Gjakova was badly hit by the Kosovo War of 1998–99, fought between Kosovo Liberation Army guerillas demanding the independence of then-autonomous province of Kosovo and Serbia, or Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as it was known then. Around 75% of town's population was driven out by Serbian Army during the war, and much of city's buildings were burnt or otherwise destroyed—by both sides of belligerents, as it seems. After the war, much of town's ethnic Albanian inhabitants returned (who now make up to 95% of the population), but it was the local Serbs to be exiled this time. Many of the stores at the downtown area, locally known as Qarshia e Madhe, were rebuilt.
While in Gjakova, make sure you talk to the locals, especially the young ones, since they're more proficient in English. And you will hear a story about every corner of the city. Talking about the past is a very actual subject, but people avoid it since many families there have lost at least one dear member. This is a life experience, it will change you forever...
Minibuses to Gjakova are available from the harbor where ferries from Albanian city of Shkodra across the Lake Koman/Lake Fierza terminate. Buses to Gjakova are quite often present(2014). Buses from Pristina travel each hour, starting from 6AM till 8PM. Travel takes about 1 hour and 20 mins and it costs 4 Euros. Buses from Prizren travel each half an hour, starting from 6AM till 8PM. Travel takes about 1 hour and it costs 2 Euros. Buses from Peja travel each half an hour, starting from 6AM till 8PM. Travel takes about 1 hour and it costs 2 Euros.
Getting to Gjakova from abroad, especially from Albanian cities is also quite often. Buses from Tirana to Gjakova depart everyday at 6AM and 3PM. The ride takes about 3 hours and 30 minutes, or 4 hours tops. It costs no more than 7-10 Euro or 15 R/T for students or 20 R/T normal payment. A great chance to enjoy Albanian-Kosovar newest highway and see the beauties of Albania's and Kosovo's mountains, lakes, rivers, bridges etc.
Since the city is not that big, the best way to get to see it is by walking. Thus, take your chance to talk to people and ask them to be your guide, they will lead you through everything and they will do it for free! People there have an open heart, who knows, if you are lucky you can get a free coffee or drink!
Public transport is able to take you to different part of the city. Buses appear at each bus station from about 7-10 minutes and the ride costs 0.50 cents.
Taxis are quite cheap, you can get around the city for €2-3 tops.
Most of the old architecture has been destroyed during the war and funds to reconstruct the damaged cultural heritage are insufficient.
The Radoniqi Lake is worth visiting! It's close to the airport, 7 km away. Taking a cab to there wouldn’t cost more than €15. Beware though, it's the drinking water source of the town, therefore swimming is prohibited! (Unless you go through bushes in the other side of the lake where guards cannot see.)
Or, you could drive 8 km towards the Albanian border and take a ferry to go to Shkodra across the Komani Lake, an artificial lake which snakes its way through valleys surrounded by awe-inspiring mountains. The ferry runs twice a day. An amazing 2-hour trip through the canyons! Enjoy!
Gjakova city offers many things to do, and the prices are low.
There are four city pools, there are many historic monuments.
There are many classy traditional restaurants in Gjakova, many fast-foods, fish fingers fast-food and many more alternatives to enjoy the original food that Gjakova has to offer.
Gjakovars (People who live in Gjakova) are the mighty lords when it comes to meat and its productions. They are known as the best of the bests in Kosovo for preparing meet and food. You get to eat amazing meat with salads and a special piece of bread called "Samun". This is enough for a meal, alongside with special home made "Ajron" or "Dhallë" in Albanian (traditional drink with water, salt and yogurt). This amazing meal will not cost more than 1.5 Euros and you will be able to explore the city for the whole day.
There are plenty of cafés and bars in Qarshia e Vogel (downtown) where you can go and have a Peja beer, relax and eventually meet youngs which would be excited to meet someone new in town.
New trends and cafes and bars are present in "Qarshia e Vjeter" (just 500M from downtown) that ensure you quality and cheap prices. Don't forget to talk to the people! Free-guide policy always applies.
Nightlife is pretty active during summer time. Young crowds go out on a promenade on the main street and then end up in bars and clubs. There is music during weekends, each Friday and Saturday there are live DJ-s performances and also live Singers performing for the public. One of the famous bars is called "HD" and it is located about 2KM from the city's downtown. Don't hesitate to ask people, everyone knows where this is.
Great places to go are present and the best part of it is that you don't really have to get tired looking for them. Just a question or by walking you see people having fun! We love our life!
Domestically brewed Peja Beer is a MUST. Cocktails are also everywhere and they don't cost more than 2 Euros. Long drinks cost not more than 2-3 Euros. Tipping is not mandatory but probably highly appreciated!
Spirits are also cheap. In any given bar/pub you can taste the home make Raki for 0.5 Euro per shot (at least 5 cl that is).
The city is quite crowded especially during summer time due to large numbers of expats visiting friends and family!
Hotel Jakova and Hotel Pashtriku. Prices range from €25-70. Not posh but good enough for an average traveller.
Be aware that 70% of the city has been destroyed and people there struggle to lead a dignified life, so, showing off is probably something that you want to avoid. However, security is at its highest level, you're probably more secure there than in London or New York. You can walk at anytime at night in the city and not be worried about anything! Have fun and enjoy!