Zlatibor, Serbia is a city I had never heard of, even after spending a month living in Novi Sad. It didn't come onto our radar until we realized we'd be spending the winter in the Balkans and wanted to take advantage of snowboarding as often as possible. I know the hiking in the Balkans was fantastic so hoped that'd transfer to winter sports, too.
At that time we were living in Sarajevo and originally planned to go to Jahorina or Bjelašnica but given that we don't have a car and need pet-friendly accommodation, our options were relatively limited or more expensive than we had hoped. Renting a car is a great short-term solution for a day or two but not realistic for our budget over an entire month.
That's when we opened up our search to other nearby ski resorts and stumbled upon Zlatibor.
While we did end up spending the rest of winter back in Sarajevo and snowboarding Jahorina on the weekends, Zlatibor, Serbia was a great choice for what we were hoping to accomplish.
All honestly, Jahorina Mountain is a better option for more slopes and things to do but it is slightly more expensive, especially if you don't want to drive to the runs each day. If you want a budget-friendly option and you're a novice skier or snowboarder, Zlatibor is a great option.
So, if you're still eager, let's dive into the details of spending your winter in Zlatibor.
Things to Know Before You Go
Now that you’re gearing up for your trip and planning the specifics of where and when you’ll go, there are a few things you don’t need to overlook.
I know just how easy it is to look towards the big hike, bucket list city, or beach of my dreams and forget about all of the little things in between that’ll make your trip run as smoothly as possible. Be sure to take into consideration these few things before you go to make sure you get all the good bits of your trip without the stress.
- Make sure you have travel insurance. A good travel insurance, like SafetyWing, will ensure you’re covered in case of emergencies. While you will have to pay upfront for your doctor or hospital costs, unless it’s for a pre-existing condition, you can file a claim and should be reimbursed. For any Americans reading this, fear not, healthcare in pretty much every other country is far more affordable than ours, even if you’re paying out of pocket.
- Do your best to learn a few local phrases in their language. No, I’m not expecting you to be able to have a fluid conversation with locals at the bus stop if you’re just visiting their country for a week but knowing your numbers (for prices), how to order something (“I would like…”), and basic greetings really will take you a long way. Mondly is a great app for phrases and vocabulary.
- Last tip certainly isn’t mandatory but it is helpful. Before you start booking your flights, hotels, and tours, consider opening up a travel credit card. Thanks to our Capital One Venture card, my husband and I have gotten countless free flights just by gaining points on everyday expenses.
Where to Stay in the City
The first thing you need to realize is that the ski resort isn't in the city center as we had assumed. Zlatibor, Serbia is in the valley, while Tornik Mountain (the actual name for Zlatibor Mountain) is 9 km off in the distance. While this might automatically make you doubt what I said about needing a car - hang with me.
In the city center, there's a gondola that runs everyday from around 8am until 4pm. I say "around" because sometimes due to inclement weather the gondola starts up later, takes some pauses, or doesn't run at all.
Trust me, if it's not running, the conditions on the mountain will be terrible, mainly due to super high wind speed. We went up there one day anyways and immediately turned around since we had just about 0 visibility and incredible wind that day.
When you're booking your stay, I recommend staying as close to the gondola as possible. Nothing in Zlatibor is too far away but given snow, ice, and chilly weather, it's best you're not having to carry your gear too far each day.
If you do have a car, you can stay in a cozy lodge outside of town and quickly drive to the ski resort everyday but if you choose a relatively remote cabin rental, be sure you have 4-wheel drive and snow tires.
Depending on your budget, I recommend any of these 3 hotels:
When to Visit Zlatibor
If you want to experience snowfall in Zlatibor, it's best you come after the New Year. Obviously, the weather conditions vary from year to year but in 2023, the ski resort didn't open up until February. If you're not so sure if winter is the time for you, you might have a different idea of the best time visit Serbia.
Given that it's a relatively small mountain, they don't have the resources to create snow from absolutely nothing. They need a pretty solid base of real, accumulated snow to keep up with it with the snow machines.
As digital nomads, we were able to spend an entire month in Zlatibor. While it's certainly not something I'm recommending to everyone, if you have the time and desire to learn how to ski or snowboard, it's an affordable option. More on that below though!
If you don't have all the time or flexibility, there's a chance you might arrive before or after the snow falls. To avoid this as best as possible, I suggest you visit Zlatibor in February. While they say that January is the coldest month, in 2023, February definitely one that award.
What to Pack for Winter in Zlatibor
Come prepared! You'll want to have more layers rather than less. When we first arrived in January, we didn't even zip our jackets up, we were so sweaty but in just a few weeks, we had 3 layers on, a neck and face warmer pulled all the way up, and still got cold the moment we had to sit still on the ski lift.
I'm telling you - the temperatures get real low in Zlatibor during the winter months. In the winter, the high is rarely ever above freezing.
There are a few ski shops in Zlatibor and on Tornik but prices will be higher there than your hometown. It's great in case you forget a layer or lose a glove but I wouldn't do your shopping when you arrive if you can avoid it.
For days on the slopes, you'll want to pack:
- Ski Pants
- Ski Jacket
- Thermal Underwear (shirt + pants)
- A pull-over fleece
- High Socks (ideally socks made for skiing or snowboarding)
- A Neck/Face Warmer
- A Hat (I recommend you rent a helmet with your gear but the moment the helmet comes off, you'll want the hat on)
Your body will warm up when you're going downhill but you'll be thankful for those layers on the 30-minute gondola ride (it's not heated) and on the open-air ski lift.
For rental gear, you have two options: you can rent your skis or snowboard in Zlatibor (there are plenty of places to choose from) or you can wait and get your gear on the mountain. My husband borrowed a friend's board from Bosnia but I rented one in town. I decided to rent in Zlatibor only because the bunny slope in the city was open before Tornik was so I wanted to take advantage.
Tornik Mountain Ski Resort
As I mentioned, Zlatibor isn't the mountain but Tornik is. This isn't a big deal but the distinction will help you out when you're looking up the weather report. This is the best way to find out if the slopes are open and how much snowfall there is. This website shows the weather information for all ski resorts in Serbia.
How to Get to Tornik
Getting to Tornik is easy. The best way is to take the 30-minute Gold Gondola from Zlatibor to the mountaintop. If you buy a ski pass, you'll save about 50% on your gondola ticket. You can also drive yourself or take a taxi but we preferred to rely on the gondola. Usually, we had the ride to ourselves.
You'll only need to take the gondola to and from Zlatibor. You'll arrive at the top of the slopes and will immediately be able to head down. From the bottom of the slopes, there is a few ski lifts that will take you back up to the summit. You'll need to purchase your ski pass before you can take the ski lift.
There are 6 slopes on Tornik Mountain. Yep, just 6. For a skilled skier or boarder, you might quickly bore of only having a few options to choose from but for those that have little to no experience, it's plenty to get your confidence up before you take on a bigger mountain.
I had snowboarded growing up but it had been years since I had been on a board. For my husband it was his first time. We did some lessons in Jahorina before heading to Serbia and with that, and plenty of practice, we were able to go back to Jahorina a month later looking completely different on the board.
While on the mountain, you'll have a few amenities at your disposal. Other than the obvious (the slopes), there are a few restaurants. During our month stay, 3 restaurants were consistently open. There were a few others outside of the gondola but I never saw those open up in January or February.
These 3 restaurants have indoor and outdoor seating. On a sunny day, sitting outside for a drink and a bite to eat is the perfect rest stop before hitting the slopes again.
Things to Do in the Winter in Zlatibor
Now for the fun part, the best things to do in Zlatibor, Serbia for winter. You can easily spend all day on the mountain but to get the most out of our trip, you might enjoy a mix of all of these activities.
- Ski or Snowboard: No shock here! I wouldn't recommend visiting Zlatibor unless you plan to ski or snowboard at least one day.
- Snowmobile or ATV: When you need a break from the slopes, a fun way to see the surrounding landscape is on snowmobile or ATV. The only issue I saw with this is that many people leading the tours didn't seem to worry at all about trails and were tearing up the landscape doing donuts wherever they please
- Spa or Saunas: Many of the hotels in Zlatibor have a spa or at least a sauna. If you book a hotel with one, you can enjoy it everyday to rest your muscles after a day on the slopes but even if your hotel doesn't have one, you can still buy a day pass. The spa at Hotel Tornik was great.
- Try Zlatibor Specialities: Even if you've spent a lot of time in the Balkans, there are a few meals that you can only find around Zlatibor, so you'll want to give those a try. My favorite was the komplet lepinja (ideal for a filling breakfast).
- Eat at Casa de Vinos: Full disclosure, I didn't love the restaurants in Zlatibor but this was the clear exception. We ate here multiple times and loved it each and every time just the same.
- Go Sledding: The moment the is some snow on the ground, you'll see plenty of vendors renting and selling small plastic sleds. While kids are the target audience here, who says adults can't have any of the fun? Anywhere there is a hill in Zlatibor, go down it slipping and sliding on a sled.
You're Ready to Enjoy a Winter in Zlatibor
With this, you're more than ready to enjoy a budget-friendly winter destination in Serbia. While Zlatibor hasn't been my favorite place we've visited in the Balkans, it was exactly what we were looking for in terms of an affordable destination where we could snowboard as much as possible without breaking the bank.
If that's what you're looking for, too, you've found your spot!