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Pristina, Kosovo (also Prishtinë and Prishtina) is not a city included on most travelers’ itineraries. It doesn’t rank as a top destination in Europe, Eastern Europe or even the Balkans, for that matter. It held the honor of being the ‘World’s Newest Capital City’ from 2008 to 2011, but even that title was scoffed at by the nations that don’t recognize Kosovo as a country. As Pristina – population 205,000 – evolves into its new role, there are obvious growing pains. However, propelled by our fascination of former Yugoslavia, we were intent on visiting Pristina, Kosovo to see the city for ourselves.
Understanding Pristina Kosovo
Pristina is a city in transition, funded by generous donations from countries and a network of NGOs that are eager to help the capital of the new nation thrive. Despite the economic instability of Prishtina, there are newly constructed buildings and cranes busy at work throughout the city. We observed round-the-clock activity on many construction sites, bringing jobs to a country that has an official 30% unemployment rate and an average monthly salary of $500 USD. However, it’s still very much a work in progress as there are numerous unfinished projects that stalled out before completion – and many more buildings left neglected awaiting their fate. Despite the on-going transformation, Prishtina has a buzz; a zealous spirit that we latched on to from the moment we arrived.
Perhaps the energy is fueled by the youth of Prishtina. The city of Pristina is quite literally young, with 60% of the population under the age of 35. (In the United States, ‘under 35s’ only make up 48% of the population.) Unfortunately, it is the younger generation – the 15- to 24-year-olds – that experience the highest rate of unemployment, which nears 58%.
While many factors can be attributed to the overall struggles of Prishtina and the country, among them are the end of communism and the year of their independence, 2008, coinciding with the worldwide financial crisis. Also negatively impacting the growth is the continued conflict between Kosovo and Serbia. Historically, the land has been co-habited by multiple ethnicity and religious groups. Albanians (Muslims and some Catholics), Serbs (Eastern Orthodox Christians), Turks (Muslims) and Romas (also known as Gypsies) have at times resided in Prishtina as harmonious neighbors…but they have also waged war against one another – the 1999 Kosovo War being a prime example.
Ethnic Albanians have long constituted the majority of the population and, as of 2011, they accounted for 97% of Prishtina’s citizens. It is a common sight to see the red and black Albanian flag prominently displayed at businesses and homes, occasionally accompanied by the blue and yellow flag of Kosovo.
Visiting Pristina Kosovo
Some argue that Pristina lacks sights, but we saw it differently; Pristina and its people are the sight. Spending time in the city shouldn’t be done while clutching a must-see checklist. With that strategy, we could have ticked all the boxes in about two hours (and, if that is all the time you have, see the Pristina self-guided walking tour below).
For us, visiting Pristina was about experiencing and observing the current culture more than anything else. We were enthralled by the daily lives of the local people, most notably by those who were just trying to make a living. We watched salesmen set up ‘shop’ along the street using makeshift crate counters to display their collection of used cellphones, plastic toy semi-automatic guns, pumpkin seeds and balloons for sale. We observed the more determined sellers walk their products through the streets and cafes – men selling packs of cigarettes, often sampling the product themselves, were the most popular among them. Those who didn’t have anything to sell, simply held their hands out and begged.
More than once we found ourselves in conversations with the salesmen. A man selling a lone jar of honey expressed to us his love for America and President Clinton, a verse we heard more than once from older Kosovars. A hustling 15-year-old boy sold us salted peanuts from a bucket – earning the sale by humorously whispering to Kris, “You have a pretty wife. Maybe she wants peanuts?” The miniature marketing genius made a second sale the following night when he recognized us, gave Kris a fist-bump and friendly slap on the back saying, “My friends from America! You want more peanuts!” It was more of a statement than a question.
Much of our time in Pristina was spent in the numerous cafes sipping inexpensive and incredibly delicious macchiatos, which rival those we’ve had in Italy. With the low cost of food, we dined out for every meal, gorging on platters of grilled meat and kebabs (eating and drinking suggestions below!). And, we walked….and walked…and walked, leaving our footprints all over the city.
The center of Pristina is compact and, throughout, there are random monuments, architecturally diverse buildings and a sliver of a preserved past. We walked without a map, often just stumbling onto the buildings, statues, mosques and markets that we had read about in our research. One thing we learned while visiting Pristina is that the locals are used to visitors, just not tourists. Welcoming citizens often assumed we were in Pristina for work, but the conversation turned to polite curiosity when they learned we just wanted to see and experience their city.
Information for tourists is limited. There isn’t a tourist information center handing out free maps or organizing walking tours. Street addresses often don’t exist, most sights and restaurants lack websites and many locations are not tagged on Google Maps. Pristina might be one of the few capital cities in the world that isn’t covered by Google Street View, eliminating the usually useful tool from aiding us in finding our way through the city. The lack of information prompted us to create a Pristina self-guided walking tour. Our route, including turn-by-turn directions and a map (below) is designed to help others who want to get acquainted with the city without randomly wandering.
Pristina Self-Guided Walking Tour
Start the Pristina Self-Guided Walking Tour near the intersection of Luan Haradinaj and Garibaldi at the…
#1 Newborn Monument & Palace Of Youth And Sports
The 9-ton, 10-foot-high, 80-foot-long monument, Newborn – in block letters, celebrates the new nation of Kosovo. It was presented on February 17, 2008 – the same day Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. Each year the monument is repainted to reflect the current emotions of the people of Kosovo. When it was unveiled, it was painted yellow, a color used in Kosovo’s new flag. It was further decorated by the people of Kosovo, including the President and Prime Minister, who were invited to use permanent markers to sign their name on the monument in support of their new nation. Later, it was repainted with the flags of the nations who recognize Kosovo as a country – a nod of appreciation to those who support the country. When we visited, the monument was painted sky blue with puffy clouds, but wrapped in barbed wire, expressing the feeling of struggle and isolation.
Behind the Newborn Monument is the Palace of Youth and Sports. The communist-era structure was opened in 1977 and given the name “Boro and Ramiz.” The men were Yugoslav heroes – one a Serb, one Albanian – and the complex was supposed to instill unity between the two groups. In 2000, a fire destroyed the main arena, which now sits empty, while the lower arena is still used by the local basketball team, Sigal Prishtina. Next to the arena is the Prishtina City Stadium, a soccer stadium for KF Prishtina. The stadium can hold more than 35,000 people; however, it is currently crumbling and clearly in need of renovation. Kosovo’s recently recognized national soccer team plays their “home” games in neighboring Albania.
From the Newborn Monument, walk southwest on Luan Haradinaj (head left if facing the monument) to Robert Doll Street. At Robert Doll Street, turn left (south) to Bill Clinton Boulevard (also labeled M9 on Google Maps). At Bill Clinton Boulevard, turn right (west) to Tirana. At Tirana, cross Bill Clinton Boulevard to the…
#2 President Bill Clinton Statue
United States President Bill Clinton is highly regarded by Kosovars. He is credited for bringing about an end of the Kosovo War and independence of Kosovo as a nation. A main thoroughfare was named in his honor – Bill Clinton Boulevard (sometimes spelled Klinton) and a 10-foot tall statue of the waving and smiling president was erected on a corner in front of towering block apartments.
A crisp and bright American flag flies next to the statue on an otherwise neglected square. Spray painted on the building behind the statue is, “Jo negociata, vetevendosje,” which translates to “No negotiations, self-determination,” a slogan used by a political group in Kosovo that is not in favor of foreign aid.
In the row of shops to the left of the statue is a store so aptly named, “Hillary,” which sells women dress clothes…yes, including pant suits.
Walk east on Bill Clinton Boulevard (head left if facing the statue) past the Hillary clothing store to…
#3 Cathedral of Blessed Mother Teresa Pristina
At the corner of Bill Clinton Boulevard and George (Xhorxh) Bush Street – oh, how I wish there was an intersecting street sign, but there isn’t – is the yet-to-be-completed Cathedral of Blessed Mother Teresa. (Mother Teresa’s parents were both Kosovars.) Although only about 2% of the Prishtina population is Catholic, the new Catholic cathedral stands as one of the tallest buildings in the city. Even though the interior of the church is under construction, the bell tower is open to visitors. (Cost – 1 euro; Times during our visit – 10am-12noon and 4pm-6pm; elevator to the top.)
From the Cathedral, walk back to the corner of George (Xhorxh) Bush Street and Bill Clinton Boulevard and walk east across Geroge (Xhorxh) Bush Street. Take the walking path through the University of Prishtina park heading northeast to the…
#4 National Library of Kosovo
The National Library of Kosovo is intriguing both inside and out. The unique architecture of the building, which is deemed by some ‘the ugliest building in the world,’ was intended to incorporate both Byzantine and Islamic forms. The boxy building, completed in 1982, is topped with 99 domes and encased in a metal net. These features are part of the controversy over the building – some claim the domes represent a plis (a traditional Albanian white, felt hat) and that the metal implies a cage and repression.
Inside, there are more than 2 million library items, including rare materials such as books, newspapers, manuscripts, maps and photographs. There are two reading rooms, an amphitheater and a meeting hall. It has been used by Croatian and Bosnian refugees as living quarters and by the Serbian Army as a command center, during which many historical books were destroyed. The library is open to visitors, but guests should bring identification, like a passport.
Northeast of the library is the…
#5 Church of Christ the Savior Kosovo
Construction began on the Church of Christ the Savior, a Serbian Orthodox church, in 1995. Due to the 1999 Kosovo War, construction was never completed. The shell of the building sits in the middle of the field with padlocked doors. Ownership of the building and the land are in dispute and many in the local community want it torn down.
From Church of Christ the Savior, walk west to George (Xhorxh) Bush Street. Turn right (north) on George (Xhorxh) Bush Street and continue walking straight past the Grand Hotel (which will be on your left), through the square onto the pedestrian street…
#6 Mother Teresa Boulevard Pristina
The main pedestrian street in Prishtina, Mother Teresa Boulevard, is the most popular street in the city. Lined with cafes, restaurants, hotels and street vendors, the street is lively day and night and a prime spot for people-watching. It is the beating heart of the city and people flow through in a never-ending parade.
The street is the place to see and be seen…without spending a single euro. Old men, many of whom don a plis, sit on benches talking. Fashionably dressed teenage girls stand in clusters giggling. Young couples stop in the middle of the street to make out. Multi-generational families stroll together from one end of the street to the other and back again. For anyone interested in observing local life is Prishtina, Kosovo, this is the place to do it.
Along the boulevard, there are statues honoring great citizens of the past:
- Mother Teresa – Although she never actually lived in Prishtina and regardless of the fact that she was a Catholic nun, Mother Teresa is honored throughout the city for her Kosovar heritage. A fountain and statue of Mother Teresa is tucked under trees on the west side of the pedestrian street, across from Restaurant Metropoli.
- Gjergj Kastrioti–Skenderbeu – Skenderbeu is a revered Albanian who lived from 1405 to 1468 and led the fight against the Ottoman invaders.
- Ibrahim Rugova – A political leader who preached peace over violence, Rugova is considered the first president of Kosovo, serving from 1992-2000 and 2002-2006, prior to Kosovo being an independent nation. He died of lung cancer in 2006. He is often referred to as the “Father of the Nation” and the “Ghandi of the Balkans.”
At the north end of Mother Teresa Boulevard are also a few notable buildings:
- The National Theatre of Kosovo – Founded in Prizren in 1946, the National Theatre is now funded by the Ministry of Culture. Currently, the building isn’t much to look at, but there are regular performances at inexpensive prices.
- Hotel Union – Built in 1927, Hotel Union – previously Hotel Skenderbeu – was designed with a flair of European architecture not typically seen in Prishtina. The hotel was near ruins by 2008 – and was further damaged by fire in 2009. The city was ready to demolish the site, but came to an agreement with clothing chain, United Colors of Benetton, in 2010. The retailer restored the historic building – and the surrounding area – and then set up shop inside in 2013.
Mother Teresa Boulevard ends at Agim Ramadani. Cross this street and turn left (north) to…
#7 Carshi Mosque (Xhamia e Carshise)
The Carshi Mosque is the oldest building in Prishtina. The basement dates to 1389. It has endured numerous restorations – even during our visit it was surrounded in scaffolding – but the stone minaret has stood for six centuries, earning the mosque the nickname of Stone Mosque.
Continue walking straight (north) on Agim Ramadani past the mosque to the first street, Ibrahim Lutfiu. Turn right (east) and walk to the yellow building, which is the…
#8 Kosovo Museum
Since 1980, the Kosovo Museum has been housed in the Austro-Hungarian building dating to the 1880s. The museum has been operating since 1949 in an effort to preserve and present the history of the area. During our visit, the museum was closed to visitors; however, we were invited into the ground floor to see ancient mosaics and walk through an art exhibit designed for the visually impaired.
From the Kosovo Museum, continue walking in the same direction on Ibrahim Lutfiu to the…
#9 Pristina Clock Tower
A stand-alone, brick clock tower was constructed in the 19th century so that citizens would know when it was time to pray and close up shop. When the original tower burnt to the ground, the same bricks were used to reconstruct the 85-foot-tall replica. The bell that hung in the tower was cast in 1764, however, it mysteriously disappeared in 2001. Also in 2001, seeing that the clock wasn’t accurately keeping time, French KFOR troops installed an electric clock…that still doesn’t keep accurate time.
Across the street from the Clock Tower is the…
#10 Sultan Mehmet Faith Mosque (Xhamia e Mbretit)
Built in 1461, the Sultan Mehmet Faith Mosque has a 50-foot dome, which was quite a feat for that time. During Austrian-Turkish Wars in 1689, the mosque was used as a Jesuit church. The original minaret was destroyed during the 1955 earthquake and, today, the interior suffers from moisture damage.
Walk down the alley to the left of the mosque to the next street, Iljaz Agushi. Turn left (west) and walk to the…
#11 Green Market Pristina Kosovo
For centuries, Prishtina had a permanent Old Bazaar smack in the center of the city. Filled with locally made wares and produce, it was a gathering place for citizens. In the 1950s, however, what was left of the structures was demolished (along with churches, synagogues and mosques). Today, locals still gather and shop at a ramshackle Green Market, which is tucked into the streets of the old quarter. Under a flimsy cover, stalls overflow with crates of produce, buckets of cheese, bags of beans and stacks of unlabeled jars containing honey, ajvar and pickled vegetables.
On the streets leading away from the market, packs of cigarettes and enormous bags of peppers and onions are sold on street corners or out of vans and pickup trucks. Old men push empty carts, hoping to be hired by shoppers making purchases too large to carry. Waiters from nearby cafes carry trays of macchiatos and Turkish teas, weaving through the crowds to deliver beverages to merchants, who are most likely congregating and smoking cigarettes with fellow shop owners.
After walking around the Green Market, walk back to the ‘entrance’ on Iljaz Agushi Street. Turn left (east) and follow the road as it curves to the north. Look for signs on your right and follow the road to the entrance of the…
#12 Ethnological Museum Pristina Kosovo
Located inside a preserved 18th century house, the Ethnological Museum presents an encompassing history of the people of Kosovo. Rooms have been recreated in a traditional manner – complete with furniture, clothing, pottery, jewelry and weapons – to portray the typical life of Kosovars from the past.
The museum is open – and free (tips accepted) – to be wandered. However, museum curators are available and eager to give guided tours to help explain the exhibits, as well as answer any questions about the history of Kosovo and the lives of the people today. (More information on the Muzeu Etnologjik Facebook Page.)
Prishtina Self-Guided Walking Tour Map
Eating and Drinking while visiting Pristina Kosovo
The only problem with eating and drinking in Pristina is deciding which place to go. Options range from traditional to trendy and the steady influx of foreign staffs have inspired the opening of international restaurants as well. Most of the places we frequented were located in the city center – either on Mother Teresa Boulevard or one of the side streets nearby.
Listed below are sit-down restaurants and cafes, but we were never disappointed when we popped into a fast-food kebab or toast (tost) shop for cheap and quick lunches on the go. Regardless of the cost of a meal, we were greeted with smiles and the service was always superb. As a bonus: Many of the cafes and restaurants in Prishtina are smoke-free, a rarity in many parts of the Balkans.
Shpija e Vjeter
Housed in a cozy and traditional Albanian abode, Shpija e Vjeter serves quality food at affordable prices.
What we ordered: Chicken casserole (half a chicken, bone-in, baked in a broth) and shopska salad (cucumber and tomato topped with shredded white cheese and olives).
Grill House Shaban
Grilled meat is a specialty in Prishtina – and Shaban is known to grill meat to perfection. The menu is simple, the service is fast, the food is delicious and it’s ridiculously inexpensive.
What we ordered: Qyfte (slider-sized meat patties) and Suxhuk (spicy links), both served with creamy cheese and salad.
Soma Book Station
The atmosphere and vibe in Soma Book Station is reminiscent of a hip spot in New York City or London. The dimly lit gastropub features a bookshop, an enormous bar and a lengthy menu of global fare.
What we ordered: Sliders (bigger than some burgers), Sabaja craft beer and walnut rakija.
Apartment 197 (formerly Apartment 196)
Patrons of Apartment 197 are invited to feel as if they are in their own apartment. A relaxed, comfortable and low-key spot to enjoy a beverage on the open-roofed patio or the inviting interior.
What we ordered: Sabaja IPA, local craft beer.
Half & Half Café
Trendy and lively, Half & Half Café is a fun place on Mother Tersea Boulevard to enjoy an inexpensive beverage, fresh squeezed juices and tasty desserts.
What we ordered: Local Peja beer.
Taverna Tirona is a modern little joint with tables overflowing into the street.
What we ordered: Sabaja IPA, local craft beer.
Fehmi Agani Street Cafes and Restaurants
Fehmi Agani Street (between UCK and Luan Haradinaj) is lined with multiple cafes, bars and restaurants.
Click here to see map in Google Maps. Note: Shpija e Vjeter and Shaban are not tagged on Google, but are the last two destinations on live map.
Places To Stay While Visiting Pristina
Sleeping in Pristina wasn’t nearly as inexpensive as we expected it to be, but it wasn’t ‘expensive’ by most standards either. We opted to stay in an Airbnb Apartment near the city center and paid about $40 USD per night, but there are plenty of Pristina hotel options as well.
Top Rated Hotels Based on Booking.com Reviews
Before You Go: Our top tips for your trip to Pristina Kosovo
- Don’t forget to pack a pair of lightweight and comfortable walking shoes. I (Sarah) have traveled with these shoes by Columbia, Skechers and Reef. Kris prefers wearing these shoes by Merrell and Sanuk.
- We’re certain you’ll be snapping tons of photos during your trip. Rather than relying on your mobile phone to capture the sights, upgrade to an actual camera for higher quality photos. We travel with a Canon Rebel (which takes amazing photos, but can be a bit clunky) and a Canon PowerShot ELPH (which takes beautiful pictures and is a slim and lightweight budget camera).
- Whether you travel with a backpack or a suitcase, you will also want to travel with a great day pack to organize and secure all our your everyday essential travel items!
- We think travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected with World Nomads.
Visiting Prizren, Kosovo? We have a guide to visiting Prizren, too!
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