Serbia is a country on southeast Europe’s Balkan peninsula with vast northern plateaus and mountains with ski resorts to the south. Capital city Belgrade is home to Communist-era architecture and Kalemegdan Park, site of an ancient fortress held successively by the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires. Floating nightclubs on the Danube and Sava rivers are a distinctive part of the city’s nightlife.
Population: 8.3 million
Total Area: 77,474 square kilometers
Official Language: Serbian, and uses both Cyrillic and Latin script. Some Hungarian and Albanian also spoken in the north.
Religions: Majority Eastern Orthodox Serbs, with a Muslim ethnic Albanian minority, a Muslim ethnic Slavic minority in the Raska region of the southwest and a small Jewish community.
Borders with: Bulgaria, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Hungary and Romania
Located on a major route between Turkey in the Middle East and Europe, Serbia (Srbija) has a long and complex history spanning thousands of years and countless foreign invasions. The Illyrians were supplanted by the Celts in 4th century BC, followed by the arrival of the Romans a century later, then the Slavs occupied much of the Balkan Peninsula in the 6th century AD. The Serbian Kingdom achieved a short lived independence from Byzantium in 1217 but the Turks arrived in the 14th century and settled for the next 500 years. The Ottoman Empire began to decay in the 19th century and the Serbian Kingdom joined Greece, Bulgaria and Montenegro in attempting to repel the Turks from Macedonia in the First Balkan War of 1912. Macedonia was divided up among the victors but the former allies began quarrelling over the territory resulting in the Second Balkan War of 1913, after which Serbia gained some of north and central Macedonia and the Kosovo region, while Albania became an independent state. After the assassination of Austrian Archduke Francis Ferdinand in 1914 by a Serb nationalist in Sarajevo, Serbia was invaded and World War I began. In 1918 Croatia and Slovenia joined the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes and the group of nations was renamed Yugoslavia in 1929.
In 1941 Yugoslavia joined the fascists but the people overthrew the leaders in a military coup and the country abruptly withdrew from the alliance. Hitler invaded, sliced up the country and handed parts to Germany, Italy, Hungary and Bulgaria. In 1945 the communist party came to power under Josip Broz Tito. The monarchy was abolished and and Yugoslavia became a federal republic, while Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia were granted republic status. Tito broke with Stalin in 1948 and Yugoslavia became non-aligned.
Slobodan Milosevic became president in 1989 and revealed an ambition to reunite Yugoslavia with Croatia and Slovenia and under Milosevic’s leadership, Serbia led various military campaigns to unite ethnic Serbs in neighboring republics into a “Greater Serbia.” In 1991, Croatia, Slovenia, and Macedonia declared independence, followed by Bosnia in 1992. The remaining republics of Serbia and Montenegro declared a new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) which was ousted from the UN the same year. Bloody battles ensued against the Serb-controlled Yugoslav army before UN declared a cease fire. A Yugoslav-Croat peace treaty was signed in 1995 and Bosnia-Herzegovina was divided between Serbs and Croat-Muslims. After Milosovic revoked Albanian autonomy in Kosovo, the Albanian majority rebelled and the federal army responded brutally by killing hundreds of people in 1998, while thousands more were forced to flee as refugees. International arms embargos were implemented but to little avail and Belgrade was bombed by NATO in 1999 followed by the Serbs withdrawing from Kosovo that June. Over the next two years Milosevic attempted to hold onto power by holding democratic elections but manipulated the electoral process and in October 2000 mass protests and national strikes saw his presidency come to an end. Milosevic was arrested in 2001 and sent to be tried in The Hague for crimes against humanity but died in prison in 2006 before his trial ended. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was dissolved on 4 February 2003 and the state of Serbia and Montenegro was established. In 2006 Montenegro exercised its right to leave the union and become an independent state. Two days later Serbia declared itself a successor state and three months later had its own constitution. In 2008 Kosovo declared itself independent of Serbia but although Serbia was powerless to stop it, it does not acknowledge the succession.
Geography and weather
Serbia is land locked bordering Hungary to the north, Romania to the northeast, Bulgaria to the southeast, Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania to the south, Montenegro to the southwest, Bosnia & Herzegovina to the west and Croatia to the northwest. Northern Serbia is dominated by the flat, fertile farmland of the Danube delta and Tisa valleys. The scenery varies from rich Alpine valleys, vast fertile plains and rolling green hills to bare, rocky gorges as much as 1,140 meters deep, thick forests and gaunt limestone mountain regions. Belgrade, the capital, lies at the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers. Serbia has a mild continental climate with cold winters and warm summers. The best time to visit is from May to September.
A valid passport is required for entry. Visas are currently not required for most nationalities. However visa regulations change frequently so it is important you consult with the embassy prior to travelling to ensure you have the correct visas. In some cases you will be crossing the borders on overnight trains and without the correct visa for your nationality you will not be allowed to enter the country and will be asked to leave the train. It is the responsibility of the traveler to obtain all correct visas needed prior to departure.
The monetary unit in Serbia is the Serbian dinar (RSD).
Changing money, credit cards & ATMs
Most major currencies can be exchanged at banks and bureau de change but the euro is favored and the pound sterling is rarely used. You should use official exchange services only. There are several money-exchange machines in Belgrade (as well as one at the airport), which accept pounds sterling, US dollars and euros, giving back Dinars.
The most widely accepted credit cards are Visa and Mastercard. Diners Club and American Express are not so widely accepted. ATMs are becoming more common in towns. Traveller’s cheques often prove to be a lot of hassle so an alternative should be used.