Balkans are the loosely classified region of Europe that were once part of former Yugoslavia. Those would be countries like Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo and Bosnia & Herzegovina. Hungary is not a part of Balkans and is actually a member of Schengen agreement, but was a part of this trip as it can be used as a starting point to enter the Balkans.
Balkans are much different in rest of the west Europe or Even North-East European countries in the sense of its culture, politics, customs, religion, alcohol and specially economics. Prices in these regions are quite different as you would see, almost one-fourth or even more if compared to countries like France or Belgium.
Visa : Taking individual visas for each one of them is a headache and totally unnecessary. A better strategy is to have a multiple entry Schengen visa (from any of the 26-Schengen zone countries) that would allow an entry into all these countries without the need to take their individual visas. Make note that these countries have waived their respective visas requirement only if you have an active multiple entry Schengen visa (which remains valid during your period of stay and lets you return back later) but there are passport controls at airport/land/sea border crossings and passports would be checked and stamped. This doesn’t happen while you are travelling within the Schengen zone. The reason being that these countries are not (yet) part of Schengen zone.
Currencies : Even though Hungary is part of Schengen zone, it has its own currency. Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia have their own currencies as well while Montenegro uses the Euro (even though its neither in Euro or Schengen zone). Best deal would be to carry Euros and exchange it at a favourable place like city centre or railway station that give best rates, sometimes even without commissions.
Day by Day plan:
Day 1 – reach Budapest the night before or in the morning. Airport to city buses run frequently and city public train is reachable as well. would advise staying in the Old town so that the chain bridge is walking distance. explore the city on own. would recommend checking out the Ruin pubs that evening. night stay in Budapest.
Day 2 – Recommend the free walking tours to get more into the history of Budapest (specially the communism and Jewish heritage walk). take overnight sleeper train Budapest to Belgrade. this can be booked on day 1 directly from the railway station (costed around 25 euros) or even online. Train leave Budapest-Keleti railway station at 10:30 pm and I would suggest locking your bags well as many posts on tripadvisor/other online forums talk about theft on this overnight train.
Day 3 – Train reaches Belgrade at 6:30 am early morning. There are a lot of hotels/hostels walking distance from the railway station. In fact most of the Belgrade is walkable around. We had checked in a hostel, freshened up and joined a free walking tour. This was one of the free walking tours I did in Europe, the guide was quite knowledgeable and told a lot about history, wars and customs in Serbia. Belgrade is a city that has seen the ravages of war very recently and there are Old fortresses and old towns nearby that can be visited if one has more days to spare around. night stay in Belgrade.
Day 4 – take the 9am train Belgrade to Bar. this is a sitting train and tickets can be taken on Day 3 itself from the railway station. This train journey is among one of the best train experiences as it crosses entire Serbia and the length of Montenegro, going across Durmitor national park and railway line built over mountains using more than 200+ tunnels and bridges built during 40s and 50s era. The train coach is quite old style and windows can be opened to take photos and enjoy the fresh scenery. Almost feels like experiencing Europe of the 50s era. we did not go all the way to Bar but got down at Podgorica (train is usually late but reaches Podgorica around 8 pm). Getting out of the railway station, one can either take a bus (bus stand is right infront of train station) or a taxi (if in a group, taxi is better) to Kotor old town. It is around 80 kms and takes 1-1.5 hrs to reach. Taxi prices could be negotiated, we got one for 40 euros (shared between three of us, it was good value since bus tickets are 10 euros for Podgorica – Kotor). We reached Kotor late and had some food before checking into our hostel. night stay at Kotor.
Day 5 – we roamed around the old town and climbed up the castle on the hill behind the old town. It takes around 30 minutes to climb up and 2 hours to explore the whole place. Do not miss the monastery on the backside. In the evening we took a taxi from Kotor to Dubrovnik (80 kms, 2 hrs including the border checkpost time, costed 50 euros). We had booked a car through AutoEurope, for pickup in Dubrovnik city and drop in Zagreb airport for 4 days. We also took additional insurance that covered driving into other countries and back (so that we can drive to Bosnia). The prices here were quite cheaper compared to those in Western Europe. Plus lot of free parking places everywhere in Croatia. night stay in Dubrovnik
Day 6 – roamed around in Dubrovnik old town for 4-5 hours, walking over the walls first to get a top-view of the entire city, followed by walking through the city. we had parked our car near the old town so around 3pm we just drove off to Mostar. reached there around 7pm. night stay in Mostar.