Overview

The Balkans :: Introduction

The countries described in this site are all located in Southeast Europe, but that's about the only thing they have in common. I did try to come up with a few general statements for this overview, but the necessary exceptions and clarifications would quickly have sent all my readers to sleep. So I will simply say that the countries of the Balkans have as much and as little in common as any dozen European countries.

The lack of common characteristics hints at an aspect of the region that is very appealing to travellers: the diversity of its people, culture, history, and landscapes. To some extent this reflects my rather broad definition of "the Balkans", in contrast to alternative definitions based on some shared historical experience. But diversity is not just a matter of differences between countries - regional differences are an equally important part of the complex Balkan tapestry. In Serbia, Novi Sad is very different from Novi Pazar; the architecture of Zagreb in Croatia is quite different from that of Dubrovnik; in Romania, the centre of Sibiu looks nothing like the centre of Iaşi.

Planning a trip

Because each Balkan country is so different, most of the practical information in Balkanology can be found in the pages dealing with individual countries. But because most of these countries are quite small, many people like to visit several in a single trip. Here are a few things to bear in mind if you are planning a tour of several countries:

A train trip across the Balkans from Ljubljana to Istanbul takes 34 hours (including a couple of hours waiting for a connection in Belgrade). That's about the same time as a train journey from Berlin to Lisbon, or from Los Angeles to Seattle.

Explore further

The links page lists Internet resources that may be useful in planning a trip to the Balkans; the guidebooks page does the same for printed guides. A tour of the Balkans can be made even more enjoyable by reading the accounts of earlier travellers or studying a little history: the suggested background reading will point you in the right direction. I've also attempted to answer some of the most Frequently Asked Questions about travel in the region.

If you know which country you are interested in, you can go straight to the individual country guides:

Agatha Christie's novel The Secret of Chimneys, published in 1925, neatly summarises the typical Western European view of the Balkans at that time. It features a sinister character from Herzoslovakia, "one of the Balkan states... Principal rivers, unknown. Principal mountains, also unknown, but fairly numerous. Capital, Ekarest. Population, chiefly brigands. Hobby, assassinating kings and having revolutions". Eighty years later, I'm not sure if very much has changed. Balkanology is my modest attempt to encourage a more balanced view.

More photos in my other site: The Balkanology Galleries