What you need to know before coming to Serbia and some suggestions on how to organize your time for a three-day stay in Belgrade. This is the itinerary I follow when friends come to visit. Tested and approved!
A Short Introduction
Serbia’s capital city is a growing destination for travellers looking for something new and exciting. Its chaotic streets, the mix of ancient Europe and urban modernity and the energy of its people leave no one indifferent. I have already told you how and why I fell in love with Belgrade. You will too.
Conquered, occupied, but never defeated. The “white city” (Beograd in Serbian, “beo” – white; “grad” – city) dates back to Ancient history. It has always been at a crossroad for commercial routes, cultural exchange, diplomatic disputes and wars. Many empires have fought over it and the city was razed to the ground and rebuilt several times. Now, it is the biggest city in the region.
Serbs are proud of their culture of hospitality. Coffee culture is strong here, although you’ll easily find excellent tea spots around town. The most important is to sit with friends and enjoy in a relaxing atmopshere. No country is completely safe from ill-intentioned people but you will find here a heartwarming majority of locals patient, generous and ready to go out of their way to help you. If you are lost, ask anyone. Come a stranger, leave a friend!
Few words to know: Dobar dan (hello); Molim te/vas (please singular/plural or polite); Hvala (thanks), Prijatno (pronounced priyatno, bon appétit) and Ziveli (pronounced jiveli, cheers!)
Day 1: The old town, Skadarlija, Dorcol
Start on Republic Square (Trg Republike) in front of the national museum (open since June 2018). This is where most of the people meet before going out. Take the pedestrian street, Knez Mihailova, the buzziest street of Belgrade with its thousands of bars, cafés, museums, galleries and shops.
At the end of the street, step into the old fortress of Kalemegdan. Both locals and invaders have occupied its walls through centuries. Today it is a very popular green area open 24/7. Friends, couples and families come here for a walk, enjoy some daylight and watch the sunset. You can see New Belgrade from the Victor’s platform (Pobednik) and the confluence of the Danube (Dunav) and the Sava rivers around the Great War Island. During the summer, young people sit on the walls. They talk, play music, drink beer and eat popcorn.
Go down towards the Zoo (I strongly advise not to visit it as it is in a very poor state and I feel bad for the animals). Exit the fortress and step into the old district of Dorcol. The upper part of this neighbourhood dates back to Roman times when Belgrade was known as Singidunum. Pay attention to the graffitis! Belgrade is an amazing place for street art. In Dorcol you will find, among other things, black and white portraits of actors and football players by members of the group Grobarski Trash Romantizam, a “guerrilla-like, nonprofit project with an artistic and satirical character”.
Don’t miss the Students’ park and Square. For lunch, stop in Simina street at Passengers. They have amazing burgers and French fries and more. For a snack, go to the end of Simina to one of my favourite place in the world: Suma (forest), right before entering the Bohemian street, Skadarlija. A tiny vegan café/pastry shop with the most delicious sweets baked by two lovely young ladies. In summer, the terrace is just too cute.
One more meter and you are in Skadarlija, a busy, very touristic and Instagram-friendly street. Walk it down (check out the green market Bajloni if you need) and up, then go back to Republic square. Take Terazije, the big street at the end of Knez Mihailova. Check out Hotel Moskva, the oldest hotel in Belgrade, the design district hidden behind the buildings on the opposite side of the street. Look up for beautiful, though deteriorated facades and take the street that leaves Terazije on the opposite side of Hotel Moskva. You will find the beautiful Parliament, Pionir park and the former royal palaces turned into the President’s residency and the main city hall.
- Coffee: Aviator on Terazije and Kafeterija in Kralja Petra, Coffee dream, Meduza, Principessa in Dorcol
- Drinks and live music: Azbuka on Terazije, Mucha bar in Knez Mihailova, the quite hidden Sinnerman club on Nikola Pasic square and the music store on Makedonska.
- Beers: Gunners, Miners, Krafter in Dorcol.
- Food: Red Bread, Smokvica, in Dorcol; Manufaktura, “?” and Stepenice around Knez Mihailova.
- Nightlife and pre-party: Cetinjska street.
Day 2: The rivers and Zemun
Prepare for a 10+ kilometre-long walk! Start at Brankov bridge over the rundown but lively district of Savamala. Cross to the other side and New Belgrade. Right before the lift for bicycles on the bridge, look right and check out the gigantic street art. It represents the spirit of Belgrade. Go down the stairs at the end of the bridge and stay by the river.
You are on one of the kej, the pedestrian avenue along the river. It is a beautiful place all year long, even when covered in a thick blanket of snow. Just walk forward and enjoy the view on Kalemegdan. Check out the museum of modern art (open since October 2017). If you have time, go see the permanent exhibition, it’s really good.
The area is perfectly equipped for bicycling, rollerblading, jogging, walking… Pay attention to the crowd though, and especially to the kids! Pass by Palata Srbija, the gigantic white building on your left, that used to host the representatives of every Yugoslav republic. Their offices are still there with the decoration and pieces of art but it is closed to the public. It is used for official visits and international meetings.
The boats on the river are called splavs. Most of them are only open in the summer when Belgrade’s nightlife go on the water. People party wild! There are different styles so you can always find something you will like. Others are cafés and restaurants opened all year long so take all the breaks you want… My favourite area is around the hotel Yugoslavia. When It opened in 1969 it was one of the biggest in the Balkans. It’s a good example of Yugoslav architecture. Today there are restaurants inside, a casino, a wedding hall and part of it still works as a hotel.
You are arriving in Zemun. It used to be a separate city. Back in the days, Ottomans would occupy Kalemegdan and the Austrian empire Zemun. One city would be taken, destroyed and the remains would be used to rebuild the other. Today Zemun is a municipality of ever-growing Belgrade. You will see first many tall residential buildings in the Yugoslav style. I love them but it’s really a matter of taste.
The old town of Zemun is located next to the river. It displays this Austrian-empire style. Step away from the riverside and go up to the old tower of Gardos for the view over Zemun and Belgrade. Check out the cemetery and get a coffee or a beer at the café next to the tower.
Zemun has a small and very pleasant centre just a few hundred metres away from the river with a big square, a green market and a couple of pedestrian streets full of cafés and bars. In summer, people use the temporary military bridge to go the Great War Island and swim in the Danube. There is a little beach called Lido.
You can walk back to Belgrade’s old town the way you came or go more inside Zemun to catch a bus. In the summer you can also do it by bike! Rent one by the Brankov bridge for around 5€ for one day.
- Coffee: on kej at Lemon Chilli and at Gardos Pub, beer at Savana and Radecki. Gigantic pancakes at Keops. Burgers at the American-style dinner on the other side of Hotel Yugoslavia. Girice (little-grilled fish) and fish soup at Stari Slep.
- Dinner: at Saran and Reka (book in advance).
- Live music: at Office Pub, Cirkus Pab, and Crveni Rak. Cheesecake at Restoran Princip.
Day 3: Sveti Sava, Tito’s museum
The biggest Orthodox church in Europe and the tomb of the communist leader Tito in one day. Depending on the weather, you might want to keep Sveti Sava for the end of the day and the “golden hour”, the moment preceding the sunset (or just after sunrise). The light reflecting on the surrounding buildings, and particularly on the national library, is exquisite. I consider it to be one of the most spectacular view to catch in the Balkans.
Sveti Sava is a major figure of Serbian history. Youngest son of Stefan Nemanja, founder of the royal Nemanjic dynasty, he was a monk and a founding figure of the Serbian Orthodox Church. In 1595 Serbs were fighting the Ottomans who were ruling them and in order to break their spirit, Ottoman Grand Vizier Sinan Pasha ordered for the relics and sarcophagus of Saint Sava to be taken from the monastery of Mileseva to be burnt in Belgrade. The church stands now at the place of the incineration.
Hram Svetog Save (the church of Saint Sava) is gigantic, 3,500 square-metres with a 70 metre-high dome. It’s is also still not finished. The idea of building it was developed in the 19th century but took a very long time to turn into actual work. The construction began in 1935 only to be interrupted by World War II, the communist regime that followed, the economic hardship and NATO bombing in 1999. Now it is progressing bits by bits. The outside is entirely finished and the building is open for liturgies and visits. With some luck, you will be able to see the dome covered by a huge mosaic that was inaugurated in 2018. Do not miss the underground level that displays the rich decoration you would expect in such a place.
It is a religious building so please respect the dress code, the silence and the people coming to pray.
Tito’s mausoleum and museum are located in Dedinje. To get there, better not to walk as it is a bit far away and not a very nice journey. It’s easily reachable by trolleybus (40 and 41). They stop right in front of it. The name of the stop is “Muzej Jugoslavije”. Climb up towards big building but go first to the smaller one on the left to buy your entrance ticket.
Josip Broz Tito was the hero of the communist Yugoslav resistance (Partisans) during World War II and led the country in the following decades until his death in 1980. He united the republics and autonomous territories of Yugoslavia, strengthened the Yugoslav identity and created the non-aligned movement with Indian Prime minister Nehru. He also ruled Yugoslavia with a strong hand, at the head of the only political party using political prisons and executions and surveillance of the population by secret and not-so-secret police. Yugoslavia was freer and more respected by the West than USSR (Tito told Stalin to get his nose out of his business). It was still not so democratic. However, a lot of people would tell you today there were living much better during Yugoslavia.
The museum compound comprises three buildings. The museum of Yugoslavia hosts temporary exhibits and shows an interesting old movie about Tito from communism time. The little museum of Tito’s gifts displays a selection of the items he has received from other countries, including a famous grain of rice from Armenia on which his face is engraved. Finally, the House of flowers houses Tito’s marble tomb, his wife’s tomb and an exhibit about the stafeta, the batons people were sending him for his birthday from all over Yugoslavia.
Check out the website to see what is going on at the moment of your visit. Some parts could be closed to prepare an exhibition or for renovations. There are free guided tours in English every Saturday and Sunday (you still have to pay for the entrance) at 11:00 AM.
After the museum, you can walk around in Hyde Park and get coffee or a bite in the neighbourhood of Senjak.
- Drinks: Monks in Vracar.
- Coffee: Vila Maska in summer in the garden in Vracar. Java, Dvoriste in Senjak.
- Food: Smokvica for a bite, brunch and drinks at Kozmeticar, Serbian food at Lovac in Vracar. Best bakery in town is Petkovic on Slavija square. Dvoriste and Graficar in Senjak.
- Nightlife: Karaoke, pizza, live music and beers at Pejton. Coffee at Coffee dream, Cool Coffee Bar, Zona Industriale, Aviator. Creative food at Miammiam.