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Serbia

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Travel Guide Europe Serbia

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Introduction

Bohemian Belgrade

Bohemian Belgrade

© All Rights Reserved neron

In May 2006 Serbia parted ways with Montenegro after the smaller republic declared its independence. The peaceful separation contrasts with the horrific ethnic war fought during the previous decade and promises a brighter future. For travellers, the separation means that Serbia is now a landlocked country. Even without the picturesque Mediterranean beaches, however, Serbia is a beautiful and historically rich destination. Belgrade, the capital, is packed with interesting historical places (surprising, considering it's been destroyed 40 times in its history): museums dedicated to war and art, a traditional Balkan-style palace and streets lined with 17th century architecture. Its landscape is diverse, as mountainous terrain in the south is juxtaposed with the flat land around the Danube River, which weaves its way through the northern province of Vojvodina.

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Brief History

The beginning of the Serbian state starts with the White Serbs settling the Balkans led by the Unknown Archont, who was asked to defend the frontiers from invading Avars. Emperor Heraclius granted the Serbs a permanent dominion in the Sclavinias of Western Balkans upon completing their task. The Serbian Empire was proclaimed in 1346 under Stefan Dušan, during which time the country reached its territorial, spiritual and cultural peak, becoming one of the larger states in Europe. After the loss of independence to the Kingdom of Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, Serbia briefly regained sovereignty under Emperor Jovan Nenad in the 16th century. Three Austrian invasions and numerous rebellions, such as the Banat Uprising, constantly challenged Ottoman rule. Vojvodina endured a century long Ottoman occupation before being ceded to the Habsburg Empire in the 17th–18th centuries under the Treaty of Karlowitz.

The first modern independent Serbia was established in the course of the Serbian national revolution (1804–1817), and it lasted for several decades. In 1876, Montenegro and Serbia declared war on the Ottoman Empire, proclaiming their unification with Bosnia. The formal independence of the country was internationally recognized at the Congress of Berlin in 1878, which formally ended the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878. In 1882, Serbia, ruled by King Milan, was raised to Kingdom. During the Balkan Wars (1912–1913), the Kingdom of Serbia tripled its territory by acquiring part of Macedonia, Kosovo, and parts of Serbia proper. As for Vojvodina, during the 1848 revolution in Austria, Serbs of Vojvodina established an autonomous region known as Serbian Vojvodina.

On 28 June 1914 the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria at Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina by Gavrilo Princip (a Yugoslav unionist member of Young Bosnia) and an Austrian citizen, led to Austria-Hungary declaring war on Kingdom of Serbia. In defense of its ally Serbia, Russia started to mobilize its troops, which resulted in Austria-Hungary's ally Germany declaring war on Russia. The retaliation by Austria-Hungary against Serbia activated a series of military alliances that set off a chain reaction of war declarations across the continent, leading to the outbreak of World War I within a month. Serbia was part of The Kingdom of Yugoslavia between 1918 and 1945, after which it was incorporated into Socialist Yugoslavia until 1991. Slobodan Milošević rose to power in Serbia in 1989 in the League of Communists of Serbia through a series of coups against incumbent governing members. Milošević promised reduction of powers for the autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina. This ignited tensions with the communist leadership of the other republics that eventually resulted in the secession of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia from Yugoslavia.

Milošević represented the Bosnian Serbs at the Dayton peace agreement in 1995, signing the agreement which ended the Bosnian War that internally partitioned Bosnia & Herzegovina largely along ethnic lines into a Serb republic and a Bosniak-Croat federation. On 5 October 2000, the fall of Milošević led to end of the international isolation Serbia suffered during the Milošević years. Milošević was sent to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia on accusations of sponsoring war crimes and crimes against humanity during the wars in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo which he was held on trial to until his death in 2006. That same year, Montenegro became an independent country.

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Geography

Serbia is a country located in the Balkans (a historical and geographical region of southeastern Europe) and in the Pannonian Plain (a region of central Europe). It shares borders with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, the Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, and Romania. Serbia claims a border with Albania as well through its disputed territory of Kosovo. It is landlocked, although access to the Adriatic is available through Montenegro, and the Danube River provides shipping access to inland Europe and the Black Sea.

Serbia covers a total of 88,361 km², which places it at the 113th place in the world. Arable land covers 19,194 km², and woods cover 19,499 km² of the territory of Serbia without Kosovo. Its total border length amounts to 2,027 kilometres (Albania 115 kilometres, Bosnia and Herzegovina 302 kilometres, Bulgaria 318 kilometres, Croatia 241 kilometres, Hungary 151 kilometres, Macedonia 221 kilometres, Montenegro 203 kilometres and Romania 476 kilometres). All of Serbia's border with Albania, and parts of the borders with Macedonia, Montenegro, are under control of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo. It has 6,167 registered settlements, 207 urban and 5960 others (rural).

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Regions

  • Central Serbia is the largest region of Serbia and contains the capital Belgrade. It's not an administrative division of Serbia, but the term is generally used to describe "the part of Serbia that is neither in Kosovo nor in Vojvodina" (sometimes also called "Serbia proper"). Besides Belgrade, it contains the regions of Podunavlje, Podrinje and Šumadija.
  • Vojvodina is an autonomous province in the northern part of Serbia, bordering Hungary, Croatia, and Romania. Its capital Novi Sad, the second largest city of Serbia after Belgrade. Apart from the Serbian language, there are also about 14% native Hungarian speakers in Vojvodina.
  • Kosovo (or the autonomous province of Kosovo and Metohija) is a disputed region in the south west of Serbia. Kosovo declared its independence on 17 February 2008, but this is opposed by Belgrade. The UN Security Council remains divided on the question. The population is around 90% Albanian, with only 4-8% (depending on source) Serbs. The capital of Kosovo is Priština.

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Cities

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Sights and Activities

Golubac Fortress

Golubac Fortress

Golubac Fortress

© All Rights Reserved Casa Cohiba

Golubac Fortress (Голубачки град), is a medieval town located 4 kilometers downstream of Golubac, with five large towers that were fortified on the banks of the Danube River. Construction on the fortress most likely began in the 14th century and is split into three compounds. Most likely these compounds were built during different stages. This fortress was fought over by many different powers including the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary. Finally in 1867 it fell into Serbian hands. Today it is one of the most popular tourist sights in Serbia and the best views can be seen on a wonderful river boat ride on the Danube. Origin of the name Golubac is from the word Pigeon. There are several legends on how this fortress got its name. One of those is a tale about girl Golubana who was known for her unusual beauty. Turkish pasha was astonished by her beauty and desperately wanted to marry her. Since she repeatedly refused to marry him, he ordered to tie her for a rock in Danube where she was tortured for a long time and then left to birds to be torn.

Visoki Decani Monastery

Visoki Decani Monastery (Манастир Високи Дечани) is one of the main Serb Orthodox Christian monasteries and is located in Kosovo 12 kilometres south of the town of Pec. The monastic katholikon is one of the largest medieval churches in the Balkans and contains extensive fresco decorations that are world famous. The construction of the church began in 1327 and was not completed until 1335, though the paintings were not finished until 1350. The building is dedicated to Christ Pantocrator and was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 2004. Today it is a very popular tourist sight.

Mileseva

Mileseva (Милешева) this is a wonderful Serbian Orthodox monastery. Located near Prijepolje this monastery was founded between the years of 1234 and 1236. The outside of the church is covered with a nice white plaster. The inside is covered with amazing frescos made by the most talented Serbian artists of the time. The most famous fresco is of the White Angel that shows an angel on Christ's grave.

Petrovaradin Fortress

Petrovaradin Fortress, Novi Sad

Petrovaradin Fortress, Novi Sad

© All Rights Reserved luzian

The Petrovaradin Fortress is sitting on a hill on the Danube river in Novi Sad (Нови Сад). Recent discoveries have shown that a continuous settlement has existed at this site for the last 15,000 to 20,000 years. After some Paleolithic settlers and some first fortification in the Bronze age, the Romans built a fortress (Cusum) here which has existed until the Middle Age. Since 1235, the site has been alternatively occupied by Hungarian, Turkish and Austrian forces and a new fortress was built on top of the remains of the Roman Cusum. The base of the current fortress was laid in 1692 by the Austrians after the previous one was destroyed in 1687 during the war against Turkey. The new fortress has not only survived several more wars, but also the time after World War I when many other nearby fortresses were razed, and is still intact today. There's also a system of 16 kilometres of tunnels under the fortress, originally built as countermine system in the 18th century. Nowadays, the EXIT music festival is held in the fortress every year in July.

Smederevo Fortress

Smederevo fortress

Smederevo fortress

© All Rights Reserved Casa Cohiba

Smederevo Fortress in Smederevo, was a medieval fortified city and temporary capital of Serbia in the Middle Ages. It was built between 1427 and 1430, on the order of Despot Đurađ Branković, the ruler of the Serbian Despotate. It was further fortified by the Ottoman Empire, that had taken the city, in the end of the century. Smederevo is the largest medieval lowland type of fortresses in Europe. The fortress withstood several sieges between the Ottomans and Serbs, which it survived relatively unscathed. It was not until World War II that it was heavily damaged, by explosions and bombing. As of 2009 it is in the midst of extensive restoration and conservation work, despite which the fortress remains "one of the rare preserved courts of medieval Serbian rulers." It was declared a Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance in 1979, and is protected by the Republic of Serbia. In 2010, the fortress was placed on the Tentative List for possible nomination as a World Heritage Site (UNESCO).

Other Sights and Activities

  • Military Museum - Visit this wonderful museum in Belgrade to see military relics from ancient times to modern jets, including one downed USA stealth fighter. The building itself is also amazing and worth seeing.
  • Felix Romuliana - This building was an imperial palace and one of the most famous late Roman sites in Europe. It is located near Zajecar and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Miroslav Gospels - One of the oldest surviving written documents in the world located in Belgrade.
  • Studenica Monastery (Манастир Студеница) - Located 39 kilometres southwest to Kraljevo is a wonderful Serb Orthodox monastery. It is one the largest and richest monasteries in Serbia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Construction started on the monastery in 1196 and is covered in amazing frescos.
  • Monument to Unknown Hero - Located on the top of Mt Avala this monument is built to honour those that died in World War I.
  • Medieval Fortress of Bac - Check out this less visited medieval fortress outside of Bac.
  • Hiking - The Carpathian Mountains and the Balkan Mountains are wonderful places to go hiking and experience the wilderness.
  • St. Sava Temple - Is an amazing temple and one of the most famous in Serbia.

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Events and Festivals

New Year's Eve

Restaurants, clubs, cafe's and hotels are usually fully booked and organize New Years celebrations with food and live music. However, Serbian New Year's celebrations are most known for the outdoors festivities in Belgrade, and several other major cities such as Novi Sad, Nis and Jagodina. As of mid-December, cities are extensively decorated and lit. The decorations remain until way into January due to the persistent influence of the old, Julian calendar. Throughout the region, especially amongst former Yugoslav republics, Belgrade is known as the place to be for major parties, concerts and happenings. It has become common for large groups of Slovene's to visit their former capital and celebrate the beginning of a new year. Especially since the mid-nineties, street celebrations grew into mass gatherings with hundreds of thousands of people, celebrating New Year on one of several locations throughout Belgrade.

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Weather

Serbia has a continental climate with warm summers are cold winters. Summers last from June to September with average highs of 25 °C to 30 °C in most of the country, sometimes hitting 40 °C. Winters last from December to February when temperatures during the day are around or slightly above zero, while nights are freezing and temperatures below -20 °C are possible. Summers are somewhat wetter compared to the other season, though rain or snow is possible year round. In summer, rain is more like heavy showers with enough sunshine during the days as well.

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Getting There

By Plane

Jat Airways is the national airlines of Serbia and is based at Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport (BEG). International destinations are Amsterdam, Athens, Brussels, Copenhagen, Dubai, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Gothenburg, Istanbul, Larnaca, Ljubljana, Kiev-Boryspil, London-Heathrow, Malta, Monastir, Moscow, Munich, Oslo, Paris, Podgorica, Pula, Prague, Rome-Fiumicino, Sarajevo, Skopje, Stockholm, Stuttgart, Tel Aviv, Thessaloniki, Tirana, Trieste, Tripoli, Tunis, Vienna and Zürich.
A number of other European airlines fly to Belgrade as well and cities outside Europe with services include seasonal flights to and from Toronto, and flights to Tunis and Monastir in Tunisia. If your are flying from/to London most Serbs without too much national pride will suggest flying with British Airways due to the fairly similar price point but much more reliable service.

By Train

Serbia has very good, if fairly slow, international train connections. Due to the sanctions placed on Serbia in the 1990s the infrastructure lags behind some of its neighbors. However, thanks to its geographic location in the heart of the Balkans, Belgrade is the connecting point of several main train lines in Eastern Europe. Trains not only connect Serbia with most neighbouring countries, but there are also direct trains to Belgrade from other European cities in a total of 15 countries. There are daily trains and also convenient overnight trains to most of these destinations.

The following train lines are meeting in Belgrade:

The national train company is Serbian Railways (ŽS/Železnice Srbije). International connections are best looked up on the German Railway website.

By Car

You can easily cross into Serbia from neighbouring countries, including Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia. Documentation required include an international driving permit and green card (insurance) though some nationalities need to arrange extra insurance at the border (€80!).

By Bus

Eurolines and a few other companies have extensive services throughout Europe. Destinations from Belgrade include Paris, Vienna, Munich, Athens, Rome and even Malmo.

By Boat

Some Danube cruise ships pass through the Serbian part of the Danube on the route from Budapest to the Black Sea, with increasingly frequent stops in cities such as Belgrade and Novi Sad.

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Getting Around

By Plane

Jat Airways might have some small planes available for flights within Serbia, but most flights go to Banja Luka in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Podogrica in Montenegro.

By Train

Apart from the international connections, Serbian Railways operates a few national lines which might be of use for travelers. Destinations from Belgrade include Novi Sad, Niš, Subotica, Užice, Požarevac, Šid and Požega.

By Car

The main roads, including the toll highways are generally in a good condition, but driving at night on secondary rural roads is best avoided. You can rent cars from many international and local firms at airports and bigger cities. You need an international driving permit and it's possible to bring your own car. Be sure to have proof of ownership and sufficient third party insurance.

By Bus

Lasta is the national long distance bus line and there are frequent connections, most of them originating or terminating in Belgrade. Bus lines tend to be faster but less comfortable than train travel in Serbia.

By Boat

There are no useful passenger services within Serbia.

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Red Tape

The following nationalities can enter Serbia for up to 90 days without a visa:

Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States and Vatican City.

Nationals from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Russia, Slovenia and Ukraine can stay for 30 days obtaining a pass available at the border.

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Money

See also: Money Matters

The currency in Serbia is the Serbian Dinar (RSD). Banknotes come in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1,000, 2,000 and 5,000 din. Coins are in 1, 2, 5, 10 and 20 din. Para used to be a subunit of dinar, but is currently out of circulation. As of June 2013, the Dinar has an exchange rate of approximately 1 Euro to 113 din, 1 USD to 87 din, 1 GBP to 132 din.

The Euro (€) is occasionally accepted, but not generally, and prices are often inflated when directly compared to the Dinar. Money can be converted in banks and exchange offices in the cities, and cash machines (ATM's) accepting all major international credit and debit cards are available throughout the countries.

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Language

The official language is Serbian. It is mainly written in the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet, sometimes also in latin letters.

The Serbian language is essentially the same as Croatian and Bosnian. In former Yugoslavia they were all called Serbo-Croatian, but this term is no longer used for political reasons. The main difference is that Serbia still uses the cyrillic alphabet in writing, while it been dismissed in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

English is quite widely spoken throughout the country, younger people in cities often have an excellent level. As it is difficult for Serbian people to travel to other countries due to visa restrictions, many of them are happy to practise their English by speaking to international travellers.

Russian or other slavic languages can also be helpful as they have similarities with Serbian, and of course knowning the Cyrillic alphabet is very helpful. Hungarian is the second language in Vojvodina in the north, with some towns near the Hungarian border where it is more common than Serbian.

Asking questions

  • Where is…? - Gde je…?
  • Do you speak English? - Govorite li engleski?
  • How? - Kako?
  • How much is it? - Koliko košta?
  • When? - Kada?
  • What time is it? - Koliko je sati?
  • Which? - Koji?
  • What is your name? - Kako se zovete?
  • Who? - Ko?
  • Where are you from? - Odakle ste?

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Eat

Try Pljeskavica (pronounced Plee-es-ka-vee-tsa) - a hamburger-like streetfood that is prepared using various minced meats (beef, pork, goat, lamb) and spices. Served with a variety of Serbian condiments.

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Drink

Serbia is a place rich with fruit and grape. Geographical location of Serbia is favorable for growing these kind of crops which has as a result broad choice of fruit brandies, known as Rakija. There are several regions know for rakija and wine. Best rakijas are made out of plum, peer, quince and apricot, but you can find rakijas from other fruits as well. Regarding wine, territory of today's Serbia has a long tradition in viticulture which is dating long back in time, even in pre-roman times.
The most famous wine regions are:

  • Oplenac - Šumadija (Central Serbia)
  • Fruška gora - Srem, Vojvodina (North Serbia)
  • Palić - Bačka, Vojvodina (North Serbia)
  • Vršac - Banat, Vojvodina (Northeast Serbia)
  • Negotin - Timočka krajina (East Serbia)
  • Knjaževac - Timočka krajina (East Serbia)
  • Aleksandrovac - Župa (South West Serbia)
  • Smederevo - Podunavlje (Central Serbia)

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Health

See also: Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Serbia. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Serbia. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended.

If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against hepatitis B is also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. It is also recommended to have a vaccination against tick borne encephalitis when you go hiking and/or camping for 4 weeks or more in the period of March to November.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.

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Safety

See also: Travel Safety

In terms of personal safety Serbia is considered to be one of the safest countries in Europe. There are no parts of country, or a town which are not considered safe. However it is advisable to beware of pickpockets, especially in Belgrade public transport or at main touristic sites. In general local population is extremely helpful and hospitable, especially in rural areas. Most of the people can speak some foreign language. The majority of younger population speak English, while among older people German, French and Russian is more common.

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Keep Connected

Internet

Serbia is very well covered with broad band internet. It is widely available in urban areas. Almost every cafe or restaurant has an wi-fi connection which is free for guests. Also there are public hot spots in major cities in some areas which are free of charge as well. There are 3G USB sticks at mobile operators which are easy to use and inexpensive to purchase.

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

International dial code for Serbia is +381. Emergency phone numbers are 192 (police), 193 (fire department) and 194 (ambulance). There are three mobile operators in Serbia:

1. Telenor - 063, 062
2. Telekom MTS (National telecom) - 064, 065
3. VIP (Vodafone) - 060, 061

Prepaid SIM cards usually cost 200 dinars and there is no need for identification when buying them. In some stores you can buy a simple mobile phone packaged with prepaid SIM card for 2000-3000 dinars.

Post

Serbia has a postal service since 1840 and it was one of 21 countries which founded the Universal Postal Union in 1874 in Bern. Serbia Post is today a public, state owned company with post offices in almost every village. Postal service is pretty good and reliable. In smaller towns work hours of post offices can vary so don't count on long working hours even on non-weekend days. For sending packages you can also use companies like UPS, TNT or DHL.

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Quick Facts

Serbia flag

Map of Serbia

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Capital
Belgrade
Population
9,400,000
Government
Republic
Religions
Christianity (Serbian Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant), Islam
Languages
Serbian, Albanian, Hungarian
Calling Code
+381
Nationality
Serbian
Local name
Srbija (Србија in Cyrillic)

Contributors

as well as luzian (11%), ecentar (11%), Lavafalls (8%), Casa Cohiba (6%), Peter (3%), radojesrb (2%), DavidJFabe (2%), Hien (2%), dr.pepper (1%), Sam I Am (1%)

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Serbia Travel Helpers

  • Buttfish

    I was born in Serbia and lived there a few years, returning every few off years. I've travelled across the country, and have some knowledge here and there...

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  • ecentar

    I lived and stayed in different parts of Serbia through my life and have met a lot of people from various parts. I traveled for fun and for business through my country and I can say that my knowledge about it is decent. I can help anyone who want to travel to inland of Serbia, because there are a lot of others who can help about Belgrade and surroundings. Under my opinion inland is much more interesting to explore because it's rustic and traditional.

    Ask ecentar a question about Serbia
  • luisracast

    visit several times in 1994 and still keep close contacts in Belgrade and Kragujevac

    Ask luisracast a question about Serbia
  • jasminasab

    I know a lot about Belgrade, Novi Sad, Pancevo, Kovacica. General info about the other places in Serbia.

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  • valentij

    I live in Serbia, I can help someone who is planing to visit this country. I lived in Croatia for 22 years and I think I could be helpful for that country too.

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Accommodation in Serbia

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