Backpacking Serbia: Top experiences
- Climbing all over Belgrade’s fortress
- Strolling along the Danube to reach the small town of Zemun
- Hanging out at a river beach in Novi Sad
Jump to the list of posts from Serbia, or read on for my comprehensive Serbia travel guide.
Serbia itinerary ideas
Serbia is a relatively small country, so you can pack a lot into a short trip. Belgrade and day trips from it tend to be the focus of a Serbia itinerary, but many of the best places to visit in Serbia are out in nature.
With one week in Serbia, you can spend a few days in Belgrade and the surrounding Danube towns. Then, head up to Novi Sad for a more relaxed couple days. Finish with a day trip to Fruška Gora National Park and its many monasteries, which are accessible on public transportation.
If you have a bit longer to visit Serbia, go north and check out the architectural gem of Subotica. Then, you can fit in a trip to Djerdap and/or Tara National Parks, both of which will be far easier if you have your own wheels. If you’re public-transportation-reliant, consider Serbia’s music capital — Niš — as an alternative.
Backpacking Serbia easily fits into a longer Balkan tour, with good connections to Croatia and Bosnia.
Serbia weather and when to visit Serbia
The weather in Serbia is similar to the weather elsewhere in Europe — hot summers, pleasant springs and autumns, and cold, snowy winters. But unlike most of Western Europe, this country sees so few tourists that you don’t need to avoid the summer crowds.
Belgrade and Novi Sad are both at their best in summer, when the floating barge clubs are open and the EXIT festival takes over. Autumn is also a lovely time to visit, especially if you want to get outdoors.
Language in Serbia
The most common language you’ll encounter in Serbia is Serbian. It’s a Slavic language with similarities to Russian and other Balkan languages. Many Serbs also speak Croatian and/or Bosnian, and some speak Russian.
Serbian is written with both the Cyrillic and Latin alphabets. In Belgrade and Novi Sad, most signs, maps, and menus have both alphabets on them — but no English translation. The ability to read Cyrillic will come in handy if you go further off the beaten path.
In Belgrade, many of the people you encounter will speak English — especially in the tourism industry and if you hang out in cafes and bars in the wealthier parts of the city. But you won’t be able to rely on English for all of your travel in Serbia. Even many bus/train ticket salespeople speak no English, so a little bit of Serbian goes a long way. You can learn a few key phrases here.
Budget for backpacking Serbia
Backpacking Serbia is doable on a reasonably low budget. If you don’t plan to party much and are willing to self-cater at least some of the time, you could stick to about $30 a day. $50 a day would be comfortable if you’re taking public transportation. Bank on spending at least $80 a day if you want to rent a car.
Belgrade and Novi Sad have good infrastructure for budget travelers, but cheap accommodation becomes a barrier off the beaten path. Even Subotica only has a single (terrible) hostel.
Many of the top things to do in Serbia — including the Belgrade fortress and just wandering around the cities — are free.
Dorm bed in a hostel: 1,200 dinars
Breakfast from a bakery: 100 dinars
Cafe meal: 500 dinars
Cup of coffee: 150 dinars
Beer at a bar or club: 150 dinars
Museum or historical site admission: Free-200 dinars
Train from Novi Sad to Belgrade: 388 dinars
Serbia visa requirements
North Americans and Europeans generally don’t need a Serbia visa for stays of up to 90 days. You’ll simply get a passport stamp at the border.
You’re technically required to register with the police once you arrive. Most hostels and guesthouses will do this for you, but sometimes you have to request it.
You may or may not be able to travel to or from Kosovo from Serbia, and you may be denied entry into Serbia if you have a Kosovo stamp in your passport. This post has every detail you need to plan a longer Balkan tour including Kosovo.
If you’re on a longer trip backpacking Eastern Europe, you’ll be relieved to learn that long-haul trains entering and exiting Serbia are straightforward and painless. But the slow route into or out of Hungary is a typical Eastern European border crossing. It must be done in stages, and is very confusing. The crossing is between Szeged in Hungary and Subotica in Serbia, on a tiny one-car train. Serbian border guards get a little overzealous about searching tourists’ stuff.
Accommodation in Serbia
Hotels in Serbia are firmly geared toward mid-range travelers. Novi Sad and Belgrade have good hostels, but at more off the beaten path places to visit in Serbia, you’ll have to up your budget to stay in guesthouses or you’ll have to camp.
Many hostels are simply a few dorm beds in someone’s spare bedroom. These have a homestay vibe and can be a great way to learn about the local culture. I had hosts offer me homemade rakija (fruit brandy), help me book train tickets from their personal computers, and teach me Serbian card games. On the flip side, often hostels aren’t staffed 24/7, so you may need to make arrangements in advance rather than just show up.
Hotels and guesthouses are great options for mid-range travelers or couples traveling on a budget. Again, these are often small, family-run operations.
Campgrounds are a good option for budget travelers during the summer. Many are only open between June and August. You usually need to have your own camping gear.
Food in Serbia
If I had to sum up the food you’ll eat when you visit Serbia in one word, it would be: meat. Lots of meat. Sausages, grilled meats, barbecue…meat with meat on the side.
The most popular vegetable is potatoes. A handful of vegetarian restaurants in Belgrade now offer a wider range of veggie options.
You can always get fresh-baked bread and pastries from the bakeries, which make great breakfast stops. Try the borek, a flaky pastry stuffed with meat, cheese and vegetables. It’s one of the most common Balkan snacks.
Self-catering is easy and cheap — even corner stores sell fresh fruits and veggies for pennies. Belgrade has larger supermarkets.
Drinks in Serbia
Cafe culture is huge in both big-city and small-town Serbia. There are an impossible number of sidewalk cafes, all with reliably good coffee.
The local liquor is known as rakija. It’s a bit sweet — similar to other brandies you’ll encounter when backpacking Eastern Europe, including Greek uzo. It’s on the strong side. Most locals instead drink beer when they go out.
Belgrade is famous for its nightlife. During the summer, clubs operate out of barges on the Danube. Party culture is big and heavy alcohol consumption is common. By all means go out and experience the nightlife, but don’t overdo it.
Activities you can do while backpacking Serbia
Urban activities in Serbia are the same as they are elsewhere in Europe — wandering around the cities with their traditional architecture, learning about the country’s history through museums, and visiting galleries and art installations. On top of that, Serbia has a lot of castles and fortresses that make for fun exploration.
Be sure to get out of the big cities and see some of the small towns around the Danube, even if only as day trips. Zemun — within walking distance of Belgrade — is the easiest to reach. The stroll through leafy parks to Zemun is one of the best things to do in Serbia.
Additionally, Serbia has a beautiful natural landscape of rolling hills and idyllic countryside. Because the public transport network is limited, this can be difficult to explore without your own wheels. The most popular national parks are Tara, Djerdap and Fruška Gora National Parks — the latter is the easiest to reach by bus when backpacking Serbia.
Transportation in Serbia
Trains are the main mode of transport when backpacking Serbia. They’re convenient and cheap (about $1 per hour), but they’re not comfortable. They can be very slow.
You can buy tickets for domestic destinations the day you travel. Check the schedule in advance, since there are not always a lot of options.
Belgrade is a common stop along the Budapest to Istanbul backpacker trail. For international train tickets, book a few days in advance. A word of advice: The “sitting” berths on overnight trains are not worth the few dollars you’ll save.
Safety when backpacking Serbia
Serbia has a reputation for being home to thieves and scammers. It’s mostly just myth. Watch your wallet, be skeptical of anyone who approaches you with a sob story, and be careful when you’re out at bars and clubs, and you should be fine.
Serbia travel advice for women alone
Backpacking Serbia presents no issues whatsoever for women traveling alone. The only special Serbia travel advice for solo women is if you hit the clubs in Belgrade, keep an eye on your drinks.
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