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In a country so proud of its royal history, it takes something special for a city to be christened the ‘King’s Town’. That is exactly the case when it comes to Kraljevo, a fascinating town just two-and-a-half hours south of Belgrade.
It might not have the most inviting of names, but Kraljevo’s main city square is one of the finest in all of Serbia. One of the biggest sundials in Europe stands at its centre, a huge bronze statue of a soldier honouring all who died in the wars between 1912 and 1918. This is the living and breathing centre of the city, and all roads lead here. The views from Turist Pizzeria are particularly impressive.
Kraljevo’s main square is where everything starts, but a day in Kraljevo inevitably ends on Omladinska street. One of the many thoroughfares leading off from the square, the street of youth more than earns its nickname through a wide variety of cafes, bars and restaurants. The architecture of the street is particularly unique, an intriguing mix of old and new that showcases the broad history of Serbian construction.
Kraljevo has a reputation for being an athletic town, and this is mostly visible alongside the energising Ibar river. A plethora of sporting facilities can be seen, although the mass of cafes and bars around also suggest where many promising young careers go off the rails. This is the liveliest part of the city during the summer months, when the people of Kraljevo head to the river to cool off in the face of unrelenting sunshine.
Much of central Serbia was decimated by the German occupation during World War II, and Kraljevo is no different. Hitler attempted to curb Nazi resistance by promising to shoot 50 civilians for every wounded German soldier and 100 for a single dead Nazi, and he came true on this ghastly promise in Kraljevo. More than 2,000 civilians were murdered over five days in October 21, and a sombre memorial park stands in honour of those executed.
Kraljevo’s proud history begins way before Milan Obrenović made it a royal town in 1882, with centuries of existence behind it before the King came to town. The Church of the Holy Trinity has stood tall through most of this history, the city’s oldest building and its most delightful church. The bright yellow building isn’t old by Serbian church standards, but it sits proudly as the most experienced piece of architecture in Kraljevo.
Well, watch people shooting some hoops. Kraljevo has a reputation as a sporting town, with many Serbian greats getting their starts here. Basketball is the runaway popular sport, and the small city provides more than one decent team eating at the top table of Serbian domestic basketball. Former NBA star Vlade Divac started his career here, playing his first professional matches for KK Sloga. Keep an eye out for any games while you’re in town.
The National Museum in Kraljevo was established in 1950, and its best days are sadly behind it. This doesn’t discount it entirely of course, as pretty much every National Museum in Serbia is worth checking out to explore the regional differences and local history. Kraljevo, Raška and Vrnjačka Banja are all explored here, along with the terrible years of the 1940s.
It really is difficult to avoid royalty puns when talking about Kraljevo, and the city doesn’t make it any easier with the name of its finest restaurant Kralj (literally; ‘king’), which is one of Serbia’s best, a traditional eatery that isn’t afraid to embrace a little bit of modern style. It is one of many great foodie spots in town, with a number of others located in and around the main square. We recommend Kralj though. When in Kraljevo, do as the King would do.
Kraljevo itself is a fine little town, but its real pull is the monasteries that are located around it. Studenica is known as the ‘mother of Serbian monasteries’ for good reason, and its history is intrinsically linked to that of the Nemanjić Dynasty and Sveti Sava himself. It is surpassed in fame only by Žiča, just 7km from Kraljevo and a site of absolute historical importance to Serbia. It was here that the Serbian kings were crowned, and monastic life continues here to this very day.