14 Places to Time-Travel back to Yugoslavia
Updated: Apr 19, 2020
If you have a desire to experience of the history, design, style and aesthetics of the former Yugoslavia, then these destinations are for you!
As global tourism to the region of the former Yugoslavia has been increasing over the last few years, as well as interest in the former country’s history, art and architecture (as well as the concept of Yugo-tourism itself), I thought it would be fun to compile a list of places across that region where one can visit to learn about and experience a taste of Yugoslavia. In the decades since the onset of Yugoslavia’s dismantling in the early 1990s and the formation of new independent nations, many reminders of that former nation have vanished. Much of this vanishing has been a natural result of the unsurprising change in fashions, styles and trends from the 70s/80s Yugoslav-era to today (much like the rest of the world has advanced from that era with their fashions and styles). However, on top of just the changing of styles, in many places in the former republics, much effort was made towards actively erasing any reminders of the Yugoslav state all together, including the tearing down of statues/monuments, the changing of street names, the demolishing of buildings, and the removal of any other such types of symbols that might speak of Yugoslavia.
Yet, there are a few places still within the former Yugoslav republics where you can still find glimpses of that era (both stylistically and culturally) through museums, time-capsule-like locations and re-creations which continue to preserve and present the distinct atmosphere and energy which that former country exuded. This list will include not only the traditional and expected museums, but also historical sites, shops, cafes, accommodations, and other unique touristic sites that operate as enigmatic portals to a time long past and a country that no longer exists.
1.) The Museum of Yugoslavia, Belgrade, Serbia
Located in the Dedinje neighborhood of Belgrade is the Museum of Yugoslavia. Built next to Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito’s official Belgrade residence, the original name for the museum (until 1996) was the “Josip Broz Tito Memorial Center”. During the Yugoslav-era it was one of the central locations where Tito’s birthday, dubbed Youth Day, was celebrated each year on May 25th. Youth Day was characterized by a nationwide children’s relay race which concluded just across the street from the museum at Partizan Stadium. Every year, children from across Yugoslavia would send Tito home-made batons in hopes that it would be the one chosen for use in that year’s relay race. In 1962, the first museum building was opened to display all of the many children’s batons sent to Tito, as well as to serve as a display location for the many gifts given to Tito by national leaders from around the world. A few years later, a new building was added to the complex called the May 25th Museum, which allowed further exhibition space. Then, in 1975, the House of Flowers was built next to these two museum buildings to act as a winter garden for Tito and his wife Jovanka.
However, upon Tito’s death in 1980, the House of Flowers was used as his final resting place. Many of the original stylings, architecture and aesthetics of the three buildings of the Museum of Yugoslavia have been preserved over the decades, acting as a unique window into the time period. The official website for the Museum of Yugoslavia can be found at THIS link.
2.) The Red History Museum, Dubrovnik, Croatia
Situated in the ancient Adriatic city of Dubrovnik, Croatia is the Red History Museum. Opened less than a year ago in April of 2019, this new museum contains thousands of exhibits related to all facets of life in the former Yugoslavia, from cars, to music, to politics, to home-goods, to pop-culture, and much more. Not only is the museum arranged with traditional museum exhibits (showing history time-lines, vintage photos, maps, etc), but there are also several areas with period furniture set up to resemble an authentic Yugoslav-era apartment, which include even the smallest details of appliances, magazines, cigarettes and more. Through these lengths to put on display accurate representations of the past, the Red History Museum is able to display to visitors what normal every-day life would have been like for citizens during the Yugoslav-era. Furthermore, the museum takes Yugoslav-era artifact presentation even further by bringing in a bright red beautifully restored Yugo car into the museum’s entrance area, while the ticket booth for the museum is a shining silver K-67 kiosk (both of which will no doubt bright back countless personal memories for anyone who grew up in Yugoslavia). The museum also includes space for various temporary exhibitions, as well as a clever gift shop for anyone wanting to take away a momento. The official website for the Red History Museum can be found at THIS link.
3.) Caffe Tito, Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Tucked behind Sarajevo’s Historic Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina is the popular student hot-spot known as Caffe Tito. Set up as a tribute established to President Josip Broz Tito, this relaxed cafe is decorated with a fascinating variety of Yugoslav-era memorabilia, vintage photos, old newspaper clippings, old WWII-era military equipment and banners bearing Partisan mottos, such as the famous “smrt fašizmu, sloboda narodu” or “death to fascism, freedom to the people”. Also inside Caffe Tito, which is unsurprisingly painted in a red theme, you can even find a large bronze sculptural bust of Tito, based off of the well-known Tito sculpture by Antun Augustinčić. Altogether, the cafe almost verges on feeling like a time-capsule museum in the way that it has curated its playful collection of history, style and nostalgia. Meanwhile, the cafe has a beautiful outdoor beer garden to relax with your drink for enjoying the Sarajevo ambiance and the establishment’s hipsterish youthful atmosphere.
4.) Guesthouse Yugodom, Belgrade, Serbia
Nestled in the cute Dorćol neighborhood of Belgrade’s old town is “Yugodom”, an apartment which has outfitted itself to exude the impression as if you have just stepped off of a time-machine into the ‘Golden Era’ of 1960s/70s era Yugoslavia. Bedecked with elegant period furniture, vibrant wallpaper, retro appliances, and everything else you could imagine to set the nostalgic scene, the Yugodom exists not only as a museum-like experience to absorb Yugoslav design aesthetics, but it is also a guesthouse, billing itself as a "Stay Over Museum”, where you can book rooms for the night in order to properly take in the whole transportative experience. Its two bedrooms are expertly decorated, with one organized as a “60s themed” room and the second a “70s themed”, while the living room gives off more of an 80s vibe. Started in 2013 by young Belgrade interior designer Mario Milaković, this unique accommodation is one-of-a-kind in Belgrade, offering a type of experience that attracts not only tourists from around the world, but also people living within the former Yugoslav republics who want to dwell for a bit in the memories from the Yugoslav “Golden Era”. The official website for the Yugodom can be found at THIS link.
5.) Tito’s Bunker (ARK D-0), Konjic, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Hidden within an unassuming building within the steep slopes of Bjelašnica Mountain along the Neretva river valley, just southeast of the town of Kojnic, Bosnia, is the entrance to the underground Atomska Ratna Komanda (or “Atomic War Command” in English), otherwise known more shortly as ARK D-0 or simply Tito’s Bunker. This secret subterranean nuclear command center and protective bunker, which contains over 100 rooms cover almost 7,000 sq m, was built into Bjelašnica Mountain during the Cold War era to house the Yugoslav political elite in case of an attack. Meant to sustain a 20 kiloton nuclear blast, this underground complex was constructed over the course of nearly 15 years, starting in 1953. While Tito nor the country of Yugoslavia ever required its services, it was nonetheless always kept on standby at all times just in case disaster struck. However, as Yugoslavia began to be dismantled and the Bosnian War began in ramped up in the early 1990s, the bunker instead became a strategic military location during the war for re-supplying and as a medical base.
However, even despite the war, the bunker was largely kept in pristine condition. After the war, the new government of the newly independent Bosnia kept the existence of the bunker hidden from the general public. It was not until 2007 that existence of the bunker was made public and plans were released that it was to be turned into a public museum and gallery space. Opened in 2011 to the public for the first time, the bunker continues to retain much of its original Yugoslav-era military technology and equipment, as well as its furnishings and Tito’s private quarters. In addition, art exhibits are scattered around the huge complex from both regional and international artists. This unique Yugoslav time-capsule and one-of-a-kind art gallery is among the most singular museum experiences in Bosnia. For information about tickets, visit the Kojnic tourist website at THIS link.
6.) Tito’s Blue Train, Belgrade, Serbia
During the Yugoslav-era, when President Josip Broz Tito wished to ride the rails across his nation, his means to do so was via his own personal luxury train. The train’s exterior was painted in a distinct shade of blue (even the locomotives), while the train’s interior was lined in elegant wood panels, expensive furniture, fine curtains, modernist artwork and beautiful carpets, all gleaming with the uniquely Yugoslav design aesthetic that one would expect from a train meant to represent a country. Tito was not the only notable individual to ride upon this train, he also routinely hosted upon it many visiting dignitaries during their visits to Yugoslavia, such as François Mitterrand, Yasser Arafat, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Queen Elizabeth II, just to name a few. When Tito passed away in 1980 in Ljubljana, the train was used to carry his remains in a procession of mourning back to Belgrade, during which thousands of people came to watch the train pass to pay their last respects. Today the train exists much in the same condition and state as it did during the Yugoslav-era, with it sitting idle as a museum object trapped in time. However, every once in awhile, the train has been used for public touristic excursions to Montenegro, but today it sits at a train garage at Topčider in Belgrade where it is open to tours. You should be able to buy tickets for the Blue Train (Plavi voz) at either the central Belgrade train station or at Topčider station. Then take the tickets to the train garage across the street from the Rasadnik stop on Tram #3 [coordinates].