Belgrade, for confusing linguistic reasons also known as Beograd, is the capital and largest city in Serbia and an essential stop on any Balkan holiday. It is fairly famous for its impressive night life, young population and overall party atmosphere. Of course, as one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, there is plenty more to it than a few trendy night clubs, cool street art and lots of kebab shops. As it turns out, there are far more things to do in Belgrade than we had imagined when we first made plans to pass through on our way from Montenegro to Bulgaria. Enough to make it worth making it on the list of anyone deciding where to go on their visit to the Balkans. Arriving on the fabulous Balkan Express train from Bar just after dark, our first impression mainly involved several well-lit buses and an equal number of dodgy, poorly-lit bus stops. Once we started exploring the following day, though, Belgrade quickly won us over with its relaxed charm and effortless history.
Things to Do in Belgrade
Visit the Kalemegdan Fortress
Located in Stari Grad (Old Town), this is an interesting mix of green park, imposing fort and technical military museum. Anyone who loves having their photo taking with dozens of different tanks (which must be most people, surely?) will be positively atwitter with excitement. Of course, the museum doesn’t limit itself to just slow-moving armoured vehicles, they also make special effort to cover the whole military gamut. This is one of the most popular Belgrade tourist attractions. Personally, though, we found the park itself to be the highlight, with great views of the Belgrade fortress from several different angles.
Stroll Knez Mihailova Street
A Belgrade sightseeing stalwart, the name means Prince Michael Street in English, not that he was anywhere to be found during our visit. Typical royalty. This popular pedestrian street in the city center still has plenty to recommend it, though, starting with the National Museum and National Theatre. It is about a kilometre long and features a lot of beautiful old mansions, all mixed together with lines of high-end stores and a number of excellent ice cream shops. Once your sweet tooth has been appeased, however, be sure to spend some time in the vibrant Republic Square.
Admire the Church of Saint Sava
Slavic Orthodox is the dominant religion in many parts of the Balkans and the Serbian Orthodox faith is the 2nd oldest of its kind in the world. This beautiful church is not just a great photo op but is also allegedly the burial place of its founder, Saint Sava.
Visit the Nikola Tesla Museum
Nikola Tesla was a famous inventor and electrical engineer credited with hundreds of technological advancements, although none more important than the invention of the AC (alternating current) electrical system. While he emigrated to the United States in 1884, he was born as an ethnic Serb and raised in the Austrian Empire. The Belgrade museum is his final resting place, features over 1,200 technical exhibits and is one of the best places to visit in Belgrade.
Walk Along the Danube River
The Danube, one of the most famously romantic rivers in Europe, passes through Belgrade on its long journey down to the Black Sea. It is possible to walk long distances in both directions on both sides of this pleasant waterway, and it is particularly scenic where the Danube and Sava rivers meet up. Watching the sunset over the Danube is one of the best free things to do in Belgrade.
Take in the Belgrade Nightlife
Back in the 90’s following the breakdown of Yugoslavia, things in Serbia were very rough with civil war and UN sanctions, not to mention hyperinflation and sky-high unemployment. As a result, people were really looking for ways to relieve stress and the vaunted Belgrade nightlife scene began to take off. Over the years, the Belgrade clubbing industry has become one of the most progressive and organized in the world. The hundreds of different clubs all have different specialties, themes and best nights, so it pays to research the latest before you arrive. Just make sure you’re fully caught up on sleep and maybe do some stretches before you get started.
Ride a Tram
Unlike Sofia, Bulgaria, where riding the historic trams is a rite of passage, Belgrade’s trams are not nearly so famous. However, they are still a great way to see the city. Comfortable and cheap, they are a fun way to explore some of the lesser seen neighbourhoods. Tram #2 is a particularly scenic choice.
Look Inside Ružica Church
The “Little Rose” church may be tiny but it is still one of the best things to see in Belgrade. What it lacks in size it more than makes up for with its elegant beauty. While its ivy-covered façade draws continuous crowds of photographers, the extensive art collection and intricate decor make it well worth taking the time to explore the interior as well.
Take a Belgrade Street Art Tour
Belgrade is famous for its huge collection of fascinating and colourful street art. And, while it is quite rewarding to simply wander the streets gawking at whichever spots you happen to stumble across, taking one of the affordable street art tours adds intriguing back stories and ensures you will hit all the best locations.
Take Photos of St. Mark’s Orthodox Church
This giant, elegant church is spectacular from any angle, but especially by the light of the setting sun. The adjacent Tašmajdan is a nice park worth a long, slow stroll, taking photos back of St. Mark’s along the way.
Relax at the Ada Ciganlija
One of the most popular Belgrade attractions, this nice island-turned-peninsula can be found in the middle of the Sava River. Of course, the name also normally refers to the entire area, including Lake Sava (man-made but full of real water), its popular beaches and the surrounding recreational park areas. Whether you come for an intense jog or to surprised yourself by falling asleep in the grass, this is the place for a break from your sightseeing schedule.
Try Some Takeaway Burek
These delicious flaky pastries come in many variations (usually filled with meat, cheese or vegetables) and are common throughout the Balkans. Serbia, though, is known for its special “round burek”, which I assume tastes pretty similar but definitely looks much cooler. One of the bakeries close to where we were staying featured a steady queue of locals, which always bodes well, and was the perfect place to stock up for our long journey onward to Bulgaria.
Day Trips from Belgrade
Also located on the Danube, Novi Sad is known to many young European music fans as home to the boisterous EXIT music festival every (well, almost every) summer. Which is one of the reasons it was named European Youth Capital for 2019. Of course, it has also been named European Capital of Culture for 2021. Any place capable of such diverse praise has to be worth a visit out of curiosity alone and, rest assured, Novi Sad has plenty worth seeing, including the Petrovaradin Fortress and the Serbian National Theatre.
For us, this delightful historic city was a couple-hour layover in the middle of our bus journey from Belgrade to Sofia. For others, though, this was a destination in itself. And it’s easy to see why, as in just 2 hours we were able to tour a covered veggie market, wander a scenic park, enjoy a bunch of street art, take photos of some classic churches and get some ice cream on a pleasant pedestrian street. Imagine what you could do in 5 or 6 hours.
Iron Gate National Park
Accessible a few hours from the capital, this extraordinary gorge is a popular day trip by either bus or boat. Most trips also include stops at Golubac Fortress and scenic spots along the Danube.
Where to Stay in Belgrade, Serbia
There are plenty of great options in Belgrade but here are a few of the best choices very close to all the main attractions:
Miha Luxury Apartment is a beautiful, luxurious option at a price that would barely qualify as mid-range in most parts of Europe.
Mid-range for Belgrade – meaning, basically, quite cheap – are Belgrade Center Luxury Apartments. Modern rooms with a terrace just a few blocks from Republic Square.
Finally, for a great budget choice that will leave you more cash for burek, check out Privilege Suites by Central Park. Literally right next to Republic Square, you can get a nice room in this modern hotel for the same price you’d pay for a dorm bed in Berlin.
How to Get to Belgrade
Belgrade is an international flight hub so it is typically possible to find affordable flights from most parts of Europe.
Long-distance buses from all over Europe stop in at Belgrade so, while this isn’t always the fastest or most comfortable choice, it is usually the cheapest and most accessible.
We always prefer the train and there are some excellent choices into and out of Belgrade but they aren’t nearly as frequent so be sure to check the current schedules before deciding. The Balkan Express train between Belgrade and Bar, Montenegro is a visual delight, spending hours passing through stupendous mountain scenery. The whole trip takes about 11-12 hours but, as they say, time flies when you’re having fun.
While it will probably never be mentioned in the same breath as the more famous, more traditionally tourist-friendly European cities, Belgrade is a surprising find for the open-minded. It still has plenty of history, good walking and some impressive architecture, it just happens to focus on a few different things, like street art, local food and tearing it up until the wee hours of the morning. Anyone managing to combine all those things during their visit will get just the faintest glimpse of what it is like to be a Serbian in the 21st century in this vibrant, rapidly evolving capital.
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