Niš is home to many historical sites, picturesque nature, delicious food, and hospitable people. So here are the top 10 things to see & do in amazing Nis!
A web of circumstances in 2021 took me to Nis in Serbia. Believe it or not, I spent almost two months in this historic, southern city of Serbia. At first, I had no idea what to do in Nis as it has no sea close by, and the weather was super hot! However, thanks to many friends here, I explored all the best in this city! But first, here are some general info about this captivating Serbian city.
General information about amazing Nis
Ниш in Cyrillic is the third-largest city in Serbia, located in the Southeast. You can easily reach it with all kinds of transports – even the airplane. With a car, it is just 2.5 hours from Belgrade.
Nis is home to many historical sites, picturesque nature, delicious food, and hospitable people! Equally, the city was named after the Nišava river that flows through the city from Bulgaria. Archaeological evidence shows Neolithic settlements in the city and its surroundings dating from 5,000 to 2,000 BC. But Niš was first named Navissos by Celtic tribes in the 3rd century BC. So Niš is a delicacy for all of us who love history!
Many important rulers of Europe passed through the gates of Nis. After the Celtic tribes, Romans are ruling here. Many Roman emperors are born in Niš. Then, the wild Avars are coming building nothing but ruining – like in many other places. Then Russians, Byzantium, Bulgarians, and Stefan Nemanja. In the end, Turkish rulers were in this area for almost 500 years.
Besides the historical magic in the air, this city will make you feel like you are at home. And as we all know – people are those who make one city magical. Honestly, I’ve got hooked up on the hospitality of Niš people, and their “MERAK” way of living and I bet you will feel the same!
1. Explore Ćele Kula – human skull and Chegar Monument
Ćele kula is one of the most important cultural monuments in Serbia. Extremely interesting but also kind of frightening. It is without a doubt one of the top 10 things to see & do in amazing Nis.
During my trips, I’ve seen many human skulls. In museums and ancient graves, but I’ve never seen an actual monument made from human skulls! My visit here was as much interesting that much spooky. But seeing the skulls of people who fought hard to free Serbia from the Turkish empire is painful. On the other hand – powerful to see. You see face to face what battles can bring us – nothing good.
Many tourists leave really shocked to learn that the tower was built by building 952 heads of Serbian fighters who died on the hill Chegar near Nis in 1809. “This tower is the only monument in the world of this kind. The battle on Chegra was one of the decisive battles of the First Serbian Uprising, between Serbian & Turkish soldiers.
Serbians fought like lions. Up to 5000 Turkish soldiers got killed. Angry because of it, the Turkish leader Hushid-pasha ordered that the Serbian soldiers be beheaded. Their skin was removed from the skulls. Then, they were filled with cotton & some were sent to the Sultan in Constantinople – Istanbul – as a war trophy. The skulls themselves became the Ćele Tower.
Of the 952 heads, only 58 remain today. There are more reasons for that. “Tradition says that people pulled out skulls & carried them to bury in a dignified Christian way.” The Turks who built this tower wanted it to be a warning to the Balkan people. This tower today is ultimately the impetus for complete Serbian liberation.
2. Stroll around Niš Fortress and enjoy in Nishville Jazz Festival
Nisville International Jazz Festival attracts every year around 100.000 visitors! I was lucky to be here in Niš, Serbia this summer and experience this amusing festival for the first time! All that thanks to @visit_nis tourist center of Niš! These people were indeed helpful and full of information for every tourist that comes to their city!
I fell in love with Niš and Nisville festival! I also bet you will fell in love with it too! It is unique for one reason – it takes place in a 1700 old fortress! You see, except for the EXIT festival, which is the most popular festival in Serbia, Nisville is the second famous festival that also takes place in the fortress. If you decide to come here, this is what will happen: the imposing fortress in Niš will teleport you in the past while you dance to hedonistic jazz sounds.
But this festival is not only about jazz music. It’s about gathering creative souls, fun workshops, open-air movies, horse riding & many other activities. There’s something for everyone here! The best thing about it? It lasts four nights, so you can choose any day or better- get a ticket for all four days – more affordable than getting the ticket for just one day!
This year, we witnessed the legendary Gypsy Kings sounds, Jimi Hendrix tribute, and many other international and domestic performers! If you didn’t come this year, Nisville 2022 is waiting for you! So if you are looking for fun, Nisville festival and its events are indeed one of the top 10 things to see & do in amazing Nis!
3. Visit Archaeological Museum and archaeological park Medijana
The Archaeological Hall of Nis and National Museum offer numerous exhibits. All those exhibits tell a peculiar story of Nis history and culture. You will find here many items from Neolithic Age, the Roman period to the Middle Ages.
Items and objects such as ceramic vessels, Celts’ swords, female and male figures, different ancient coins, bronzed hair-pins, and many more items that will teleport you into the past! Perhaps the two most valuable items are the life-size statue of emperor Constantine the Great made of rare, red porphyry. Then, the head of Byzantine empress Euphemia who was Justinian’s wife from VI century A.D.
The museum is small but valuable. Better call before visiting because I experienced that the website working hours are not correct.
4. See Red Cross Concentration Camp
I was thinking for a while whether to see this building or not, and I guess you can understand why. I have never been to any concentration camp. Until now. As much as it was a highly emotional experience, that much it was a great lesson. I am happy I eventually decided to experience it. Here is a sad but powerful story about human history that we shall not repeat! The entrance is free of charge – make sure to visit it while you are in Nis!
Crveni Krst Concentration Camp is also known as the Niš concentration camp. German Gestapo operated it. Unfortunately, humans have been detained here: Jews, Serbs, and Romanis, all during the Second World War. Furthermore, this cruel place begins working in mid-1941 detaining as many as 35,000 people during the war. All the humans from this camp became free thanks to the Yugoslav Partisans in 1944. But unfortunately, more than 10,000 people have been killed at this camp.
After the war, people made memorials on Mount Bubanj, where many inmates were shot. Today, you can visit this memorial museum on the former campgrounds. In the end, Serbia put Red Cross Concentration Camp as a Cultural Monument of Exceptional Importance.
5. Book a guiding tour to Cerje Cave
You know I am all about adventures, especially interesting ones. I also work hard to present you all adventures as something more valuable than materialistic things, something that creates stronger memories and provides long-lasting positive emotions. As soon as I went to Serbia, I worked hard on organizing this one-of-a-kind adventure. Luckily, my work paid off.
General info about Cerje cave
The majestic Cerjanska or Cerje cave system belongs to several caves. Cerje cave is one of the longest, and most significant caves in the karst of Serbia – the second-longest in the country. Visiting Cerje cave is for sure one of the top 10 things to see and do in amazing Nis & beautiful Serbia. Please do not miss it! Exotic, harder to reach, deep, cold and wild – that’s Cerje. Again, I crossed my borders.
The magic truly happens outside of your comfort zone! If you are not claustrophobic, you can do this too! All you need is one call to reserve an appointment. It’s not even expensive! Moreover, you will be fully equipped and guided by a group of professional speleologists. Before entering the cave, you will need to sign the document that you are entering on your responsibility. Here is an unwritten rule – the best adventures involve signing this paper!
The adventure lasts approximately 3 to 5 hours. I must say, I was proud of myself and my group. We went 300 to 350 deep into the ground, we walked for 2.2 kilometers while the cave has more than 7 km – so far explored. Every step meant a new world full of cave jewelry. The cave itself is hydrologically active. Geologists estimate that the cave is some 2 million years old. Varieties of the cave “jewelry” developed here: stalactites, stalagmites, helictites, wave draperies, cave corals & crystal flowers.
1. The easiest way to reach Cerje cave is from Kamenica village and Nis city
2. The caves of the Cerjanska Cave system are formed in the limestones of Ljuti Vrh – 784m.
3. There’s a water source inside of the cave, at approximately 2 km underground distance – you can see it in this photo
4. Cerje cave is still hydrologically active
5. It’s around 2 million years old
6. There are sinking rivers flowing from red sandstones which have formed the tunnel cave systems of Samar cave – 3829 m and Jezava cava – 903 m.
7. The cave is full of fire salamanders, easily recognizable for their black body with yellow spots.
8. So far, 12 species of bats was recorded in Cerje cave.
9. At the entrance into Cerjanska cave – Cerje or Provalija cave – a metal gate was set up in 1998 to prevent the entry of vandals and other unwanted visitors who used to steal the cave jewelry and disturb the underground animals such as bats. The metal has adequate holes that allow bats to leave and enter the cave whenever they want.
10. A fact not related to Cerje cave: a Serbian Milutin Veljkovic entered the Guinness World Records for the longest stay in a cave ever – 464 days!! That happened in the 1970s, he even wrote a book about it called “Under the Rocky Sky”
Cave Samara is a hidden gem in Serbia known mostly amongst adventurous people and speleologists. People have found the skull of a cave lion, cave bear, and cave horse.
6. Experience a Paragliding from Koritnjak, Niška Banja
Niska Banja or Nis spa is a natural spa located 10 km southeast of Nis, not far from the confluence of the Nisava and South Morava. Niska Banja is famous as a health resort in the middle of a green forest, which covers over 70 hectares. There is a forest of hornbeam, oak, elm, chub, lilac, black pine, walnut, and mulberry. Nis Spa has been one of the most visited spas for many years. The city of Nis is just 9 kilometers away from the spa.
In Niška Banja, patients who have problems with the cardiovascular system are finding relief here. So the hot spa water is perfect in the fight against lung and infectious diseases. King Aleksandar Karađorđević himself built a house here which shows how significant Niška Banja used to be. Furthermore, Niška Banja is financially available to everyone.
Koritnjak – a paragliding spot
Koritnjak, the viewpoint from where we did paragliding is 808 m above sea level, on the westernmost branch of Suva Planina. I did a paragliding tandem flight in tandem with a skillful pilot. If you were ever dreaming about flying, paragliding is the best way to make dreams come true. Indeed, it may be scary at first, but totally worth it. Again, you will be under the surveillance of a skillful pilot, and you will not need to do anything, except enjoying the flight and the view below!
Also, there are dozens of reasons to try paragliding at least once! In fact, I did it twice from this location and I cannot wait to do it again somewhere else! Did you know that paragliding helps boost your stamina, overall health, balance, and physical health? I know it may seem unreal, but it is true! Watch my paragliding flight below from Niška Banja and Koritnjak and plan your own flight soon if not in Nis from this captivating location, then anywhere else!
7. Explore Sićevo Gorge and its surroanding
The Sićevo gorge is the longest gorge and archeological site in southeastern Serbia. It’s quite close to Niš city so make sure to not miss it! Nišava river formed this area and now it is 17 km long! People say it is the longest gorge in Serbia and its shape is quite amazing.
I bet you didn’t know Serbia has good wines! Well, the surrounding areas here are known for their high-quality vineyards. On top of that, the gorge contains a stone quarry, the Ostrovica, and six villages. The largest, Sićevo village is the eponym of the gorge. While driving, we’ve seen some cute, traditional houses!
A lower jaw, that is assumed to be of Homo erectus origin, was excavated in the Mala Balanica cave in June 2008. That cave is one of several cave sites in the gorge. This hominin jaw bone fossil was dated to be between 397,000 and 525,000 years old! The jaw represents one amongst many increasing numbers of specimen discoveries in the south-eastern part of the European continent.
WHAT ELSE CAN YOU SEE IN SIĆEVO GORGE OR IN THE SURROUNDING AREA?
– Viewpoint onto Sićevo gorge
– Six villages
– Interesting iron bridge
– Nišava river falls
– Train tracks that used to connect London and Constantinople – today’s Istanbul
– The church of Saint Petka
– Art colony Nadežda Petrović
– The church of Saint Ilija
– Hydroelectric power plant in Ostrovica, one of the oldest small Serbian hydroelectric power plants in this area, built on the idea of Nikola Tesla
8. Explore Niševac, and the boilers of the river Belica
This place is one of the most interesting places in the area of Nis. Locals call it “The Serbian Amazon.” The canyon of the river Belica has 16 boilers. Indeed, it is a real oasis among the wild rocks. The canyon is only 50 meters long but incredibly beautiful. These specific boilers or shapes were created by the retention and movement of water at the foot of the ancient town of Svrljig in Niševačka gorge.
However, we have not seen a lot. Unfortunately, the boilers were dry out, and it was just a bit of water inside. So it is best to pass through this canyon at the time of higher water levels – spring and autumn. At that time, the water is so clear that many people drink it. It is important to note that coming to the boilers can be a fun adrenaline adventure. The boilers are as deep as 4 meters and about 10 meters wide.
Yet, if you are in Nis do not miss this canyon! Also, this area is extremely attractive for adventurers. See some photos below and admire the true natural beauty of underrated Serbia.
9. Explore Stara Planina mountain and its gems
Stara planina was the first mountain I have seen in Serbia. And to be frank, Stara Planina is still my favorite mountain in Serbia. It is a high and large mountain massif about 550 kilometers long that stretches from Zajecar to the Black Sea. There are multiple hiking trails here, villages, flora and fauna, but also more than 40 waterfalls!
Stara Planina is partly a natural border between Serbia and Bulgaria. In fact, the entire Balkan Peninsula was named after this mountain. The highest peak on Stara Planina, and Serbia, in general is Midzor, at an altitude of 2,169 meters. One of the most beautiful landscapes of the Stara Planina is the Babin Zub – Grandmother’s tooth. That is a peculiar nature reserve at an altitude of 1,758 meters.
Stara Planina has characteristic flora and fauna – Subalpine beech, medicinal herbs and varieties of mushrooms. As well the brown trout that swims in streams, and rivers. The old mountain is rich in rare plants, medicinal herbs, and mushrooms.
10. Drive to Kamenica village and try horseback riding to Latin Church
If you are looking for a different adventure, horseback riding is a perfect activity for you! Not only that but you can also visit a cute ZOO with many animals in Nis. Your youngest ones will adore it! Amongs many activities, people from ZOO Nis organize, recreational riding for children, and adults is the best activity to try! Learn the basics of horse riding, horse care, and maintenance. But if you are adventurous you can try out horseback riding through the untouched nature above the Kamenica village!
Those were the top 10 things to see & do in amazing Nis & beautiful Serbia. As can be seen above, Serbia has plenty to offer so do not miss out on the underrated heaven in the Balkans and enjoy like a true ‘Meraklija!’ 😀
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