Serbia Holiday Planning Guide
A country of wild landscapes and wilder nights, Serbia is renowned for its diversity and hospitality. It's a land of rich history with an abundance of monuments from the prehistoric age, ancient times, and the Middle Ages. Medieval monasteries make up some of the most famous tourist attractions in Serbia, and many are still active and open to visitors. Major cities like Belgrade, Novi Sad, and Niš, serve as bustling hubs where you can immerse yourself in the arts, cafe culture, and all-night parties. For nature lovers, taking a trip into the countryside crisscrossed with rivers to explore the lush plains, untouched forests, clear lakes, and rugged mountains, is a must on your Serbia holiday. You'll find that welcoming villages offer an abundance of hospitality, and numerous spa resorts give you the opportunity to relax and rejuvenate in a tranquil atmosphere. Serbian cuisine is very diverse, so be sure to try some of the local specialties no matter which region you visit.
Places to Visit in Serbia
Regions of SerbiaVojvodina
: Take a trip to Vojvodina and experience a world of diversity--from vast plains to wide rivers, bustling cities, tranquil villages, ancient Roman ruins and Austro-Hungarian fortifications. Fruska Gora, the region's sole mountain range and a national park, is dotted with popular Serbia attractions, including beautiful Orthodox monasteries.Central Serbia
: As the spiritual and cultural core of the country, Central Serbia is intersected with rivers, springs, and streams and is characterized by picturesque towns and villages. The region is also home to the third-largest city in Serbia, well-preserved medieval fortifications, lush forested mountains, and the most popular spa town.
Cities in SerbiaBelgrade
: Your tour of Serbia might very well begin in Belgrade, the capital and largest city, situated on the confluence of the Sava and the Danube rivers. This metropolis boasts an unusual blend of old-world sophistication, socialist architecture, and unparalleled nightlife, drawing partygoers from distant corners of the world.Novi Sad
: The regional and cultural center of northern Serbia, the riverside city of Novi Sad boasts a lively city center and a 17th-century fortress, once a significant military outpost of the region's Habsburg rulers and today the site of the biggest international music festival in Southern Europe.Zemun
: Standing at the crossroads of worlds since ancient times--Roman and barbarian, Western European and Byzantine, and Austrian and Ottoman-- Zemun is full of historical buildings, romantic squares, and lush parks that will enrich your Serbia itinerary.Palic
: Popular among boaters and lovers of European film, the resort town of Palic provides a perfect spot for a relaxing Serbia holiday with its lake, wildlife, and art nouveau buildings.Subotica
: The second-largest city in northern Vojvodina is home to one of the most colorful town halls in Serbia, and it also boasts many other architectural gems built in a specific Hungarian art nouveau style.Nis
: One of the oldest cities in the Balkans and Europe, Nis has been considered a gateway between the East and the West since ancient times; it's also known as birthplace of Constantine the Great, the first Christian Emperor and the founder of Constantinople.Kragujevac
: In the very heart of Serbia, the town of Kragujevac features many historical and cultural monuments which preserve the spirit of Serbia's socialist past, as well as numerous restaurants, cafes, and night clubs. The town's most recent attraction is the first public aquarium in Serbia.Mokra Gora
: Mokra Gora, a village in Serbia on the northern slopes of mountain Zlatibor, has become a popular tourist center with unique attractions due to historical reconstruction. The well-known Serbian film director Emir Kusturica financed the construction of an ethno village Drvengrad (Timber Town).Vrnjacka Banja
: Situated in a great park full of trees and charming houses, Vrnjacka Banja represents the most celebrated and popular spa town of Serbia while at the same time serving as a very attractive recreational center.
Things to Do in Serbia
Popular Serbia Tourist AttractionsThe Belgrade Fortress
: A crossroads of the great Western, Eastern, and Slavic civilizations and a highlight on many Serbia itineraries, The Belgrade Fortress is a commanding complex overlooking two rivers, the city, forests, and small islands that also includes the Belgrade Zoo and several museums.Skadarlija
: Nestled in the heart of the city, the cobblestoned Skadarlija represents one of the most popular Serbia attractions thanks to its traditional restaurants with live music, art galleries, and souvenir shops.St. Sava Temple (Hram Svetog Save)
: Visit one of the largest Orthodox buildings and churches in the world, St. Sava Temple (Hram Svetog Save), which features white marble walls and 19 gilded crosses, set in a park with decorative fountains.Knez Mihailova
: Knez Mihailova, the city's main pedestrian zone and one of the favorite meeting points, features contemporary cafes and brand-name boutiques as well as important cultural venues, such as the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts.Muzej Nikole Tesle (Nikola Tesla Museum)
: Learn about the Serbian-American scientist who contributed to modern-day electricity at Muzej Nikole Tesle (Nikola Tesla Museum), a site that presents inventions, documents, and photographs about his life and work.Ada Ciganlija
: Take in one of the city's most popular recreation areas at Ada Ciganlija, which hosts a number of cafes, clubs, and restaurants, as well as picnic spots, swimming sites, and a plethora of sports activities--bike riding, basketball, football, and golf.Belgrade Zoo
: Known as one of Europe's oldest zoos, Belgrade Zoo houses some 2,000 animals from 270 species, including a collection of very rare white lions, plus a petting zoo.Petrovaradin Fortress
: Sitting on a hill above the Danube River, Petrovaradin Fortress features centuries-old monuments, numerous museums and entertainment venues, and hosts internationally known festivals, which for many is the main reason for touring Serbia.Danube River
: Take a walk along the longest river in the European Union--the Danube River--at its confluence with the Sava River, where you'll find restaurants and nightclubs lining the shore and locals cycling, jogging, and relaxing amidst shade trees.Josip Broz Tito Mausoleum
: Learn more about the most notable leader of Yugoslavia at Josip Broz Tito Mausoleum, which originally served as Tito's winter garden and resting area and now as a resting place for Tito and his wife.
Planning a Serbia Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Serbia with Kids
Being at the crossroads of European history, Serbia has been influenced by different Eastern and Western cultures and, as such, can offer many places to see and things do on a Serbia family vacation. Serbian people are most hospitable and welcoming, especially when it comes to children. Belgrade
alone boasts a wide range of places to visit, starting with The Belgrade Fortress
where Belgrade Zoo
is located--a great option for small kids with its petting zoo and pony rides. The capital's two rivers, Danube
and Sava, serve as recreation areas with picnic spots, swimming sites, and a plethora of sports activities. To cool off in hot summer months, the whole family will enjoy visiting Ada Ciganlija
, called among locals the sea of Belgrade. The rest of Serbia is dotted with medieval castles and fortresses, including well-preserved Petrovaradin Fortress
and Nis Fortress
, national parks, and charming ethno villages, such as Sirogojno
and Mokra Gora
, which kids of all ages will find amusing and informative.
Things to Do in Serbia with Kids
There are plenty of outdoor and indoor activities children and teenagers can engage in on a Serbia holiday. One of Belgrade's most popular recreation areas, Ada Ciganlija
offers sailing and diving opportunities, basketball, football, and volleyball courts, bungee jumping, and rock climbing sites. For a different perspective of Belgrade
, explore river cruises and cycling paths along Danube River
. Serbian mountains boast nature resorts and welcoming villages. Take your children skiing on Kopaonik
and hiking on Tornik in Zlatibor
. Paintball Beograd Arena No1
, and real-time problem solving games, such as Trap Belgrade
, might interest your teenagers. If you are looking for something more informative, take your kids to Nikola Tesla Museum
and introduce them with the work of one of the most peculiar 20th-century scientists.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Serbia
Serbs adore children in general and your kids will be welcome everywhere from streets and parks to cafes and restaurants. People will go out of their way to help you and you will probably not have to wait in lines if you're with babies or toddlers. There are numerous children playgrounds all over major cities. If your trip to Serbia takes you to rural areas, older people are likely to give small treats to children, such as sweets or fruit, which would be impolite to refuse. Some of the amenities of the western world that can make traveling with kids more comfortable still have to take root in Serbia. You will find restrooms with changing tables only in big shopping malls and some gas stations, and restaurants are seldom equipped with high chairs, except for the large fast food chains.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Serbia
Cuisine of Serbia
One of the most favorite Serbian legends recounts that Serbs used golden spoons and forks during the 14th-century Serbian Empire. Whether that was true or not, the fact is that Serbian cuisine represents a melting pot of cultural and ethnic influences. Five hundred years under the Ottoman Empire left its mark--Serbia's favorite breakfast food is burek (a Turkish pie) and the country's most beloved fast food is cevapcici (a kebab variant). However, the food differs from region to region. Vojvodina
, which was once part of Austro-Hungarian Empire, is famous for its goulash and strudel filled with poppy seeds. Western Serbia is known for its smoked meat, and eastern Serbian cuisine is not complete without Homolj kacamak--a polenta made from cornmeal, potato, and feta cheese. In southern Serbia, there can be no celebration without a whole pig or a lamb roasted on a spit. Your Serbian vacation would be incomplete without tasting some native specialties, such as kajmak (a creamy dairy product) and ajvar (a relish made from grilled red peppers and garlic). Overall Serbian cuisine is meaty and hearty, but Belgrade
boasts a great number of international restaurants to choose from.
Shopping in Serbia
Serbia is generally affordable when it comes to services, but you might think twice before shopping for branded clothes or electronic appliances on your Serbia holiday since prices for those can even be higher than in Western Europe or North America. For gastronomes, however, some green markets and specialized stores offer a wide range of gourmet food, including beef prosciutto, kajmak, ajvar, and slatko (a sweet preserve). Flea markets are depositories of hidden gems for those seeking peculiar treasures. If you decide to go shopping for designer goods, there are plenty of local fashion stores in Belgrade
. To shop in the old-fashioned manner and sightsee along the way, go to Knez Mihailova
. The largest shopping mall in the region is USCE Shopping Center
, also in Belgrade. Official Serbian currency is the dinar (RSD). Note that menjacnice--currency exchange offices--offer more favorable currency exchange rates than banks.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Serbia
History of Serbia
Since the territory of today's Serbia was always on the crossroads of civilizations, travelers interested in the past can choose from among many historic sights on their trip to Serbia. The oldest human settlements in Europe and perhaps in the world were found in Serbia. One of the oldest and richest Neolithic cultures started on the territory of the Belgrade's suburb Vinca.
There are several important archaeological sites, such as Felix Romuliana
, that you can add to your Serbia itinerary if you are interested in the history of Ancient Rome. Seventeen Roman emperors were born in the territory of what is now Serbia, including Constantine the Great, the first Roman Emperor who accepted Christianity, as well as Emperor Trajan, who built the famous Roman road to the East.
Slavs came to the Balkans in the sixth century, and the first Serbian state was established in the mid-9th century. By the mid-14th century, the Serbian empire comprised most of the Balkans. Many churches and monasteries from this period testify today to this prosperous period of Serbian medieval state. After a pivotal battle in the Kosovo field against the Ottoman Empire, Serbian feudal lords resisted the domination of the Turks for another seven decades, only to be finally conquered in the mid-15th century. Medieval fortified towns, such as Golubac
, along the lines of the Hungarian and today Vojvodina
border, stood as last strongholds of Western Christian world against the force from the East. In the early 18th century, two bloody uprisings led to the restoration of Serbian independence in 1815. One of the most bizarre Serbia attractions is a gruesome monument from that time still standing in Nis
, called Cele Kula
made by Turks and featuring skulls of Serbian rebels built into a wall. Under the rule of Knez (Prince) Milos, the founder of Obrenovic dynasty, Serbia came to be an autonomous principality within the Ottoman Empire.
In 1914, an ethnic Serb student assassinated the Archduke Ferdinand provoked by the Austro-Hungarian annexation of Bosnia and invasion of Serbia. This event was a cause of World War I. After the war, Serbia gathered all south Slav lands into the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes that a few years later became Yugoslavia. World War II saw the nation divides between communist-led guerrilla (partisans) and king's army (Chetniks). At the end of the war, pro-Communists led by Field-Marshal Josip Broz Tito abolished the monarchy and proclaimed a republic.
Though Tito's socialist government successfully held its own course between the Warsaw Pact nations and the West, after his death the awakening of national feelings pushed the Yugoslav republics, first Slovenia and then Croatia, to seek independence. Serbia, however, sought to keep the territories largely populated by Serbs> The civil war that followed was devastating for all sides involved. The autocratic regime of Slobodan Milosevic, which was responsible for Serbia entering the civil war, ended after NATO bombing in 1999. Serbia became the independent state in 2006 after the last of the Yugoslav republics left the union.
Customs of Serbia
Serbs are informal, friendly, and often loud people well-known for their hospitality. They love to spend their mornings and afternoons in leisure sipping Serbian "Turkish" coffee, eating and drinking excessively, and partying at night. While sightseeing in Serbia, you will be surprised by the number of locals sitting and chatting in street terraces and cafes during working hours. As soon as they get to know you, which could mean seeing you for the second time, they will probably greet you with a hug or kiss you three times on the cheeks. If you get invited to a traditional Serbian home, you will be expected to keep up with the hosts in eating and drinking, which can be very challenging. When visiting someone for the first time, it is customary to bring a gift, such as flowers and a bottle of wine or a good brand of rakija (fruit brandy).
The traditional Orthodox religion is still very influential, so open displays of affection between same-sex couples are frowned upon. Use caution when photographing military and police buildings, as well as police and military officers, as Serbians can be sensitive about this.
Holidays & Festivals in Serbia
Serbia has a number of state holidays during which public offices are closed, but most supermarkets and shopping malls remain open. January is the slowest month because in addition to the New Year's Eve, Serbs celebrate Orthodox Christmas (January 7) and Serbian New Year (January 14). Due to a large Catholic community in the northern Vojvodina, December 25 is a holiday for many shops in this part of the country.
While enjoying your tour of Serbia, check out one of many music, film, theatre, and dance festivals. Belgrade
boasts internationally renowned festivals, such as the Belgrade Film Festival (FEST), the Belgrade International Theatre Festival (BITEF) and the Belgrade Dance Festival (BDF). The award-winning international music festival Exit is held at Petrovaradin Fortress
. The well-preserved 18th-century Nis Fortress
represents the sight of an international jazz festival. To experience authentic traditional Serbian festive atmosphere, visit Guca Trumpet Festival.
Serbia Travel Tips
Climate of Serbia
In general, Serbia boasts continental climate with cold, snowy winters, hot summers, and rainy-but-warm springs and autumns. Both summer and winter are likely to have days of extreme weather, with temperatures rising above 35 C (95 F) or falling below -10 C (14 F). Heavy snowfall can be expected from December to April, especially in the mountains where winters can be quite harsh. Regardless of the season, it is wise to pack a combination of light and warm clothing on your Serbia trip. If you want to avoid extreme weather, the best months to visit Serbia are April, May, September, and October.
Transportation in Serbia
The most convenient way of getting around Serbia is by bus. Trains are unreliable, often old and uncomfortable, and much slower than buses. But while the bus network between the major cities works very well, non-urban areas frequently are not served by buses. If you wish to visit Serbia's hidden gems, such as Davolja Varos
, consider renting a car. Though the infrastructure is designed for local commuting and not tourists, it is the only way to reach some of the most picturesque tourist attractions in Serbia.
Languages of Serbia
Before the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, the languages of Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian were the same language. Although, nationalist linguistic policies on these languages have changed in the last two decades, they are still mutually intelligible. Other Slavic languages, especially Bulgarian and Macedonian, are also similar to Serbian. While you may be tempted to speak Russian, Sloven, Slovak, or Czech, on tour Serbia holiday, consider not doing so. Words that sound similar in those languages can have completely different meanings. English is generally well accepted; younger and middle generations tend to have excellent command of the language, and they love speaking with foreigners. German, French, Russian, Spanish, and Italian are taught in Serbian schools. The languages of minorities, especially near the northern and the eastern borders, are Hungarian, Slovak, Romanian, and Romani.
Tipping in Serbia
Tipping is not mandatory in Serbian bars and restaurants, but it is expected of foreigners more than of locals. To show your appreciation for excellent service and to be remembered next time you come around, round up the bill or leave a 15 percent tip at the most. For other services, such as massages, manicures, and hairdressing, a couple of hundred dinars is more than enough.