When central Serbia broke away from the Ottoman Empire in 1818, Kragujevac was chosen as the reborn nation’s capital. Since then the city in the Šumadija region has been associated with one man, Prince Miloš Obrenović. The head of state lived in Kragujevac and ordered sophisticated buildings in the Central European style.
A little later an arsenal was set up in the Kragujevac, and its descendant is the Zastava Arms corporation, Serbia’s leading weapons manufacturer.The city has lived through some dark chapters, like the Kragujevac Massacre in the Second World War, which has been commemorated by a memorial park with a museum and thought-provoking sculpture.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Kragujevac:
1. Šumarice Memorial Park
On October 21 1941 an atrocity happened just outside Kragujevac, when 3,000 men and boys aged 16 to 60 were rounded up in Kragujevac and neighbouring villages and shot.
This act was a response to attacks by Partisans and Chetniks that had killed ten German soldiers.
The site of the massacre has been left as a memorial, and in the 1960s the artist Miodrag Živković created a series of sculptures for the park.
You can pick up an audioguide to give you the background on the events of October 1941, and what each memorial represents.
2. Šumarice Museum
Also in the park is the museum, the work of the well-regarded post-war architect Ivan Antić.
This oppressive building, made up of big square pillars, is constructed from red brick to signify the blood of the victims.
The walls are windowless to give you a sense of being trapped, and the only light filters in through the ceiling.
The exhibitions have modern paintings and sculpture inspired by the massacre.
There are also black and white photos, newspaper cuttings and documents like identity cards, as well as a memorial room for each life lost, represented by thousands of backlit images of the victims.
3. Milosev Venac
Prince Miloš Obrenović is a name that is going to crop up a lot in this list.
And the old centre of the Kragujevac is named after him.
The Milosev Venac is a complex of buildings that sprouted from 1818 to 1841 when this city became the first capital of modern Serbia.
There are palaces, government buildings, mansions, a historic school, a theatre and an elegant city market situated on both banks of the Lepenica River.
We’ll cover most of these in more detail and they all infuse the city with a touch of nobility.
4. Prince’s Arsenal
Nowhere in the Balkans is there anything quite like this gigantic military-industrial site.
These former weapons factories and warehouses have red-brick architecture borrowed from Western Europe at the end of the 19th century.
The arsenal hasn’t barely been altered in more than a century, and has become a popular shooting location for period movies.
Some pivotal moments in Serbia’s technological evolution happened within these walls: The country’s first light bulb was switched on at the arsenal, as was its first electric operated machine.
On a weekend at the end of June the huge courtyard is cleared for Arsenal Fest, a rock, dance and alternative music festival.
5. Old Foundry Museum
Kragujevac’s Cannon Foundry opened in the Prince’s Arsenal 1853. And more than 150 years later the same operator, the Zastava Arms corporation remains Serbia’s leading weapons manufacturer.
Of course, there aren’t any orders for cannons anymore, so one of the old foundry buildings is now a museum.
This capacious hall is from 1882 and employed cutting-edge German industrial design.
The foundry was an early forerunner to the Bauhaus movement and was clearly built to stand the test of time.
The first cannon cast at the foundry on October 27 1853 is on display.
This is one of 5,500 objects, counting the foundry’s original machinery, medals, stamps, photos, art work and a serious arsenal of weapons made by Zastava and overseas manufacturers.
6. First Kragujevac Gymnasium
On Students’ Square (Đački trg) sits an old grammar school in a striking Neoclassical building.
This isn’t your average place of learning though, as it was the first high school to be founded south of Serbia’s Sava-Danube line.
The building dates back to 1887, while the school was established some time before, in 1833. If you take a guided tour of the building, one of the classrooms has been kept as a memorial, after pupils and teachers were led from the school to be killed on October 21 1941.
7. The Old Church and Assembly (Stara Crkva i Zgrada Skupštine)
Kragujevac’s first cathedral was built between 1818 and 1829 on the orders of Prince Miloš Obrenović.
No expense was spared in its construction, and when it was finished it became liberated Serbia’s first cathedral and royal church.
The site is also prized for the assembly building in the churchyard: Up to 1859 all Serbian parliamentary sessions were held in this hall, and it was the stage for some epochal moments like the ratification of the first Serbian constitution in 1835.
8. Amidžin Palace
The last remaining building in Prince Miloš Obrenović’s residential enclave is this small palace dating to 1818. It was intended for Sima Milosavljević-Paštrmac, the head of the prince’s court.
He was affectionately known by the prince as “uncle” Amidžin), and the interior is maintained by the National Museum in Kragujevac.
The hall is in the Balkan-Oriental and was a residence for men serving in the King’s entourage.
As for the rest of the complex, the prince’s mansion was destroyed in the war in 1941, while Princess Ljubica’s residence burned down in 1884.
9. National Museum
The Amidžin Palace is just one of seven branches of the National Museum in Kragujevac.
The museum was founded in 1949, but its story goes back much further, to 1823 when Prince Miloš Obrenović started collecting paintings.
With donations and acquisitions, that collection has swelled to more than 1,000 pieces.
And art is just a small fraction of the museum ‘s remit, which also takes in some 10,000 archaeological artefacts, ethnographical collections, as well as pieces relevant to the history of both Kragujevac and the broader Šumadija region.
As we said, there are venues all of Kragujevac, but the Quarters of Prince Mihailo on Vuka Karadžića also merits the admission for its Austrian-style design.
10. Cathedral Church
Where many of Kragujevac’s mid-19th century secular buildings borrowed from Central European architecture, the cathedral church sets its gaze on the east.
The locally-born architect Anreja Andrejević was trained in Moscow and designed this church in the Byzantine style with five domes.
The biggest and most dramatic of these is above the transept and has an image of Jesus Pantocrator on its ceiling.
The engraved icons on the iconostasis make liberal use of gold leaf, while the church’s marble floor only enhances that sense of opulence.
11. Knjaževsko-Srpski Teatar
Central Serbia’s oldest theatre is from 1835 and was also founded by Prince Miloš Obrenović, back when Kragujevac was the capital.
So it isn’t just a fine building; the theatre has a special place in Serbian culture, and welcomes a range of annual events and festivals to reflect this standing.
The JoakimInterFest in October is Serbia’s most prestigious theatre festival and named after the 19th-century dramatist Joakim Vujić.
The repertoire is as high-brow as you’d expect, and typically entails plays by Ibsen, Chekov, Pinter and Shakespeare.
12. Drača Monastery
There are many historic monasteries nestling in the highlands around Kragujevac.
If you have to pick one, make it Drača Monastery, which is only 10 kilometres out of town.
This is an 16th-century monastery-turned-convent in the Drača Valley, with a church and monastic buildings that were refurbished and extended in the 1700s.
One of the more intriguing details in the church is the sepulchre of Duke Jovan Dimitrijević Dobrača, a Serbian commander at the Battle of Ljubić against the Ottomans in 1815.
13. Big or Upper Park
If you’re heading on foot from the centre to the Šumarice Memorial Park you could make a detour to this park.
It was landscaped in 1898 and has been somewhere for Kraguzevac’s citizens to unwind ever since.
The whole park was also given an update in 2008, with new benches installed and walking paths restored for its 110th anniversary.
You’ll know the age of this park when you see its tall, mature trees, most more than a century old.
In summer there are open-air swimming pools and a cluster of bars for refreshments.
14. Kragujevac Plaza
A useful alternative for a rainy day is the region’s largest mall that opened in 2012 and is one kilometre from the city centre.
There are 100 stores in all, with Balkan and Serbian high street chains and a few international brands like Adidas, Office shoes, New Yorker and C&A. The food court has 350 seats and international cuisine as well as the usual fast food joints like McDonalds.
And if you’re at a loose end with family there’s a bowling alley, amusement arcade, laser tag, an indoor play area for kids and a six-screen cinema with English audio and Serbian subtitles.
15. Food and Drink
There are more than a dozen restaurants around Kragujevac that pride themselves on their regional and national cuisine.
One of the preparations to look out for is karađorđeva šnicla.
This is a breaded veal or pork cutlet, stuffed with kaymak, a kind of clotted cream, and served with tartar sauce and roast potatoes.
Ćevapi meanwhile is similar to kofte kebab and is a sort of skinless lamb, pork and beef sausage on a flatbread with sour cream, onions, kaymak and red pepper.
Those three meats are also combined for pljeskavica, which can best be described as a Serbian hamburger and comes in a pita (lepinja) or bun, loaded with kajmak, onions and urnebes, a spicy blend of cheese and chilli peppers.