Stuart Forster takes a look at some of the best things to do in Belgrade, the capital city of Serbia.
What is there for visitors to see and do in Belgrade? That’s a question I initially asked about a year ago, ahead of my first visit to the Serbian capital. Subsequently, I’ve enjoyed a handful of trips to the city and had chances to view the key attractions. Additionally, I’ve been introduced to a number of places recommended by residents with insider tips.
Sip a Serbian coffee
Tasting local food and drink is a great way of getting to know and understand any place. After all, cuisine often reflects the cultural influences and history of a land.
One of the legacies of the long era of Ottoman domination in this part of the Balkans is the tradition of making coffee in džezva, long-handled copper or bronze pots. Pausing for Serbian coffee is a great way of enjoying a few minutes of downtime between sightseeing and provides a chance to catch up on emails using the wi-fi connections that are widely available in city cafés.
You can often spot the first-time tourists; they’re the ones who try to take one mouthful too many, ending up with the sludge of coffee grinds on their tongues. The coffee is usually served with a piece of sugar-dusted ratluk – the delicious, jelly-like sweet that’s known as Turkish delight in many countries.
A beer in a kafana
Locals will tell you that traditional kafana café restaurants are becoming increasingly difficult to find in the heart of the city. They are well-worth seeking out for a glass of pre-food rakia or a cold beer. If you haven’t yet tried Serbian beer look out for pilsners such as Jelen and Lav and craft beers from the Kabinet Brewery.
One of the easiest ways of experiencing a kafana-style ambience – with live music and low lights – is to head to Skadarlija, a cobbled lane where you can take your pick of places to dine. Don’t miss the opportunity to try ćevapi – mountainous plates of spicy sausages, mixed grilled meats plus red pepper-based ajvar and creamy kaymak – served with freshly baked flatbread.
Places to eat in Belgrade
You could also taste Serbian delicacies at Ambar (Karadordeva 2, tel: +381 11 3286637), one of the many bars and restaurants overlooking the River Sava. Neighbouring restaurants serve everything from steaks and pizzas to Latin-American cuisine, making this former warehouse district a good place to head if you want to keep your dining options open.
For modern, Italian-influenced cuisine why not book an evening in the smart surrounds of Salon 5 (Avijatičarski trg 5, tel: +381 11 2614893)? This chic, laid-back restaurant has just seven tables and is within an apartment building in Zemun. It’s like being welcomed into a home with attentive service, Scandinavian furniture and carefully crafted plates of food.
Belgrade’s lively party scene
Even allowing for rakia clouding my memories of Belgrade’s nightlife, they remain positive. It’s a great place for a night out. Hotspots and venues to be seen in are constantly evolving, changing with the seasons too. People spill out onto terraces during the summer months and enjoy the warmth of indoor spots during winter.
Even in the rain and sleet of a freezing January night, the barges moored by the banks of the Sava in New Belgrade pull in weekend crowds. The splavovi, floating nightclubs, rarely become busy until well past midnight. Unlike clubs in many parts of the world, there’s no entry fee to pay. That means you can dip in and out of them until you find one playing the style of music you really like.
Klub 20/44, whose name features Belgrade’s map coordinates, is an insider tip for a late midweek drink accompanied by live music by up-and-coming bands. Being aboard also provides great views of Belgrade at night. The walls of the Kalmegdan fortress are illuminated by yellowy lights and the vast arch of Branko’s Bridge reflects in the slow-flowing blackness of the Sava.
Belgrade at Night has up-to-date information on where to party. The company provides a free service. It offers to put visitors’ names on the guest list of popular nightspots, quickly and free of charge. The most popular clubs in Belgrade don’t charge entry but they do require the names of visitors to be on their guest list to guarantee entry.
Shopping in Belgrade
The shops along the pedestrianised Knez Mihailova are a good starting point if you’re looking to buy clothes and shoes. Within the bookstores you can find maps of Belgrade and Serbia, plus guidebooks that have been translated into several languages, making it a good place to pick up materials at the outset of a trip.
For a range of hip products by Serbian and international designers drop by the Supermarket concept store (Višnjićeva 10). You can get everything from clothing to kitchen items, plus toys and household items.
To stock up on ratluk and handmade lollies, pop into the compact Bombondžija Bosiljcic sweetshop (Gavrila Principa 14) and take your pick of the products.
Sightseeing highlights in Belgrade
The Kalemegdan fortress’s long history and grand gateway make it a must-see attraction. If snow is falling you can take refuge inside the Military Museum or head into the ivy-clad Ružica Church to see ornamentation crafted out of bullet casings and sabres dating from World War One. Back in August 1914 some of the first shots of the Great War were fired into the fortress from an Austro-Hungarian gunboat on the River Danube.
The Nikola Tesla Museum (Krunska 51) provides insights into the life and work of an electrical engineer and scientist whose visionary thinking still goes underappreciated in many parts of the world. Tesla lived from 1856 to 1953, was the inventor of the Tesla Coil and had a unit of measurement named after him. The urn holding his ashes stands within the museum. Demonstrations of his inventions, including his remote control ship, still draw gasps of admiration from onlookers.
Legat Petar Lubarda (Iličićeva 1) is a villa roughly ten minutes’ stroll from the Museum of Yugoslav History and the House of Flowers, the mausoleum of Josip Broz Tito. The building was once the home and workplace of Petar Lubarba, an artist acclaimed for his abstract works. Several restored artworks are displayed and a 15-minute video gives insights into Lubarda’s turbulent and creative life.
If you enjoy sports and events with thumping atmospheres, try to get tickets to experience one of Red Star Belgrade’s Euroleague basketball matches. Like the city at large, the vibrancy of an evening in the Kombank Arena makes a big impression.
Getting to Belgrade
Stuart flew direct from London Heathrow to Belgrade with Air Serbia. The flight lasts two hours and 40 minutes.
Where to stay
Stuart stayed in the Crowne Plaza Belgrade (Vladimira Popovica 10; +381 11 2204004). The hotel has 416 guestrooms plus a restaurant, lounge bar and conference facilities. There’s also a fitness centre and an indoor pool.
Take a look at the National Tourism Organisation of Serbia‘s website for ideas relating to travel in Belgrade and beyond.
Photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography.
Thanks for reading this article about things to see and do during a weekend break in Belgrade, Serbia. If you’re in Serbia, you may enjoy visiting the Fruška Gora region.
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