Don’t be surprised if someone in Prishtina stops you on the street, asks where you’re from, and tries to invite you for a coffee. The capital of Kosovo is one of the most welcoming places in Europe, where a stranger is just a future acquaintance and hospitality is taken seriously.
Prishtina is also the capital of the youngest country in Europe—both by Declaration of Independence (February 2008) and by age of population (70 percent under 35).
The city has emerged from the destructive wars of the 1990s and become a bustling capital teeming with trendy 20- and 30-somethings, cafes, clubs and restaurants. It’s still rugged; cars park on the sidewalks, construction is ubiquitous, and you’ll see the occasional carload of U.N. troops. But make no mistake, Prishtina is safe and welcoming. It’s an easy place to make friends—more people speak English than in many other European capitals—and because Kosovo is the only country west of Belarus that requires a visa to visit European Union countries, locals are keen to chat with foreigners.
For breakfast, hit Trosha, just off Nene Tereza (Mother Theresa) Boulevard, to try a gjevrek, a Turkish-style bagel served with soft and creamy feta-like cheese. Or, if you’re really hungry, grab a byrek, flaky phyllo dough with various stuffings like minced meat, cheese, spinach or pumpkin if it is in season.
Photo: Marco Di Lauro/Getty
Fortified, stroll down Nene Tereza, central Prishtina’s main street and lifeline. At one end, the behemoth Yugoslav-era Grand Hotel towers above a square named for Zahir Pajaziti, a soldier in Kosovo’s war with Serbia (1998-1999). At the opposite end, in front of Kosovo’s new government building, a statue stands of Albanian national hero Skanderbeg on a horse, brandishing a sword and wearing a helmet with a goat on it.
Head past Skanderbeg and a statue of Kosovo’s first President, Ibrahim Rugova, who championed nonviolent resistance during Serbian repression of ethnic Albanians (which make up 90 percent of the country’s population) in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s. Then pass the Carsi Mosque to the city’s open market. Walking down Xhemajl Prishtina Street to the entrance to the complex you’ll see store after store selling ornate traditional bridal garb, which is still worn by many bridal parties in Kosovo. Wander the stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables, homemade cheese and olives out of barrels and nearly every other product and souvenir-esque trinket.
In the market, check out Qebaptore Shaban for a quick traditional but hearty lunch. Qebapa are Kosovo’s version of kebabs, served with soft bread, onions, and dried red pepper. You can also try the qofte, succulent flattened meatballs.
Not far away, the ethnological museum Emin Gjiku, situated in a beautiful old estate showcases what life was like for a family during the time Kosovo was part of the Ottoman empire, with rooms richly decorated with hand-woven carpets, traditional garb, and exhibits about cultural beliefs and traditions.
Head back toward the center and check out NEWBORN (pictured at top), the permanent art installation celebrating Kosovo’s post-independence era. Then head to Renesansa in the neighborhood of Ulpiana. The restaurant is a perfect mix of fine dining and home-cooking. The best part is there is no menu to scrutinize. A prix-fixe of 15 euros ($17) gets you a table full of sumptuous mezze, salad and various meat dishes—plus unlimited wine, water and raki, a homemade distilled spirit made from fruit (normally plums or grapes). The small plates are an assortment of homemade mountain cheese, creamy spreads with hot peppers, and grilled veggies served up with homemade bread. The number of main course dishes depends on the size of the group but usually consists of slow-roasted veal with garlic, or Tave Elbasan, baked lamb in a yogurt sauce. Renesansa, owned and run by Ilir Zhubi and his four children, is one of Prishtina’s best kept secrets from tourists because it isn’t advertised, but it is centrally located. (For more information, call +377 44 239 377.)
If you want an elegant après-meal drink head to Soma Bookstation, a recently opened bar and bookstore where Prishtina’s well-heeled go to be seen and admire all the others who want to be seen. If you’re into something a little less scene-y and a bit quirkier, check out Dit’ e Nat’, or Night and Day, the coziest café in Kosovo, which also happens to be a great place for morning coffee; afternoon reading; or chatting with the students, artists, and activists who hang out there.
After 11 or 12 walk down the street to Maroon pub, a club where you can get your fill of Kosovo pop tunes, gyrating women and laidback men, then head around the corner to Zanzi Jazz Bar, which heats up after 1 a.m. and often has live music.