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Feature 28 Dec 16

Ringing in 2017, Balkan-style

Beer, mulled wine, fireworks, Christmas markets, street parties, classical music, trance, great singers – it’s all on hand in cities up and down the Balkans as people get ready to welcome in another year.

Podgorica, Tirana, Sofia, Sarajevo, Zagreb, Skopje
Budva, the popular Montenegrin resort will say goodbye to 2016 in a pop rock mood, with a gathering of well-known local and Serbian musicians including Sergej Cetkovic, Zeljko Joksimovic, Montenegrin rock band Perper. Photo: Pixabay


Under the slogan “See you in Budva”, the popular Montenegrin resort will say goodbye to 2016 in a pop rock mood, with a gathering of well-known local and Serbian musicians including Sergej Cetkovic, Zeljko Joksimovic, Montenegrin rock band Perper. On January 1, Budva will rock with the famous ex-Yugoslav pop band Parni Valjak. 

The organisers promise a splendid firework display to mark the beginning of New Year in front of Budva’s old town. 

The Budva Tourist Organisation said it expects thousands of tourists in town for New Year’s Eve.  

The capital, Podgorica, is also set to throw a big party on the streets. The main New Year festivities will take place on the central Independence Square under an open sky with fireworks and music on stage. This year’s celebration centres on Montenegrin musicians, with pop singer Nenad Knezevic Knez and folk singer Zoran Kalezic appearing alongside rising Montenegrin singer Stevan Faddy.

Tirana illuminated with festive spirit. Photo: Ivana Dervishi/BIRN


Tirana and the city of Korca are main centres in Albania for Christmas and New Year celebrations, with decorations all over the streets and squares and public concerts scheduled starring local artists.

In Tirana, Mother Teresa Square has been turned into a Christmas market with wooden booths serving hot and alcohol beverages alongside festive items that people can buy. Carousels and a roller coaster are also on hand for revelers who need some extra adrenaline for holiday.

One of the holiday’s cultural highlights will be in Tirana on January 2, when Kosovar violinist Shkelzen Doli holds a concert accompanied by members of the Vienna Philharmonic Ensemble.

Bulgarians have three days to party over the New Year. Photo: Pixabay


After Bulgarian MPs on December 20 voted to make January 2 a non-working day, Bulgarians have three days to party over the New Year. For those who have decided not to celebrate the start of 2017 abroad or at a ski or spa resort, all the main cities will be offering free concerts under the open skies.

In the capital, Sofia, the city authorities, together with Bulgarian National Television, will hold their traditional annual concert “Stage under the Stars” for 18th consecutive year. The show will take place in the Battenberg Square starting from 10pm on December 31 until 1am on January 1, 2017. It will bring together Bulgarian pop stars such as Vladimir Ampov-Grafa and Polly Genova, whose song for this year’s Eurovision contest became the country’s greatest summer hit. Around 20,000 people are expected to take to the streets of Sofia and welcome in New Year outdoors, while another million or so will watch the concert on the TV at home.

Techno fans can spend the New Year’s Eve dancing to the music of legendary DJ Richie Hawtin in Sofia’s biggest hall, Arena Armeec. The US DJ duo the Martinez Brothers will also play, as will many of Bulgaria’s best DJs, who are all part of the Intersolar event.

Other towns and cities, such as Varna, Burgas and Plovdiv, are also staging concerts on their main squares. In Plovdiv, which was selected as a European Capital of Culture in 2019, Rainbow’s former vocal singer Joe Lynn Turner will sing on New Year’s Eve. On 29 December, the “Champagne with the Vienna Volksoper” concert will offer a fine program for lovers of classical music.

The city of Gabrovo, known as the capital of humour in Bulgaria, has not cheated on its spirit and has decided to celebrate the start of 2017 on 30 December, a day earlier than everyone else. The municipality has promised an unconventional program aimed at young people with an open-air concert at the Vazrajdane Square in the city centre.

New Year's Eve festivities have started in Banja Luka and Sarajevo. Photo: Pixabay

Bosnia and Herzegovina

The capital of Bosnia's Serb-dominated entity, Banja Luka, has already started its New Year’s celebrations with its annual, month-long winter tourism event, Zimzograd.

Decorated wooden houses, Christmas lights and trees line Banja Luka's main town square, Trg Krajine. The scent of local cuisine, mulled wine, the sound of Balkan music mixed with modern electronic beats all combine to create a holiday atmosphere which, according to Banja Luka’s tourism agency, is set to draw a record number of foreign visitors.

The highlight of the festivities in Banja Luka is on New Year’s Eve when visitors will be entertained by a host of regional performers including Aleksandra Radovic, Tijana Dapcevic and Lukijan Ivanovic.

Media reports say hotels and hostels are already sold out, with over a thousand Slovenians alone expected to come for the holidays. For those who do not want to spend New Year out in the open, cafés, restaurants and clubs all offer organised celebrations with a variety of packages to suit all age groups.

Banja Luka is also laying on fun for youngsters, with workshops, plays and concerts organised to help them cheer in the New Year. It also offers an ice ring for those brave enough to test their winter sports skills. 

A slight warning though, if visiting Banja Luka; don’t be surprised by the dozens of policemen patrolling the streets. The Republika Srpska Interior Ministry has upped patrols for safety reasons. Due to an increase in visitors, traffic and alcohol consumption, police are taking precautions to prevent or reduce the number of offences.

Meanwhile, the Sarajevo Holiday Market at Hastahana runs until the 14th January from 10am to 11pm, featuring festive light displays, handicrafts and food-and-drink stalls, and entertainment for children.

For a glass of Bosnia’s popular craft beer during the holiday season, head to the second annual Mini Festival of Domestic Beer in East Sarajevo on December 24th. The event features eight local beer producers from East Sarajevo, Sarajevo, Kiseljak, Foca and Pale.

For those who celebrate Christmas on December 25th, there is midnight mass with the Franciscans on Christmas Eve at midnight, in Bistrik, Dobrinja and Nedzarici. The Franciscans’ Christmas day Mass takes place in Nedzarici at 9.30am, Dobrinja and Kovacici at 10am, and Bistrik at 8am, 10am, noon and 6pm.

Sarajevo is expected to be a regional hub for New Year celebrations as much-loved Bosnian singer and songwriter Dino Merlin takes to the stage as part of a four-hour concert in the Square of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Although Merlin is from Sarajevo, he has not performed in his home city on New Year’s Eve during a career lasting more than 30 years. The open-air event promises a giant stage, huge LED screens, and a laser show.

As a part of the new Croatian Winter Music Festival in Zagreb's sports arena, one of the most popular DJs in the world, Armin van Buuren, will entertain thousands of guests. Photo: Anadolu


With most of the Croatian cities seeing in the New Year with concerts featuring Croatian and local pop stars, the capital, Zagreb, will dance to the rhythm of trance. As a part of the new Croatian Winter Music Festival in Zagreb's sports arena, one of the most popular DJs in the world, Armin van Buuren, will entertain thousands of guests.

Van Buuren has been coming for years to the coastal city of Split for the Ultra Europe Festival - and is visiting the capital for the first time. Other DJs, Sander van Doorn, MOTi, Julian Jordan, David Gravell and Juicy M, will join van Buuren at an event expected to attract between 15,000 and 20,000 visitors.

Besides wild parties, some will opt for a movie night with the glass of French wine in Zagreb’s Tuskanac cinema. As usual, the traditional movie night will include one classic movie – this year it will be 1939 US classic Ninotchka with Hollywood diva Greta Garbo – and one movie from 2016 – on this occasion the French-Belgian comedy Saint Amour with French star Gerard Depardieu.

Other nightclubs will also stick with the theme of Hollywood classics, such as the Johann Franck club at Zagreb’s main Ban Josip Jelacic Square. Club Peper will focus on the theme of the legendary British TV comedy series “Only Fools and Horses”, which was especially popular in Croatia in the 1980s and 1990s. Visitors will be entertained by DJs Rodney and Delboy Trotter, while Delboy’s cocktails will also be available.

Skopje would see two parties - one organised by opposition and one organised by the city. Photo: Pixabay


For the fourth year running, the sharp political divide in Macedonia has resulted in rival New Year parties being held in the capital Skopje, one organized by the city, run by the ruling party, and one staged by the municipality of Centar which is run by the opposition.

The rivalry means one good thing: partygoers in Macedonia are spoiled for choice once again when it comes to New Year's Eve.

The first and probably the largest party will be staged at the main Macedonia Square by the City of Skopje. This party will feature local pop and folk stars like rap attraction Slatkar, pop singer Adrian Gaxha and folk singer Mile Kuzmanovski. The biggest star of the evening will be Macedonian pop diva Karolina Gocheva who will sing at midnight at the peak of celebration.

On the other hand, those who prefer a more international selection of rock n’ roll performers will make for the second party, at nearby Jadran Square, which is being organized by the Centar municipality.

Those who enjoy the tunes of the ex-Yu rock scene will appreciate the guest appearance of legendary Croatian rocker Jura Stubic and  his band, Film, as well as Bosnian rock band Zabranjeno Pusenje. Macedonian hip-hop pioneers S.A.F will also adorn the celebration at Jadran square.

Thus far, neither organizers has disclosed the full sum they plan to spend on the celebrations, which has prompted a small leftist party, Levica, to come up with a more down-to-earth proposal.

Insisting that lavish New Year celebrations are not fit for one of the poorest countries in Europe, Levica has started an on-line petition to re-direct the money to the poor and throw a symbolic celebration instead.

“This irresponsible spending of people’s money is unacceptable when 460,000 people [out of only 2.1 million] live under the poverty threshold and 180,000 people live in absolute poverty,” the party wrote on its website.

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