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Greetings Internet Stranger! So you’re looking for the best things to do in Serbia? Well, here I am to accommodate you. As a child of the 90s, I grew up with a very negative impression of Serbia from the evening news. But while I don’t want to minimize the terrible things that happened between Serbia and its neighbors back then, I found it to be a beautiful country with lots of young people eager to look to the future…and delicious meats. Join me for 24 hours in Serbia, and I’ll show you my favorite parts of the country outside of Belgrade.
I am utterly unable to drive, and the public transportation in this part of the world isn’t always “functioning”. So I chose to use a company called My Day Trip to hire a private driver to take me from my previous destination of Sofia, Bulgaria to Belgrade. My driver took me to all the stops you will see on your itinerary and even helped with a bit of translating, though he was Bulgarian and not Serbian. I loved My Day Trip, but you could just as easily see all these places with a car of your own. Totally up to you!
Best Things to Do in Serbia
Where to Stay?
Belgrade is the main metropolis in Serbia, so I suggest using it as your home base for the best things to do in Serbia itinerary. I highly recommend the Envoy Hotel in Belgrade. It is a luxury hotel at mid-range prices. The location right in the center of Belgrade couldn’t be more convenient, the staff was extremely helpful and spoke perfect English, and the breakfast spread every morning was to die for. Even the breakfast meats were amazing! (As we will see, meat is a big theme in Serbia.)
Best Things to Do in Serbia
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today on our 24 hours of the best things to do in Serbia. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Serbia is hot in the summer, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, if you’re American, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. European electrical outlets don’t work with American plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
Best Things to Do in Serbia
Nis is the third-largest city in Serbia, and while it’s not as pretty as Novi Sad or as cosmopolitan as Belgrade, it’s still an enjoyable place to spend a morning. I recommend getting here as soon as you can from Sofia or Belgrade or wherever you are coming from and spending half a day here. The service in restaurants can be a little slow, and you don’t want to have to gobble down your food. Not that this happened to me. Ahem.
But you didn’t come here to learn about my poor time management skills! You came to learn about Nis! I’m happy to oblige with…
Approximately Top 5: Nis
1) King Milan Square
King Milan Square is one of the most important squares in Nis. It is mostly famous for its giant statue to the Liberators of Nis. This statue doesn’t seem to be dedicated to only one person–rather those who fought for Serbia against the Ottoman occupation and during World War I.
But I was more interested in these cute and colorful buildings that surround the main square. A lot of the buildings I saw in Nis were in the Communist style, which means fugly. But these are so charming and Central European! I mean, do I wish there were more adorable things in these buildings than a SLOT CLUB and a UniCredit Bank? Sure. But you can’t have everything in this life.
2) Nis Fortress
In my opinion, this is the Must See Attraction in Nis. It is a Cultural Monument of Great Importance, which I know because there are signs all around Nis saying this is a Cultural Monument of Great Importance. Even though it looks really old, it was only built back in the 18th century. And if you know anything about who was in charge of Serbia back then, you know that means it was built by the Ottoman Turks. There were older fortifications on this spot dating all the way back to Roman times, but this is the fortress that has been left standing. Those Ottomans really knew how to build a wall that would last, is all I am saying.
As an American, it’s always crazy to me how Europeans take structures like this for granted. Here are a bunch of people just casually on their way to work while walking through a 300 year old structure. In America we would cover this whole thing up with security guards and charge 20 bucks admission just to see it.
3) Jazz Museum
If you had asked me to make a list of what I thought the best things to do in Serbia would be before I visited, a jazz museum would not have been on said list. That’s why I was so excited to find the Nisville Jazz Museum. Apparently there is a giant jazz festival held in the Nis fortress every summer called Nisville.
The festival combines jazz and…Serbian folk music, which are two tastes I would not have thought to combine. And that’s why you’ll find objects in the museum belonging to everyone from American R&B legend Solomon Burke to the late Shaban Bajramovic, a Serbian-Romani folk singer. Yet when I listen to Bajramovic, I can see how it is similar to jazz in some ways. Truly music is the language that brings all peoples together.
I sadly was not able to attend the Nisville festival because I didn’t have enough time on this trip. Next time, Serbia!
You might be confused reading the word Tramway and then looking at my delicious lunch. How can I have such a scrumptious meal on a tram? Well, Tramvaj is actually a restaurant in what looks to be an old tram car. If you’ve ever wanted to step inside Murder on the Orient Express, only without any actual murder, this is the place for you! I had savory pancakes stuffed with ham and cheese and topped with very fresh sour cream. I loved how the pancakes were as light and fluffy as a baby lamb made of clouds and dreams. Plus the cukes and tomatoes were so much fresher than the veggies I find at the corner grocery store back home.
Tramway is famous for its desserts, but I didn’t have time for a full sit down dessert, so I got this elaborate coffee drink with my pancakes. Yes, it has chocolate ice cream, chocolate syrup, and whipped cream on it. I think if Starbucks made this drink it would sell out in about five seconds and we’d all be much less healthy.
Best Things to Do in Serbia
Afternoon: Smederevo Fortress
No list of best things to do in Serbia is complete without another fortress. From my brief time in Serbia, I gathered that building fortresses and cooking meat are what Serbs do best. Fortunately Smedervo Fortress, an authentic Serbian medieval fortress, is right in between Nis and Belgrade. So there’s no excuse for not stopping here and seeing the best architecture 15th Serbia has to offer. Especially when you have me to assist you with…
Three Fun Facts: Smederevo Fortress
1) Where is Smederevo Fortress?
It’s just a short drive away from Belgrade, about 45 kilometers. At least I think that’s short but I’m American and don’t really understand kilometers. My guess is it’s too far away to walk and too close to fly. The Smederevo Fortress is located in the city of Smederevo, which is easy enough to remember. But most importantly it’s located on the bank of one of the most famous rivers in Europe: the Danube. (On the fortress’s other side is the Jezava, but this is less famous because Strauss never wrote the Blue Jezava Waltz.
2) Why is Smederevo Fortress?
This fortress was commissioned in the 15th century by the last medieval despot of Serbia, Đurađ Branković. (I think that’s pronounced dzuradz brankovich, but my Serbian is really terrible so you shouldn’t trust me.) I was amused to see that he is officially known as a despot because I thought despot was something only your enemies called you. But maybe Đurađ Branković liked striking fear into the hearts of all and sundry? I don’t know his life.
Smederevo was actually the capital of medieval Serbia for a brief period of time. Belgrade was the capital of Serbia before then, but apparently the Serbs needed to give Belgrade to Hungary for some reason that I assume involved more violence than just the Hungarians asking really nicely. So Brankovic needed to find a new capital and build a fortress to keep the Ottoman Empire out. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t work.) Medieval Times were a lot rougher than medieval-themed restaurants would have us believe.
3) What is there to do here?
Well the best, easiest, and funnest thing to do is just wander about the walls and take photos of the stunning walls and rivers. There is a small charge for admission, so I hope you brought Serbian cash with you! There was a Societe Generale ATM right around King Milan Square in Nis that gave me all the currency I needed, as I was coming from Bulgaria. Included with the price of admission is a small brochure about the fortress, but since it was entirely in Serbian, I still have no idea what it says.
As it’s a fortress with high walls, you’ll need to do a fair bit of climbing to get to the top. They didn’t have elevators in the 14th century, I believe. So bring your stepcounter so you can feel truly smug at the end of the day. You’ll definitely have earned the fine glass of Serbian wine we’re about to partake in.
Best Things to Do in Serbia
Evening: Dinner at Hometown Food Restaurant
It’s the end of our 24 hours of the best things to do in Serbia, and we’ve just arrived in Belgrade for our dinner. I was excited to find that there was a popular restaurant near my hotel called Hometown Food Restaurant. I was hoping it would serve the guests the food of their hometown, whether they were from Paris, France or Paris, Texas.
But instead, it just seems to serve some yummy Serbian-style home cooking, which was more than satisfying after a long day of driving and walking around fortresses. I especially recommend the homemade sausages which are actually made with real, quality meat and not whatever passes for meat in the hot dogs back home in NYC.
24 Hour Treasure
I cannot tell you how surprised I was to turn the corner and find a silver man just chillaxing on a building. I was even more surprised to learn this was no street performer, but rather a large statue of late character actor Karl Malden just hanging out here in Belgrade. I know him from Gypsy and his Oscar-winning work in A Streetcar Named Desire. But what I did not know is that he was born with the name Mladen George Sekulovich. His father was Serbian, and Malden spoke Serbian fluently all his life. Truly it’s amazing what you learn when you go wandering about random cities.
And Those Are the Best Things to Do in Serbia!
What would you say are the best things to do in Serbia? Did you know that Karl Malden was Serbian? Did you even know who Karl Malden is? Be honest, Internet Stranger! And please leave your thoughts below.
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY try 24 hours of the best things to do in Serbia.