Serbia is a buzzy and boisterous country, compact enough for visitors to sample both Belgrade’s urban hedonism and the gentler pace of the smaller towns or national parks within a few days – and it’s one of Europe’s most affordable destinations to boot. Grittier than its blue-eyed neighbour Croatia, it is nevertheless an integral part of any backpacker’s Balkan tour: at the heart of the region, it gives easy access to the cluster of cultures and histories crammed into this small corner of Europe.
Serbia’s young, European-minded population brings a bubbling energy to its bars, cafés and clubs, producing an adrenaline-charged nightlife unmatched anywhere else in the Balkans. The general determination to have a good time confounds the expectations of many a traveller, arriving with memories of the 1990s, when Serbia’s name was not often off war reporters’ lips. Today, it’s just as likely to attract headlines for its crop of world-class tennis players or the annual EXIT festival in Novi Sad.
Where to go in Serbia
Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, is a sociable, hectic city that energizes and exhausts by turns. Northwest of the city on the iron-flat Vojvodina Plain sits lovely Novi Sad, window to the Fruška Gora hills, while further north – a stone’s throw from the border with Hungary – enchanting Subotica is sprinkled with early twentieth-century Secessionist architecture. Deep in the mountainous tract of land to the south of Belgrade are three key struts of Serbia’s religio-cultural heritage – Žiča, Studenica and Sopoćani monasteries. East of here, Niš is a pleasant small city to pause in en route to or from Bulgaria or Macedonia.
Top image © Aleksandar Todorovic/Shutterstock
Population 7.5 million (excluding Kosovo)
Area 88,361 sq km
Currency Dinar (din)
Capital Belgrade (population: 1.6 million)
International phone code 381
Serbia uses the Cyrillic alphabet as well as the Latin one. Many street signs and bus and train timetables are in Cyrillic only, so it’s worth being able to decode at least the first few letters of a word. Serbian, like Bosnian, is very closely related to Croatian and all three languages will be understood in all three countries.