All you need to know about planning a road trip in Serbia

Driving in the Balkans seems to have received a lot of notoriety and before booking my solo trip to Serbia, I was not sure if renting a car was a good idea. I am a confident driver in general but some of the stories I have heard (narrow roads, undisciplined drivers, etc) made me apprehensive about planning a road trip in Serbia. I have driven solo in Croatia & Slovenia before without any issues, and with a friend in Romania who was a local, and my experience so far has not been bad. So, I decided to take the plunge and drive in Serbia as well.

Serbia was not at the top of my bucket list, but with visa-free travel for Indians and a direct flight from Dubai (less than 6-hour journey), it was one of the few countries allowing quarantine travel in Spring of 2021, and the weather seemed perfect for a 1-week trip. Serbia is well-connected by public transport (buses, taxis, etc) but I prefer getting out of the busy cities and exploring the countryside, which in my opinion, is always best when you can drive around yourself. The flexibility it allows you to stop whenever and wherever you want, take in the views, soak up the sun or simply enjoy a drink by the lake, is so important for me that I prefer driving around rather than replying on the public transport. Also, we were not yet totally out of the woods with the pandemic yet, so I didn’t’ quite want to expose myself to crowded areas; having my own personal space was definitely a more attractive deal!

road trip in Serbia

Should you drive in Serbia? Absolutely – I loved the experience and was very happy with my decision. A road trip in Serbia is a fantastic idea; but there are some things you need to keep in mind to make sure you have a smooth, enjoyable, and economical trip. Firstly, I found Discover Cars as one of the cheapest platforms to rent a car in Balkans. They’re a third-party company that not only provides you rental options from different suppliers but also offers cheaper insurance coverage than the rental companies. However, beware of the rental company that you book your car through and their rules – Budget Rent-a-car insisted on charging me €35 upon return, just to clean the floor mat of the driver’s seat which had a muddy shoe mark on it. This was AFTER I had cleaned the car thoroughly from the exterior, thrown out all the trash, and dusted the car properly from the inside, before returning the car to them. After a big scene, and the threat to write them a bad review, they finally agreed to let it go. And their explanation – “you booked your car through a cheap rental third-party company, so the extras are expensive”. Sometimes, people leave me speechless!

Having said that, the overall experience was still good, and I managed to get a Fiat 500 for a pretty decent price, which turned out to be a great car (cruise control on the highways, phone connectivity to the car screen to display the GPS route, great performance on unpaved roads, etc); so, I highly recommend you get this car if you have the option.

road trip in Serbia

Of course it is much cheaper to rent a manual car rather than an automatic one, however, if you're not used to driving stick shift, do not risk it on a foreign country! I paid about €80 for 5 days for the Fiat 500 and compared to most other countries where I've rented cars, this was quite cheap.

Book your stay in Belgrade here.


#1 Do not drive in Belgrade City

When you plan your road trip in Serbia, you're likely to begin from Belgrade. As a rule, when I plan a road trip, I usually start my car rental on the day I leave the busy city area. Belgrade is no exception – although the roads are generally quite good, the traffic is not; during peak hours, it is so chaotic that you will feel lost! You do not see much driving discipline in the city center, a lot of roads are one-way so it is hard to figure out some paths, and parking can be a nightmare. Most of the touristy places & attractions are either walkable or reachable by the local tram/ bus network so while you are in Belgrade city, I highly recommend to not drive around and rely on their excellent transport network instead. Even taxis are not expensive- use the Car.Go app (like Uber) to get one.

Belgrade City


#2 Toll Roads are expensive but worth it

Inter-city travel is really smooth and pleasurable when you're driving, especially if you take the highways. The maximum speed is usually around 130 kmph (though you'll see many locals crossing that limit with ease & callousness) but the roads are broad, well-paved and easy to drive on. However, these roads also have high tolls (€5 per 200/ 300 kms) which you must account for. You will always find the slower alternatives, which avoid tolls but my experience on these roads was not great. The quality of the roads is fine; the speed is much slower and the roads are slightly narrower (mostly single lanes) which means you're highly likely to get stuck behind a large trucks for miles before you're able to overtake and drive normally.

A toll-free road on gps might show only a slightly longer journey vs a toll road but the gps doesn't account for circumstances where you will are unlikely to be unable to overtake slower moving vehicles in front of you. A 1.5 hour journey from Belgrade to Novi Sad through the highway A1, turned into a 3-hour journey on the way back because I decided to check out the toll-free alternative via Route 100.  In hindsight, I would have gladly paid the €5 to save the excruciating extra 1.5 hours of the journey!


#3 There are no speed cameras but there are cops!

My usual thumb rule for driving in a foreign country is to do what the locals do, but also be always vigilant. You cannot have the confidence and the knowledge of a place that a local can. There were no road cameras in Serbia, and it is a little hard to track the regularly changing speed limits, especially when you are not on the highway. Speed limits on the interior roads can change from 40 kmph to 100 kmph and sometimes in a matter of a few kilometers only. And while there are no cameras to track when you are over-speeding, you might bump into a cop’s car unexpectedly on the road and attract a hefty fine so be careful and follow the speed limit as much as possible.

road trip in Serbia


#4 Serbian drivers are MOSTLY safe

On my road trip in Serbia, although I did find a lot of drivers speeding on the highways as well as the interior roads, I did not feel they were rash or dangerous in any way. Do be careful on the winding roads though, specifically when you are in the mountains, and while overtaking on the single lane roads where some drivers tend to overspeed only to overtake slower and larger vehicles ahead of them and end up on the wrong side of the road for far too long, facing the oncoming traffic. This happened far too many times for my comfort and can be a little unnerving.

This is why it is extremely important that you follow speed limits and overtake only when you deem it safe, and when the road signs allow for you to. Also, you could wait for the 2+1 road which you will find at regular intervals. Do not let the vehicles behind you, who might be tailgating, unnerve you or stress you out. Keep your calm, follow the rules, and you will be just fine!


#5 Most roads are great but not all

On a road trip in Serbia, you're likely to come across some rough, unpaved roads too. Although the inter-city roads are wide, well-paved and smooth to drive on, and the roads within the cities aren't too bad either, there are specific destinations you will come across that'll take you through not-so-great roads. Two such experiences were - the road to the Vista Point in Uvac Nature Reserve (a gorgeous place to visit but quite hard to reach by road), and Banjska Stena in Tara National Park.  My FIAT 500 performed fairly well on these roads but only because it was a dry day, the rains would have made it impossible to get to the destinations. The gravel roads were also narrow, which is a little scary because you don't know if you will have enough space (and confidence) to allow a vehicle to pass if they come from the opposite direction!

On both these roads, at some stage, I got a little nervous and abandoned my car a few miles before the final destination, and decided to walk it instead of risking it. There are no safety issues in Serbia, thankfully, so leaving a car locked in the middle of wilderness wasn't going to be as much of stress to me as continuing to drive on those uneven, inclined, tapering roads.


#6 Car rentals are cheap but not the gas

Although I felt that €80 for 5 days, for an automatic transmission Fiat 500, was quite a reasonable rental cost, the price of petrol made up for it. At €1.5 per liter of gas, I ended up needing to fill my tank at least 3 times in 5 days, which came to almost double the car rental cost! While I understand many European countries probably match up in terms of the gas prices, compared to other Balkan countries, this felt a little high. Also, living in the UAE has made me accustomed to paying really low prices for petrol so this came as quite a shock!


#7 Parking can be a little difficult to manage

Now this is where I struggled a little. When it comes to parking in a city, there are usually two options: park on the street or a designated parking spot. Street parking is, needless to say, much cheaper however, these must be paid for by SMS only! This means, firstly, that it becomes imperative to buy a local SIM if you're planning a road trip in Serbia. A local SIM can also help in other ways - finding your way around, GPS, internet connectivity on the go, etc. However, if you are getting a tourist SIM (which has excellent offers on data & local calling minutes), make sure to ask them to top up with extra dinars which you can use to pay for parking.

Most street parking is paid, so even if you don't see a parking sign nearby, check or ask a local, instead of assuming that it's free because you might end up paying a parking fine!

The designated paid parking spots, which are usually gated & secured, are slightly expensive but easier to pay for in cash/ credit cards. These can be found by typing 'parking' into your gps and are around €1 or 2 for about 2-3 hours of parking, which is still quite reasonable. If you do not have a local SIM card, this is your best option.


#8 Cars are the most convenient way to get around

Although it can be a little difficult to navigate your way in certain areas, I still maintain, cars are the best way to get around in Serbia. When I am in a busy city, I usually find a parking spot and leave my car there, and explore the city on foot or in trams/ buses. However, to go from one city to another, or simply to explore the stunning mountains, national parks and nature reserves, there isn't a better way to get around than in a car. If you are not very confident and comfortable driving yourself, I recommend you rent a car with a driver, which will come at an extra cost of course but will not only give you the flexibility of following your own itinerary but also the peace of having someone who knows the roads, rules, routes and the country well!

Victor Tours is a local operator that you can rent a car + driver through, for the duration of your trip.


 

21 thoughts on “All you need to know about planning a road trip in Serbia”

  1. Happy to know that taking a road trip in Serbia worked well for you. Too bad that they tried to overcharge your with the extra fees.

    Thank you for these tips! Will keep these in mind should we have a chance to visit.

  2. Serbia is a beautiful country I would love to visit. The post covers very valuable feed on those who are looking forward to buy the Balkans. Thank you so much for sharing.

  3. Serbia hasn’t been on top of my list either but it looks absolutely beautiful there! This was a great guide for seeing the country by a car. Road trips in a new country can be intimidating. I wasn’t even sure if this is something you can do in Serbia for the safety reason.

  4. €80 for 5 days??? Are you kidding me? I am paying $800 for 10 days in the US, and that’s the least expensive car! Wow, Serbia just became very attractive to me. I’m a huge fan of toll roads to save time and €5 sounds like a bargain. Also, good to know there are no speed cameras, those always get me. Your images are gorgeous

  5. It’s trips like this that I appreciate because it gives an original new perspective to an amazing place. Now, I have a different imagination of Serbia. You’re such a dynamo for planning this adventure. Salute!

  6. Thanks for letting us know that driving in Serbia is well recommended. I would prefer that option too coz we find it more convenient for our travel lifestyle. The Belgrade City look romantic!

  7. Serbia is definitely a country we want to visit in the future. I have never thought of renting a car there, because I assumed the public transport system would bring us everywhere. But reading your post really made me change my mind. A car seems to be an economical and flexible way to see the country. Good to know, that we might have to leave the car at some point and walk. We just did this in Iceland a few times and I actually enjoyed it.

  8. Serbia looks such a beautiful place to visit. It was good to know about your road trip there. I am quite inclined to visit Serbia, but I am not a confident driver at all. The tips you shared for driving in Serbia is surely helpful for all those who want to go behind the wheel.
    And yes, even I am surprised at the rental company who wanted to charge extra!

  9. I was thinking of visiting Serbia after my trip to Croatia. Your tips for driving in Serbia are very useful. It’s good to know that there are no speed cameras but there are cops. Even though the toll is high, I think it’s worth it. Would definitely rent a car with my boyfriend on our trip to Serbia.

  10. I was wondering why many of my travel blogger friends are in Serbia now. It’s a destination I really never thought to visit! What other countries can you cover with Serbia? If you rent a car, will inter-country be allowed? Thanks for all the information – I hope you can also share the costs!

  11. I always find renting a car in a foreign country daunting and I appreciate your honest advice. Good tip about the local sim, I’d hate to have been caught out by that! I will also not attempt to drive in Belgrade City as I think it will just make me anxious and isn’t a way to start the trip.

  12. The specificity of this article is EXTREMELY helpful! As many places as I’ve traveled, I’ve only ever been brave enough to rent a car once – in Portugal. I wish you had written a guide about car travel there because not knowing all of the things you cover for Serbia – gas prices, tolls, speed limits, road conditions, parking, etc. – made for a stressful experience. But, for all the awesome photos you were able to capture, renting a car in Serbia definitely seems like it would be worth it. Thanks for an extremely useful article!

  13. We went from Skopje, Macedonia to Nis, Serbia in a taxi. It is cheap and I didn’t have to drive or get gas! Plus there were three of us so we divided the fare.

  14. I have always had Serbia on my list but never though of a road trip there. It surely looks like cars are the great way to enjoy the sceneries and a very convenient way too. As you said I do not like driving in the city too. It is best to get out and have a relaxed drive. I will keep in mind that car rentals are cheaper and not the gas.

  15. I have just added Serbia to our bucket list! I totally agree with you that it is better to get out of crowded cities and enjoy the countryside which is what we do all the time. Good tips about not driving in Belgrade and that Serbians are safe drivers. 🙂

  16. I have always wanted to travel to Serbia. One of my good family friends from home is actually from Serbia and she is always telling us how badly she would like us to travel there with her! I would like to have my own car while I am there so I can travel on my own time and wherever I would please! Toll roads no matter what are always a go to on my travels, makes things a lot easier and allows me to get to places much faster!

  17. I think these are great tips! I totally agree with not driving in busy cities. I’m a nervous driver and hate cities even at home. I think in a different country it’s even scarier. Tolls are also something I often happily pay for as the roads are better and it’s mostly quicker.

  18. I agree that it is worth it to pay to use the toll roads. I know here in Florida the amount of traffic and quality of the roads is quite different compared with the non-toll roads.

  19. You are much braver than I am when it comes to driving in places I am unfamiliar with or on unpaved roads. Great information though for someone who prefers to get behind the wheel and have an adventure.

  20. On the travel wish list! Would love to visit Serbia. We have met Serbians travelling and they always talked so much about their beautiful country. I would want to do the drive and have the flexibility to meander at my pace. But I agree with you about not having a car inside bigger cities. Good to know that not all roads were created equal. And no map may help with that! I might look at a car and driver for parts of the trip where I might want to just enjoy the view.

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