Spread out across 640 square kilometers on the slopes of the Šar Mountains in southern Kosovo is the city of Prizren. While the city of Pristina, located roughly 53 miles to the northeast, is Kosovo’s official capital, Prizren is the country’s historical capital, according to the Constitution of Kosovo. It is one of the oldest settlements in both Kosovo and the western Balkans. Indeed, a large number of the most exciting things to do in Prizren, Kosovo, involve its history.
The History of Prizren
The Prizren area has been inhabited since the Bronze Age around 2000 BCE. The city is also commonly associated with the Roman-era town of Theranda. The modern-day city was first referred to as Prisdriana in the year 1019. During the Middle Ages, the city surrendered to the Ottomans in 1455, the year after they invaded Kosovo. It grew into a booming center for trade, as well as the cultural and intellectual center of Ottoman Kosovo.
Prizren, which had a 70% Muslim population in 1857, later became the political and cultural capital for Kosovar Albanians. Following the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century, Prizren was conquered by the Serbian army in the First Balkan War in 1912. After the war, Kosovo became part of the Kingdom of Serbia, and later, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. That kingdom was renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929.
Just six years after Yugoslavia’s dissolution in 1992, the area surrounding Prizren suffered greatly in the Kosovo War of 1998-1999. After the war, many of the city’s Serb and Romani residents had fled. In 2004, unrest in Kosovo led to many Serb cultural monuments being destroyed in Prizren. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia four years later, on February 17, 2008.
Today, Prizren is a cosmopolitan city known for its culturally and ethnically diverse population. Most of the residents are Kosovar Albanians, but there are still prominent Turk, Bosniak, and Romani communities as well.
It’s known as Kosovo’s most beautiful city, and after arriving in October of 2020, I can see why. Between its charming cobblestone streets, beautiful mosques, and Ottoman-era landmarks and architecture, the city is stunning.
From its history to its culture to its food, Prizren is everything I love about travel condensed into one place. It’s a cultural and geographic melting pot where different civilizations and ethnic groups met and interconnected. Despite the city’s sometimes-rocky history, it was a treat to experience the harmony there first-hand.
The people were quite kind and friendly, and I found myself falling for the city after being there for only a few hours. It’s one of my favorite destinations in the country, for sure. These are the top 10 things to see and do in Prizren, Kosovo.
Explore the Local Shops and Sites
When you set out to explore Prizren, I highly recommend starting in the city center. There, you’ll find a number of shops, as well as some fascinating personalities inside them! The area is also home to several interesting landmarks, including Shadervani Fountain.
This cultural monument, located in the middle of the city square, is one of Prizren’s main symbols. Its four streams are reflected in its name, which translates to “fountain with many streams” in Persian.
The fountain is often looked at the point where social, economic, and cultural development intersect. It’s also associated with a local myth, which states that if you drink from the fountain, you’ll marry a local girl and stay in Prizren forever!
The shops around the city center are as varied as the communities that call Prizren home. One of my favorites was a sweets shop called Tetova, which sells jellies, sours, nuts, dates, and much more. Their walnuts and salty, roasted nuts make for a nice snack as you’re exploring the city. They also sell some very sweet gummies!
If you’re into fragrant oils, I recommend checking out Uje Dukati, which sells perfumes from all over the world! The shop itself smells heavenly, with the aromatic scents of tantalizing, worldly fragrances hanging in the air. The friendly and generous owner is of Syrian descent and makes his perfumes by mixing oil, water, and alcohol together. He even sprayed some on me and gave me some as a gift!
A great place to buy souvenirs for loved ones is Luli Filigran, a jewelry shop that dates back to 1968. There, the jeweler sells gorgeous, handmade creations, some of which are made in-shop. He also imports other products from around the world. The vast majority of his offerings are for women, but you can also find some nice items for men adorned with the Albanian double eagle!
In my travels, I’ve found that it’s exceedingly rare to find sewing shops on the main street of a city these days. So when I find one, I always like to go inside to check them out. Near the city center is a sewing shop called A&A Armendi that’s run by a man who has sixty years of sewing experience. He uses a century-old ironing board and a 60-year-old iron. For just one Euro, he will fix any ripped item of clothing, so pay him a visit if you need some clothes mended!
Eat at Tiffany National Restaurant
When you’re ready to have a bite to eat, there are few places in town better than Tiffany National Restaurant. This popular eatery boasts an open-air kitchen and an outdoor terrace with grape vines clinging to the roof overhead. They sell authentic Kosovar cuisine, which is quite rich in meat, dairy, bread, and vegetables.
I can’t recommend the creamy Elbasan tava, which contains veal and cheese, enough. If you want some veggies with your meat, you can also try the meat-and-veg tava, which contains veal, tomatoes, and carrots. The veal is so tender it melts in your mouth! Eating this dish is easily among the best things to do in Prizren, Kosovo!
I also suggest trying the mantia, which are meat-filled dumplings, as well as cheesy dolmas. They also have some smoky meat patties with onion, some thick cheese with dill, meatballs, and peppers with cheese.
One of my favorite components of the meal was the ajvar, a red-pepper-and-tomato paste that you spread on bread. Speaking of spreads, there’s also a fantastic garlic, carrot, and cheese paste that has a spicy kick!
If you have enough room in your belly after the starters and main course, have some baklava for dessert. This crispy, layered, Ottoman-era dessert contains a honey-like syrup called ora, which adds a strong, sweet flavor. I’m not usually a fan of sweets, but this one was too good to pass up!
Tiffany National Restaurant
16 Marin Barleti
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Check out Ura e Gurit (Stone Bridge)
If you’re a history lover, you’d be remiss if you didn’t cross Ura e Gurit on your way into Prizren’s Old Town. Better known as Stone Bridge, this Ottoman structure spans the White River between the Arasta and Nalet Bridges.
Because of the style of the bridge, the materials used in its construction, and the techniques used to build it, it’s thought Ura e Gurit was built sometime in the late 15th or early 16th century.
The bridge has been named a Cultural Monument in Kosovo, making it a protected archaeological site. I’ve visited countless Ottoman bridges in my travels throughout the Balkans, and their beauty never fails to blow me away.
It may be smaller than many of the bridges I’ve seen in places like Albania and Bosnia. That said, it is still a spectacular feat of engineering and architecture! Checking it out is easily one of my top things to do in Prizren, Kosovo!
Visit Sinan Pasha Mosque
There are a high number of prominent landmarks in Prizren’s Old Town. One that’s almost impossible to miss is Sinan Pasha Mosque. This Ottoman mosque overlooks the main street and dates back to 1615. Built by a Turkic bey or chieftain named Sofi Sinan Pasha, the Republic of Serbia declared a Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance in 1990.
It is widely believed that the stones used in its construction were taken from St. Archangels Monastery nearby. The mosque boasts one large dome as well as a smaller half-dome. Inside, the walls and interior of the dome are painted with Quran verses and floral patterns.
The paintings are very colorful, and the mosque itself is massive. I estimated that its ceilings must have been at least 100 feet high! It’s quite beautiful and one of my favorite things to do in Prizren, Kosovo.
NOTE: Remember to observe Muslim tradition when you visit the mosque. That includes removing your shoes before you enter. Women must also cover their heads before they go inside.
Sinan Pasha Mosque
Prizren, Kosovo 20000
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See the League of Prizren
Arguably one of the most famous attractions in Prizren is the League of Prizren. This building holds special importance to Kosovar Albanians who call Kosovo home. Offically called the League for the Defense of the Rights of the Albanian Nation, the League was an Albanian political organization founded in 1878.
That year, 300 members of the League of Prizren sought to “struggle in arms to defend the wholeness of the territories of Albania” from outside forces. Before the league ended in the 1880s, they were able to bring Albanian national interests before the Great Powers. They also paved the way for the League of Peja.
The building that housed the League of Prizren is part of the Gazi Mehmed Pasha complex. A large building in the old city center, it now serves as a cultural heritage monument and a museum complex. It’s one of the best things to do in Prizren, Kosovo to learn more about the city’s history!
Dine at Besimi Beska Restaurant
As a travel/food blogger and vlogger, I believe diving into local cuisine is one of the best ways to learn about a new destination. Another top-notch restaurant in Prizren that’s well worth a visit is Besimi Beska, which focuses on meat and vegetables.
Inside the restaurant is a huge dining hall, as well as a bar and a café. They bake their own bread, offer several tavas, and even make a spicy sausage called sujuk! But I recommend starting, of course, with some delicious rakija!
Their freshly-baked bread is crispy and pairs nicely with their meaty sausage called cevapcici, cheese, liver, and cheesy peppers. Liver is always a favorite of mine, so I also recommend that and their unbelievable lamb-and-beef sausage.
But the star of the menu is the lamb ribs. They’re smoky and fatty, and have been cooked to tender perfection. I have always loved lamb, but these ribs were on a whole other level. Of all the things to do in Prizren, Kosovo, eating them was one of my favorites!
Sheshi Shadervanit nr.54
Prizren, Kosovo 20000
+381 29 233668
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Climb to Prizren Fortress
Undoubtedly, Prizren’s most dominant feature and most well-known attraction is Prizren Fortress. Built by the Byzantine Empire in the 6th century, this imposing fort stands on a hill overlooking the eastern side of Prizren. As a history lover, it’s one of my top things to see and do in Prizren, Kosovo.
The site itself has been inhabited since the Bronze Age. By late Antiquity, it served as part of a system of fortifications in the area. These fortifications were built or reconstructed by the Roman emperor Justinian along the White Drin River in what are now Kosovo and Northern Albania.
While the present-day fortress was first built by the Byzantines and later expanded by Stefan Dušan in the 14th century, most of the present-day site is the work of the Ottomans. The site contains fortified gun emplacements, ramparts enforced with towers, depots, labyrinthine corridors, and a number of interior rooms.
Even though the fortress has been restored, it still feels very authentic. I highly recommend hiking up to the fortress, I also suggest being in decent shape before you attempt it. The unparalleled, 360-degree view you’ll enjoy of Prizren from the top is more than worth it. Best of all, the fortress is free to enter, so explore to your heart’s content!
Visit the Old Town’s Houses of Worship
As you make your way down from Prizren Fortress, you’ll pass by several stunning houses of worship for different faiths. I recommend visiting as many of them as you can!
Church of the Holy Saviour
One of the city’s most prominent structures is the 14th-century Church of the Holy Saviour. This gorgeous Serbian Orthodox church was built around the year 1330. As a Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance, it has been protected by the Republic of Serbia since 1990. Despite being heavily damaged during the unrest in 2004, the church still stands today.
Emin Pasha Mosque
As is typical in parts of the Balkans, Prizren is a city pockmarked by minarets. Each one belongs to one of the city’s mosques. One of them is Emin Pasha Mosque, also known as Emin Pasa Camii. This historic landmark is known for its turquoise carpeting and ornate décor inside. There, you can speak with the imam, who will happily explain the mosque’s history to visitors!
Located in the Saraçët neighborhood of the city, just across the Stone Bridge, is Halvati Teqe. This tariqa, or school of Sufism, dates back over 350 years to the late 16th century. There, they teach spiritual practices with the aim of attaining “ultimate truch,” or haqiqa.
The complex is made up of the tekke, a shrine, a rites room, a waiting room, and a residential building. I loved the architecture and the original stone, as well as the outdoor courtyard and fountain! It’s definitely one of my top things to see and do in Prizren, Kosovo!
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See the Mahmet Pasha Hamam
Nearly every time I travel to the Balkans or Asia Minor, I like to visit a hamam, or a public bath. Located in the Gazi Mehmet Pasha Mosque complex is the Mahmet Pasha Hamam. The complex is one of the oldest Islamic sites in Kosovo and dates back to 1573. It also includes the mosque, a library, a madrasa, a maktab, housing, and many other buildings.
The complex’s hamam is one of the three largest Turkish baths in the Balkans, after the Husret Bey hamam in Sarajevo and the Daut Pasha hamam in Skopje. Inside, the baths are used mostly for events like photo exhibitions and chamber music concerts!
Stay at Hotel Centrum Prizren
When you visit Prizren, you’ll need a comfortable place to sleep at night. I suggest Hotel Centrum Prizren, a luxury hotel right in the city center. The hotel is a beautiful mix of traditional and modern styles. Its central location makes it ideal for anyone who wants be able to explore the city’s main sites without having to travel far.
Hotel Centrum Prizren boasts 51 luxury rooms, two conference halls, free parking, and an on-site restaurant. In addition to the 51 rooms, they also offer three suites that offer free WiFi, a minibar, satellite and cable TV, and direct telephone lines. Their guests will also be able to take advantage of room service and laundry service.
My room, 312, had a clean bathroom, closet space, a desk, two twin beds, and a TV. But my favorite feature was the balcony, which gave me an incredible view of the city. From there, I could see seven different minarets scattered around the Old Town! Staying there is among the things you have to do in Prizren, Kosovo, for sure!
Hotel Centrum Prizren
Bujtinat 1, Prizren
+383 29 230 530
BONUS: Have a Drink at Te Kinezi
If you’re looking to try some local alcohol in Prizren that isn’t rakija, you’re in luck! During my evening in Prizren, my friend Erjan from Travel Media EU took me to Te Kinezi. This local bar is a fantastic local haunt whose name translates to “The Chinese.”
There, I learned that the fresh, mountain water in Kosovo contributes to the high quality of the local beers. I enjoyed a citrus-infused amber ale that was almost like a sour, while Erjan had a crisp pilsner. If you’re a beer lover, it’s the perfect place for you to grab a drink!
With so many options, including unique shops, historical attractions, and cultural sites, Prizren is an embarrassment of riches. Add in a fantastic food scene and the sheer beauty of its sites, and you have a city that’s perfect for travelers to explore. It’s one of the prettiest cities I’ve visited in the Balkans, and one of my favorites in Kosovo. Book a trip to Kosovo today to experience Prizren for yourself!
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