Traveling is not an easy job. The struggle that comes with choosing one destination over the thousands around the world can make you lose sleep. When you finally do choose, you eventually fall in love and leaving is now filled with such pain and sorrow; such is the case for Serbia, a landlocked country in southeastern Europe filled with gorgeous architecture and breathtaking views that make you want to stay.
Belgrade: Onto the White City
Serbia’s capital city is Belgrade. It’s the largest metropolis in the country and lies at its very heart along the confluence of the rivers Sava and Danube. History states the the first official settlers were a Celtic tribe who first named the area Singidunum, which was followed by exchanges of governance from the Romans, the Kingdom of Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and the Habsburgs. Belgrade was officially declared part of the Republic of Serbia in 2006, the same year they were declared the capital city of the country.
Along the banks of the Sava River is Belgrade’s waterfront, best enjoyed on floating lounges called splavovi, or splav for short, which cruise along the river from night until dawn. It offers the complete Serbian nightlife experience, complete with turbo-folk music and bottles of Jelen Pivo, their local beer. If you’re looking for a milder kind of cruise, you can also take a trip aboard water taxis and cruising boats that house cafes and restaurants. They offer stops at river islands Ada Ciganlija and Great War island and great sunset views to end the day.
If you have downtown, you’ll find that Belgrade is also rich in cultural history. One of the many attractions is Belgrade University, established in the year 1808 by Serbian writer and philosopher Dositej Obradović. It’s the oldest public institution in Serbia and boasts of many historical buildings that include a library, fully-equipped classrooms, a gym, and several moot courtrooms.
They also have the Svetozar Marković University Library which houses over millions of books, manuscripts, monographs, journals, publications, and serials documenting the affluent history of the country; the Museum of Vuk and Dositej exhibiting the prolific life of the university founder, Dositej Obradović, as well as of Vuk Stefanovič Karadžić, known as the reformer of Serbian language; and the residential palace of Princess Ljubica.
Another must visit is the National Library of Serbia. The biggest and oldest of its kind in the country, the library allows visitors to access millions of scanned copies of books, manuscripts, and documents and provides people with reading rooms, atriums for events, and a coffee bar.
Reliving the Old in Old Town
A few steps away from the National Library is the famous Church of Saint Sava. Its white marble walls, green-roofed domes stand majestically across Svetosavski Trg Square and has been hailed as one of the biggest orthodox churches in the world. The exterior features a large central dome topped by a large gilded cross that measure over 12 meters high. The large dome is surrounded by smaller domes adorned with 18 gold crosses and over 50 bells that ring everyday at noon.
Upon entering, visitors are immediately welcomed by a line of intricately carved marble columns as well as floor-to-ceiling mosaics depicting the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Visitors can further explore the altar, the four interior galleries, and the church basement which houses the grave of Saint Lazaar the Heiromartyr, a former Serbian ruler. The church is best visited during Yuletide season, when the yule log is ceremonially set on fire to mark Christmas Eve, accompanied by fireworks on New Year’s Eve to welcome the new year.
If you dive deeper into Belgrade, you’ll find the Stari Grad. Known as the country’s oldest section, Stari Grad literally translates to “old city.” Home to some of Serbia’s most classic pieces of architecture, the two most visited landmarks are the Kalemegdan Fortress and the Skadarlija district.
Constructed in 279 BC, the vast complex of Kalemegdan Fortress is divided into three parts: the lower town, or the Donji Grad, the upper town, or the Gornji Grad, and Kalemegdan Park. Features of Donji Grad include the tower turned museum Nebojša Tower, the gate of Carl VII, the 1521 Orthodox Church of Ružica, the Amam, and the Belgrade Planetarium. The Gornji Grad, on the other hand, features the Roman Well, the Tomb of Damad Ali Pasha, the Bunker, and the Despot Stefan Tower. The Upper Town is also where the statue of “The Victor” is located. Erected between the boundaries of the upper and lower town, the statue is of a naked man standing on a stone pillar. Visitors can also roam around Kalemegdan Park to find Belgrade Zoo, the Cvijeta Zuzorić Art Pavilion, the Military Museum, and the Gondola Lift are located.
Meanwhile in the Skadarlija district, tourists can enjoy a fun day taking photos with the area’s unique and distinct features. Known as Serbia’s only Bohemian Quarter, this section of Stari Grad is where visitors can find bars and restaurants that offer authentic Serbian cuisine like Rostilj (grilled meat) and pivo (local beer). You can also find several boutiques and souvenir shops that sell handmade products. Furthermore, tourists can be assured of a leisurely walk in the area’s cobblestoned streets, as Skadarlija is car-free zone.
It is true that Belgrade is Serbia’s central hub of tourism, but that doesn’t mean that other cities don’t offer spectacular landmarks and wonderful scenic views as well. Among those is the town of Novi Sad, the second largest metropolis in the country and is known by locals as the “Serbian Athens.” The city comes alive in July for the five-day celebration of the EXIT Music Festival, while the rest of the year is filled with many attractions that’ll fill your day.
One of the many attractions is the citadel Petrovaradin, whose ramparts, underground tunnels, vast royal chambers, courtyard, clock tower, catacombs, and viewing decks are open to visitors all year round. Other attractions include the Churches of the Name of Mary and St. George’s, Danube Park which turns into an ice rink in the winter, and Dunavska Street where tourists can find a variety of cafés, bookshops, souvenir shops, hotels, and inns.
Another must-see when visiting Novi Sad is the Trg Slobode, also known as Liberty Square. Surrounded by historical buildings from all points, the plaza is dominated by the bronze statue of Svetozar Miletić, a former mayor of Novi Sad.
Our last stop is the town of Despotovac, where the majestic Manasija Monastery is located. Fortified by eleven massive towers connected by walls and trenches, the Manasija Monastery was part of the 1979 Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance. The complex is made in a medieval style complete with floor to ceiling frescoes depicting the legacy of its founder, the Holy Warriors, and the life of Jesus. The main features of the monastery include the historic Church of the Holy Trinity, the Refectory or the dining room, and the tomb of Despot Stefan.
Embracing Life and Culture
Choosing your next destination is always hard. Take it from me, the trick is quite simple: just choose the country that makes you feel the most alive. Make every moment unforgettable. Take photos, converse with locals, and embrace their culture like it was your own; so when it’s time to leave you’ll know that you’ve experienced everything the country had to offer.