“Whoever is lucky enough to wake up in Belgrade this morning, could be satisfied that for today he achieved enough in life” – Dusko Radovic, Serbian writer & poet
Count your blessings if you are lucky enough to wake up in Belgrade, this vibrant city presents many ways to spend your days and evenings.
If you are visiting Belgrade, first go to Knez Mihailova. It is the main pedestrian and shopping zone, home to art galleries, cafes & restaurants, international clothing labels and beautiful buildings from the 18th century. Cafés are an institution in Belgrade. Belgraders enjoy meeting friends over a black coffee and exchanging the latest news, so it’s no surprise that the world’s first café opened in 1522, in Belgrade. On one end of the street is Trg Republike (Republic Square), with the statue of Knez Mihailo Obrenovic III, a popular meeting place for locals. It is where you will find the Narodno Pozoriste (National Theatre) where you can enjoy world class operas, ballets and drama performances at low prices. So there’s no excuse to not be a cultured individual. On the other end of the street is Kalemegdan (Belgrade Fortress) which sits on the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers. The fortress and land on which it is built has a tumultuous history dating back to the 3rd century when it was first inhabited by the Celts. It has lived through Roman, Byzantine, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman rule. The Pobednik (Victor) monument commemorates the ultimate triumph during the numerous wars to besiege the country. In the heart of the fortress lies, Beo Zoo Vrt (Belgrade Zoo), one of Europe’s oldest zoos (founded in 1936). It is home to the biggest pride of white lions in the world, the world’s oldest alligator as well as 2000 domestic and exotic animals.
Saborna Crkva (The Cathedral Church of St. Michael the Archangel) is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Serbia.It was built in 1837 in a neoclassicism style with late baroque elements and has a richly decorated interior comprising of gold-plated carvings. The other church that ought to be seen, is Hram Svetog Save (Cathedral of St Sava). It is quintessential to Belgrade and leaves no doubt as to the importance that is placed on religion in Serbia, it is the world’s largest Orthodox Church and ranks among the largest church buildings in the world. Construction began in 1935, while the exterior is complete there is still a lot of interior work to do. Just like religion, culture is highly valued by Serbian people. The Etnografski Muzej (Ethnographic Museum) offers the ultimate introduction to Serbian tradition, culture and folk life from past centuries. Here you can see how people dressed and lived in various regions. Belgrade has numerous museums to visit but along with the Ethnographic Museum there is one more that is a must, Muzej Nikole Tesle (Nikola Tesla Museum), dedicated to honouring the life and work of Nikola Tesla, the father of electricity and the electric age. Through a guided tour you can experience his ‘electrifying’ inventions and get inside the brilliant mind of the man that invented A/C, without which many of our modern appliances would not work.
On the other side of the Sava River, across Brankov Most (Branko’s Bridge), which is one of five bridges is Novi Beograd (New Belgrade). It was built after WW2, before it was just vast expanses of sand. The symbol of Novi Beograd is Užče Shopping Centre. Novi Beograd is also home to Beogradska Arena (Belgrade Arena) and Sava Centar (Sava Centre) where various events are held every year. Beogradska Arena is the 4th largest arena in Europe. It is a multifunctional arena with ability to hold any kind of event due to its interchangeable floors, therefore it can host horse racing to water polo to music concerts and even Eurovision. Sava Centar is the largest and most important convention and conference centre in Eastern Europe.
Belgrade is gastronomic heaven. For those who like food, they are in the right place (especially meat lovers). Firstly, domaća kafa (Serbian coffee) – no sugar, no milk, is the perfect way to start your morning, the coffee is good literally everywhere, just like any dessert you wish to try. Though if you are particularly keen on žito, then hands down, Hotel Moskva is the winner. Bakeries such as Toma and Hleb & Kifle sell the very best pastries, including Burek (Pastry with cheese or meat). For a crazy restaurant experience the place to go is Lorenzo & Kakalamba, it is a fusion of Serbian (Pirot) and Italian (Florence) culture. Every table is different, there are random ornaments that adorn the place, it’s kitschy yet it somehow fabulously works. For an authentic dinner, go to Skardalija (Bohemian Quarter), along the cobbled pavements you will find kafana (tavern) next to kafana. Try Tri Šešira (Three Hats), Zlatni Bokal (Golden Jug) and Dva Jelena (Two Deers). Here you can appetize with kajmak (cheese cream), ajvar (pepper dip) and lepinje (bread) then continue the feast with čevapi (grilled skinless sausages), pljeskavice (meat patties), grilovana piletina (grilled chicken) or karadjordjeva šnicla (breaded cutlet). If you need a drink, you can’t go past rakija (brandy). All the while you will have a gypsy brass band play folk music around your table, encouraging you to have an even better time. But if the gypsy band is too much and you want a classy night out eating Balkan food, well in that case Manufaktura is the place for you. The chefs pour their heart and soul into creating culinary delights just for you, and the waiters are an example of Serbia’s genuine hospitality, the kind where they go to extreme lengths to make you happy. Right next to Maunfaktura is Hotel Aleksandar Palas. This hotel is situated in the heart of the city in Ulica Kralja Petra (King Peter Street) the building that houses the hotel was built in 1887 in an academistic style, and is one of the excellent examples of Belgrade architecture. For a luxury experience with Kalemegdan and Knez Mihailova on your doorstep, it is an ideal hotel.
Belgrade in Serbian is ‘Beograd’, which literally translates to “White City”, providing a major hint that it becomes a winter wonderland during the winter season, with the soft snow adorning the 19th century buildings. While, summer days are best spent on Ada Ciganlija, the river beach with various leisure activities on offer. At night Ada Ciganllija becomes the number one destination for clubbing. All along the Sava river there are 200 floating clubs, playing a variety of music, from pop to turbofolk, there is something for everyone.
Belgrade is geologically unique with two high mountains, two international rivers, two islands, two woods and borders on eight countries. Due to its geographically strategic and important location it is no surprise that it has been at the centre of multiple wars for a number centuries. Despite the sadness, depths of despair experienced by the people and the visible scars (e.g. remnants of buildings bombed by NATO/America as recently as 1999) there is an infectious energy that resonates through the city and the people. Belgraders are kind hearted, good natured, hospitable, energetic and always down for a good time.
I hope you have many mornings to wake up in Belgrade to experience the city and meet the people.