Listed as one of Lonely Planet’s best value destinations to visit in 2020, Serbia is bound to be on a few traveller’s wish-lists this year.
With its bustling cities, charming spa towns, historic monasteries, and excellent wineries, Serbia is a diverse country with so much to discover. Whether you’re planning a relaxing break full of countryside hikes or a weekend indulging in Belgrade’s famous nightlife, our guide to the ten best places in Serbia should help you put together the perfect trip.
Serbia’s capital has an unmistakable energy – and an awesome history spanning the Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Serbian, and Austrian empires. After spending a day exploring cultural attractions like the ancient Belgrade Fortress, head out to enjoy the city’s unique nightlife scene. You’ll find plenty to entertain you in the live music bars. Every genre is represented –from laid-back jazz to banging techno. Visit during summer and you can party on the Danube and Sava rivers, where splavovi boats transform into floating clubs.
2. Fruška Gora National Park
Serbia’s oldest national park is home to endangered eagles, 15th Century monasteries, and some of the country’s best vineyards. Wine has been grown here since 3 AD and was once served on the Titanic. Today, it’s still one of Serbia’s best kept secrets. There are around 60 family-owned wineries on the route through the national park, and 36 of the cellars are in the town of Sremski Karlovci. Look out for bermet – a sweet dessert wine that was once served in some of Europe’s swankiest royal courts.
3. Novi Sad
European capital of culture 2021 – and the second largest city in Serbia – Novi Sad makes for an excellent city break. There are charming cafés, buzzing bars tucked into laneways and lush green parks to relax in but the biggest draw is the annual EXIT Festival. Taking place in the imposing Petrovaradin Fortress, this massive event will be celebrating its 20th birthday this July – acts including David Guetta, Fatboy Slim, and Sepultura will be there.
4. Đavolja Varoš
AKA “Devil’s Town”, this weird and wonderful rock formation was recently nominated as one of the new seven wonders of nature. There are lots of local legends about the place – some say the pillars were wedding guests tricked by the devil and petrified by God, while others say it was the work of a witch wreaking revenge on those who wronged her. In reality it’s just a strange natural phenomena behind the 202 pillars, creating an affect similar to Turkey’s Cappadocia. At night the pillars are lit up, and by day you get an incredible view of the surrounding nature.
5. Ravni Kopaonik
Ravni Kopaonik is the heart and soul of Serbia’s ski scene. With around 200 days of sunshine each year – and a ski season that generally lasts from November to May – it’s a fantastic destination for a wallet-friendly ski break. During the warmer months, you can still enjoy active relaxation on the plateau. Hiking to Metođa Spring and Semeteško Jezero Lake is a wonderful way to while away an afternoon. For something more exciting, you can hire mountain bikes and explore the trails and slopes.
Serbia’s third largest city is a university town with plenty of hipster bars, arty boutiques, and more than its fair share of dark tourist attractions. The skull tower is one of the creepiest. Built by the Ottomans after the Battle of Čegar, it was originally studded with 952 skulls of rebellious Serbs. Another powerful place to visit is the Red Cross Concentration Camp, where the Nazis held more than 35,000 Serbians, Romanians, and Jews during WWII. Nearby you’ll find Bubanj Memorial Park, where the Nazis executed their victims en masse. It’s tough stuff, but an important reminder of why this can never happen again.
7. The Šargan Eight railway
You can’t miss the opportunity for a ride on the Šargan Eight. The vintage train trundles along a narrow gauge track, with smoke pouring out of its chimney and a jolly horn that still goes ‘choo choo’. It was once part of a more ambitious railway linking Serbia with Bosnia and Herzegovina. Today it’s simply a tourist train departing from the town of Mokra Gora. The two-and-a-half hour round-trip takes you through 22 tunnels as it winds and twists along the mountainside. There are some incredible (and dizzying) views down to the valley below.
8. Tara National Park
Nature lovers should make a beeline for Tara National Park in Western Serbia. Set in the Dinaric Alps, it boasts soaring mountain peaks carpeted with lush Serbian pine forests and criss-crossed with hiking trails and sparkling waterfalls. One of the biggest draws for adventure addicts is the Drina River canyon – the third largest in the world. Get your adrenaline kick on a white water rafting expedition. If you’d prefer calmer kayaking, head to the park’s Perućac and Zaovine lakes for a relaxing paddle.
Ramble through the ruins of the Palace of Galerius and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into ancient history. Built by the Roman Emperor Galerius back in the 3rd or 4th Century BC, today the complex includes hot baths and a palace. Look out for the memorial complex – the final resting place of the emperor and his mother, Romula, who he named the building after. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it still has some mosaics, frescoes, and pillars. There’s also an air conditioned museum where you can check out artefacts found during the excavation.
10. Vrnjačka Banja
After our whirlwind tour of Serbia, we’re finishing on a relaxing note in Vrnjačka Banja. This spa town is renowned for its glorious hot springs, and out of the seven, four are used in hydrotherapy. Some sit at the exact temperature of the human body for a seriously comfortable soak. Royalty and aristocrats flocked here during the 19th Century, and today it’s the perfect spot for a low key break. Why not indulge at the spa, enjoy a coffee on the promenade, or take in a show at the open-air theatre?