Europe’s Youngest Capital: Culture, Cafés and Sightseeing
Pristina may not be the world’s most elegant or dazzling city, but it has its own gritty charm that will endear it to those looking for adventure off the beaten path.
My number one favorite thing about Pristina is the café culture. Adorned with Edison light bulbs and rustic vibes, every café makes Pristina’s famously excellent macchiato (never more than 1€ for a large) and garners loyal patronage.
1. Soma Book Station
Hip and beloved, Soma is THE place where ex-pats or ministry officials go for lunch or drinks on the regular. The interior features an amazing bar island with hanging glasses overhead and a work corner next to a carefully curated book selection that includes English-language novels by authors Zadie Smith, John Steinbeck and Houellebecq, to name a few. The industrial design feels extremely open and spacious, and the exposed light bulbs provide dim, sultry mood lighting at night. I love to order a macchiato and chill in the corner armchair curled up with a book. Soma also hosts quirky evening events such as Old School Hip Hop, The Four Horsemen in a One Horse Race and various other film, art and creative affairs.
Elusive and hidden among dilapidated buildings slightly off the main road Fehmi Aghani, Tartine is a French-inspired café. Their music selection is carefully curated to cultivate a classy atmosphere- relaxing, jazzy and soft. Paradoxically both classic and youthful, the café will toy with your taste buds with fresh ingredients that pair together seamlessly, for instance, caramelized nectarines, mozzarella and homemade pesto or salmon, radish, lemon dressing and cream cheese. Tartine remains the only place in Pristina I’ve been to, so far, to make a successful quiche. Their outdoor seating courtyard feels like a secluded, luscious Eden.
3. Dit e Nat
Boasting the best vegetarian lunch menu in town, Dit e Nat is a popular, well-established café. Rocking a mellow, hipster ambience, the poster of Bob Dylan in a Cat in the Hat hat hints at the laid-back, low-key atmosphere. The café has spacious backyard seating where the sunlight filters through the glass ceiling and a wooden, straw beach hut scene giving the illusion of open-air seating. As in most cafes, a classic, brightly colored bookshelf, filled with random old editions of popular English and Albanian novels and non-fiction guides and biographies, runs the length of the right-hand wall.
4. Half and Half
A popular spot right in the middle of the pedestrian Mother Teresa Street, Half and Half features exposed lighting and chalkboard menu items. The interior design is composed of famous paintings, splattered over with paint seemingly haphazardly, but with purpose; leaving only Mona Lisa’s perceptive gaze visible in one example. The décor and paintings definitely make Half and Half unique and impressive, and the exposed red brick adds to the intimate, bohemian effect.
A great place for lunch as well as coffee, Baristas, just across the street from the National Theatre, possesses a modern, geometric interior with inventive centerpieces that display plants growing out of light bulbs. Outside, the outdoor seating is constantly bustling with people having lunch and sipping deliciously thick smoothies. A lot of cafes in Pristina consider a “smoothie” any fruit drink that’s cold, but Baristas knows that a real smoothie consists of real fruit and yogurt. They also offer fresh squeezed, raw orange or carrot juices for only 1.50€, not to mention the most extensive hot chocolate, milk shake and latte menu I’ve seen yet.
6. Lulu’s Wine and Coffee
Every time I visit, the outdoor seating is almost impossible to snag, as is the coveted hanging egg chair, with people chatting over 1€ large macchiato. Lulu’s is a great starting point for an evening of wine and good conversation or it can serve as a quick mid-day snack or coffee break. The interior is decorated with a bookshelf, similar to most other popular cafes, but Lulu’s is versatile with its wall art décor and multiple sections- a comfy reading chair in one corner, a long wooden table set against a homey red brick wall and a more contemporary back room where light radiates through floor to ceiling windows.
Trosha, aptly translating to “crumb” in Albanian, is a hybrid bakery-café, with a constantly on-point baked goods selection. The staff is warm and welcoming, consisting of mostly young people who are fun to chat with and who really remember customers who come regularly. Trosha has such a cozy and modern vibe; bright cushions enliven the furnishings while the pitch-black, galaxy-themed chalkboard is coated with delectable larger-than-life swirling sweets. I also love the open-air feel of the café, since the second level is partially exposed to the fresh air, so you don’t feel as guilty spending all your time cooped up finishing an assignment. Order the 50-cent large macchiato (the cheapest around), the little energy balls and the detox drink, which, filled with cucumber and lemons, is refreshing and calming.
Besides spending your time café-hopping, take a trip to the Ethnographic Museum for some insight into Albanian culture. Highlights include the well-lit sitting area pictured right, a birthing room, old-school Albanian fashion styles, folk musical instruments and a plethora of metallurgic weapons and handcrafted pots and pans. The museum is inside a housing complex owned by the family of Emin Gjikolli and the cozy and realistic snapshot of 18th century life is amplified by the fact that you have to take off your shoes at the entrance. Walking through, you can imagine Albanians sitting on the floor boisterously passing around the raki. Emphasis is placed on Illyrian crafts including woodworking and pottery as Albanians take pride in their excellent craftsmanship passed down from generation to generation. Similarly, well-crafted jewelry and filigree often display different motifs related to familial and spousal love as well as different national and cult symbols.
Also, make sure to take a trip to the Pristina’s beautiful national park Germia just 2 km outside the city center. Hiking, swimming, and biking (rentals right outside the park) await. This park is also home to the most ginormous pool I have ever laid eyes on, a perfect weekend oasis.
To truly get a feel for Pristina’s buzzing atmosphere walk along the pedestrian only Nene Tereza (Mother Theresa) Street at night. The street is packed no matter the day of the week with kids riding motorcars wearing determined expressions, couples strolling and holding hands, corn ears blackening over charcoal wafting smoky sweet smells through the street, and street merchants rolling cotton candy into goliath, perfectly round clouds of sticky sweetness. Mother Teresa Street is truly the focal point of daily life in Pristina, with a palpable, animated energy emanating at all times of the day.
The Newborn Monument was unveiled on independence day, February 17th 2008 (independence from Serbia after 8 years as a protectorate region under UN watch). Newborn is painted differently and unveiled on 17 February every year. The first time it was unveiled, permanent markers were handed out for people to sign it and take ownership of this symbol of a trendy, modern, international Kosovo, so now everyone signs the monument and leaves their mark on this new country.