Serbia’s fourth largest city lies in between Belgrade and the excitement to the south, making it the perfect place to stop off for a day before continuing on your epic Balkan journey. Kragujevac has plenty to offer, but cramming it into one day presents an intriguing challenge.
The birth of modern Serbia
Kragujevac was a small town doing a whole lot of nothing up until 1818, but that year changed everything. Miloš Obrenović led Serbia to (de facto) freedom that year, and Kragujevac was proclaimed the capital of the modern state. All sorts of important buildings were constructed, and the small town became a big city capable of providing a base for the burgeoning state.
Milošev Venac is the epicentre of those glory days, a circle of majestic buildings that impress through their architecture as much as their history. Amidža’s Quarters is arguably the best preserved building (many of them took a pounding during World War II), and the Old Church was a major construction project for Obrenović at the time.
Kragujevac is a city that has seen fantastic highs and unimaginable lows, so it is best to get a feel for the historical importance of the town right away. Stroll around Milošev Venac until that sinks in, preparing yourself for the intensity to come.
A spot of traditional lunch
There is plenty of walking to come, so filling up with a hearty lunch is absolutely imperative. There is a plethora of options available when it comes to traditional Serbian cuisine, which is exactly what you would expect at restaurants called Staro Srbija (Old Serbia) and Balkan. The latter is the most popular restaurant in town, and experiencing it during the quieter day time makes the most sense for our itinerary.
The darkest of dark days remembered
October 21 is a day that will never be forgotten by the people of Kragujevac. On that day in 1941, the occupying Nazi forces executed nearly 3,000 local residents, mostly men and boys but including women and girls as well. This was the height of Hitler’s attempt to suppress anti-Nazi resistance in Yugoslavia, demanding that 100 Yugoslavs be killed for every single dead German soldier.
The thousands are remembered in Kragujevac’s 21 October Memorial Park and museum of the same name, located just outside the city centre. The park is huge to say the least, and covering it all in one stroll may be a little too intense and exhausting for some. However, the Interrupted Flight memorial is a must-see. It’s a broken wing monument to those who perished on that day in 1941.
The museum is arguably more intense than the park, but not less important. Letters, photographs and other personal possessions of the executed are found here, along with the full story of that dreadful October day. No one is going to have a good time here, but this remains the most paramount site in Kragujevac.
A little bit of nature
After the intensity of the memorial park and museum, it is recommended to take a step back and enjoy something a little less troubling. Serbia’s first freshwater aquarium is found in Kragujevac, and is home to countless species from Serbia and beyond. The aquarium is open until 18:00, so sneak a quick visit in before moving on to the Botanical Garden.
Another location full of thriving flora, Kragujevac’s greenest spot is also full of information waiting to be conveyed. There is a great variety of trees, shrubs and the rest here, and the tranquility is ideal after the intensity of the day and the inevitable debauchery of the night.
A night at the theatre
Founded in 1835, the Serbian Court Theatre in Kragujevac holds the honour of being the oldest active theatre in the country. This was another of Miloš Obrenović’s directives, and plays both domestic and international have found a place on its stage ever since. Keep an eye out for any performances here, as much for the talent on stage as the history that surrounds the place.
Follow culture with chaos
Kragujevac doesn’t possess the incredible nightlife on offer in Belgrade (or even the same in Novi Sad and Niš), but don’t expect a sleepy little town in the middle of the country. The student populace in town means weekends are lively to say the least, with the usual parade of confident females and macho males moving from pub to bar to club until the early hours. A couple of drinks and a spot of people-watching are the perfect ways to bring a close to fine 24 hours in Kragujevac.