While in Sofia, I was looking at potential day trips to nearby countries and found a company that did day trips to Niš every Wednesday. Although there are regular buses there, I decided I’d rather take a group tour to save time. We visited three main sites on our way to the city centre, and it would have been a lot of hassle trying to visit them myself – especially as my roaming plan doesn’t include Serbia.
I decided that as I was already doing a day trip to Plovdiv, primarily for Roman ruins, then a day trip to Niš to see the Roman ruins there too just made sense.
Getting to Niš
There are regular buses that go from Sofia, making it very easy to organise your own day trip to Niš. I had originally considered taking a bus there in the morning, spending the day, then continuing onwards to Skopje. I changed my mind, and went with a tour. Although there are lots of options to choose from, many of them only offer private tours. I was finally able to find one that offered a group tour – V Travel – and got very lucky with there being just four of us on the trip.
To get a bus there, you need to go to the international bus station in Sofia. There are various companies that offer the route, so the best option is to look at what times suit you. If you want to book online in advance, then you can get tickets with Flixbus. Another company that offers the route is Matpu, who I used on my trip to Skopje.
However, if you are only planning on visiting for the day, then I would recommend taking a guided tour. I wasn’t a big fan of Niš, and I definitely wouldn’t have enjoyed the trip as much if I didn’t have a guide to explain more about the city to us. I know that if I had explored by myself I would have been quite disappointed, especially since my favourite two stops were Mediana and the Skull Tower.
Visiting Mediana was my main reason for choosing the tour. It is the remains of a Roman villa from the ancient Roman town of Naissus. Constantine the Great was born in Naissus and built the site in the 4th century.
This is quite far outside the city and although it’s possible to get a bus, it’s just much more convenient on a guided tour. Our guide showed us around the site and I felt we had plenty of time. I stopped and took a lot of photographs of the mosaics, as I love mosaics!
The ruins are located under a large roof to keep them protected from the element. Some sections have been partially restored to give you a better idea of what the villa would have looked like.
This was definitely my favourite part of the whole tour, although if you’re not as obsessed with the Romans as I am then you might not enjoy it as much.
The Skull Tower
Despite the name, this is not actually a tower of skulls. It’s the remains of a tower with skulls embedded on the sides. Having visited the Paris catacombs, I was expecting a bit more, so the actual tower itself was a bit disappointing. It’s located in a small chapel and many of the skulls were removed by the relatives so there aren’t many left. Out of the original 952, only 58 remain.
Although I was disappointed by the Skull Tower itself, the history behind it was fascinating. It was built from the skulls of Serbian rebels against the Ottomans. Originally it was meant to threaten people and discourage future rebellions, however the Serbians viewed it as a symbol of their struggle and instead of discouraging them it motivated them further.
Red Cross Concentration Camp
I hadn’t heard of this Concentration Camp before visiting, but it’s incredibly well preserved. Seeing the site, it’s hard to believe just how many prisoners they kept here. The most depressing fact was learning that one category of prisoners were hostages that were killed whenever a Nazi soldier was injured or killed. Despite this, the camp had a successful escape attempt with 15 people who managed to flee.
The main building is very well laid out with lots of information in each room. The atmosphere is very sombre and when visiting, we had it all to ourselves and it was completely silent as we went round, absorbing all the information.
Although I think this was a very worthwhile stop on the tour, I think the timing of it could have been better. After this, it was time to head off to lunch and then explore the city. I think it would be much better to visit here after the city, as the final stop. That way, you can use the return journey to Sofia to fully absorb everything. That might just be me, but whenever I visit a dark history site I always spend some time after just sitting and reflecting on it before I’m reading to do other things.
Upon arriving in the city centre, our first stop was a restaurant for lunch. Our guide brought us to a traditional Serbian restaurant; however, upon walking in we discovered the restaurant was full of smokers. Although indoor smoking is banned, they were doing it anyway and the smell was overwhelming. The guide asked about sitting outside, but we were too large a party for a table. So, instead of our traditional meal, we ended up at a trendy café. I was slightly disappointed as I hoped to try something traditional, but as the guide was paying I wasn’t going to complain about a free meal.
After lunch, we had some free time to explore. The shopping area was very small and I failed at finding a tourist shop to buy myself a magnet. I did find a nice little bookshop to get my souvenir of a book in Serbian (about a cat). After that, I made my way to the Niš Fortress. This had the only tourist shop I could find, so was able to get a magnet (although not in the shape of the country). Inside the fortress is a large park with various remains. I really enjoyed exploring it, and if I’d known it was so nice I would have spent more time here instead of in the city centre.
The company I chose to do the day trip to Niš with was over an hour late in the morning, due to the minibus breaking down. However, as an apology they bought us lunch in Serbia, which we all really appreciated. That being said, the free time to explore in the city centre is very unstructured. I would have also enjoyed being given a tour around there with things explained— especially in the citadel, which I didn’t visit until the end. If I’d known it was so nice, I would have spent a lot longer there! We had less time due to the delays at the start and lunch taking a long time to arrive. I imagine you would probably have more time without all those issues.
Still, I’m glad I had the chance to visit a new country. Hopefully next time I visit Serbia I’ll enjoy it a lot more!
Have you taken a day trip to Niš? What did you think? Anywhere else in Serbia you would recommend visiting?