Take a road trip across Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina with Atlas Obscura as we explore the Balkans in search of Yugoslav memorial sites.
Scores of these wonderfully bizarre monuments lay scattered across the hills and mountains of the region, vast Modernist effigies raised to commemorate the deeds of anti-fascist partisans and revolutionaries. Once upon a time, these striking sites were busy with tour buses and school children, but ever since the collapse of Yugoslavia, the visitors have dwindled.
Over the course of this one-of-a-kind tour, we will visit more than a dozen of these remarkable monuments—known locally as spomeniks—and treat them to the well-deserved attention that they’ve been largely missing for these past few decades. We will honor them not as political symbols, but rather as extraordinary works of art commemorating events that should never be forgotten.
However, it won’t just be concrete and steel we’re looking at—along the way we’ll see mountains and lakes, explore underground tunnels, stay in Brutalist hotels, dig into local cuisines, and get to know the people who make up this diverse region of Eastern Europe.
Your tight-knit group of 12 explorers will experience a uniquely curated tour, delivered by a team of experienced guides. Our 12 days and 12 nights in the Balkans will make for an extraordinary and unforgettable introduction to the region.
- Otherworldly monuments: Take in a vast array of structures scattered across the Balkan landscape and now, in many cases, slipping gradually into decline.
- Capital city explorations: Led by expert local guides, explore the hidden sights in Belgrade, Zagreb, and Sarajevo, three unique and vibrant capital cities.
- Lakeside relaxation: Spend a day wandering aroung Plitvice Lakes, a spectacular natural reserve made up of 16 terraced lakes and numerous waterfalls.
- Urban exploration: From underground tunnels to abandoned factories, you will have countless opportunities to get well and truly off the grid and experience some beautiful decay.
A $500 deposit is required to secure your spot. This deposit is nonrefundable after three days. We have limited capacity and expect the trip to fill quickly. The trip will cost $4,215—the $500 deposit plus the $3,715 final payment—and will cover all fixed costs including all accommodations, meals, and activities listed in the itinerary below.
Please email us at trips@or call us at (646) 961-4857 with any questions about the itinerary, logistics, and payment.
- You should plan your travels to arrive in Belgrade anytime on Wednesday, April 18. We’ll be setting off for our first explorations on Thursday morning.
- Our hotel for the next two nights is located in the Novi Beograd district, famed for its Brutalist and Modernist architecture. We can take a little time to explore the district, before settling down for a traditional Serbian dinner and a good night’s rest.
Exploring the Serbian Capital
- After breakfast at Hotel Jugoslavija, we will head out for a walking tour of Belgrade, taking in churches and castles, modern and ancient architecture alike.
- This afternoon, we’ll get off the grid and visit some rather less conventional attractions, including abandoned factories and Yugoslav-era monuments on the outskirts of the Serbian capital.
- Our evening meal will be served at a restaurant in the historic Skadarlija district, where you will experience the bohemian atmosphere of modern Belgrade amongst the relics of the city’s industrial past.
Tito’s Mausoleum and the Road to Croatia
- After breakfast, our bus will collect us from the hotel. Our first stop will be at the "House of Flowers," the resting place of Marshall Josip Broz Tito, the first president of Yugoslavia.
- Afterwards, we’ll drive to the melancholy Jabuka Memorial Park, and then head on toward the Croatian border. Once on the other side, we’ll visit Vukovar, located on the Vuka and Danube Rivers and home to the country’s largest river port. This town suffered severe damage during the Croatian War for Independence, and its derelict water tower has come to stand as a powerful local symbol for Croatian resistance.
- After having a look at Vukovar and its Yugoslav-era "Spomenpark," we’ll continue on to our final stop of the day, the city of Slavonski Brod. Here, we’ll enjoy home-cooked food and a rustic welcome to Croatia before turning in for the night.
- After breakfast, we’ll drive an hour to Jasenovac and its singular "Stone Flower" monument, which rises above the site of the former Jasenovac concentration camp. At the local museum, we’ll learn more about the place once described as the "Auschwitz of the Balkans." It will be a somber experience, but what we learn at this place will be crucial to understanding the region and its politics.
- After Jasenovac, we’ll head north, taking lunch in Sisak before visiting the partisan monument in the forests on the edge of town. Next, we’ll stop at the wonderfully surreal "Monument to the Revolution of the People of Moslavina," just outside Podgarić.
- By evening we’ll be in Zagreb, ready to grab dinner and sample the vibrant nightlife of the Croatian capital.
Churches, Castles, and Ghosts of Zagreb
- Sunday morning will be spent getting to know Zagreb and its surroundings. We’ll take a walking tour, absorbing the city’s history, architecture, and graffiti. Along the way, there will be panoramic rooftop views, magnificent churches, a ruined castle, and ghost stories at an abandoned sanatorium in the mountains.
- By afternoon, we’ll be on the move again, this time driving south to see the largest monument on the entire tour: the colossal memorial house on Petrova Gora. Built to commemorate the Serbian victims of a former fascist regime, this once-proud monument is now reduced to a crumbling ruin lost in a wild green landscape.
- The day ends with an easy 90-minute drive to our final stop, a cozy guesthouse in the Plitvice National Park.
Plitvice Lakes: Relax and Explore
- We will spend two nights in Plitvice, with a full day in between to enjoy the scenic delights and slower pace of life offered by this famously beautiful locale.
- Our hotel is located just a stone’s throw from the famous Plitvice Lakes, a series of cascading lakes and streams that has been described as one of the most beautiful national parks in the world. There will also be plenty of time for adventure, with an optional outing (access allowing) to the nearby Željava Air Base—an abandoned tunnel complex hidden deep beneath a mountain on the Croatian-Bosnian border.
- We’ll gather together at the end of the day for an optional group dinner at a local grill restaurant.
Garavice Memorial Park and Mount Kozara
- This morning after breakfast, we’ll cross into our third country, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Soon after driving over the border, we’ll stop at the Garavice Memorial Park. Here, you’ll see beautiful stone figures that mark the site of a terrible World War II massacre.
- From Garavice Memorial Park, we’ll drive through the dramatic landscapes to Mount Kozara, visiting the memorial tower that commemorates a 1942 battle between Tito’s partisans and the occupying Nazi forces. Towering at a height of 33 meters (108 feet), this is one of the tallest monuments we’ll visit together.
- By late afternoon, we’ll pull into Banja Luka, the largest city in Bosnia’s "Republika Srpska" region. Here we’ll have a chance to explore the picturesque town before settling in for dinner at a contemporary watering hole.
- Today after breakfast, we’ll make the drive from Banja Luka to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Sarajevo is a truly remarkable city. It is home to rows of imperial Austro-Hungarian architecture in between minarets and exotic markets.
- In the afternoon you’ll have the chance to learn about the Bosnian War and the 1992-96 Siege of Sarajevo. Survivors of the conflict will share their stories with us during a walking tour of the abandoned Olympic bobsleigh track, which became a frontline during the conflict.
- Hearing these survivors’ accounts won’t be an easy experience, but it’s an important one. Afterwards, we’ll settle down in the center to eat, drink, and reflect on everything we’ve learned.
- We’ll stay at a hotel in Sarajevo tonight before you set out on your adventure of choice tomorrow.
Sarajevo and Sutjeska National Park
- Today might be the hardest choice you’ll have to make all tour. You can either stay in Sarajevo for the day and explore the city’s many markets, mosques, plazas, and coffee shops at your leisure, or alternatively, jump in for a day trip on the bus.
- If you choose the latter option, you’ll take a two-hour drive to the Tjentište Monument, located down south in the remote Sutjeska National Park. These iconic concrete wings commemorate one of the most decisive local battles of WWII, and the former memorial complex offers plenty more to see, including an abandoned "Palace of Culture," complete with a derelict theatre.
- By evening, we’ll all be back in Sarajevo, where we’ll take one last walk through the mesmerizing streets of the Old Town district.
Užice and Kadinjača Memorial Complex
- This morning, we bid farewell to Bosnia and Herzegovina and cross the border back into Serbia, driving through the beautiful landscape to the Kadinjača Memorial Complex near Užice. It’s another battlefield memorial, a huge complex constructed with pink tiles and clean white stone.
- We’ll have lunch nearby before heading into town to explore. Užice is a real paradise for architecture geeks, and we’ll get to know it inside out, admiring some extraordinary examples of communist-era architecture before heading into tunnels that once contained a secret ammunitions factory.
- Later on, we’ll drive to our accommodation nearby, a rustic woodland resort just outside Užice.
Sniper Monument and Southern Serbia
- Today, we'll be delving into southern Serbia, densely packed with Yugoslav-era monuments. Many of these were built to mark the various battles between the Yugoslav partisans and the Nazis, so as we travel from one to the next, you’ll get a real sense of the geography involved in this drawn-out, bloody campaign.
- Some of the highlights today will include the Memorial Mausoleum in Čačak, the Memorial Park in Kruševac, and the Sniper Monument at Popina.
- By early evening we’ll arrive in Niš, heading straight to the Bubanj Memorial Complex, where three huge concrete firsts burst out of the grass in a wooded public park.
- Come evening, we'll return to the city to sample some of the region’s delicious barbecue cuisine.
Skull Tower of Niš and Šumarice
- In the morning we’ll have breakfast, then visit the infamous Skull Tower of Niš: an early 19th-century structure that was once decorated with 952 skulls taken from the corpses of fallen Serbian rebels.
- Following that, we'll head out of town, driving north to visit the Šumarice Memorial Park at Kragujevac. Once the site of a Nazi massacre, this area has since been redeveloped into a picturesque park filled with thought-provoking monuments.
- After a late lunch together, we’ll hit the highway and head north to see our last memorial site: the partisan monument on Mount Kosmaj. From there it’s a short drive to Belgrade, where we will finish with dinner on a floating restaurant in the Sava River and celebrate our final night together.
Belgrade: Farewell and Departure
- Breakfast on Monday will be our last group meal—but the fun doesn’t have to end there. You’ll find plenty more to explore with your last day in Belgrade, from Brutalist architecture to curious museums and quirky bars. Your guides will be on hand to share their tips and advice, pointing you towards all the highlights of the capital.
- When you’ve had your fill, Belgrade has one of the best-connected airports in the Balkans, making it easy to plan the next stage of your journey from here.
- Until the next adventure!
YOUR ATLAS OBSCURA BALKANS EXPEDITION INCLUDES
- Transport: Over the course of these 12 days we’ll travel more than 2,200 kilometers (1,367 miles), and through three very different countries. Comfort is a priority—so we will have our own private bus for the journey, a modern, air-conditioned vehicle with a professional driver.
- Hotels: All 12 nights of accommodation are included. Sometimes we’ll stay at modern 4-star resorts, while other nights we’ll be immersed in retro hospitality at Brutalist 1970s hotels. Some of these buildings are as interesting as any monument we’ll see. Single supplement for a private room is available for $765. Otherwise we’ll work to place singles together.
- Food: The price of the tour includes a daily breakfast, usually a full breakfast buffet at our hotel. You will also get to enjoy four group dinners included in the package—there will be one traditional evening meal in each of the three capitals we visit, as well as a final, farewell dinner once we get back to Belgrade on Sunday, April 28.
- The Tour: All entry fees related to the tour are included in the cost. In addition to a dedicated driver there’ll be two guides on hand throughout: one local expert, and a Western PhD scholar who specializes in the monuments of Southeast Europe. Between them they will be able to answer your questions, share stories, provide translations and generally make sure your needs are being met.
- A full briefing packet for each explorer, including country information, logistical and contact information, recommended reading list, and packing list.
- A great group of fellow Atlas Obscura fans, excited to explore all this region has to offer!
For your personal planning of airfare to Belgrade, we suggest that your flight arrive anytime on Wednesday, April 17. If you’d like to join us in the evening, you should aim to land by late afternoon. Regarding a return flight to your home destination, feel free to book for a convenient time after breakfast on Monday, April 29. If you plan to arrive early or stay later, we’re more than happy to help in arranging your accommodation and suggesting activities in Belgrade.
NOTE ON ITINERARY
Itineraries are subject to change. This particular tour has been designed with specific activities and events in mind, whose schedules and availabilities may change in coming months. Though unlikely, if any activity or attraction that is advertised is missed or not available—be it due to local developments, untoward weather, or anything else—then we will always replace it with another activity or location of significant interest and value.
NOTE ON PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
This tour is suitable for guests of all ages (18 and above) and levels of ability—just be sure to pack your walking shoes, your flashlight, and your sense of adventure. Be aware that this tour also involves a good amount of driving time, so dress for comfort.
You will be charged a non-refundable $500 deposit to hold your space. The final payment of $3,715 will be due by January 15, 2019. We will also provide an option to pay in two installments, due December 18, 2017 and January 15, 2018. All reservations will be final after this date and subject to our cancellation policy. By submitting your deposit, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. For travelers wishing to have single accommodations during the trip, an additional $765 will be included in the final payment.
TRAVELERS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR
- Transportation and flights to and from Belgrade, Serbia.
- Personal travel insurance (required).
- Baggage charges.
- Additional meals and drinks outside of Atlas Obscura offerings. A daily breakfast and four group dinners are included in the tour offering, but you will be responsible for paying for additional meals. We reserve the right to sometimes surprise you with a cocktail… but we’re afraid we won’t be picking up your bar tab!
- If applicable, applying for visas.