Serbia is a country of energetic cities, gorgeous nature, historic churches, and friendly people. And yet despite all it has to offer, Serbia is one of the least-traveled countries in Europe. In 2017, it had about 1.3 million tourists, a real shame when you consider just how much this vibrant country has packed into its small size.
So… Is Serbia Safe?
I’ve been to Serbia three times and Stephanie has been twice. Between us, we’ve visited Niš, Novi Pazar, Kragujevac, Novi Sad, Subotica, Belgrade, Zemun, Gamzigrad, and Zaječar, so our Serbia travel advice is well-tested.
Tallying our time together, we’ve spent over two months traveling in Serbia enjoying it from North to South, Niš to Subotica. While our most recent trip to Serbia was a research trip which we took together, we have also each spent a significant amount of time traveling Serbia as solo female travelers – so we know how it feels to wonder if Serbia is safe in general, and safe for women in particular. Luckily, the answer to both is a resounding yes. Serbians are extremely friendly and welcoming to strangers, although they may occasionally be a bit shy at first.
Still, despite this, the question “is Serbia safe” is asked frequently by travelers to the Balkans. Undoubtedly, when people ask this question, images of Serbia’s rough past are in mind. The breakup of Yugoslavia was not clean, and the Balkan wars of the early 1990s are still fresh in many people’s minds. Many people still remember the NATO bombing campaign which devastated Serbia in 1999, destroying historic buildings in Belgrade and Novi Sad, among other cities. While 1999 is now nearly two decades ago, for some people, these events feel rather recent and may lead to them wondering if Serbia is safe or if it is still affected by the wars of its past.
After spending months in Serbia we can assure you that Serbia is no war zone and indeed Serbia is safe to travel to, whether you’re a solo female traveler, traveling in a group of friends, or traveling as a couple. Belgrade is a vibrant capital with culture on par with any city in Europe and in fact it numbers on both Stephanie and my’s list of top favorite cities in the entire world.
Belgrade is a lively city with people out and about enjoying the city at pretty much every hour of the night and day, and you should feel safe in general walking around provided that you keep an eye on your surroundings as you would basically anywhere else in the world.
In our two months exploring Serbia, we’ve never experienced any issues with crime in the country. Unintentionally proving our point about how safe Belgrade is, we were total dumbasses and accidentally left the front door to our Airbnb in Belgrade visibly open for several hours – nothing was touched in the apartment, thankfully! While we definitely don’t advise you leaving doors unlocked and open, we do think that any fear that Serbia is dangerous is definitely overblown and out of touch with present day reality.
Is There Anti-American Sentiment in Serbia?
One thing I wondered the first time I visited Serbia was if people in Serbia would have any resentment towards me as an American. After all, we were the main country responsible for organizing the 1999 NATO bombings that many Serbians still remember acutely, and we helped Kosovo gain independence from Serbia in 2008, a separation which Serbia still views as illegitimate and a challenge to their sovereignty. Neither of these wounds have completely healed.
I also got a bit nervous discussing my previous travel in Albania and Kosovo with Serbians, but it turns out that I really didn’t need to be. Generally, I didn’t offer information unless I was asked, but no one I talked with ever expressed any anger that I visited Kosovo or Albania. I also made sure to not weigh in on my actual political stance and focused more on my experience as a traveler rather than my geopolitical opinion. Both sides have experienced loss and hardship, and it’s not our place to dictate other people’s experiences. As travelers, we should open to hearing it, even if it confronts our biases.
In general, though, I think Serbians understand the difference between a government’s actions and its individual people and are welcoming to tourists regardless of their nationality. If you find yourself in a political discussion, just remember that you are a guest in their country and treat them with respect without forcing your opinions on them. In all my travels in Serbia, I never felt any Anti-American sentiment, even if I saw the occasional anti-NATO graffiti or political poster.
Crime in Serbia
Crime in Serbia is generally “high level” organized crime that is unlikely to affect a tourist. Mostly, violent crime occurs between rival organized criminal entities and rarely affects foreigners. Looking at statistics, Serbia was ranked as the 65th safest country in terms of murder rate in the world, beating traditionally thought-to-be-safe countries such as Finland, Canada, and Estonia. The murder rate in Serbia is 4 times lower than the murder rate in the United States, despite gun ownership rates being second in the world, right after (of course) the United States – a statistic I was surprised to find.
Basically, a traveler to Serbia should just keep aware of pickpockets, especially at popular touristic streets such as Knez Mihailova or Skadarska. To be safe, it is best to ignore strangers approaching you on the street as they may be attempting to distract you while a companion works their magic on you. Neither I nor anyone I know has been pickpocketed in Belgrade; however, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. To be honest, you’re at much greater risk of being pickpocketed in larger Western European cities like Lisbon, Barcelona, and Paris, so I would just keep your wits about you.
Belgrade is becoming a big party destination and therefore undoubtedly where you find all-night partiers you will likely find people seeking drugs. I strongly suggest you avoid taking drugs in a foreign country, as you could be criminally prosecuted, or you could put yourself in a vulnerable position and become more likely to be the victim of a crime.
Similarly, alcohol use is high in Belgrade and if you get exceedingly drunk you may be more likely to be robbed or assaulted. Keep your wits about you and moderate your alcohol consumption. Be especially mindful with rakija, as rakija starts at 40% alcohol and can exceed 60% if it’s homemade!
Taxis and Scams in Serbia
As is true with much of the Balkan countries, your biggest risk is getting scammed by a taxi – especially going home after a night clubbing.
We recommend you getting a Serbian SIM card and downloading the app Car.Go, which lets you call taxis at any time of day or night and pay seamlessly by credit card, similar to how Uber works in other countries.
If you don’t have an unlocked phone, we recommend having someone call a taxi for you which means that your ride is registered with a company and you are very unlikely to be scammed or overcharged. When we arrived at the bus station in Belgrade without SIM cards, we didn’t want to chance a scam taxi so we walked to a hotel and had them call us a cab – simple and safe.
In terms of other scams, I find that if you just ignore anyone who is coming up to you unsolicited on the street, you are not likely to get swept up into anything. I also don’t recommend that you give money to child beggars, as much as it may make you feel bad not to. Giving money to child beggars keeps them out of school and worsens the cycle of poverty. Here’s a good primer on why not.
Is Serbia Safe for Solo Female Travelers?
One of my favorite things about traveling in Serbia as a solo female traveler is that catcalling is virtually non-existent. I’ve never had a man harass me on the street simply for walking around as a woman, something I can’t say about Spain, Italy, or the U.S. The lack of harassment one of my favorite things about traveling in the Balkans.
That said, I’m speaking as a straight cisgender white woman who can easily blend in in the Balkans. A few years ago when I was first traveling the Balkans, I was backpacking around with a Black woman in Kosovo, and she was constantly being sexually harassed — whereas I experienced no harassment, unless I was walking with her.
She said this wasn’t unique to Kosovo but had been happening to her all around the Balkans (I just happened to meet her while I was in Kosovo). So be aware that I’m speaking from a position of privilege and I’d love for people of color or queer/trans women who have traveled the Balkans and Serbia in particular to weigh in on their experiences, as the intersection of your identity will likely have a lot to do with how comfortable you feel. We’d be happy to feature your voice here!
Speaking very generally, women should keep an eye on their drinks and not accept drinks from strangers, which I’m sure is no news to any woman ever. Belgrade is not particularly unsafe for women travelers, but wherever there is heavy partying, there is an easier target for predators, so exercise the same caution you would elsewhere.
In clubs and splavs (floating nightclubs in Novi Beograd) in Serbia, men will try to approach you as in any country – simply move away from someone or tell them outright if you don’t want to dance with them. I never went to clubs alone but went with people I met at my hostel so that I would have a safe group of people to party with. If you are a solo female traveler in Serbia and want to explore the city’s electric nightlife, I recommend staying at a hostel so that you can find people to go out with. You could also join a free walking tour and make friends there and make plans with people later in the evening.
Another option is to go out on a pub crawl, where you’ll be with a group and meet like-minded people along the way. This is a great way to get some insider knowledge on Belgrade nightlife and a safe and fun way to experience the nightlife if you are a solo female traveler.
Is Serbia Safe for LGBTQ Travelers?
In general, LGBT rights are improving in Serbia. In 2017 the country elected its first women and first openly gay prime minister, Ana Brnabić, and she and Belgrade’s mayor attended the Pride Parade in Belgrade this year. Previous Pride parades were marked with violence and rioting, unfortunately, so this is a drastic improvement from past years.
Belgrade is a pretty cosmopolitan city and you’ll find some gay bars in the city. Other cities and smaller towns in Serbia are likely going to be less accepting. Still, discretion is advised outside of ‘safe spaces’ – this article explains the current state of LGBT people in Serbia.
Where to Stay in Serbia
We’ve checked out the reviews and feel comfortable recommending the following hostels and hotels to solo female travelers.
To Sum It Up: Yes, Serbia Is Safe, and You Should Visit ASAP
We’ve both spent a lot of time in Serbia in several different places around the country, in several different contexts (couple’s trip, solo trips, friends trip, road trips…) and never once felt uneasy in Serbia. Truly scanning my brain, the worst thing that ever happened to us in Serbia was being yelled at by an overzealous toll booth operator for taking a photo in his vicinity. So, Serbia is hardly scary.
Exercise normal amounts of caution in crowded pedestrian areas where it would be enticing for a pickpocket to operate. Avoid drinking excessively or taking drugs, especially if you are alone. While we’ve both walked around the city at night and felt safe walking around after dark, we generally prefer to take taxis for both safety and convenience using a taxi app like Car.Go and recommend that you do the same.
In fact, we think the biggest danger of visiting Serbia is not wanting to leave. Or maybe overdosing on tacos (Belgrade has delicious tacos).
Finally, Don’t Go without Travel Insurance!
Make sure you always travel to Serbia with a valid travel insurance policy. While the country is safe, accidents can happen anywhere. If you experience an accident or theft, travel insurance will help you recover your costs and enjoy the rest of your trip.
For travel insurance, I use World Nomads. I’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.