Less than 24 hours after landing in Eastern Europe, still weary from the long flights that carried us across the Atlantic Ocean and into the Balkans, Adam and I set off on the first of our vacation adventures to spend one day in Kosovo. Even with a brief wait at the border it doesn’t take long to drive between Skopje, where we were staying, and Kosovo. As we chatted with Daniela, our driver, I admired the landscape as it shifted from metropolitan to rural and back again, and as the USA flag appeared on each street corner, waving in a gentle breeze.
I sat up straighter in the back seat of the car. I rubbed my eyes. The Stars and Stripes still waved. As I contemplated what kind of strange dream or time warp I had inadvertently stumbled upon, an enormous banner running the length of a skyscraper caught my eye. “Happy 4th of July, the Independence Day of USA,” it proclaimed. “Kosovo will always be grateful.” I glanced over at Adam, whose smile had widened as he, too, noticed the banner. “They might have more American flags here than we have in Washington, DC!” he observed.
It’s a strange sight to see your country’s flag flying in a foreign land, and we were certainly surprised to see it flying so proudly in Kosovo. While the history and ensuing political relationships are intriguing, there is a lot to see and do within Kosovo’s borders. If your vacation plans will take you to the Balkans, Kosovo is a terrific destination to explore.
If you only have one day to visit Kosovo, here are some of the places and sights you won’t want to miss when building your itinerary!
A Brief History of Kosovo
Kosovo is one of the youngest nations in the world, having declared its independence from Serbia in February 2008. The USA recognized its independence the following day with a declaration from former president George W. Bush. Many other countries soon followed the USA’s lead, and Kosovo credits the USA for helping the fledgling nation win international support. Today, while more than 100 countries recognize Kosovo’s independence, it’s important to know that not every nation does. Most notably, Kosovo’s neighbor to the north, Serbia, considers Kosovo to be part of its territory and rejects its claim to independence. For most visitors, the ongoing negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia will not impact your visit, but it is a good idea to arrive with some knowledge of the tensions that exist and how they can impact the people you meet. For us, it certainly explained the presence of the USA’s flags and declaration of gratitude, a sentiment that seemed to echo throughout the country during our visit just after the 4th of July.
One Day in Kosovo: Pristina
We began our one day in Kosovo with a tour of Pristina (also spelled Prishtina- both are correct), Kosovo’s capital city and the largest city in the country. Pristina’s roots run deep, with evidence of people living in the area as early as 10,000 years ago. We took a walking tour through the city along with a local guide who shared plenty of insights as he escorted us to some of the city’s highlights. It’s a great first destination if you are planning to spend one day in Kosovo.
► Newborn MonumentEnglish is not predominantly spoken in Kosovo, but it’s hard to miss a single English word in enormous block letters in Pristina. The Newborn Monument, which features the word Newborn in 10-foot-tall letters, has stood in place since Kosovo declared its independence. Each year the letters are repainted to reflect a new theme, with some of the most popular themes being a year in which the letters displayed the flags of each country that recognizes Kosovo’s independence and 2018, when the B in Newborn was replaced with the number 10 to honor a decade of sovereignty.
The Newborn Monument is a particularly popular stop for photos, but if you are looking for the perfect Instagram shot be warned: it’s in front of an equally popular stop for trucks delivering packages to nearby buildings, so getting a clear shot might be tricky unless you have some time to spend waiting for vehicles to move. It’s a lovely and popular tribute to the country’s most defining moment, and a must-see stop if you have just one day in Kosovo.
► Monument of Brotherhood and Unity
Three tall pillars that jut into the air comprise the Monument of Brotherhood and Unity in Pristina. Each pillar represents a different group of people from the region, namely the Albanians, Serbs, and Montenegrins, and the pillars are connected in a way that reflects the groups living together in a single community. Kosovo has always existed in a volatile region, where tensions and conflicts have been an ever-present force that can lead to divisiveness. The Monument of Brotherhood and Unity reflects former Yugoslavian president Josip Tito’s desire for harmony and peace between the people in his country. Although Tito’s Yugoslavia no longer exists, the monument still stands, and the message remains important. As you walk through Pristina during your one day in Kosovo, there is a good chance you’ll see the monument.
► Kosovo MuseumThe largest museum in Kosovo is also free, and it’s a highly recommended stop to include if you plan to spend one day in Kosovo. Housed in a gorgeous building that dates back to the late 1800s, the museum’s interior features some impressive historic artifacts that are nicely preserved. The highlight of the collection is the Goddess on the Throne, a terracotta figurine that was most likely formed 8,000 years ago. It is believed to be a female goddess, and it is so highly valued and revered that it is recognized as the symbol of Pristina. Like with any museum, the more time you have to spend exploring the better, but even 20 minutes at the Kosovo Museum to see the Goddess on the Throne will be worth a stop.
► Gracanica Monastery
Gračanica Monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that stands on the ruins of a 6th century basilica as well as a 13th century church, both of which were lost to fire. The monastery was established in 1321, and as history played out around its walls the monastery began to reflect the skirmishes and even wars that plagued what would become Kosovo. Frescas were painted inside as the exterior was damaged during the Great Turkish War. The monastery was bombed twice in 1999 by NATO planes during an assault on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Currently, the Gračanica Monastery is the most important spiritual center for Kosovo’s Serbian Orthodox community. A beautiful example of Serbo-Byzantine architecture, we were glad to have the chance to see it during our one day in Kosovo.
► National Library of Kosovo
If you have just one day in Kosovo and spend some time walking throughout the city, you won’t be able to miss the National Library of Kosovo—mostly because there is no other building like it. A great example of Brutalist architecture, the building looks a bit like a prison cloaked in barbed wire—hardly a place that promotes lifelong learning and education. On top of many sections of the library, white domes that resemble brains do their best to reflect the building’s intent. We stood before it for quite a while, contemplating the style and architectural design choices, as our guide told us it often appears on lists of the ugliest buildings in the world. Ugly didn’t seem like the right word to me; unique was a better fit, but even that description failed to capture the building’s personality. Visitors are welcome inside with identification, but if you have one day in Kosovo it’s worth a stop to admire it from the outside. You’ll be hard-pressed to find another building that resembles it in your travels!
► Bill Clinton StatueFormer US president Bill Clinton was instrumental in helping Kosovo to achieve independence, and the 11-foot tall statue of him on a street corner in Pristina declares the country’s gratitude. In addition, Pristina’s main road also bears his name: in 1999, it was renamed Bill Klinton Boulevard (intentionally misspelled because the letter C does not translate properly in the local language). In addition to the statue, images of former US secretary of state (and his wife) Hillary Clinton adorn banners. We paused to take a few photos of a man who once led our country at the highest level, chuckling at how even his presidential library in Little Rock, Arkansas doesn’t boast a statue with similar grandeur. It was a bit of a special experience to have as a US citizen, and if you are traveling from the USA you won’t want to miss the chance to connect with your home country during your one day in Kosovo.
You may also want to spend a few moments looking at the various US state flags on display near the monument. We were excited to find our home state of Virginia among the others, another fun connection to home in an unexpected place.
► Madeline Albright Statue
In addition to President Clinton, former United States Secretary of State Madeline Albright was an advocate for Kosovo’s independence, and her statue can also be found in Pristina. Installed in June 2019, the statue recognizes her commitment to Kosovo and was dedicated while she was visiting Pristina. If you are interested in a bit of a United States scavenger hunt during your day in Kosovo, seek out Madeline Albright’s statue near the Newborn Monument (which is located in Madeline Albright Square!).
One Day in Kosovo: Prizren
After leaving Pristina, Daniela drove us to the even more historic city of Prizren to continue our walking tour. It’s a truly beautiful city that reminded us of Mostar in nearby Bosnia and Herzegovina, with a large bridge that spans across a river that resembles the Stari Most we saw during a previous visit to the Balkans. After spending the first half of your one day in Kosovo in Pristina, a stop in Prizren is a great way to explore a city with a more pronounced old-world feel. Prizren is a small city that is easy to navigate on foot, and there are a few highlights worth seeking out.
► Sinan Pasha MosqueBuilt in the early 1600s, the Sinan Pasha Mosque is one of the most pronounced elements of the Prizren landscape. With a large rounded dome and a minaret that extends more than 140 feet into the air, the mosque stands out in a city that almost seems dominated by them (there were countless mosques along our walking route—and still the Sinan Pasha Mosque is memorable!). Original manuscripts from the Ottoman Empire era were found at the mosque, which add to some of the building’s lore. You won’t miss it when spending part of your one day in Kosovo in Prizren.
► Prizren Fortress
The city of Prizren was founded in the 11th century, and as the city emerged as a strategically and economically important location the need to build fortifications also emerged as a high priority. The Prizren Fortress was built between the 11th and 14th centuries on a hill high above the city. Today, it is easy to see the fortress from many locations within Prizren, and it’s likely to be a place you will seek out during your one day in Kosovo. It is also possible to climb the hill to reach the fortress, although the hike requires a bit of time (at least an hour, as we were told by our guide) and can be a steep, demanding trek.
► Church of Our Lady of Ljevis
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Our Lady of Ljeviš is a 14th century Serbian Orthodox church that was converted to a mosque before being reverted to a church in the early 1900s. The church withstood significant fire damage after being targeted by arsonists during the unrest in Kosovo in 2004. Today, the exterior of the Church of Our Lady of Ljeviš is in relatively good shape, but the site remains a target for looters.
What to Eat in Kosovo
If there is one cuisine we truly love it is Balkan food, and there are plenty of delicious dishes to try in Kosovo. If you want to sample some local dishes, here are a few you might enjoy.
Popular throughout the Balkans, sarma are a mixture of meat and rice, and often vegetables, mixed together and served wrapped in cabbage leaves. It’s a common staple on many menus, and sarma are tasty and filling—a great choice if you do a lot of walking during your one day in Kosovo!
Mentioned because Adam truly loves it, Golden Eagle is an energy drink that very closely resembles the taste of Red Bull. A self-described Red Bull connoisseur, Adam gave Golden Eagle rave reviews and used it as an all-important pick-me-up as we wrapped up our time in Kosovo.
Discovered during our trip to Montenegro and sought after ever since, cevapi are one of Adam’s favorite meals in the entire world. Cevapi, or cevapcici, are a delicious combination of pork, beef, and lamb served as a caseless sausage. Often accompanied by raw, diced onion and paprika, cevapi is a meal in itself when consumed with fresh baked bread.
We found shope salad, more commonly found on menus as shopska salad in countries like Bulgaria, to be a staple for us while we traveled through the Balkans. A combination of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and bell peppers with white cheese in a vinegar-based dressing, it’s a great starter or meal during hot summer months.
Every country in the Balkans seems to have rakia on their menu, and if you see rakia as an option during your one day in Kosovo you may want to sample some for yourself. Rakia is a brandy that can be made from one of any number of ingredients from grapes to plums to walnuts, and it’s a fun way to taste a sample of the local culture.
How to Get to KosovoIf you are traveling directly to Kosovo from nearby Skopje, as we did, there are a few options that will get you to either Pristina or Prizren. Several buses can take you on the relatively quick journey, and hiring a taxi to drive you may also be a desirable option.
For our one day in Kosovo we booked a full day tour from Skopje to ensure we avoided any bus delays or unforeseen issues that could impact the only date we had available to explore Kosovo. Our tour with Plus Travel Skopje, which we found on Viator, was outstanding. Daniela was an incredible driver and source of information, and she expertly shuttled us between our destinations as she told us about life in the Balkans. We were thrilled to have some time to talk with her during the longer portions of our journey between Skopje and the cities we visited in Kosovo. We also appreciated that the tour provided us with a private guide during our walk through the cities, which gave us ample time to ask questions and spend a few extra moments in the spots that were of the most interest to us.
If you only have one day to visit Kosovo, consider incorporating a guided tour into your itinerary to ensure you can learn as much as possible during your limited time.
More Information: Plus-Travel.mk
Where to Stay in Kosovo
We truly spent one day in Kosovo: our home base wasn’t in the country itself. We took a tour from Skopje, which is where we stayed. If you are planning a single day trip from Skopje, North Macedonia, you may find Booking.com to be a great resource for you. We use Booking.com to research and select all of the hotels we stay in, and you may find a great hotel for your trip as well—including options in Pristina and Prizren if you decide to include an overnight stay into your trip.
I can’t say that Adam and I had well-defined expectations for our visit to Kosovo. I can say that we were surprised from the moment Daniela drove us into Pristina, as the first American flags came into view. Our travels are often guided by history, although not often our own: while we certainly understand the USA’s global influence, we do not typically see clear evidence of it while exploring the international cities we choose for our vacations. In Kosovo, their connection to the United States is obvious, as is their gratitude for the USA’s role in their independence.
As we stood in front of the Bill Clinton statue, deeply considering the strangeness of our own former president smiling down at us from his place of honor thousands of miles from home, we were both struck by the engraving on his statue and how it resonates within so many of the challenges societies around the globe face today. And we both agreed that, while one day in Kosovo is not enough, even a single day to explore is worthwhile.
Looking for more interesting places to visit in Europe? Here are a few more posts to check out!
* From time to time, our travels are directly impacted by a service or company. In this case, we visited multiple locations in Kosovo as part of a tour with Plus Travel Skopje, and this post includes our candid review of our experience. We selected Plus Travel Skopje based on our own research and travel needs; we were not offered and did not receive compensation of any kind from them or any other party in exchange for our review. Learn more about our travel philosophy here.