Muscular men with army cuts and tight white t-shirts stand side by side with serious looking businessmen and their dressed to kill trophy girlfriends. A rare mix of folk tunes, techno and oriental style dance music fills the air. A night out in Serbia can be a very different experience from what you are used to, but in bigger cities like Belgrade and Novi Sad you’ll also find progressive bars and clubs inspired by the coolest places in the world’s biggest metropolises.
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The thriving and inexpensive nightlife is one of Belgrade’s selling points and if you are in the market for one stop entertainment in an up-and-coming area look for Beton hala on the Savamala waterfront where old warehouses in recent years have been turned into quirky cafes, bars and restaurants. For a more Central European feel you should go to Novi Sad, roughly an hour’s drive north of Belgrade, where pretty buildings and café culture bear testimony to the Habsburg past.
Mountains, rolling hills and National Parks
During the heyday of Yugoslav tourism in the 1970s and 1980s landlocked Serbia was largely overlooked by visitors that rather went to the coastal parts of Croatia and Montenegro or visited the alpine areas in Slovenia. Conflicts and war with neighboring republics had given Serbia a bad-boy image. But beneath the surface there’s much more to Serbia than macho culture, turmoil and strives. When you start exploring you’ll find a country brimming with beautiful countryside punctuated by mountains, rolling hills, gorges and river valleys. National Parks such as Fruška Gora to the North and Mount Tara in the West is a perfect match if you want to explore by hiking or cycling, while Kopaonik and Zlatibor is made for skiing during Winter.
Even if you don’t care much for the past it’s difficult not to notice Serbia’s rich history from Roman occupation and Medieval Golden age to Ottoman rule and post war communism, all displayed via infrastructure, buildings and monuments. In the capital Belgrade for instance you’ll hardly miss the Kalemegdan Fortress where you see traces from all these different periods.
It’s fairly easy to get around, and with services between most towns and even far-flung parts of Serbia bus is the most popular mode of transportation. Some train rides are worth the trouble though, for instance the beautiful scenic and rollercoaster-like journey from Belgrade down south and all the way to Bar in Montenegro. Now, that is a trip to remember!
The long period of Turkish rule has left its mark on the food, especially when it comes to the wide range of grilled meats available. You’ll find vendors of spiced minced meat kebabs (ćevapčići ) on every corner. Another popular no-nonsense dish is pljeskavica, a spiced meat patty mixture of pork, beef and lamb, also popular btw in some parts of Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. If you are a vegetarian you might find it much more challenging to deal with the Serbian diet, but don’t worry: you will be able to find fresh vegetables, also when dining out.
Music in the air
If you love music Serbia is definitely not a bad choice during summer. EXIT is an award-winning music festival that takes place at the spectacular Petrovaradin Fortress in Novi Sad in July, with over 40 stages and festival zones. For a more rare experience check out the brass band festival Guca where large quantities of draft beer and plum brandy are washed down as Roma performers make your head spin. The brass band music became popular outside of Serbia with Serbian director Emir Kusturica’s films Underground and Time of the Gypsies.
Taste: Šljivovica - plum brandy
See: Kalemegdan fortress
Do: Hiking in Mount Tara
Experience: Guca festival