Affordable, compact and easy to get to, Serbia has all the practical elements of a family holiday covered.
But how does it match up to its more beachy Balkan neighbours when it comes to fun? It might not have sand and sea, but sun’s not an issue and rolling hills, lush countryside, lakes, rivers and a healthy scattering of interesting towns and villages more than make up for a lack of surf. And the cities are completely unique: Belgrade’s an energetic and live in the moment capital with more than enough happening on its brilliant waterfront to give seaside greats like Dubrovnick a run for their money; and Novi Sad in the north’s as well known for huge music festivals as graceful Austro-Hungarian architecture these days. Serbia’s not quite a secret, but it’s not quite discovered yet either, so go see for yourself, soon.
Direct flights to Belgrade from the UK all year round take less than three hours.
Landlocked Serbia doesn’t have seaside, but Belgrade’s Ada Ciganlija on the banks of the River Sava is not only a great city beach, it’s one with a Blue Flag.
Five national parks
Serbia has five national parks including Djerdap on the Romanian border and 20,000ha Tara National Park, famous for its bears.
Kopaonik ski resort
Kopaonik, Serbia’s southern ski resort, has 70km of runs, an extensive lift network and snow cover from December to May.
Many nature reserves
Serbia has over 60 nature reserves, four mountain ranges and almost 300 natural phenomena.
UNESCO World Heritage sites
There are five UNESCO World Heritage sites in Serbia including the 12th century Studenica Monastery in Kralijevo.
Danube Bike Trail
The 2800km Danube Bike Trail runs through both Belgrade and Novi Sad.
Where to go
The Serbian capital’s been invaded no less than 60 times in the past 1000 or more years. It was extensively bombed during WWII and suffered almost three months of NATO airstrikes in 1999. Astonishingly, most of the historic architecture, elegant streets, ancient monuments, churches, palaces and castles are still intact. In fact, if you didn’t know about the turbulent past, you’d think Belgrade was simply another charming European city set on the confluence of two great rivers where little else but peace had reigned for centuries.
The lively waterfront’s a brilliantly colourful spectacle on summer evenings with cafés, restaurants and bars stretching seemingly forever along the banks of the Danube.
A good city to explore on foot; stroll down pedestrianised Knez Mihailova in the old town for grand cafés, pretty shops and endless street artists; hipster Savamala’s where to take teens; and leave plenty of time for Skadarlija, Belgrade’s historic quarter.
Don’t miss: the beach at Ada Ciganlija; sailing on the Danube; Belgrade Fortress; Museum of Science and Technology; the views from 204m tall Avala Tower; Karađorđe Park; Tesla Museum; Košutnjak Forest; Saint Sava Temple.
Room rates in Belgrade are low compared to most European capitals. Best area for affordable four and five star hotels is Skadarlija in the historic city centre.
Novi Sad is Serbia’s second city, also on the banks of the Danube, and just over an hour’s drive north west of Belgrade. First impressions are of an elegant European with broad boulevards and grand squares overlooked by even grander 19th century buildings and studded with imposing monuments. But spend a few summer days in Novi Sad and you’ll be just as impressed by the friendly atmosphere, sunny beaches, lively cafés and restaurants, festivals, markets and family events.
In 2021 Novi Sad will be the first non-EU European Capital of Culture.
The city’s historic district spreads around pedestrianised Zmaj Jovina in the centre and is compact enough to explore entirely on foot.
Novi Sad has temperatures of 30˚ in July and August. Cool off on the Štrand Danube Beach, close to Freedom Bridge and minutes from the city centre.
Don’t miss: Dino Park; Danube Park; Fruška Gora; Vrdnik-Ravanica; Petrovaradin Fortress; Liberty Square; City Museum of Novi Stad; Fruška Gora National Park.
Look at Novi Stad city centre for inexpensive four and five star family hotels overlooking the Danube – the city’s always busy during July’s EXIT Festival.
What to do
Fruška Gora National Park
Just half an hour from Novi Sad, 22,000ha Fruška Gora has Europe’s largest Linden forest, well marked hiking trails and mountain bike rides.
White water rafting on the Lim, Drina or Ibar Rivers is one of Serbia’s top outdoor adventures.
Danube Cycling Tours
The Danube cycle route is almost 3000km in total and the Serbian stretch passes through some of the country’s most spectacular areas. The entire journey’s a challenge, but short, self-guided day trips are very doable with older kids.
Kapaonik National Park
120km² Kapaonik National Park is home to Serbia’s biggest ski resort with 70km of runs and snow-cover from December to May.
Tara National Park
Don’t let the bears put you off, this well managed park is one of the most accessible and visitor friendly in Serbia and the landscape’s spectacular.
Dino Park, Novi Stad
Fun playpark where young palaeontologists can dig for dinosaur fossils, visit the mini-zoo and watch movies in the 12D cinema.
Petroland Aquapark, Novi Sad
Serbia’s biggest waterpark, just 20 minutes from Novi Sad. Slides, chutes and rides, several swimming pools, splash play for younger kids and – best of all – beaches.
At 2000m², EPIK’s the biggest play zone in Serbia and includes a laser tag arena, trampoline park, mini-golf, adventure trails, basketball courts and football pitches. It also has a separate area for under 12s with a fun maze and heaps of creative games and activities.
One of Belgrade’s most imposing buildings, the fortress is in Kalmegdan Park home to Belgrade Zoo and a children’s funfair.
Novi Sad City Museum
This interesting museum is a good starting point for exploring historic Novi Sad. The collection’s filled with social ephemera, photography, local art and artefacts as well as background on the city’s impressive Petrovaradin Fortress.
Educational value for kids
Serbia’s many Orthodox Monasteries contain some of the country’s most remarkable works of art. Touring them all isn’t a fun-packed family holiday, but several are within easy distance of Novi Sad, surrounded by stunning countryside and are interesting for a browse with older kids – remember to cover legs and arms before going inside.
Visit the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade, the interactive exhibits are nicely done and the back story’s good to know.
Spend some time in the villages scattered across Serbia’s national parks, people are wonderfully welcoming.
Get to know Belgrade with a local on a free city walking tour, they last about two hours.
Landlocked Serbia borders eight other Balkan countries including Hungary, Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria.
Visit the Zepter Museum in Belgrade to see the fine collection of modern and contemporary Serbian art.
Spend an afternoon wandering around Belgrade’s Zemun district. It’s one of the city’s most traditionally Balkan areas and home to the Gardos Tower – climb to the top for an outstanding view of the Danube.
Getting around with kids in Serbia
Serbia’s city’s aren’t huge and walkability is part of their charm. If you get lost in either Belgrade or Novi Sad, remember the mighty Danube’s always a failsafe compass point. Bus and rail services operate across most of the country – trains are very basic and journeys can take quite a bit longer than scheduled. If you’re visiting national parks, touring towns and villages and travelling between cities, driving’s the best option. Roads are generally good, but signposting is often limited in rural areas and you need to keep an eye on winter weather reports.