Niš is the third largest city in Serbia and is located in the southernmost part of the country. Although Niš deserves more than a day, if your time is limited, it’s possible to take a day trip to Niš from Belgrade. This guide will show you how to get to Niš by public transportation and things to do once you’re there.
Fun fact: Niš showed up on my travel radar, thanks to my web developer for A Piece of Travel! He and his girlfriend invited me for a visit and shared their passion for Niš, and Serbia, with me.
First things first- how exactly do you pronounce Niš? If like me, you’re pronouncing it like Nice, the Mediterranean city in France, good try! It’s actually pronounced similar to the English word “niche,” with the “s” of Niš having an “sh” sound. Another way to think about it is like this: “knee-sh.” The “knee” is where the accent falls.
How to get to Niš from Belgrade
If you’re heading to Niš, chances are you’ll be doing so from Belgrade. The occasional train runs to Niš, but it takes a very long time. Therefore, the only public transportation mode to Niš that makes sense, especially with a day trip, is by bus. The bus company that runs services to Niš is called the “Niš Ekspres.”
The Belgrade bus station is located down from the historical center near the river. Depending on where you’re coming from, the walk to the bus station from the historical center will take you around 20 – 30 minutes.
Travel Tip: My all-time favorite pastry shop is near the Belgrade bus station. Located on Gavrila Principa Street, it sits right at the corner where this street meets with Luke Ćelović Park. Their flax seed “lasagna pie” is my favorite!
Purchasing a bus ticket to Niš
You can purchase your bus ticket online here or directly at the Belgrade bus station.
If you’ll be returning to Belgrade, make sure to purchase a round trip bus ticket, even if you’re unsure about whether or not your day trip to Niš will turn into a multi-day excursion. This way, you’ll get to enjoy cheaper fares and an “open” ticket, valid to return to Belgrade at any time within 90 days.
A round trip ticket costs about $18 USD and they only accept cash. If you need to take out or exchange money, there are plenty of ATMs and exchange houses near the bus station.
A seat will automatically be assigned to you, so if you have a preference for a window or aisle seat, make sure to let them know. From my handful of experiences, ticket attendants at the Belgrade bus station have a good grasp of English.
Travel Tip: Views of the Serbian countryside are equally beautiful on both sides of the bus. However, if traveling from Belgrade to Niš in the morning and from Niš to Belgrade in the afternoon, sit on the passenger side of the bus both ways to avoid the sun in your eyes.
You’ll be given a small copper colored coin with your bus ticket. It’s easy to mistake the coin for being a Serbian Dinar.
That coin isn’t a Dinar, but a token showing proof that you paid the 180 Dinar service fee to take a bus from the Belgrade bus station (the service fee is already built into the ticket price). You’ll need that coin in order to pass through the turnstile to get out to the buses.
What happens if you lose the coin?
You’ll need to go back to the service counter to pay a second 180 Dinar fee.
Since Niš one of the largest cities in Serbia, buses run frequently to and from Belgrade. You can expect a bus to depart at least every hour during peak travel times, with there sometimes even being multiple departures per hour.
Distance to Niš
Niš is located about 145 miles from Belgrade. By bus, this takes just over three hours one way, including a 10 minute restroom break about an hour from Belgrade. Traffic usually isn’t something to worry about during the trip, as nearly the entire time you’ll be driving along the beautiful Serbian countryside.
Things to do in Niš
We’ve got you to Niš, now let’s talk about things to do with your day trip! Below are ten must-see things to do in Niš.
1. The Fortress
The fortress is the main focal point in downtown Niš. A short walk from the bus station, the fortress is located at the beginning of the historical center. Free to enter, you can climb to the top of the tower for views over Niš.
The fortress also has a beautiful park to wander around, coffee shops, and some places to grab a beer with your friends. You’ll also come across a few architectural gems including an old mosque and Roman forums. Towards the back of the fortress, there’s a small botanical garden. Within this garden, you’ll find an open air self-serve library on a “take a book, leave a book” basis.
2. Visit the Skull Tower
In 1809, the Ottomans invaded Čegar Hill, near Niš. Knowing that they didn’t stand a chance for survival and wanting to avoid torture, Serbian rebel leader Stevan Sinđelić detonated a powder magazine, killing himself and all his men. As a symbol to other potential rebels not to mess with them, the Ottomans decapitated the deceased rebels and built a stone tower from their skulls.
After the Ottoman Empire withdrew from Niš, many family members went to the wall to remove the skulls that they believed were their loved ones. Nowadays, the wall is enclosed in a building and is a popular, and important, place for visitors of Niš to see. There are a number of skulls still embedded in the wall. You can also see countless indentations of skulls that have been removed.
There’s a sign at the entrance of Skull Tower saying to purchase tickets at the ticket desk. However, when we went up to the ticket desk, we were told that entrance is free.
You won’t need a lot of time for this visit, since walking around the four sides of the tower is the only thing to do there. However, visiting Skull Tower was by far one of the most memorable moments of my time in Niš.
3. Eat Burek & Jogurt
Serbia is known for their burek, however Niš is considered the most famous in all of Serbia for this delicious, greasy, and savory pastry. “Jogurt” is a drink that is often accompanied with burek. It looks and tastes like yogurt, but with a more liquid consistency.
You’ll find plenty of cafes around selling burek and jogurt. Arrive hungry, because the portions are huge.
4. Bubanj Memorial Park
The Bubanj Memorial Park is the location where Nazis executed about 10,000 Jews, Gypsies, and Serbs that threatened the Nazis’ existence during WWII. A monument of three fists thrust in the air, representing defiance of the enemy, now sit where the execution took place.
Nowadays, the area has been turned into a large park, both to commemorate the victims and to give new purpose to the space. There are picnic tables, kids playing ball, and people walking their dogs.
The Bubanj Memorial Park is located on the outskirts of Niš and requires a short walk through the woods to get to from the road. This location, no doubt, was a strategic choice for the Nazis to keep the executions secret from the locals in Niš.
5. Roam the historical center
Like the fortress, the historical center is an easy, approximately five minute walk by foot from the Niš bus station.
Niš’ historical center is quaint with a main street running through the center, passing through the plaza. From this street, you’ll find quieter side streets with some beautiful architecture.
Like many historical centers in Europe nowadays, you’ll see old buildings mixed in with modern ones. It’s hard to escape places like McDonald’s and H&M.
6. Go inside an Orthodox church
Serbia is filled with Orthodox churches and they’re easy to spot with their dome-like structure. Niš is a great place to experience a traditional Orthodox church.
When you walk in, you’ll be greeted by incredibly detailed paintings on the walls (full-time Orthodox church painters is a profession) and wide-open space. That’s right, Orthodox churchgoers stand during mass!
If you have the opportunity to meet a priest, don’t be alarmed if there are a bunch of kids running around him. As a completely opposite take on Catholic priests, Orthodox priests can’t become a priest until they get married.
7. Walk along the Nišava River
The Nišava River runs through Niš and is a nice place to spend some time exploring. There’s a sidewalk that runs above the river, offering views of the nearby countryside, as well. You may come across the occasional fisherman, although Serbia’s diet is far more meat-based than fish-based.
8. Dine at a traditional restaurant
You already know that Niš is famous for their burek and jogurt. However, Niš is also an excellent place to try a variety of local Serbian dishes. Serbs have a meat and carb-based diet, so you’ll find lots of meals rich with these ingredients.
When I visited Niš, my hosts took to me to Nišlijska Mehana, a restaurant located about a five minute walk from the historical center, tucked along a quiet side street. The food was outstanding and they’re famous for their traditional Serbian cuisine. I highly recommend it as part of your visit to Niš!
Address: Kralja Stefana Prvovenčanog
When you walk out of the bus station through the turnstiles, turn left and you’ll be in for a treat, as a large market borders the bus station. Here, you can purchase fruits and veggies, along with clothes, toys and other knickknacks. The market is so long that walking through it from the bus station will just about drop you off at the entrance of the fortress!
If you’ll be in Niš on a Saturday, there’s a huge flea market held on the outskirts of the old town. Here, you can gawk at all the old knickknacks, and even purchase one of the former, million Serbian Dinar bills.
10. Attend Nišville Jazz Festival
The Nišville Jazz Festival is an annual event held in August. People from all over Serbia and other parts of the world attend.
If you go, you’ll get to hear traditional jazz music, along with a blend of jazz and music from other parts of the world, particularly that of the Balkans. If you’re a jazz buff, you just may recognize some of the artists’ names.
The festival takes place in the fortress and tickets are required. The price for tickets in 2020 is 2,000 Dinar (about $19 USD), provided that you pre-purchase them. You can purchase tickets online, along with reading more details about this festival, at the Nišville Jazz Festival website.
You’ll need more than a day trip to Niš in order to attend this festival…you may even fall in love with Niš so much that you spend all ten days of the festival there!
Departure from Niš
If you purchased a round trip bus ticket, you’ll be the owner of an open ticket back to Belgrade. What this means for you is that you’ll need to select a departure time from Niš at the Niš bus station, along with paying the 60 Dinar Niš bus terminal service fee. Unlike in Belgrade, they give you a piece of paper instead of a coin for proof that you paid the service fee.
If you’re sticking with a day trip to Niš, you can either book your bus ticket back to Belgrade immediately upon your arrival or wait it out to see how long you’ll want to spend exploring the city before heading back.
Since buses run frequently, provided that you aren’t in Niš during a special event, you likely won’t encounter availability issues by booking a bus to Belgrade at the last minute. Furthermore, the bus station borders the old town. This makes it easy to make a stop there mid-way through your visit, so that you can book your ticket before finishing your exploration of Niš.
I hope this post inspired you to take a day trip to Niš, or even better, spend a night or two! With all the history, delicious food, pretty parks and friendly people, you’re sure to enjoy your time there.
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Laura has been wandering the globe for over a decade. She’s an early bird and backpacker at heart and can often be spotted with a dog or ten that she’s befriended along the way. Much of the content Laura writes on A Piece of Travel includes details on wheelchair accessibility, with the support of her brother-in-law and sister. You can learn about their accessibility endeavors here.