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Serbia’s third largest city of Niš is the undisputed center of activity in the country’s southern region, and those who elect to travel beyond Belgrade and Novi Sad are definitely rewarded. Niš is a place where you can still find vivid reminders of the difficult past right in the city streets. Centuries-old fortresses, war memorials, and museums make it an excellent destination for history buffs. That said, the city has enough delicious Balkan food, international music, and lush green spaces to appeal to all kinds of travelers. Here’s our list of the nine best things to do in Niš.
Thanks to the Turks who occupied the region back in the 18th century, today Niš lays claim to one of the world’s most stellar fortresses. Back in the day, the fortress was a multi-dimensional facility that housed an armory, a bathhouse, and a prison, all under one roof. Since then, it’s had a pretty tumultuous go throughout various world wars and occupations, but today it stands strong. It’s now a sprawling recreational area with restaurants, cafes, market stalls, and plenty of ancient winding cobblestone side streets that make for a perfect for exploring.
Nišville Jazz Festival
Piggybacking on the Niš Fortress, perhaps the venue’s most widely-known event is the Nišville Jazz Festival. For four days in the middle of August, the unassuming and historic city of Niš transforms into a place teeming with international musical talent. The festival is widely recognized as the best in the Balkans, and anyone who appreciates live music should consider planning their itinerary around this summer weekend.
After 300 years of brutal rule from the Ottoman Empire, the first Serbian uprising movement that took place from 1804 to 1813 planted the seeds for the eventual war for independence and the Serbian Revolution. However, change came slowly. In one of the battles, a strong Ottoman army of 40,000 overwhelmed 12,000 Serbian revolutionaries, decapitated their heads, and had them built into a roadside tower. Only about 50 skulls of the original 1,000 still remain in what’s known as the Skull Tower. It’s worth visiting for a sobering experience about Niš’ tragic history.
The bohemian part of Niš is Kazandžijsko sokatče, which means “Tinkers Alley” or “Coppersmith Alley.” Located right in the heart of the old town, this strip used to be lined with craft workshops and all kinds of industrious vendors. Today, the blacksmiths have handed over their keys to restaurant and cafe owners, so it’s more of a restaurant hub than anything else. It’s still one of the best spots in the city, and en route you’ll definitely find some trinkets and souvenirs to take home.
Visit the Concentration Camps
Unfortunately, Niš’ had a dark time during the Second World War. In 1941, the city became home to the Niš Concentration Camp (Crveni Krst concentration camp), which the Germans nicknamed the “Red Cross Concentration Camp.” Throughout the war, the camp held 30,000 people, 12,000 of which were executed. These days, it’s a national memorial museum and visitors are able to learn about the disturbing history of one of the larger Nazi camps in Europe.
After the war ended, a memorial was constructed nearby to honor the inmates that died in the concentration camp. The Bubanj Memorial Park’s most striking feature is the three massive fists — a man’s, a woman’s, and a child’s.
Mediana is located on the eastern outskirts of Niš, and is what remains of Constantine the Great’s luxurious 4th-century Roman Palace. As one of the most important Roman emperors ever, this is a must-visit for all history buffs. The best part is there is still an ongoing excavation project with recent digs revealing a palace, a forum, a church, and a grain-storage area. Note: ruins are closed until reopening in 2019, so be sure to check before making plans.
For another way to walk down memory lane, stroll into the Archeological Hall of Niš National Museum. It’s located right in town and makes for an easy morning or afternoon activity. Here, you’ll find extremely well-preserved historical finds like millennia-old clay figures, statues, and currency from Medieval eras.
Just about six miles southeast of the city is the lush and comfortable neighborhood of Niška Banja. It’s home to five natural hot springs, and artifacts from the region date back to Neolithic civilizations over 3,000 years old. Once the Romans found out there was a place to bathe, there was no stopping them — they went ahead and built an ancient resort with pools, mosaics, and lounge areas. Visitors can now take a dip in the water (which is usually around 98 degrees), and give themselves a mineral-rich mud bath. For some relaxation closer to home, why not pay a visit to the 7 Best Hot Springs in the U.S?
Eat Traditional Food
While in town, you’ll need to eat, so be sure to dive into the most authentic Serbian delicacies. Kafanas are typical Balkan taverns where you’ll be treated with a multi-course meal and live music. Order a rakija, a powerful fruit brandy and Serbia’s national drink, and Burek for dessert, a phyllo dough pastry filled with cheese. If delicious phyllo dough is your guilty pleasure, these 7 Scrumptious Greek Desserts are no stranger to flaky treat.