A Day in Pristina: Experiencing Europe’s Youngest Capital

Last Updated on: 27th August 2022, 08:52 am

Kosovo’s capital of Pristina isn’t going to win any beauty contests, while the city only has a handful of significant tourist attractions. But Europe’s newest capital is buzzing with energy and brimming with potential, making it an exciting place to explore even for just a day. In the following Pristina guide, we’ll be covering the top things to do and see around town.

The following locations can easily be accessed on foot over the course of a single day. But be sure to allow yourself another full day in the area to visit Gračanica Monastery and the Bear Sanctuary on the city’s outskirts.

For information on transport and accommodation, be sure to check the end of the article.

Central Pristina

As mentioned, the following locations can easily be explored on foot. You can then continue further north to Pristina’s historical district.

The Newborn Monument

The Newborn Monument is one of Pristina’s newest yet most important landmarks. The monument was erected on 17 February 2008 – the day Kosovo, Europe’s youngest country, declared its independence.

It was designed by a Kosovar designer named Fisnik Ismaili and stretches out to 24 meters while weighing 9 tons. Impressively, it was built and erected in only 10 days.

Pristina Guide Kosovo
Pristina Guide Kosovo
Pristina Guide Kosovo

Interestingly, the monument changes its colors every year, often in accordance with particular themes. During my visit in 2021, the letters were completely covered in multicolored handprints. And by the time of your visit, it will have likely taken on a whole new look.

Ibrahim Rrugova Square

Central Pristina’s main public square is known as Ibrahim Rrugova Square. Here you’ll find a large statue of a horseback Skanderbeg, the Albanian national hero. 

For those unaware, Skanderbeg, who lived in the 15th century, was a military genius who went undefeated against the Ottomans. If you’re doing a longer tour of the Balkans, his former headquarters in Krujë, Albania is well worth the visit.

Pristina Guide Kosovo
Pristina Guide Kosovo

Attached to the square is Bulevardi Nene Tereza, the city’s main pedestrian street. The wide street is lined with outdoor restaurants and coffee shops, and it’s a favorite place for locals at all times of day. It’s also a great place to escape the city’s notorious traffic.

Mother Teresa Cathedral

Mother Theresa was born in Skopje, North Macedonia, just about 80 km away from Pristina. And as she was of ethnic Albanian origin, she’s a highly revered figure in both Albania and Kosovo.

Pristina Guide Kosovo
Pristina Guide Kosovo
Pristina Guide Kosovo

Accordingly, Pristina hosts a Roman Catholic Cathedral in her honor, though construction only began in 2007. At the time of my visit in 2021, work was still ongoing in certain sections.

Whether or not you’re religious, there’s one major reason to visit the Mother Theresa Cathedral: Its bell tower which doubles as an observation deck, offering what are arguably the best views of central Pristina.

While the observation deck is hardly mentioned in guide books or even locally, simply walk up to the elevator at the base of the tower and ask. A trip to the top costs a single euro.

From the top, you can also get a clear view of two of the city’s most controversial buildings…

The National Library & The Abandoned Church

The Pristina National Library is easily the country’s strangest-looking building. Designed by Croatian architect Andrija Mutnjakovic, it’s topped with numerous white domes said to symbolize the traditional Albanian cap.

The sides, meanwhile, are entirely covered in strange metal patterns that appear like netting. Humorously, locals weren’t even convinced that it was completed upon its inauguration in 1982, as it appeared to still be covered in scaffolding. 

While few find the structure beautiful, it at least stands out amongst Pristina’s other nondescript buildings.

But to make the scene even more bizarre, the unusual library is situated right next to a traditional church – albeit one that was never completed and remains abandoned to this day.

Construction began on the Orthodox church in 1992 – just a few years after Serbia revoked Kosovo’s autonomous status. To make matters more contentious, the plot of land was being contested by the Serbian Orthodox Church and the University of Pristina.

Pristina Guide Kosovo
Pristina Guide Kosovo

While the church eventually reached its current form in 1998, war between the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and Serbia would commence the same year and the project was abandoned. 

After a failed attempt to demolish it, the empty structure remains standing. Currently under the protection of the UN, and with most ethnic Serbs having fled the region during the war, no one’s quite sure what to do with it.

Situated right nearby, just along the main road, is the National Gallery of Kosovo which regularly hosts modern art exhibits.

The Bill Clinton Statue

Another peculiar landmark in central Pristina is the Bill Clinton Statue. It’s rather unusual these days to see a statue of such a recent political leader. But whatever you may think of the man, it’s understandable why he’s so popular in Kosovo (as well as Bosnia). 

Many Kosovars, of course, credit him and NATO with driving out Serb forces during the war in the ’90s, ultimately leading to the tiny nation’s independence.

Pristina Guide Kosovo
Pristina Guide Kosovo

The 11-foot brass statue was unveiled in 2009 and is appropriately situated along Bill Clinton Boulevard (spelled locally a with ‘K’.) Nearby the statue, meanwhile, is a women’s clothing shopped named ‘Hillary.’

Just across from the statue, new developments are being constructed at a rapid pace. Perhaps one day, someone will create a competing store called ‘Monica.’

Pristina Street Art

While Pristina may be an energetic and vibrant city, it’s by no means a pretty one. But to help add some color and variety to the otherwise drab cityscape, Pristina is home to an abundance of high-quality street art, and you’ll find interesting murals just about wherever you go.

Pristina Guide Kosovo
Pristina Guide Kosovo
Pristina Guide Kosovo

A lot of the most interesting murals I spotted were seen from bus or taxi windows, preventing me from capturing a photograph. But real street art aficionados may want to spend an extra day in town to seek them out, as Pristina is easily one of the best places for street art in the Balkans.

The Old City

The northern part of the city is home to Pristina’s best-preserved Ottoman structures. But considering how the Ottoman Empire controlled Kosovo for hundreds of years, very few remain.

If you’re interested in Ottoman architecture, be sure to visit Kosovo’s second-largest city of Prizren, which almost feels like one big open-air museum.

The Kosovo Museum

The building which houses the Kosovo Museum was constructed in 1889 in the late Ottoman era. Its style, however, is based on the architecture of neighboring Austria-Hungary. 

Originally serving as a military command headquarters, it was converted to a museum in 1949 during the Yugoslav era.

Pristina Guide Kosovo

The museum starts by taking visitors way back to the past, from the Early Bronze Age up to Hellenistic and Roman times. 

In ancient times, the central Balkan region which encompasses Kosovo was part of the kingdom of Dardania, which bordered Illyria to the west and Macedonia to the south.

Pristina Guide Kosovo
A Dardanian relief, 4th century BC
Pristina Guide Kosovo
Ancient votive figurines

In the 4th century BC, the Dardanians aligned themselves with the Illyrians to attack Macedonia, then ruled by Alexander the Great. While the attack was repelled, the Dardanians and Macedonians would continue to feud over the next few centuries.

Interestingly, though Illyria and Macedonia were absorbed into the Roman Empire in 168 BC, the Dardanians managed to hold out until 28 BC.

Pristina Guide Kosovo
A Roman-era lead sarcophagus
Pristina Guide Kosovo
Dionysus

The second floor abruptly takes visitors centuries forward in time to the late 1990s. Here you’ll find a collection of weaponry and items from the war between the KLA and NATO against Serb forces.

It was quite interesting to see artifacts from a conflict I remember hearing about as a child now being preserved behind glass cases in a museum.

Pristina Guide Kosovo
Pristina Guide Kosovo

One notable room contains a collection of flags of the countries that currently recognize an independent Kosovo. Major countries from the list include the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy, the UK, Japan, South Korea and Turkey, among others.

On the other hand, influential countries which still see Kosovo as part of Serbia include Russia, China, India, Greece, Spain and Mexico. 

Local Mosques & the Ethnological Museum

Just next to the museum is the Yashar Pasha Mosque, built in 1835 and named after the governor of nearby Skopje. After extensive renovations, it was finally reopened in 2016. Another significant mosque further up the street is Xhamia e Madhe (Sultan Mehmet Fetah).

Continuing northwest through some backroads, you should eventually arrive at the Ethnological Museum, set in the former residential complex of the Gjinoli family.

Pristina Guide Kosovo
Pristina Guide Kosovo

While the complex contains two separate buildings, only one was accessible at the time of my visit, with the other undergoing extensive renovations. After paying a small entry fee, I was allowed to explore the house on my own.

Inside, I saw a kitchen, various common rooms, bathrooms and plenty of ornate furniture and woodcarvings.

Pristina Guide Kosovo

It’s just one of many preserved Ottoman-era houses you can find throughout the Balkans. Nevertheless, it’s worth visiting for a reminder that Pristina’s history goes much further back than first meets the eye.

Pristina Guide Kosovo

Additional Info

Most travelers arrive in Pristina by bus, often from another Balkan country.

In my case, I took a bus from Skopje, North Macedonia. A minibus departed around 10:00 am and cost 350 MKD. (Be sure to confirm the time and price in advance, as these things often change in the Balkans.)

If you’re traveling while coronavirus restrictions are still ongoing, it’s up to you to make sure you have all the necessary documents before boarding. (But oddly, in my case, even though I’d taken a PCR test and printed out the results, the Kosovo border guards didn’t care to check!) At the time of writing, both Macedonia and Kosovo are now restriction free.

You can also find direct buses from other Balkan cities like Tirana, Albania, Podgorica and Ulcinj, Montenegro, and various cities in Serbia. There are also numerous routes linking Kosovo with Germany.

Note: If you’re visiting Kosovo first and then plan to visit Serbia later, you must enter and exit Kosovo via a third country and then enter Serbia directly. As Serbia considers Kosovo to be part of its territory, there is no passport check when traveling from Kosovo to Serbia. Thus, when leaving Serbia, your passport will be lacking an entry stamp which can get you into trouble at the border.

You can also easily travel to Pristina from other cities in Kosovo like Prizren and Peja. Kosovo has an organized and well-functioning bus system (a pleasant surprise for those coming straight from Albania!) Buses leave on a set schedule, and most buses in Kosovo are larger coach buses as opposed to cramped minivans.

For those coming from further away, Pristina International Airport has direct flights to various cities in Europe and Turkey.

For whatever reason, accommodation in Kosovo is surprisingly pricey when compared with neighboring Albania and North Macedonia. Therefore, those on a budget may have to settle for somewhere a bit out of the way.

Basically, as long as you’re staying somewhere within a reasonable walking distance of the main road, M9, you should be fine. Even better is basing yourself near the bus station, especially if you’re only in town for a few days.

While I normally go with a budget hotel on Booking, the best deal I could find this time was on Airbnb. I booked a place simply called ‘Small Home,’ where I had a private room, bathroom and kitchen.

With all the Airbnb fees included, it cost me $32 USD for two nights. It was a decent stay overall and walkable from the city center.

It was too far to walk to the bus station, however. And while I did try taking the public city bus once, it failed to arrive at the nearest bus stop. The locals waiting there were also confused, and we ultimately all had to walk ten minutes to the next stop over.

Needless to say, I took a taxi to the station when leaving town, which cost me 4-5 euro.



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