Among the many ways available to explore Belgrade, paddling in a kayak in the middle of the city has been one of the most exciting for me. Here is my five-star review of a kayak tour around Great War Island with No Fat No Stress.
Disclaimer: I was not asked to do this review and am writing in complete independence after taking the tour and paying full price.
Belgrade is a city full of wonders. You can walk up and down the streets for days exploring every corner of the old town. Ride up bicycles on the kilometre-long lanes crisscrossing New Belgrade. Picnic in one of the many parks and green areas. Take a street art tour with Liljana and Srdan for a deep dive into urban history and art.
And if you are up for physical exercise, you can take a kayak and paddle your way around Great War Island, the beautiful island located at the meeting point of the Save and the Danube. Belgrade’s two rivers offer a wide range of activities and kayaking was certainly a very entertaining one for my little group of friends. Even for those who were born and raised in Belgrade! The view from the river on the fortress of Kalemegdan is simply a must-do when visiting the city. Consider adding a day to your three-day stay and enjoy a while longer.
Booking your kayak tour
We booked through No Fat No Stress (we are still wondering about the name). I suggest a local friend do the booking for you, if possible. If not, they also have a website in English. They offer different tours in and around Belgrade and I can tell you I am excited about trying more!
We chose for our first time to do the tour around Great War Island. The island itself is a protected natural reserve known for its many bird species. Located between the Kalemegdan fortress and Zemun, the island is a well-known site for whoever has spent some time in the city. It is also a mark of the confluence of the Save and the Danube, the two big European rivers meeting in Belgrade.
I have spent countless hours striding along both sides of the river, any time of the year including during snowfalls. I have been riding bicycles to the artificial lake Ada or taking the long walk across the bridge to Zemun’s old town and the Gardos tower many times. Going on the river on my own kayak was a completely new experience.
We met our guide at the boat-hotel Carli (Charlie) on Zemunski Kej, pretty much behind Palata Srbija/Serbia’s Palace, the former headquarters of Yugoslavia’s Institutions.
Yes, anyone can go kayaking
The tour was scheduled to start at 11:00 AM. The weather was beautiful, almost chilly in the wind after a day of rain but nicely sunny. We knew we would not be cold once on the water. We even thought of bringing suncream, which definitely came in handy! After changing into our swimming suits and putting on the life jackets provided by our instructor, we were ready to jump in our kayaks!
First, we got a short introduction to kayaking: right hand fixed, keep your back straight. That’s it (in a nutshell). Then comes the first funny part: getting inside the kayak. You can choose between one or two-person kayaks. We all decided to have our own boats. We joked that sharing a kayak is quite the test for friendships and couples… and we decided not to take risks.
Our guide brought the kayaks one by one to the hotel’s pontoon and explained how to get in without falling in the water: sit on the pontoon, put your legs in the kayak, hold onto the railing and sit down as fast and smoothly as possible. It is easier than you might think.
To be honest I had not been on a kayak in years. The only time I was on a kayak on my own, I was a small kid and I was completely unable to paddle by myself so our instructor had to attach my boat to his and drag me the whole way. The memory still burns.
As you may understand, I was a bit stressed about being on my own this time. But the truth is: kayaking is easy. It is hard and physically demanding at times but you quickly get a hand of the paddling. The river is wide so you have space to move without hitting each other’s kayak and the water is easy to navigate. I would say that this tour is really for everyone, even with children thanks to the two-person kayaks.
On and around Great War Island
The first part of the tour goes upstream so it is the most physical part. You will get a good workout of your arms, shoulders and back! However, it does not last for too long. Our guide was very patient with us and let us enjoy at our own rhythm. She always kept an eye on everyone and made sure we would not get stuck in the sand too close to shore or on motorboats’ way. Other than that, we could take our time to paddle, play and admire the view.
Being on the river felt refreshing and exciting. It was not at all as being on a cruise. Sitting in your kayak is like sitting directly on the water. You can feel every little wave, put your hands in the cold water and feel the stream. You can race with the other people in your group and do water battles.
Lido beach, please
The first part of the trip stops at Lido, the little beach on Great War Island. We arrived by the military bridge, a temporary construction set up every summer for pedestrian access. We had to moved the kayaks on the land to pass over the bridge. By that time, we were a bit tired and we took a nice break. Again, our guide was patiently waiting for us to be ready for the next leg of the journey.
We stayed about half an hour on Lido playing around and taking selfies. It was a working day around noon so despite being August the beach was fairly empty, asides from dogs and their owners. We took a dip into the river. I am used to going to swim at Ada, the artificial lake by the Sava river. It feels quite different at Lido. The water is quick and colder but still very nice after an hour of paddling in the sun.
I like Lido because it is an amazing spot for photography. The place gets crowded on weekends with families and groups of friends hanging around drinking beers, roasting meat, celebrating birthdays… You can do portraits, animals, nature, beach photos and even street photography! Lido is located across Zemun and while you are on a beach you are facing beautiful tall brutalist buildings. It is a beach in the city.
Going down the Danube
We eventually went back to our boats for the second part of the journey. We felt rested after the break but even if you are still tired, that part of the tour goes downstream and therefore is much easier. You can paddle only every now and then to control the direction more than for going forward.
On that part, you are more likely to cross path with boats. You will pass the marina and see many people enjoying the sun, idle with drinks and music on the deck, or fishing. Be careful, stay on the right side of the river and keep an eye out while enjoying the easy ride.
It will also be much easier to take photos from the boat at that point as you don’t have to fight the stream. You will be provided with waterproof bags at the hotel if you ask for it so you can take your phone and your camera.
I think the second part of the journey was also the one with the best views over Belgrade. Passing by the Kalemegdan fortress was the highlight of the whole trip. Judging by the comments of my Serbian friends, the same goes for them as well. Sitting on the fortress’s wall at sunset has always been one of my favourite things to do in Belgrade. Reversing the viewpoint and looking up at the fortress from the river was new and breathtaking.
We spent the rest of the trip talking excitedly about the view, the experience and discussing other tours we would like to do. That’s how excited we were when we got back to boat-hotel Carli after about three hours on the river! Getting out of the kayaks was about as easy as getting in. We cleaned up, changed into our city clothes and chatted a while with our guide.
After many thanks and a couple of jokes, we were simply too starved to stay longer. Fortunately, this area is not short on good places to eat! We decided to be bad and go to Keops, a pancake place on the river and one of my favourite places in Belgrade for sweets. Why would you paddle on the river for three hours if not to get a massive pancake stuffed with mushroom, cream and prosciutto followed by another massive pancake filled with nougat paste, Plazma, raspberry coulis and topped with vanilla ice cream?
I give five stars to the kayak tour around Great War Island with No Fat No Stress. The equipment was in perfect condition. We were given life jackets and waterproof bags and all the basic instructions needed to learn quickly how to handle our kayaks. Our guide/instructor was nice, funny and patient with us. She let us enjoy as much as we wanted, both on the river and on Lido. I recommend the experience to anyone looking for an active and off-the-beaten-path exploration of Belgrade!