Where better to start than the glorious capital city, Belgrade? Kalemegdan is the highlight of any trip to the city, the famous fortress enveloping the finest park in the city and hiding museums and monuments within it. The capital’s most romantic spot is found here, along with centuries of conflict and tumult. No trip to the capital is complete without checking out Kalemegdan.
If Kalemegdan is the highlight experience of a trip to the capital, it is hard to look past the Church of St. Sava when it comes to architecture. This is true in both a literal and figurative sense, as the monolithic building dominates the city landscape. Built on the spot where St. Sava’s relics were burnt by the occupying Ottomans, the gigantic church is every bit as imposing as a house of God should be.
If the Church of St. Sava represents an obsession with buildings closer to the gods, then the House on the Drina is the living embodiment of architectural intimacy. The house sprung up in 1969 when a group of swimmers wanted a more comfortable spot to rest, adding another attraction to the might of the Drina river. Images don’t come more adorable than the little House on the Drina.
Serbia is a country full of monasteries, many of which deserve to be recognised on a spiritual and architectural level. Studenica may well be the best of them, one of the greatest examples of Serbian medieval architecture in the country. The white marble churches are impressive enough, but the magnificent frescoes inside come close to matching them.
Subotica might just be the most underrated city in the entire country, which is no small achievement. The town’s City Hall is the best example of Art Nouveau architecture in the country, an early 20th century structure that showcases an impressive attention to detail and then some. Choose to overlook this Hungarian border town at your own peril.
Heading back to the capital, it is difficult to think of Serbia in the 20th century without passing a glance to the man who ruled Yugoslavia for the majority of its existence. Josip Broz Tito was a communist leader with a difference, a wildly popular figure who is missed by all generations today. Tito is buried in Belgrade, and his tomb is found in the gracefully named House of Flowers.
More of a river than a gorge, the Đerdap Gorge is often described as a ‘border designed by a deity’ and that doesn’t really do it justice. Water absolutely dominates the image, bordered by two dramatic cliff faces that seem to be immensely foreboding, but are home to many sights and sounds themselves. It is sometimes referred to as the Iron Gate, which is a little easier to pronounce than Đerdap.
Okay, so ‘Skull Tower’ doesn’t exactly sound like the most inviting of attractions. This monument in Niš is an important memorial to sacrifice, however, as these are the tangible remains of centuries of brutal Ottoman rule. 952 skulls originally made up the tower, of which less than 60 remain today. It isn’t going to put a smile on your face, but then history is rarely about cheering people up.
Serbia is full of gorgeous nature that impresses as much as it delights, and no spot marries the two of those reactions quite as well as Uvac Canyon. The meanders are as dramatic as river bends are going to get, seemingly conceived by someone with an overexcitable imagination and a liberal interpretation of the word ‘bend’. Add jagged cliffs, wild fauna and the immense power of the Drina river, and you have the wonderful Uvac Canyon.
A collection of more than 200 peculiar rock formations, the ‘Devil’s Town’ came together from the tears of those foolish enough to betray a witch or deny the devil. These mythical stories of creation are legendary and imaginary of course, but the uniqueness of the rock fingers isn’t up for debate. There simply isn’t anything like this anywhere on the entire continent, let alone elsewhere in Serbia.
Serbia’s prettiest town, Sremski Karlovci is small enough to be considered an attraction in itself. Everything of note within the town exists on a single square, including the first Serbian high school and one of the most graceful fountains in the state. Villages don’t come more gorgeous in the country, accentuated only by the historical importance of Karlovci itself.
Belgrade’s strongest point is the people who inhabit the Serbian capital, and there is no better place to indulge in a little bit of people-watching than along the main thoroughfare of the White City. Knez Mihailova is the most famous street in this most famous of cities, a walkway full of shops, cafes and all types of restaurants, not to mention all strands of Belgrade society.
Serbia is home to many fortresses, and none are as aesthetically striking as the 14th century fortification on the edge of the mighty Danube in the east of the country. Golubac is the nation’s most photogenic fortress, and it is easy to see why so many tried so desperately to conquer it over the centuries. Most of Serbia’s fortresses provide great views from within, but this is one you absolutely must view from afar.
If you happen to be the most creative film director of your generation, the chances are you are going to be fairly successful if you get the chance to construct your own village. That is exactly what Emir Kusturica got to do with the idyllic Drvengrad, a teeny hamlet in the west of the country with streets named after pop culture icons and arguably the most relaxed atmosphere in all of Serbia.
Dipping back into the spiritual, the 13th century monastery at Žiča was hugely important in the early years of the Serbian state. It was founded by none other than St. Sava himself, and represented the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church for the first 34 years of its existence. In the beginning, Serbian Kings weren’t considered official until they were crowned here, and you can’t consider yourself a Serbian expert without stopping here, too.
The entire area of the former Yugoslavia is full of incredible monuments built in the aftermath of World War II, impressive structures paying homage to the men and women who gave their lives for the Yugoslav cause during that most miserable of conflicts. Serbia has its fair share of these, and the five finger memorial at Kosmaj could be the finest. There is plenty of symbolism at play here, but the intangible sadness of sacrifice is difficult to avoid. If the Skull Tower in Niš represents the centuries of occupation, Kosmaj honours the same threat in the 20th century.
The story of Serbia’s duelling dynasties is as confusing as it is eventful, and it was the House of Karadjordjević that eventually managed to outlast its Obrenović counterpart. The members of the former family are buried at Oplenac, a church just outside the central town of Topola. The crypt is interesting enough, but the incredible mosaic that covers the walls of the church proper almost certainly takes the cake. It is difficult to imagine a more awesome mosaic. Trust us.
Novi Sad is a wonderful city in its own right, and its most impressive sight comes with great views of the Serbian Athens. Petrovaradin Fortress looks out over the town and the Danube, providing the most romantic dinner spot in all of Vojvodina. The fortress becomes a massive party in the summer thanks to the famous EXIT Festival, but its charms are best experienced sober and in peace.
An adorable little railway near Mokra Gora, the Šargain Eight route is another Serbian sight that owes its fame to Emir Kusturica. From the air the tracks resemble a figure eight, but it is obviously quite difficult to tell this from the ground. It shouldn’t dampen your enjoyment of the run however, a nod to a simpler time in the most tranquil of settings.
Known to the Romans as Felix Romuliana, Gamzigrad is a 3rd century Roman compound with plenty to offer in the modern age. Temples, palaces and incredible art abound, with the Grand Temple standing tall above them all. Gamzigrad is one of the Seven Wonders of Construction, and for good reason. Its place in the best 20 attractions in the country almost goes without saying.