We love getting off the well-worn track of Europe’s major tourist hubs. We’ve found that the closest you’ll get to that “1970’s Backpacking in Europe Vibe,” is by venturing into cities in Eastern Europe that are just on the brink of tourism.
Niš is the third largest city in Serbia, and is just at the beginning stages of international tourism. It is quaint, safe, and walkable. After three days exploring this town, we developed a practical guide to help others get the most out of their stay here.
We typically stay in Airbnb units, however, currently not many apartments are listed. We were lucky to connect with Hotel Sole, a boutique accommodation near the heart of Niš. Service here is excellent! It was helpful to have kind, knowledgeable staff that assisted us in planning our day and provided transportation advice. We had the best sleep we’ve had in a long time with the high quality beds and linens. All rooms are modernly furnished and feature a cable TV, a minibar and a private bathroom with shower, hairdryer and free toiletries.The highlight? The complimentary morning breakfast spread and delicious cappuccinos! We recommend the traditional Serbian scrambled eggs.
Hotel Sole also had excellent wifi, which is unique for a hotel stay. In fact, using a speed test, it was the fastest speed we’d had in the Balkan region making it great for getting work done efficiently. These amenities make it our top choice for accommodations while in Niš.
🍽 Foodie Finds
Eating around Niš is cheap and easy. The city is loaded with bakeries, pizzerias, and fast food grills which prepare fresh bites. Unlike other cities we’ve explored, these local stands are clean and appetizing. One day we grabbed a huge piece of Burek for lunch at a local bakery, costing only $1 USD which fed both of us. Ice cream sundaes are around $1 USD. If you’re craving it, there’s even a McDonald’s in the city center.
Plenty of restaurants in Niš serve Balkan food, but if you’re looking for comfort food then the place to go is Crazy Horse Irish Pub. Now most Irish pubs are not known for their cuisine, but we dined here multiple times and each experience was great. They have a really unique and surprising menu with many dishes you normally wouldn’t find on a traditional Irish menu. Every time we visited it was packed with locals. This was our top foodie find for Niš.
This is where locals go for the best drinks and outside sports watching along the river. We tried other places along the river, such as Loco Cafe, but we were not pleased with our experience.
Top Must See Attractions
There are about 10 main sites to see while in Niš. If you want to experience them all on foot, you’ll need two days to visit. If you use local buses, costing from 60-80 ($0.50-0.70) Dinar per trip, you’ll probably see all the main attractions in one day. We toured on foot, and although it was a lot of walking, it was always on pleasant sidewalks or footpaths. Although some websites claim otherwise, signage is excellent and in English. In this post, we’ll briefly share why we enjoyed each attraction. You’ll want to learn and discover more on your own.
The Tvrdava Fortress
Why go? Enjoy walking the shady paths among archeological ruins. There are fun trams for kids. Walk the wall of the fortress and get a great view of the city, Nišava river, and Suva Planina off into the distance. There is no cost as it is a local park.
Niš Concentration Camp
Why go? Those interested in WWII history will want to take time to visit this camp. With few visitors, we enjoyed a phenomenal, 1:1 guided tour of the grounds by a local historian who was passionate about informing others on this significant part of history. This was Harry’s most memorable stop while touring Niš.
Skull Tower (Ćele Kula)
Why go? Harry and I really appreciate travel oddities and unique sites. This memorial is one of a kind and the history behind it’s origin is both fascinating and eerie.
Memorial Park Bubanj
Why go? History buffs or folks who want to take time to reflect on the estimated ten to fifteen thousand who were brutally murdered here will want to visit. It’s located approximately 2 miles from the city center. It was a long uphill walk to reach the monument which is located in a large, and now peaceful memorial park. It may be a good idea to take public transportation or a taxi on the way there and then walk back.
Why go? We visited as it was included in our 3-for-1 ticket. It was a good place to stop, cool down, and see some really old artifacts from 6000 BC! Watch our Niš vlog below for a good laugh at our reflections of the surprisingly way the artifacts are displayed.
💰 B$ Travel Tip – If you are planning on visiting the Skull Tower, Niš Concentration Camp, and the Archeological Hall, purchase one ticket for all three admissions. Price per person for 3 attractions? Only 200 dinar, or about $2 USD.
Why go? This cobblestone path was once an old craftsmen street. We visited during the day for ice coffees (which are really more like frappes in Serbia) to cool down at Pleasure Club, which is ranked as the number one restaurant I the city. (We didn’t eat there.) However, the street is more charming and has a lot more energy when night falls. If you want to experience Serbia’s cafe culture at its finest, head there in the evening for a stroll, dinner, or a drink. It’s definitely the hot spot of Niš.
There are also many cathedrals and monuments around the city. Mediana (an archeological Roman site) and Niška Banja Spa are slightly out of walking distance so we opted not to visit. You can access local bus number 1 or 10 in the direction toward Ćele Kula (Skull Tower) and it will get you there for 60-80 dinar. Ask a local or the bus driver to direct you to the correct stop.
At the time of our summer visit, Niš was swelteringly hot. We toured around exclaiming, “How do people cool off here?!” At the beginning of our train ride leaving Niš, we passed a very new waterpark! We wondered why we didn’t hear about this as it looked like an oasis in the summer heat. It’s called Akva Park Čair. You may also want to inquire about Green Paradise Pool located in Niška Banja Spa and Park.
Like many cities, Niš is offering a new service which pairs you up with a local from the city. These volunteers are excited to share their city with tourists. If you are looking for a guide, or maybe a new friend to spend the day with, this may be a good option for you. Cost is free, but we’re sure they would appreciate a tip for their time and knowledge shared.
After visiting Belgrade, we traveled by bus about 2.5 hours to Niš. We used Kanis Bus Company, which offered a more comfortable and nonstop experience than Niš Express. Cost was ~$1100 dinar (~$10 USD).
Leaving Niš, we took the train to Sofia. The cost per ticket was ~$10 USD. The taxi from our hotel to the train station cost 190 dinars ($1.70 USD). If you are following a similar route, we recommend that you take a bus rather than the train, see why in the video below.
It took us over 8 hours to reach Sofia by train! It was during the summer and the train car lacked air-conditioning. It was a hot ride. Instead, take a bus, not the train. Locals bus it (~2.5 hours), uninformed backpackers or people looking for an adventure take the slow and unreliable train (~5+ hours). Did we mention that you should take the bus and not the train?
Thank you to Sole Hotel for a most pleasant stay. The central location, comfortable beds, and amazing breakfast cuisine makes this our accommodation of choice when exploring Niš.