Serbia is a landlocked country on the Balkan Peninsula in Europe. What it lacks in coastlines, it makes up for in scenic rivers, mountains, and rich plains.
Serbia is famous for its capital city, Belgrade, and its national brandy, rakija. Serbia is also known for its nightlife, palaces, fortresses, and tennis player Novak Djokovic.
On top of that, there’s much to love about its locals. Serbians are a lively and laid-back bunch. Behind a tough exterior lies a creative and hospitable community that will gladly share their homeland with you.
If you’re considering visiting Serbia, read on! Here are some of the things Serbia is known and famous for.
Serbia is known for its capital city, Belgrade. In the local language, Beograd translates to “White fortress”. Its location where the Danube meets the Sava River made it an excellent route for travel in ancient times. It is one of the oldest cities as a result.
The Sava separates New Belgrade from the older region. New Belgrade was constructed in the Soviet era, which is reflected in its architecture. The older side is where most tourists spend their time.
Belgrade is a bustling city with a strong cafe and bar culture. Grab a seat at one of the many outdoor terraces, enjoy a coffee, and do some people-watching. Take a trip to the local markets to pick up some fresh produce or stumble upon some antiques at the flea market. At night, barhop around town or head to the well-known splavs.
Serbia is famous for its national brandy, rakija. This drink tastes like you’d expect- a strong spirit- but has undertones of whichever fruit it is was produced from.
Rakija can be made from any fruit including peach, fig, or quince. It is between 40-65% alcohol, with homebrewed generally being stronger than commercially produced. The most popular variety, Slivovica, is made from plums and known to pack a punch.
Although rakija is served in shot glasses, it’s perfectly normal to sip. Slowly savor this spirit of Serbia and don’t forget to say cheers, or živjeli!
A trip to Serbia would not be complete without visiting a local bakery. If you happen across a pèkara, don’t hesitate to go in and try one of the delicious pastries.
You can find bakeries on street corners of all major cities and towns. Pastries are a staple in the Serbian diet. Primetime is the morning, although some bakeries are open 24/7.
Serbia has many popular pastries. It is known for its pie-like gibanica. Gibanica is a phyllo dough pastry filled with egg and cheese. Burek is popular in the Balkans and made slightly differently depending on the region. My personal favorite, burek sa sirom, is filled with cheese.
Serbia is known for beer, or pivo. While Serbian beer is not widely distributed internationally, it’s very popular within its borders.
Pale lager dominates with some famous brands, including Jelen And Lav. Dark lagers are also enjoyed in smaller quantities.
Serbia also has a growing craft beer scene. The annual Belgrade Beer Festival showcases many local breweries and craft specialties.
Cevapi is a Balkan favorite and is widely consumed in Serbia. These seasoned meat links are made from ground beef, pork, lamb, or a blend. They are mixed and seasoned, formed with a funnel, and then grilled to perfection.
One is never enough, especially for a Balkan appetite. You might get five to ten links served on their own or in a flatbread. Side dishes include fresh, chopped onions, kajmak (a rich milk cream), and ajvar (an eggplant and pepper relish). Bon appetit!
6. Palaces & Fortresses
Serbia exemplifies a classic European country with medieval influences. Serbia is built around rivers and boasts many well-preserved castles and fortresses.
While many are simply tourist attractions, others have been repurposed. You can walk along the cobblestone streets and visit shops and restaurants within some castle walls.
Smederevo Fortress is one popular attraction. Although not as maintained as some other fortresses in the country, Smederevo holds a special place in Serbian history.
This massive fortress was built in the 15th century and was once the capital of Serbia in medieval times. With a beautiful view of the Danube, this fortress is a symbol of Serbian history before the Ottoman invasion.
Serbia is famous for its splavs, which directly translates to “raft” or “barge”. This word has taken on a whole new meaning here. Locals have capitalized on their riverfront real estate by turning boats into floating nightclubs, bars, or restaurants known as splavs.
Splav-season truly begins in spring as the weather heats up and everyone heads outdoors to party. These parties can go all night. Start with a late dinner in a floating restaurant followed by club-or splav-hopping along the river banks.
Some clubs definitely have a see-and-be-seen vibe. Many require a reservation which unimpressed bouncers will check before entry. So don’t forget to call ahead and dress to impress!
Serbia is known for kafanas. They started as coffee shops over 400 years ago but have since transformed into cultural institutions.
A bit like a casual pub, kafanas are a place of the people, and all types are welcome. Friends catch up over drinks. Students celebrate the end of exams. Families gather for some food and bonding.
It’s the type of place where you may start off getting to know the waiters and leave feeling like one big family.
Slava is a big holiday in Serbia. It is a day to gather all loved ones and celebrate the family’s patron saint.
Slava traditions vary depending on the family and their saint, but a few things remain the same. Boiled wheat and slava cake are staples. It is also customary to light a candle and let it burn all day.
Serbs are hospitable people, and you might be lucky enough to get invited to a family’s Slava. The formal Slava invitation is only extended once but lasts forever. It is assumed you will visit again for future celebrations.
10. Danube River
The Danube River has played an integral role in the history and culture of Serbia. The river runs through the country’s center and connects it to several other European neighbors.
The many fortresses and castles that dot its riverbanks tell a story of ancient times. Nowadays, you can also find river cruises, festivals, and splavs along its shores.
11. EXIT Festival
EXIT festival was started by students fighting for peace and freedom in Serbia. The first concerts took place in University Park in 2000.
It has since moved to the Petrovaradin Fortress in Novi Sad, where it continues today. This award-winning festival prides itself on creating social change through music and supports humanitarian and environmental causes.
12. Novak Djokovic
Serbia is known for Novak Djokovic. Djokovic was born in Belgrade and began playing tennis at 4. He began competing professionally around the age of 18. The world-renowned tennis player was ranked number 1 internationally for a record 361 weeks.
Especially considering the population, Serbia boasts a high number of tennis professionals. It is a popular sport among locals. Don’t be surprised to see the more traditional clay courts over hard-surfaced ones.
Serbia is one of the world’s top producers of raspberries. The heart of raspberry farming is in the small farming town of Arilje. Most of the income from exports flows back into this agricultural region and supports these rural communities.
Try some cakes or pastries topped with this sweet, tart fruit. Slatko is a thin raspberry preserve with delicious, whole fruit chunks and seeds. Spread it over a pancake, plop it on some ice cream, or go straight for the jar with a spoon.
If you’ve never tried it before, kvass is sure to be a new sensation for your taste buds. Kvass is a grain-based fermented beverage with a tangy flavor. It’s known for its nutritional properties as a probiotic.
Kvass has been around for centuries. It was a safe-to-drink staple during Soviet times when potable water wasn’t as available. Nowadays, a less nutritious but shelf-stable version is available at stores. Homebrewed versions don’t last as long but contain more health benefits.
The alcohol content is low enough to be treated as a non-alcoholic beverage and enjoyed by children and adults alike.
15. Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla was an ethnic Serb. He was born in part of the Austrian Empire, now modern-day Croatia. Whether he was a Serb or Croat sparks a lot of controversy in the Balkan region to this day. You can find statues and tributes to him in both countries.
However, what isn’t disputed is his creative genius and contribution to the scientific world. The engineer and physicist helped develop x-rays, remote controls, and alternating current. It’s no wonder Elon Musk named his car company after this historical figure.
Niš is a bustling university town. It’s also one of the oldest cities in Europe with the architecture to prove it.
You can visit the impressive 18th-century fortress or a Crveni Krst Concentration Camp memorial. If dark tourism is your thing, pass by Skull Tower. It was built by the Ottomans from the bones of decapitated Serbs.
For more light-hearted activities, check out Tinker’s Alley for local crafts or head to Niška Banja to soak in some hot springs.
While most European countries are bucking the trend, Serbians are holding on strong to the smoking habit. Cigarettes are cheap, easily accessible, and quite socially acceptable.
Some laws have limited indoor smoking, but many bars and cafes overlook these to accommodate guests. So don’t be surprised if you’re sitting at a “non-smoking” table right next to a very smokey group.
18. Serbian Language
Serbia is famous for its language. Serbian is a variety of Serbo-Croatian and is a Slavic language. The English words for vampire and pepper can find their roots in the Serbo-Croatian vampir and papar.
Serbia actively uses both the Cyrillic and the Latin alphabets. Almost all Serbians can read both.
Zlatibor is a mountainous region in western Serbia. It’s popular for outdoor sports and health tourism.
Make sure to stop at the quaint ethnographic village and walk past the scenic meadows on your hike. If you’re going the lazy route, Zlatibor also boasts the world’s longest panoramic gondola lift.
Serbia is known for wolves. The gray wolf is the national animal of Serbia and a symbol of strength and pride. It is often featured in writing and poetry from the country.
Serbia has a stable population of about 500 gray wolves despite the fact that it is still legal to hunt them.
The Serbian word for wolf, Vuk, is actually a common boy’s name in the country.
Serbia is a bit off the typical tourist radar. Most travelers opt for its more visited neighbors like Croatia or Montenegro.
However, this may be a blessing in disguise. The people and the country have held onto an authenticity that you don’t often find in touristy destinations. It has a local feel for a fraction of the price.
While it’s a safe country, it holds a sort of gritty charm that pulls you in. So if you find yourself drawn to Serbia, I would follow your instincts.