Many people confuse the Baltic region and the Balkans. However, the two areas of Europe are very different. Learn the difference between the Baltics and Balkans—as well as some similarities between the two.
Please note that the history and background of each of the regions is very complex, with many different cultures, languages, and countries involved. One article about the differences in these two regions would not be able to cover every aspect in detail. Therefore, this article generalizes for the reader new to the topic. It offers some similarities between the two regions as well.
Differences Between the Baltics and Balkans
Once you begin to see the differences between the Baltics and the Balkans, you won’t be able to unsee them, and learning the difference between these two regions of the world will become easier. So what makes the Balkans and the Baltics different, and how can you remember how to tell them apart?
Difference #1: Location
In short, remember that the Baltics are in the north of Europe and the Balkans are in the south.
The Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia occupy a position in Northern Europe bordering each other. They are grouped close to Russia on the Baltic Sea. Estonia is the northernmost of these countries and shares an eastern border with Russia.
Lithuania is the southernmost of the Baltic countries, sharing borders with the Kaliningrad Region of Russia as well as Poland and Belarus. Latvia sits between Lithuania and Estonia, also sharing a border with Belarus and mainland Russia.
All the countries of the Baltics are in the European Union and NATO. They are also a part of the Schengen border-free zone.
The Balkans, on the other hand, are located in Southeastern Europe and bordered by the Aegean, Ionian, Adriatic, and Black seas as well as the Turkish Straights. The Balkans make up many more countries than the Baltics, and some of the definitions of what the Baltics actually are vary.
However, the countries of Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Croatia, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia are often included in the list of Balkan countries. Greece and Turkey are sometimes included, though these countries are not considered a part of the greater Eastern Europe region.
Furthermore, of these countries, Croatia, Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia are in NATO.
Greece, Slovakia, and Slovenia are in the Schengen zone, while Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia are in the European Union.
Difference #2: Origin of Names
The Baltics are named for the Baltic tribes of people who occupied the area in times past. They also gave us some of the languages of the Baltic countries, Latvian and Lithuanian.
However, it should be noted that even though Estonia is included in this grouping, its language and people are not Baltic linguistically or genealogically. Of course, these countries are on the Baltic Sea (but so are other countries that are not included in the “Baltic states.”
The Balkans takes its name from geography. The Balkan Mountains run through Bulgaria, and the Balkan Peninsula is the area of land in which the countries are situated.
Difference #3: Historical Influences
The Baltics were, for some time, a part of the Russian Empire and later the Soviet Union, and so the Baltics and Russia have a long relationship, which has often been tense. In this region, some Polish and Germanic influences are also evident, as well as Swedish influence in Estonia.
The Baltics today are fully politically aligned with Europe.
The Balkans, on the other hand, saw influence from the Roman Empire—it’s not unusual to come across Roman ruins in Bulgaria or Croatia, for example. Later, the Ottoman Empire held sway in the area.
While the Balkans were not officially a part of the Soviet Union, they did come under Soviet influence. The communist country of Yugoslavia, made up of Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Slovenia, is one example of a Balkan Soviet-influenced former state.
You may also read in the news how some countries in the Balkan region are still politically aligned with Russia or may come under Russian influence or pressure.
Difference #4: Climate
For travelers, the climate of the Baltics and Balkans may be an important aspect to take into consideration, depending on the time of year.
The Baltics see long, cold winters and moderate, short summers.
The Balkans, on the other hand, can also see cold winters for inland destinations. However, coastal regions won’t see the same dip in temperatures and may be visited comfortably in the winter without the likely sight of snow year-round due to their Mediterranean climate.
Similarities Between the Baltics and the Balkans
Despite their differences, the Balkan region and the Baltic countries do enjoy some similarities. Here are only some of the ways they may seem alike.
Similarity #1: Slavic Languages
Slavic languages are spoken widely in both regions. From Polish and Russian in the Baltics to the Slavic languages in the Balkans (think Bulgarian, Croatian, or Serbian), Slavic languages are one way the Baltics and Balkans are linked.
However, remember that the official languages of the Baltics are Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian, respectively; these are not Slavic languages.
On the other hand, many of the official languages of the Balkan countries, such as Bulgarian or Croatian, belong to the Slavic language family.
Similarity #2: A Part of “Eastern Europe”
While the Baltics and Balkans are separate regions within Europe, they are also typically considered both a part of the wider, sometimes nebulous, Eastern European region or the area formerly behind the Iron Curtain.
These associations are due to geography (they are the countries east of what has traditionally been considered Western Europe) and the political reality that linked them for the greater part of the 20th century.
Similarity #3: Increasingly Popular Travel Destinations
Both the Baltics and the Balkans are becoming increasingly popular with travelers. They are among the least expensive countries to travel to in Europe and offer beautiful nature, thriving cities, incredible history, and a wide range of cuisines.
More travelers are discovering these regions for themselves as tourist infrastructure develops, people seek to visit less-known destinations, and the countries market themselves to travelers.
If you have to choose between visiting the Baltics or the Balkans, it can be a difficult decision. Both regions are endlessly fascinating, culturally rich, and offer discovery upon discovery for visitors into food, art, culture, outdoor activities, Soviet-era history, or historic sights.
Many people choose to travel the Baltic states and love it. These countries are easy to get around, small enough to visit within a short period of time, offer coastal areas, and have both beautiful cities as well as pristine nature.
Other people like the Balkan region for its warmer weather, mix of cultures, relative size, and exciting sights that date back to the Roman Empire. For example, Croatia has built a successful economy largely on its attractiveness to tourists, which includes vineyards, coastal cities, the otherworldly Plitvice Lakes, Adriatic islands, and various regional cultural traditions.