The overwhelming majority of visitors to Serbia tend to stay north in Belgrade and Novi Sad, but more fool them. Niš is the centre of activity in the south, and there is plenty to see and do in Serbia’s third largest city. Lovers of grisly history are in for a treat here.
Explore the fortress
The undoubted centre of touristic life in Niš is the city’s eponymous fortress. Built way back in the 18th century, this monumental stone structure is one of the best preserved of its type in the entire region, although that isn’t to say its history has been smooth sailing since the Turks put it together. Its position on the banks of the Nišava river guaranteed a tumultuous existence, before the occupying Bulgarians used it as a prison during World War II.
The fortress is thankfully pleasant today, and plays host to some of the finest tourist attractions in Niš. The Stambol Gate marks the start of a veritable maze of sights, from old mosques to Roman forums via modern monuments and plenty more.
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Grimace at the grisly Skull Tower
The most famous tourist attraction in Niš didn’t start life as a beacon for photographs and interested visitors. The Skull Tower was every bit as grim as the name suggests, and was constructed to warn the local Serbs against another rebellion. The tower was built in 1809 using the skulls of 952 fallen Serbian rebels, but less than 100 of the heads remain today. Despite this it remains one of the most important spots in the entire Balkan region.
The Red Cross Camp
Continuing with the miserable theme, the tough times in Niš did not end with the expulsion of the Ottoman Empire. The Nazis occupied the area during World War II, and a concentration camp was set up in the city. Crveni Krst was initially intended to be little more than a transit camp, but the bloodthirsty violence of fascism soon saw it used for more nefarious means. A memorial museum stands on the site of the camp, one of the best preserved in the entire region.
Marvel at the Three Fists
More than 10,000 individuals were murdered at Crveni Krst, and those civilians are remembered in a memorial park above the city. Bubanj Spomen Park is a sombre place at the best of times, and the Three Fists memorial encapsulates the crushing loss of World War II better than most of its type. Three monolithic concrete fists shake at the sky, signifying the men, women and children who perished in the camp. The park is a popular spot for locals during the summer, although the picnics and drinks are at odds with the inherent darkness of the area.
Take to the skies
There is more to do in Niš than merely explore the misery of the past, and this remains one of the best spots for paragliding in all of Serbia. The city is surrounded by mountains and gorges, and there may not be a better way to experience them than by taking to the skies. Mount Koritnik is a good place for beginners to start.
Eat, eat, eat and eat
This part of Serbia is famous for its food, and with good reason. The best burek, pljeskavica and the rest are almost certainly found in the region around Serbia’s third largest city. Vegetarians may be in for a tough time around these parts, but carnivores should come to Niš with hearts in their eyes and plenty of space in their tummies. This is an unquestionable paradise for gluttons.
Wander down Tinkers Alley
Tinkers Alley was exactly what you think it was — a street full of coppersmiths and other metal workers plying their trade as the people of Niš went about their days. The alley is a shade of its former self, and the tinkling you hear now is more likely to be pint glasses than creation, but the street remains one of the most enjoyable parts of Serbia’s third largest city.
Discover the ruins of Mediana
A hugely important archeological site can be found in the eastern part of Niš. Mediana dates back to the late Roman period, to the time when Niš-born Constantine the Great was in charge of the vast empire. It hints at a mighty efficient and luxurious society, although such things are expected from the residency of the leader. Evidence of the Romans is found all over the city, but Mediana is the best spot for concentrated history.
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