Located in the heart of the Balkans, landlocked Serbia has been a highly underestimated travel destination for decades. Travellers are now waking up to the vibrant city life and the spectacular untouched nature throughout this former Yugoslav country. Here are seven exciting experiences awaiting you in Serbia.

Immerse yourself in Novi Sad's thriving cafe culture

Drinking coffee is maybe the most popular activity in Serbia and the country’s second biggest city has just the best places for it. First and foremost is Trčika, a former tramway that had connected the city's centre with its popular beach by the Danube until it was taken out of service in 1958. Nowadays you can enjoy various hot beverages as well as the Serbian favorite palačinka (pancakes) on its bench seats. A little more hidden is the artsy quirky Frida Kahlo cafe. When walking the pedestrian zone Zmaj Jovina look for the image of the painter in one of the old windows and make your way through the passageway and up the stairs to enjoy caffeine and milkshakes in a charming but oddball living room. And if you're into old-timey radios don't miss Radio Cafe where the walls are literally covered with them.

interior shot of Cake Café & Factory coffee chain in Belgrade Serbia
An artsy cafe and bar culture thrives in Belgrade © Brana Vladisavljevic / Lonely Planet

Stroll through Belgrade’s bohemian quarter

Belgrade's Skadarska street started as a Roma settlement around 1830. Its proximity to the National Theatre meant it was a good base for actors, writers and poets,  who populated its traditional inns and paid for food and accommodation with handwritten poems on napkins and menus. Today you will find some of the oldest kafanas (Serbian taverns) in Belgrade here, while galleries keep the artistic vibe alive. Take a walk on the cobblestones and finish your day with a drink in the northern part of the quarter, where a former brewery hosts trendy venues such as Kaldrma Bar.

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Old medieval fortification Golubac, Serbia in September 2009, before reconstruction
The spectacular medieval fortification of Golubac overlooking the Danube © mirjana ristic damjanovic / Shutterstock

Cycle the incredible Đerdap Gorge

Europe’s second longest river, the Danube, offers plenty of breathtaking viewpoints, but its most beautiful part might just be in Serbia. Iron Gates gorge in Đerdap National Park, is one of the longest canyons in Europe, which is passed through by the Danube Cycle Path from Germany to the Black Sea. Hit the small town of Golubac, which is home to a spectacular fortress overlooking the Danube’s widest spot (6km). It guards the entrance to the Iron Gate. From here you can follow the highway right by the riverside, passing cliffs up to 300m high and the deepest point of Danube at Mali Kazan (95m). If you choose to go hiking in the national park, make sure you register at the visitor centre first. 

Tour history and brutalist architecture in style

From 1918 to 1992 the state of Yugoslavia covered most of the Balkans, uniting six countries in one federation, with Serbia at its centre. Belgrade has a lot to tell about the rise and fall of the bygone state. Yugo Tour runs sightseeing tours of Belgrade in the iconic compact Yugo car, which was produced between 1980 and 2003. Intriguing facts (and even more intriguing rumours) are presented though the guided tour, which also visits the incredible brutalist architecture of Novi Beograd as well as the Museum of Yugoslavia, where President Tito is resting in his mausoleum.

Crowd of revelers in front of the main stage at EXIT 2015 Music Festival during a set by heavy metal band Motorhead
EXIT began as a rebellion and continues as top summer festival with heart © Aleksandar Kamasi / Shutterstock

Party at one of Europe's best summer music festivals: EXIT

Every year the fortress Petrovaradin in Novi Sad hosts one of the continent‘s biggest music festivals, EXIT. Starting as a student movement fighting for freedom and democracy in the aftermath of the Kosovo War, it is nowadays visited by up to 200,000 people and has presented major acts like Paul Kalkbrenner, The Cure, Ziggy Marley, Nick Cave, Snoop Dogg and The Prodigy. Nevertheless it has never lost its conscious character, promoting charity, humanity and ecological awareness. This is all part of the art and culture that has led to Novi Sad being named European Capital of Culture for 2022.

Once-in-a-lifetime bear spotting experiences at Tara National Park

Tara National Park in Serbia's southwest is without a doubt the country’s most beautiful spot. Luscious forests and mountain peaks up to 1600m-high are spread over 250 sq km while the clear water of the Drina river is shining in surreal turquoise. The diverse wildlife population of the park includes about 50 brown bears. They're not easy to spot, so if you're looking for a close encounter, you should book a bear watching tour with the park. A ranger will guide you to two of the four feeding grounds and from a safe hideout you might be lucky enough to get a good look at the furry giants. 

Photo of a young woman riding on a train, enjoying her trip while looking through the window in Serbia
Trains are one of the more romantic ways to explore Serbia, although buses are generally faster © Getty Images

Take the train to the fairytale village of Drvengrad

Up high in the mountains of Mokra Gora, Bosnian film director Emir Kusturica built the village of Drvengrad ("Timbertown"). Constructed completely out of wood and in the traditional style of the region, the town is right out of a fairy tale. The village is actually a holiday resort, so you can stay in the amazing little huts, each one with a unique interior. Not far from Drvengrad you will find the historic Šargan Eight tourist train, which originally opened in 1925. Designed to bypass an altitude difference of 300m over only 3.5km, the engineers came up with the loops around two mountains. After being shut down in the 1970s, Ćira (as the train is nicknamed) was reopened for tourists in 2003.

Getting to and around Serbia

International flights serve Nikola Tesla airport in the capital of Belgrade as well as Niš Constantine the Great airport. The bus network is more reliable than the train services, and journeys are often quicker by road. Tara National Park and Mokra Gora can be reached from Belgrade, Zlatibor or Užice. Check bus connections at Balkan Viator or Polazak.

You might also like: 
Highlights of western Serbia: Europe's little-visited winter wonderland
Socialist-era monuments: exploring Belgrade’s stunning Spomeniks
A perfect weekend in Novi Sad

This article was first published November 2019 and updated February 2022

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