The challenge: discover the Serbian city of Niš (Nish) through its stories, peculiar facts and unusual attractions
Niš (pronounced Neesh) is the third-largest city in Serbia and a fun day-trip destination both from Sofia, Bulgaria, and Belgrade, Serbia. This humble city will take you on a historical merry-go-round and, if you scratch just beneath the surface, is full of fun things to do.
Here are the best attractions and unusual activities in Niš, as experienced during our last trip (you’ll find a map with all the locations at the end of the article).
#1 Look over the city from the walls of Niš Fortress
Niš Fortress was built by the Ottoman Turks and, despite its historical significance, remains free to visit. Nowadays, families amble along the fortress’ paths, shaded by an abundance of greenery. Children (and sometimes adults) ride the tourist ‘train’, while hip young people wash down beers and chat in cafes. Climb the stairs to get to the top of the main gate, then enjoy views over the city from between the stones. There’s an archaeological hall at the fortress too.
#2 Explore the summer villa of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great (who was born in Niš)
Niš happens to be the birthplace of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great (if you skipped this history class, he was the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity and the one who proclaimed tolerance to Christians in the Roman Empire with the Edict of Milan in 313). Constantine’s journey from Niš to the throne was complicated.
Challenge: trace the chain of political events that lead to Constantine’s ascension to the throne of the Roman Empire.
What you can see today is Mediana, Constantine’s huge summer villa. Most of the findings are not exhibited in situ, so you’ll mainly see floor mosaics and wall foundations. The guides are very friendly and super talented at transferring you back to the fourth century.
#3 Remember the horrific past at Crveni Krst, a Nazi concentration camp
Red Cross Concentration Camp (Crveni Krst) is one of the few Nazi camps that remains completely intact. Communists, Jews, partisans and Serbs were all held here during the Nazi occupation of Serbia in WWII. During your visit you’ll see lines etched into the cell walls by desperate prisoners counting the days of their captivity, as well as photos, stories of prisoners and floors covered in barbed wire.
#4 Sit at a table with legendary local writer Stevan Sremac
This lovely urban sculpture is one of the photo hotspots of Niš. Here you can figuratively share shots of rakija (the local highly alcoholic spirit) with Serbian writer Stevan Sremac, his character Kalča the hunter, and Kalča’s faithful dog. From this monument you will see a narrow street branching off from the main pedestrian boulevard – it used to be the main street for the city’s artisans. Today it’s full of cafes and traditional restaurants (kafana) where you can try grilled meat and spicy salads.
#5 See the tower made of skulls
The Skull Tower (Ćele-kula in Serbian) is a monument to a major battle during the Serbian uprising movement (1804-13). When the 40,000-strong Ottoman army engaged in fighting with 12,000 Serbian revolutionaries, the tragic result was predestined. The dead Serbs were decapitated and their heads were built into the walls of a roadside tower. Only about 50 out of almost 1,000 skulls remain today, because many of the dead people’s relatives risked their lives to steal the skulls and bury them.
#6 Have a glass of wine while soaking in the mineral pools of Niška Banja
Niška Banja (literally Niš Spa) is where your hectic day of galloping through history should end. The spa resort is 10 km away from the center of Niš and is extremely popular in summer thanks to its hotels, swimming pools, and wide range of luxury therapies. There’s even a popular Serbian song about the hot water in Niška Banja (if you have Serbian friends, they’ll be extremely impressed with your local knowledge when you mention this song).
If you visit Niš for a day, you can tour all four of these paid attractions (the Skull Tower, Red Cross Concentration Camp, The Archaeology Museum and Mediana) with a single ticket costing 200 Serbian dinars (around 1.50 euros). Alternatively, you can visit each site separately for 150 dinars per attraction.
Map of the main attractions in Nis:
If you like cycling, Niš is one of the best cities in Serbia to do it. You can see all of the mentioned attractions by bike stopping here and there for a portion of grilled meat, or join a group bike tour. Bicycle rentals and tours you can find at Eco Bike Tours Nis.
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