Situated in the eastern section of the Accursed Mountains in western Kosovo is the city of Peja. Located in the mountainous Rugova region, this Balkan city is a dream for curious travelers with its mix of tradition and modernity. The area is home to modern attractions like ski centers and zip-lining balkan natural adventure, beautiful natural locations, and centuries-old UNESCO sites and traditional cuisine. These things make up the top things to see and do in Peja, Kosovo.
It is thought that Peja was built on the ruins of an ancient Roman town known as Siparantum. Many ancient stelae from the time period have been unearthed in the area.
Peja was ruled by the Serbs for 300 after a Serbian Grand Prince liberated the city from the Byzantine Empire in the late 12th century. Serbian archbishops then built homes and churches in the city, which later became a major religious center.
After it fell to the Ottomans in 1455, the city’s was known by its Turkish name, İpek. Nearly five centuries later, the First Balkan War of 1912-1913 ended the Ottoman regime.
The city was conquered by Montenegro, beginning a rapid succession of changing hands from Montenegro to Austria-Hungary to Serbia before becoming part of Yugoslavia until its dissolution in 1992. It remained a part of Serbia until 2008, when Kosovo declared its independence, becoming Europe’s youngest nation.
Today, Peja is a quaint city of just under 49,000 according to the 2011 census, but it is rapidly becoming a must-visit tourist destination. But while Peja has seen an influx in visitors from around the world in recent years, its traditional roots remain intact.
Its Ottoman and medieval Serbian architecture are still proudly on display and can be seen in its mosques, churches, and its bazaar. The city also has an active and successful sports scene, as it’s home to Olympic gold medal winners, as well as pro football and basketball teams, among others.
I had the amazing opportunity to tour Peja with my friend Erjan from Travel Media EU in October of 2020. During my two days there, I learned that the area around Peja is also quite stunning, with gorgeous valleys, peaceful forests, and majestic rivers cutting through the mountainous terrain. It’s one of my new favorite Balkan cities, and I’ll break down why in this guide. These are the top 10 things to see and do in Peja, Kosovo.
If you’ve followed my travels for any amount of time, you’ll know that meeting and interacting with locals is something that’s very important to me. I’ve long held the belief that the people make the place. One of the best spots in Peja to people-watch and get a peek into local life is the Old Bazaar and city center.
Also known as the Bazaar of Peja, the Old Bazaar is built in the traditional Ottoman style in the center of the city. However, it isn’t the original bazaar. The original bazaar has been destroyed twice—once during World War II and again during the Kosovo War in the late 1990s.
There, you’ll find a beautiful, lively, and clean pedestrian street lined with souvenir and jewelry shops, clothing stores, and kebab restaurants. If you need a nice jacket or shoes, you can find them there, as well Albanian flags and even musical instruments. As I visited during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, I also saw vendors selling face masks featuring the logos and colors of local soccer teams.
Whether you’re there to just browse or if you have some money burning a hole in your pocket visiting the Old Bazaar is one of the top things to see and do in Peja, Kosovo!
Another popular gathering place for locals in Peja is the Main Square, which is only a 9-minute drive from the Peja bus station. In most European towns and cities, the main square often serves as a meeting place for people. They’re also usually lined with shops, best restaurants, museums, and sometimes even government buildings.
In Peja, the main square borders the river. It is bounded by quite a few businesses, including a meat shop with a delicious-looking display of hundreds of sausages in the window. This is sujuk, a spicy sausage that is a staple in Kosovar cuisine. It’s chewy and fresh, and while it certainly has some heat to it, it wasn’t overbearing.
If you’re a bit more adventurous, the shop also sells a variety of organ meats, which are my personal favorites. They’re not for everyone, but if you enjoy the buttery, gamy, iron-rich flavors and textures of organs like liver and kidneys, this is the spot for you!
Kosovo is a culture that embraces meat, dairy, and vegetables. Nearly all of its traditional dishes contain one (or all) of the three, and they’re all quite tasty. One of my personal favorite places to eat traditional food in Peja is Kulla e Zenel Beut, which stands just minutes from the main square.
Located in a beautiful wood-and-stone house with a tower, the restaurant has a rustic and cozy mountain-like ambiance. The owner is quite friendly and took me back to his kitchens, where I watched them prepare a number of casserole-like dishes called tavas.
I recommend starting with some raki, also known as rakija. This is a fruit brandy that is popular throughout the Balkans. It can be made with a variety of fruits, including apples, plums, apricots, pears, and berries. Their quince fruit raki is outstanding!
But as good as the raki is, the menu highlights are the tavas. The veal-and-vegetable tava is a creamy mixture of lamb meat, vegetables, and cheese. I also highly recommend the gooey and acidic tomato-and-cheese tava, the spicy chili-and-cheese tava, and the earthy pepper-and-tomato tava.
You also can’t leave without trying their buttery baked meat, which disintegrates in your mouth instantly. I suggest stuffing some into some pita bread. The melt-in-your-mouth meat and the fresh, chewy bread are a combination made in Kosovar heaven! It’s one of the best things to do in Peja, Kosovo and will have your mouth watering long after you leave!
Kulla e Zenel Beut
51 William Walker
+383 49 400 046
While the city itself offers more than enough sites and activities for travelers, I recommend taking some time to explore outside the city. One of my favorite spots in the area is banks of the White Drin River, near Resort Ujevara e Drinit. Located just 30 minutes outside of town, it’s the perfect day trip for anyone who wants to explore the region’s stunning nature.
The rushing White Drin River passes through both Albania and Kosovo and is surrounded by deep forest. There’s a path along the banks that most people can easily hike, which passes by the resort and takes you by a flowing waterfall. The mountain water is freezing, so I recommend not getting too close if you don’t want to get drenched by the mist!
A set of steps leads to a unique bridge that crosses the river directly above a set of waterfalls. Further along the path, you’ll find the second-largest cave in Kosovo, Sleeping Beauty Cave. My guide Erjan told me that this tunnel-filled cavern is a dream to explore, but if you want to visit, you can only do so between April and October.
Hiking trails along the White Drin River is also one of the top things to do in Peja, Kosovo for wildlife enthusiasts. The wet forest environment is the perfect haven for fire salamanders, beautiful amphibious creatures with black and orange markings.
We found a curious and friendly one on our hike back to the resort! It was the first time I’d ever seen a salamander in the wild. The little guy even crawled up Erjan’s arm!
Before you set out on your hike along the White Drin River—or after, if you prefer—I recommend stopping inside Resort Ujevara e Drinit. The resort stands on the banks of the river, giving guests unparalleled views of the area’s natural splendor. The best place on-site to enjoy the views is the hotel’s restaurant, Moncafe.
From there, visitors can enjoy the soothing and peaceful sound of the flowing river and enjoy a drink or a meal! If you like to live as the locals do when you travel, I recommend starting your day with an espresso and a raki.
It’s one of the best ways to immerse yourself in Kosovar culture, as coffee and raki are common breakfast pairings. It likely wouldn’t be the first choice for most Western visitors, but when in Rome, right?
Resort Ujevara e Drinit
Fsh. Radavc Radavc
Pec 30000 Kosovo
+377 44 525 000
As I mentioned earlier, meat is a major part of the cuisine in Kosovo. Meat is prevalent throughout the Balkans, where you’ll find one of my all-time favorite meat dishes. Known as ćevap, qebap, or ćevapčići depending on which country you’re in, this mincemeat sausage is one of the most mouthwatering dishes you’ll find in the Balkans.
In Peja, you’ll find this dish at numerous restaurants known as qebaptores throughout the city. If you want to sample lots of different variations on the dish, I suggest going on a qebaptore food tour!
At Qebaptore Dioni, Erjan’s personal favorite qebaptore in Peja, you’ll stuff a fresh, warm pita with ćevapčići, cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, and cabbage. Few things beat fatty meat; warm, pillowy bread; fresh cheese; and crisp vegetables all in one bite. It’s outstanding!
Five doors down at Gazi Qebaptore Restaurant, the specialty is a spicy sujuk sausage that’s like a smoky chorizo. It’s served with salt and a spice mixture on the side. I suggest sprinkling a bit of each on top. It takes the sujuk to the next level, flavor-wise! Enjoy it with some Peja beer!
Further down the street, you’ll find Qebaptore Egzoni. There, they sell meatballs that are more like burgers. They come with cabbage, tomatoes, chilies, cucumbers, pepper seeds, potato salad, and salt. The peppers make the dish quite spicy, but it’s worth it. Flush it down with a milky yogurt drink called ajran to kill the heat in your mouth and throat!
In Peja’s bazaar, you must stop at Qebaptore Te Agimi, which sells veal, ćevapčići, ribs, and much more. If the delicious-looking sujuk hanging in the window is any indication, the food here is outstanding. Their veal is essentially a skirt steak, which you eat with ajvar (red pepper paste), cheese, and cabbage. The creaminess of the ajvar and cheese make it a dish you can’t miss!
Less than 15 miles west of Peja is one of my favorite places in Kosovo, Stone Castle Vineyards and Winery. Located in the town of Rahovec, Stone Castle is the largest winery in Kosovo, as well as one of the oldest. While there are other wineries in the area, Stone Castle is the most famous.
The owner of the winery is a successful American businessman, which is why the American, Kosovar, and Albanian flags are displayed outside. The winery was established in 1953 and privatized in 2006. There, they produce a whopping 30 million liters of wine every year. The grapes they used come from their 2,243-hectare vineyard, which they share with private farmers.
In their cavernous cellar, I got to see some of their enormous barrels. They range from 500-liters to 10,000 liters and are made of American and Hungarian oak. Unfortunately, the cellar is off-limits to the general public, but you can still try some of their creations in their wine tasting room.
Inside the barrels, they age a number of fine wines, including chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, merot, and shiraz. They also produce raki and cognac. Their 2019 Cabernet-Merlot blend taken directly from the barrels is quite young, while the 2016 variety is richer and full of flavor.
In the wine-tasting room, you can try their rosé, cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, chardonnay reserve, vranats, and more. I suggest the 2015 red dry shiraz and 10-year-old brandy. They also have a strong but smooth raki that’s 49% alcohol. Of course, buying some Stone Castle wine is a must. Some of their reds cost up to 60 Euros (roughly $70 USD) per bottle, but it’s worth it if you can afford it!
Stone Castle Vineyards and Winery
Rahovec 21000 Kosovo
+381 29 276053
Northwest of Peja, between the city and the Kosovo/Montenegro border, is another of the top things to see and do in Peja, Kosovo, Rugova canyon Valley. This serpent-shaped valley snakes its way through stunning mountain landscapes that include alpine forests, mountain pastures, and glacial lakes.
This mostly unspoiled area is a haven for outdoor activities enthusiasts looking to go hiking, zip-lining, skiing, and rafting. The area is also pockmarked with caves, canyons, and waterfalls, all of which are ripe for exploring.
During my visit, the zipline was closed, but we came across a river that passes along the main highway. There, we explored two waterfalls before finding a street vendor selling honey and local drinks. He also sold wooden raki bottles that he’d carved from tree branches!
Roughly a five-minute walk from Hotel Dukagjini is another of my favorite restaurants in the city, Restaurant Art Design. Outside, the restaurant boasts a charming wooden terrace with a stream that runs underneath it!
The cooks at Restaurant Art Design are supremely talented, and it shows in the food they serve. In addition to being a massive meat-lover, I also love fresh vegetables.
One of their most unique offerings is bread shaped like a traditional qeleshe hat. The cooks fill it with a mixture of sauteed beef, eggplant, peppers, and carrots. The vegetables had a nice, roasted flavor that perfectly complemented the meat and bread. It was like a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs beef stew, perfect for a chilly autumn day.
I also highly recommend the vegetable soup, which contains a large amount of pepper and meaty chunks of chicken. The parsley in the soup adds quite a bit of flavor!
As is customary in Kosovo, the meal also comes with fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, cheese, onions, and peppers on the side. I suggest adding some of the white cheese to the beef and vegetables, which adds a whole new dimension of flavor to the dish. If you’re brave enough, try one of the peppers, but be warned—they can be pretty spicy!
Of course, a dining experience in Kosovo wouldn’t be the same without some raki. The kind I tried at Restaurant Art Design was very smooth and almost tasted like pure water. But, like most raki, it contains a high alcohol content, so don’t let the smooth flavor fool you into drinking too much!
Restaurant Art Design
+377 44 222 254
While I’m not necessarily a budget traveler, I certainly appreciate a good bargain, especially when it comes to comfortable accommodations. Peja’s best accommodation, Hotel Dukagjini, also happens to be quite affordable. This five-star hotel in the center of the city is the perfect choice for travelers exploring the city.
The hotel itself dates back to 1956 and is considered one of Kosovo’s elite hotels. It was completely renovated after becoming part of the Dukagjini Group in 2008. Hotel Dukagjini manages to feel both traditional and modern and boasts unique and charming architecture.
It also boasts gorgeous, elegant decor and offers complimentary breakfasts and WiFi. Its spa is also free to use for guests, so if you have the time, I highly recommend enjoying their sauna or getting a massage. It may just be one of the top things you do in Peja, Kosovo!
Guests can choose between five different types of rooms: a standard room, a deluxe suite, a deluxe twin room, a presidential room, and a penthouse. All rooms boast stunning views of either the river, city, or Rugova Gorge.
My room was furnished with a comfortable bed and mini-bar. There was also a flatscreen TV and a sleek and clean bathroom. The comfort I experienced there was top-notch. The staff was friendly and the hotel’s central location meant that I was never too far from any of the local attractions. It’s a must when staying in Peja!
Sheshi i Deshmoreve
Peja 30000 Kosovo
+383 38 771 177
One of my favorite experiences I had in Peja was touring Birra Peja, the largest brewery in all of Kosovo. The brewery is massive and getting an exclusive, VIP tour of the facility made the beer enthusiast in me happy beyond measure. Unfortunately, this tour is not available to the general public, but I’ll walk you through it.
The tour begins inside their taproom, which is open to the public. There, you can try some of their cloudy, unfiltered Peja beer. The taproom is the only place you can try it, so I suggest sitting down, relaxing, and really enjoying it.
You can also sample their clearer, amber-colored filtered beer, which is also fantastic. Both beers both made with water from the White Drin River, which is why they’re both of such high quality.
After sampling both in the taproom, I got to check out their massive brewing system, which is a complex process that involves multiple stainless steel tanks. I also got to see how the malts are cleaned and steamed before water and hops are added.
Erjan and I followed that by seeing Peja Brewery’s bottling process in another building. I got to learn how the bottles are washed and filled. The beer gets pasteurized at 200 degrees Fahrenheit, and then the bottles get labeled! I’ve always had a passion for seeing how beer is made. It never ceases to amaze me!
Str. Nexhdet Basha Nr,160
Peja 30000 Kosovo
With a booming outdoors scene, the most prominent winery in the country, and some of Kosovo’s top hotels and restaurants, Peja is a dream. Between the meat-rich, mountain-inspired cuisine and the tranquil, scenic surroundings, it’s my belief that Peja must be on every Kosovo travel itinerary. The people are friendly and the sheer variety of activities will keep even the most fickle travelers entertained. Book a trip to Kosovo today to experience the beauty of Peja for yourself!
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