As you might have seen in my recent Pristina travel guide, this up-and-coming capital city isn’t exactly chock-full of major tourist attractions. That’s why, when we found ourselves with some spare time, we decided to see what else Europe’s youngest country has to offer.
One of the cool things about Kosovo is that there’s a whole lot of cultural and natural wonders to discover just a short trip away. After doing some online research and seeing reports about rising tensions in Mitrovica, we decided on a day trip to Prizren instead.
As one of the oldest cities in Kosovo and the western Balkans, Prizren is the place to visit if you want to peek into the country’s complex past. So, let me take you on a journey and show you some of the best places to see in Prizren in a day. From a Bronze Age fortress looking out over the city, through multiple medieval mosques and churches, to modern coffee houses and shops, there’s something for everyone!
How to get from Pristina to Prizren
Unless you have a car, the best way to get from Pristina to Prizren is by hopping on a bus. The website I found most reliable for checking timetables in the Balkans is Balkan Viator. However, as Kosovo’s second-largest city, Prizren is a really popular spot among locals. There are more buses running than what you’ll find online, roughly every 15 to 20 minutes. This means it’s always a good idea to double-check directly at the Pristina Bus Station, just like we did.
To get to the station, we used public transport, which cost €0.40 for a single ticket. Once you’re on the bus, just take a seat and wait for the ticket seller to come to you. One thing we always did was to let them know where we were heading. This way, since we were usually the only tourists on board, they always made sure we got off at the right stop, as there are no bus stop announcements.
The journey from Pristina to Prizren takes about 2 hours, and we paid €5 each way. One interesting thing I noticed about travelling on buses in Kosovo is that the bus driver would stop whenever someone flagged them down. So, even if you missed your bus at the station, you could still hop on (or off) anywhere along the route!
Why is Prizren worth visiting?
As the historical capital of Kosovo, the city of Prizren has changed hands multiple times throughout the centuries. From Romans to Byzantines to Ottomans and Serbians, its cultural heritage has been shaped by a unique mix of cultures and religions. You can now see this rare blend as you wander around the city. I mean, how many places can you think of that have a mosque, an Orthodox Church, and a Roman Catholic Church standing side by side in perfect harmony?
Prizren also remains one of the key craft centres in the Balkans. Back in the day, it was linked to the Silk Road, connecting Pristina, Skopje, Tirana, and Montenegro. As a result, many different kinds of crafts were developed in the city, reaching the maximum of 124 (!) in the second half of the 19th century. Today, the most popular handicraft in Prizren is creating filigree jewellery, with several family businesses working hard to keep this centuries-old tradition alive.
Prizren is also sometimes called the “museum under the open sky” due to its archeological heritage, with historians saying that it’s a city where every stone has a story to tell. The stunning mountains and picturesque bridges over the Bistrica River that splits the city make you want to uncover them all. And, to top it off, there are also several festivals taking place in the city, including the International Documentary and Short Film Festival, DokuFest.
So, now that it’s hopefully on your bucket list, let’s check out some of the best things to do in Prizren…
What to do in Prizren
Have a tasty breakfast at Prince Coffee House
One thing we noticed about many cafés in Pristina was that while they opened early, they didn’t start serving breakfast until later (typically 10 or 11 am). That’s why the first thing on our agenda when we got to Prizren was finding somewhere to eat.
The most popular coffee chain in Kosovo is Prince Coffee House, so we decided to give it a go. With over 50 coffee recipes and coffee shops in places like NYC or Vienna, we thought they must be doing something right. Plus, its location right by the waterfront makes it the perfect spot to sit and people watch.
We got some iced coffees and panini sandwiches with Prosciutto ham, tomatoes, mozzarella, lettuce, and pesto. For dessert, we decided to try the traditional Trilece cake, which is a light sponge cake that’s soaked in 3 different types of milk. They also gave us a Balkan-style raffaello on the house, which was absolutely brilliant since it’s one of my favourite treats! Everything was really tasty and super affordable, so I would highly recommend Prince Coffee House to anyone visiting Prizren.
One thing I didn’t like about this place was the number of Roma children that came up to us begging for money. Roma Albanians often cross the Kosovo border illegally and exploit their children for money. They force them to spend entire days asking for money in the streets, often at the cost of their education and safety. It’s a big problem in Kosovo that’s especially evident in Prizren, and it’s really sad to see.
Cross the historic Old Stone Bridge
While there are multiple bridges connecting the two sides of Prizren, the Old Stone Bridge is the city’s symbol. Built sometime between the end of the 15th and the start of the 16th century, it played a big part in the development of trade and life in the city.
The original Ottoman-style bridge was destroyed during the flood of 1979. As the people of Prizren were emotionally attached to it, it was rebuilt 3 years later.
As you travel around the Balkans, the design of this bridge might seem familiar. After all, you can find similar ones in Mostar or even Skopje. Still, you can’t miss it when you’re in Prizren, as it’s right in the city centre. I personally like it because of the view of the hillside houses, the Sinan Pasha Mosque, and the Prizren Fortress in the background. It’s the perfect photo spot, as you can get all of Prizren’s biggest landmarks in one frame.
Explore the rich heritage of the Church of the Holy Saviour
The next stop on our Prizren itinerary was a hike up to the Prizren Fortress. The route begins next to the Sinan Pasha Mosque, which I’m about to tell you more about later. About halfway through your walk, you can see the ruins of the Church of the Holy Saviour, a 14th-century Serbian Orthodox Church.
From the outside, it might look like a fully intact church, but its roof and interior were completely destroyed during the unrest in Kosovo in 2004. To prevent further damage, they locked the gate and started restricting access to the church.
Some people online mentioned they had to pay a €2 entrance fee to get in. Considering it’s a disused church, I personally found this a little strange. When we arrived, we were the only people there and the gates were wide open. There were also no donation boxes in sight, so we just went in.
Shortly after we finished admiring the old frescoes and taking footage, a group of people arrived to start setting up furniture for some kind of a special event, so we got incredibly lucky!
I suppose it’s even more special when you’re exploring with a guide who can recount the story from a local’s perspective. Still, if you’re in the area, I’d highly recommend making a stop at the Church of the Holy Saviour. Plus, you get a stunning panoramic view of Prizren from there!
Climb to the top of the Prizren Fortress
It’s a bit of a walk to get to the Prizren Fortress, or Kalaja in Albanian, but the fantastic 360-degree view of Prizren makes it worth the effort. The hike should probably take around 15-20 minutes, but we ended up taking longer as we slowly explored the Church of the Holy Saviour. It was also a scorching hot day, which zapped our energy faster. Don’t worry, though – there’s a small shop selling drinks and ice cream at the top of the hill if you need a refreshment.
Entry to the fortress is free of charge. I find it absolutely fascinating that the site where it stands dates back to the Bronze Age (around 2000 BC), even though the first fortress was built in the 6th century by the Byzantines. Most of what you can currently see is a result of an 18th-century reconstruction, but it’s impressive nevertheless.
If you’re expecting a museum, you won’t find anything other than a few signs at the top. So, if you prefer structured visits, you might be better off finding a guided tour online. Otherwise, if you want to explore at your own pace, I’d say it shouldn’t take you more than an hour.
For more adventurous folks, there are some wooden stairs you can climb up to get to the ledge. There were no restrictions, so you could easily roam around the entire site. I was perfectly content with the tourist paths, but here’s a little sneak peek of what to expect:
Visit the Ottoman Sinan Pasha Mosque
We were initially planning to visit here before our hike, but we heard the call to prayers and decided to return later. I’ve always wanted to visit a mosque, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it. If you’re feeling this way too, the Sinan Pasha Mosque is the perfect place for first-timers.
Before you go in, there’s a sign listing all the rules. First of all, you need to take off your shoes and leave them on the steps. As a woman, I had to cover myself all the way down to my ankles. I brought my own jacket and a shawl, but there was a nice elderly lady inside providing scarves. She also very kindly helped me put it on, which looked much better than anything I would’ve managed!
As the sign outside said no photos, I respectfully kept my camera away. However, the lady approached us and said we could take photos if we wanted to. As we were leaving, she even asked if they turned out okay. It really put me at ease and made me feel welcome.
The 17th-century mosque itself was really beautiful too, with floral patterns and Qur’an verses covering its walls and the dome. Interestingly enough, they used stones from a former Serbian Orthodox monastery for its construction. That’s why parts of the mosque were demolished during the times of the old Yugoslavia. After the liberation, renovation works took place, gradually restoring the mosque to its former glory. If you ever find yourself in Prizren, I’d highly recommend coming in to see the murals and get a feel of the atmosphere.
Which of these places is your favourite? Would you consider visiting Prizren?