Off-the-beaten-path exploration of Belgrade through its vibrant street art scene. Going up and down the streets of old Belgrade with street art specialist Liljana Radosevic from Explore Belgrade was one of the most valuable experience I have had in Serbia’s capital city.
If you have spent even just a few hours in Belgrade, you will have noticed the passion of its people for decorating public space with everything from a scribble to a breathtaking gigantic mural. Serbia’s capital city is a street art hotspot leaving a long-lasting impression on curious visitors and attracting worldly known street art artists eager to leave their print on the walls.
Disclaimer: I was not asked to do this review and am writing in complete independence after taking the tour and paying full price.
There is more to many of those scribbles than a novice would think. But it takes some knowledge to discern true graffiti writing from teenagers’ rebellious hand or from hooligans territory marking. Several hours with an all-knowing guide will give you the insight needed to appreciate another side of Belgrade.
Easy booking and caring guide
Street art arrived in the ’90s in Serbia after developing in the US and Europe for the past fifty years. It rapidly earned many adepts who found some freedom in putting their mark on the city’s walls in the middle of the night while the country was going through dark and difficult times. It evolved from graffiti writing to street art masterpieces executed by local and foreign artists as vibrantly as Belgrade’s cultural scene. And Liljana Radosevic, street art expert and guide, has been here to witness it all.
I booked the tour through Street Art Walk in cooperation with Explore Belgrade, thanks to the recommendation of friends and the many positive reviews I have read from former customers. The tour started by the national theatre (and not the museum) at the corner with the Marriott hotel. Our guide sent me an email the day before to confirm the tour, the time of the meeting and the place. There were a lot of constructions still going on in the area and she wanted to make sure we would find her without trouble. We met on time and then spent almost 20 minutes waiting for two other people who never showed up. Liljana cares a lot about her customers and she asked first if we agreed to wait while she tried to reach them. We gave up after a while and started walking. Our group tour turned into a private one for just my brother and me.
Most of the tour takes place in Dorcol in the old part of town. This hilly district of Belgrade reminds of Paris sometimes with its old Europe vibe. And the dogs’ poop: watch your steps! It’s is where I advise starting exploring Belgrade in my three-day itinerary. I have spent countless hours walking these streets and drinking coffee in true Balkan fashion with friends, enjoying the warm indoor atmosphere in winter and the summer breeze on some of the city’s best terraces. I will now look at every graffiti and drawings with renewed interest.
Do you speak street art?
Liljana Radosevic has studied graffs and street art since their first apparition in the city, making it the topic of her master thesis and of her post-graduate work as an art historian. She knows every piece in Belgrade, its creator and the story behind each and every one of them. Meet Zubina the king of Belgrade and his followers. Learn about the beautiful project Grobari Trash Romantizam to rehabilitate Partizan’s football fans. Discover the women behind some of the most inspiring stencil works and murals in Belgrade. Street art in this city was never a man’s job.
What struck me the most was how easy it can be to pass by a piece of incredible significance or with a deep history without even noticing it. Looking at street art, and even more at graffiti writing, necessitates to learn another language. Liljana has a little game about half-way during the tour to see if you will see a couple of street art pieces on the wall. They are so well-made and thought to be part of the environment that you can easily miss them!
Although street art was not born in Belgrade, people here have embraced it from graffs to murals with dedication and talent. You will get a crash-course on the history of street art in a blind alley just a few steps away from the busy street of Knez Mihailova, illustrated by the pieces crafted by local writers and artists.
Going further towards the hipster district of Savamala, our guide showed us that Belgrade has quickly attracted international talents. Famous artist Blu, whose art used to decorate Kreuzberg district in Berlin until he decided to paint over it after learning that real estate agents were using it as a justification to increase property prices, is among the artists who offered their beautiful art to the city. The mural is slowly fading though, passing away with the years. Street art was never intended to be eternal.
There are several other pieces by international artists in the area, proving how attractive Belgrade it for street art. With Liljana you can have a very interesting discussion about where street art stops and where art in the street starts. Fascinating.
The tour ends in Savamala, an area being rapidly destroyed to leave the place to a high-end urban development project. It is unsure what will become of most of the street art there. So be sure to give a long look to every piece and salute the last standing ghost of Savamala.
Good walking shoes mandatory
The tour is quite long. Not counting the time we waited for the other participants, we spent about three and a half hour with Liljana. We knew the tour was intended to last for three hours so it was not a surprise. Liljana was very flexible and took the time to share her passion in details. I never felt bored. She offered to make a stop at the bakery when my stomach started growling. Her flexibility and patience were much appreciated. We had lots of questions and she answered each of them happily. Liljana is a citizen of Belgrade, she knows the city by heart and has seen it through good and bad times. She won’t only tell you about street art, but also about the environment in which it has been created and all the people behind it.
I thought I knew Belgrade, the city I have fallen in love with and call home. But I have learnt so much more about it during this tour. I look at every wall differently now. A week would not be enough for your guide to show you every piece and tell you their history so you will be left wondering about many of them. There are many more to see in the district of Vracar, in Knez Mihailova pedestrian street and on the other side of the river in New Belgrade. There is some excitement in not knowing and letting your imagination run.
Walking around, we were able not only to learn about street art, its history and its philosophy but also about Belgrade’s many lives. We were also lucky to discover some new pieces on Savamala’s wall, how exciting!
Above the district, from the Brankov bridge, you will be admiring the Lady of Belgrade, a black and white mural by the French artist Remed (cocorico!).
We walked back to the centre with Liljana and left her to go get a big lunch at Mikan, one of my favourite kafana in town. It is right across Poslasticarnica, a homemade ice cream shop with delicious traditional flavours and also some more… surprising. The quality and the variety make it one of my top places to treat your sweet tooth in Belgrade. No better way to rest and relax after walking half of the day!
I give a five-star review to Liljana and her tour. I trust Srdan, her partner in giving tours does as good a job as she does. Exploring Belgrade through street art is a wonderful and rich experience that gives valuable and off-the-beaten-path insight into the city’s vibe and history.
Liljana told me she works a lot with the very active Belgrade for foreign visitors’ club, offering different tours to the community. If you would like to explore another part of the city like Vracar, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask what is going on. You can follow all the update from Street Art Walks on their Facebook page and get in touch easily. There is also a bicycle tour being developed that will take visitors to New Belgrade. I’m looking forward to trying it!