Serbia’s dreamy mountain slopes and long, winding rivers are an absolute gift to hikers, offering great swathes of unspoilt landscapes to explore on foot. There are trails to suit the hardiest of adventurers, with steep, rugged climbs and electrifying canyon scenery. For more easy-going walkers, there are gentle paths past monasteries, vineyards and waterfalls to discover.
No matter what your pace, the sights, sounds and scents of this country’s wonderful wilderness won’t be forgotten in a hurry.
1) Best for waterfalls: Babin Zub
Eastern Serbia’s Stara Planina mountain range is a favourite with in-the-know hikers, because, despite being dotted with beautiful waterfalls, cold streams and scenic villages, it remains largely undiscovered by tourists. Babin Zub, on the southwest side, is called ‘grandmother’s tooth’ because of the corroded surfaces of the rocks on the peak. It’s climbable during the spring and summer months (transforming into a ski resort in winter) and offers some of the best views of the mountain range.
2) Best for treks with a tale: Mount Rtanj
The swirl of myths and legends surrounding Mount Rtanj has been attracting visitors for decades – it’s been said to be an alien base, a pyramid disguised by forests and the home of a powerful wizard. The herbs growing on the mountain slopes are thought to have healing properties and are used to make the famous Rtanj tea, so take the chance to try a restorative cup while you’re here. There’s little shade to be found, so many hikers set off at midnight for an overnight walk that ends in glorious sunrise views at the summit.
3) Best for natural phenomena: The Vratna Gates
The Vratna Gates are an intriguing sight for trekkers in Eastern Serbia. Signposted forest trails lead uphill from the Vratna Monastery to three huge, naturally-formed stone arches. The first two, called Small Gate and Big Gate, are easy to reach, while the path to the third – Dry Gate – is far more challenging. Wild sheep and deer can often be seen on these routes, so keep your eyes peeled.
4) Best for a tough challenge: Svrljig Mountains
One of the most testing places to hike in Serbia is the Svrljig mountain range, with a decent level of fitness required for most trails. The pay-off is huge, though: blissful peace and quiet as you enjoy the endless open skies and sweeping forest scenery.
There are some routes that can be done in a single day’s excursion, but for more experienced hikers, there’s a wonderful long-distance route that takes around five days, taking in fortresses, springs and villages, camping overnight along the way.
5) Best for monastery visits: Ovčar-Kablar Gorge
The Ovčar-Kablar Gorge is a dramatically beautiful place to hike, with steep limestone cliffs stretching into the sky above the curving West Morava river. This peaceful part of the world is also known as Serbia’s Holy Mountain, as there are ten monasteries in the region, which make for welcome rest-stops on a leisurely day’s outing. There’s also a lovely spa in nearby village Ovčar Banja which offers massages, treatments and a restorative dip in thermal water pools.
6) Best for caving: Lazar’s Canyon
Eastern Serbia is home to the dizzying Lazar’s Canyon, the deepest and longest canyon in the country. There are countless routes to explore, ranging from easy to very challenging, so it’s a good idea to ask for advice before you set off.
A real highlight of any hike in this area is the chance to explore the ancient caves. There are over 200 near the village of Zlot, the largest of which is Lazar’s Cave at 9,407m long. Venture inside to explore the stretch that’s been made accessible to tourists, where you can visit a series of imposing cave halls dressed with giant stalagmites and stalactites.
7) Best for relaxing walks: Fruška Gora
Just over a half hour’s drive south from Novi Sad, the lush green hills and forest paths of Fruška Gora National Park are a popular choice for city folk in need of a soul-restoring walk in nature. The trails are well-marked and for the most part easy rather than strenuous.
Wine has been grown in this region since Roman times, and there are a number of pretty vineyards where you can make a stop and sample the produce. Try a taste of Bermet – sweet, strong and aromatic, it’s one of the best-regarded wines from this region.
8) Best for historic sights: Djerdap National Park
One of the prettiest stretches of the Danube runs through Djerdap National Park, and a stroll along the riverbanks is an easy and pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Continue the journey to view the famed Iron Gates – this gorge makes up part of the boundary between Serbia and Romania, with the river rushing between the Carpathian and Balkan Mountains.
The park also contains the fascinating archaeological site of Lepenski Vir, where prehistoric sculptures and remains dating back 8000 years are on display.