If there's anything that Serbia isn't lacking, that's nature. From heavenly mountains and thermal towns, rivers in Serbia will leave you breathless. With their beauty, but also from all the walking, adrenaline activities, and climbing needed to reach them and experience them in all their glory. We'll tell you more about the most famous Serbian rivers, covering the basics, best spots, and activities. Some of the rivers to expect are:
- Witness Danube in its most important cities
- Natural attractions on the Sava
- Experience Drina - Water sports on the coldest river in Serbia
- Ibar - Serbian river with the most rapids
- Uvac canyon - Home of the Griffon Vulture
Rivers in Serbia in many shapes and sizes - Don't forget to use the slider
The Danube - The longest of rivers in Serbia
The king of European rivers flows through as many as 10 countries and is the second largest river on the continent, right after the Volga. On his long journey from Germany to Ukraine, it acquired over ten different names and nicknames. For Serbia, the Danube has been a river of exceptional importance since ancient times. The first civilizations in this area were born on it, such as the mysterious culture of Lepenski Vir, which we’ll tell you more about later. The Romans built roads along it, and even today, many important centers are located on the banks of this mighty river.
Danube - Facts and trivia
- The journey of the Danube begins in Germany, on the Black Forest mountain. It is created by joining two rivers, Breg and Brigah. Their merger takes place in the small town of Donaueschingen.
- The origin of the name Danube is extremely old. It has its root in an ancient Greek word meaning river of life or divine river. The ancient Greeks believed that the Danube is the personification of the god Zeus.
- There are more capitals on it than on any other river in the world, including Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, and Belgrade.
- Historically, the Danube has always been the scene of war conflicts. The Germans also call it the Graveyard of Ships because of the exceptional number of war wrecks that still rest there today.
- The Danube flows into the Black Sea, creating the second largest delta in Europe. The river ecosystems in this area are so rich and unusual that the entire delta has been placed under the protection of UNESCO.
Witness Danube in its most important cities
From the Romans and Trajan's Bridge, through medieval Smederevo, to the modern capital of Serbia, Belgrade: the Danube has always been the center of all the most important events in this part of the world. On its banks today lie some of the most beautiful Serbian cities, places of fascinating and turbulent history that owe at least a fraction of their glory to the Danube.
- Novi Sad: Due to the incredible strategic location of its famous Petrovaradin fortress, Novi Sad earned the nickname Gibraltar on the Danube. The powerful river that connects the two sides of the city once shaped the history of Novi Sad, and today it forms its impressive and lively atmosphere. The path through time leads to the preserved ramparts of the Petrovaradin fortress, which rise majestically above the slow-flowing river. Above the Danube, another recognizable symbol of the city is the Freedom Bridge. The Novi Sad quay and the sandy Strand beach are lively hotspots for all the city's events during the summer season.
Besides these, we've mentioned even more spots and activities this exciting city offers in our blog - Visit Novi Sad.
- Belgrade: In the embrace of two rivers lies the capital of Serbia, Belgrade. The Danube and the Sava river confluence keep the most recognizable symbol of the city, the Belgrade Fortress, from which the famous Pobednik monument offers a view of the two rivers. On the Danube bank of the city lies a place with an unusual ancient atmosphere, Zemun. The trademark of this city within the city is the Gardoš tower, which has one of the most beautiful viewpoints in Belgrade. You should not miss a walk along the Zemun quay, stretching from the heart of Zemun all the way to the city center. On the Danube, there is also an oasis of wild nature, Great War Island, which is home to a large number of rare birds.
Find the best tips for sightseeing Belgrade in our blog, which answers all your travel questions.
- Smederevo: The Danube is a river along which countless ancient fortresses have sprung up for centuries. Once crucial guardians and defenders of their territories, they now open their ramparts and gates to tourists. The most beautiful fortress in Serbia, or at least the best-preserved one, lies on the very bank of the Danube in the old town of Smederevo. This wonderful city was created as the capital of Đurađ Branković and was built in the like of Constantinople architecture. You can walk along the ancient ramparts of the Smederevo Fortress, climb the towers themselves, and visit Mali Grad, which once housed the despot's court.
- Kladovo: There are few cities whose fate is so closely intertwined with the course of the Danube as is the case with Kladovo. This cradle of civilization has always developed right next to the banks of the mighty river. During the reign of the Romans, a real architectural feat was created here, Trajan's Bridge, the ruins of which can still be seen today, as well as the old Roman road. The road is now deep under the water of the Danube, but a testimony of its origin, Trajan's Tablet, can be seen from a distance above its surface. In modern times, life was brought to this town by the construction of the Đerdap I Hydroelectric Power Plant, a grandiose construction work of the second half of the 20th century.
Danube river cruises - The best way to explore the Danube
It is interesting that the Danube is the first river in Europe where tourism has been developed. Back in the age of steamboats, people loved to sail along the river and discover all the secrets that its banks hide. The first cruises started way back in 1830 in Austria-Hungary. This tradition has been maintained until today in all the countries through which the Danube flows. One of the most beautiful tours along the Danube leads from Belgrade to Kladovo. On it, travelers have the opportunity to sail through time and discover all the hidden treasures that have been created on the banks of this river for centuries.
Find out how the Danube changes, how it transforms from a giant lowland river, breaking through the rocks and cuts of the Đerdap gorge. On this route, you can see as many as four ancient fortresses: Belgrade, Smederevo, Ramska, and Golubac fortress. Step through the Iron Gates of the Danube and discover the secrets of the mysterious culture of Lepenski Vir, the story of Trajan's Tablet, a witness of the Roman road that now sleeps far above the murky surface of the water, and the unforgettable beauty of the Đerdap National Park.
Iconic spots on the Danube
Oh, you thought we were done naming all the best spots on the Danube? When it comes to rivers in Serbia, there's always more! Whether you're a fan of the architecture of the middle ages or your love of history goes further back, important sites on the Danube shores in the Balkans will satisfy your cravings. From the cradle of neolithic civilization to Serbia's favorite attractions, we recommend you find the time to visit:
- Golubac Fortress: The monumental Golubac fortress rises above the very entrance to the Djerdap Gorge. It stood abandoned and overgrown with weeds for a long time, but recently it was beautifully decorated and restored into one of the most beautiful tourist destinations in Serbia. The so-called Hat Tower is reputed to be one of the most beautiful in Europe and is a trademark of the town of Golupac. You can enter the fortress on foot and climb to different cultures, which is the best way to experience one of the most iconic castles in Serbia.
- Lepenski vir: The story of the awakening of European civilization began on the banks of the Danube. The oldest known urban settlement in Europe, Lepenski Vir, developed along its course. The inhabitants and creators of this culture are still shrouded in mystery, but it is known that they were excellent artists. They paid tribute to the life-giving river by making enigmatic fish-shaped sculptures, which are believed to represent river deities. Learn even more about it on our page - Lepenski vir.
Sava river - Things to know about Belgrade's most important river
Rivers in Serbia play a much bigger role than it may seem - most of them are actively being used as important transportation channels and their impact on tourism and modern living is significant. It's good to know that:
- The course of the Sava River moves from Slovenia, through Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, all the way to the recognizable point in Serbia where it flows into the Danube, at the place where the ancient ramparts of the Belgrade Fortress meet the brutalist architecture of New Belgrade. The Sava River is formed by the joining of two rivers, Sava Dolinka and Sava Bohinjka, near Radovljica in northwestern Slovenia, and it's about 940 kilometers long.
- The Sava is the link between the three main and largest cities of the former Yugoslavia: Belgrade, Zagreb, and Ljubljana. It is also estimated that more than 8 million people live in the areas around the Sava.
- It was not named after Saint Sava. The name Sava originates from a Greek word that means strong and safe. Those are the adjectives that can best describe this river.
Natural attractions on the Sava
The area around the river, Posavina, is the perfect place if you want to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city for a short period and spend a pleasant time in nature, enjoying the shade of trees or visiting some of the archaeological sites such as Sirmium, Gomolava or Debrc. Other spots worth the visit are:
- Zasavica: One of the most beautiful nature reserves in the country, Zasavica, is located in the now abandoned riverbed of the Sava. It represents the home and only refuge for hundreds of rare species of animals. The star of the reserve is the beaver, a species that disappeared from the entire country until a hundred years ago. You can meet this animal in Serbia only in Zasavica, and besides it, you can also meet otters and an unusual subspecies of curly-haired pig, mangulica. What put Zasavica on the map is the most expensive cheese in the world, pule. It is made from donkey milk, a costly and long process designed by Zasavica technicians. Be ready to pay around $1,300 per kilo.
- Obedska bara: On the Sava, there is also a small paradise for birds, the Obedska Bara Special Nature Reserve. Like Zasavica, Obedska Bara is the remnant of the abandoned Sava River bed, which became an oasis of greenery and a hideout for endangered species. Take a walk on one of the educational trails and discover what water mirrors are, take part in feeding the animals on the bird island and walk to the ruins of the medieval Kupinik fortress.
Drina river - The cold marvel of Serbia
The Drina, the indomitable beauty of the western regions of Serbia, meanders through landscapes that came straight out of the postcard. It is known for unusual emerald water and the divine appearance of its canyons, the beauty of which even the attempt to tame the dams could not spoil. You also should know:
- The Drina belongs to the Black Sea Basin, and is formed by the confluence of the Tara and Piva rivers near Šćepan Polje. It flows through the southwestern and western parts of Serbia, the northern part of Montenegro, and the eastern part of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
- It is assumed that the origin of the name Drina lies in the word drati. This verb describes the vigorous property of water that has such power that it can tear apart rocks, mountains, and soil to create its course. In the past, the Drina was popularly known as Zelenika and Zelenka.
- In 1896, the water level of the Drina rose by an incredible 14 meters, so it flooded the entire large bridge in Visegrad. This event is described in Ivo Andrić's Nobel-winning novel The bridge on the Drina.
Tourist attractions on the Drina
In all three countries through which it flows, along the Drina, there are some beautiful and historically significant cities and landmarks. The largest cities on the Drina's journey through Serbia are Bajina Bašta, Zvornik, and Loznica. Your visit to these parts of Serbia will include:
- Drina river house: A simple wooden house became a sight that traveled the world and became a recognizable symbol not only of the power of the Drina, but also of Serbia in general. The building is located on a small rock in the very center of the river, whose violent falls it has resisted for years. It was demolished and rebuilt several times, so it became a kind of symbol of resistance.
- Perucac: The second largest artificial lake in Serbia attracts tourists with its irresistible turquoise water color, which gives the entire landscape a unique look. On the coast of Perućac, there are a large number of log cabins, bungalows, and rafts, which allow visitors to experience a refreshing vacation on the water itself. Perfect opportunity to make your Instagram feed flawless, trust us. Swimming, boating, and renting pedal boats are just some of the activities offered by this irresistible gift of the Drina.
- Tara: In one part of its course, the Drina meanders through the cliffs of Mount Tara. Tara is a beautiful gem of untouched nature and a refuge for many rare animal species. Nature lovers will surely be enchanted by its fairy-tale forests and hidden hiking trails. This mountain is a great destination all year round. In summer, you can enjoy hiking to its misty peaks and stunning viewpoints, cycling, and bear-watching, while heavy snowfall always transforms it into a magical winter paradise.
Experience Drina - Water sports on the coldest river in Serbia
Drina river in Serbia will give you a perfect opportunity to go rafting, canoeing over the rapids, kayaking, or paddleboarding. We do have to warn you, the Drina is prettyyyyy cold! The best ways to experience the beauty and strength of this Serbian river are:
- Drina cruise: The tour starts at Lake Perućac, and then, following the course of the river, the boat travels all the way to Višegrad, where tourists have the opportunity to visit Andrićgrad and the monumental bridge of Mehmed Pasha Sokolović.
- Canyoning: This is one of the most popular activities on the Drina. The fearless can venture into exploring its narrow, hidden canyons where natural treasures unsullied by human hands await. In the company of professionals, you'll test your limits by climbing on slippery rocks, swimming under cold waterfalls and crawling through limited places.
- Drina regatta and rafting: There is also a long tradition of rafting on the Drina. The first rafts sailed down the river already in the middle of the 19th century. Until the construction of the hydroelectric power plant, they hauled timber for sale from the slopes of the Tara and Zvijezda mountains. As a reminder of the unusual tradition, the Drina Regatta, Zvornička Regatta, and Bratunac Regatta events are held every year on the Drina. Get yourself a raft made from bottles or a sturdy wooden one, find some company, traditional Serbian food, and booze, and join the longest party in Serbia.
Ibar - Serbian river with the most rapids
The fast, bouncy rapids of the Ibar River create an image that is more than impressive. The landscapes and narrow gorges that surround it make it one of the best places to visit in spring. The areas around the Ibar are also known as the Valley of the Kings, due to the large number of valuable medieval monuments that preserve the memory of the era when the Nemanjićs used to rule. Some specifics about the river include:
- The Ibar flows through the eastern part of Montenegro and southwestern Serbia. The total length of the river is 272 kilometers, and the average depth of 4 meters, which is why rafting enthusiasts like to visit it.
- It is not certain how the river got its name. There is an interpretation that the origin comes from the Basque word for the river ibari. On the other hand, the word Ibar is similar to the ancient name for the Maritsa river, Hiberus.
- There are 10 hydroelectric power plants on the Ibar River and the river is also suitable for fishing. It is rich in chub, catfish, carp, crucian carp, and whiting.
Surroundings of Ibar to visit
If water sports are not your thing, exploring the flow of Ibar will be just as fun. From famous churches to flowery meadows, you can't miss:
- Kraljevo: Today, Kraljevo is the modern center of the Raški District and one of the most beautiful towns in Šumadija region. It is recognizable for its exceptional historical significance, preservation of tradition, important monuments, and characteristic gastronomic specialties. Kraljevo is filled with architecture from the 19th century, such as the Master Vasa's Konak and the Adžić House. Also, just five kilometers from the city, by the river itself, is the famous Žiča monastery which we wrote more about in our blog - Most famous Serbian churches. Nearby is one of the most beautiful spa towns in Serbia, Mataruška Banja.
- Lilac valley: The entire area around the Ibar is also extremely important because it was the center of the medieval Serbian state for centuries. Ancient monasteries of inestimable importance await at every turn and preserve the memory of the legendary story of the Lilac Valley. The romantic story takes us back to 13th century when Stefan Uros the First decided to go all out for his new wife, Helen of Anjou. That's when along the inaccessible coast of the Ibar, his court planted blue, white, and pink lilacs to remind Princess Helen of her native Provence.
Rafting on Ibar - who is it for?
One of the most exciting water sports, rafting, is blooming in this part of Serbia, and you can try it on the untamed rapids of the Ibar. The short answer would be - for everyone willing. But, there are parts of the river that go from moderate to wild wild. Rafting is possible on the entire course of the river between Ušće and Kraljevo, but the most popular part of the river for this sport leads to the Maglič fortress. It is a picturesque part of the Ibar with more moderate rapids, so it is ideal for relaxing on the water, without big and exciting noises. The crown of this section is its ending, which offers an unforgettable view of the medieval town of Maglič. You'll be spending around 3 hours on the water for the price of 35 euros.
Uvac - Magnificent river and canyon in Serbia
The river that meanders through beautiful landscapes between Zlatibor and Zlatar may not be one of the largest rivers in the country, but it has gained fame for its incredible beauty. The characteristic meanders of Uvac can be found on many postcards and blogs representing Serbia and attract many tourists who want to witness this scene live. It's good to know that:
- Two hydropower plants, Kokin Brod and Uvac, were built on this small river, and three artificial lakes, Sjenica, Zlatarsko, and Radoinjsko jezero, were built for their needs.
- Due to its mostly inaccessible canyons, many monasteries were hidden near Uvac, especially during the rule of the Turks. There are the recently restored Uvac and Dubrava monasteries, but there were also many others. It is believed that one of them is the legendary monastery of Janja, sung in the epic folk song Miloš u Latinima as one of the most important endowments of Nemanjići.
- Due to the inaccessible terrain and the dense forests surrounding the river, during the Ottoman Empire, Uvac was often a favorite hideout of hajduks, brave heroes that fought to improve the living conditions of the people. Today, Uvac is the largest habitat of the rare Griffon vulture in Serbia.
Uvac canyon - Home of the Griffon Vulture
The unique view of the winding meanders of the Uvac has made the area around this river one of the most popular tourist destinations in Serbia. Many tourists come to this nature park primarily to enjoy the charms of untouched nature, and for ornithologists and speleologists, it is a particularly special place. A panoramic telescope has been placed on one of the viewpoints, from which you can watch meanders and Griffon vultures in flight. Sailing on tourist boats along the narrow meanders and visiting the gorge from the river promises another unforgettable experience on this Serbian river.
This river in Serbia is known for one magnificent bird. The Griffon vulture is the largest bird in Serbia, but, despite its size, today, it is a rare inhabitant of this region. This bird prefers high and inaccessible cliffs suitable for nesting, and it also needs to be close to water. This made the cliffs near Uvac a perfect place for the survival of this rare and unusual species. About twenty years ago, the griffon vulture was on the verge of extinction, and today, thanks to regular feeding, the number of griffon vultures has increased to about 300 individuals, which you can watch cruising their heavenly kingdom and feeding their young on the cliffs of the Uvac canyon.
We have to part ways now but don't be sad. You have a whole list of Serbian rivers to get to! Whether you're in the search of an extreme adventure or can't wait to have a peaceful holiday on the banks of Sava, you'll have the time of your life traveling to Serbia. Bon Voyage!