A 500 billion dinar note
The hyperinflation experienced by Serbia (then Yugoslavia) in 1993 is among the worst in history. Things got so bad that the government made the decision to print a 500 billion dinar note, which is 500,000,000,000 if you’re curious. These notes have long since gone out of circulation (they didn’t last long at the time), but you can still get them in Belgrade’s various souvenir shops. Better still, head to the National Bank museum and get your own face printed on one.
Nikola Tesla garb
Nikola Tesla is modern Serbia’s greatest export, and as such the moustachioed man’s face is ubiquitous throughout the country. The Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade is well worth a visit, and there you can pick up all manner of Tesla-centric items. The best on offer are the writings of the great man, but don’t blame us for the inspiration you will get from reading his ramblings.
Not everyone will want to carry a carpet home with them, even less those who travel to Serbia with hand luggage alone, but those with a little extra cash and space should definitely think about picking up one of the most important traditional handicrafts in the country. The best rugs can be found in the eastern town of Pirot, but there are numerous places in Belgrade to pick up the red rugs too.
You don’t need to be a virtuoso musician to enjoy the simple pleasures of the frula. Also known as the svirala, the frula is a small wooden flute with six holes, and you play it by blowing through one end. It isn’t a complex instrument, but it is influential enough to be the instrument of choice for shepherds herding their flocks.
Sticking with musical instruments, how about picking up a gusle? It might not seem possible for an instrument with one string to be difficult to play, but just you wait until you strap this on. The gusle is an ubiquitous presence where epic poetry is being told, but it is just as engaging in the corner of a living room, an unusual reminder of a visit to Europe’s most confusing country.
So sporting apparel isn’t unique to Serbia, but the role that Red Star and Partizan Belgrade have played in the shaping of modern Serbia can’t be underplayed. The intense rivalry between the two has sparked political change and societal discourse, although the idea behind the violence has almost always been blind hatred. Belgrade is the best place to pick up a Red Star or Partizan shirt, but please wait until you get home before wearing yet. You might find yourself in trouble if you wear the wrong colour in the wrong neighbourhood.
It might not look like the most fashionable item on the planet, but sometimes comfort is more important than aesthetics. That is particularly true in the Serbian mountains, so it is little surprise that jumpers from Sirogojno have become so popular in recent years. The focus is on quality and authenticity and both objectives are achieved, although all you’ll really think about is the immense comfort in the winter months.
Is a meal still a meal if ajvar isn’t included? That isn’t an entirely serious question, but the importance of the red stuff to meals in Serbia is clear to all who visit. The red pepper condiment is almost as important as water (but not quite as important as rakija) to the Serbs, and there is no better place to pick some up. Extra bonus points if you manage to buy some homemade from the market.
It is inevitable that you are going to want to take some rakija home, but we do not advise trying to cart litres of the stuff through customs. Best to pick up some čokanjčiči, tiny bottles of the stuff that are as visually endearing as they are potable. You can get plenty of them, too, meaning you can take multiple flavours of the good stuff home as opposed to a litre of unnecessarily strong plum rakija.
Questionable political merchandise
We don’t recommend getting involved in this business, but Serbia’s complex modern history means it is one of the few places in the world that still openly sells merchandise brandishing the faces of convicted war criminals. Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić are considered national heroes by some, and shirts and graffiti protesting their innocence are all over the place. Quite why you’d want a shirt with Mladić on is another question entirely….