Balkan Culture

Balkan Culture

There is more to the Balkans than the exquisite scenery, improbable historic heritage, and countless sights to include in your itinerary. As you travel through the everchanging landscape, the fabric of local life will change drastically in every country. However, underlying it is a common cultural patchwork that unites them all: the aged and exquisite Balkan culture. The peninsula defines the notion of cultural pluralism. The things that drive society, from music to crafts and food to customs, share a common background and fascinating similarities despite religious and ethnic differences. This duality is the core of Balkan culture and will leave you mesmerized step by step.

On the banks of the Danube, a stern but tolerant culture dominates the society, where the offerings of the forests are hard to overlook. Wood and leatherwork are the main forces driving the crafts scene. The Carpathian Mountains contribute resilience to the Balkan spirit, with social equality being at the forefront of the dynamics of society. The Mediterranean and the Adriatic bring a seabound culture that is by all means lighter and more cheerful. And the influence of Asia offers the right dose of melancholia and solemnity.

In Romania and Bosnia, superstition and folk beliefs are very important cultural binders. They are the source of many social dynamics as well as collective production. Serbia is famous for its composed attitude toward everything. Serbians are hardworking and extremely proud. So are the Croats, and family is the most vital element of culture in Bulgaria.

Balkan culture
Balkan culture

Eating & Drinking

“Steamy, spicy, and unimaginably fulfilling, Balkan cuisine won’t disappoint those with an overly sophisticated palate.”

Balkans is a region where the world’s most intense cultural, political, and military interactions took place. After all, it is the very intersection of Europe and the East. The result is a culinary tradition with an intangible rich heritage. At its core, Balkan culinary tradition is widely dependent on the versatile Ottoman cuisine, which itself includes flavors from the Levantine and Byzantine cuisines. The influence of the Mediterranean and Northern European culinary practices join the picture later. Overall, Balkan cuisine is cherished for its extremely complex recipes involving strong and aromatic spices, a variety of ingredients, and a mysterious flavor balance between all these components. Stuffing vegetables is common, and soup is more than a necessity.

The presence, influence, and taste of meat in almost every dish are undeniable in the Balkan culture of food. It is a characteristic resulting from Ottoman cuisine. Grilled and stewed forms of all sorts of meat are common. A typical Balkan dish consists of meat, with rice or bulgur pilaf, cold meze, and salads on the side. Stuffed vegetable dishes are not only favorable as meze but also make great main course dishes, especially when the stuffing includes minced meat. Condiments are an essential part of Balkan culture, reflecting the tradition of preparing for the winter in rural areas. Ajvar is arguably the star element and a must-try, whether on a slice of bread or to spice up the iconic Cevapcici.

There are also famous patties that make perfect quick bites. The East and the Levant know them by the name burek, Romania as plăcintă, and Bulgaria as banitsa. As for drinks, Rakija varieties rule the alcoholic beverage scene, with plum, pear, apricot, and grape flavors.

Unique Crafts & Shopping

The Balkans are home to countless traditions when it comes to arts and crafts, having been the cradle of the world’s richest heritages. It is a treasure trove of pottery, weaving, coppersmith, woodwork, unique forms of embroidery, and calligraphy. Let your fingertips absorb ages of masterful design on the delicate knots of Bulgarian rugs. In the Etar Ethnographic Museum, observe local artisans from bell makers to woodworkers. Gold and silver replace the raw materials in Montenegro, where the world’s finest ethnic jewelry meets the curious eye. The unmistakable gingerbread craft of Croatia blends the art of gastronomy and handiwork, resulting in delicious souvenirs.

When in Bosnia and Herzegovina, make sure to stay away from the common souvenir shops and stick with local artisan stores. Bosnia is famous for rug patterns, and luckily these days artists embroider many functional products with these patterns. Also, a bottle of Bosnian Rajika is the ultimate gift. No trip to Serbia is complete without some one-of-a-kind pieces of Serbian pottery. Zlakusa pots come in all shapes and sizes and reflect the best of Serbian culture. Kotor, Montenegro is one of the best places to shop in the Balkans. Olive and grape products are not to be missed. The most popular souvenirs include Vranac wine, olive oil, and Rakija.

  • Takeaway: A tip to keep in mind while shopping in the Balkans is that, although most of the region is in Europe, local currencies are valid in most stores. So make sure to exchange your Euros with some cash in the local currency.
Balkan culture
Balkan culture

Religion & Etiquette

The wide land of the Balkans harbors many cultures and religions, with a historic heritage nourished by vastly different civilizations. The religious profile of the Balkans is roughly characterized by a blend of Christianity and Islam. Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Christianity are dominant in countries like Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Croatia, Serbia, and Montenegro. Islam, on the other side, is widely practiced in Albania, Bosnia, and Turkey. The Balkans are known to be more religious compared to the rest of Europe, with a majority of all populations considering themselves consciously religious. Although the region is also famous for the countless religious conflicts throughout history, they have somewhat contributed to the united culture of the Balkans, making the region a melting pot of customs and traditions.

Perhaps it is the fact that most of the region identified as the Balkans is landlocked and has challenging geography… Or maybe it is just the eclectic blend of various cultures constituting the Balkan identity that makes most countries in the Balkans quite formal when it comes to etiquette. Bulgaria is an ideal example, and body language is one thing you should be careful about. Croatians like to greet strangers on the street and in cafes, and not responding to a greeting from a total stranger may be rude. Montenegro boasts one of the most relaxed and chill varieties of the Balkan culture, which is oftentimes described by its neighbors as lazy. Don’t do the same mistake and just enjoy the laid-back vibes while you are there.

There is no strict tipping etiquette in almost any of the countries in the Balkans, but it is very much appreciated, especially in upmarket restaurants and hotels. Be conscious of the centuries-old feuds between some Balkan countries, and practice caution when referring to them.

Festivals & Events

“Experiencing a celebration or performance of modern and traditional art in the unmistakable ambience of the Balkans is simply bewithching.”

Few things in the world are smeared into such a raw state of culture than the intoxicating festivals of the Balkans. From quirky celebrations of tradition to thumping contemporary arts and music festivals, the Balkans offer enough special events for a lifetime. Revel in the world’s leading music scenes all coming together in hectic festivals. Take a moment’s rest in a slower event ladened with a concentrated dose of Balkan culture. The choices are endless, and special occasions are never dull in the legendary Balkans.

The Sarajevo Film Festival is ongoing since the mid-90s, marking this mesmerizing historic city of Bosnia with boundless sophistication and visual arts. Ohrid Summer Festival is no less, taking visitors on a jolly journey in the balmy air of the summer. Athens takes the scene one step further with the exhilarating Colour Day Festival, offering a glimpse into the wild side of contemporary Greek culture and international music. The Balkans has an eccentric edge specifically when it comes to music, hosting some of the most happening music festivals in the world. Romania’s iconic Electric Castle is among the most popular, opening the doors of a 15th-century castle in Cluj-Napoca to thousands with multiple genres.

Hopping festivals are not the only thing that makes the event scene of Balkan culture unique. Tradition and more authentic celebrations also abound in this historic dreamland. Check out the Bridge Diving Festival of Mostar, a crazy tribute to the iconic charm of the Mostar Bridge. The Budha Carnival is as traditional as it gets, where folklore finds soul through countless performances. Bulgaria celebrates its famous roses, while Croatia’s Rijeka Carnival is a heart-stopping cultural spectacle.

Romanian culture

Balkan Food Guide

Check out our Balkan Food Guide for the tasty local dishes and drinks you must try.

Romanian culture

Balkan Travel Advice

Everything you need to know about traveling to the Balkans is in our Croatia and Greece Travel Advice guide.

Romanian culture

Solo Travels

Are you traveling alone? Check out our Solo Travels page for detail.

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