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If Prishtina is the modern face of Kosovo, Prizren is a glimpse into the past. The preserved city center is made up of cobblestone streets, ancient mosques, centuries old churches and numerous bridges that for ages have straddled the Prizren Bistrica River. Overhead, a medieval fortress looms on the hilltop, keeping an eye on the city below.
While Prizren’s old historic center is easily navigated, there is limited (and sometimes confusing and/or conflicting) information provided for tourists. To assist fellow travelers visiting Prizren, we’ve detailed a self-guided walking tour (with map and turn-by-turn directions!) and have also included recommendations for food and drink and accommodations.
Understanding Prizren, Kosovo
The history of Prizren dates to Ancient times, with the first mention of the city in the 2nd century AD. Since that time, the land has been claimed by many different kingdoms- including Romans, Bulgarians, Byzantines, Serbians and Ottomans. In 1912, after the First Balkan War, Prizren became part of the Kingdom of Serbia. Then, in 1916, it was occupied by the Kingdom of Bulgaria and, in 1918, it was included in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, which was renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929. After the collapse of Yugoslavia, Prizren remained a part of Serbia in the Province of Kosovo. In 2008, when Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, Prizren became the second largest city in the new country.
Prizren’s buildings and city plan have been influenced by rulers of the past; Serbians built Orthodox churches and Ottomans built mosques. Throughout history, regime changes often resulted in the eviction or death of the conquered citizens. Tensions still exist between different ethnic groups – most notably between Albanians and Serbs. Today, Albanians make up the majority of the population in Prizren (80%+) and there are also Bosniaks, Turks and Romas living in the municipality, but very few Serbs remain.
The city was largely spared by the 1999 Kosovo War, but a 2004 uprising of ethnic Albanians targeted the small population of Serbs living in Prizren. In the violent unrest, seven historic Serbian Orthodox churches were destroyed, including a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Our Lady of Ljevis, which was built in 1307. The hillside Serbian neighborhood was also severely damaged as houses were set on fire.
Many of the sites remain in ruins and are closed to visitors. Guard shacks stand at church entrances, although not all are manned with guards; instead, padlocks and barbed wire keep people from entering. However, taking a stroll through the city to the churches, mosques and other historic sites help visitors to understand the complex history of Prizren.
Prizren Self-Guided Walking Tour
Our Prizren self-guided walking tour makes a loop through the city and then continues up to the fortress, by way of a one-hour hike on a trail through the forest. As previously stated, many of the historic sights are not open to visitors, but are still interesting to see from the outside. The total time needed for this walk is approximately three hours, including time for brief stops.
Click here for the route on Google Maps. Note: The Google Map directions end at Maksut Pasha Mosque! The hike, Fortress, Church of Holy Savior and Church of Holy Sunday are not included on the route on Google Maps. Google Maps does not recognize the hike or the streets that lead to the Church of Holy Sunday. Follow the directions within the post.
Start the Prizren Self-Guided Walking Tour on the…
A symbol of the city, Stone Bridge was built in the 16th century. However, what exists today is a replica built in 1982 after the original bridge was destroyed in a 1979 flood. Standing on Stone Bridge, look east to the fortress on the hilltop.
Cross the bridge to the north side of the river and walk along the bank taking in the view of the old city center from across the river. At the next bridge, walk back across the river. At the first street, Vatra Shqiptare, turn right (west) and walk to the…
Sinan Pasha Mosque
Built in 1615 using stones from the nearby Serbian Orthodox Monastery of the Holy Archangels, the Sinan Pasha Mosque is listed as a Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance. The minaret, at a height of 143 feet, is easy to spot from both the river and the fortress. The mosque is open to visitors; a woman working there, who spoke little English, kindly took us by hand to show us the features of the mosque. (Removing shoes prior to entering is required, headcover for women is not required, photography is allowed, but not of people praying.)
Leave the mosque and turn left (west) to the main square and…
In the center of the main square is the rather plain looking Shadervan Fountain, but it has long been a symbol of the city. People walking through the square often stop at the fountain for a sip of fresh water, using their hands as a cup.
Continue west through the square on Sheshi I Shadervanit to the…
Cathedral of St. George
The Cathedral of St. George was built in the 15th century, with interior frescoes dating to the 17th century. The church was heavily damaged in the 2004 uprising and has since undergone renovations, yet it remains guarded. Visitors can request permission from the guard to walk on the grounds, but are not allowed inside the church. Photos of the church – even from the street – are also not allowed.
Opposite the Cathedral of St. George is the…
Church of St. Nicholas (Tutic Church)
The small Serbian Orthodox Church was built in 1332, but was reconstructed in the 1970s and again in 2005 after it was damaged in the 2004 uprising. It is listed as a Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance.
Continue west on Sheshi I Shadervanit to the…
Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour was built in 1870 and features paintings that date to 1883. It is the seat of the Apostolic Administration of Prizren and is open to visitors.
Exit the church from the main doors and walk north onto Hysen Rexhepi to the river. Cross the bridge and walk north on Sahat Kulla to…
Our Lady of Ljevis
Our Lady of Ljevis – or Mother of God Ljeviska – is a Serbian Orthodox church dating to the early 14th century. During Ottoman rule, it was converted to a mosque…and then back to a church in the 20th century. It is a Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but was set on fire during the unrest in 2004. During our visit, reconstruction had not yet commenced and it was surrounded by barbed wire.
Retrace your steps on Sahat Kulla to Saracet and walk east to…
Clock Tower and Archeological Museum
The Archeological Museum, which displays artifacts from the region, opened in 1975. It’s housed in a 15th century hammam, with the unusual clock tower rising above it.
Continue walking east on Saracet to…
The Hammam of Gazi Mehmet Pasha (Turkish Bath)
The Hammam of Gazi Mehmet Pasha was built between 1563 and 1574 as a public bath. The hammam was used by both men and women at the same time (in separate areas, of course!). It underwent restoration in 1833, 1964 and in the 1970s. Since 2000, part of the building has been used as a cultural gallery and is now only open during exhibits.
Turn left (north) onto Adem Jashari and walk past the hammam to Bajrakli. Turn right (east) and walk to the…
Gazi Mehmet Pasha Mosque
Built in the 16th century, Gazi Mehmet Pasha Mosque is one of the oldest and largest mosques in Prizren. The mosque is part of the Albanian League of Prizren complex.
Turn right (south) on Mehmet Pasha (the mosque will be on your left) and continue onto Sheshi I Lidhjes. Turn left (north) on Enver Haradinaj to the…
Albanian League of Prizren Complex and Museum
The Albanian League of Prizren was formed in 1878 to protect the interests of ethnic Albanians. The complex where the political leaders first convened now houses a museum.
Continue walking north on Enver Haradinaj to the next bridge, Ura e Marashit, and cross the river to the…
Maksut Pasha Mosque and the Plane Tree
The Maksut Pasha Mosque dates to the 17th century. The Plane Tree on the river’s edge is more than 400 years old.
Following the path next to the river, head south (away from the city center). Cross the last bridge before the path dead ends and continue following the river to the camp and restaurant. Cross the bridge at the camp and follow the path into the forest to the back entrance of the…
*NOTE: This segment of the walk leaves the city and follows a trail into the forest. We think the nature walk, which takes about an hour, is a not-to-be-missed part of Prizren; but, for those who would rather stay off dirt trails, there is a more direct (and more inclined!) path to the fortress. From Maksut Pasha Mosque, walk southwest on Vatra Shqiptare toward the city center. Walk past the Sinan Pasha Mosque and turn left (south) on the first street, Mimar Sinani. Turn left (east) at the next street, Marin Barleti, and then right (south) at the next intersection. Follow the path as it begins to incline and curves to the left. Stay on the path all the way to the main entrance of the…
Prizren Fortress, also called Kaljaja, sits strategically on a hilltop above the river – and is another structure in Prizren recognized as a Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance. While some evidence suggests that part of the fortress could date to the 6th century, it is known that it was either built or expanded on between 1331 and 1355. Currently, it is being renovated, however, it is still open (24 hours a day, actually) and is free to visit. Take in the views from the various points. Look out over the city and count the number of minarets that pierce the sky. Look down to the left and peer at what remains of the Church of Holy Savior. If timing allows, stick around – or make a return trip later – for sunset.
Leave the fortress from the main entrance and walk back toward the city to…
Church of Holy Savior
Built in 1330, the church of the Holy Savior is listed as a Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance. It was heavily damaged during the 2004 uprising and is still closed to visitors.
From the Church of Holy Savior, continue walking down toward the town. Follow the road as it curves right. At the first street, turn right and walk past the large white building (a music school). Continue walking on the inclined street to…
Church of Holy Sunday
Tucked beneath the fortress walls, hidden on the hillside is the small Church of Holy Sunday. The church was built in 1371. It is closed to visitors, but can be glimpsed through a window at the back of the church.
Retrace your steps and continue back into the center of town.
Where to eat and drink while visiting Prizren
Fare in Prizren, like the rest of Kosovo and the Balkans, is heavy on the meat. The food tends to be both ridiculously affordable and incredibly filling. In the city center, there are many eateries to choose from – including take-away kiosks, sit-down fast-food shops and traditional restaurants – although there is little variety in cuisine. The standard options include grilled meat, regional dishes and pizza.
While visiting Prizren, eating at a qebaptore is an experience that shouldn’t be missed. The barbecues crank out platters of meat, often for as little at $1 USD. Fast-food qebaptores are easy to spot, as the grill usually protrudes from the front of the shop, proudly displaying heaps of grilling meat. For the same fare with an upgraded experience (in quality, service and price), we recommend the popular Te Syla restaurant.
Burek remains one of our regional favorites for a cheap and filling meal. One portion of the flaky, meat- or cheese-filled pastry, which is often accompanied by plain, drinkable yogurt, costs as little as 50 cents and constitutes an entire meal. We haven’t eaten burek that we didn’t like, but locals told us the best place for burek in Prizren is Sarajevo (on the main square).
Regardless of what you eat in Prizren, we recommend spending some time at one of the many cafes or bars in the city center. From intimate cafes with fireplaces to modern techno bars with thumping music, stroll through the city until one grabs your attention. Sip a macchiato (which locals pridefully claim are better than those in Italy), drink a Kosovo Peja beer or brave the potent raki. Find a seat where you can watch the people and get a good dose of the local life in Prizren (the main square is always a good bet, but places along the river are also atmospheric). Two low-key bars we liked were Bar Aca and Te Kinezi, both of which have Kosovo craft beer, Sabaja IPA.
Where to sleep while visiting Prizren
We usually prefer to stay in Airbnb apartments rather than hotels, but in Prizren, we didn’t have much luck finding an apartment that would suit us. Instead, we stayed at the Prizreni Hotel, which is ideally located in the center of the old town next to the Sinan Pasha Mosque. The room was reasonably priced, clean and comfortable and included a made-to-order, hot breakfast.
Top Rated Hotels by Booking.com Guests
Hostel Accommodations in Prizren
Before You Go: Our top tips for your trip
- 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, is slim and lightweight – and the new models are wifi enabled so you can share your trip pics to social media in real time!).
- We think travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected with World Nomads.
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