The Balkan coastline is home to several culturally vibrant countries that have immense natural beauty. Their breathtaking beaches have turquoise waters, rocky coves, and rugged mountain backdrops. A rich history and nearby ancient ruins add a dose of adventure once you’ve had your fill of rest and relaxation on the pebble and sand beaches. From Croatia to Greece, here is a collection of our favorite beaches in the Balkans!
From the moment I stepped off the ferry in Hvar it was love at first sight… crystal clear water, a bustling but not too bustling main square, delicious-looking restaurants, outdoor cafes lining the perimeter of the square, and quaint colorful boats. Start your mornings with an early jog along the boardwalk, then sip a cappuccino in main square while you watch tourists hurrying by, and spend the remainder of your day cruising around the islands on your tiny but productive boat. Ahoy matey!
- If you’ve been traveling for a bit and miss the comforts of a good old fashioned American-ish meal like I did, you’ll love Fig Cafe Bar which is owned by Jeff, a friendly American with loads of outrageous stories. If you’re lucky he’ll sit at the table next to you, drinking a beer and regaling you with stories of his travels. Try any one of the delicious flatbreads and the hummus with root vegetables still holds the award for best dish I consumed while in the Balkans.
- Konoba Menego is a traditional Dalmatian restaurant that has a strict “no pizza, no Coca-cola” rule. Order a liter of house wine and the chef’s surprise and prepare to be amazed.
If you are looking for a spacious apartment a bit outside of the main square with stunning sea views, then Pataks Place Hotel is your new home away from home. With two bedrooms, a living room area, a well-equipped kitchen, and an amazing balcony, you might just not want to leave. The hotel host can arrange to pick you up from the square if the 15 minute walk seems too daunting with your luggage. There is also a small market just two blocks away in case you opt to stay in and cook while you’re there.
If you are looking for more budget accommodations, Jeff from Fig Restaurant also owns a hostel which we didn’t get a chance to see but seemed to be quite popular with the backpacking scene.
If you don’t want to venture too far, there are numerous small, rocky beaches along the boardwalk that runs between Pataks Place Hotel and the main square. There are also several bars offering comfortable lounge chairs to relax in while enjoying your extremely overpriced cocktail. If you are looking for a more secluded and relaxing beach experience, read on to the “adventure” section.
For the bargain price of 400 kuna (~$60 USD) you can hire your own private 5 horsepower boat for day (including gas) from HvarBoats. Arrive early, listen while they give you a 5-minute lesson on how to actually drive the boat, take the hand-drawn map that they offer, and set out to sea captain! If you follow the advised route you’ll pass a few beaches where you can rent beach chairs or private cabanas or enjoy a meal at the lovely little remote restaurants. Then find your own private beach in a calm and secluded bay, tie up, and spend the afternoon drinking local Croatian rose, swimming in the cold but incredibly clear water, and lounging on a rocky outcropping (since you won’t find any sandy beaches in Croatia).
If you are looking for an early morning hiking adventure, head up to the fort for stunning city views and a little dose of history.
On the boardwalk just outside of the main square you’ll find several stands selling unique local jewelry and a variety of lavender products. Pick up a few decadent-smelling soaps for your loved ones back home!
Himare is a quaint little beach town nestled about halfway between Vlore and Sarande on the riviera. The town center is right off the beach boardwalk and is littered with darling restaurants, cafes, and boutiques. You can lounge on the main beach in town where many locals hangout or take a short taxi ride to several more secluded beaches in the area. Grab a beer at one of the restaurants at sunset and watch as children ride by on bikes and the locals enjoy music and some occasional dancing.
- Delicious mussels with a view of the sea at sunset at Esperia.
- There are two kebab restaurants in the center of town – one with orange tables and the other with red – both serve warm flat bread gyros overfilling with fresh veggies and perfectly seasoned meat. Grab one to-go on your way to the beach!
Beleri House is a darling guesthouse just 2 blocks away from the center of town with a superb balcony with breathtaking views of the sea. They have a communal kitchen where they make fresh burek every morning for guests as well as American coffee (in an actual coffee pot! The only place we found coffee pot coffee in the Balkans). They also have eggs, bread, jam, cheese, and butter available for the taking.
Gjipe Beach is a beautiful beach with crystal clear water surrounded by limestone cliff walls and has been hailed the best beach in the area. You can hire a cab there and back for 3,000 leke (~$25 USD). They will drop you off at the trail head and then set a time to pick you back up later in the day and then it’s a 30 minute scenic walk down to the beach. Stop and take a few pictures once the beach comes into view. Be sure to pack snacks, water, and any other beach necessities as there are no amenities on the beach.
If you want to stretch your legs a bit before your lounging beach day, head to Livadhi Beach, about 2 kilometers from the town. The trail is occasionally marked and I would highly recommend tennis shoes as the trail is rocky. Several hotels have inviting lounge chairs that you can rent for the day for 300-500 leke (~$2.50-4 USD) and since the beach is so large and not at all crowded, you’ll feel like you have your own little piece of paradise all to yourself!
Himare has a few cute but expensive boutiques along the beach boardwalk. There is also a fairly large grocery store to stock up on snacks for the beach and a few small fruit markets with the freshest produce around.
Ksamil is a very small town just 25 minutes south of Sarande. From what we gathered there is a main “tourist area” filled with hotels and restaurants overlooking the beach but the actual town is quite a bit larger but set inland. What’s especially special about Ksamil is that if you’re like us and have been heading south from Croatia in the Balkans you’ll be beyond excited to have finally found beaches covered in sand! Find your favorite scenic beach, rent a chair, and spent your day lounging under your sunbrella only taking a break to rent a paddle board with a built-in slide for some adventures at sea!
- Brother’s Taverna is a small restaurant that serves local Albanian and Greek dishes by the most adorable couple. Their English is limited, but they have one menu written in English. Order the homemade tzatziki, a plate of pita, the stuffed pepper, and a piece of moussaka. If you go for an early dinner they shouldn’t be super busy and may sit across the table from you, enjoying a coffee, and attempting through hand gestures to tell you they’ve been married for 40 happy years.
- Pretty much all of the beaches in Ksamil are covered in beach chairs belonging to one restaurant or another. You can rent a chair for the day for 500 leke (~$4 USD) or you can have a delicious lunch of seafood spaghetti at Tre Ishujt and they’ll throw in your beach chair for free!
Ksamil is a top tourist destination so you can easily find lovely accommodations, no matter your budget. We were trying to stick to $30 USD or less during our Balkans adventure so we opted for Villa Oden which is in a fantastic location in between the main road and the beach. The room leaves a little something to be desired but the host is a darling woman who brought us fresh plums and offered to wash our clothes. For the price, you really cannot beat it. Plus, you’ll be spending all of your time on the beach so a lavish room would really just be a waste.
We did a pretty thorough investigation of the beach situation before settling on our preferred beach chairs. The beach directly in front of Tre Ishujt Restaurant was the most popular so don’t expect to have the beach to yourself but you can insure you’ll have a great people watching experience.
About 4 kilometers outside of Ksamil you will find a world from another world. Several worlds actually. Inhabited since prehistoric times, Butrint has been the site of a Greek colony, a Roman city, and a bishopric. It is now an incredibly well-preserved archaeological site of ruins inside of a national park, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can catch a local bus to the site, a taxi that should cost 700 leke one-way, or if you are looking for a bit of exercise you can walk along the main road which dead ends at the park.
After paying the 50 leke entrance fee, spend the next hour or so wandering around the ruins, reading the incredible history of the site on the placards along the way, and enjoy the peaceful tranquility of the lake. With the occasional pack of wild pigs running around nearby. Go later in the day to avoid the hot sun – the lavish forest around you will provide some shade but most of the ruins are uncovered.
Most of the shops in the area are selling various water toys including snorkel gear and fun animal themed floaties. The water is clear and calm but cold – just perfect for an afternoon at sea atop an inflatable alligator.
Corfu is a Greek island that straddles the Albania/Greece border. We could look across the sea from Ksamil and see it’s lush landscape. We met several people who had been to Corfu and raved about the beautiful beaches and diverse landscape so it didn’t take much convincing for us to book the 2 hour ferry ride from Sarande.
Just across the street from the ferry dock are several car rental companies so you can explore everything the island has to offer at your own pace for about 30 euros/day.
- While touring the south end of the island, stop at Alonaki Bay Restaurant for beautiful sea views and delicious eggplant salad.
- If you’re spending the afternoon lounging at Kassiopi Beach, be sure to stop by Limani which sits right on the water and has comfortable seats, a super friendly staff, and a mouthwatering salmon wrap. Get a filtered coffee and they will bring out a french press so you can lounge in the shade before heading back to the beach.
- If you’re looking for a prime sunset spot, the views of Paleokastraitsa Beach from Gialos Restaurant are fantastic! The smurf salad and cheese-stuffed mushrooms were to die for.
- If you’re looking for a “traditional” Greek experience, Corfu may be a bit on the touristy side for you. But if you’re looking for a fun, sort-of cheesy good time, be sure to check out the live music and Greek dancing (“complete with plate smashing”!) at Delphi Restaurant in Agios Gordios. Dinner reservations are at 8pm and the dancing starts around 9:30pm.
Marina Apartments are located in the Agios Gordios area on the West side of the island. The rooms are spacious and have small kitchens as well as lovely balconies overlooking the courtyard. The main attraction of the apartments is the incredibly large and inviting pool complete with swim-up bar.
We stopped at many beaches during our 3 days on Corfu and drove miles of scenic coastline and came away with our two favorite lounge locations; Paleokastritsa Beach and Kassiopi Bay.
Paleokastritsa Beach actually has several different beach options in the same area and you really can’t go wrong with any of them. This spot is particularly nice as you have an option of a sandy beach or a pebbly beach depending on your preference. The town is really quite small but there are several nice hotels overlooking the water where you can enjoy a tasty meal and a glass of wine while watching the sun set over the water.
Once you feast your eyes on Bataria Beach in Kassiopi Bay there’s no way you can turn down a dip in the amazingly calm, turquoise water. The beach is in a small cove dotted with rocks that are ideal for lounging in the shade. Buy a floatie at a local shop and spend a few hours relaxing here – it’s the loveliest beach in all of Corfu!
Rent a car during your time on Corfu (or better yet, rent a 4-wheeler!) and cruise around to the many beautiful beaches and interesting landmarks. We hit the south end of the island on our first day and the north end the second day but we found it pretty difficult to see so much and still make time for beach lounging. Pick your top 4 or 5 spots and take your time at each of them. Our favorite adventure destination was Cape Drastis near Canal D’Amour – park at the top unless you have 4-wheel drive and hike the 1 kilometer or so down to the water. Have a swim or take a boat ride around the cape – it’s truly spectacular!
The center of Corfu Town is a sea of meandering alleyways that are teeming with shops selling local (and not so local) wares. Flowing white lace dresses, bright woven printed bags, fringed beach towels, and Panama hats seem to be the most popular goods of the area. Plan on spending an entire afternoon here but take occasional breaks to check out the beautiful churches and parks in the area.
While Kotor isn’t what one would normally think of as a “beach town”, it is quite spectacular with it’s city walls looming over the old town that overlook the Bay of Kotor. Rent a car to explore the neighboring towns, mausoleums, and national parks of Montenegro. The country is relatively small and the scenery in unbelievable.
- Tanjga is an unassuming, inexpensive, and busy restaurant serving a variety of fresh meat that is cooked to order. If you find the menu to be too overwhelming, as we did, ask the friendly guy behind the counter for his preferred platter and you most definitely won’t be disappointed!
- About 12 kilometers north of Kotor is Perast where you will find loads of darling restaurants serving delicious seafood with sunset views of the bay. We opted for mushroom risotto and salmon linguine at Caffe Djardin and while the portions were on the smaller side, it was some of the best seafood we had in all of the Balkans.
- Enjoy a lazy lunch while enjoying live music at Scorpio Restaurant. Their spaghetti carbornara is magnificent.
Sadly I would be hesitant to recommend the room that we stayed in during our time in Kotor. We found lodging in the old town to be a bit pricey and opted for a budget option. While most budget hotels have their slight issues, we couldn’t find a single thing we liked about our room. So go forth and research on Booking.com and hope for better luck than we had!
While not a classic lounging destination, Perast is a small town just 12 kilometers outside of Kotor which is just perfect for a relaxing day along the bay. Take the 10-minute boat ride to see the Our Lady of the Rocks church – a man-made island that was created from captured and sunken ships. 30 minutes is plenty of time to wander around the island and have a peek at the artwork inside of the church.
Afterwards enjoy a stroll through the small town and then snack on fresh seafood at one of the many restaurants right on the water for an amazing sunset.
Rising up from the old city of Kotor are the extraordinary and expansive fort walls. It’s a fairly grueling hike to the top but there are plenty of places to stop along the way for amazing photos of the views or to explore the ruined rooms covered in overgrown foliage. The views at the top are spectacular and definitely worth climbing the hundreds of stairs to witness.
If by the time you reach the top you’ve got some energy left, you can check out the backside of the fort by ducking through a small window on the side of the main trail (marked by red and white painted trail markers). If you continue beyond the fort you’ll pass a darling little restaurant that sells goat cheese plates, beer, and overpriced bottled water but he’ll let you munch on all of the cherries you can pick and carry from his many cherry trees. Continue on up the series of switchbacks for even more spectacular views of the fort walls, the old city, and the expansive bay beneath.
If you are in the mood for shopping, fear not! You’ve come to the right place. The old city of Kotor is a maze of alleyways that are filled with restaurants and shops selling all of the classic Montenegrin treasures you could hope for.
There you have it! Eat, sleep, lounge, adventure and shop your heart out!