The Greatest UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Former Yugoslavia

The name Yugoslavia still invokes images of the horrible civil war that tore up this region in southeastern Europe in the 1990s. Things have calmed down, however, and the ex-Yugoslavian countries have opened their borders to foreign visitors. Some have even become members of the European Union. This is a culturally rich and historically significant part of Europe, shown in the abundance of great former Yugoslavia UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

A Complicated Region

Literally meaning “South Slavia”, Yugoslavia came into existence after the First World War. Named after the South Slavic people who lived in the region, this was those people’s first independent union after centuries of occupation by the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires. After the Second World War, it became a communist country, ruled by the Partisan president Josep Broz Tito.

Yugoslavia consisted of six different countries and a few additional provinces, which made the fact that they managed to stick together for seven decades all the more impressive.

However, the differences in culture, economy, politics and religion between the individual countries became too large in the late-1980s and the early-1990s. With the rise of nationalism, eventually, a civil war broke out in Yugoslavia. This caused a huge humanitarian crisis, with tens of thousands of people killed and many more who fled to other countries as refugees.

The Balkan War resulted in the breakup of Yugoslavia and the independence of virtually all its countries. Serbia and Montenegro tried to stay together for a bit, but they, too, became two separate independent countries in 2006. Kosovo followed later, declaring its independence from Serbia in 2008.

What Countries Made Up Yugoslavia?

The former Yugoslavian republic comprised six different countries:

  • Croatia,
  • Slovenia,
  • Montenegro,
  • Bosnia-Herzegovina,
  • Macedonia, and
  • Serbia (with Kosovo and Vojvodina as autonomous provinces)
Former Yugoslavia Map. Former Yugoslavia UNESCO
Former Yugoslavia Map

Ex-Yugoslavia in the 21st Century

Now, the Balkan War is long over. That said, however, there are still some places where you can see the scars of the war and, perhaps, feel a little bit of tension, especially in areas with ethnic minorities. Each of the ex-Yugoslavian countries has gone its own way, though, trying to make the most of its existence in a now-capitalist part of Europe. A couple of them, Croatia and Slovenia, have become members of the European Union.

This opening of their border has caused a huge influx of tourists and their money, making those two countries some of Europe’s most up-and-coming destinations. With the help of tourist dollars, Slovenia and Croatia are slowly pulling away from its neighbors, who sometimes stay behind economically.

Yugoslavia doesn’t exist anymore. Its former member countries are now entirely independent and completely safe. There’s zero chance that a war will break out again. The biggest threats to tourists in ex-Yugoslavia nowadays are pickpockets and sunburn—just like it is elsewhere in Southern Europe.

Because this is a young region—in terms of independent countries—it is relatively less visited than other parts of Europe. This makes this one of those places you should visit sooner rather than later. Many places are still authentic and unspoiled by mass tourism.

Although this might be a brand new tourist destination, the region is ancient, some of its cities dating back to Roman times. Ex-Yugoslavia is dotted with phenomenal national parks and fascinating historic sites. If you’re visiting the region, you’re encouraged to focus on the former Yugoslavia UNESCO World Heritage Sites, all of which are world-class destinations.

Top 7 Former Yugoslavia UNESCO World Heritage Sites

7. Durmitor National Park, Montenegro

Durmitor National Park. Former Yugoslavia UNESCO
Durmitor National Park. Flickr: Peter Fenda / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Home to Europe’s deepest gorge, Montenegro’s Durmitor National Park is one of the greatest wilderness areas in Southern Europe and one of the top Former Yugoslavia UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Dotted with shimmering lakes—called “the eyes of the mountains” by locals—and crossed by towering mountain ranges and abyss-like canyons, this is a fantastic destination to go hiking, camping and whitewater rafting.

6. Palace of Diocletian in Split, Croatia

Peristyle of Diocletian's Palace. Former Yugoslavia UNESCO
Peristyle of Diocletian’s Palace. Flickr: paula soler-moya / CC BY-NC-ND 2

Built as a retirement home for Roman Emperor Diocletian, the Palace of Diocletian is still the beating heart of Split, Croatia. The city grew around the emperor’s home, eventually becoming Croatia’s second largest city. The Palace lies in the center of the Old Town and offers visitors the chance to walk freely through nearly 2,000-year-old columns and ruins.

5. Škocjan Caves, Slovenia

Bridge Inside Skocjan Caves, Slovenia. Former Yugoslavia UNESCO
Bridge Inside Skocjan Caves, Slovenia. Flickr: TravelingOtter / CC BY-SA 2.0

The caves system of the Škocjan Caves in Slovenia is one of the natural treasures of our planet. A perfect example of karst caves, this system is home to one of the world’s largest known underground canyons. It also houses Europe’s, and one of the world’s, largest underground chambers.

4. Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Plitvice National Park. Former Yugoslavia UNESCO
Plitvice National Park. Flickr: James / CC BY-SA 2.0

This is yet another natural area that’s been included on the list of former Yugoslavia UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of Croatia’s star attractions, an area characterized by dense forests and famous for its cascading lakes and countless waterfalls.

3. Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

Bay of Kotor. Former Yugoslavia UNESCO
Bay of Kotor. Flickr: Cycling Man / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Often called the Adriatic’s only fjord, the Bay of Kotor is technically not a fjord—there were never any glaciers—but does resemble one. This culturally and historically important bay, made up of a couple of different bays, is among the most spectacular destinations in ex-Yugoslavia. Particularly the old town of Kotor is heart-achingly pretty.

2. Old City of Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina

View from the Minaret. Former Yugoslavia UNESCO
View from the Minaret. Flickr: Kevin Botto / CC BY-ND 2.0

Home to an ethnically diverse population, Mostar is one of the cities that suffered most during the Balkan War. You can still see bullet holes in the façades of buildings and even buildings that haven’t been cleaned up or renovated. That’s not why this is one of the greatest former Yugoslavia UNESCO World Heritage Sites though. Mostar is home to the iconic Stari Most, arguably one of the most well-known landmarks in this part of Europe.

1. Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik's heart. Former Yugoslavia UNESCO
Dubrovnik’s heart. Flickr: Lawrence OP / CC BY-NC 2.0

Dubrovnik is the crown jewel of the ex-Yugoslavian coast. A centuries-old, once-independent city, this is one of the most photogenic cities in the world. Its entire Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, filled with historic buildings, cobbled streets and stairways, and surrounded by its massive City Walls.

About Bram


Bram is a Belgian guy who's currently living in the USA. For over four years now, he has been wandering the globe, with jobs here and there in between. So far, his travels have taken him to four continents and twenty-two countries. Bram likes to try different styles of travelling: from backpacker and adventurer to tourist and local, he has been all those stereotypes and probably will be many more in the future. You can follow his adventures on his travel blog, on Twitter and on Facebook.

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