Despite being a proud nation with an immense history and no small amount of political media coverage, Serbia remains relatively undiscovered in the tourist stakes. This is a genuine crime, as the country is full to the breaking point with vibrant cities, gorgeous nature and some of the best food on the continent. Here is the cream of the crop when it comes to wonderful Serbia.
Where else to start? Serbia’s capital is one of the liveliest cities on the continent, but there’s a whole lot more to it than a legendary nightlife and a passionate populace. Belgrade has a great array of parks to explore, not to mention countless museums, galleries, monuments and the rest. Kalemegdan Fortress provides the most arresting view in the city, although the great restaurants give it a run for its money when it comes to romance.
Number two follows number one, so it is only fair to give Serbia’s second biggest city this spot. Novi Sad is known as the Serbian Athens for good reason. The city centre is one of the finest in the country, and Petrovaradin Fortress may be just as popular as Kalemegdan. It also plays host to EXIT Festival in the summer, one of Europe’s most iconic parties.
Serbia does a great hand in unique nature, and Uvac may well take that particular biscuit. The river meanders like no river you’ve ever seen, a collection of dramatic twists and turns backdropped by extravagant mountains, combining to create a sight that deserves the adjective ‘unforgettable’. The river eventually flows into Bosnia and Herzegovina, but it is its Serbian adventures that capture the imagination the most.
From a river to a mountain, Tara may well be the most impressive big hill in the country. Serbia’s most forested area hides one of its best national parks, hemmed in by the iconic Drina River and its breathtaking gorges and ravines. There is plenty for wildlife aficionados to get excited about too, as you may come across a brown bear, peregrine falcon or a goosander. Best not wait around for the bears though.
Ever wondered what a border would look like if it was designed by deities? The Đerdap Gorge is the closest we have. The gorge itself is actually more of a river, but the classification isn’t as important as the majesty. Water dominates the view, bordered by dramatic cliff faces that keep a number of mysterious caves hidden within. It is also known as the Iron Gate, if you find yourself struggling with the name (pronounced J-air-dap).
Serbia’s third largest city is very different from its two bigger brothers to the north. The Balkan influence is strong here, although it is difficult to shake off an occupation when it leaves behind grisly monuments like the famous Skull Tower. Most of the skulls have gone, but those that remain are still a grisly reminder of more than 500 years of Ottoman occupation. Come for the skulls, stay for the best food in the country.
Constructed specifically for Emir Kusturica’s classic Life Is a Miracle (2004) and also known as Küstendorf, Drvengrad is another dreamlike delight that is literally straight out of a movie. The village is full of streets dedicated to some of the greats of the modern world, furthering the idea of Drvengrad as the playground of a creative genius.
Topola is a pleasant little town situated halfway between Belgrade and Niš, but it is the church that stands above the town that demands a visit. Its official name is the Church of St. George, but most know it simply as Oplenac. The entire Karadjordjević family is buried here, inside a church with one of the most impressive interiors in the region. More than 40 million pieces of coloured glass create a truly astounding mosaic, with more than 15 thousand shades represented. If you think that sounds incredible, just wait until you see it.
Serbia’s northern province of Vojvodina is largely flatland, but one mountain sticks out like the sorest of thumbs. Fruška Gora is its name, and lush greenery is its game. There are plenty of serene monasteries hiding within too, housing some of the finest frescoes in the region. Krušedol and Grgeteg are particularly arresting, but you can’t go wrong with any of them. Be sure to drop into a salaš for too much to eat and a glass or two of rakija.
Sticking with the north, Sremski Karlovci could well be Serbia’s prettiest town. It is a small one, home to less than 9,000 people, but its history and importance are known throughout the state. This was once the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the Habsburg Monarchy, and has long been the cultural capital of Serbian Vojvodina. The architecture matches up with this political and spiritual significance. If you only make one day trip in Serbia, make it Sremski Karlovci.
From a peaceful northern village to what may be Serbia’s most unique city. Novi Pazar is the centre of Islamic culture in the country, one of the last remnants of more than 500 years of Ottoman occupation. This isn’t to say that the Serbian Orthodox Church has no presence, and the two faiths sit side by side in this energetic town. One of Serbia’s first capitals is located nearby, the ruined fortress called Stari Ras.
Serbia is full of idyllic monasteries from north to south, and Studenica may well be the best of the bunch. Established in the 12th century, the monastery was founded by the man who brought the medieval Serbian state into being, the iconic Stefan Nemanja. The monastery consists of two stunning white marble churches and a number of other buildings, but the history is every bit as thrilling as the aesthetics. You won’t find a better example of the spirit of Serbia than at Studenica.
A 14th century fortress in the east of the country, it isn’t difficult to see why this location was chosen for a protective fortification. Golubac is on the edge of the mighty Danube, giving an intimidating impression from the get-go. This hasn’t changed the fortress going through many different hands over the centuries, although rapacious mosquitoes may have been the most terrifying to conquer it. It remains one of Serbia’s most photographed sites.
‘Devil’s Town’ might not sound like the most inviting of destinations, but Satan is nowhere to be seen down in the Toplica District on the disputed Kosovo border. Đavolja Varoš is a collection of more than 200 peculiar formations of rock, usually referred to as ‘towers’, but the truth is, describing them with one word is little more than a fool’s game. The area is full of legends — tales of those foolish enough to betray a witch — along with stories of those bullied into action by the devil, but the aesthetics are more than enough to justify a visit.
Kragujevac may well be the most underrated city in one of Europe’s most underrated countries. The centre itself is fairly industrial, but the nation’s fourth largest town is home to a huge monument park that is as emotionally intense as it is aesthetically impressive. The park was built in remembrance of local citizens massacred by the Nazis during World War II and has many monuments hidden within, with the iconic ‘Interrupted Flight’ without doubt the best known.