Internationally, Serbia is probably best known for its historic capital city, tennis legend Novak Djokovic, rakija, and unfortunate conflicts with neighboring countries. A closer look at the Balkan country reveals expansive and beautiful nature, a long and complex history, vibrant nightlife, and rich culture.
While many people may know that Serbia is located in the Balkans, its exact location can be hard to pin down. It borders eight other countries, and this isn’t easy to visualize. In this post, we’ll take a look at a political map of Serbia as well as explore some of the features that make up this country.
Where is Serbia?
Serbia is located in the central part of the Balkan Peninsula in Southeastern Europe. It borders Hungary to the north; Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro to the west; North Macedonia and Kosovo to the south; and Romania and Bulgaria to the east.
Serbia’s landlocked location at a crossroads between east and west has given it geographic importance for thousands of years.
In the political map of Serbia below, the capital city of Belgrade is shown in bold, as are many other cities, major rivers, and international borders.
Region and Bordering Countries
The region that Serbia occupies can variously be described as Central Europe, Southeastern Europe, and the Balkans. There are geographic and cultural elements of each region that are present in Serbia, and this adds to the country’s unique identity.
Politically, the Balkan region has a tumultuous history. Territorial and ethnic conflicts have led to wars and border changes over the years. One result of this can be seen in the irregular status of Kosovo. Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as an independent nation, instead claiming that its borders extend to Albania. Kosovo and 119 other nations recognize it as an independent state.
There is also a strong cultural link between countries in the region, and many ethnic Serbs live in neighboring countries like Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo.
The largest city by a long shot in Serbia is its capital, Belgrade. The next largest city in the country has a population that’s only 20% of what the capital has. We’ll take a look at the four largest cities in Serbia, starting with the capital.
The estimated population of Belgrade in 2022 in 1,405,192 people. This makes it the largest city in Serbia by a massive margin. Belgrade is a historic city located on a plateau at the confluence of the Danube and Sava Rivers, both important rivers in the region.
Historically, Belgrade is a heavyweight. It’s one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Europe and the world. The city has been inhabited by a number of different civilizations throughout its long history, some of which include the Vinča culture, Thraco-Dacians, Celts, Romans, and Slavs. Control of the city has passed between the Byzantine, Frankish, Bulgarian, Ottoman, and Habsburg Empires. Belgrade was also the capital of Yugoslavia from 1918 until 1941.
Perhaps the primary reason Belgrade has been important to so many civilizations is that it occupies a strategic position. This has caused it to be involved in at least 115 wars and razed 44 times. It’s also been bombed five times and besieged many more.
Today, the city is the third largest on the Danube River and the primate city of Serbia. It is the economic and administrative center of the country, meaning all the largest Serbian corporations are based in the city, and the country’s governmental organizations are also headquartered here.
Things to see and do in Belgrade
1. Belgrade Fortress
This is definitely the most iconic landmark in the city, as it overlooks the Danube and Sava Rivers and is free to explore. A fortress existed in this site as early as 279 BCE, though it was repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt over the centuries.
The fortress is now a popular place to watch the sunset and to have a picnic, as it is surrounded by a large park with trees. Other attractions at the fortress are a water well from the Roman era, a military museum, and a clock tower.
Skadarlija is a street and neighborhood in Belgrade’s Old Town, known as Stari Grad in Serbian. After the Belgrade Fortress, it is the second most popular destination among visitors to the city, and it’s frequented by locals as well.
The street is populated with traditional local restaurants, well known hotels, and shops selling souvenirs and antiques. It is the center of Belgrade’s Bohemian Quarter.
3. Temple of Saint Sava
This Serbian Orthodox church ranks among the largest churches in the world. It was modeled on the design and dimensions of the Hagia Sofia and was completed in 1989, though construction began in 1935. It is located on the presumed location of the grave of Saint Sava, the founder of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Entry into the church is free, and there are souvenir shops located within.
This is the second largest city in Serbia, and it’s the capital of the Vojvodina Province. The city lies in the northern region of the country on the northern banks of the Danube River. Novi Sad was founded in 1694 and was historically referred to as the “Serbian Athens” for its importance as a trading, manufacturing, and cultural center.
In recent times, Novi Sad was chosen as the European Youth Capital in 2019 and the European Capital of Culture in 2022. It’s known for hosting the annual EXIT summer music festival, which has been rated as one of the best in all of Europe. The festival brings in mostly young tourists from all over Europe.
Things to see and do in Novi Sad
1. Petrovaradin Fortress
As is the case with Belgrade, a fortress is one of the primary attractions for tourists who visit Novi Sad. This one has earned the nickname “Gibraltar on the Danube” for its position on a rock overlooking the water of the Danube. The clock tower here is a famous sight.
Visitors can take part in a nighttime guided tour of the fortress to enjoy ghost stories and a unique experience.
2. Danube Park
Danube Park is located in the center of Novi Sad, in the city’s Stari Grad neighborhood. It was once a large bog formed by the Danube River, but the city decided to turn it into a park in 1895. Now, the park is home to more than 250 plant species and covers over 33,000 m2 (108,268 m2).
Visitors in Novi Sad looking for a break from the city in a natural setting are likely to find peaceful moments at Danube Park.
3. The Bishop’s Palace
As an important cultural city for Serbia, Novi Sad is even where Porfirije Peric, the current Bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church resides. The palace is not open to visitors because it functions as a private residence, but anyone can admire the palace from the outside.
The original palace was constructed in the same location in 1741, but it was destroyed in a bombing in the 1800s. The current palace was built at the beginning of the 20th century. There is also a statue of Serbian poet Jovan Jovanovic Zmaj in front of the palace.
Niš is the third largest city in Serbia and is located in the southern part of the country. It’s famous for having been the birthplace or residence of several Roman emperors. The city now has an international airport and is an important economic center for Serbia, especially in the industries of electronics, mechanical engineering, and textiles.
The population of Niš is about 184,740 in 2022, and the city covers 597 km2 (230 mi2) of land.
Things to see and do in Niš
1. The Skull Tower
The Skull Tower is an interesting site to visit in Niš if you’re not averse to the macabre. As the name suggests, it is a wall made of the skulls of rebels that fought in the Battle of Čegar during the First Serbian Uprising in 1809.
2. Niš Fortress
The famous fortress in Niš is free for anyone to visit and offers unique access to a monument of great historical and cultural significance. The current fortress was constructed by the Ottomans at the beginning of the 18th century, and it’s one of the best-preserved structures in the region from this period.
Geography and Climate
Serbia covers a total land area of 77,474 km² (29,913 mi²) excluding Kosovo, and 87,460 km² (33,768 mi2) if Kosovo’s territory is included. Although Kosovo claims its independence from Serbia, Serbia treats the border between the two as an “administrative line.”
The country is landlocked with no coastline, though more than 3,000 km of rivers run through the country. The most important of these rivers is perhaps the Danube, which accounts for 589 of these kilometers. Belgrade is one of four capital cities on the Danube River.
The climate varies throughout Serbia based on elevation, proximity to the Adriatic Sea, and wind exposure, though cold winters and hot summers can be experienced in much of the country. In January, mean temperatures throughout the country are around 0 °C (32 °F), and in July the average temperatures of the country are about 22 °C (72 °F).
Serbia is considered to have an emerging market economy in the upper-middle income range. Major sanctions and embargos were levied against the country in response to the conflicts in the 1990s, and these had serious impacts on the economy, though the early 2000s saw steady economic progress. Serbia was then impacted by the global economic crisis and entered a recession in 2009.
Agriculture and energy are two of the most important sectors to Serbia’s economy. The country is one of the world’s largest producers of plums, considered the national fruit, and it is a net exporter of electricity.
Serbia is not a mass-tourism destination, but it still has a wide range of tourist products. Almost 2.5 million foreign tourists visited Serbia in 2021. Belgrade and Novi Sad are the most popular destinations of foreign tourists, and domestic tourists frequent mountains and spas.
Demographics and Culture
The population of Serbia in 2022 is an estimated 8,658,821, with a population density of approximately 100 people per square kilometer. More than 80% of the population is made up of ethnic Serbs, with Hungarians accounting for the next largest ethnic group.
Death rates have exceeded birth rates in Serbia for the past 20+ years, which has contributed to a declining population. The country also has one of the oldest populations in the world.
Serbia’s constitution defines the country as a secular state with guaranteed religious freedom. The Serbian Orthodox Church is the largest and most traditional in the country, and around 84% of the Serbian population identifies as Orthodox Christian.
Serbia’s medieval heritage includes art from the Byzantine era, preserved in the architecture, frescoes, and symbols of many Serbian Orthodox monasteries. In the early modern period, visual art in Serbia began to be influenced by Western cultures, and the beginning of modern Serbian art took place in the 19th century.
Sport plays an important role in Serbian society, and the country has a strong sports history. The most popular sports in Serbia are soccer, basketball, tennis, volleyball, water polo, and handball. The Serbian men’s national basketball team has won two World Championships, three European Championships, and two Olympic silver medals.
Is Serbia part of Russia?
No, Serbia is an independent nation in Southeastern Europe, and it doesn’t share a border with Russia. Both countries are predominantly Slavic and Eastern Orthodox, and Serbia was part of Yugoslavia until the 1990s, which was a Soviet Nation but was never part of the Soviet Union. Some people confuse Serbia with Siberia, which is a region in Russia.
Is Serbia a NATO member?
No, Serbia is not a member of NATO. It is pursuing membership in the European Union, but it is part of the Non-Aligned Movement of countries that have not joined large political alliances.
What language do they speak in Serbia?
The official language in Serbia is Serbian. The language belongs to the western group of South Slavic Lanugages and is very similar to Bosnian, Croatian, and Montenegrin.