13 Things to be aware of when backpacking and hitch-hiking in Serbia
1) Hassle free – but beware the Kosovo stamp problem
Warning! There have been stories of people being refused entry to Serbia on the grounds that they have a Kosovo stamp in their passport, and do not have a Serbian exit stamp. The reason being that the Serb authorities view you as having entered Serbian territory illegally when you crossed into, what they consider to be, a region of Serbia. To avoid this problem either visit Serbia first or ask the Kosovan border control not to stamp your passport upon entry (we have done that and there were no problems upon exit).
ⓐ No visa – 90 days
EU citizens and citizens of the following countries do not requite a visa to enter for up to 90 days:
Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Cuba, Holy See, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Macau, Macedonia, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Norway, New Zealand, San Marino, Seychelles Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Tunisia, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United States, Uruguay
ⓑ No visa – 30/15 days
Citizens of the following countries do not requite a visa to enter for up to 30 days:
Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine
Citizens of Hong Kong can enter visa free but only for 15 days
ⓒ Visa free – but only for business
Citizens of China can only enter the country visa free, with passports endorsed as ‘business’
ⓓ All other nationals apply within
Food & Drink
2) What cuisine to expect
Like in all the Balkans meat is king, especially the grilled variety and life is particularly tough for the vegetarian traveller. Influences have sneaked in, mainly from Turkey with a dash of Austro-Hungarian, so while local favourites ćevapčići (small rolls of mixed minced meat) and the greasy burek (stuffed pastry) can be found on every street corner, there are also a number of unique dishes to try. Pljeskavica, which is considered the national dish and reminiscent of a hamburger, whilst the stomach punching karađorđe šnicla (rolled veal stuffed with cheese and covered in breadcrumbs) are all waiting to be tried. And, for soup lovers čorba (a thick meat or fish soup) is a nice treat.
3) When and where to eat?
Most people in Serbia eat 3 meals a day: breakfast, lunch and dinner – with breakfast being a relatively new cultural addition and eaten very early, if at all. The main meal is at lunch, which is usually consumed mid-afternoon and is often home-cooked. In Belgrade, and the larger cities, a wide range of national and international cuisine is available as well as local and multinational fast food chains, while in smaller towns options are a little more limited. Eateries are usually divided between restaurants and taverns (kafanas), with the latter tending to focus more on national dishes, and the décor a little more traditional.
4) Cheap eats
Food in Serbia tends to be reasonably priced but for those on a strict budget a couple of staple ‘Serbian fast food’ options will leave your belly full without emptying your wallet. Burek, the greasy stuffed pastry so common in all the Balkans, makes a filling snack, particularly popular are the versions with cheese (sa sirom) and meat (sa mesom). Another Balkan standard čevapčići is often sold as street food, alongside the more traditionally Serbian pljeskavica, and also provides a filling meal for a fraction of the price you would pay in a more upmarket restaurant.
5) What to drink?
You are never far from the smell of coffee (kafa) in Serbia, although there has been a marked move from the Turkish variety to more typical western methods in recent years. Local beers to try include Lav and Jelen which are drinkable and come a lot cheaper than the overpriced wine. The national drinks of Serbia, rakia (fruit brandy) and slivovitsa (plum brandy), are common place and if you spend enough time out on the road you are sure to be offered some. They range from lethal to almost nice so go slow if you don’t want to suffer the next day.
6) What are the budget sleeping options?
The budget traveller will soon find that accommodation options in Serbia are more limited than in the rest of the Balkans. Really cheap private accommodation is a lot harder to find, with the tradition of sleeping in people’s houses a lot less developed than in Croatia or Macedonia for example. Your best bet are dorm-style hostels (10–20€) which are common in the larger cities, and offer the cheapest, paid for bed options.
Hotels tend to be of the crumbling soviet type, with poor service, basic facilities and overpriced rooms and are best avoided if at all possible. Organised camp-sites are rare, but wild camping is doable, as long as you stay off the main roads.
7) Colder in the north + hot summers and cold winters
Serbia can be broadly divided into two climatic zones: in the north, a more pronounced continental climate is present, which means cold winters and hot, humid summers, and in the south, a more Adriatic climate, with hot, dry summers and autumns and relatively cold winters with heavy snowfall inland (esp. in Belgrade, Novi Sad). There are however, other factors, including differences in elevation, proximity to the Adriatic Sea and large river basins, which also effect the micro-climate of certain areas.
As a general rule, autumn in hotter than spring and the coldest month is January with average temperatures ranging from -6°C in the mountains and 0°C on flatter ground. The warmest month, July, enjoys average temperatures ranging from 11°C to 22°C depending on the elevation and how far north/south you are. Rainfall is present all year around, so in summer we recommend lightweight clothes but also a raincoat, while in the winter thicker clothing and a heavier duty raincoat.
Transport & Hitch-hiking
8) Travelling long distances – buses not trains
As always, we here at HitchHikersHandbook.com would recommend the easiest and most interesting way to get around – hitchhiking, but if you need a break from this intensive form of travel, then what are your options in Serbia?
Well, generally speaking, buses are much more convenient, and a generally cheaper way of moving around Serbia. You can check out a detailed schedule search here.
Trains do exist, with lines from Belgrade-Novi Sad and a scenic route from Subotica-Bar (Montenegro), but they are slow, often uncomfortable and frequently delayed. In smaller towns there might not even be a train timetable available, so unless you can communicate in Serbian (or any other Slavic language), finding the right train and hour might be difficult. You can find an English language schedule website here.
9) Hitchhiking – easier in the north, harder south of Belgrade and never at night
Hitchhiking in Serbia was a very mixed experience for us, with occasional long waiting times contrasted with long rides directly to our destination. It is much more difficult heading south of Belgrade and even more difficult if you are planning on crossing the border to Kosovo or Macedonia. It is, however, easier in the north of the country, especially in the autonomous community of Vojvodina
Furthermore, there are a few things to keep in mind that will help you along the road in Serbia. Firstly, avoid hitch-hiking at night, street lighting is a big problem outside the big cities and drivers are very cautious about picking up so late. Motorway junctions are normally a fair way outside the city they service, so try and avoid being dropped off directly off the motorway and lastly, toll roads are your friend and it is quite common to see a hitchhiker using these points to score lifts.
Culture & Traditions
10) Politeness & holding your drink
Being polite costs nothing and makes everyone feel a bit better so remember to say molim (please/you’re welcome/could you please repeat that?) a lot. In fact, Serbian, like all Slavic languages, has a formal and informal you (Vi and Ti), so if you are going to try a bit of the local tongue, address people you don’t know in the more formal manner. When toasting (with rakia normally) it is important to look people in the eyes, and also not to show that you are drunk: as it is a sign of bad taste and a lack of moral fibre.
11) What to speak: English with the young, phrasebook elsewhere
Serbian, is the official language of Serbia and neighbouring Montenegro, and also an official language in Bosnia & Kosovo. In reality, it is almost identical to Croatian & Bosnian, with only some minor vocabulary and pronunciation differences, but differs in the fact that it is written in both Latin and Cyrillic script.
Serbian is spoken by the overwhelming majority of the country except: in the north, where enclaves of Hungarian exist, and in the south, where Albanian and a few Bulgarian speakers are present. English is common amongst the young, especially in the big cities where you may also find speakers of the major western European languages too. Out in the villages, however, things are a little different. Slavic language speakers will be able to pick up a few words at least and if nothing helps, drink rakia!
Money & Costs
12) One of Europe’s cheaper destinations, just not in Belgrade
Serbian dinar (RSD or unofficially din.) is divided into denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000, 2000 and 5000 notes and 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 coins and is the only official legal tender in the country. Some places will accept Euro but the price is usually inflated so it is better to pay with the local currency. Prices are cheap when compared to Western Europe, a little cheaper against Slovenia and Croatia and about the same as the other Balkan states, although the capital Belgrade is far more expensive than the rest of the country.
13) The great unspeakable conversation
When Kosovo declared independence 2008, the reaction in Serbia was one of horror. The lands of Kosovo, are to Serbians, the very cradle of their history and culture and the dissection of its territory by newly arrived Albanians seemed an affront too far. On no account should you declare any private held support about Kosovan independence as it will only lead to arguments. The support of the US & Britain for this cause, allied with the NATO bombings in 1999 has further stirred some resentment towards the west but you are unlikely to be affected on a personal level. The days of Yugoslavian Serbia will not offend so ask all the questions you please.
Written by: Jon