What To Expect On Your First Trip To Serbia

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Post author SJ

Written by our local expert SJ

Sarah-Jane has lived in Croatia for 10+ years. SJ, as she is known, has been traveling the Balkans & beyond since 2000. She now shares her passion for traveling with her husband & kids.

While Serbia might not be the first destination that comes to mind for many travelers, those who visit often leave with fantastic stories and positive impressions, with many choosing to return. Serbian nightlife is vibrant and unique, offering experiences you won’t find elsewhere, even within the region.

The prices are affordable, and the locals are exceptionally hospitable. Beyond the bustling capital of Belgrade, you’ll find a country that’s not overpopulated and brimming with diverse attractions, whether you’re a fan of nature, history, or culture.

If you’re considering a trip to Serbia for the first time, here are the top four things you can expect.

1. Some Services Will Be Unavailable

Balkan Flags_Serbia 2

While Serbia is a Westernized European country, some services will be unexpectedly absent. For instance, while you have the majority of streaming services (you can subscribe to Disney+, Max, and Netflix in Serbia), you won’t be able to use Hulu.

Now, in 2024, the majority of shows that are available on Hulu are also available on Disney+, but you can also find which VPN app providers have to offer the most and download them. With a VPN, you won’t have any issues accessing geo-restricted content.

If you’re a gamer, especially a portable gamer who always carries around their Nintendo Switch, you’ll find that, in Serbia, there’s no Nintendo store. This means that you won’t be able to buy games online, only get physical copies (and there are stores in Serbia selling games for Switch).

However, this is not as big of a problem and usually won’t even require a VPN. You see, all it takes is for your account to be registered with a country that supports Nintendo Store. You don’t need to verify it via GPS or anything. In other words, this is only a problem if you buy Switch in Serbia (for which there’s no reason since tech is outlandishly expensive there) and decide to register your account in Serbia. Even then, you’re always allowed just to lie and pick a random other country.

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2. Etiquette When Visiting One’s Home

A group of shoes on the Turkish floor, reflecting the vibrant traditions and customs of Turkey of removing shoes before entering.

On your trip to Serbia, you’ll quickly find that the place is very hospitable, and Serbians pride themselves on being great hosts. So, if you meet a Serbian and chat with them long enough, chances are that they’ll invite you to visit them at home.

Now, while Serbians are technically Europeans, the truth is that their culture is a mix of Eastern, Oriental, and European influences. So, the customs and etiquette might be a bit less known, and you might suffer a bit of a culture shock unless you know what to expect.

For instance, you’re supposed to take your shoes off when you visit a Serbian home. The host will try to confuse you by telling you that you don’t have to take your shoes off, and while obliging won’t be seen as rude, taking them off anyhow will be seen as a huge plus. Also… when they offer you slippers, you’re supposed to take them.

Coffee is a national beverage in Serbia and, alongside chocolates or wine, it’s what you’re supposed to bring the first time you come to visit them. You’ll be offered a coffee, and you need to understand that the default coffee in Serbia is black (usually referred to as domestic or Turkish coffee). If you are offered tea, you need to keep in mind that the “default” tea in Serbia is either mint tea or chamomile tea. This is what almost every host will have in their cupboard.

Lastly, when you head home, start heading out a bit earlier since chatter while heading out (on foot next to the exit door or right outside) takes approximately 20 minutes more.

3. The Food Is Out Of This World

Weird food in Croatia. Slices of bread spread with lard and sprinkled with paprika, accompanied by onion and tomato slices on a wooden board - Kruh, Mast i Paprika (Bread, Lard, And Paprika)

The most common type of meat in Serbia is pork, and this is usually what you’re getting unless the menu specifically states otherwise. Most Serbian specialties are made with pork, and other forms of meat are merely variations of the main dish.

Barbeque is what Serbians are particularly proud of, and the best BBQ region in the country is in the south-east. The surroundings of Leskovac are the most famous BBQ region in the country, and many fast-food joints around the country claim to be from here, mostly for marketing reasons. It’s the equivalent of opening up a pizza place and claiming that you are from Naples.

The most likely things you’ll get on an average BBQ platter are some cevapi (minced beef lumps), pork sausages, bacon, and some beef patties. The most common side dishes you’ll get with it are diced onions and kajmak (something between butter and cottage cheese).

Burek is another thing you must try in Serbia. Now, in neighboring Bosnia, you can get into a fight if you imply that you want to try a cheese burek. In Bosnia, burek always contains meat. In Vojvodina, Serbia’s northern region, the default burek is made with cheese. We just listed this as a curiosity, seeing as how Serbians are not really burek purists and won’t correct you or get into heated arguments about it.

Karadjordje’s schnitzel is a Serbian breaded cutlet dish named after Serbian revolutionary Karadjordje (the Serbian equivalent of George Washington). The dish consists of a rolled veal or pork steak stuffed with kajmak and ham, later to be breaded and fried.

Our general recommendation is that you try Serbian cuisine as much as you can.

4. Tipping, Charity, And Splitting The Bill

Balkan Flags_Serbia 1

First of all, you need to understand that tipping is really not a part of Serbian cultural heritage. It’s appreciated, and you should do it when you can; however, not tipping is not frowned upon in Serbia. Giving a tip is a nice bonus, but it’s not a rule, and you won’t get side-eyed for not doing so.

Sure, the waiting staff may expect it from an affluent foreign tourist who just spent ⅓ of their monthly salary on a single restaurant bill; however, even if you don’t do it, there are no repercussions. People at the next table won’t be surprised or think less of you if you don’t tip.

Charity is a bit of a touchy subject, and, in some scenarios, it can even be seen as insulting. This is really surprising, especially in a country where bribery is so culturally accepted that it’s almost considered a norm. The term is never bribery thought; it has a far more positive connotation (like treating or bequeathing).

Splitting a bill is really rare in Serbia. Usually, it’s one person’s treat, and it’s not uncommon to have a long argument about who’s going to pay the bill. The “winner” is the one who eventually gets to pay.

A First-Time Visit Will Be A Culture Shock Either Way

Just remember that even with these four tips in mind, there’s far more than can fit any list. A first-time visit will be a culture shock either way, and you’ll discover many other unexpected customs, some good and others bad. Just make sure that you are open for new experiences and ready to embrace this adventure head-on.

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