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The Balkans have at all times been my favourite position to go back and forth, however till lately, I hadn’t carried out a lot touring in Serbia. For years, it used to be the Balkan nation I had explored the least, simplest spending a couple of days in Belgrade earlier than flying directly to Latvia. You can examine that go back and forth right here.

That modified this yr. I stopped up in Serbia swiftly as the primary a part of my transfer to Prague, the place my UK-born boyfriend has lived for 18 years, and the place I used to be intended to transport in May. We had been banned from every different’s international locations for months.

While the EU banned US electorate (some international locations like Croatia made exceptions), Serbia isn’t a part of the EU. But with emerging COVID circumstances in the USA, we idea we wouldn’t have this opportunity for for much longer — that if we didn’t get me to Serbia now and get started the method of having me into the Czech Republic as a spouse of a Czech resident, we may lose our window for months.

We each arrived in Serbia on June 27 and ended up staying for 2 weeks as we waited for updates from the Czech Republic.

We started in Belgrade and traveled directly to Djerdap National Park, the Negotin wine area, Sokobanja, and Novi Sad earlier than riots struck the rustic and we left for Croatia.

A yellow country house set in a garden full of flowers.

Serbia Travel

Do you will have any preconceptions about Serbia? You may now not. I to find that in the USA — in particular, out of doors Chicago and the midwest, which can be wealthy with Central Europeans — Serbia both has no narrative or has the narrative as “the bad guys.” Particularly on the subject of the Balkan conflicts of the closing 30 years.

Beyond that, Serbia doesn’t have numerous “must-visit” locations. You may make the argument that Serbia doesn’t have a lot to supply in comparability to its neighbors — not one of the wild sea coast, wacky structure, or blue-green lakes that you simply come to be expecting in Croatia, Montenegro, or North Macedonia.

Serbia does has its charms — however they’re now not evident. They’re now not going to knock you over the top and you have got to paintings to search out them. Locals who appear standoffish in the beginning however feed you prefer a long-lost circle of relatives member. River gorges surrounded by means of limestone cliffs. Pink and white crenellated constructions in a picture-perfect outdated the city.

This is Serbia.

A wooden fence and balcony overlooking the Danube river on a cloudy day.

Traveling in Serbia During Coronavirus

Serbia isn’t a part of the EU, and has had a few of Europe’s maximum comfortable access necessities throughout the coronavirus pandemic. At the time I arrived (June 27, 2020), Americans have been accepted to go into the rustic and not using a COVID-19 check nor quarantine essential. I selected to be examined in a while earlier than my flight to offer protection to my fellow passengers and used to be discovered to be destructive for COVID-19.

AirSerbia has nonstop flights from New York City to Belgrade, and I took the danger to fly direct and not using a stopovers. (I took the teach from Boston to New York, a remarkably low fare of $39.) Other than just about having a center assault in the check-in line when the girl in the back of me requested, “Oh, you have a US passport? My husband does and they said they wouldn’t let him in,” and double-checking with the flight agent that sure, I might be let in, it used to be advantageous.

The flight used to be just about complete (ugh) however I did get an empty seat on one aspect of me and an aisle seat at the different. I ate a large meal earlier than the flight and thus stored my masks on for all 9 hours from JFK to Belgrade. The AirSerbia flight attendants have been vigilant about ensuring everybody stayed masked out of doors of meal instances.

Keep in thoughts that access necessities are converting continuously, regularly day-by-day, particularly in Europe. They have most likely modified since I revealed this. Be certain to do your personal analysis.

As for a way we behaved at the flooring, we took many precautions.

First off, we traveled completely by means of riding in Charlie’s automotive — by no means public transportation or cabs. We wore mask on every occasion we have been indoors. We ate nearly each meal out of doors, or would cook dinner or take house takeaway foods. We sanitized continuously. We stored our distance from humans. Our regimen used to be the similar because it used to be in Mexico City, when the virus started to ramp up — paintings all day, pass out for meals and an extended stroll.

So how are issues in Serbia at this time?

In Belgrade, most of the people wore mask in indoor retail outlets, like the grocer, however open air, few did. In the park at sundown, youngsters would climb in all places every different at the playground and no person used to be training any type of social distancing.

In rural spaces like Djerdap National Park and the Negotin wine area, it used to be as though no person learned what used to be taking place — nearly no Serbians wore mask and humans would achieve out to shake palms, perplexed after I would put my hand on my center, bent ahead somewhat, and mentioned, “Nice to meet you.” (AOC recommended this as an alternative of shaking palms. Trying to make it my factor.)

In Sokobanja, some humans wore mask, however bizarrely, about 90% of them didn’t put on mask over their noses, making them successfully needless.

Novi Sad used to be very similar to Belgrade, however general I believe humans there tended to put on mask there probably the most.

A pedestrian-only street in Sokobanja lined with shops, people walking down the street.

Serbia is a lesser-developed nation in Europe.

Since the start of time, humans had been pronouncing, “Want to spend less money in Europe? Head east.” Not that Serbia is Eastern Europe — it’s very a lot Central Europe, the Balkans, the previous Yugoslavia.

You do get numerous price for cash in Serbia, particularly out of doors Belgrade — it’s one of the most least expensive international locations in Central Europe. You can get respectable non-public lodging for less than $30 in step with evening, and foods for only a few greenbacks. But you pay for it in phrases of construction.

Let me let you know about a spot we stayed. It used to be somewhat guesthouse on most sensible of a hill with gorgeous perspectives of the encompassing panorama. Flowers sprung out from each route; you’ll inform it used to be gardened with love. The meals used to be scrumptious. And the homeowners have been very delightful humans.

But the street to the guesthouse used to be unfinished and also you needed to park a ways away and drag your luggage. There used to be just one outlet in the room, which used to be used for a lamp, so it’s worthwhile to both have gentle or use no energy. There used to be actually nowhere joyful to take a seat on all the belongings. I aroused from sleep at 6:00 AM as a result of the toilet smelled so foul.

This tended to be par for the path in a lot of rural Serbia. Charlie’s corporate, JayWay Travel, works with mid-range to luxurious American vacationers, and he identified that only a few motels in rural Serbia would are compatible their requirements.

A square stone manor in the countryside, surrounded by flowers.

Off the crushed course in Serbia is VERY off the crushed course.

Everyone needs to head off the crushed course. But in truth, for many global vacationers, Serbia is an off the crushed course selection to start with. You’ll have the ability to revel in the advantages of off-the-beaten-path go back and forth — decrease costs, fewer vacationers — in Serbia’s extra standard locations, like Belgrade and Novi Sad.

We went WAY off the crushed course in Serbia — to Eastern Serbia. It didn’t fairly get to the “Why would you even come here?” ranges that I skilled in Albania, however our presence used to be as perplexing because it used to be welcomed.

Perhaps this used to be an impact of COVID, however we simplest met one non-Serbian traveler: the Swiss boyfriend of a Serbian girl. Aside from that, we have been indubitably the abnormal ones out!

A platter of meats, complete with chorizo-like cured meats hanging from a clothesline on top!

Serbia is all concerning the meat.

Serbians know their manner round a grill! Their delicacies may be very meat-heavy, and one of the vital standard dishes contain meat at the grill. We feasted on pljeksavica, the Serbian taste of hamburger, and ćevapi, sausage-like meat hyperlinks which might be nice in a sandwich, in addition to higher-end meat dishes like grilled venison, duck, pršut (prosciutto) and different cured meats.

Serbians additionally love their dairy merchandise and convey numerous cheeses, in addition to kajmak (a cushy creamy cheese-like product just right on bread).

I ordered a number of šopska salads: cucumbers and tomatoes with onions and an enormous pile of soppy white feta-like cheese on most sensible. Whenever I’m in the Balkans, I consume šopska salads at least one time an afternoon! Serbia additionally does nice filled peppers, which can be regularly filled with kajmak or cushy cheeses.

It’s just right meals, nevertheless it does get repetitive, and it makes you crave veggies. Luckily in Belgrade and Novi Sad, there are many global eating places the place you’ll get in some selection.

But when we were given into rural spaces, we learned that the majority puts had the similar menu time and again: ćevapi, pljeksavica, different roasted meats, every now and then fish in riverside spaces, (really well seasoned) fries, šopska salad. For days, that used to be all there used to be.

At one level I ordered a rooster schnitzel and felt like a vegan by means of comparability.

If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you’ll do advantageous in Belgrade and Novi Sad. In rural Serbia, vegetarians must get able to consume numerous šopska salads. But in case you’re a vegan in rural Serbia, I essentially do not know the way you’d live on — simply salads and bread. Unlike maximum international locations, Serbia doesn’t serve many (or any?) bean-based dishes on rural menus; whilst there are some Serbian bean dishes, nearly they all contain meat.

I might be very wary in case you have been making plans a go back and forth to Serbia as a vegetarian or vegan. At the very least, you’d want to plan forward and convey additional protein.

Tons of food on a patterned tablecloth, including big bowls of fish soup, fried fish and zucchini, spinach, kajmak, boiled beans, a platter of tomatoes topped with onions and cucumbers with a big green pepper on top, a loaf of bread, a bowl of small pears, four slices of plum-stuffed cake.

Serbians will feed you SO nicely at house.

We stayed in a couple of puts that served dinner or breakfast — and my God, we have been served actually insane volumes of meals. See that photograph above? That’s for TWO people! Fish soup, baked fish, fried greens, boiled string beans, spinach with kajmak, tomato and cucumber salad, plum-stuffed cake for dessert, even our personal freshly baked loaf of bread.

The subsequent morning, we have been served massive slabs of fried bread filled with cheese, which we crowned with home made plum and apricot jam.

At any other position, we grabbed some yogurt and muesli for breakfast and figured that will be sufficient. Then they introduced us out EIGHT massive items of cheese-stuffed pastries, every kind of the scale of a serving of lasagna.

A counter at a takeaway grill with all the menu items written in Cyrillic.

Cyrillic is essential in Serbia.

On my previous go back and forth to Serbia in 2015, I assumed that finding out Cyrillic used to be useful now and then however in the end needless. But in this go back and forth, it used to be crucial.

Serbia makes use of each the Cyrillic and the Latin alphabets, however Cyrillic is used extra regularly in rural spaces. Cyrillic is straightforward sufficient to show your self, and it’ll carry you unexpected pleasure whilst you sound out a phrase and understand it’s one thing .

And you’ll want it. When we have been in search of a waterfall, the one signal pointing us in the fitting route used to be “водопад”.

But the scariest second used to be getting onto a freeway, choosing up our toll price tag, and seeing the freeway pass off in two instructions: one used to be categorised “Београд” and one categorised “Ниш.” Luckily either one of us knew sufficient Cyrillic to grasp a method used to be north to Belgrade however the different used to be south to Niš, and we indubitably sought after to head north! I used to be shocked a newly constructed toll freeway front would simplest have signage in Cyrillic.

Two houses in Sokobanja decorated with garlands of purple flowers.

People smoke like chimneys in Serbia.

This is most likely my least favourite factor about touring in the Balkans — the superiority of smoking. But in Serbia, they convey it to the following stage.

It’s not unusual for Serbians to smoke thru foods, to smoke indoors, and to chain smoke cigarette after cigarette.

When I used to be in Armenia closing yr, I remarked how jarring it used to be to listen to the word, “Smoking or non-smoking?” when coming into a cafe. I assumed we had given up on pretending that smoking and non-smoking sections in reality labored. Well, Serbia nonetheless does that, too! I walked into a restaurant to make use of a rest room and noticed ashtrays on part the tables and non-smoking indicators at the different part. So bizarre.

I couldn’t get used to the smoke and used to be very happy to depart that in the back of.

White houses with red roofs on the banks of a nearly-dry river in Prizren, Kosovo.
Prizen, Kosovo, in 2013

Kosovo is a delicate matter.

Years in the past, I made the error of bringing up I used to be going to Kosovo at a Couchsurfing meetup that incorporated Serbians. It didn’t pass nicely. Serbians consider that Kosovo is occupied Serbian territory and must now not be noticed as their very own nation.

I visited Kosovo in 2013 and gained the warmest welcome I’ve gained anyplace in the arena — on account of my American passport. Prishtina, Kosovo’s capital, is known for its statue of Bill Clinton (proper in entrance of a get dressed store referred to as Hillary, which made me burst out guffawing).

Just a tip: don’t point out Kosovo amongst Serbians you don’t know, only for the sake of decorum. It’s a painful matter for plenty of Serbians; now not citing painful topics with strangers is elementary manners. If them higher, or they convey it up, you could possibly have an illuminating dialog about Kosovo, however that’s now not a ensure.

Finally, watch out of visiting Kosovo on a Serbia go back and forth. If you input Serbia, input Kosovo, then depart Kosovo to Albania, Montenegro, or North Macedonia, Serbia will say that you simply left the rustic illegally. Instead, return to Serbia’s territory earlier than shifting on to another nation.

In quick, depart the way in which you got here in. Enter Serbia, depart Serbia for anyplace however Kosovo except you backpedal. Enter Kosovo, depart Kosovo for anyplace however Serbia except you backpedal.

A bright blue lake in Serbia, white houses with orange roofs on the shore.

Places to Visit in Serbia

If you’re arriving by means of airplane, your go back and forth to Serbia will most likely get started in Belgrade. Here are one of the vital puts I visited in this go back and forth.

Two women walking on a city street in Belgrade.

Belgrade is beautiful cool.

Belgrade is most likely most renowned for its wild nightlife, whole with river barge golf equipment. We didn’t participate in any of that. But it’s a amusing town with some great cafes and eating places. My favourite issues about Belgrade are the superb coffeeshops (cigarette smoke however) and strangely, the gelato retail outlets! LUFF and Crna Ovca are two nice gelato puts.

We stayed in the Vračar community, which I like to recommend. It’s house to the best eating places and cafes, however away from the large business zones. This condo used to be nice and well-priced.

Tall limestone cliffs on the murky green Danube river, a tiny red speedboat showing you scale.

Serbia’s stretch of the Danube is shocking.

After doing somewhat of study, I got here throughout footage of Djerdap Gorge in Djerdap National Park, working alongside the banks of the Danube in Eastern Serbia. It seems this stretch of the Danube, referred to as the Iron Gates, is regularly cited as probably the most gorgeous a part of an jap Danube river cruise.

Most attention-grabbing used to be listening to concerning the historical past of this a part of the arena. During the guideline of Ceauşescu, Romanians would attempt to break out around the Danube to what used to be then Yugoslavia. Snipers would patrol the world, capturing somebody who would move. Eventually the Romanians discovered how one can use pressurized fuel canisters to zip them around the water temporarily.

A face carved into the limestone cliffs on the Romanian side of the Danube.
A church and Romanian flag reading ROMANIA on the Romanian side of the Danube.
Tall limestone cliffs on the Danube and a boat with a long, flat platform for shipping goods.

The Danube flows all of the technique to the Black Sea, and you notice lengthy, flat ships handing over shipment (or coming again empty). Russian is the professional language of the Danube and all captains traversing the Danube will have to discuss Russian.

Just a couple of months in the past we visited Sumidero Canyon in Chiapas, Mexico, which had an excessively identical glance however a lot more dramatic and wild.

Djerdap National Park doesn’t get numerous global press, however the Iron Gates by myself are well worth the go back and forth.

Golubac Fortress, which looks like a Harry Potter-like place with towers sticking out of a hillside in front of the Danube. The fortress is lit up orange from the sunset underneath a bright blue sky.

Golubac Fortress is a smart position to {photograph} at the fringe of the Danube.

A bright red sunset on the Danube, with the pointy towers of Golubac Fortress silhouetted on the left.

And the sundown perspectives in the back of the citadel have been superb.

A waterfall surrounded by lush greenery emptying into a blue-green pool in the woods.

We made the lengthy adventure to a Blederije Waterfall, deep in the woods — now not fairly well worth the go back and forth or lengthy stroll, however nonetheless a bucolic position to talk over with.

A hand-carved wooden crucifix in the middle of a collection of stone and wood buildings and flowers in the Serbian countryside.

The Negotin Wine Region has a burgeoning business.

So many nations have wine industries that you simply don’t even learn about — however as a result of they’re such small manufacturers, you received’t see them on American retailer cabinets. (Moldova, you’re bleak as hell, however rattling you’ll make a just right purple wine.)

We heard that the agricultural jap a part of Serbia used to be full of wineries — in particular, the Negotin wine area. As we left Djerdap National Park, the panorama grew to become agricultural and we drove previous tall stalks of corn and never-ending fields of sunflowers.

We stayed at Dunjin Konak, a rustic space in town of Rogljevo, out of doors Negotin. We had an opportunity to talk over with a close-by vineyard and pattern their fascinating wines. They served it, in true Serbian taste, with a large plate of cheese and kajmak, greater than any two humans may consume on their very own!

It made an excessively fascinating keep — and it harm to listen to that we were their first guests in months.

Oh, and in order that — rakija, the transparent brandy-like drink standard in Serbia, is fatal. Only have somewhat little bit of it, and indubitably don’t pass drink for drink with a Serbian!

A layered cake-shaped fountain in the square of Sokobanja, shops and white buildings in the distance.

Sokobanja is a unusual little the city.

Sokobanja is a Serbian spa the city and a well-liked spot in Serbia for home tourism. Interestingly, spa cities are regarded as circle of relatives locations in Serbia! There also are loads of outside actions, like mountaineering and kayaking, and the lakeside houses at the fringe of Sokobanja are pretty.

We didn’t participate in any spa actions because of present cases, however we did revel in strolling throughout the the city. In true Balkan taste, there’s a pedestrian side road covered with cafes that’s the position for all-day people-watching.

Street cafes in Novi Sad. The buildings in the background are pastel shades of pink, orange, and mint green.

Novi Sad is glorious.

Novi Sad used to be my favourite position in Serbia by means of some distance. This town, the second-largest in Serbia, used to be dominated by means of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and feels a lot more Western European than Belgrade. The structure in the outdated the city is gorgeous.

But coming to Novi Sad after every week in rural Serbia made it all of the sweeter. We straight away went to a sushi eating place for lunch, then headed to a restaurant to paintings out of doors whilst sipping some completely made flat whites. After every week of cevapis and dangerous espresso, it used to be like heaven.

We stayed in this implausible condo. I haven’t any phrases for a way a lot I ADORED this condo — and it price not up to $30 in step with evening. Newly renovated, two bedrooms, nice kitchen, fashionable toilet, skylights, super-comfortable mattress and sofa, large TV, an exact table and a joyful eating desk to paintings from. Even a 70s-patterned wall that made a perfect Zoom backdrop! PLEASE STAY THERE IF YOU GO TO NOVI SAD. The homeowners are pretty humans, too.

We have been going to stick in Novi Sad for no less than every week. I can have thankfully stayed there for a month, running from our funky condo, grocery buying groceries, going out for inexpensive sushi. Then the whole lot fell aside.

Novi Sad's synagogue lit up yellow at sunset, a woman leaning against a pole in the foreground.

Why We Left Serbia

Our unique plan used to be to go to Serbia and keep there till we had phrase on after I may go back to the Czech Republic. But towards the tip of our time there, protests erupted in Belgrade.

Serbians around the political spectrum protested the federal government. While global media together with the New York Times mentioned that this started as the results of a reinstated weekend lockdown, locals instructed me this used to be misguided — that this used to be merely the straw that broke the camel’s again, the most recent instance of corruption in an authoritarian regime.

Police replied with violence and attacked the Belgrade protestors with tear fuel. The subsequent evening, protests unfold to different portions of Serbia, together with Novi Sad.

I’m now not petrified of protests. I’ve traveled in Bangkok throughout the protests of 2013 and Greece throughout its monetary disaster in 2015, either one of which resulted in consistent “ARE YOU OKAY?” messages from house. Most of the time, the American media (specifically cable information) performs up global incidents as a lot more unhealthy than they in reality are. Additionally, 98% of the time protests can simply be have shyed away from.

Unfortunately, 2020 isn’t an extraordinary time.

The international locations of Europe are continuously converting which international locations are at the inexperienced, yellow, and purple lists, which impacts who is permitted to move borders. Serbia had sharply emerging COVID circumstances and used to be on skinny ice to start with — including protests to the combo may reason international locations to prohibit humans coming from Serbia and put me prone to now not being allowed to go back to the Czech Republic.

Around that point, we additionally came upon that Americans may talk over with Croatia (to our surprise) with a related shape crammed out and evidence of paid lodging. And Charlie’s Croatian colleagues despatched him a notice that the Croatian govt used to be about to reinstate a compulsory quarantine for humans coming from Serbia, however would give Croatians a couple of days to return again earlier than making it professional.

It used to be evident to us — up to we cherished Novi Sad and that wonderful condo, as reasonable as it could be to stick, it used to be time to depart Serbia. Plus, Croatia is a part of the EU, and being in the EU for 14+ days would make it more uncomplicated for me to get into the Czech Republic.

We crossed the border on July 10. The Serbian immigration officials gave us probably the most thorough baggage seek we’ve gained (at the manner out?!) then instructed us to inform our buddies that Serbians are great humans, that they must come to Serbia. The Croatian officer slightly glimpsed at our passports, paperwork, and lodging documentation and allow us to in in not up to 5 mins.

(Just FYI — since then, Croatia is now requiring Americans to quarantine for 2 weeks or provide a destructive PCR check taken inside the previous 48 hours. Again, that is converting continuously.)

Tall columns at a Roman ruins site.

Is Serbia price it?

Yes, after all visiting Serbia is worthwhile! But it’s now not price visiting Serbia at this time except you will have an crucial explanation why for go back and forth — in my case, reuniting with my spouse and facilitating my transfer to the Czech Republic.

I don’t counsel touring in Serbia at this time because of the tricky state of affairs with coronavirus and swiftly converting border agreements. It’s too precarious. And in truth, this isn’t the time for recreational journeys anyplace.

But in case you’re studying this put up when coronavirus is not a risk, I do assume Serbia is worthwhile — in case you’re an skilled traveler who appreciates off-the-beaten-path forms of puts and is indubitably now not a vegan.

A hilly wooded area with lots of white cottages with terra cotta roofs in the distance.

How I might do Serbia another way subsequent time

If I got here again to Serbia, I might indubitably plan my time another way.

I might spend somewhat time in Belgrade however extra time in Novi Sad. I’d use Novi Sad as a base to talk over with Fruška Gora National Park, an simple day go back and forth, and I’d head all the way down to Tara National Park for one of the vital highest surroundings in the rustic. If I had the time, I’d make the adventure to Instagram-famous Uvac Canyon, the place the teal river curves backward and forward throughout the geographical region.

That could be really nice.

More at the Balkans:

Solo Female Travel in the Balkans: A Guide

What’s it love to go back and forth in Albania?

Magnificent North Macedonia Will Surprise You

The Ultimate Slovenia Road Trip Itinerary

Dubrovnik Survival Guide

Have you been to Serbia? What did you recall to mind it?

Traveling in Serbia — Takeaways from an Unexpected Trip