‘The exciting thing about Pristina is that there’s so much space and freedom for new ideas to develop,’ explains Rina Meta, Courier’s local guide for our 72 hours in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, Europe’s youngest country.
Almost a decade since it declared independence, and with the shadow of war fading, the young population is using the freedoms now on offer to create new opportunities for themselves.
Meta herself has tried out just about every job in Pristina. She’s worked as a journalist and exhibition curator, produced books on Kosovan identity and worked with the government’s foreign affairs ministry as a cultural advisor. She even spent a couple of years running a rakija (local brandy) bar.
Unemployment and low wages remain a huge problem for Kosovo’s youth (60% of the population is under 30, compared to less than 40% in the UK). There’s only four countries in Europe the population can visit without a visa (three in the Balkans, plus Turkey), making it hard for anyone to chase opportunities elsewhere. It’s in this context that a surge of people are opening businesses, film festivals, cultural spaces, galleries and breweries.
‘It’s a small city, so everyone bounces off each other, communicates and collaborates,’ Meta adds. ‘There are fashion designers, artists, film makers, music producers and a big party scene.’
Here’s Meta’s run down of the best spots in Pristina, along with a few extras Courier discovered along the way:
A large residential house in the north of the city that’s been converted into a bar and art space. It was opened in 2016 by Dren Maliqi, a Kosovan artist, and his wife, Vlera, a junior doctor. They launched the space with a splash last summer, hosting a series of techno nights. Now they focus on garden parties, acoustic music, film screenings, talks and debates.
A small area of the city, and one of the only places to catch a glimpse of Pristina’s Ottoman past. The traditional bazaar is still there, where just about everything can be found – from fresh wild fruits to old-school Turkish tea rooms filled with workers and traders (Te Daja Sabit is particularly friendly). There are also a number of jewellery shops selling beautiful gold and silver pieces at competitive prices
A book shop, conceptual retail spot (stocking locally-designed goods), the only vinyl store in town, and a bar and restaurant all wrapped in one. It hosts live music, art and other cultural events. Soma is run by Baton Domi, an experienced bookshop owner, and Ermir Hoxha, who is known for throwing electro parties in the early 2000s in western Kosovo.
Meta describes Venera Mustafa as a ‘leading light’ in Kosovo’s fashion scene. The modern ready-to-wear designs are a welcome contrast to the kitsch styles usually found in fashion stores across the city. A limited number of each design is produced and all items are made on-site. Collections are often conceived in collaboration with photographers and illustrators.
Across the street from Club M there are two traditional Kosovan burger places on the same street — Skenda, Meta’s preferred choice, and Aba — which serve up some of the best buns in the city for a euro a piece. For a more Patty & Bun style burger, head to James Burger.
Dit’ e Nat’ is best described as a book-shop-meets-cafe. It’s run by a family of musicians and artists and has become a natural stop for local artists looking for a performance space. Each May, Dit’ e Nat’ hosts a gathering in the parking lot outside the venue, where local and regional artists and bands play into the evening.
Kosovo has a thriving contemporary art scene. Two prominent young artists, Petrit Halilaj and Flaka Haliti, lead the bunch and both have represented the country abroad at the Venice Biennale. In Pristina, small galleries like Lambda Lambda Lambda (left) and Motrat (right) host many of the best exhibits.
Beg is a straight forward cafe with a large terrace in the south of the city popular with students. Order what locals call a macchiato – it’s actually a perfect flat white.
A number of rakija bars can be found on this narrow strip off the main boulevard. Meta recommends checking out Martini, run by ‘uncle Martin, an old fellow whose five strokes have never stopped him from enjoying running his bar and drinking rakija.’ It’s also a great spot to try out the local bar snack: pljeskavica, a meat-filled flatbread. Pijetore (pictured) is another relaxed option.