Serbia and Belgrade: A guide for backpackers
March 31, 2019
by Marijana Vuckovic
Serbia is a hidden jewel in Europe, a country not so well explored and overcrowded by tourists. It is situated in Balkan peninsula in the southeast of Europe. Its turbulent history, beautiful nature, delicious local food, and hospitable people are the reason why this country gets more and more attention from travelers. According to my experience of hosting foreigners in Serbia, most of the people who visit it are young backpackers from Europe and USA. Due to visa-free policies for many Asian countries, Serbia lately gets a lot of tourist from these countries too. One of the most visited places is its capital – Belgrade. It is a charming two million city laying on the confluence of two rivers – Danube and Sava. In this article, you will be able to find some helpful information about traveling to Serbia, especially if you are a backpacker traveling on a budget. This will not prevent you from experiencing most of its beauty!
Getting to Serbia and getting around
Serbia has two airports. The bigger one is situated just outside of Belgrade and it is easy to get from there to the city center by public transport, which costs less than a dollar. Some of the low-cost airlines flying to Belgrade from Europe are Wizzair, Easyjet and Vueling. Another airport is located in the city of Nis in the south of Serbia. Ryanair company operates flights from Sweden, Italy, and Slovakia to Nis airport. As regards intercontinental flights, it is possible to get directly to Belgrade too. However, it might be cheaper first to get another that has low-cost connection flights (trains or buses) to Serbia. Serbia has a railway which gets better and better in years. Consider that taking a train to Serbia can be time-consuming, but also very beautiful experience as you can go past nice landscapes and meet other travelers. Busses are common for traveling through the country. Every city has a central bus station and this kind of transportation is generally affordable. Hitchhiking is fairly safe. Although it’s more common in the south of the country, it works pretty much everywhere.
Stay with locals to get the most of culture
Serbian people are exceptionally friendly and hospitable. If you have a chance to stay in a Serbian house, they will treat you as the most important family member. Most of the people speak English very well, as well as other languages such as French, German and Spanish. This makes communication easy. Even if you end up staying with people who don’t understand the language you speak, they will find a way to make you feel welcome in their home with their smiles and gestures. Couchsurfing works very well among young people. If you don’t feel comfortable using this network, you can always find a nice and cheap Airbnb. Also, some of the touristy places, such as mountain resorts Zlatibor, Kopaonik, Divcibare, offer private accommodation homes that are easy to find if you ask anyone in the city. Finally, volunteering project platforms such as workaway and NGO workcamps are widely spread. So, if you want to live like a local during your stay, there are plenty of opportunities.
Delicious, cheap and good quality food
In addition to the mentioned above, food is one of the most important ways to demonstrate Serbian hospitality. Typically, sweet fruit jelly (slatko), water, coffee, schnapps (rakija) and traditional snacks (meze) will be served on the table as soon as you enter someone’s home.
Serbia has a lot of home-based fruit and vegetable producers, so buying this kind of seasonal food in the markets is extremely cheap. Street food is also popular and affordable, such as local burger pljeskavica, but the quality really depends on the selling place. Vegetarians should taste pepper and aubergine spread – ajvar. Believe me, I met many foreign meat eaters who got addicted to it! Bakeries with good fresh pastries and bread are very popular. Also, Serbia has a good variety of dairy products: spreads, creams, and different kind of cheeses. If you are in Belgrade and wish to try traditional fast food, check “Cobanov odmor” restaurants. If you fancy bohemian dining experience, then check famous Skadarska street restaurants and bars. It is a bit more expensive, but the portions are hearty. Whichever option you choose, you will never be hungry in Serbia!
Backpackers’ favorite spots in Belgrade
Belgrade is the place where most of the backpackers begin their travel through Serbia. Situated on two shores of river Danube, it used to be divided between two great empires in the past – Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian. Now it is divided into Old Belgrade and New Belgrade with Zemun. Just walking through these completely different parts can tell you a lot about culture and history. A must see historical places are Kalemegdan fortress and Kosancicev venac street in old Belgrade, and Gardos tower and street in Zemun. Belgrade has many museums. To understand the history of Serbia and surrounding countries, I recommend visiting the Museum of History of Yugoslavia. The entrance cost 4 dollars (or 2 dollars with the student discount).
Walk along Knez Mihajlova street in the city center and find great coffee, ice cream, and souvenir shops and galleries, or just sit at Republic square and observe Belgrade’s busy and vibrant life. There are also promenades along the two rivers, quite nice to walk. Along the promenades, you can find many bars, pubs, and restaurants – Belgrade people just love spending time by the rivers! And for an authentic beach experience, visit Ada Ciganlija lake. There you can relax, swim, ride a bicycle, do wakeboarding, play beach volleyball or other sports.
It is hard to impossible about Serbia and Belgrade without mentioning their nightlife. Drafts on the rivers, pubs, and nightclubs are always alive, especially in summer and on weekends through the year. Belgrade city is organizing two beer festivals – Beer fest in August in Usce park and Beer garden on Ada Ciganlija. You can taste national and international beers, listen to the bands from Serbia, Balkan and even other parts of the world. The entrance is free to both of these festivals. You just need to pay for your beer!
Guca is another famous music festival in the south of Serbia. There you can get to know Balkan trumpet and Gipsy music. The festival lasts for four days and it’s very intense. It is also free of charge and there is a camping space if you don’t mind a lot of noise all day and night.
Last but not least, the most famous music festival in Serbia and in the region is Exit. This festival is happing during July in Petrovaradin fortress in the city of Novi Sad and it is hosting famous musicians and bands from all over the world. It is more affordable than similar quality ones in the rest of Europe, so it is not surprising why the majority of the guest at the festival come from abroad.
Welcome to Serbia
If you are an adventurous soul searching for travel inspiration, good vibes or international friends, this is a place to go! No matter when you decide to visit Serbia and which places you go, you will always feel welcome in this warm-hearted and spirited country. So, get your backpack ready and hit the road! Serbia can’t wait to meet you!