Serbia was a complete mystery. I normally try to venture out of the capital city of each country, but my knowledge was limited to Belgrade. I decided to stay no more than a week. Once again I underestimated the hidden gems of Europe, and I couldn’t be happier that I chose to jump into that unknown. Belgrade was, to put it simply, amazing and I stayed at the Hedonist Hostel, easily one of the best hostels I encountered on my travels. The staff were so friendly and helpful and the rooms were spacious with private curtains, shelves, lamps and huge lockers. The atmosphere of the courtyard made each night exciting and made it easy to meet new people with its family barbecues, crepes for dinner and movie nights. A fantastic location in the city centre and only $AUD17-$20 (€12-€14) a night for a cosy bed in a mixed dorm.
During the summer you’ll be able to experience the ‘floating clubs’, where most of the city’s famous clubs and bars head out onto the river to create a whole strip of nightlife on the water. Some can be a little harder for tourists to get into, but make friends with the locals and they’ll usually let you straight in. If you do venture out for dinner one night, head to the bohemian quarter at least once to soak up the evening atmosphere. The whole street comes alive with laughter, live music and the smell of local cuisine.
If you’re looking for a chilled night, try casual drinks in the student park. It’s filled with young people and there’s always something going on: performances by local bands, Serbian films playing on a projector, young people all over the place and plenty of drinks and other ‘substances’ being shared around.
The local Serbian food is filling and delicious. Walk around until you find a quirky café or restaurants filled with locals – avoid the tourist hot spots. At local restaurants the food is so much more authentic and larger portions are served.
The best part about a new city, especially in summer, is that you can walk around for hours and find different areas that you wouldn’t normally think to explore if you had been holding a map. Belgrade is great for that: finding the countless little arts and crafts markets, the fair in the park, the interesting and lively bohemian quarter, live music on the streets and even walking by the zoo.
Like every other major European city, Belgrade offers a range of free walking tours. For the budget-conscious traveller, these tours highlight the main sights of the city and are great for making new friends from different hostels. On the Belgrade free walking tour you will be taken to places like the Republic Square, Bohemian quarter, Green Market, Silicon Valley, Kalemegdan park, the Belgrade fortress and underground as well as many more whilst learning about the history of Serbia.
If you’re a market fend like me you will fall in love with the Green Market! Put aside an entire afternoon for strolling around the different aisles stocking everything – fruit and vegetables, pottery, plants, clothing and knick knacks. If you are planning a big night out, buy some local homemade Rakia from some of the stall owners. Don’t be alarmed when they pour it into a plastic Pepsi or Sprite bottle, just embrace the humour and hand over your €3-€5
After a week in Belgrade I was ready to leave and when I let the girls at the hostel know I wouldn’t be staying another night, they assumed that I was leaving for EXIT festival. It was just my luck that the festival was in two days’ time in another Serbian city, Novi Sad. For those of you who love festival hopping, EXIT is a whole other world. The festival takes place in an old fortress with 44 stages and is considered a five ‘night’ festival, with the first act at 9:30 p.m. and the last around 6:00 a.m.
The tickets are cheap and the food and drinks even cheaper; they only still make money because it is absolutely mental and so popular. The 2013 festival featured artists such as Atoms for Peace, Snoop Lion, Bloc Party, Fatboy Slim, Seth Troxler, Dubfire, DJ Fresh, The Prodigy, Feed Me, Steve Angello, David Guetta, Chase & Status, Rudimental and many more.
I love camping and try to do it as much as possible during Australian summer, but the camping at EXIT has changed in recent years. It used to be down by the man-made beach so when it hit above 40 degrees in the late morning you could head straight to the water, though now it’s been moved to a football oval with no trees for shade. Because the tickets are so extremely cheap, staying at a hostel or gathering a group to rent an apartment won’t bust the budget, but make sure you book in advance. I stayed at Hostel Rookies for $AUD16-$17 (€11-€12), which was small yet the perfect space to recover after a hectic evening spent at the festival. Unfortunately it didn’t include a kitchen or any meals, so I would suggest that if you’re thinking of booking a bed instead of camping, find another hostel with more facilities such as Hostel Sova, which is also a small hostel but with a few more facilities and around the same price.
Getting to and from Serbia is made out to be more complicate than it really is. With many of the transport services coming in and out of Serbia you can’t book them online, so it’s easier to show up to the local bus or train station to find out timetables and prices – they’re never overly expensive even in the peak seasons.
Sofia, Bulgaria to Belgrade: €25 with Florentia Bus. Timisoara, Romania to Belgrade: There is no direct route so the best possible journey is to take the very short train ride from Timisoara to Vršac (a Serbian city near the boarder) and then train from Vršac to Belgrade for €11. Sarajevo, Bosnia to Belgrade and Sarajevo, Bosnia to Novi Sad: There are many different bus companies that take both these particular routes and many can’t be booked online as mentioned above, so the best thing to do is to buy directly from the bus station in the city centre. Bar, Montenegro to Belgrade: The easiest and most inexpensive way to travel from Montenegro to Serbia and is taking the overnight train for €24.
Serbia was a pleasant surprise for me: the cities, the other travellers and the locals were absolutely amazing. Everyone was so friendly and helpful and though some people say parts of Eastern Europe can be a dangerous for a solo female traveller, I had a blast and never felt unsafe strolling around the streets on my own – even in the wee hours of the morning. If you have the chance to explore some of the smaller cities, please do and take advantage of the local hospitality!