Even though it’s just minutes outside Belgrade, Pančevo is normally ignored by visitors to the capital. But when you scratch this city’s industrial surface there’s a lot to like about it. The Balkans’ oldest brewery is in Pančevo, and there’s a museum about Weifert beer, which is served across Serbia.
The centre of Pančevo has graceful parks and squares fronting Neoclassical and Austro-Hungarian mansions, and there are graceful churches from the 19th century. Until quite recently, Pančevo was an inland port exporting its beer and silk down the Danube. But today, nightspots and cafes have taken over from waterfront industry.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Pančevo:
1. Vajfert Museum
Pančevo has the oldest brewery in the Balkans, beginning as a modest business in 1722, in a two-room building.
But in the last decades of the 19th century, under the guidance of Đorđe Vajfert, it burgeoned into an industrial enterprise.
He would go on to become the governor of the National Bank of Serbia and now appears on the 1,000 Dinar note.
Weifert (using the German spelling) is still a big domestic Serbian brand, brewed with a Czech recipe and Bavarian traditions that Đorđe Vajfert picked up during his training in Munich.
In 2016 this museum was opened in the centre, detailing the brewing process and the history of the family.
2. Church of the Assumption
This church is a product of the First Serbian Uprising and dates to the very beginning of the 19th century.
It was funded by donations, and one of the benefactors was Đorđe Petrović, the elected leader of the First Uprising and the founder of modern Serbia.
Mull over the facade for a minute, which has two tall Baroque towers, and Corinthian capitals on the pilasters and columns below the cornice.
Some of 19th-century Serbia’s most respected artists and craftsmen contributed to the paintings, woodwork and stuccowork inside.
The icons in the iconostasis were the work of renowned portraitist Konstantin Danil, recently named one of the “100 Most Prominent Serbs”.
3. Vojlovica Monastery
This monastery has been a vital spiritual centre for the Banat region since Despot Stefan Lazarević founded it in the 14th century.
And that is in spite of a tempestuous history through the Ottoman period when it was repeatedly burned and its monks were imprisoned, sent into slavery or even killed.
After improvements in the 18th and 19th century the monastery church has a High Baroque design, with a bud dome on its tower.
Go in to view the frescos painted over each other in layers.
The newer ones are from the late-1700s and during restorations older layers were discovered below, going back to the 1500s.
Get a good look at the Baroque gilded iconostasis with some 30 images of saints from the Old and New Testaments.
4. National Garden
When Pančevo became an industrial centre towards the end of the 1800s this spacious park was planned as a green buffer, and is still a preferred destination for exercise and relaxation.
The National Garden is slightly removed from the centre of town and is in the German style, a fusion of the formal French and looser English park designs.
With long paths flanked by mature trees and iron lanterns, the National Garden hasn’t lost that bourgeois sense of sophistication.
The park’s iron pavilion is ringed with flowerbeds and hosts bands on holidays and weekends.
This little structure has an interesting past as it is the last surviving element of a large industrial exhibition that took place in the park in 1905.
5. Svetionik na Ušću Tamiša u Dunav
The confluence of the Tamiš and Danube Rivers is all the more picturesque for this pair of lighthouses at the mouth of the Tamiš.
Soon after they were built these beacons were given the popular name “Water Gates of the City” (Vodena kapija grada). They’re a fascinating relic from the time when the Danube helped to transport all kinds of freight: Beer, bricks, silk, lumber and even passengers turned the rivers into busy highways.
The lighthouses helped mark the entrance to the Tamiš at night.
6. Park Trg Kralja Petra I
A monumental pedestrian square, Trg Kralja Petra I is where you can appreciate the grandest buildings in Pančevo.
One of these is the old magistrates court, housing the National Museum, which we’ll come to next.
On the north, south and west sides the square is traced with Austro-Hungarian mansions, the handsome Štapska zgrada, Hotel “Sloboda” and cafes with outdoor seating.
If you have kids in tow there’s also a large adventure playground in the centre of the square between the lawns.
7. National Museum
The old magistrates court on Trg Kralja Petra I is from the 1830s and has hosted the National Museum since 1965. Even in the company of the square’s majestic architecture, this impressive building stands out for its splendid portico and a pediment that has a relief with two angels holding a clock.
The museum holds Pančevo’s archaeological, art and ethnographical collections.
You’ll make some real discoveries here, like the complete armour of an Ottoman soldier, as well as Biedermeier furniture and other opulent ornamental items from the city’s bourgeois homes in the 19th century.
8. Tamiški Kej (Tamiš Quay)
In Summer the Tamiš riverside is a lovely place to while away an hour or two by the water.
In these months the river abounds with greenery thanks to the rows of trees on the right bank, and the cafes spill out onto the quay as small fishing boats float up and down the river.
At night this quarter has a different but no less attractive ambience, when people hit the bars and cafes to make merry and dance into the early hours.
9. Church of the Holy Transfiguration
This Serbian Orthodox church, recognised by its large dome, is listed as a “cultural property of great importance”. Some heavyweight architects and artists worked on this building at the end of the 19th century.
The church has a Neo-Byzantine design drawn up by the Post-Romantic architect Svetozar Ivačković and completed in 1878. A little later the well-regarded Belgrade architects Branko Tanazević and Milorad Ruvidić collaborated on the marvellous iconostasis.
The icons themselves were painted in the Academic Realist style by the celebrated Uroš Predić, who was educated here in Pančevo.
If you don’t mind touching base with Pančevo’s grittier side, the city’s flea market is an experience even if you only come to browse.
In a big marketplace on the northern outskirts of the city are stalls selling cut-price items, from homewares to toys, furniture, tools and fresh produce from Hungary.
There’s a sizeable Chinese community in Pančevo, and many people from this minority do business at the market.
You might even be tempted to try some Chinese street-food as you go.
11. Zgrada Narodne Pivare
At the moment the old Weifert brewery sits abandoned, having partially burned down in 2005. There are plans to rehabilitate this gigantic complex but no work had begun by 2017. You’ll love it if you’re a photographer or have an eye for 19th century industrial architecture.
It’s also not hard to see the brewery’s potential as a gallery or museum.
If you’re eager to dig deeper into Đorđe Vajfert’s legacy in Pančevo, the Church of St Anne (Crkva Sv. Ane) was built at his own expense in 1923. When he passed away in 1937 his funeral service was held here.
The church has a beautiful spire with a slate roof, and rosette motifs sculpted on its porch.
The capital city is 10 kilometres out of Pančevo, so you can jump back and forth whenever you like.
There’s enough to keep you rapt for a few days in Belgrade, but if you need a concise intro, start with Belgrade Fortress.
This stronghold is on a rise where the Sava joins the Danube and has intoxicating panoramas, famous monuments and layers upon layers of historic military architecture.
For a shopping trip and to sense the dynamism and young character of the city, take Knez Mihailova Street, which begins near the base of the fortress.
And to get to know Belgrade’s care-free nocturnal spirit there’s the bohemian taverns on Skadarlija, or the banks of the Danube where splavovi (party boats) are moored.
13. Smederevo Fortress
For another enjoyable day out, try heading to this medieval walled city, not far downriver on the Danube.
Smederevo was a purpose-built capital for Serbia, devised by Despot Đurađ Branković in the 15th century after Belgrade was ceded to Hungary.
It stood as the capital from the 1430s through to 1459 when it fell to the Ottomans, bringing the curtain down on the Serbian state until the 19th century.
It’s an epic Byzantine-style fortress, with a design borrowed from Constantinople.
There are more than 1.5 kilometres of walls in a triangular plan, capped with merlons and guarded by 25 towers.
The space inside those walls is now a park and you can walk beside the crenellations to survey Europe’s second longest river.
14. Deliblato Sands
If you have a car you should also strike out east into the Deliblato Sands.
This is Europe’s largest sandy region, spreading out over more than 300 square kilometres.
A strange environment of elliptical hills with a light dusting of grassland is all that is left of a once immense desert that took the place of the prehistoric Pannonian Sea.
Take your camera with you and you’ll get some amazing shots of an environment you might not associate with this part of Europe.
And for botanists the Deliblato Sands have around 900 plant species that are either rare or can only be found in the Pannonian Basin.
Burek is something you can get hold of all across Serbia.
But in Pančevo the bakeries have a flair for this delicacy, to the point where people make the trip from Belgrade just to grab one.
For the uninitiated, burek is a pastry that can come with all sorts of different fillings, both savoury and sweet, although cheese, minced beef and mushroom are the most common.
People will have them any time of day, but they’re normally a breakfast food and the proper way to enjoy them is with some yoghurt on the side.
Two bakeries to look up are Grgo on Prvomajska o the edge of town, or Pekara Stankoski on Miloša Obrenovića Street.