If you’re a long term traveller in Europe, and you’re not one of the lucky bastards to have been born in the EU. Then you’re most likely going to be on a Schengen visa. If you’re new to the concept of the Schengen visa – let’s start at the beginning for you:
What is a Schengen visa?
It’s a visa that allows you free movement between the 26 countries in Europe who have agreed to eliminate internal border control. So as a traveller you can move freely between these countries without having to apply for a visa for every single country you enter.
The schengen visa allows entry into these countries for a maximum 90 days every 6 months, starting from the date of entry. For more information check out this site http://www.schengenvisainfo.com
Thanks to the introduction of the schengen visa for travellers, many countries have been more accessible than ever. It has opened up a ‘visa free’ (waived) world to many backpackers and gap year travellers from all over the world.
But what happens when you’re 90 days are up? What if you’re not ready to go home yet – where the hell do you go?
I recently found myself in this predicament, (actually I’m currently in Schengen exile as we speak) so in no particular order:
My Top 5 Non Schengen Countries in Europe to visit.
Kosovo – Prizren
Kosovo – in particular the city of Prizren, is our new favourite non Schengen country in Europe. Prizren was such a pleasant surprise. When we were there, winter was approaching and the days becoming colder. And even so, the people in Kosovo were still out enjoying the limited hours of sunshine they had every single day. We discovered locals drinking coffee in the numerous coffee shops around town, restaurants full every night and bars that offer cheap drinks and a chilled atmosphere.
A must see is the view from the Kalaja Fortress. This is a great place to relax and enjoy the view. If it’s a nice day bring a picnic and hang out with the locals, many of which are happy to chat to foreigners.
Try the local Pljeskavica, the Kosovo version of grilled meat stuffed with cheese. We had this dish at te Syla restaurant and it is seriously the best in town. So good we went back the next day and had it again! Price is less than $5 USD and it often comes with salad and chips.
Price of a beer:
A pint of the local beer Birra Sabaja costs around $2 -2.50 USD. There are a couple really funky bars in Prizren that are open late into the night. Be warned though in the cooler months everyone stays inside, and there are no, no-smoking laws in many bars and restaurants in the Balkans. Or if there are, they are swiftly ignored. You will end up smelling like an ashtray by the end of the evening.
Prizren City Hostel was the only hostel in town when we visited (November 2014), and it’s a great place to stay. Free beer and snacks in the evening and breakfast is also complimentary
Dorms are around 11 per person and private rooms aprox $37 USD per night.
An Interesting Fact about Kosovo:
Kosovo, the youngest country of the 21st century, they officially declared independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008
Want to learn more about our time in Prizren? Read our full article here
We visited Tirana and Shkodra, but the coastal towns of the ‘Albanian Riviera’ are a popular place to visit during the warmer months. This country is jam packed with so much natural beauty it would be a shame to leave it off any European trip. The people are all welcoming and go above and beyond to help any foreigners in need of assistance.
If you want the beauty of the Greek islands with a more affordable price tag – then book that plane ticket to Albania today.
Veal appears to be the speciality of Albania – or ‘the baby cow’ as it is usually described. We recommend giving the Albanian Pilaf a try, pilaf is a rice dish where the rice is cooked in seasoned broth. Pilaf costs around $1 USD for a small serving.
Price of Beer:
Birra Kaon the local beer is aprox $1 USD for a 330ml. We also found that the wine was quite tasty and very affordable – score!
Prices vary depending on where you are staying and at what time of year. We often found airbnb to offer cheaper accommodation than hotels or even hostels.
An Interesting Fact about Albania:
Albania, Armenia, Macedonia and Vatican City are the only European countries without a McDonald’s branch.
The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – Skopje
The first thing to realise is that there are 2 Macedonia’s in Europe. In fact, they are side by side. One is The FYR Macedonia and the other is a part of Greece. One is Schengen (Greece) and he other is not. So if you’re avoiding the Schengen zone – it’s best not to mix these two up.
We visited the capital of FYR Macedonia Skopje, and though it is a city under construction, it’s still beautiful to visit. It’s going to be incredible once it’s finished. You can wander the streets admiring the architecture and art bridges, or head into the Old Bazaar or Bit Pazaar area to get a taste of the local market scene.
Macedonian food is well worth trying, even though it seems most locals are only interested in international cuisine.
Pindjur is a relish like spread made of eggplant, garlic, peppers, tomato, onion and olive oil. Ask for the spicy version and they’ll add in some seriously spicy chilli as well. Make sure you try Pastrmajlija – this is a fried dough pie that is covered with salted and cubed meat pieces and sometimes cheese or egg. Often you’ll get a couple so chilli’s on top as well. There’s even a festival for this dish it’s so tasty. Cost for a small was around $3 USD and that fed both of us!
Price of a beer:
There are 2 local beers by the local brewery of Skopsko. This beer comes in both light and dark varieties at a cost of around $1.80 USD. If you find the Zlaten Dab beer give it a try it’s a little pricier but certainly a tasty choice.
We stayed at Hostel 42 in Skopje, Dorms from 8 euro pp. Private room shared bathroom cost: $27 USD
This place is neat, clean and the service was amazing. The girls who worked there were super friendly and helpful and made sure we had a lovely stay. It’s also in a good position so all attractions are within walking distance.
For prices and availability click here
As an added note the bakery on the corner of Boulevard St Clement of Ohrid as you head into town has the best burek (cheese or cheese and spinach pie) we’ve ever tasted. And at a cost of $1 USD for a big piece, how could you refuse!
An Interesting Fact About Macedonia:
Of all the Yugoslav territories, Macedonia was the only one that gained independence peacefully
One of the fastest growing tourist destinations in the Balkans. Montenegro offers beautiful coastlines, stunning mountains and historic old towns to explore. Whilst not as cheap as some other Balkan destinations, you can certainly still get some bang for your buck if you go about it the right way. In the summer months prices go through the roof, but come a little off season and prices of accommodation can sometimes be negotiated.
Seafood, especially squid known as Lignej is popular in Montenegro. Due to its positioning, there is also a lot of Italian influence in Montenegrin cooking, with Turkey coming in a close 2nd place. The cuisine also revolves around fresh produce including olive oil, olives and cheese. All of which are divine.
Price of a beer:
The local beer is Niksicko. You’ll pay around $1.50 USD for 330ml (bottle size) in some of the more expensive places. However, we’re not the biggest fans of the flavour. In Montenegro, we recommend drinking the local wine. Montenegrin wine is made locally and is actually quite tasty and affordable. A decent 1 litre bottle costs as little as $1.20 USD. Yes that’s right – 1 litre!
There are lots of couchsurfing and airbnb options available around Montenegro for very reasonable prices. We also stayed a few nights in Hostel Old Town Kotor – which was absolutely lovely. The rooms were really spacious and it really felt like stepping back in time to the middle ages. Very cool place to stay!
If hostels aren’t your scene and you are looking for a hotel stay – here are a few good options
An Interesting Fact about Montenegro:
Montenegro features in the movie “Casino Royale”, released in 2006. James Bond plays a high stake poker tournament at the Casino Royale, which is located in Montenegro. Filming for this movie was done in the Czech Republic however 🙁
We spent close to 4 months living in Bucharest while I waited to be able to re-enter the Schengen zone – and we fell in love. The people are friendly, the countryside is captivating and it doesn’t hurt that the cost of living is quite reasonable. Plus being able to say you’ve visited Dracula’s castle will make you instantly cool with your friends – trust us.
When heading out for a meal in Romania know this – you will never leave the restaurant and still be hungry. Romanian food is incredible, but the portion sizes are insane. Needless to say if you do visit make sure you try Mititei which is grilled minced meat rolls which in Romanian means “small ones”. Sarmale which is minced meat with rice, wrapped in either pickled cabbage leaves or vine leaves. It’s often served with a few slices of ham or bacon and a nice big helping of polenta. And then for dessert Papanasi, a boiled/fried doughnut of sorts that’s been smothered in local jam and cream – heavenly.
Price of Beer:
Romanian’s love their beer and there are plenty to choose from. The main beer that you will find on tap is Ciuc, which will set you back about $1-2 USD depending on what bar you are in. Other popular brands include Ursus, Silva and Timișoreana. Bucharest also has an amazing garden bar scene. In the summer months, these are full of locals all enjoying the warmer months in style.
Airbnb can be a little pricey in Romania but there are some great options out there. There are also some really great hostels/hotels in Romania including our very favourite….
Interesting fact about Romania:
In 1889 the Romanian city of Timisoara became the first in Europe to have electric street lighting.
So there you have it, my Top 5 Non Schengen Countries 2015 to Visit.
Now you may be thinking hey, wait a minute! What about Bulgaria, Cyprus or Croatia? These are kick ass countries that aren’t in the Schengen zone… True, but they are actively in bids to become a part of the Schengen Agreement, so I decided to leave them out. Feel free to use them as non Schengen countries at the moment (2015) but things will possibly change in the near future.
All of these places are great options to visit and chill out in while you are waiting until you can re-enter the Schengen zone. But honestly, I recommend adding these countries to your itinerary anyway. And as soon as possible too. Trust me these countries won’t be quite so ‘unvisited’ in the coming years.
We’ve had such a fantastic time visiting these countries, I’m actually now embarrassed that I had never even considered them until my Schengen visa ran out. But to be honest, next time we are in Europe these countries will be at the top of my Must Visit Again list.
Have you been to any of these non Schengen countries? Where did you visit, how was your experience? Tell us in the comments below
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