Visible from all parts of Belgrade, Avala is the capital city’s protective mountain to the south. Just 30 minutes from the city (a bus runs from Voždovac all summer), Avala is home to a number of fascinating sights and monuments, not to mention views of Belgrade that simply can’t be beaten. If you’re looking to get out of the city for a tranquil summer picnic, follow the crowds and make Avala the venue. The Monument to the Unknown Hero is the main event, but the recently rebuilt TV Tower gives it more than a run for its money.
Sticking with monuments, the immense Kosmaj memorial is another half hour south of the Serbian capital. The monument pays tribute to the Partisans from the region who fought the good fight in World War II, hundreds of whom perished in combat. The post-Yugoslavia era has seen the memorial park neglected somewhat, but it still represents an impressive visual reminder of a once optimistic past.
The administrative centre of Srem, Sremska Mitrovica’s best days may be behind it but what days they were. It was once known as the ‘Glorious Mother of Cities’, a capital of the Roman Empire and the birthplace of no less than 10 emperors. That history looms large over the city today, in stark contrast to the difficult present.
The clash of past, present and future continues at Novi Banovci, a small town that saw its population skyrocket as the Croatian military forced Serbs from their homes at the end of Croatia’s War of Independence. Another Roman city, Novi Banovci is home to an impressive Orthodox Church and a number of fine restaurants, a nice addition to nearby Stara Pazova.
There is history, and then there is history. The remains of the oldest Neolithic civilisation in Europe are found at Vinča, just 14 kilometres away from Belgrade. Life here dates back to more than 7,000 years before the arrival of Christ himself, making Vinča a true archaeological treasure chest. A couple of interesting monasteries are also in the area, making Vinča a delightful day trip very close to the capital.
A swamp might not exactly sound like the most inviting spot for a day trip away from the Serbian capital, but anyone harbouring such a mindset is missing out. There are over 200 different species of bird at Obedska Pond alone, to go with over 50 types of mammal and a host of amphibians and reptiles. More importantly, Obedska Pond is one of the oldest nature reserves on the planet, with protected status being afforded to it in 1874.
An hour east of Belgrade lies Smederevo, the Serbian city of iron and grapes. An unusual combination we’re sure you’ll agree, but the real value in Smederevo lies in its well-preserved 15th-century fortress. Smederevo was a temporary Serbian capital in the Middle Ages, and that importance becomes palpable once you cross the threshold of the fortress. There is every chance of it becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the future, so take the chance to visit before the crowds arrive.
Just 18 kilometres from Belgrade, Pančevo’s past and present are intrinsically linked to the Serbian capital. The town is home to the oldest choral society in the country, which was once chaired by the irrepressible Davorin Jenko, the Slovene composer responsible for the Serbian national anthem’s melody. Known informally as Pančester or Pansterdam, Pančevo is a gritty town with a plethora of cultural institutions within.