. My friend and I hiked back into the woods a bit and saw some breathtaking sites. The further back you go, its supposed to be even better.
What are the best things to do there?
Visit the Prizren fortress
The Kalijaja fortress dates back to the 11th century. It used to serve as the capital of the Serbian empire. It takes about 15 minutes by foot from the city center. It’s a little bit of a climb, but nothing too strenuous and worth it. This fortress serves a great viewpoint to the city and the surrounding mountains. There is a small cafe about 3/4s so you can stop for a beer or coffee on your way back and take in the view.
Go for a hike in the Shar mountains
This can be done in a couple of different ways. Option 1: You can hike beyond the fortress. This is the more simple way for those like me that are not exactly mountaineers. It also requires less planning if you don’t have your car. There are several different trails you can take. They can take you pretty far back. You can also opt for a simple stroll and take in the scenery.
Option 2: For those who are hungry for more, you can visit the Shar mountain national park. The easiest way is to drive there. As far as I know, there aren’t minibusses going there. You can negotiate a taxi ride there and find a guide from your hotel or hostel to take you.
Have tea next to the Sinan Pasha Mosque
This Ottoman mosque was built in the 17th century and is situated smack in the middle of Prizren. The mosque is one of the most beautiful I have seen, and there is a lovely garden next to it where you can enjoy some Turkish tea, and people watch. I would recommend this as either a starting point or ending point for exploring the old town.
Enjoy the nightlife
Prizren has no shortages of cafes and bars to keep you occupied in the evening. You can also eat pretty late there. You can get a good meal for less than 5 euros as well. Places stay open late and locals love to go out and socialize. They are always interested in talking to you. Beer and Rakija flow as much as the Turkish tea in this town.
How do I get there?
Prizren can easily be reached from Pristina by bus in a couple of hours. You can also reach it via Skopje or Tirane by bus reasonably easily. There is even a connection from Istanbul. You can easily pair Prizren with a trip to Northern Albanian or Macedonia.