Kosovo (Albanian: Kosova, Serbian: Kосово) is a "de-facto" independent country in South Eastern Europe. After a lengthy and often violent dispute with Serbia, Kosovo declared independence in February 2008 and has been recognised by more than 69 countries around the world, despite heavy Serbian opposition. Kosovo is largely an Albanian speaking and Muslim area, but there are also significant numbers of minorities living within its borders, especially Serbs. Kosovo borders Albania to the west, Montenegro to the northwest, Macedonia to the south, and Serbia to the northeast.
While the legitimacy of the Kosovar government is disputed by some countries, from a traveller's point of view the Kosovar government has de facto control of the country. This is not a political endorsement of claims by either side in the dispute.
The population of Kosovo is about 92% Albanian, who use the name Kosova exclusively.
Many people in Kosovo can speak English and German; they are more than willing to help you and tell you their stories. You, as the outsider, will get to hear both sides.
If you are interested in more than just seeing beautiful mountains and ancient ruins on your vacation to 'the region', Kosovo strongly recommends itself.
The climate is continental, with very warm summers and cold and snowy winters.
Citizens of countries such as Albania, Australia, Canada, EU, Lebanon, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa and Turkey do not need a visa but if you are planning to stay in Kosovo for more than 90 days you should, as in any Balkan country, register at the Police Department for the Registration of Foreigners. This is is next to the central police station in Pristina. Citizens of other countries that have significantly contributed the the rebuilding of the Kosovo probably also do not need visas either, although Kosovo is starting to implement a stricter visa regime. N.B. The 90 day rule for the registration of foreigners applies to everybody .
Serbia officially states that it will block passports containing stamps or visas from Kosovo. However, in practice, immigration officers would usually just cancel the Kosovan stamps and replace them with Serbian ones.
If you're just visiting the region, visit Serbia first. You will not be given a Serbian exit stamp if you enter Kosovo from Serbia. If you are living in or intend to travel frequently to Serbia, you should get matching pairs of entry and exit stamps; this would mean backtracking and leaving through Serbia via a regular border crossing point. If you travel a lot in the region, your passport will be crowded with stamps anyway and border guards wont be able to find the matching stamps, and normally let you pass. Just don't mention Kosovo.
You can enter Kosovo through the northern border with Serbia through Kosovska Mitrovica or near Pristina. There are bus connections from Belgrade and Nis to Pristina and Prizren and from all the major towns in Serbia to the northern parts. Most used transport route is through Macedonia and Prishtina airport. Skopje is only one and a half hours from the capital city of Kosovo, Pristina. Travelling from Pristina to any other city of Kosovo does not take longer than an hour and a half. For instance, from Pristina to Prizren it takes an hour and a half, if there is no traffic, but the most it can take is two hours. The distance to Peć is also similar.
Several European Airlines have started to offer direct flights from their hubs to the International Airport of Pristina, e.g. SAS Scandinavian Airlines, SWISS, Belle Air, Croatia Airlines, Air Berlin, Malev and Austrian Airlines. During the summer several additional charter flights are available for travellers.
From Montenegro you can enter through Rozaje to Peja/Pec(approximately 2.0 hours).
From Macedonia you can take a bus to Prishtina (approximately 2.5 hours)
There is a border crossing in the Presevo Valley in Serbia.
There are a couple companies offering buses from Istanbul via Skopje.
From Albania you can enter through Prizren on a nice new road; gone are the days of the "nightmare" 10-hour mountain ride. The trip from Tirane costs 10 euros and takes 4 hours, with two stops.
There are also trains crossing the Kosovo border. Two daily services connects Kraljevo in Serbia with all towns on the Leshak - Fushë Kosovë (Kosovo Polje), connections from Beograd are possible but includes a long stay between train at Kraljevo, thus bringing the journey to more than 12 hours for 399 km. Since March 1, 2006 an identical service, twice daily, runs from Skopje in Macedonia to Prishtina in Kosovo. It is hard to gets timings for these trains. Trains are very slow and convey second class only, but they give the opportunity to see a lot of the country and are a good value at approximately €4 each way.
To enter Kosovo, the validity and acceptance of the International Motor Insurance Card is in doubt. Some sources say that you will need to purchase insurance liability at the border for 50€ before the border guards will allow you to enter. Travellers report that as of December 2008 this so called Green Card was accepted by border police and customs. Ensure also that you have your Vehicle Registration and a Power of Attorney from the owner if the car is not yours.
The best way to travel intercity in Kosovo is by bus. The buses are relatively cheap (Pristina to Peja, 4,00 EUR).
Kosovan Railways (Kosovske Zeleznice - Hekurudhat e Kosovës) are currently (2006) running the following passenger train services: from Fushë Kosovë (former Kosovo Polje; a city near Pristina) to Leshak (a town North at the Serb frontier) three trains a day. From Fushë Kosovë at 07.35, 11.18 and 14.15 and from Leshak at 09.55, 13.19 and 16.50. The train passes through most of the Serbian enclaves that are strung up through the northern part of Kosovo. The system is seen as a way of helping to make the lives of the Serbs in the enclaves easier but also as a way to help integration. The service is free of charge to local people. Another service runs twice a day from Fushë Kosovë at 04.17 and 19.00 to Hani i Elezit (former General Jankovic) on the border to Macedonia, return journeys from Hani i Elezit starts at 05.53 and 20.44. A local suburban services runs from Fushë Kosovë to Grazhanica with departures from F. Kosovë at 05.40 and 19.17, returning from Grazhanica at 06.30 and 20.05.
You can get a superb atlas of Kosovo from the OSCE that has detailed ethnic maps (before and after the war), vital statistics, along with navigational maps. To get the map, ask for the NGO Information office near the OSCE building in Pristina.
The majority of the population of Kosovo speaks Albanian. Serbo-Croatian is universally understood but it may result in hostile reactions from mostly Albanian population.
English and German are languages that the majority of population speak especially by the younger population. Italian is also spoken but nowhere close to as much as English and German.
The Turkish minority speaks its own tongue as well as Albanian. Turkish is also spoken by some Albanians also, especially the older generations.
Majority of inhabitants of northern Kosovo is ethnics Serbs, so Serbian will come in handy there.
Visit a coffee shop in Prishtina, and have a macchiato.
Kosovo has the euro (EUR, €) as its currency. Therewith, Kosovo belongs to the 23 European countries that use the common European money. These 23 countries are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain (official euro members which are all European Union member states) as well as Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and Vatican which use it without having a say in eurozone affairs and without being European Union members. These countries together have a population of 327 million.
One euro is divided into 100 cents. While each official euro member (as well as Monaco, San Marino and Vatican) issues its own coins with a unique obverse, the reverse as well as all bills look the same throughout the eurozone. Nonetheless, every coin is legal tender in any of the eurozone countries.
Best restaurants to eat at are those that are located in the villages near by big cities; they tend to have the best meat dishes and the best sea food. Trout, seabass and salmon fish are very common and popular and are kept fresh in their pools and are nearly always fried when you order. Prices are pretty average and, for some European countries consider, cheap. Restaurant Ibri & Restaurant Qetsia (Kushtov – Mitrovica) are also in Vermic near the border with Albania and are just a few of the examples of many other through out the country; they are very luxurious and fine dining restaurants, but the prices are very modest and some consider them cheap.
Lots of great burek (baked pastry stuffed with cheese, meat or spinach). Try the drinkable yogurt - it's superb. Lots of kebabs and other Ottoman Turkish style food. As far as you are in an Albanian territory, you could try Albanian food as well. Fli, a very good pastry, can be found in different traditional restaurants. One of the most notable 'Pellumbi' offers different kinds of traditional food in a very nice traditional atmosphere. Lots of pizza in restaurant pizzeria "SAN REMO" in city of Peja has the best meat you can eat in Country House. But there are other cities as well to visit, not just Peja.
At the bakery, you can buy a fantastic loaf of bread for under one Euro.
The grocery stores have a plentiful supply of Western food.
Beer at Peja is a pretty good brew. It is brewed in Peja (Pec). Peja Premium is a slightly stronger beer from the same brewery but less widely available. Wine is also widely consumed when eating out, some local wine and also Vranac from Montenegro are the most common ones. Even though the Albanians are predominantly of Muslim heritage, drinking is quite liberal.
Raki is also another alcoholic beverage in Kosova. It is made from local fruits (the most common one is from grape) and can be best described as a hard liquor similar to vodka. It can be quite strong so if you have a weak stomach or do not often drink liquor avoid this beverage.
Yogurt/Ayran is also a common local drink and is consumed with pastry foods. Boza is also another common sweet drink drank with cakes and pastries.
Accommodation in Kosovo can be expensive, meaning it is probably the same as hotels in surrounding countries (starts at 25 EUR and goes over 100 EUR) and primarily is designed for people working for the development agencies. Your best bet on finding a place to stay is outside of Prishtina (if you're with the car) and to have a contact there ahead of time (even if its just somebody you met over the internet) and stay with them. Or possibly contact some of the smaller development organisations, such as Balkan Sunflowers and online listing of Kosovo hotels http://hotelskosova.com/, and ask if they can help you with accommodation staying in a rural community or in the city for a higher price.
But in the otherside, if you plan not to sleep, go at the bars (i.e. Hard Rock Bar - close to KEK- Energy Enterprise); you have a good prices and of course the best rock music in town, considering the elite people in there, such as musicians, actors, etc. Other places to visit are Strip Depo, close to the ABC Cinema, Kafja e Vogel (Small Cafe) close to OSCE. Kosovo youngsters, as in other Balkan countries, have a largely café going culture, so you will find these places full any day during week. Reception Room, located opposite to Skenderbeg monument, seems to be a popular night club for 2007.
Skopje in Macedonia has some very cheap accommodation, so doing day trips to Kosovo from there is very much a possibility. But Prishtina now has many places; thus, there is no need to go and come back from Skopje just for a cheap hotel for a night.
Avoid getting too much into politics in Kosovo, although ask as many questions (within reason) as you like. They are very open about their hatred of each other and more than willing to tell you about it.
Don’t let the politics stop you from visiting; tensions have risen in a few moments in the past decade, but nearly all have been in the divided city of Mitrovica in the north of the country and with a 10,000+ NATO peace keeping force and a large international Police force, you are very safe from pretty much everything and the chance of a full out conflict is very low with such international supervision and even if one is to occur, all foreigners would be evacuated within 48 hours. You will most likely find peacekeeping soldiers from your own country to help you if you need it.
There is pretty much no physical or criminal dangers you need to worry about people in general—both Albanians and Serbs—are extremely friendly and hospitable to tourists. Kosova is a country that is used to having a vast amount of foreigners from all over the world. Since the end of the war, there were more than 200,000 international workers from over the world came to aid the rebuilding and peace effort in the country and the locals are very used to people from outside and very friendly.
The corruption level is extremely low and the Kosovan police corruption is again very low thanks to the supervision of the EULEX international police, which means it is one of the only countries in Eastern Europe were bribery is pretty much unheard of unless you have committed a major crime and are offering tends of thousands, but that’s is a different story between the police and organised crime and has nothing to do with regular people and tourists.
Use only registered taxies as they have fixed fares and you will not get scammed with unlicensed taxies; they are safe, but they will always scam you if you use the meter, so if you have to use an unlicensed taxi, make sure you come to a deal before hand so he does not use the meter.
Racism, and anti-Semitism are pretty much non existent, so no matter your race of beliefs, people are friendly.
Homophobia is some what of an issue and people don’t take kindly to homosexuals, but again, physical harm is not an issue unless you openly display affection or manners.
Like much of the Balkans, land mines were heavily used during the Yugoslav civil wars. Though this was a major problem in the country in the first four years after the war, now it’s a very rare that you encounter them, most suspicious areas are listed in local tour guide books, most of the mined areas are places where conflict took place (Central Kosovo countryside and Kosova–Albania border region).
It's very safe to go hiking and camping — just ask before you do so to make sure it's not a suspicious area and most hiking and camping takes place in areas where war did not occur, like the Sharr mountains where there is a ski and camping resort.
Likely stolen to sell as scrap metal, one should keep an eye out for this potential hazard. Whilst not an issue on busy city streets, walking even a few kilometres outside downtown Pristina can be dangerous - particularly when walking in tall grass beside roads or sidewalks. Local residents have been known to use a small pile of sticks and stones to cover an open sewer pit and care should be taken not to step on these either.
Don't pet dogs — stay away from them!!!
Whilst most are not aggressive when they are in packs, they can very well be, so make sure you stay away and don’t run away from them either as dogs chase you when you run; some times, the best defence is an attack so charging at them a little usually scares them away. But again, this is only a problem in the outskirts of the cities and at night, as during the day, you will hardly encounter them and they will stay away from humans.