Serbian culture is rich and varied: a unique hybrid that is westward-looking but with echoes of an Ottoman past.

Laurence Mitchell author of Serbia: The Bradt Guide

With a long and colourful history that stretches back as far as the early medieval period, and indeed to the Roman occupation long before that, Serbian culture is rich and varied: a unique hybrid that is westward-looking but with echoes of an Ottoman past.

The long period of Turkish rule has left its mark on the food, music and language of the country, as have influences from Austria and Hungary to the north. While a Habsburg city like Novi Sad, a place resolutely part of the central European milieu, lies just an hour’s drive north of Belgrade, travelling to the south of the country brings the visitor to very different places like Novi Pazar, where the Turkish influence remains strong and the skyline bristles with minarets.

Belgrade itself, the largest city in the region, may not be the most elegant of capitals, but it has a vitality undiminished by its years of isolation. These days, it is a vibrant, sophisticated city where tradition and modernity comfortably coexist – a dynamic capital with museums, galleries and nightlife equal to anywhere in the region. Smaller university cities like Novi Sad and Niš have their own individual appeal too, as do many of Serbia’s smaller country towns.

In a landscape punctuated by river valleys, gorges and rolling hills, nature lovers are well provided for. National parks such as Mount Tara in the west, Fruška Gora in the north and Đerdap Gorge in the east are ideally situated for outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling and birdwatching, while Zlatibor and the southern mountain resort of Kopaonik offer winter skiing.

Thankfully, Serbia’s bad-boy image and demonised reputation are now seen as a thing of the past. Even a casual observation reveals a country keen to take its rightful place in wider European society. In 2011, following the country’s placement on the White Schengen List, Serbians were finally allowed visa-free travel inside the EU bloc. For the first time in decades – since they were all ‘Yugoslavs’ in fact – Serbians were able to freely travel to the countries that surrounded them. The year 2012 brought further progress when the country was awarded full EU candidate status. As things stand, the country is expected to complete negotiations by 2024 and join the EU by 2025.

It cannot be denied that things are definitely looking up for Serbia these days, so don’t delay: get there as soon as you can.

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