Have wheelchair; will travel — even to Serbia! It wasn’t exactly easy, but we learned a lot, and I’m sharing it all. Accessible travel in Serbia is possible with some legwork and a bit of resolve. When we visited in June of 2018, we had some great experiences with accessibility and also some really challenging moments. We had many opportunities to practice persistence, good humor, patience, and stubbornness.
Our visit to Serbia took extensive planning both before arrival and during our stay. And as there are no dedicated accessible tourism resources available, you’ll have to do the planning. But you can do it! We really only experienced Belgrade, the capital city, but I would bet that Belgrade would be considered the most accessible city. For a laissez faire approach to vacationing, try somewhere else. But if you’re up for it, Serbia could be your next great adventure!
Accessibility aside, we found Belgrade to be a fun and interesting experience. It’s quite inexpensive to stay there, to get around, and especially to eat. As it’s not one of the biggest destinations in Europe and has a fairly small airport, I found that tickets to and from were not necessarily the cheapest, but the rest of the trip was quite reasonable. We were able to eat out every day, indulge in treats, and still have cash left over.
Food and Drink
The city streets are lined with small, fast food eateries, coffee shops, bakeries, and all kinds of other restaurants. It was a fantastic place for my coffee-loving husband and I, as there are a number of high quality specialty coffee roasters and their cafes. And the specialty coffee trend is growing quickly.
Serbs & Disability
Our interactions with the Serbs left me with the impression of a kind, warm, yet businesslike people who are more than willing to be helpful. In some of our adventures downtown, we were asked by a few passersby if we needed any help, which I only was able to decipher with body language, as I speak about ten words of Serbian — and that only thanks to our ever-so-wonderful driver, Zoran, who taught them to me.
I saw no other wheelchair users out and only a few others visibly affected by a disability, and it’s my impression that the Serbs are, on the whole, fairly unused to encountering wheelchair users out in public. Yet I’m discovering more and more that within the disabled community, there seems to be a fairly extensive network of support and advocacy. It just has yet to reach the mainstream consciousness.
Belgrade is a city that is improving its infrastructure, most notably in the high-traffic tourist areas. These pedestrian areas and main squares have been expanded and beautified very recently. There is a fascinating mix of quite ancient trams, buses, and trolleybuses that steadily cross the city, busily running through the streets along their lines and railways. The city has grown from about 40,000 to 2 million in the last hundred years along with some significant upheaval including a war at the end of the 20th century, and it’s slowly working it’s way into the modern standards. Serbia is also not a part of the EU, so there is no outside accountability for accessibility. I’m no historical, political, or economic expert, so I’ll leave you to do your own research on that, if you’d like.
Finding a truly accessible bathroom in the city can be quite tricky. Bathrooms in restaurants might be past a flight of stairs. But there is one place to find a great, new accessible bathroom right in the heart of the tourist area. There’s a brand new mall across from the Kalemegdan Fortress, and there are separate accessible bathrooms in it, as indicated by the standard accessibility symbol.
The bathroom itself was located between the women’s and men’s bathrooms and was strangely unmarked but open.
Important Note: None of the accessible bathrooms or accessible stalls that we used in Belgrade have a lock — not in the airport, not in the mall. Some of them could lock from the inside with a key, and maybe you’re supposed to ask for one. But not all of them even had a keyhole on the inside. I’m really not sure what this is all about, but we ran into the same odd issue in Slovenia too and found it rather disturbing. So have a friend watch out for you, if you can.
At any other time, a good bet for an accessible bathroom in any location is a modern hotel or sometimes museums or government buildings. You will definitely need to be strategic about your bathroom needs when out and about in Belgrade.
Our particular bathroom need is usually just a space big enough for the wheelchair to get in and the door to close behind. Michael’s chair can also be popped up a short step, no higher than about 6 inches, so sometimes we have a little more flexibility with bathrooms. That being said, we found the bathroom at Manufaktura — a fantastic restaurant also in the walking area — to be accessible for us. It is, however, just down the street from the mall mentioned above, if you need it.
Cash or Cards?
An important side note on means of payment, is that cash is the best way to go here. You can’t use Euros for most things, so it’s best to just change your currency into dinars when you arrive. Always carry cash if you’re planning on being out, though hotels, of course, take credit cards.
Using Your Cell Phone & Communication While in Serbia
It’s simple and cheap to get a local SIM Card, but your phone has to be unlocked and on a GSM network. Ask at your hotel for the closest local kiosk or have your taxi driver take you to one after you arrive. The kiosks called Trafika are fairly common in Belgrade, and they do carry SIM cards. A starter card costs just a couple bucks, comes with a minimum of data and in-network calling, and you can load it with another couple bucks to get access for calling out of network and/or for more data usage.
Although wi-fi is fairly widely available in most cafés, you’ll find it useful and possibly invaluable to have access to your phone in case any issues arise, as well as to conveniently communicate with the accessible taxi drivers. Additionally, it’s good to have WhatsApp installed on your phone, as it’s a widely used alternative to pricey texting and calling. It’s also popular and commonplace among Europeans. We also found that some Serbs prefer an app called Viber over WhatsApp — just as an FYI in case it comes up like it did for us.
Resource Organizations and Contacts
When it comes to accessible traveling in a new country, or really anywhere, it’s important to know where you can turn when you need help. The following resources, in addition to the other extensive individual posts I’ve written about Belgrade and Serbia, may become invaluable to you while in Serbia or while planning your trip. Count me as a resource too!
Here’s a prime example of why you will need these resources. When we landed at the airport in Belgrade, Michael’s wheelchair wouldn’t turn on! A short in the wire connecting to the joystick had finally severed completely (no fault of the airline at all!). It was midday when we arrived, and as soon as we got to the hotel, I called CIL Serbia to ask if they knew of any wheelchair repair people we could contact. They gave me a number right away, and the man came out to see the chair as soon as he could the next day. He and his partner fixed it up within a few hours, and we were able to enjoy the rest of our trip. Without our contact with CIL Serbia, the trip would have been darn near impossible.
Center for Independent Living Serbia
+381 11 3675317
The first real resource I found and the ones that gave me all the info I have about accessibility of public transit, the names and numbers of the private drivers with wheelchair vans, and the wheelchair repair guy’s info. They have an office in Belgrade, too. Send them an email or call if it’s an urgent question. They have staff who speak English wonderfully.
National Organization of Persons with Disabilities of Serbia
From their site: “National Organization of Persons with Disabilities of Serbia (NOOIS) is umbrella organization of 13 Serbia’s national disability organizations, representing more than half a million of citizens of Serbia with disabilities.”
“… is the Union of organizations of the persons with individual types of disabilities, the organizations of legal advocates of persons with disabilities and the interest organizations gathering persons with different types of disabilities … Our mission is increasing inclusion of persons with disabilities in society, full respect of human rights and non-discrimination based on disability, through partnership of the unique disability movement and the republic in passing and applying the disability Laws and other documents, in compliance with the international standards and documents.”
New Life Orthopedics
+381 63 261 392
Center for the sale of orthopedic, rehab, and accessibility equipment. I’m not sure about rental, but you can always ask.
+381 65 936 3636 and +381 64 458 6819
He sells spare parts for wheelchairs and other things. This contact came from our private taxi driver, so I know you can trust it.
+381 63 214 721
This is the guy who came out and fixed Michael’s wheelchair! You can call him or text using the Viber app, as he doesn’t have WhatsApp. He does speak some English.
Association of Paraplegics and Tetraplegics of Serbia (Savez) – I’ve linked to the About page. Not in English, but very interesting if you copy and paste it into Google Translate.
+381 11 228 8436
This organization focuses on support of the broader community in Serbia living with spinal cord injury. They educate, advocate, support, organize, promote, and legislate. It looks like they have connections to sports for people with spinal cord injuries. And it also looks like they could be a great resource for any wheelchair user or other person without total use of all four limbs.
What We’d Do Differently Next Time
If we had been staying for one or two days longer, I would have loved for us to take a day trip to Novi Sad, one of the next closest big cities. It looks like a beautiful place to visit and would provide for a good opportunity to see some of the countryside as well. Tip: Zoran, the driver, is well-acquainted with Novi Sad, though Dragan, the other driver, is not familiar with the city.
I’d also plan extra time to see more of the sights and visit more of the recommended restaurants. Exploring Kalamegdan Fortress would be high on the sightseeing list. Summary: More time!
I’d book our driver for blocks of time for when we want to be out and about in and around the city. It’s relatively inexpensive and well worth the extra cost! And I’m scrupulous when it comes to how we spend our money, so you can believe me when I say it’s worth it.
I may or may not choose to fly Air Serbia again, now that I know how the system works. It was a major pain in the rear end, but it worked out eventually. Despite all the issues with getting approval to use his own power chair up until boarding, the flight staff were kind and helpful, and the chair made it undamaged. Plus, they flew direct. That’s a huge bonus.
Summary & Further Detailed Articles
When we set out to attend the WordCamp Europe conference in Belgrade this year, there was virtually zero information online about accessibility in Belgrade and Serbia. I reached out to a contact in Slovenia and got a few helpful tips, spent countless hours online researching, asked our hotel, and finally found a couple contacts that put the remaining puzzle pieces together. The rest we found out by firsthand experience after we arrived. I hope that this post helps someone else start their accessible journey to Serbia to enjoy this fairly undiscovered destination. When you do go, you can build on what we’ve learned and add to the available information for the next travelers.
For more extensive information on our experiences, including any info we could gather about accessibility, see the following, related posts: