Nis, Serbia – the layers of history

The Roman empire, the Ottomans and WW2 have left their tracks on Serbia’s third largest city – Nis

Nis is one of the most visited cities in Serbia by Bulgarians. It has a beautiful central area, nice pubs offering delicious food and plenty of historical and cultural places for the dedicated tourists. Its closeness to our capital Sofia makes it a very popular destination for a weekend trip from Sofia and it really has a lot to offer to any tourist – no matter whether you are just passing on your way to somewhere else or you are staying for longer.

[mapsmarker marker=”147″]

Visiting Nis – is it worth?

Nis is not only the third largest city in Serbia, but also a place of great historical importance. Several layers of history can be found beneath the streets of Nis, some dating 5000 years back. In Nis and its vicinities there are tens of historical monuments and artifacts that tell the story of a flourishing city with key role both during the Roman times, the Ottoman rule and nowadays.

We have been in Nis many times – sometimes just for lunch and coffee, other times for a night or two. But no matter how many times we have been there, we are not the least bored of it. Nor we have seen everything the city has to offer. Actually, every time we leave it, we somehow feel that we have missed something. And every time we return, we are amazed by the way it has changed. So if you have been in Nis before, it is still worth returning there. If you haven’t, do not miss to go there!

Nis has a lot for everyone – shopping lovers, food lovers, dedicated tourists with a long sightseeing list, history lovers, photographers and many others.

Tinkers Alley Nis

The city of Constantine the Great

Archaeological evidence shows that the Nis area was inhabited since 5000 years BC. There have been found tracks of Neolithic settlements dating from 5000 to 2000 BC. The city of Naissus gained great importance during the Roman empire. It was conquered by legionnaires in 75 BC and later became a key town on the ancient road Via Militaris (also known as Via Diagonalis), connecting Belgrade with Nis, Sofia, Plovdiv, Edirne and Istanbul.

In 272 AD in Naissus was born the future emperor Constantine the Great. He was son of Connstantius Chlorus – a military commander who in 292 was promoted a Caesar by the emperor Maximian and later became the emperor of the Western Roman empire. After his death, he was succeeded by his son Constantine I.

Constantine the Great erected a majestic residence in one of the luxurious suburbs of ancient Naissus, where he often resided and attended to state affairs. Historical records testify that he passed several ;aws in Naissus – in 315, 319, 324, and 334. After his death in 337, Mediana was used by several other emperors, either as a place of rest on their long journeys or during preparations for war.


The house of dreams

The construction of the residence started in 306. Mediana was not an ordinary residence but a huge complex, featuring the emperor’s villa, thermae, water tower, water supply system, nymphaeum and other economic buildings. The area covers 400 000 square metres. The villa comprises an area of about 6.000 m² (98,6 x 63 m) and included thermae on the west side and a smaller nymphaeum on the east side. The whole northern part was heated.

The villa was luxuriously decorated, to which testify the marble columns, basis and capitals of different sizes, reliefs on pilaster capitals and parapet slabs, the remains of wall covering of expensive, multicoloured marble, frescoes, etc. The mosaic floors that covered the whole of the peristyle porch (450 m²) and the audience room have been well preserved. The central part of this structure is a hexagon with a fountain in the middle. The lead pipe, used to supply water, can be seen in the middle of the fountain.

Mediana Nis

Mediana Nis

Nowadays the remains of Mediana are open for visitors who want to touch the lives of the Roman emperors. Despite many of the artefacts have been preserved or restored, it is really difficult to imagine what Mediana looked like it its golden era. If you want to learn more, you might hire a guide.

Opening hours:
Tuesday-Thursday: 10.00 AM-06.00 PM

Saturday-Sunday: 10.00 AM-03.00 PM

Monday: closed

Location: Google Maps

The Skull Tower in Nis


If you are a dedicated tourist and want to visit all the main attractions in Nis, you should buy a combined ticket for the main 4 tourist sites – Mediana, The Skull Tower, the concentration camp and the archaeological hall. The entrance ticket for a single site costs 150 dinars, or 1.20 EUR. The combined ticket is just 200 dinars so it is totally a bargain.

If you think you won’t have the time to visit the four of them, have in mind that most of them are relatively small sites that do not demand too much time. Mediana is the only one that is really big and you might spend hours exploring the beautiful rooms and mosaics of the lavish residence. However, you will probably not spend more than 30 minutes in any of the other sites. If you are really in a hurry, try to visit at least the Skull Tower besides Mediana.

The Skull Tower is probably the most popular tourist site in Nis after Mediana. It is quite a dramatic and even a terrifying place. The Nis Skull Tower keeps the memories of the Serbian revolution against the Ottoman rule in 19th century.

The horrific story of the skull tower

In the Ottoman times, Turkish forces used to create structures from the skulls of their enemies in order to terrify their enemies. The first Serbian uprising against the Ottoman rule erupted in 1804. On 19 May 1909, 3000 revolutionaries led by commander Stevan Sindellic were attacked by a large Turkish force on Čegar Hill. Due to lack of coordination between Serb commanders, the revolutionaries failed to receive any support. Knowing that he and his men risked impalement if captured, Sinđelić took his flintlock and fired at his entrenchment’s gun powder magazine. The resulting explosion killed him, and all the surviving Serb revolutionaries and Turkish soldiers in the vicinity.

Skull Tower Nis
After the battle, the Turkish vizier of Niš, Hurshid Pasha, ordered that the heads of Sinđelić and his men be skinned, stuffed and sent to the Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II. The skulls were then returned to Niš, where the Turks built the Skull Tower as a warning to future generations intending to revolt against the Ottoman Empire.

The tower is 3 m high and originally consisted of 952 skulls embedded in fourteen rows. But later many of them fell out. Some were taken for burial by relatives thinking they could identify the skulls of their deceased family members, and others were taken by souvenir hunters. As the tower was standing unprotected for tens of years, the weather also contributed to the loss of some of the skulls. In 1892 a chapel was built over the tower to protect it. Nowadays, arund 54 skulls are still present, including what is supposed to be the skulls of Sindellic.

Skull Tower Nis

Visiting the skull tower

Upon entering the Skull Tower, you will be met by a guide who will tell you the story of the tower and some other interesting details about it. The lecture is usually in Serbian but if you do not understand it, the guide will be very kind to explain you everything in English.

Opening hours:
Tuesday-Friday: 09.00 AM-07.00 PM,
Saturday-Sunday: 09.00 AM-05.00 PM,
Monday : closed

Location: Google Maps

The Concentration camp

Nos Concentration Camp

The Nis Concentration camp is one of the few fully preserved fascist camps in Europe. It used to host thousands of Serbian, Romani, and Jewish people, and also communists, numerous supporters of the liberation movement and partisans during the German occupation of Serbia (1941-1945).

The camp is nowadays still surrounded by high barbed wire. Behind it you can see the original buildings where prisoners had been held, their small cells, premises to house guards, hearing premises, a dispensary, a barber’s room, and ten rooms for solitary confinement. The latter had concrete floors, no windows, and just a small slit on the top for light and ventilation. One of those rooms had no ventilation at all.

Nis Concentration camp
The building was originally constructed in 1930 to be used as a part of the nearby military barracks, but in the beginning of the war it was secluded from the barracks by a barbed wire and turned into a camp. During World War Two, about 30,000 people passed through this camp, of whom over 10,000 were shot on nearby Bubanj hill.

On 12 February 1942 there was a massive escape of prisoners there. Out of 147 inmates who attempted to flee, 105 managed to escape, while 82 died along the way. After this successful escape, and another in December 1942, the camp became a real venue of death.

Nis concentration camp

Nis concentration camp
Nowadays the camp is turned into a memorial of the victims. Photos of the dead, together with their stories, can be seen on the walls of the main building. The barbed wire is still around, as well as the old metal gate.

Opening hours:
Tuesday-Friday 09.00 AM – 04.00 PM,
Saturday-Sunday 10.00 AM – 03.00 PM,
Monday : closed

Location: Google Maps

Archaeological hall

Nis archaeological hall

The archaeological museum is located at the centre of Nis, near the main street. It is relatively small but pretty interesting so it is worth spending 20 minutes there. The exhibition includes prehistorical artifacts ad well as many Roman artefacts from Mediana. There you can see also Roman money, tombstones, statues and many others.

Nis archaeological hall

Opening hours:
Tuesday-Thursday 10.00 AM – 06.00 PM,
Saturday-Sunday 10.00 AM – 03.00 PM,
Monday : closed

Location: Google Maps

The Nis Fortress


Nis fortress

The fortress is one of the main landmarks in Nis and the most visited one. It had been used as a fortification for centuries and today it is turned into a beautiful park.

The Nis fortress is one of the best preserved medieval fortresses on the Balkans. it has been destroyed and rebuild numerous times – by Romans, Byzantines, Slavs, Bulgarians and Serbians. The last to restore it were the Turks that created its contemporary look in 1723. The construction required 40 stone cutters to be sent from Constantinople. Another 400 bricklayers were hired locally. The stone was brought from the nearby villages. Toward the end of the construction there was a lot of hurry to secure this strategically important spot, so that anything suitable from within the Fortress was used as construction material: tombstones, columns and numerous architectural elements of the earlier Roman and Byzantine fortifications.

Nis fortress

Hamam in Nis fortress

The Fortress covers 22 hectares, its walls are 2,100 meters long, 8 meters high, and, on average, 3 meters wide. From the outside, the Fortress was surrounded by a water-filled ditch, whose northern part remains visible today.

Nowadays some of the buildings inside the fortress are preserved and restored. The Hamam is located close to the Istanbul gate. Next to it there used to be the Arsenal – the depot for weapons and ammunitions, now turned into an art gallery. There are also remains of an old mosque and the former prison is located in the eastern part of the fortress.

It is an exciting experience to climb on the wall and watch the streets and people of Nis from there. You will barely enjoy some privacy because the wall is one of the most popular place among both locals and tourists.

Pastries and Pljeskavica – the wonderful Serbian food that we love

Tinkers alley

Serbian cuisine is one of our favourites. We love Serbian grill, especially pljeskavica and cevapi and we never miss an opportunity to have some when we cross the border. We already had a favourite restaurant in Pirot and now we have our favourite restaurant in Nis too. Our friends and bloggers The Sisters (Follow The Sisters) recommended a new pub in Nis – Kafana Meze. The staff in our hostel also advised us to try it and we weren’t disappointed.

Serbian restaurants have always amazed us with the quantity of food they serve. The portions are usually impossible to eat by one person. Meze didn’t make an exception and it proved to be one of the most popular places in the city. Upon leaving we learned that a wedding reception was just to begin there.

But Meze is far not the only good restaurant in Nis. One of the things we love in Serbia is that the food is good in every restaurant. In Nis there is a whole street full of cafes and restaurants. Its name is Kazandzijsko sokace (Tinkers Alley) and it used to host the craftsmen’s quarter a century ago. The most prominent craft was transmitting. After the liberation from the Turks as many as 13 tinkers were mentioned as working in this “transmitting district”. The last smithies were closed down in the 1990s.

Breakfast Nis

We had our morning coffee and breakfast at the very centre of Nis – on King Milan square. The square itself is a very popular place for appointments, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings when tens of young people meet there to start the nightlife. A central point of the square is the Monument of the liberators which presents the period of wars for liberation waged against the Turks, Bulgarians, and Germans. The monument was presented to the public on 28 June 1937, on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Nis from the Turks.

King Milan square Nis

A walk around Nis

Nis is a wonderful place for walks, especially in the summer evenings. The centre is vibrant and noisy. You can have a drink at the numerous bars along the main street or just have a quiet walk alone Nisava river. The park inside the Nis fortress is also a good idea for a romantic walk or a drink.

Nisava river Nis

Nis main street

Where to stay in Nis

Many Bulgarian tourists go to Nis for just 1 day. However, it is quite a better idea to allow at least a night there. if you are travelling with a good company, you could hire one of the many appartments that are being offered on If you are alone or with a friend, you might also stay in a hostel where you will meet friendly staff and probably other travellers. Of course, there are also some more luxurious traditional hotels in Nis, if you prefer. No matter what you prefer, Nis has a lot to offer to anyone and it is really worth visiting.

A suggestion from out friends: Square Studio Apartment

A short wine detour near Nis

As wine lovers, we always look for a winery around the places we visit. During our return from Belgrade to Sofia in August 2017, we were looking for a nice place to have lunch somewhere around Nis, but not in the city itself. The best we could imagine was a winery with a good restaurant and Malca winery appeared to be just that. It is some 15 km away from Nis and offers attractive wine tour through 4 houses representing 4 different wine making technologies.

Clay amphorae in Malca Winery

Clay amphorae in Malca Winery

Malca winery is one of the few places in the world producing wine through Roman technology – in clay amphorae. The other houses show how wine was being made in the middle ages (in wooden barrels), in 20th century (concrete tanks) and nowadays – in inox containers. The tour is very attractive and free, if you do not want to match it with tasting.

We actually did the tasting earlier when we had lunch in their very good restaurant with more than reasonable prices. The place is wonderful and also features playground and views to the vineyards.

[apsp-pin-image image_url=’’]

Copyrighted Image