Serbia is a country in a time capsule. Its cities are bejewelled with Art Nouveau structures, fairy-tale fortresses, half-complete Orthodox churches, quintessential European plazas, war ruins, quaint sidewalk cafes, eclectic cuisine and bustling nightlife. Yet, the city streets emit a laid back early 20th-century European vibe. With hardly any tourists, Serbia feels like Hungary or the Czech Republic without the crowds.
If Serbia’s cities ooze class, then its countryside breathes culture. Wooden cottages, cobblestone streets, stone bridges, Christian monasteries and a Roman town are waiting for those who venture beyond the medieval cities of Serbia. For nature lovers, Serbia has a few surprises in the form of lunar landscapes, magnificent mountains, scenic gorges, and of course the stunning scenery that accompanies the Danube River.
Last September, Serbia announced that Indians can now visit Serbia without a visa for a period of 30 days. It became the first European country to allow visa-free entry to Indians. So, all you need is a passport and a flight ticket to visit Serbia. The country allows visa-free entry to citizens of 78 countries.
Why travel to Serbia
Here’s why you should travel to this mesmerising country:
Feel the Old World charm in Belgrade
Celts, Romans, Slavs, Byzantines, Bulgarians, Austro-Hungarians and the Ottoman Turks all laid claim to Belgrade in the past. They have all left a mark on the city. The city has seen 115 wars and it was burned 44 times. Yet, the spirit of Serbs still stands unshaken, as do some of the architectural gems.
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"An year ago on this very day, breaking a 9 month long love-affair with Latin America, I landed in Belgrade, Serbia with a hurting heart. But, Serbia proved to be the perfect fling to rebound from a heartbroken relationship. Construction of The Church of Saint Sava started some 110 years ago, yet it still remains incomplete. A bit like my travels"
What to see
1. Marvel at the 15th-century Belgrade Fortress rising high and wide at the confluence of rivers Danube and Sava
2. Visit the Orthodox Church of Saint Sava that has a 440-feet high dome and a 40-feet high gold cross atop the dome
3. Dine or drink at the Bohemian bars, sidewalk cafes, and restaurants located on Skadarlija Street
4. Check out historic buildings and shop at bargain shops on Knez Mihailova Street
5. Visit the 80-year old Cathedral of St. Mark which houses centuries old icons and several rulers buried in the crypt
Experience Exit And Beyond In Novi Sad
Novi Sad is an oddity. Due to Communism, Serbia’s architecture is quite grey and homogenous. Novi Sad bucks this trend with a wide array of colourful buildings adorning its Old Town. Stroll through lanes and walkways to feel in the warmth and vibrancy of Novi Sad.
Petrovaradin Fortress, the site of the Exit Festival, is a 17th-century fortress also known as ‘Gibraltar on the Danube’. The impressive fortress sits on the right bank of the Danube and it has never been conquered. Other buildings worth visiting in Novi Sad are the Dvorak Dundjerski castle, Church of the Great Martyr St. George, and the Old Town Hall.
The world comes to Novi Sad for one of the biggest parties in the universe. Exit Festival brings famous musicians from around the world. The festival turns the city into an open-air party where people dance, sing, drink and mingle with each other. Exit Festival takes place in July.
Experience the Serbian country life in the Zlatibor District
Zlatibor is often called a ‘magnificent combination of nature, creativity and art’. This western corner of Serbia is all about rolling green meadows dotted with tiny wooden villages and colourful flowers bedecking verdant mountains. Zlatibor is a year-round destination with skiing in the winters and hiking in the summers. Or, take a leaf from the villagers and just relax and let time not be a matter.
What to see
1. Visit the ethno-village Drvengrad built according to director Emir Kusturica’s imagination. It sits beautifully on the meeting points of Mount Tara and Mount Zlatibor
2. Hop aboard the Sargan Eight Train that passes through deep rocky gorges, tunnels and bridges
3. Lose yourself to the charms of Mokra Gora National Park
4. Visit the 19th-century mountain village of Sirogojno to see wooden houses, traditional clothing, unique customs and mountain lifestyle
Enjoy the gifts of nature at Djerdap National Park
Djerdap National Park is home to the longest and largest gorge in Europe called Đerdapska Klisura. It is also popularly referred to as the Iron Gate since crossing it was a challenge for travellers, messengers and warriors in the past. The gorge created by the Danube River is 100km long with some cliffs about 300m high. The view of the Danube crisscrossing the cliffs is breathtaking.
The national park has over 1,100 plant species. Bear, lynx, wolf, jackal, white-tailed eagle, owls, and black stork can be seen in the park. Biking, kayaking, hiking, bird-watching, and swimming are some of the park’s popular activities.
What to see
1. Visit Lepenski Vir, a 2000-year old archaeological site
2. Check out the Golubac fortress that sits magnificently on the top of high cliffs
3. Visit Diana, an old fortified town on the Danube
Head to Mars at Devil’s Town
Red craggy rock towers rising high on the slopes of a mountain is an unearthly site. Devil’s Town is as close to the Martian surface as you can get. Devil’s Town has 200 unique rock formations spread out over two valleys. These rising red pillars of rock are a result of millions of years of erosion. And the erosion is still taking place, resulting in some of these towers collapsing while new ones taking birth elsewhere.
Cuisine on offer
The Serbian cuisine is a blend of Italian, Mediterranean and Turkish cuisines. There are plenty of delicious options for vegetarians as well. Prebranac (baked beans), gibanica (cheese pie), and slatki kupus (sweet cabbage) are some of the popular vegetarian dishes. A wide variety of vegetarian pasta, pizzas, sandwiches and salads are also easily available.
Serbian brandies are work of wonders. You can find brandies made of peaches, plums, grapes and other local fruits. These brandies are known as slivovitz. Rakija is another popular brandy distilled with herbs, fruits, and honey. Domestic beers Jeen and Lav are worth trying as well.
When to go
The best time to visit Serbia is from April to October when the temperature stays between 20 to 30 Celsius.
Winters are cold and snowy as the mercury goes below zero Celsius. Skiing enthusiasts can visit Serbia from November to February.
Belgrade has good public transportation in the form of trams and buses. Taxis can also be found easily. There are numerous trains and buses from Belgrade to other parts of Serbia as well as Europe. Trains are generally cheaper than buses. Buses can be booked online here and trains here.
Flight from New Delhi to Belgrade: ₹32,000(avg. round-trip cost)
Intercity bus ticket: ₹100 (avg. one-way cost)
Taxi starting tariff: ₹46/km
Hotel stay: ₹600
Hostel stay: ₹300
Meals for one day: ₹500