While we were in the south of Serbia we visited the city of Niš a couple of times. It is the closest big city to Aleksinac (Marco’s hometown) and his place of birth. It is also the third largest city in Serbia, one of the oldest Balkan city and was considered a doorway to the west and eat in ancient times. Despite its ancient roots, this city has a youthful vibe. With bustling alleyways, live music, pop up markets and plenty of places to get good food and drinks, it definitely the place where you can have some fun.
We drove to Niš from Aleksinac, which only took 30 minutes, so we didn’t need to book a hotel. We visited a couple of times but unfortunately both times we didn’t have that long so we didn’t get to do all the sites. We did do a bit of shopping, visit the Fortress and Holy Trinity Cathedral and have a couple of great traditional Serbian meals.
Although this city is so old, it actually doesn’t look like it hails from the ancient period. Rather it looks like a mismatch of modern and pre-war buildings. There are many shops and arcades along the mall (Obrenovićeva). I didn’t particularly like the shopping here. I did find it quite expensive for the quality. I know also for the locals the prices are extremely high. It is nice to walk around though and you can find these adorable little doughnuts to snack and share.
The Niš Fortress (Niška tvrđava) is located in the centre of the city, across the river from King Milan Square, which leads into the mall. This historical site is one of the most well-preserved monuments in the Balkan region and it has had many occupants. It was originally a Roman fortress, built in the 2nd century. However, the Byzantines built on top of the Roman ruins in the 11th century. It came under Serbian rule for a time but was then taken again by the Turks between the 15th to 18th century. The Turkish fortifications from the 18th century are the most well preserved. The Fortress eventually returned under Serbian rule. However, it was occupied by also the Bulgarians in World War I, as a prison camp for Serbian rebels.
What I really like about this site is that it is free to enter, has long opening hours and is utilised by the community. Inside you can find bars, restaurants, tourist shops, a museum and concerts are often held here.
When we visited with the younger adult cousins we visited one of the bars. They are nice places to catch up with friends or just have a break. The drinks are quite cheap and really strong. The tourist shop has lots of nice Serbian trinkets that are relatively cheap and many handmade objects.
The Holy Trinity Cathedral is the main church in Niš and is a short walk from the mall. It was built during the period 1856-1872 and is incredibly well preserved.
I love visiting European churches and for me the art in the Orthodox churches is beautiful. The church was very well lite so I could enjoy the paintings that covered every wall and ceiling of the church. Before we entered there was a baptism, which may be why the ceiling lamps were also on.
We ate out a couple of times in the city and they were some of my most favourite meals in Serbia. On our first visit we went to Tinkers Alley (Coppersmith alley, Kazandžijsko sokače). This area was once an urban downtown, full of tinkers and another craftsman from the Turkish occupation until modern times. Today it is a little cobblestone strip of bars and restaurants, where you can find traditional foods and Turkish coffee.
At the entrance of this strip is a monument to Serbian novelist Stevan Sremac, who lived in the city for a time. He is seated across the table from fictional hunter Kalča and his dog. The bronze statutes depicts Kalča telling an exaggerated tale of his adventures and Steven listening intently, while they drink rakija (Serbian brandy).
Before we had lunch we visited a kafana for coffee. It was packed and was quite nice inside. The coffee was ok. Unfortunately, it was full of smokers so we couldn’t stay too long.
After we went for lunch at Kafana Galija. The menu was a bit difficult for Marco to understand so we consulted with the waiter to order some speciality dishes. We got Jagnjeća sarmica, Pasulj (beans), Pileći štapići u susamu (fried sesame chicken with Mustard sauce, a Niš speciality) and Srpska (Serbian salad).
We were expecting the sarmica to be like sarma with cabbage, meat and rice. Rather it was lamb, heart and liver patties baked in a creamy egg sauce. It quite nice. Marco and Octavia just loved the Niš fried chicken. My favourite was the Pasulj. They are so creamy and smokey and I could live on them. So this meal was definitely the highlight of my trip.
The last great meal we had in Niš was with all the cousins one evening at Kafana MEZE. This restaurant is situated on a less busy street not far from the centre. It looks a bit quiet from the outside, but once you get in the doors you find a huge upstairs and downstairs dining areas with wooden tables, bright folk paintings and a great Serbian folk band playing.
We let the others order most of the food. So first we started with mese, which was a selection of vegetarian salads and bread. Some of these included the Vitamin salad, Šopska salad, Serbian salad, Green peppers with kaymak and home bread. Next, we shared a selection of slow cooked meats, roasted potatoes, pljeskavica (filled with ham and cheese) and my favourite Pasulj. Everything was so delicious and really filling. We needed a couple of hours before we could fit in those Palačinke back in Aleksinac.
I hope you enjoyed visiting Marco’s place of birth. If you would like to visit this historic bustling city, see Trip advisor for things to do, restaurants and accommodation.