The Serbian government have substantially relaxed their extremely rigid visa policy in May 2003, and so it became easy to travel to Serbia (before 2003 it was already possible to enter Montenegro without a visa). And I'm thankful for this opportunity - Serbia is a very rewarding destination. We've only made it to →Novi Sad and →Belgrade, and both places were very cosmopolitan and people were friendly, too. I've visited a second and third time two years later - which took me to →Novi Pazar in Southern Serbia, which was a completely different world, and to the Kosovo - mainly to →Prizren, where Serbs were facing a very tough time already - after the suffering of the Albanians ended. And if I get the chance, I'll visit Serbia again - a country full of contradictions but very nice people.
Since May 2003, many nationalities do not require a visa any longer. A passport which is still valid for several months upon arrival is all you need. The passport will be stamped and that's it. Welcome to Europe. At the border, we didn't trust the simplicity and asked whether it would be necessary to register with the police. The answer was 'no', but according to the border police we should collect the papers we'll get from hotel staff, confirming that we stayed there. However, no one asked for the paperwork when we left the country. Still it might be wise to not throw them away.
Ex-Yugoslavia had its own currency, but during the 1980ies, hyperinflation was plaguing the economy and the people. Later on, the Novi Dinar (New Dinar) was introduced. During the war, most people used the more stable Deutschmark.
|The new Serbian money|
Now, the new Нови Динар (Novi Dinar) is used, but not in Kosovo. The inflation rate is very low today. In 2003, the average rate was € 1 = 65 Dinar. There are 1, 2 and 5 Dinar coins. Banknotes come in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 etc. Dinar. The newest banknotes are slightly different - 'Narodna Banka Jugoslavija' (narodna = national) was replaced with 'Narodna Banka Srbije'. Since the currency is now freely convertible, there's no more black exchange market and no more unofficial street exchange rate. Just in case that anyone is trying to tell you something different - simply walk away.
Thanks to the liberal financial policy, first ATM's were set up in →Belgrade and by the time you read this probably in other cities as well. Serbian ATM's are European standard and accept all major credit cards as well as Cirrus and Maestro cards. When we were in Serbia, ATM's were very new and we were not sure about the exchange rate, so we better stuck to cash.
Attention: It's virtually impossible to exchange Serbian money outside Serbia. Neither exchange booths in →Hungary nor in the →Czech Republic accepted Dinar (which means that I'll have to go there again - with pleasure).
For travelers, Serbia is an inexpensive destination. Almost everything is much cheaper than let's say →Skopje or →Hungary. Despite the two-tiered price system, i.e. foreigners have to pay a considerably higher price for a hotel rooms, it's possible to stay in the capital for around € 10 (we've paid € 22 for a double with bathroom and incl. breakfast). In food stalls, it's possible to have a decent meal for € 1 or so. Bus and train tickets are relatively cheap as well. Of course, international train tickets, for example to Hungary, are substantially more expensive.
By bus, train, plane or car - everything is possible. And most nationalities (sorry, Aussies!) do not require a visa for the neighbouring countries. There are several direct flight connections from major airports in Europe to Belgrade. But Serbia will never be popular with holidaymakers, so there will never be any charter flights.
There are several long-distance buses, especially from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, running to Serbia. However, it's a gruelling journey with many stops at several border crossings. Nevertheless it's the cheapest way to get there - except for hitchhiking of course. There are also some buses to destinations in the neighbouring country, as for example to →Macedonia, →Bulgaria and →Bosnia-Hercegovina (for the latter the bus is the only option). It's possible to cross the border to Kosovo from Serbia - for more information see →Novi Pazar.
There are also some interesting train connections to Serbia. There are direct trains to Belgrade from →Sofia, →Zagreb, Thessaloniki (via →Skopje), →Budapest, Vienna, →Bucharest and also to Munich via →Ljubljana. The trip from Belgrade to Skopje takes around 9 ½, the fare is € 15. The ticket from →Novi Sad to Budapest costs € 30, the ride takes 6 hrs. There are also several trains from Belgrade to the Montenegrin coast. All of those trains pass Podgorica, the capital of →Montenegro, and terminate in →Bar. It's a very scenic trip that takes 8½ hours and costs around €15.
Serbia shares border crossings with →Montenegro, →Bulgaria, →Macedonia, →Croatia, →Bosnia-Hercegovina, →Hungary and →Romania. As far as I know, all border crossings can be used by foreign travelers, too. See →Novi Pazar to see how to get best to the Kosovo.
Food and drinks
Čevapčići and Pljeskavica, Razvnjići and Duveč - grilled meat has many names in Serbia. But it can be really tasty. Sometimes, the meat is fried with cheese or vegetables and served with bread, rice or fried potatoes. Salads are very common, too. In Middle Europe, 'Serbian Bean Stew' is famous dish - but I've never seen that in Serbia. As a matter of fact, Serbian cuisine is heavily influenced by Turkish and Hungarian food. Sweets are common, too, mostly resembling Turkish sweets, ie they are extremely sweet. There are also several Italian restaurants recently mushrooming everywhere. Anyway, traditional Serbian food is definitely worth a try.
Beer, coffee, wine, a local brandy called Vinjak and all the typical soft drinks are highly common and usually very cheap.