Old Town strolls and soft gelato is the perfect recipe for summer, and everyone wants a taste of it, but in all of Europe’s top tourist destinations, soaking up all the ancient culture comes with a crippling price, be it overpriced hotels, surging crowds, or even anti-tourist sentiment.

Venice is requiring certain visitors to pay an entry fee throughout much of the season, Tenerife locals are gathering to protest against tourism across the islands, and Paris is essentially off-limits to budget travelers right now as the host city for the 2024 Olympics.

Luckily, there is this one gorgeous medieval country that not only is far more welcoming but that hosts nonstop flights from 2 U.S. cities, even though it’s not usually on the American radar:

Welcome To Serbia

The Hidden Gem Of Southeastern Europe

Panoramic View Of Belgrade, Capital City Of Serbia, With The Cathedral Of St Sava Pictured, Balkan Peninsula, Southeastern Europe

Serbia is a tiny landlocked country in the heart of the Balkans that you’d more commonly associate with the Yugoslav War of the nineties, yet that in recent years, has become the fastest-rising destination across the pond.

Since 2019, it’s recorded a 47% increase in tourism, the most out of any country in the continent, and while that is yet to translate into resounding success—it’s of course miles behind European leader France’s 100 million annual guests—it is carving a niche for itself as an off-path destination.

Tourist taking photo at Golubac fortress on Danube river in Serbia

You may be wondering what it is about Serbia, though, that’s piquing the interest of so many avid explorers… well, it only takes a quick glance at the spire-dotted skyline of Belgrade or the ornate exteriors of buildings in Novi Sad to understand why:

This is one of Europe’s most beautiful yet criminally-underrated countries.

Belgrade Is The Berlin Of The South

Museums, Raves, Street Art And What Have You

Aerial View Of Belgrade And Its Modern Waterfront During Nighttime, Serbia, Eastern Europe, Balkan Peninsula

Belgrade is Serbia’s vibrant capital city often referred to as Berlin of the South, thanks to its bustling nightlife and art scene that rival Germany’s own, and a cultural hotspot filled with world-class war museums, stately palaces, and picturesque corners.

It is home to Kalemagdan, an ancient fortress resting proudly on a hilltop overlooking the Danube and Sava rivers, with perfectly-preserved medieval towers and ramparts tourists are free to explore for free: you read that right, there is no admission fee.

Kalemegdan, A Medieval Fortress In Belgrade, Capital Of Serbia, Eastern Europe

Other Belgrade attractions include the imposing Church of St. Save, the largest Orthodox temple in the Balkans, the Main Street (Knez Mihailova), a pedestrianized strip lined by Belle Epoque facades and upscale shops, and the cobbled Zemun, with its landmark Gardoš Tower overlooking the city.

What Else Is There To See Outside Belgrade?

Medieval Cities, WWII History, Gorgeous Nature

City Hall In Novi Sad, Vojvodina Autonomous Province In Northern Serbia, Eastern Europe, Balkans

Outside Belgrade, there are countless smaller, fairytale towns to explore, with Novi Sad as the second best offer: a short half-hour train away, it is a historic transit port on the banks of the Danube dominated by a riverside castle and unmissable Neo-Gothic Name of St. Mary church.

Culture buffs will be thrilled to learn they can visit the birthplace of the first Christian emperor of Rome, Constantine, in Niš, a historical city in Southern Serbia, best-known for its Ottoman-era fort, Roman archaeological zones and Crveni Krst concentration camp.

View Of Zemun, Belgrade, Serbia

The latter is the first Nazi-built complex of its kind in the whole of the former Yugoslavia.

If you’re a nature enthusiast, vast expanses of greenery, hilly parks traversed by tourist-friendly hiking trails, and lake-dotted provinces await you, including the wild Tara National Park, a lush preserve inhabited by bears, and Fruška Gore, a towering mountain range.

Other than its amazing culture and breathtaking landscapes, Serbia is incredibly cheap by European standards.

One Of The Cheapest European Countries To Be A Tourist

Landmark Bajina Basta Lak House In The Middle Of A Picturesque Lake In Rural Serbia, Eastern Europe, Balkan Peninsula

According to Budget Your Trip, a one-week stay in Serbia can cost as little as $276.

Realistically, we wouldn’t encourage you to travel on a shoestring budget, especially when all of the nicer hotels in Belgrade cost from $47 to book per night, with five-star properties listing rooms such as the Metropol Palace averaging $163.

Eating out in Serbia is quite inexpensive, too, with a three-course dinner for two in a mid-range restaurant on the riverfront costing $46.35, or the equivalent in Serbian dinar (the country’s currency), and even if you’re not watching your expenses carefully, it’s unlikely you’ll break the bank.

Cozy outdoor restaurant in Belgrade city center in summer, Serbia

There’s no denying, however, you can visit Serbia on under $300, as there are plenty of hostels for as cheap as $12 a night, and a market ćevapi, a grilled minced meat dish that’s every Serbian’s go-to street snack, can cost less than five bucks.

Americans Can Fly To Serbia Nonstop Even Though It’s An Off-Path Destination

Demand for European getaways is at an all-time high now that we’ve finally made it to summer, with new nonstop routes being launched every month, whether it’s to the French Riviera or the city of Naples, in Italy.

Woman looking at a sign in an airport

Serbia is no exception, as the national carrier Air Serbia its touting a Miami launch for later this year, reasserting their status as the only Balkan country (excluding Greece) that hosts year-round Transatlantic flights.

Not Croatia, not Montenegro, not increasingly trendy Albania: Serbia.

Americans can fly to Serbia from New York (JFK), from $565 one-way, and from Chicago (ORD), from $524.

Departing from New York-JFK, takeoff is scheduled daily at 7:20 p.m. with Belgrade arrival set for 10:20 a.m. the following day, at a total journey length of 8h50.

Traveler Holding United States Passport At Airport, Unspecified Location

On the way back, Americans will depart Belgrade at 1:15 p.m. and land back at JFK at 5:15 on the same date.

From Chicago, outbound flights are available every Monday, Wednesday and Saturdays, operating with the timetables below:

  • Mondays: Departure from ORD (6:40 p.m. local time) – Arrival to BEG (11:20 a.m. local time)
  • Wednesdays: Departure from ORD (12:40 p.m. local time) – Arrival to BEG (05:30 a.m. local time)
  • Saturdays: Departure from ORD (11:10 p.m. local time) – Arrival to ORD (3:50 p.m. local time)

Return flights from Belgrade (BEG) to Chicago (ORD) are as follows:

  • Mondays: Departure from BEG (1:20 p.m. local time) – Arrival to ORD (4:50 p.m. local time)
  • Wednesdays: Departure from BEG (07:35 a.m. local time) – Arrival to ORD (11:05 a.m. local time)
  • Saturdays: Departure from BEG (5:50 p.m. local time) – Arrival to ORD (9:20 p.m. local time)

According to the Serbian Ambassador to the United States, the company is considering introducing nonstop service from Miami to Belgrade on top of already-existing flights departing from New York and Chicago, though that is yet to be confirmed.

You can book your tickets to fly nonstop to Serbia this summer here.

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