When I moved back to Serbia I decided to make the best use of my free time and actually get to know the country. Thankfully, as I have a few friends with some spare time we teamed up in an for day-trips and managed to see some great scenery, learn some history, eat great food and just have fun.
We focused on places that are easily visited from Belgrade (below 2.5 hours drive), and in case you want to escape the city for a brief stint, here is the list of the places we liked the best during our excursions.
Manasija and Ravanica
Two magical monasteries in eastern Serbia built in Morava style in 16th Century are a must-see for history and art buffs, as they showcase the pinnacle of Serbian medieval architecture. Manasija’s tall walls also mede it an impenetrable fortress so you will feel fully transported in time. They are also close a reasonable drive away from the small but photogenic source of Krupaja river.
Bač is famous for its ruined fortress, but it also has a monastery dating from the crusades (which served as the first hospital in the Pannonian region) and an old Turkish bath. You can read more in a special post I wrote about it here.
The cultural centre of the Central Banat region, Zrenjanin punches much above its weight in arts as it holds the oldest theatre in Serbia and has a wonderful museum, with many valuable pieces by Uroš Predić. Architecture is also wonderful, with an ornate City Hall, old art-nouveau brewery and a bridge over nothing. Just don’t drink the tap water.
Topola and Aranđelovac
If you are after history, Topola and Aranđelovac offer a great crash course in Serbian 19th and 20th century. Chruch of St George at Oplenac, the memorial church built as the mausoleum of the Karađorđević dynasty is breathtaking, while Bukovička Banja ostill retains an air of faded glamour. To make things better, there are plenty of great vineyards to sample the local wine and have food.
Serbian “holy mountain” has dozens of monasteries, and even more vineries though which you can hike (or drive). The highlights are Velika Remeta, Krušedol and Beočin for spirituality and Kovačević and Mačkov podrum for the wines. Huge TV tower at Iriški Venac is worth a look, and so is motel Zmajevac, where they do fantastic game goulash.
Probably the prettiest city in Serbia, Subotica is full of Hungarian Art-Nouveau architecture (the Synagogue and the City Hall are fantastic) to reflect its place as the 3rd city in the Hungarian kingdom in early 20th century. Visit to Palić lake is also a good idea as it has more Wes-Andersonesque hotels and lidos.
Although it is preferable to stay for at leas a night in Divčibare if you want to do some serious hiking, it is relaxing enough to walk to Ljuti Krš and Crni Vrh for a good 4hr walk and go back to Belgrade. Most restaurants are quite touristy, but we had a great time at the cafe at the bottom of the ski slope.
Located the bottom of Fruška Gora and 20 minute drive from Novi Sad, Sremski Karlovci were the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church during the times of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Beside the church complex and the lovely High School (Gimnazija), there is also the park of Stražilovo for a nice hike and Chapel of Peace, where the Habsburgs and the Ottomans agreed a peace treaty of 1689. While there, try bermet, the famous local desert wine and go for a fish broth at one of the restaurants on the Danube.
Smederevo fortress is one of the most majestic in Serbia and its keep is one of the few that are well preserved. The city itself is also handsome, with a bustling main street full of cafes (“It’s like Budva”, a guy from Smederevo toursim buerau said enthusiastically) and a lovely Orthodox Church. Go to Mimoza for Mozart cake, the best I had in Serbia.
Fantastic city with a lot of history and a pretty town centre. Check out Tešnjar street, have some duvan čvarci (pork scratchings) and go to Platani for a good meal
Although you will have to brave an awful road and hike for about 5km from the village of Taor and back up Povlen mojntain, seeing these lovely waterfalls and old mills is an otherworldly experience.
Golubac and Viminacium
Located at the entrance to Đerdap gorge, Golubac is the most stunning of Serbia’s castles. Although it is currently being renovated, the trip is still worthwhile. The archeological park of Viminacium is about 30 minutes drive from Golubac and there you can see Roman ruins, including a few wonderdul frescoed graves, as well skulls of a few mammoths
Serbia’s 2nd city is only one hour’s drive away. The city centre is bustling, with a lot of history and culture. Reflecting its newly won status as a European capital of culture in 2021 the cultural scene is booming and Vojvodina Contemporary Art Museum recently hosted exhibitions by Grayson Perry and Damien Hirst. Check out the breathtaking Petrovaradin fortress (where Exit festival happens every July) and the quaint, slightly derelict small town of Petrovaradin below. You can also enjoy a dip in the Danube at the Štrand. For hefty Vojvodina fare visit Veliki restaurant or have the local street-food specialty, “Indeks” sanwich, at Maja.
Sremska Mitrovica and Zasavica
Sremska Mitrovica was one of the capitals of the Roman Empire during tetrarchy. Although the Roman sites are a bit underwhelming, the historical museum has beautiful porphyry sculptures and also some great artefacts which tell the story of the city. Zasavica is a beautiful nature reserve just across the Sava from Sremska Mitrovica, and there you can see animals freely roaming around, go for a relaxing walk and enjoy great mangulitza goulash
Belgrade’s tallest mountain has a beautiful Partisan monument and nice hiking trails. To top it off Kabinet, Serbia’s most successful craft brewery, is located nearby in Nemenikuce so you can buy some high quality refreshments to make the hile a bit more bearable