Many cities in the world have gone through difficult times in various periods of time, but very few still bear visible scars like Belgrade. There are also not that many places where historical layers interact with the landscape in such a beautiful way. Built on a strategic location it has served as a border town between two confronted cultures: Ottoman and Habsburg (Austro-Hungarian) for more than three centuries. Some would argue that this duality is still present in the mentality of its inhabitants.
Topography conditions the form and urban grid of Belgrade. In the middle of the city two large rivers, Danube and Sava, meet each other and divide it in three parts. The largest portion of the city is located on the southeastern bank, where Old Belgrade lies. The other parts include the southwestern bank with old Zemun and New Belgrade, and the northern bank with minor settlements. Bridges connect them, probably not enough as needed since their construction is quite costly due to the width of both rivers. Main avenues follow the direction of the E75 freeway which is parallel to the direction of the Danube River.
The Belgrade Fortress, one of the most important historical monuments in Serbia, sits on the most impressive location in the city, overlooking the confluence of both rivers. Together with Kalemegdan Park it represents the principal destination for all walks. On top of the ridge, halfway between the rivers and connected directly to the fortress, Knez Mihajlova is the main commercial street. Together with Trg Republike (Republic square) they form the place where everything happens. The National Theatre and the National Museum have both settled down in the area. From the main street towards the river Sava Saborna Church, or the cathedral, dominates the landscape. Next to it the Question Mark Tavern and Princess Ljubica Palace represent two fine examples of Balkan style architecture. East of the main square the bohemian street Skadarlija offers a unique feel of old times in great taverns. Southeast from there the National Assembly, the New and Old Palaces and St. Mark’s Church are not to be missed. Further southeast the Monumental St. Sava’s Temple can be seen from many places in the city.
There are three great locations to stay in Belgrade: in the city center (close to Republic square), in New Belgrade (near the river) and in Zemun (very few options). While almost all hostels are located in the city center, hotels are divided between these three areas and a few secondary ones. City center is the best option if you are into culture and nightlife, New Belgrade is preferable if you like to rest and spending time surrounded by nature, and Zemun is recommendable for those who are into culture, but prefer peaceful neighborhoods.
Belgrade doesn’t have the best public transport in Europe. Traffic jams are quite common, and while buses and trolleybuses share their lanes with private vehicles, only trams are at least partially separated from them. There is also an underground suburban train, but most of its stations are not in the tourist areas. Walking is the best option in the city center and in Zemun, while biking can be quite relaxing in New Belgrade and near the rivers in general. During the night public transport is not very frequent and sometimes the only option is to hire a taxi, not costly.
A superior location does not properly match the architectural heritage in the case of Belgrade. Constant traffic chaos, the lack of vision of the future and perhaps the most explosive temper in Europe do not seem to benefit its tourism. But there is no place in the world with such an impressive amount of cool 20th century superblocks, showcasing some of the best examples of modern architecture like Belgrade. No other big city has inhabitants that are still genuinely generous, where the material matters less than the spiritual. There is nothing like the Serbian humor, which may not be the most sophisticated one but is amusingly entertaining. Finally there is not a single city in the world whose local cuisine is so delicious, varied, and prepared with taste.
Belgrade Travel Guide
- Stay in Zemun, near the Danube river. Happy Frog recommends Villa Petra
- Belgrade Fortress and Kalemegdan park;
- The historical center of Zemun;
- The Royal palace and Tito memorial museum;
- Princess Ljubica house.
- Go for a dinner in Skadarlija, for a traditional cuisine and live music;
- Have coffee in Question Mark.
- On foot, by bicycle, bus, tram, trolleybus and taxi.
- Go on an excursion to Novi Sad and Sremski Karlovci.
DO NOT MISS:
- Bike near the rivers in New Belgrade and Ada Ciganlija;
- Take a tour around New Belgrade;
- Go out to some of the bars in Savamala;
- Walk through Knez Mihailova and Kralja Milana to the Saint Sava’s temple.