Every so often on one trip or another, there is a place that keeps drawing you back time and again, somewhere that can feel like a semblance of a home during the transient lifestyle of long-term travel. During our Eastern European travels, we found this kind of solace in a place not conventionally synonymous with the term: Belgrade, Serbia.
Belgrade is no hidden secret among the Balkan backpacker crowd as it has become notorious in the past years as one of Europe’s top party destinations, and in that aspect, it certainly does not disappoint. But is Belgrade worth visiting for those with slightly higher budgets? Absolutely. There is something at its core that makes it so wild, so alive, so bursting with vivacity.
The city has had a troubled past, that fact can be unanimously undisputed, but it has rebuilt itself with such fervour and audacity you could never know of the devastation that Belgrade had seen just twenty years previously. In that lies its magnetism; the young citizens of Belgrade seem to be steadfastly forward-thinking, determined to leave the connotation of the war-torn Balkans rightly in the past.
Belgrade is not a beautiful city, not on the surface anyway. It doesn’t have the aesthetic appeal of Budapest or Prague or Paris. It can be gritty, dirty, and derelict in places; but it does carry a sort of deep, visceral beauty that can manifest itself if given a chance. It is a city that kept calling me back again and again and it was always a privilege to return, to carefully chip away at what Belgrade had, at its core, that spoke to my soul in such a way.
We weren’t the only ones to feel this aching draw either. No, we met myriad travellers who kept returning; we knew a few who found it almost painful to leave. At one time, the hostel was half-full of people who were there on their second or third or fourth visits. And it was a certain kind of person who continued to return as well; someone who was looking for something more from their journeys than an SD card full of photos and a handful of hazy memories. Those who end up really loving Belgrade are those who allow it to envelop their soul. And there is no denying it; the city is magnetic.
Multi-layered and complex, Belgrade seemed to be like the ultimate backpacker’s sanctuary. But beyond wild parties and litres of rakija is a city full of people determined not to let the past define them but intent on remembering where they came from; welcoming tourists with a warmth and hospitality that is nearly unparalleled – darkly humorous and unbelievably kind. Above all, Belgrade is a city that needs to be experienced and understood and it deserves to be seen as more than a party destination.
Where to Stay in Belgrade
Belgrade is becoming a more and more popular destination to visit by the minute. If you’re planning to visit Serbia’s capital and are wondering where to stay, have a look at these suggestions:
Hedonist Hostel — A great backpackers hostel in the old town, they have fantastic staff, comfortable rooms (dorm and private), and great common areas. Click here to check their availability
Garni Hotel Opera — A centrally-located hotel great from those on mid-range budgets. They have numerous clean and comfortable rooms available and a bar on site. Click here to check their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Belgrade hotels!
Is Belgrade worth visiting? Are you planning a trip to Belgrade? Leave a comment below!
I felt exactly the same about Belgrade. It’s indeed not very pretty, but if you get under the skin of the place, you’ll find beauty!
Thanks for your comment, Esther! You’re definitely not alone on Belgrade, such an amazing city! I think that its lack of “obvious” beauty might be what gives it its charm 🙂
I keep hearing the same thing from so many travelers, and I just can’t get there with Belgrade. Have been twice now, and just don’t get the attraction. Maybe I need to go back with someone who loves Belgrade and can show me the ropes:) – thanks for sharing your thoughts – I clearly need to give the city another try!
Hey Katie, thanks for your comment! I think there are two camps when it comes to Belgrade, either people fall in love with the city or don’t think it’s anything special. From my experience, it takes spending a bit of time there to really end up appreciating it. I spent the best part of a month all together there and really felt like I got to know it well. I urge you to go again and give it at least a week, maybe you’ll see Belgrade differently!
Serbia is not really Eastern Europe. I know politics push it to be Eastern Europe. Pretty much anything east or southeast to Germany is considered Eastern Europe.
The ex-YU (former Yugoslavia) is Southern Europe or southeastern Europe. The people are quite diffent compared to Eastern Europe like PL, CZ, HU, BG and RO.
Belgrade is indeed very special. The vibe is not comaprable to Prague and Budapest. Although Budapest and Prague have invested heavily the last 10-15 years into the aesthetics of the city Belgrade is yet to do that. Give it another 5-10 years. Regardless of all I keep coming back every year and always bring new people with me. I also enjoy Novi Sad, Subotica, Niš and Kragujevac.
Hi Jonathan! Thanks for your comment, and I honestly agree with you in regards categorising to Serbia as Eastern Europe. I used the term generally when writing the article, referring to Eastern European travels, but I do understand the cultural differences of the Balkan countries when compared to the likes of a country like the Ukraine, for instance.
The region can be somewhat shrouded in ambiguity and sometimes it can be difficult to refer to a country by its “proper region.” Personally, I wouldn’t group Hungary or the Czech Republic as Eastern Europe either.
I agree that Belgrade is on the up and up. There are many renovations happening in the city, I think it’s only a matter of time before it’s well cemented on the tourist trail. Best enjoy it this way while we can 🙂
My hometown, still the most beautiful place. The city that wants to give you everything with a biggest heart and soul. My Beograd.
P.S. Beograd is the best kept secret.
I agree wholeheartedly, Sandra! I absolutely love everything about your city, you must be so proud to come from such an amazing place 🙂
it is the City i grew up in and was born in….i still ache for it a lot of the time….it is not always pretty no…but it shows its SOUL…which alot of other old cities hide with paint and gimmicks…Beograd is Raw it shows you its beauty and its m SORROWS…ust as a real human does….as we all should x0
That is such a great way of putting it, Nina. Belgrade is such a human city, maybe that’s why I urge people to spend time there to get to know it!
If somebody comes to you as a friend, he will close his eyes and if he see something bad; If he comes unfriendly, he will find faults and where they not exist.
Belgrade isn’t my city, i’m from a small beautiful town called Vrnjacka Banja in central Serbia, i’m born and raised in Switzerland but consider myself first Serbian then Swiss. I visited Belgrade for real (i mean that i spent several days) back in 1998 and hated everything, but in 2000 i met my beautiful wife there and gave BGD a second try. Today 17 years later i can say this, I’ve travelled a lot of beautiful city’s but none like Belgrade. BGD looks much better now than back in 1998 and i’m sure it will look even better in 5-10 years. But thats just make up, the real soul of the city needs to be discovered layer by layer. To me the only city’s that are close to Belgrade are Barcelona, Athens and Rio de Janeiro. People are friendly, kind and helpful, also the calmness of it’s citizens is something you just have to love.
Right now I’m writing you from this amazing city where i spend my summer vacation.
What an amazing insight, Aleksander! It’s true, there are very few cities in the world that have what Belgrade has. It’s a special place.
Belgrade is a place I go time and time again every two or three years, the city is place of sanctuary for me, my family lives there and one of my best friend lives there.
So great that you’re able to go every couple of years! Such a wonderful city to return to! 🙂
It was winter, it was freezing, I was alone in a strange city. Yet I didn’t feel alone. I walked the cold streets of Belgrade those first few days by myself with no one to influence my perspective and I fell in love…….. As my feet took me along well worn paths and across streets I had never been on before, as my eyes rested on buildings and statues, people moving passed me and the ice flowing slowly down the river, it felt familiar, as if I had been away for a lifetime and was now back. Something inside me connected with this city, or more to the point, reconnected. Home is such an emotive word that means so much – to most it is the place where they live, but to me it is more a feeling inside of completeness, wholeness, contentment and it is the first word that comes to mind when I think of Belgrade.
By the end of my short time in Belgrade I had experienced a number of fabulous walking tours, met some wonderful people, learnt a little of her history (and even more about myself) and realised just how much this City has to offer. Food, culture and entertainment in abundance and I have only scratched the surface of what is there for all to enjoy. I will be back.
Such a lovely description, Janelle! That’s exactly how I felt about Belgrade. Such a captivating city.
I am not a traveler related to Belgrade. I lived in Belgrade 13 years as adult. I felt exactly that you are writing sbout: wild charm, unique caracter, vibrations at every step. Uglyness is result of regular war devastatons of the city again and again. It is impossible to imsgine that only 150 years ago city had about 200 mosques… But everyday life is different as probably more than million citizens are fighting with poverty… It van be really painful to live in Belgrade 🙁
It’s amazing to think of the changes that have undergone Belgrade throughout history — I think it is what makes it such a special city today.
Natasha, it is true that many in Belgrade struggle with poverty. But Belgrade is different in that people are still able to enjoy a social life, and experience true human connections. There are thieves and those who will backstab you for a few euros, that is symptomatic of any place that experiences poverty, but what is different here is that people still have the chance to meet with friends in cafe’s, on benches, for walks along the river etc. and actually live fulfilling lives through human connection. Also, I don’t know if there exists another city that has such a high discrepancy between average wages and fullness of cafes and bars and restaurants (and such a large number of them too!). The river promenades brim with people when the weather is good, and the libraries are not abandoned either.
In general, what I want to say is, that people in Belgrade are much better off than people in other countries with proportionally similar wages. The crime is also very particular and those most affected are those involved in it. For the most part, the general population is safe, the streets are safe to walk at night and indeed, Belgrade is a city that never sleeps. People in Belgrade are exposed to an abundance of the things in life, which humans desire, but which money cannot buy, and for that I am proud to be its citizen even though I only moved here 3 years ago from South Africa, my entire family is Serbian (so perhaps I’m a bit biased towards this place and my people). But I think that most people who visit long enough will agree.
One might probably even assume that most people lived quite comfortably here when visiting (that was my first impression), not being able to see in the people, the reality that most of its citizens, as you rightly mentioned, are struggling with poverty. For the people have vigour. In general, their energy is not battered and broken down and miserable. Something which, is evident in many other poverty stricken towns/cities/metropolitan area where the people feel undone by life and that can be seen in their faces and how they move and walk. So many people here take life head on and are determined to make the best out of their situation. The true mark of a warrior people. You only need look to how successful this small, poor country is in sports to see that spirit (though the history is crammed with evidence to support it). From waterpolo to basketball to football to volleyball to martial arts to archery, we produce many of the world’s finest despite the lack of facilities and investment. Our U/21’s won the U/21 World Cup in football not long ago, the waterpolo players have won 8 or 10 major tournaments in a row now including the World Cup, the Olympic Games and the World League (the top three competitions), and our basketball team is second only to the US (World Cup and Olympic Games) but our 3 vs. 3 basketball players are the world champions 3 or 5 years in a row now. These are off the top of my head, but the list goes on. So yeah, there is really something magical about Belgrade and the Serbian people, with only 10 million of us or so, not to mention Djokovic and other tennis players in the top ranks.
The circumstances may be dire for so many of our people, but I think that we truly show the world what can be achieved when you face them head on and live with tenacity. It’s a shame that we have such a terrible reputation out there, for the west could learn a lot from hardship and perseverance, instead of spreading its cold, capitalistic and monetary ideals that are driving many of its humans (and ours) away from what it means to be a human. And I’m going to end this comment/essay now for the sake of anyone patient enough to have actually read the entire thing, but I could go on for decades. And this of course began as a comment to Natasha, but turned into something more for myself, to put into words my incredible pride. So I apologise if you’re familiar with all this Natasha, but I got a bit carried away :). Pozdrav!
Wow, Milan. Reading that was fantastic — it is so inspiring to hear how passionate you are about Belgrade. It is an amazing city and you put it into words beautifully.
I love Beograd and i find it to be beautiful. It is full of life, it’s busy, it’s safe, it’s charming and modest. One can see that the city does tot exhibit the wealth of a nation that had an occupying past.
I agree 100% Slavica!
I ve just been in Belgrade and the city is just what it is. It affect us in differnt ways, so just go and see for youre self. I my self are in to the coffe culture that is spreading across the world with high quality coffe and coffe shops. And watch out!Belgrade is on its way. Take youre time and explore all the new coffeshopd popping upp in Beograd, And ebjoy a cup of Kafa/Kava. https://www.kafeterija.com/o-nama/
It’s true, the coffee culture in Belgrade is really up and coming! Can’t wait to see what becomes available in the coming years 🙂
Serbia is the center of europe
this is a very nice article about Belgade! <3 I am writing an alternative blog about the city, where you can find hidden gems, insiders and everything what has to do with this city.
Best regards from the white city,
Awesome, best of luck developing your blog!
Very honest city, people and everything. It radiates some kind of weird energy that moves people in a different way. Sadly government here wants to fuck it up. Lets hope they dont succeded and something like what happened to sava-mala never happens again.
I agree with your sentiments. Hopefully, the changes the government are trying to implement on Belgrade don’t change what the city has in its soul.
Maggie, it is really beautiful story about Belgrade! You urged me to think to add something but, would only repeat some previous comments… I do not know if there is an English version of the book “Magic of the Belgrade”, but it gives maybe the closest explanation about its magnetism. Here is the Facebook page with parts from this book (in Serbian)
Thanks for the recommendation, Slavica! I’ll have a look and see if there is an English version — I would love to read it.
Here it is, you may check also http://www.delfi.rs/knjige/2664_a_guide_to_the_serbian_mentality_knjiga_delfi_knjizare.html