A country with a perpetual image problem, Serbia has a chronic ‘loss of territory’ problem as successive breakaway states keep trying to stay as far away from the bullying clutches of Belgrade as possible. Still in transition following the break up of the former Yugoslavia, Serbia is a nation steeped in history at the junction that connects Europe to the near East. Although the country recently lost its coastline following Montenegro’s vote for independence in 2006, Serbia remains a destination with plenty to offer. The countryside is dominated by rolling hills, castles and national parks. Then there is Belgrade, a capital of wide boulevards, classical architecture and loud music that has earned the city a reputation for good nightlife and bad hangovers.
The warm Serbian attitude towards foreigners and their ability, particularly among the younger generation, to speak English makes the country a welcoming place for travelers. Accommodation in the capital is mostly good value and in some cases very plush. The food in Serbia, and particularly in Belgrade, is varied, catering to western tastes. But, if you want something a bit different, walk past McDonald’s to a Serbian restaurant and order a pljeskavica—think quarter-pounder with curdled cheese. It tastes better than it sounds, trust us.
When to Go
The Serbian climate is typically Central European with four distinct seasons.
The summers last long into September and are generally sunny and hot with the wettest period falling during the spring, which begins at the end of February. Serbian winters hover above 30°F in the most part, with frequent snow and frost.
Getting There & Away
Belgrade has connections to numerous destinations throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa, making Serbia a fairly straightforward destination to get to. Train services also connect to cities throughout Central Europe including Munich, Zagreb, Vienna and Zurich. Ticket prices are cheap, but then you get what you pay for—expect the trains to be late, crowded and less than comfortable, at least by European standards. Inner-city transport, particularly in Belgrade, is very good and extremely cheap. Avoid the taxis which too often take travelers for an overpriced ride. Instead, get better value-for-money on the buses and trams that zigzag across the city.
Health & Safety
Serbia has gone from a war-torn slice of hell to a stable, relatively crime-free country, although caution must still be taken in the restive province of Kosovo which remains under UN administration. Non-Caucasians can expect stares and occasional attention from the police, but should not expect anything more serious than this, although Serbia is not renowned for its tolerance of different ethnic groups. Pedestrians may find crossing the road a hair-raising experience as the driving style is a little aggressive, although cars tend to stop at traffic lights, at least most of the time.
Four days in Belgrade
Three days in Novi Sad
Three days in Zlatibor
Three days in Nis
Two days in Palic
Belgrade: the Serbian capital is a sophisticated city in its own very rundown East European way, with good food and plenty going on until all hours of the morning. It’s also a good place for warlords to ‘hide out’!
Novi Sad: home of a sprawling 18th century fortress and the infamous EXIT music festival in July, this city is situated right on the Danube.
Zlatibor: a budget ski resort by Central European standards and a good place to get out in the wilderness when the snows melt and summer begins. Hardly chamonix but easier on the budget.
Nis: Serbia’s third-largest city is abundant in historic sites including the sinister named Skull Tower, Roman artifacts and a riverside fortress.
Palic: a lakeside town in the north of the country famous for its arts scene and annual film festival.
Sightseeing: history buffs will have a field day viewing Serbia’s wealth of historic forts, churches and Classical and Baroque architecture. It’s all interestingly interspersed with remnants of one of Europe’s ugliest wars.
Nightclubbing: get down in Belgrade’s dark and often dingy night scene, fuelled by cheap drinks and diverse music.
Sailing: spend a day on Europe’s second-largest river, the Danube, either for a quick bite to eat on one of the floating restaurants or on a longer cruise that passes through Belgrade.
Skiiing: Serbia may not be a patch on some of Central Europe’s more exclusive resorts, but its cheap and certainly off the beaten track.