11 best places to visit in Serbia
Serbia is a destination that tends to escape the attention of many travelers.
Those who’ve ventured over to the southeastern European country might have discovered the legendary nightlife of the capital, Belgrade, while others will have joined the party at the Exit Festival in Novi Sad.
Then there’s the raucous madness that descends every August on the small town of Guča, whose trumpet festival has gained a reputation as one of the most riotous events in Europe.
That’s only a fraction of the story.
Serbia’s landscapes range from the endless plains of Vojvodina in the north — the country’s breadbasket and wine cellar — to the dramatic mountains and gorges of the national parks in the south, west and east of this former Yugoslav republic.
The legacies left by former rulers the Habsburgs and the Ottoman Turks can be found in everything from architecture to the cuisine, where East really does meet West.
Here are 11 places that will whet appetites for this underrated corner of Eastern Europe when you travel here:
Belgrade has an energy that’s unmistakable, especially in its vibrant café culture. A stroll along the pedestrianized Knez Mihailova Street meanders past elegant 19th century neoclassical buildings as well as shops, bars and restaurants.
Dorćol is one of the city’s most attractive neighborhoods and has dozens of bars and restaurants, many on Strahinjića Bana.
Visitors can check out the lively nightlife along the Sava and Danube rivers, where floating clubs and bars hug the riverbanks. The buzzing nightclubs of Savamala are passed along the way.
Meanwhile Skadarlija, the closest thing Belgrade has to a touristy district, features 19th century cobblestone streets filled with restaurants and bars that hum to a live soundtrack provided by folk musicians.
Tip: Restaurant chain Smokvica has several delightfully ramshackle garden eateries, including one near Kalemegdan and another just south of the old town in Vračar. Both have innovative menus of Slavic and Mediterranean dishes.
Until 1918, this Belgrade suburb was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
This becomes immediately obvious as you walk along the Danube and see the sort of baroque architecture typical of Budapest — only the Cyrillic street signs give the game away.
After checking out the morning food market in Masarikov Trg, it’s worth a walk to the top of the town to Gardoš Tower, which was built by the Hungarians in 1896.
Climb the tower for sweeping views of Zemun, Belgrade and the Danube.
Tip: The riverside Kej Oslobođenja has a dizzying number of waterside restaurants and bars. Supermarket Talas is a good lunch stop whose eclectic menu spans the Mediterranean as well as the Serbian interior.
From late June to September there’s a pontoon bridge that connects Zemun to Great War Island (Veliko Ratno Ostrvo), a nature reserve with a sandy beach at its northwestern tip.
3. Novi Sad
Dubbed the “Serbian Athens” due to its long history as a center of culture and study, Novi Sad reveals its Habsburg heritage through its fine neoclassical buildings and café-filled squares.
Follow pedestrianized Dunavska past its pastel-colored baroque townhouses towards the cool greenery of Dunavski Park. On warm days, nothing beats grabbing a sun lounger on the Danube beach by Most Slobode (Freedom Bridge).
Tip: The Hungarians left their mark on the food too, notably the liberal use of paprika. Café Veliki, where traditional cuisine is served in comfortable shabby-chic surroundings, serves up hearty dishes. Across the Danube is the imposing 18th century Petrovaradin Fortress, home to the City Museum, a church and the annual Exit music festival.
It’s easy to think you’ve crossed the border into Hungary when you reach Subotica.
But it’s Subotica’s architecture that really serves up a surprise. The sublime art nouveau buildings — known as secessionist style in Serbia — are the stuff of fairy tales, with colorful turrets, gables, roof tiles and brick work.
One of the most vivid examples is the City Hall, and it’s worth stepping inside its opulent interior. Visitors can even take a tour to the top the clock tower, which has wide reaching views of the city and countryside.
Tip: Trains and buses connect to neighboring Lake Palić, a popular lake resort that also boasts of strong collection of fine art nouveau buildings.