Every city in the world has been through difficult times, but few still bear visible scars like Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. At the same time, Belgrade’s historic layers interact with the landscape beautifully. Built on a strategic location, for over 300 years the city was a border town between two antagonist cultures: the Ottoman and the Habsburg (Austro-Hungarian). Some would argue that this fascinating duality is still in the minds of its inhabitants. Others, however, still ponder: is Belgrade worth visiting?
What is Belgrade Like
- 1 What is Belgrade Like
- 2 What to See in Belgrade
- 3 Belgrade has Great Hotels
- 4 Moving Around is an Adventure
- 5 Is Belgrade Worth Visiting?
- 6 Belgrade Travel Guide
Topography conditions the form and the urban grid of Belgrade. Two large rivers, Danube and Sava, meet in the middle of the city and divide it into three. The largest section of the city is on the southeastern bank. Here is where Old Belgrade lies. Old Zemun and New Belgrade are on the southwestern bank. Finally, minor settlements occupy the northern bank. Bridges connect the three sections. The city could have more bridges. However, the width of both rivers makes construction very costly. The city’s main avenues follow the direction of the E75 freeway, which is parallel to the Danube River.
What to See in Belgrade
Though it may come as a surprise to some, Belgrade has a plethora of places to visit. The Belgrade Fortress, one of the most important historical monuments in Serbia, sits on the best location in town: overlooking the confluence of both rivers. Everyone in Belgrade comes to walk around the fortress and Kalemegdan Park. The entire city was inside the fortress for centuries. Thus, the fortress’s history reflects that of Belgrade. The Celts founded the fortress in the 3rd century BC. It was later Roman, Byzantine, Bulgarian, Serbian, Hungarian, Turkish, and Austrian. As you can see, everybody who was somebody wanted Belgrade!
Knez Mihajlova is Belgrade’s main commercial street. This pedestrian street, on top of the ridge, connects central Belgrade with the fortress. Everything happens in Knez Mihajlova and Trg Republike (Republic Square), the city’s main plaza. The National Theatre and the National Museum are here. A few meters northwest of the square, we find Studentski Park, where Belgrade University’s main building and the Ethnographic Museum are. A couple of years ago, the city closed the whole area around Knez Mihajlova to traffic. Since then, lively cafes with open-air terraces have sprung up like mushrooms. Thanks, Belgrade!
Saborna Church, Belgrade’s cathedral, dominates the landscape from the main street to the River Sava. Since it was built in the mid 19th century, the temple has a neoclassical appearance. Though Belgrade was under the Ottoman rule for almost 300 years, just a few buildings from that period have survived to this day. Two remarkable ones are the nearby Question Mark Tavern and Princess Ljubica Residence. They are an incredible example of early 19th century civil architecture. Kosancicev Venac, Belgrade’s oldest neighborhood outside of the fortress, is behind the residence. If you continue to Branko Bridge, you will see one of the hottest spots to party the night out in Belgrade next to the river Sava, the so-called Savamala.
Belgrade gained its independence from the Ottomans in the early 19th century. Soon enough, it demolished its old city walls and begun expanding to the outside. The new modern Belgrade flourished southeast of the main square. A few steps from the square, you will see Belgrade’s most monumental buildings: the National Assembly, the New and Old Palaces, and St. Mark’s Church. Do not miss the nearby museum dedicated to Tesla, one of the world’s most brilliant scientists. Continuing southwest, you’ll get to the impressive 78 meters tall St. Sava’s Temple, the largest church in Serbia, and the second-largest Orthodox Church in the world.
The old cities of Belgrade and Zemun were completely separate for centuries. In fact, military battles frequently occurred in the fields between the two cities. After World War II, the new Socialist government wanted a new capital and a new political system. Since the empty space between both two cities was ideal, the authorities drained the marsh to build Yugoslavia’s new Capital. Today, New Belgrade is a massive park interspersed by fantastic architecture. The Modern Art Museum, the Federal Executive Council, Genex Tower, and Hotel Jugoslavija are some of New Belgrade’s architectural jewels.
The old city of Zemun seems stuck in time. You step in and feel like in the Austro-Hungarian past. Beautiful little palaces, ornate churches, and colorful houses populate the place. The best buildings line Zemun’s main street, Glavna. Charming pedestrian Gospodska Street, perpendicular to Glavna, takes you all the way to the Danube River. Unlike Belgrade, Zemun has always been connected to the Danube. Even today, the wonderful Danube promenade is where locals and tourist flock to enjoy the views and the upbeat vibe. Some of the city’s best restaurants and taverns are here. There is one other thing you simply can’t miss. Climb a few steps up to Gardos, next to the Millennium Tower, and you’ll be in heaven.
Athens has Plaka, Paris has Montmartre, Vienna has Grinzing, and Belgrade has fancy Skadarlija. This bohemian street, east of the main square, has an old-time vibe and is full of flavor. In 1830, people settled in abandoned trenches. By the end of the 19th century, the first khans or kafanas (taverns) opened, and the street soon became the center of Belgrade’s bohemian life. Three restaurants from the 19th century are still serving delicious food today: Tri Sesira (Three Hats), Dva Jelena (Two Deer), and Zlatni Bokal (The Golden Jug). In recent years, bars and restaurants opened right next to Skadarlija. We are talking about the Cetinjska quarter, apparently night central.
Belgrade may not be Athens or Lisbon, but it for sure is a street art Mecca. Actually, Belgrade was one of the first cities to feature street art in Europe. In 1970, a small graffiti appeared on the wall of a shop in Bulevar Kralja Aleksandra. Unfortunately, that graffiti is gone. However, the first large scale mural from 1984 survived and has been refreshed recently. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the Belgrade Summer festival regularly organizes graffiti jams. Renowned world artists like BLU, Blek le Rat, Mark Jenkins, REMED, and M-city have participated and left their mark in the city.
Belgrade has Great Hotels
There are three great locations to stay in Belgrade: in the city center, in New Belgrade, and Zemun. Most hotels are in these areas. Without a doubt, the city center is the best option. New Belgrade is perfect to spend time around nature. On the other hand, choose Zemun if you like a quaint neighborhood. We love staying in historic hotels, and Belgrade has beautiful ones. Hotel Moskva is the iconic art nouveau hotel downtown. The best hotel in Belgrade, and Serbia, is Metropol Palace. Tito himself wanted a grand hotel for his new capital, and he sure got one. The hotel’s location is perfect, walking distance to most attractions. The modernist building was updated recently to include modern-day amenities. Rooms are elegant, the service superb, and the lobby’s mosaic, a piece of art. One of our favorite buildings in Belgrade is Hotel Jugoslavija. This modernist giant sits on the banks of the Sava River, in the heart of New Belgrade, and just a step away from Zemun and the center. Ask for a room overlooking the river.
Moving Around is an Adventure
Belgrade is a relatively big city. Downtown Belgrade is more compact, while New Belgrade, with its fabulous green areas, spread out. On the other hand, Zemun is small and compact. Walking is the best option to discover downtown Belgrade. You can go to most attractions by foot. To go from central Belgrade to New Belgrade, you could take a public bus. However, traffic jams are pretty common, and taxi’s inexpensive. Thus, take a taxi, and in no time you’ll be in New Belgrade, where you can walk about the greenery. The same applies to Zemun. We’ve walked all along the river promenade and reached Zemun several times. It’s a lovely walk. However, if it’s too much for you, hop in a taxi and you’ll be there in a few minutes. Finally, Belgrade is pretty safe, so no worries if you go at night, you can always take an inexpensive taxi back to your hotel.
Is Belgrade Worth Visiting?
The answer is a resounding yes! To begin with, Belgrade is full of culture and history. When you walk about its streets, you get to experience Serbian, Yugoslavian, and European history. Likewise, there is no city in the world where you can see the fruits, and perils, of a socialist regime. Following War World II, Belgrade didn’t follow Russia or America, but its own original path. Architecture lovers will be in heaven. Belgrade has all types of architecture, from Ottoman to Austro Hungarian, Art Nouveau, and contemporary architecture. Arguably, Belgrade has the best brutalist architecture in the world. One can spend days discovering these massive beauties.
We left the best for last. The city has delicious food, fun polite people, and fantastic nightlife. Almost everyone speaks English, but absolutely everyone is warm and willing to help. It is a bizarre combination: cultured people with a big heart and loads of humor. Finally, go out for lunch, and you will understand why Serbians are so tall. The amount of prime quality food they eat is surreal!
Belgrade Travel Guide
- Stay in the city center or Zemun.
- Belgrade Fortress and Kalemegdan park;
- The historical center of Zemun;
- The Royal palace and Tito memorial museum;
- Princess Ljubica Residence.
- Go for a dinner in Skadarlija, for a traditional cuisine and live music; Dva Jelena is our favorite restaurant.
- Have coffee in Question Mark.
- On foot, by bicycle, bus, tram, trolleybus and taxi.
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.
- For more inspiration check this post about unique things to do in Belgrade.