Every budget is catered for in the Balkans, from rural campsites and Soviet-era eyesores, to frilly-pillowed private rooms and five-star palaces.
Rates often plummet outside of high season (typically July to August), sometimes by as much as 50%. In places that cater to business travellers, prices are more expensive during the week and cheaper over the weekend.
Booking ahead is a good idea in high season and during key events. Reservations can usually be made by phone, and sometimes online. Where there are tourist offices they sometimes provide reservation services (some for a small fee), but don’t expect the same efficiency of service here as you would in Western Europe. In parts of the Balkans, there is a shortage of good-value mid-range options, meaning that you may get stuck staying below or above the standard you are looking for.
Camping is generally your cheapest option but the trade-off may be that you are far away from things you want to see. Before you commit, check out public transport connections and times to and from campsites and towns. Some camping grounds may be geared for motorists, though there’s generally also room for backpackers with tents. Many offer on-site basic cabins, caravans or bungalows that may be cheaper than hostels, though not always. Don’t count on these being free during high seasons.
The standard of camping grounds varies enormously throughout the region. Croatia’s coast is lined with nudist camping grounds (signposted with FKK, the German acronym for ‘naturist’); these can offer delightful secluded locations for campers sans clothing.
- Camping grounds may be open from April to October, May to September, or perhaps only June to August, depending on the category of the facility, the location and the demand.
- A few private camping grounds may be open all year.
- Camping in the wild is usually illegal; ask locals before you pitch your tent on a beach or in an open field.
- In some places you may be allowed to build a campfire. Always ask first.
‘Village tourism’, which means staying at a farmhouse, is highly developed in Slovenia. It’s like staying in a private room or pension, except the participating farms are in picturesque rural areas with outdoor activity options nearby. See World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (www.wwoof.org) for information about working on organic farms in exchange for room and board.
Guesthouses & Pensions
Small private pensions are common in parts of the Balkans. Typically priced between hotels and private rooms, pensions sometimes offer basic breakfast at small on-site restaurants. Pensions are smaller and more personal than hotels, which can amount to a bit less privacy.
Homestays & Private Rooms
When you arrive in some towns, people will approach you offering private rooms or hostel beds. Some carry clipboards and pamphlets; others are little old ladies speaking halting English or German. Taking up these offers can be a good or bad experience; it’s impossible to say until you do it. You may be lead to a pristine room in the centre of town, or to a cupboard in an outer suburb housing project. Obviously then, don’t commit until you’re comfortable with the place and clear on the price. It may be unwise to leave your valuables behind with strangers.
Agencies or intermediaries sometimes facilitate stays in private rooms and can offer some level of quality control. Alternatively, look for advertisements yourself; knock on the door or call when you see a Zimmer Frei (German) sign advertising availability of private rooms. In Croatia, taxation has made private rooms less attractive than before, but it’s still better value than a hotel.
Staying with friends in the Balkans will be a wonderful experience given the famed hospitality of the region. Bring some small gifts for your hosts – it’s a deeply ingrained cultural tradition throughout the region.
You don’t have to be a ‘youth’ to be apart of the sociable hostel scene in the Balkans. Hostels vary enormously in character and quality. Many are part of the Youth Hostel Association (YHA), which is affiliated with Hostelling International (HI; www.hihostels.com).
- Hostel cards are rarely required, though may give you a small discount.
- Hostels give you a bed for the night, plus use of communal facilities.
- Facilities often include small kitchens where you can do your own cooking.
- Some hostels require that you have a sleeping sheet; if you don’t have one, you may be able to rent one.
- Not all hostels are open all year round.
- Many hostels accept reservations, but not always during peak periods. They may be able to hold a bed for a couple of hours if you call from a bus or train station. You can also book hostels through national hostel offices.
HI offers listings online (and in print) for all countries of the Balkans, with the exception of Kosovo. The hostel bible Europe is widely used.
At the rock bottom end of the scale, cheap hotels may be no more expensive than private rooms or guesthouses, while at the other end you’ll find unimaginable boutique luxury. In both cases, you get what you pay for.
- Often you pay for the room and not by the number of people staying in it, so singles may be pay almost as much as for a double.
- Particularly in older hotels, cheaper rooms may have washbasins but the toilet and shower may be down the corridor.
- Breakfast may be included in the room price; in the accommodation section of each individual country’s directory we note whether breakfast is generally included and note exceptions in reviews when it isn’t.
- Cheap, basic hotels are often clustered around bus and train transport hubs.
In some cities, depending on how long you plan to stay, renting an apartment through a reputable website or local agency can be a good option. Renting an apartment can cost much less than you'd pay for an equivalent stay in a hotel, and lets you to cook for yourself.
- The quality and location of rental accommodation varies considerably, largely depending on their size and location and your budget.
- Generally, the longer you stay, the more you can negotiate.
- Some local agencies operate independently and sometimes only quasi-legally, meaning you may have no recourse in the event of a dispute; only go for those of good repute.
- When dealing with agencies online, never send money unless you are certain that the agency is genuine.
Some universities (notably in Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia and Serbia) rent space in student halls during July and August. Accommodation will sometimes be in single rooms, but more commonly in doubles or triples with shared bathrooms. Basic cooking facilities may be available. Ask at the college or university, at student information services or at tourist offices.