Belgrade (Serbian: Beograd) hasn’t been on the usual European city break travel list for over twenty years, but not for the lack of tourist attractions. In fact, Belgrade has a similar set attractions and landmarks as other popular European cities without diminishing its own uniqueness. Let’s have a look at those:
- A notable gathering point: Surrounded on two sides by the National Museum and the National Theatre, Republic Square (Trg Republike) is Belgrade’s people-watching hub. It’s also the starting point of walking tours – Belgrade Free Tour (orange umbrella) and Belgrade Walking Tours (yellow umbrella) come recommended.
- A big river: Belgrade has two, sitting on the confluence of the Sava and the mighty Danube. The floating nightclubs (splavs) are located on the western side of the Sava.
3. A great shopping street: Knez Mihailova is the flagship shopping strip in Belgrade, complete with food vendors and performers, although smaller (and much cheaper) boutiques are dotted around the city centre.
4. A landmark hotel: The minute I saw the Hotel Moskva I immediately knew that this was/is the gathering point of the rich and famous/infamous.
- A major religious site: Sveti Sava is the world’s largest Orthodox Church. Whilst I didn’t visit inside, the spectacular outside was sufficiently impressive for me.
- A hip/cool area: Dorćol, east of Knez Mihailova, has transformed itself from a Serbian mafia hang-out to an area with great artisan cafes, bakeries and bars. Given its proximity to the city centre and its laid-back vibe it’s an ideal place to stay. Dorćol’s nickname is Silicon Valley. But there is no IT industry in sight. Work that one out!
7. A historical focal point: A long & varied history means plenty of sites with Kalemegdan Fortress dating as far back as Roman times. Josip Broz Tito ruled Yugoslavia from the 1940s until his death in 1980. His mausoleum in the House of Flowers is part of the Museum of Yugoslavia. It’s an area of quiet reflection with display boards detailing his life. The utterly fascinating part of the complex is the Old Museum which houses artefacts from his life, gifts he received and other post-Tito ephemera. As for recent history, Belgrade & Serbia were subject to NATO bombing in 1999 but I’ll explore this in a later post.
- A city centre park: Belgrade has many but Tašmajdan Park became my favourite. It had a great mix of ages, from elderly women chatting to perfectly-sculpted young men making use of the outdoor gym. The Church of St. Mark is located on the north of the park and behind this lie the remains of the RTS building which was bombed by NATO in 1999.
9. Café culture: You will not go hungry or thirsty in Belgrade. Every street has at least one café or bakery. Coffee, rakija (fruit brandy), pastries and 300-400g of meat are staples of the Serbian daily diet combined with ice-cream from pop-up parlours and cigarettes at €1.90 a pack. Forget your coconut water and kale smoothie, it’s all about the devilish delights of living for the moment in Serbia.
- Splendid architecture: The words ‘communist’ and ‘architecture’ usually find themselves in sentences with ‘grey’, ‘concrete’ and ‘monstrosity’ although Belgrade has managed to preserve some gems from bygone eras such as the Ottoman Bajrakli Mosque and the 19th century National Theatre.
Pariah state is a phrase commonly used to describe Serbia since the 1990s conflict and it’s a description the country is shaking off. Undergoing a physical makeover, construction in Belgrade is brisk including a Hilton hotel in the pipeline. English is widely spoken amongst most young people, an outward-looking demographic focusing on tourism to build sustainable careers. Their prime wish is the arrival of Ryanair flights to Belgrade although I fear hordes of stag parties descending upon the city should their wish materialise. However, with popular European cities such as Dubrovnik and Venice experiencing over-tourism perhaps Belgrade’s timing is just Noteright.
For practical travel advice and information I found Lonely Planet’s Southeastern Europe guide to be excellent, particularly as I was travelling to Montenegro after my Serbia visit.
The DK Eyewitness guide to Serbia was excellent for getting a colour visual guide to the country. The comprehensive set of maps are also in colour.