For whatever reason, visiting Topola, a town situated about 75 km south of Belgrade, doesn’t appear on many travelers’ itineraries. But the town is intrinsically linked with the legendary rebel Karađorđe and his descendants, several of whom would go on to rule Serbia and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. And one doesn’t need to be a history expert to appreciate the stunning family mausoleum.

For those doing extended stays in Belgrade, there are numerous other day trip options to choose from. Yet another overlooked yet picturesque town is Vojvodina’s Vršac, itself the location of an even earlier uprising against Ottoman rule.

After learning about what it’s like visiting Topola and Vršac, be sure to check the end of the article for information on how to get to each from Belgrade.

Visiting Topola

The Karađorđe House

Arriving at Topola’s bus station and walking through town, it’s hardly apparent that this is one of modern Serbia’s most important towns. While historical architecture is scant, Topola has long been linked with the influential Karađorđević dynasty, founded by the rebel leader Đorđe Petrović, better known as Karađorđe (1768-1817).

And there’s no better place to learn about Karađorđe and his uprising against Ottoman rule than the Karađorđe House, also known locally as Karađorđe Konak. From the local bus station, it can be reached in about 15 minutes on foot.

A single ticket of 400 RSD grants you access to the house along with the other attractions you can see while visiting Topola mentioned further below.

This house, which is now a museum, is a recreation of the house Karađorđe himself established during his lifetime. While there were once many structures here that were all part of an elaborate walled compound, only the reconstructed house and the Dawn of the Most Holy Theotokos Church, also established by Karađorđe, are standing today.

But just who was Karađorđe, and why is he one of Serbia’s most beloved historical figures?

Visiting Topola
A statue of Karađorđe
Visiting Topola
Dawn of the Most Holy Theotokos Church
Visiting Topola
The Karađorđe House

Born in Serbia’s central Šumadija region, Karađorđe dedicated his entire life to helping Serbia achieve independence from Ottoman rule. 

After fighting for the Austrian side as a member of an ethnic Serb militia in the Austro-Turkish War of 1788–91, Karađorđe and his family fled to Austria following the Ottoman victory. 

He later returned to Ottoman Serbia following a massacre of Serb chieftains, and he led a rebellion against the rogue Ottoman janissaries responsible for the killings. 

Visiting Topola

Karađorđe and his men were successful, and began demanding greater autonomy for Serbia. This prompted a swift reaction from the central Ottoman government, who sent over a large number of troops.

Karađorđe was able to fend them off, even managing to take Belgrade by 1806. With promises from Russia for support, Karađorđe vowed to keep on fighting. But things would not go as smoothly for the Serbs over the next several years.

The Ottomans managed to regain much of their territory in the region, and Karađorđe was forced to flee the country by 1813. 

Visiting Topola
Museum exhibitions detailing the uprising
Visiting Topola

Escaping to Austria, Karađorđe and his men were detained and handed over to Russia. Later, while based in the area of modern-day Moldova, he helped plan a pan-Balkan uprising against Ottoman rule.

Secretly returning to Serbia in 1817, he was killed on the orders of Prince Miloš Obrenović. The Obrenović dynasty were an influential family who were also opposed to Ottoman rule. So what led to the dispute?

Miloš Obrenović, in fact, was the leader of the Second Serbian Uprising in 1815, which led to greater Serbian autonomy. Obrenović, however, feared that Karađorđe’s return would undo all the concessions made to him by the Ottomans.

Oplenac

Karađorđe’s descendants, who’d become known as the Karađorđević dynasty, would then embark on a long feud with the Obrenović dynasty for many years. Throughout the 1800s, the Serbian throne would repeatedly switch back and forth between the Russian-backed Karađorđević and the Austria-Hungary backed Obrenović families.

The first Karađorđević king was Peter I Karađorđević, who took the throne in 1903 following the assassination of King Alexander I Obrenović. Known as King Peter I, from 1918, he’d also serve as the first King of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, later known as the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

As such, the Karađorđević dynasty is an integral part of not just Serbian history but that of Yugoslavia as a whole.

Visiting Topola

It was also Peter I who founded Oplenac, the compound which continues to serve as a mausoleum for the Karađorđević dynasty.

As mentioned, Karađorđe had settled in Topola and established vineyards here. Later on, Peter I felt that the top of the forested Oplenac hill would serve as a fine spot for a monumental church and mausoleum.

The church is officially known as St. George’s Church. And regardless of one’s knowledge of Serbian history or the Karađorđević dynasty, it’s quite simply one of the most beautiful churches you’ll encounter in the Balkans.

Visiting Topola

The project was originally set to commence in 1907, but disagreements over the building’s artistic style delayed things by a few years. 

Eventually, after a new architect named Kosta J. Jovanović was chosen for the project, work officially began in 1910. Already by 1912, the church was ready to be consecrated. 

Sadly, after a pause during the Balkan Wars and WWI, the church was looted during Austria-Hungary’s occupation of 1915. As mentioned, the empire was a long-time rival of the Karađorđević dynasty.

Visiting Topola
Visiting Topola

Following the creation of an independent Yugoslavia, Peter I, chosen as the first king, resumed work on the project. But it wouldn’t be finished until the reign of his successor, Alexander I (r. 1929-34).

He commissioned Jovanović, the original architect, to repair and finally complete the church and crypt. The church was then consecrated yet again in the year 1930, and both Karađorđe and Peter I are entombed within. 

Visiting Topola
Visiting Topola

The five-domed church, with its white marble exterior, represents a fusion of Serbian and Byzantine styles. The colorful interior features icons copied from paintings from as many as 60 medieval Serbian churches. 

Looking around, you’ll also notice the Karađorđević coat of arms in addition to a golden mosaic of St. George, the church’s patron saint.

Amazingly, no less than 40 million pieces of colored glass were used in the church and crypt’s construction!

Visiting Topola

Next, be sure to head down into the crypt. While, as mentioned, Peter I and Karađorđe are entombed on the ground level, nearly thirty other members of the Karađorđević family have been entombed below.

The bodies span six generations, and among them are other Serbian rulers like Prince Alexander, King Alexander I and King Peter II. Their tombstones were created using onyx taken from Dečani, Kosovo.

Visiting Topola
Visiting Topola

The crypt is also entirely covered in beautiful mosaics, and it’s arguably even more impressive than the church above! This is partly because the crypt’s lower ceiling allow visitors to get an up-close-and-personal view of the art.

Visiting Topola
Visiting Topola

Given how amazing the artwork is, it’s a mystery why Oplenac doesn’t seem to attract more visitors. The stunning crypt alone is more than enough to warrant visiting Topola from Belgrade. 

When finished with the mausoleum, there are still even a few more things to see before returning to the bus station.

Visiting Topola
Visiting Topola

Just across from St. George’s Church is a small museum dedicated to King Peter I and the Karađorđević dynasty as a whole.

Items inside include the family’s royal regalia in addition to some of the religious artifacts they possessed. You’ll also find painted portraits and numerous old photographs of significant royal ceremonies.

Visiting Topola
Visiting Topola

Before visiting Topola, I thought that the locations mentioned above were all there was to see. But the friendly staff member at the Karađorđe House encouraged me to check out the King’s Winery – also included in the same combo ticket.

Unfortunately, however, the quickest walking route takes around 25 minutes. But still having time before my return bus, I decided to give it a shot.

Visiting Topola
Visiting Topola
Visiting Topola

After making the long walk, the staff were a bit surprised to see a foreign tourist and weren’t quite sure what to do with me. While no English-speaking guide was available, I had a quick walk around the winery on my own.

Luckily, there happened to be some sort of wine tasting event at the time, and some friendly English-speaking girls made sure I could sample a few glasses for free.

I just happened to get lucky, it seems. Ordinarily, the King’s Winery isn’t probably worth going out of your way for unless you really love wine.

Visiting Vršac

Aside from also being within day-trip distance of Belgrade, Vršac has little to do with the Karađorđević dynasty mentioned above. It was, however, once the site of an even earlier rebellion against the Ottomans. 

Located in the Vojvodina region and right by the border with Romania, it’s one of the few Vojvodina towns that’s more easily accessible from Belgrade than it is from Novi Sad, the region’s administrative center.

With little information on Vršac available, I decided to take advantage of the nice weather one day and explore the scenic town for myself.

Visiting Vršac
The Romanian Orthodox Church, consecrated in 1912
Visiting Vršac
The Cathedral of the City of Vršac

Settled since at least the Neolithic period, the region was home to ancient civilizations like the Vinča, and later the Vatin culture. The Vatin people even left a series of mysterious circles to the north of the modern town that may have served as some sort of calendar.

Much later, Vršac was taken over by the Romans and then the Slavs, though we still know relatively little about its early history.

Like much of Serbia, Vršac was conquered  by the Ottomans in the 16th century. But it wasn’t long before the local population staged a major uprising in 1594.

Visiting Vršac
The Roman Catholic Cathedral, built in 1863
Visiting Vršac
The Town Hall, constructed in 1859

Led by a man named Teodor Nestorović, the Christian Serbs marched to battle with a flag adorned with the image of St. Sava, the founder of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The Muslim Ottomans countered with a green flag brought from Damascus. 

Things got so heated that during the rebellion, the Ottomans even burned the 13th-century remains of St. Sava himself! This spot in Belgrade is now the location of the monumental Temple of Sveti Sava.

The rebellion, which was the largest Serbian uprising until Karađorđe’s rebellion a few centuries later, was ultimately crushed. Though most ordinary people’s lives were spared, Nestorović was executed as punishment.

From 1716, Vršac fell under the control of the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy, and this period also saw an influx of German settlers. Today, many of the beautiful buildings around town date to the last few centuries. 

Visiting Vršac
Visiting Vršac
Visiting Vršac

In addition to the landmarks pictured above, the main highlight in the town center is the green-roofed Bishop’s Residence. The ornate house was completed in 1763 after six years of construction, and its first resident was Bishop Jovan Georgijavic.

Unfortunately, the Baroque-style building cannot be entered, but visitors are free to admire it from the courtyard outside.

The Pharmacy on Stairs
The City Museum

While Vršac has a few attractions that can be entered, I made the mistake of visiting on a Monday when everything was closed (Belgrade museums are also closed on Mondays, but many museums throughout Serbia are actually closed on Sundays instead).

These include the City Museum, which appears quite impressive from the outside, and the ‘Pharmacy on Stairs.’ The historic pharmacy was first opened in 1784 and now functions as a museum. Though judging by pictures, the signage is in Serbian only.

Vršac is also home to a historic house museum called Sterijina Kuća. But according to the woman I spoke to at the local tourism office, visits can only be arranged by phoning well in advance.

Visiting Vršac
Visiting Vršac

Outside the city center, the main thing to do in Vršac is ascending the hill to the east that’s home to Vršac Castle. It’s about an hour walk from the city center each way.

On the way up, you’ll pass by even more historic churches. And turning around, you’ll be greeted with excellent views of the town along with parts of Romania in the distance.

Visiting Vršac

While not especially steep, the hike is a bit challenging due to the fact that some of the dirt trails end up being dead-ends. Be sure to download the app Maps.me for a detailed trail map.

Visiting Vršac

Finally reaching the top, I was dismayed to discover that the castle too was closed! It’s not only closed on Mondays, but every day from Monday through Friday.

Regardless, they were doing construction work at the time of my visit, and a local told me it had been completely closed for months. Disappointed, I took in the views for a bit longer before making my way down via the same trail.

So is Vršac even worth visiting? Check below for the answer.

Visiting Vršac
Visiting Vršac

Additional Info

As pretty as the town is, I’d have to rank Vršac near the bottom of the list of potential day trips from Belgrade. While not as nice of a town overall, visiting Topola is the much more essential of the two.

As mentioned, I made the mistake of visiting on a Monday when many things were closed. But I still don’t think that Vršac can compete with many of the other towns throughout Vojvodina.

From Belgrade (and also Novi Sad), the Vojvodina town of Sremska Mitrovica is also reachable as a day trip. In addition to its classical architecture, it’s also home to extensive Roman ruins.

If you only have a week or so in Belgrade, then Novi Sad itself can be visited as a day trip from Belgrade. But those with more time in Serbia should also base themselves in Novi Sad for awhile, using it as a base from which to visit Subotica and Sremski Karlovci – both more interesting than Vršac.

With that being said, if you find yourself with an extra day in Belgrade and aren’t sure what to do, Vršac can still make for an enjoyable day trip.

Visiting Topola is best done by bus. After traveling through several Balkan countries, each of which lacked a reliable source of transportation info, I was relieved to find this was no longer the case in Serbia.

The website polazak.com is an excellent and highly accurate resource of bus timetables in Serbia, and it almost never let me down throughout my travels.

At the time of writing, buses from Belgrade to Topola depart at 9:00, 10:30 and 12:13. The ride takes about 90-100 minutes.

Heading back from Topola, you can find buses at 13:26, 14:15, 15:00 and 17:10.

While I had to buy a ticket at the official ticket counter in Belgrade, I was told to just pay on the bus in Topola.

As mentioned, you can find accurate timetables for buses throughout Serbia on the website polazak.com.

At the time of writing, buses from Belgrade depart at 7:10, 7:45 , 9:00, 10:35 and 11:30. The ride lasts around an hour and 45 minutes.

(Apparently, you can also make the journey by train, and they depart around 7:00, 10:00 and 11:35.)

Coming back, buses from Vršac depart at 12:55, 13:25, 13:55, 14:55, 16:00, 16:40 and 17:55.

The walk between Vršac’s bus station and the town center takes around 15 minutes. While waiting for your bus, you can also check out a small lake not far from the station.

Throughout my long trip across Serbia, I stayed in Belgrade a couple of times. As the largest city in the region, there’s no shortage of places to stay.

Wanting to explore the city in addition to taking numerous day trips to nearby towns, I was looking for something within walking distance of the main bus station. And as a budget traveler who doesn’t like dorm rooms, I was looking for a private room at a reasonable price.

I first stayed at a place called Hostel M. It was walkable from the bus station in just about 5 minutes, while the city center was only about 20 minutes away on foot.

But unfortunately, despite the staff being quite friendly to me, I didn’t enjoy my stay. First of all, while I don’t know the hostel’s exact capacity, it was quite small overall, and the place was always packed and noisy.

And despite there being so many guests, there was only one male and one female bathroom. My private room happened to be right in front of these bathrooms, and I was awakened multiple times each night by slamming doors. Additionally, I could clearly hear the conversations (and cellphone music!) from the lobby in my room.

My second stay in Belgrade was much more comfortable. I stayed at ‘Rooms and Apartments S,’ about 15 minutes on foot south of the bus terminal. Again, I had my own room with a shared bathroom. But with much fewer rooms, this guest house was a lot quieter and the bathroom always seemed to be free when I needed it.

The main downside was that smoking is allowed in the rooms, so I could often smell cigarette smoke coming from somewhere. But given the friendliness of the owner, the comfort of the room and its proximity to a major supermarket, I was able to look past that.



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