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Things to See in Serbia

Belgrade photography

Belgrade photography

Lots of words have been said about countries in the Balkans over the years, and most of them weren't exactly good. All people from other countries ever talk about is wars, violence, and poverty. In reality, that's not exactly the true state of things, because the Balkan Peninsula is more than just its war history. There's more to every country in the world than its war history. Tourists who come to visit often leave surprised and in astonishment, because they didn't find the same countries they heard about before taking the trip. Maybe the time has come to paint a more positive picture of the countries that coexist in the same peninsula. Something different than political propaganda and conflicts, for a change. Maybe it's immature to say so, but politics isn't something I feel strongly about. I'm more concerned about the people of every country, and they deserve better. They deserve to show what their countries truly are about.

With such an intention, I have decided to choose my favorite places in every country in the Balkans, and present it to you in a form of tourist brochures. I shall start with Serbia, in which I live, and then move on to other countries and the things they have to offer.

Why not, right?

1. The Uvac Canyon

The nature of Serbia is wild and untamed, and it's the same with most places in the Balkans. But there is a certain kind of beauty in the free wilderness, and Uvac is living proof of that claim.

Uvac is an international trans-boundary river, stretching from Serbia to Bosnia and Herzegovina. It's famous for its natural swirling meanders. The canyon walls rise up to 100 meters above the swirling waters that, in some places, turn at an angle of 270 degrees. Sometimes, when they joke, the locals bid everyone welcome to the Serbian Colorado. Jokes aside, the Uvac special nature reserve offers plenty of things to see and do. It's the perfect place to visit in case you like peace and quiet, swimming, fishing, hiking, long walks, water, wildlife, good hosts, and lots of green things all around you.

The most cherished treasure in the nature reserve is, of course, the Griffon vulture. A few decades ago, they were on a verge of extinction, for they were reduced to only three couples of the grown birds in total. After many efforts, the birds are no longer endangered, and you can see more and more of them proudly flying over the river. Sometimes, they fly all the way to Dubrovnik in Croatia. Their only natural enemy in the reserve is the Golden eagle. Griffon vulture is much bigger than the eagle, but the eagle is a predator, and it always wins.

There's always a recommendation to reach out to rangers and locals that will be more than happy to show you all the important things in the nature reserve. Due to its untamed nature, Uvac can be dangerous if you don't know where you're going or where to step. My personal favorites are boat tours which last four to five hours, where you can enjoy on the river, and then go on a hike with your guide to reach one of the sightseeing points in the canyon. Pay special attention if you wish to go on a boat cruise, because every boat is allowed to travel through the meanders only once a day, to avoid pollution!

Griffon vulture flies over the Uvac river

Griffon vulture flies over the Uvac river

2. Devil's Town

Originally called Đavolja varoš, which means Devil's town, it represents an unusual formation of rocks, and is located in south Serbia. Devil's Town consists of over two-hundred interesting formations described as earth pyramids or towers. The pyramids are two to fifteen meters tall, and up to three meters wide. Most of the towers have strange caps of andesite on top of them. Curiously so, the caps protect the rocks from decay. Devil's Town was a nominee in a New Seven Wonders of Nature campaign, but in the end, remained only a nominee.

There are countless legends about the origin of the rock, and each is more interesting than the other. The most famous legend concerns actions and consequences, or in this case, sins and punishments. The legend tells us that the rocks are actually petrified guests at the wedding between a brother and a sister. It's been said that they'll stay petrified forever, to remind everyone that no crime will ever go unpunished. A less famous, but still very interesting legend is connected to the supernatural world and witchcraft, for which Serbia is very famous. According to legend, once upon a time, there lived a witch who could grant every wish, but only if you promise to give her anything she asks for in return. Supposedly, the rocks are people who were petrified by her because they tried to trick her.

Despite all legends, the truth is quite simple. The rocks were formed by erosion.

Close to the rocks, there are two springs of extremely acid water and high mineral content, Devil's Water, and Red Well. One of the legends tells us, if you drink from either of the springs, you'll surely and safely return home.

Devil's Town: a complex of natural rock formations

Devil's Town: a complex of natural rock formations

3. The Shargan Eight

The Shargan Eight is a narrow-gauge heritage railway in Serbia, running from the village of the mountain Mokra Gora to Šargan Vitasi station. The railway began contributing to the tourism of Mokra Gora in 2003. Now, it represents a vintage, romantic attraction, and a chance for a little bit of quality sight-seeing. The train is officially called "Nostalgia" and transports about 80.000 travelers a year.

Within the tour of the Shargan Eight and Mokra Gora, a visit to an interesting city dedicated to film and culture, called Drvengrad (Timber Town, Küstendorf) is usually included. Timber Town is essentially an ethnic village built by the movie director, Emir Kusturica, to remind himself that anyone who once had a home – can always have one again. Emir himself had said, "I invented a city that seems to have always been inhabited. And it never was."

Everything's made of wood and dedicated to many famous people personally important to him. There are streets, restaurants, churches, squares, cottages, sports center, statues, and everything else one villages should have. Everything's named after someone famous: Ivo Andrić, Stanley Kubrick, Nikola Tesla, Diego Maradona, Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, Novak Đoković, and countless others. Timber Town is a host to many festivals of film, music, and literature, which have visitors from all over the world.

In 2010, one of the festivals was visited by Johnny Depp. The two seemed to get along well enough. During his visit, Depp got his own statue in the village.

The train "Nostalgia"

The train "Nostalgia"

4. Maglič Castle

Maglič is a castle build in the 13th century and located on a hill surrounded on three sides by the river Ibar, and by a mountain on one side. It's a green hill crowned with stone. The area is called the Valley of the Kings, or Valley of the Centuries, while the most romantic people would call it Valley of Lilacs. Its name originates from the Serbian word for fog (magla), which frequently hovers over the castle. The legend says that, when the fog is thick, one can hear echoes from the duels of old: stamping of horses, songs of swords, and phantom knights. In the middle ages, the fortress played the role of protector of two monasteries that still stand: Žiča and Studenica. Maglič was built on top of foundations of an older fortress of Roman origin. When days are sunny, it offers an enchanting view of the whole Valley of the Kings.

Today, the castle is mostly in ruins, but the walls have been well-preserved. Maglič consists of the remains of a palace with a basement, the Church of St. George, the main and auxiliary gates, water tanks, seven towers twelve meters high, and the main tower twenty meters tall. The ramparts are 270 meters long. Both ramparts and towers can be reached by climbing the steep, wooden steps.

Maglič was included on the list of Cultural Monuments of Exceptional Importance in 1979.

Maglič: a crown on top of a hill

Maglič: a crown on top of a hill

5. Drina River House

The house offers a completely new level of self-isolation. The international, fast, and cold alpine river Drina is beautiful and interesting enough, with its emerald, clear waters. A house built on a rock in the middle of the river only makes it more interesting.

There is a unique story about the origin of the house. Many decades ago, in 1968, a small group of friends went swimming in the Drina, and climbed onto the rock to rest. The rock wasn't a very comfortable place, so they brought a few wooden boards on which they could rest. They began talking about how nicer it would be to have a roof over their heads to protect themselves from the sun. The following year, friends returned and built the first house on top of the rock, without any idea how popular the house would become. But the Drina is restless, strong, and moody. Determined to never allow anyone to tame her, its unpredictable flows washed away six of the houses so far, but people build a stronger one every time.

After National Geographic published a photo of the house as its "Photo of the Day", more and more people wanted to see it with their own eyes. The small house did wonders for Serbian tourism, especially for the Tara National Park which surrounds the Drina and its little house.

Drina river House: combination of civilization and nature

Drina river House: combination of civilization and nature

6. Tara National Park

Tara is a mountain located in western Serbia and stands as a part of the Dinaric Alps. The National Park encompasses Tara and Zvijezda mountains, in a large bend of the river Drina. It covers approximately 96.49 sq mi. Tara is a proud bearer of the nickname "lungs of Serbia", for it is the most forested area in the country. Its forests mainly consist of fir, beech, and spruce. An important resident of the National Park is a rare endemic Tertiary species called the Serbian Spruce, which is protected. There are also two species of edelweiss. Rich with plants, Tara National Park offers a great refuge for all lovers of nature, peace, and quiet.

The mountain is also a home for many animal species: 140 species of insects, 135 species of birds, including golden eagle, griffon vulture, peregrine falcon, eagle owl, black grouse, and common merganser. There are also around 55 mammalian species, including chamois, roe deer, lynx, wolf, jackal, wild boar, marten, and protected brown bear and otter.

Within the National Park of Tara, you can engage in many activities. Hiking tours, biking tours, canyoning tours, skiing, kayaking, swimming, sightseeing, and many more. For animal lovers, there is an opportunity to see brown bears in their natural habitat from the safe observatory spots.

Tara National Park's landscape

Tara National Park's landscape

7. Gamzigrad

Gamzigrad is essentially an archeological site, spa resort, and UNESCO World Heritage Site of the country. It's located on the Danube river, roughly three hours from the capital, and it represents the location of the ancient Roman complex called Felix Romuliana. It's a complex built by Emperor Galerius in 298 AD. It's been said that the complex was named after his mother, Romula, a priestess of a pagan cult. The site was an Imperial palace and both Romula and her son were buried and deified there.

On the site, you'll come across the remains of two temples, two palaces, and a building with a corridor. The site is decorated with fine mosaics of Greek gods, figural capitals of Hercules himself, pilasters of Emperors Diocletian, Maximian, Galerius, Licinius, Maximus, and Constantine, Greek inscriptions, Latin inscriptions, baths, and impressive gates. The archaeologists unearthed several hoards of Roman golden coins, and more and more artifacts were discovered over the years.

The archeologists still work on this site.

Felix Romuliana, Gamzigrad

Felix Romuliana, Gamzigrad

8. Petrovaradin Fortress

Novi Sad, the second-largest city in Serbia and the capital of the autonomous province of Vojvodina, is certainly worth visiting. The Petrovaradin Fortress, a symbol of the city, makes it even more interesting. According to a legend, the name of the fortress consists of three words meaning “the city on a rock strong as faith”.

The Petrovaradin Fortress (Petrovaradinska tvrđava) is the proud bearer of the nickname Gibraltar of the Danube, and it's located on the right bank of the river. It was originally built by Charles Eugène de Croÿ, and it was a significant military fort of the Austrian rulers who, at the time of Napoleon’s conquests, hid their treasures inside the walls. Today, it's the Novi Sad's art center, home to the famous EXIT festival, and an intriguing place that offers great views and a spirit of mystery.

The fortress takes pride in its underground that goes four floors beneath the ground level. It also offers its visitors an opportunity to take astronomy lectures and look at the stars at the Planetarium. It's home to many art studios, galleries, equestrian clubs, restaurants, and museums. The most important object inside the fortress is certainly The Petrovaradin clock, donated by Empress Maria Theresa around 1750.

The most famous event that takes place in the fortress is the annual EXIT festival of music, which was a host to many big names in the music industry over the years: Sex Pistols, Nightwish, Guns 'n' Roses, Snoop Dog, HIM, Wu-Tang Clan, Franz Ferdinand, Billy Idol, and many more.


Gibraltar of the Danube

Gibraltar of the Danube

9. Đerdap National Park

The Đerdap National Park is located close to the Romania border. It stretches along the Danube river from an important archeological site, the Golubac Fortress, all the way to the dam near Novi Sip. Like every other place in the country, Đerdap is abundant in legends. According to one such legend, Đerdap, whose name originates from the Turkish word for vortex, was made by gods and giants, who made the Iron Gate to let the Pannonian Sea flow through the gorge.

The main attraction of the national park is the above mentioned Đerdap gorge, named the Iron Gates. It's a big gateway through the southern slopes of the Carpathian mountains. About 62 miles long, it's essentially a river valley made of four smaller gouges, separated from each other by ravines. The terrain is mountainous, so the gorge takes pride in many caves, pits, springs, and lakes. It's inhabited by roughly around 1,100 plant species, and it offers a home for 150 bird species. Moreover, the national park is rich with many natural and cultural values: the 11,500-year-old archeological site (Lepenski Vir), Roman fortress Diana, remains of a Turkish bath, and the memorial drinking fountain dedicated to a Polish knight Zawisza the Black. Apart from being a national park, the place represents an important bird and plant area.

Đerdap was on the route of the western extension of the Via Militaris. Some remnants of the road are well preserved even today.

The Iron Gates of the Danube

The Iron Gates of the Danube

10. Belgrade

No visit to Serbia would be complete without checking out the famous white city of the country, Belgrade. Built on a place where two great rivers, Sava and Danube, share their kiss, it's been said that Belgrade is proud, mysterious, and magical. It's not the prettiest or the biggest city out there, but it's got special soul, and sometimes it seems that it has a mind of its own. The city has a long history: several names, several lords, more than one war to wage during the history of the area, many cultures coexisting on the common ground, each bringing new style to the city to add to its spirit.

There's a lot to see in Belgrade, and it all depends on what you're interested in. In the exact place where Sava and Danube meet, lies an important site to visit: the Belgrade Fortress that used to contain the entire city and has lived through 2,000 years of conflict.The fortress is called Kalemegdan. Its name is derived from two Turkish words: kale (fortress) and meydan (battlefield). Like Petrovaradin, Kalemegdan is also an important cultural and historical site, and it offers a lot to see: from the Roman well to the medieval gate of Despot Stefan Lazarević.

For lovers of bohemian style, there's always Skadarlija street, car-free and with cobblestone pavement, iron gaslights, restaurant terraces, foliage, awnings. If you're more of a religious person, there are many churches and temples in the area, and the most important one is Church of St. Sava, the largest Orthodox Church in the Balkan region, and the second largest in the world. On the other hand, if you're a nature enthusiast, you should probably visit Košutnjak, a park-forest and urban neighborhood of Belgrade. On the third hand, if you're not afraid of heights, you should probably check out the Avala Tower: a communications tower, and the tallest structure in the Balkans.

If you'd much rather walk through more urban part of the town, Knez Mihailova is a street for you. It's the most expensive street in the city per square meter, extending diagonally from Old Town where Kalemegdan Fortress is located, all the way to the Republic Square, and, if you don't mind spending money, it's a good place to either shop or go out. There's also a great number of theaters, museums, and galleries. The museum you probably shouldn't miss is the Nikola Tesla Museum, which presents the life and work of the great physicist, inventor and electrical engineer.

Of course, remember that Serbian people are big on food and drinks, so don't avoid visiting their taverns and rafts: it's a unique experience. Take special care before you try the national drink, rakija. It's rather strong and not up for everyone's taste, so make sure to order a glass of water with the rakija!

The Kalemegdan Fortress in Old Town

The Kalemegdan Fortress in Old Town

“Belgrade is not in Belgrade, because Belgrade, in fact is not a city – it’s a metaphor, a way of life, a way of thinking.”

— Momo Kapor

There's much more to see and experience in Serbia, but it's impossible to include everything in just one article. I have singled out some of my most favorite places in the country, and I feel like it's a good start.

With the next travel article, I'll present to you another country that also has a lot to offer. Spoiler alert: it will probably be Croatia, where a famous show Game of Thrones was filmed.

© 2020 Ivana Divac

Comments

Ivana Divac (author) from Serbia on October 29, 2020:

Thanks for reading!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on October 28, 2020:

This is a very interesting article. I enjoyed learning about Serbia and looking at the lovely photos. I think the country would be fascinating to explore.

Ivana Divac (author) from Serbia on October 28, 2020:

Thanks a lot for taking the time to read and leave feedback! It means a lot!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 28, 2020:

Serbia looks beautiful. I enjoyed your article and the pictures are great, Ivana. This article is beautifully written, and I would love to visit Serbia.

Ivana Divac (author) from Serbia on October 28, 2020:

Thank you for your kind words!

Vikram Brahma from Assam, India on October 28, 2020:

Hey Ivana, you have beautifully captured and written so well article. And the photographs which you have shared along with your articles are awesome, my friend. really liked the way you have mentioned them in detail.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on October 28, 2020:

This is very fabulous and eye-opening. I had no idea there were so many beautiful natural wonders to see as well as the cities. Thanks for sharing this with us.

Blessings,

Denise

Ivana Divac (author) from Serbia on October 28, 2020:

And thank you for reading!

Ankita B on October 28, 2020:

I enjoyed reading this article about the wonderful places in Serbia to visit. I loved the photos too. Thank you for sharing.

Ivana Divac (author) from Serbia on October 28, 2020:

Thanks a lot! I aways aim to make my articles about something that's not so popular or well-known. In that way all of us can read something new and/or interesting.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 28, 2020:

Thanks, Ivana, for showing us so many of the fantastic destinations to visit in Serbia. The accompanying photos beautifully illustrated this article.

Liza from USA on October 28, 2020:

I have a little knowledge about Serbia and I'm glad you have shared how beautiful and wonderful the country is. I hope we all can start traveling again soon! Thanks for sharing the article, Ivana.

Ivana Divac (author) from Serbia on October 28, 2020:

Thanks a lot, Lorna!

Lorna Lamon on October 28, 2020:

Such a beautiful part of the world and you have captured it's essence in these wonderful photos. There is something for everyone to enjoy and it has been on my list for a while. Hopefully when the world returns to normal I will manage to visit. Great article Ivana full of interesting facts.

Ivana Divac (author) from Serbia on October 27, 2020:

Thank you so much!

Sankhajit Bhattacharjee from MILWAUKEE on October 27, 2020:

l enjoyed your writing...

Ivana Divac (author) from Serbia on October 27, 2020:

Thanks, Liz! Though, I always have my doubts when it comes to recommending the best time to visit Serbia, the climate can be quite interesting and unpredictable during the year.

Liz Westwood from UK on October 27, 2020:

This is a well-organized and well-illustrated article. I have friends who enjoyed and recommended Serbia as a holiday destination.