Exploring the Balkan States: 10 Countries on 1 Peninsula

By: Mack Hayden  | 
View from ocean of sea cliffs, old fortresses, trees, and orange-roofed buildings
Your mind may jump to headlines about war-torn countries when you hear "the Balkans," but the region is also home to stunning landscapes, such as this view of Dubrovnik, Croatia. Samantha T. Photography / Getty Images

The Balkan states (sometimes colloquially referred to as simply "the Balkans") are a diverse and historically rich set of countries that span across southeastern Europe.

They're notable as much for their commonalities as they are for their differences: Their unique blend of cultures, languages and histories make them a fascinating destination for travelers and historians alike.


The Balkan Peninsula is usually defined as comprising Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia. Each of these Balkan countries offers a glimpse into the past and present of southeastern Europe.

Geography of the Balkan Region

The Balkan Peninsula is bordered by the Adriatic Sea to the west (across which is Italy) and the Ionian Sea a bit further south; Austria, Hungary and Ukraine to the north; the Black Sea to the east; and Greece and Türkiye to the south.

This region is characterized by its mountain ranges, including the Balkan Mountains, which stretch across Bulgaria and provide a natural divide. The Pindus Mountains in Greece and the Dinaric Alps along the Adriatic coast are also prominent features of the Balkan region.


The peninsula occupies a strategic location in southeastern Europe, bridging central Europe and the eastern Mediterranean. This positioning has historically made it a crossroads of civilizations, including the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire.

10 Balkan Countries

Multicolored political map of the Balkans
Map of the Balkan Peninsula.
pop_jop / Getty Images

While there is no singular, definitive list of Balkan states, these 10 are generally considered to be part of the Balkan region.

1. Albania

Albania is situated in the southwestern part of the Balkan Peninsula along the Adriatic Sea. With a total population of approximately 2.8 million people, it boasts a rich history influenced by the Illyrians, Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans. Albania is known for its stunning landscapes, including its beautiful coastline and the Albanian Alps.


2. Bosnia and Herzegovina

Northwest of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina has a population of about 3.2 million people. This country is renowned for its cultural diversity, with a mix of Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs.

The capital city, Sarajevo, is known for its historical significance and vibrant cultural life. This area also played a major role in the dissolution of Yugoslavia during the 1990s.

3. Bulgaria

Bulgaria is home to approximately 6.6 million people and is situated in the southeastern part of the Balkan Peninsula. The country features the Balkan Mountains, which run through its territory and significantly influence its climate. During the Middle Ages, a Bulgarian empire cropped up across the Balkans — twice.

4. Croatia

Croatia, with a population just under 4 million, is located on the western edge of the Balkan Peninsula along the Adriatic Sea. It's a popular tourist spot because of its gorgeous coastline, historic cities like Dubrovnik and its numerous islands. Many Croatians immigrated to the ports of Southern California during the 19th and 20th centuries.

5. Kosovo

Kosovo is one of the newer Balkan nations and has a population around 1.7 million.

In the 1990s, Kosovo was a significant flashpoint in the breakup of Yugoslavia, culminating in a violent conflict between ethnic Albanians and Serb forces. The humanitarian crisis and ethnic cleansing led NATO to intervene in 1999. This eventually paved the way for Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008.

6. Montenegro

Montenegro has a population of roughly 600,000 people. Explore this country and you'll see rugged mountains, medieval villages and a narrow strip of beaches along its Adriatic coastline. The Bay of Kotor, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is one of its most famous attractions.

7. North Macedonia

North Macedonia has a population of about 2.1 million people. It is a landlocked country known for its rich history, which dates back to the ancient kingdom of Paeonia and Alexander the Great's Macedonian Empire.

8. Romania

Romania is located in the northeastern part of the Balkan Peninsula. The forested and fabled region of Transylvania comprises most of the country's west and central territory. Ringed by the Carpathian Mountains, its medieval castles, including Bran Castle, are the birthplace of the Dracula legend.

While most Balkan states are toward the center of the continent, Romania is the gateway to Eastern Europe.

9. Serbia

From the bustling streets of its vibrant capital, Belgrade, to the historic fortress of Kalemegdan overlooking the Danube and Sava rivers, Serbia is a must-see Balkan country.

You can find Serbia's rich traditions reflected in its lively festivals, diverse cuisine and the unique architectural heritage found in its monasteries and fortresses, offering a compelling journey through the layers of southeast Europe's past and present.

10. Slovenia

Slovenia is situated at the crossroads of central and southeastern Europe. Known for its mountains, ski resorts and lakes, Slovenia is a recent addition to the European Union and has a well-developed economy. It's also the birthplace of renowned contemporary philosopher, Slavoj Zizek.


Natural Features of the Balkans

From sea to shining sea (Adriatic to Black, that is), the peninsula is host to an assortment of picturesque geographical features that have also contributed to the region's political strife over the centuries.

The Balkan Mountains: A Natural Divide

The word “Balkan” is Turkish for “mountains,” highlighting the significance of mountain ranges in this region. The Balkan Mountains play a crucial role in shaping the climate, with warm summers and cold winters in the north and hot summers and rainy winters in the south.


These mountains are not only a natural divide but also a cultural and historical landmark.

Rivers of the Balkans

The region is home to several major rivers, including the Danube, Sava and Drava. These rivers have been vital for transportation, trade and agriculture throughout history. The Danube River flows through multiple Balkan countries, linking them with central Europe and the Black Sea.

Glacial Landscapes of the Balkans

The Balkans feature numerous glacial landscapes, such as mountains, valleys and lakes shaped by the movement of glaciers during the last ice age. These include the Rila and Pirin mountains in Bulgaria and the Durmitor range in Montenegro.

These glacial features add to the region's natural beauty and are popular destinations for hikers and nature enthusiasts.


History of the Balkan Peninsula

The Balkans were inhabited well before the Neolithic period by Indo-European peoples such as the Illyrians and Thracians. The Thracians were known for their metalworking skills and horsemanship, and they interacted with the Greeks, contributing to the development of the Dionysian and Orphean cults.

The Illyrians, on the other hand, were more isolated, due to their mountainous terrain, maintaining a distinct culture.


The Balkan Peninsula has a complex and turbulent history, influenced by the Ottoman Turks, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Soviet Union. The region was a major battleground during World War II, with significant resistance movements and battles taking place.

In more recent decades, the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s led to a series of conflicts and the emergence of new independent states, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Kosovo.


Culture and Society in the Western Balkans

The Western Balkans are characterized by strong community ties and social networks. Historically, the region has seen significant migration, with people moving between villages and towns for work and family reasons. The social systems often include extended family structures and patriarchal traditions, which continue to influence daily life.

The Balkan region is renowned for its rich cultural heritage, influenced by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans. This cultural mosaic is reflected in the region's languages, religions and traditions.


Festivals, music, dance and cuisine in the Balkans are vibrant and diverse, showcasing the area's historical depth and cultural complexity. While most Western Balkan countries have integrated into the European Union, some of the other Southeast Europe-spanning states maintain their own sovereignty.

Travel and Tourism in the Balkans

One popular way to explore the Balkan region is through something generally referred to as the Grand Balkan Tour, which covers five countries of the former Yugoslavia: Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Slovenia.

This itinerary typically offers a comprehensive overview of the region's history, culture and natural beauty, including visits to major cities, national parks and cultural landmarks such as Dubrovnik, Mostar and Plitvice Lakes.


You'll also want to visit places like the ancient city of Ohrid in North Macedonia (known for its stunning lake and historical significance) and the Dalmatian coast in Croatia, which offers breathtaking views and charming towns. The mountains of Bulgaria, such as Rila and Pirin, are perfect for outdoor enthusiasts.

We created this article in conjunction with AI technology, then made sure it was fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.