Serbia (Serbian: Srbija / Србија) is a friendly and changing country, located in the Balkans, in Southern Europe. It was a founder and one of six republics forming the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. It is surrounded by Montenegro to the south, Bosnia and Herzegovina to the west, Bulgaria to the southeast, Croatia to the northwest, Hungary to the north, Macedonia to the south, and Romania to the northeast. It is situated on one of the major land routes from Central Europe to Turkey and further on to the Near East.
Serbia is a lovely country, open for tourism all year round. In summer, tourists love spending their time in Belgrade and enjoy the nature of many national parks throughout the country. In winter, tourists are warmly welcomed to mountain resorts (one of the most popular being Kopaonik [featured on BBC as one of the best ski destinations in Europe]). There are also many spa resorts such as Sokobanja, Niška Banja and Vrnjačka Banja.
Serbs are warm people, especially towards tourists. Most Serbs speak some English (seniors, however, are more likely to speak German and/or French), so you will be able to find your way around by asking directions. Most tourists come to Serbia in the summer and you can often hear German, Italian, French and English in the streets of Belgrade, while Slovenian tourists pour for New Year holidays.
Yugoslavia was such a beautiful country with so many different attractive places that somehow, Serbia was neglected and it is still to be rediscovered not only by visitors, but by many Serbs, too. It is also a varied and beautiful place notwithstanding the fact that it is landlocked. From the plains of Vojvodina, which in winter, remind of the scenes from the film of Dr. Zhivago, to many mountains and lakes or reservoirs and ski resorts of outstanding beauty.
There were seventeen Roman Emperors born in the territory of today's Serbia and it is well known that they all left monuments and built palaces in or close to their birthplaces. It may well be that the oldest ever found human settlements in Europe, if not in the World, can be found in country of Serbia. The longest stretch of the river Danube, longer than in any other European country is in Serbia. The giant hydroelectric dam of Djerdap has created a lake stretching for many miles out of the Canyon Djerdap with its famous Roman road to the East build by the Emperor Trajan. Serbia is on the crossroads of European history and as such, it is a mix of cultures, ethnicity and religions. Its people, contrary to a recent stigma, are one of the most hospitable and welcoming and recently, Belgrade was voted as one of the up and coming capitals of Europe. It hosted the recent Eurovison song contest and it is the home town of world names like Djokovic, Jankovic and Ivanovic; the ambassadors of New Serbia. There may be more attractive locations elsewhere, but Serbia has a spirit and a soul that is rare to find coupled with melange of different cultures and a gusto for good living.
In the north: continental climate (cold winters and hot, humid summers with well distributed rainfall); central portion: moderate continental climate; and to the south: hot, dry summers and autumns and relatively cold winters with heavy snowfall.
Extremely varied: to the north, rich fertile plains; to the east, limestone ranges and basins; to the southeast, ancient mountains and hills. Although the region around the town of Mionica has been known for some earthquakes in recent years, these were by no means destructive.
The first Serbian state was formed in the mid 9th century, expanding by the mid 14th century to an empire comprising most of the Balkans. In 1389, the Serbs lost a decisive battle in the Kosovo field against the Ottoman empire. Serbia managed to preserve its freedom for another seventy years, only to be finally overwhelmed by the Turks in 1459. An uprising in the early 1800s that grew in the full scale war (War of Restoration) led to the restoration of Serbian independence in 1815.
The 1914 Austro-Hungarian invasion of Serbia following the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand by an ethnic Serb high school student precipitated the first World War. In its aftermath in 1918, victorious Serbia gatherd all south Slav lands (Croatia, Slovenia, Slavonia, Dalmatia, Bosnia and Herzegowina, and Montenegro)into the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes; The country's name was changed to Yugoslavia in 1929. Invasion and occupation by Germany and Italy in 1941 was resisted by Yugoslav Army in fatherland (Chetniks), commanded by Lt.-Gen Dragoljub Mihajlović and communist led guerilla (partisans) who eventually started fighting each other as well as the invaders. The partisans, commanded by Field-Marshal Josip Broz Tito emerged victorious and formed a provisional governement that abolished the monarchy and proclaimed a republic in 1946 after a dubious referendum. At the end of the war, nearly all ethnic Germans left the country. Although pro-Communist, J.B. Tito's new government successfully steered its own delecate path between the Warsaw Pact nations and the West for the next four and a half decades.
In the early 1990s, post-Tito Yugoslavia began to unravel along ethnic lines: Slovenia, Croatia, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia all split from the Yugoslav Union in 1991; and Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992. All of efforts to preserve Yugoslavia were ultimately unsuccessful and bloody civil wars broke out in Croatia and in Bosnia. The remaining republics of Serbia and Montenegro declared a new "Federal Republic of Yugoslavia" (FRY) in 1992. Slobodan Milosevic was elected the first president of Serbia. In the late 1990s, the conflict with the Albanian separatist movement in Kosovo led to a NATO bombing campaign and direct intervention, which left the placement of Kosovo under a UN administration. Slobodan Milosevic, by this time elected for the president of the federation, lost in the Federal elections in the fall of 2000 to Vojislav Kostunica. The country reestablished its membership in the UN and started preparations to join the EU. In 2002, the republics of Serbia and Montenegro began negotiations to forge a looser relationship, which led first to the name change of the nation to "Serbia and Montenegro", then culminated in Montenegro declaring independence in June 2006. More recently, Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence; however, this act remains unrecognised by Serbia and most other countries.
January 1 - 2 (New Year's Day), January 7 (Eastern Orthodox Christmas), January 14 (National Holiday (Orthodox New Year), January 27 (Saint Sava's feast Day), February 15 (Sretenje / Groundhog Day (Candlemas) / Serbian National Day), May 1 - 2 (Labour Day), May 9 (Victory Day), June 28 (Vidovdan / St Vitus Day)
Serbia's official currency is the Serbian Dinar (RSD). The Serbian dinar can be exchanged in most of the banks throughout the Europe. However, it is best to convert at the airport (even though the rate there tends to be a bit higher) or in the banks located in the towns or in the numerous and visibly marked authorized exchange offices (Menjačnica/Мењачница). The Euro is occasionally accepted, but prices are often overestimated when directly compared to the Dinar. Belgrade is typically on par with many European cities prices; however, outside the capital, prices of almost any item are lot lower when compared to the capital. Typically, 150 Dinars for a coke in a Belgrade bar, and 220 Dinars for 3 cokes in a bar outside the capital. On July 2010, the exchange rate stood at 83 Serbian Dinars for 1 US Dollar, and 104 Serbian Dinars for €1.
Money changers may refuse worn-out or damaged foreign banknotes, especially US dollars, therefore it is recommended to bring notes only in good condition. Banks usually accept slightly damaged notes, sometimes with a commission.
The first gas station and service area after crossing the border from Croatia (Oktan promet YU) accepts Croatian Kuna (HRK) in addition to RSD.
Serbia, like most countries in the world, uses Metric system.
Serbia can be divided into five regions and one de facto independent republic:
We cover Kosovo in a separate article. While the legitimacy of the Kosovar government is disputed by many countries, from a traveller's point of view the Kosovar government has de facto control of the area (separate visas, laws, currency, etc). This is not a political endorsement of claims by either side in the dispute.
While you might not need a visa ...
Similar to neighbouring Bosnia and Croatia, foreigners are required by law to register themselves with the police station in their district within 12 hours of receiving a Serbian entry stamp at a border crossing or airport.
Registration is done automatically by hotel staff upon check-in; however, if you are staying with friends in a private dwelling, you must register your presence with the police in the district in which you are staying.
You should receive the bottom part of the Foreigner Registration Form to carry with you if registering at a police station, or a printout from hotel reception if staying at a hotel; when exiting the country, you may be required to present it to the Border Police. Sometimes, they will not ask for it, and you can keep it as an administrative memento. Never forget, though, that failure to register could result in prosecution and a large fine, although it never does.
Getting into Serbia does not constitute a problem for most European nationals. You don't need to obtain a visa for entering Serbia. Citizens of USA, Canada, Israel, Singapore, Japan and Australia do not need visas either for stays not exceeding 90 days. Citizens of the EU and Bosnia need only an ID card, but EU citizens may be hassled for not having a passport. Check with your nearest Serbian embassy for current and detailed information.
Serbia has, in the past, announced that visitors with Kosovan visas or passport stamps will not be allowed into the country. Currently, however, this is not the case, but the visas and stamps will be overstamped with a "cancelled" stamp. Be warned that entering Serbia through Kosovo without a Serbian entry stamp is considered as an illegal entry and can be met with stiff penalties; likewise, leaving Serbia via Kosovo is not considered legally leaving the country, so you run the risk of being charged with overstaying if you ever return.
Customs controls are fairly straightforward, but a notable regulation is that you are only allowed to move 120,000 Serbian dinars into and out of the country, and notes larger than 1000 dinars are not allowed to move across the border.
TIP: Licensed taxi service fares from the airport to the city have a flat rate of RSD 1500 (€15). Travel time to the city centre is approximately 20 minutes. Incoming taxis have constant radio communication with airport authorities. This ensures passengers a better alternative. Should there be any problem finding a taxi, you should address the staff of the Tourist Organisation of Belgrade in the Arrivals Hall to call a taxi for you. All taxis working at the airport are comfortable limousines in top-notch condition.
Using taxi services for destinations outside metropolitan Belgrade is unwise, as prices are unreasonably high. All licensed taxi drivers have a badge, an oval blue license plate with a serial number, and the Belgrade Coat of Arms displayed on the roof. Make sure that the taximeter is switched on. Tarif 1 is the correct one Monday to Saturday from morning till 10PM. Tarif 3 is the 'trick' fare used to scam out of obscene amounts of money. Or better, take one of the several bus lines, check the Belgrade section.
Several international trains from Belgrade to Budapest and Vienna and to Zagreb-Ljubljana-München/Zurich. Usually, they should not be too late (seldom more than 1/4 of an hour). The night train to Budapest was very regularly overcrowded in summer 2005 (only 1 sitting car). Furthermore, there are direct (day or night) trains from Belgrade to Skopje - Thessaloniki (Belgrade-Thessaloniki €30/seat+20euro/bed one way at 2 beds compartment). Trains to Sofia and Bucarest, however, tend to be often quite late (about an hour). Trains to Macedonia (Greece), Bulgaria and Romania are allegedly reported to oftenly consist of old, not very comfortable, cars.
For timetables and all other infos, check website of national career Serbian Railways
A cheap way of traveling to or from Serbia might be the Balkan Flexipass.
Be sure your Green Card has an uncancelled "YU" or "SRB" box. Coming in from Hungary, the Szeged/Horgos border crossing is notorious for its congestion. If crossing the border from Hungary, try the Tompa/Kelebija crossing point, about 20km west.
On the two-lane E75 between Szeged, Hungary to Novi Sad, please note that cars over-taking will often use the unofficial "middle-lane". Exercise caution and pull over to the hard shoulder on the right to let them through safely. The dual-carriageway should be completed by the end of 2011 to eliminate this risk. Because of construction works, care should be taken (as of September 2010) as there are trucks leaving construction sites and entering highway at low speeds. These sections are restricted to 40km/h but drivers usually drive through those sections at full speed.
Police are generally stationed at major junctions or at underpasses to control traffic and speed. Drivers commonly warn others of a police presence by flicking the high-beams on two or three times. Police interceptors patrol all major highways. Drivers speeding and/or driving aggressively are stopped. Speeds of up to 140km/h in 120km/h zones are usually, but not always, tolerated.
Note that the traffic law is strict. No person under age of 14 must not ride in the front seat, seat belts are obligatory for those who sit in the front, blood alcohol content is limited to 0.03% and fines are from €30 for smaller violations up to 60 days in prison and €5000 for causing a larger traffic accident (both locals and foreigners). IMPORTANT! If you are driving on country and local roads, pay attention to the bicycle riders, tractors and other heavy agricultural machines, especially at night! They can be without proper light signalization and hard to see, so slow down at night.
The highway is tolled, but the toll is no longer higher for foreigners than for locals. Highway tolls cost on average 0.03€/km and can be paid in Serbian dinars or Euros. They are charged by road section, so it's possible to pay more if only part of section is used.
Vienna - Buses leave from Vienna International Busterminal (Erdberg) almost every day. For destinations south of Belgrade, Zoran Reisen coaches leave at 3PM on Friday, and charge around €45 for a one-way trip.
Hungary - When you take an international bus from Belgrade towards Germany, don't feel surprised when a collection is held inside the bus for paying the Hungarian border guards a fee to let the bus go faster over the border. This is what you would call a bribe. On your way into Serbia, it seems 'cheaper', though the Hungarian border guards will demand all passengers sign a form declaring they 'offered no gift, cash or otherwise, to Hungarian border police' whether they paid a bribe or not.
There are boat tours, which pass through Belgrade. These are English Trafalgar Tours, which cruise along the Danube and have a two day stopover in Belgrade.
Hitchhiking across Serbia is still acceptable and most drivers will treat you like a friend. However, necessary precautions should still be taken. Generally, it is easy to hitchhike through Vojvodina and it's much more difficult to hitch a ride from Belgrade to the south, in the direction of Kosovo, or Macedonia and Montenegro. The Hitchhiker's guide to Serbia offers a collection of hitchhiking tips for a number of cities and towns in Serbia. It was made by the members of the Serbia Travel Club, an association of independent travelers from Serbia, and is available in English and Serbian.
The cycling route EuroVelo 6 which runs from the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea, crosses Serbia by following the Danube river. Most of the advised itinerary follows minor paved roads, and directions are clearly indicated by a specific EuroVelo 6 signage. Although too few cities offer appropriate cyclist-friendly infrastructures, cycling slowly gains interest among the population as an economic and sustainable alternative way of touring and commuting.
There are two rivers which go through Belgrade: The Sava and Danube. There are a lot of old buildings on all four banks, including a huge fortress Kalemegdan, that has been built, modelled and remodelled by Celts, Romans, Byzantins, Serbs, Austrians and Turks over more than 2,000 years. It has a multitude of various towers and ports, and two long walking/biking paths along both rivers.
Medieval orthodox monasteries – Studenica, Manasija, Žiča, Ravanica. Excellent opportunity to see part of Serbian history. If you are interested in art, there are excellent fresco masterpieces. Recommendaion – “Beli Anđeo” (White Angel) fresco in Mileseva monastery.
Languages: Serbian (the majority), also Hungarian in the north.
English is commonly spoken throughout Serbia and the younger people tend to have excellent command. They are also quite willing to practice it with foreigners. Also, you can try with young people talking German, French, Russian, Spanish or Italian which are taught in Serbian schools.
The Serbian language is similar to Croatian and Bosnian. Before the era of nationalist linguistic policies and the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, they were all known as Serbo-Croatian. Today, people in the former Yugoslavia no longer use this general term for what remains as a common language.
If you speak Russian, it can prove to be occasionally helpful for you. Even though Serbia has never been politically involved in any way with Russia, the two languages have some similarities. This also includes all other slavic languages, especially Bulgarian and Macedonian.
In Vojvodina, most people speak Serbian, but other languages are also used. In some towns near the Hungarian boarder, you are more likely to hear Hungarian. There are many smaller minorities, like the Slovaks, the Romanians, Romani people and the Russians, etc. who often speak their native languages.
Ada Ciganlija is also an excellent place to kick back and relax during summer. It is as locals call it the sea of Belgrade. A lot of sport fields and courts (soccer, basketball, golf, volleyball, etc.). Cafes serving ice cream and beer abound on the banks of this lake-beach park.
Favorite leisure activity in Belgrade is drinking coffee in numerous bars, bistros and cafés (especially in Strahinjića Bana street, which is known locally as Silicon Valley as it is frequented by loud, vulgar and surgically-enhanced folksingers along with their hangers-on and wannabes). It is very strange, but most of places are occupied all day long - ie, within working hours. You should check: Downtown café, Buka bar, Movie bar, Iron café, Biblioteka café, Monza café-boat, Bibis café-boat, and many more; People who are not in the folk and MTV music, and don't like to drink overpriced coffee, should avoid this street. There are coffee bars on almost every corner in Belgrade, which offer more relaxed atmosphere and are designed with more taste that those in Strahinjića Bana street.
Smederevo is a town about 50 km from Belgrade. There are direct bus lines almost every half an hour and it takes about one hour to get there from Belgrade. It is considered as the unofficial rock 'n' roll capitol of Serbia because of its many rock musicians and bands who live there or were born there. See the largest lowland medieval fortress in Europe (especially at night when its lights give a special romantic and mystical atmosphere) or go to a rock concert at "Moto Club Street Fighter" which is located at the very bank of the Danube. At the end of September, the town hosts a traditional festival called "Smederevska Jesen" (Smederevo Autumn) which is a festival of vine and Serbian culture with many concerts and other happenings. During the festival, there is a carnival located at the end of the town, but AVOID IT because it's loud and crowded and basically, there's nothing to see or do. Just stay in the town center. The Museum of Smederevo holds a lot of Roman and medieval items and collections, so for history lovers, it's a must-see.
EXIT festival – Biggest music festival in SE Europe, that is happening in the beginning of July, in Novi Sad, on Petrovaradin fortress .
Belgrade Beer Fest, which takes place at Ušće every August .
Belgrade is very famous for its whole-night-party clubs. If you are looking for a place to feel the local atmosphere and good vibes, visit bohemian street “Skadarlija”. Please have a look at the Belgrade article for further options.
Restaurants, clubs, cafe's and hotels are usually full-booked and organize New Years celebrations with food and live music.
However, Serbian New Year's celebrations are most known for the outdoors festivities in Belgrade, and several other major cities such as Novi Sad, Niš and Jagodina. As of mid-December, cities are extensively decorated and lit. The decorations remain until way into January due to the persistent influence of the old Julian calendar. Throughout the region, especially amongst former Yugoslav republics, Belgrade is known as the place to be for major parties, concerts and happenings. It has become common for large groups of Slovenes to visit their former capital and celebrate the beginning of a new year. Especially since the mid-nineties, street celebrations grew into mass gatherings with hundreds of thousands of people, celebrating New Year on one of several locations throughout Belgrade.
Also, on January 14th, Serbians celebrate the so called Serbian New Year, which is actually New Year's Eve by Eastern Church calender. In the night between January 13th and 14th, you can actually re-live New Year's Eve.
Serbia uses the dinar (RSD, динар, pl. dinara/динара). Coins come in values of 1, 2, 5, 10, and 20 dinars, and banknotes are found in values of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000, and 5000 dinars. The banknotes, at least in Belgrade, tend to be more common than the coins, so be prepared to carry around a large number of banknotes in varying conditions.
Downtown Belgrade is populated with many high-end as well as midrange shops. "Knez Mihailova" is the biggest shopping street, but there are also quite a few shopping malls, such as Delta City and Ušće Shopping Center. Imported western food is available in many supermarkets, especially in the Croatian-owned "Idea". In nearly all Serbian pharmacies (apoteka), you can buy prescription drugs without prescription.
Prices tend to be on par with the rest of the Balkans.
When ordering a burger, ask for 'pljeskavica' (pronounced approximately: PYES-ka-vitsa) and ask for kajmak (like mildly sour cream) (pronounced: KAI-mak); it tastes way better than it sounds. Stepin Vajat and Duff at Autokomanda, Mara in downtown area and Iva in Žarkovo are the best grill fast food restaurants in town. Also, try ćevapi or ćevapčići (pronounced: chay-VAH-pee, chay-VAP-chitchee); they are small parcels of minced meat, grilled with hot spices. It is considered a local fast food delicacy. Highly recommended to carnivores.
Burek (pronounced BOO-rek), sometimes decribed as the Balkan equivalent of McDonalds due to its being sold everywhere, is very delicious. It is made with a range of fillings including meat, cheese, spinach, apple, cherry....... Not for dieters as it is quite oily. Morning is definitely the best time to eat this (sometimes sold-out by afternoon).
Tap water is perfectly safe to drink, and mainly of a good quality, too. There are also many springs and fountains with excellent-quality drinking water - the most popular ones being the fountain on Knez Mihailova in Belgrade, and the many fountains in the city of Nis. One must pay attention when it comes to water in Vojvodina. Some regions ( Kikinda, Zrenjanin..) have heavily polluted water that is not even used for cooking, only as technical water.
Serbia is generally a very safe place to visit. The locals are incredibly polite and helpful in case you require any assistance. However, you should always be aware of pickpockets, mainly in crowded tourist places and on public transportation. Street robberies, murders, or attacks are highly unusual, even in dark or remote parts of the city. One should always watch out for drivers, who can be very rude to pedestrians or cyclists. There is also widespread intolerance against homosexuals. Following the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, reports of UXO's (unexploded ordinances) have occurred outside the major cities. Keep an eye out for markings which may note a potential UXO zone when outside the cities and always stick to well-trod paths. If you find a suspicious object resembling a bomb/mortar/landmine, DON'T touch it. Report it to the nearest police station immediately. Although most or UXO's have been cleared, it is also very unlikely that you will find any of those, even in the least visited parcels of Serbia.
Since many Serbs feel nationally frustrated by the recent historical events in the Balkans, it is best to avoid discussion of the 1990s Yugoslavian Wars, the NATO bombing of Serbia, and president Milosevic's administration. If someone brings the topic up, try to avoid giving any strong opinions until you can assess your acquaintance's views. Do NOT mention Kosovo. Due to the US's vocal support of Kosovar independence, in addition to the 1999 air strikes, there is some ill-will directed towards the West, particularly towards the USA (though unlikely on a personal level). On the other hand, talking about Socialist Yugoslavia and Tito will not raise as many eyebrows; as most will not hesitate in talking about it and some may even approach it with a strong degree of affection towards that more stable and peaceful era. Remember, Serbia does not recognize the independence of Kosovo, but does maintain relations with Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, and Macedonia.
Similar to other ex-Yugoslavia countries, Serbs do not like their country to be described as part of "Eastern Europe". Another common misconception is that Serbia was part of the Soviet Bloc (in fact, it was part of Yugoslavia that notoriously split with the Eastern bloc back in 1948). People have no problems talking about the communist period or Tito and often become nostalgic over it.
When toasting in Serbia, as in the most of european countries, make sure you make eye contact. You may be invited to drink gallons, but are expected to be able to hold your drink. Being obviously drunk is a sign of bad taste, lack of character, and worse. It is always nice to toast in your companion's native tongue. Cheers is živeli in Serbian, gëzuar in Albanian (Don’t confuse these two, or you will be in trouble!) and egészségedre in Hungarian.
The word molim is key to polite conversation in Serbian. It basically means please, but also you're welcome, an appropriate response when somebody thanks you (and says hvala). It also means I beg your pardon?, when you didn’t understand some word. Just saying Šta? (What?) can sound rude. It may be said that the use of the word molim is similar to the use of bitte in German.
Like most European languages, has the formal and informal way of saying you (Vi and ti). Use the formal Vi version when addressing older people. People are normally not addressed or referred to by their first names, unless among friends or relatives.
Serbian greetings are:
There are three mobile phone networks in Serbia: MTS, Telenor and Vip. Prepaid SIM cards cost 200 dinars. In Vip stores you can buy a Vip 226 (rebranded Sagem my220V) phone with prepaid SIM card for 1999 dinars.