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. After spending 3 months traveling through Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, and Greece, we’ve compiled some of our favorite coastal towns to soak up the sun and swim in the Mediterranean Sea.
The rich history of the Balkans means there are plenty of ancient ruins and interesting sights to visit nearby; adding a dose of adventure to your beach vacation once you’ve had your fill of rest and relaxation.
From Croatia to Greece, here is our collection of the best beaches and beach towns in the Balkans!
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The Balkans Best Beaches & Coastal Towns
From the moment we stepped off the ferry in Hvar, it was love at first sight. Crystal clear water, a bustling but not too crowded main square, delicious-looking restaurants, outdoor cafes lining the perimeter of the square, and quaint colorful boats. It’s such a darling little town that’s a must-see destination in Croatia.
On the boardwalk just outside of the main square of Stari Guard, you’ll find several stands selling unique local jewelry and a variety of lavender products. You can pick up a few delicious-smelling soaps for your loved ones back home!
Start your mornings with an early jog along the boardwalk, then sip a cappuccino in main square while you watch tourists hurrying by. Or if If you are looking for an early morning hiking adventure, head up to the fort above Stari Grad for stunning city views and a little dose of history.
And then spend the remainder of your day cruising around the cove and inlets of Hvar and the surrounding islands!
The Best Beaches in Hvar
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 then you should rent your own boat and explore the hidden coves around Hvar!
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).
Where to Eat in Hvar
- 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 the 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.
Where to Sleep in Hvar
If you prefer being able to walk everwhere then you should stay in the towns of Hvar or Stari Grad where you’ll have easy access to lots of great restaurants and shopping. On the other hand, if you’re looking for solitude and relaxation look for apartments and villas on the other parts of the island; for example, the towns of Jelsa or Milna.
If you prefer to stay in a hotel rather than an apartment there are a few really nice options in the town of Hvar. Check out the Amfora Hvar Grand Beach Resort, the Adriana Hvar Spa Hotel, or the Riva Hvar Yacht Harbour Hotel. You’ll also find the Hotel Fortuna in the small town of Milna
Himare (Himarë) is a quaint little beach town nestled about halfway between Vlore and Sarande on the riviera of Albania. The town center is right off the beach boardwalk and is littered with darling restaurants, cafes, and boutiques.
If you’re interested in shopping, 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 plenty of fresh produce.
You can lounge on the main beach (Spille Beach) in town where many locals hang out or drive to the 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.
The Best Beaches in Himare
Sandwiched between tall limestone cliff walls and crystal clear water, Gjipe Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in the Balkans. It’s without a doubt the best beach near Himare. It’s a little more difficult to reach than some of the other beaches in the area but that’s part of its charm.
It’s a 30-minute drive from Himare to the parking area for Gjipe Beach, or if you don’t have your own car you can hire a cab there and back for ~3,000 leke (~$25 USD). They will drop you off at the trailhead and return to pick you up at a pre-arranged time later that day.
From the parking lot, 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, lots of water, sunscreen, and any other beach necessities as there are no amenities on the beach and very little shade.
It’s just a 10-minute drive from Himare to Livadhi Beach, or if you want a bit of exercise and adventure you can walk the 2 kilometers from the town. The route isn’t exactly well-marked but you’ll run into friendly locals that can point you in the right direction. Tennis shoes are recommended as the trail is quite rocky.
There is not much on Livadhi Beach save for a few campgrounds and hotels. If you’re there in high season there will probably be some lounge chairs and umbrellas that you can rent for ~500 leke (~$4 USD). Livadhi Beach is quite large and typically not at all crowded so you’ll feel like you have the Mediterranean paradise all to yourself!
Where to Eat in Himare
- Esperia Restaurant has the best views in town; it looks out over the water at the western end of Spille beach. We highly recommend the mussels, they’re delicious. For the best experience have your hotel call and make a reservation for you at sunset.
- Taverna Lefteri is considered the best restaurant in Himare especially if you’re in the mood for traditional Albanian cuisine. You’ll even get a glass of cinnamon and clove liquor at the end of your meal as a digestif.
- There are also two kebab restaurants in the center of town – one with orange tables and the other with red – both serve warm flatbread gyros overfilling with fresh veggies and perfectly seasoned meat. Grab one to-go on your way to the beach!
Where to Sleep in Himare
Most of the accommodations in Himare are apartments and villas rather than hotel rooms. They are built on the sides of the steep hills at the back of the town. This means that you’ll likely have to climb stairs to reach your apartment, but your reward will be beautiful views of the Albanian riviera!
Ksamil is a very small Albanian town just 25 minutes south of Sarande. There is a main “tourist area” filled with hotels and restaurants overlooking the beach while the actual town is quite a bit larger and set further inland.
What’s especially special about Ksamil is unlike all of the pebble beaches in the Balkans, the beach here is actually covered in soft white SAND!
Find your favorite scenic beach, rent a chair, and spent your day lounging under your sunbrella only taking a break to rent a paddleboard with a built-in slide for some adventures at sea!
The Best Beaches in Ksamil
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 ensure you’ll have a great people-watching experience.
Where to Eat in Ksamil
- 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!
Where to Sleep in Ksamil
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.
Exploring: Butrint National Park
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.
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 all of the great things to do in Corfu at your own pace.
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.
The Best Beaches on Corfu
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!
Where to Eat on Corfu
- 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 Bar 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 at Paleokastraitsa Beach, try Nikos Restaurant.
- If you’re staying in Agios Gordios you must try Sebastian’s Tavern. It’s one of the oldest tavernas in the area and serves amazing Greek cuisine. If you’re going for dinner make sure you make advance reservations.
Where to Sleep on Corfu
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.
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!
If you want to visit the Greek Islands but avoid the crowds try Milos and Folegandros!
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.
Where to Eat
- 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.
Where to Sleep
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!
Where to Shop
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.
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.
There you have it! Eat, sleep, lounge, adventure and shop your heart out at the best beaches in the Balkans!