I still get starry-eyed when I think of Belgrade. It’s a city that kept drawing me back on my travels and it seems to be the place where a lot of my stories originate. It is an absolutely magical city; from the warmth and hospitality of the Serbian people to the awesome travellers — no trip to the Balkans would be complete without spending some time in Belgrade.
If I had to narrow it down to one reason why Belgrade had cast such a captivating spell on me, I could. It would be Hedonist Hostel. It is by far the best hostel I have ever stayed in my life, and I assure you they are not giving me any money to write this (although I really wouldn’t object if they did). They went above and beyond in every aspect of hostel life, the facilities are clean and comfortable, the common areas are great and make it very easy to meet people, and they offer more than the occasional drop of rakija. But above all the staff are absolutely fantastic. They seem to make a point to get to know all of the guests and truly epitomise the Balkan hospitality. Belgrade has many hostels, but the only one worth staying at is Hedonist. Seriously. Don’t stay anywhere else. You’ll regret it. Trust this lunatic’s ranting on the internet (it’s against international cyber law to publish false information, as I’m sure you’re well aware of).
Like most European cities, Belgrade offers a number of free walking tours and going on one is a great way to get to know the city. I would personally recommend Happy Feet tours. The general tour takes you all around Belgrade and gives you a great understanding of its complex history, and also provides some rakija, burek, and dancing. Michael and I also had the pleasure of going on the company’s very first Alternative Belgrade walking tour which showed a side of the city not on the usual tourist path. Our guide provided some valuable information, ranging from the destruction of historical sites and awesome street art to build the Belgrade Waterfront, and to make sure to jump from the bridge onto the concrete – not the river – if I really wanted to end a bad case of the gloomies. Oh, and rakija was also provided.
While a walking tour is a good starting-off point, Belgrade has numerous other offerings. It is worth seeing the St. Sava Cathedral, which is the biggest Eastern Orthodox church in the world. Its interior was under construction when we were there, but the exterior is stunning on its own accord. Nearby, there are a couple of buildings that were left as-is, showing the full destruction of the ‘99 NATO bombings. They are a sobering sight and can give you some insight into the city’s troubled past. Belgrade also has a number of museums that can be interesting: The Tito Museum gives an in-depth look at Serbia’s and Yugoslavia’s history and was a personal favourite of mine. The Nikola Tesla Museum can also be interesting as it gives a small glimpse into his life and inventions, however, I did find the museum to be slightly underwhelming.
Republic Square is the main meeting point of the city and it’s bustling with activity and it is right next to the National Theatre, National Museum (which, as of Feb 2017, closed for refurbishments), and the main pedestrian street of Knez Mihailova – which is lined with many restaurants, shops, and cafes.
Perhaps our favourite place to visit in the city, though, is the Belgrade fortress. An ancient structure looming over the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers, it is like the Central Park of Belgrade and a perfect place to spend a lazy afternoon with a picnic and a few beers.
Another great way to really immerse yourself into Belgrade culture is to go to a football game. The teams Red Star and Partizan have one of the most intense rivalries in the history of the sport (think Real Madrid v FC Barcelona on steroids) and if you get the opportunity to attend a derby, don’t pass it up. Match tickets are affordable (positively cheap by western standards) and accessible and it is guaranteed to be entertaining even if you’re not a soccer fan. It is worth noting that Serbians are also fanatical about basketball, and most locals I spoke to had a greater knowledge of the NBA than I (as an American) (who does not like basketball) did.
Belgrade also has a number of restaurants and it can be quite affordable to eat out. “?” (that’s what it’s called!) kafana is considered to be the oldest kafana in the city and serves up some great traditional meals with generous portions. If fast food is more your style, Drama Ćevapi is a great stop for some local fare where Tel Aviv Hummus House makes a great falafel and is a rare vegetarian option in this city!
No trip to Belgrade would be complete without a sampling of its infamous nightlife. I would honestly recommend going on a pub crawl because the city has so much to offer in regards to a party that it’s impossible to sum it all into a couple of paragraphs. Belgrade is perhaps most famous for its spavlovi, or barges anchored on the banks of the river that have been converted into nightclubs. If you are fortunate enough to be there in the summer months, there are dozens to choose from all specialising in a different type of music and they are open until dawn.
There are so many things to do in Belgrade and I urge you to spend as much time in this city as you can. There is a certain magic in the place that can be inescapable.
Have you been to Belgrade? What are your thoughts on the city? Leave a comment below!