Belgrade Travel Guide
General information: Belgrade (Beograd in the local language, “the white city”, Београд in Cyrillic) the capital of Serbia, has more than one million inhabitants, actually just over 1,500,000 with surroundings. It’s a pretty safe city, so walking through the city center at night after a party is not a problem. The currency in use is the “dinar”. There are ATMs in every corner so you will have cash, don’t worry. Belgrade is a city to spend money and not regret it. Regarding border crossings, if you are not from neighboring countries you will have to carry your passport. The official language is Serbian and everything is written in Cyrillic. But, young people knows at least some English and everyone knows the Latin alphabet. So don´t worry. Serbs are simple and warm people, they will always help if necessary.
How to get around in the city?
There are buses and trams, the city has no metro, but buses will take you everywhere, so public transport is well planned, at least for tourists.
Where to go out?
It depends on your tastes, but every person in this world will find a suitable place, because they abound. All kinds of music and all kinds of fun.
Where to eat?
Well, actually the question should be where not to eat. There is no need to eat at fast food places, because with all the food offer in Belgrade restaurants it’s a true sacrilege to eat junk food. The restaurants there are very famous for the meat, there is always plenty and fresh, the portions are huge, they give you a portion for one person, and three can eat. There are also many vegetables, all very fresh, as most come from the Serbian fields. The prices are accessible, really very cheap. That’s why most of the restaurants in the center are full. Although Serbs don’t have a very good life standard, with those prices people can afford to eat in restaurants at least once a week. I ate every day in restaurants, delighted that I’m finally in a place where I don’t have to think about expenses. I order what I want. That exquisite food is one of the reasons why I say that Belgrade is a city for hedonists. I’m going to recommend some restaurants for which I’m 100% sure that they are very good: “Proleće” and “Tri šešira” are excellent restaurants where you can order several types of meat, but also excellent soups (if you come in winter you will need them), and what I loved the most: čevabdžinica Cica. It’s a small place where they only sell ćevapi. If you read my articles about Sarajevo and Banja Luka, you will know what it is. You have to try it. If you don’t try it in the Balkans I don’t know where else you can try this dish.
Where to stay?
As usual, I stayed in a hostel next to the main street of the city, Kneza Mihaila. And I didn´t pay much. Yes, the accommodation is also cheap. Unless they want to have more comfort. Then there is the hotel Moscow, one of the most luxurious.
Tourist attractions :
1) the Kalemegdan fortress: an excellent place to walk and relax. They say that part of the fortress was built in Roman empire, so long time ago. In addition to the fortress, there is also a very nice park. If you want to know more about history and importance of the fortress I recommend you excellent Belgrade free city tour, they always stop there and explain everything.
2) Nikola Tesla Museum: You will see that the Serbs are (and of course they are) very proud of Tesla, that underestimated genius that Croatia and Serbia share (and sometimes dispute). Well he was Serbian that was born and lived in Smiljan, a small town in Croatia (back then Austrian empire), and after he went to school to Zagreb, Croatian capital, where he met another genius, Mileva Marić (google her, she is fantastic). So, for me the most important thing is that Tesla was a true genius, the greatest that the Balkans had and it’s nice that he is respected everywhere. You will see that in Serbia he is also on one of the bill (I think the 200 dinari, I’m not sure) and the airport is called by him. Go to the museum.
3) Skadarlija – that street and the whole neighborhood was known to be bohemian. Well, I think it still is. Full of restaurants and bars, or just a hybrid between the two, “kafana”. Another reason why Belgrade is a totally hedonistic city is precisely “kafana”. More than a word it´s a concept. You enter to Skadarlija at 20:00 with plan to just have dinner and after go home, and suddenly you find yourselves in a parallel universe and leave at 02:00 because the kafana is closing and you are the last ones inside. What happens is that there is live music, but not in the form of a stage. No, the whole kafana is stage, the musicians come to everyone’s table, and one can ask for their favorite song, they play it, and then (the fun part) you put money in their instruments. The most popular thing is to put the money on the accordion. And believe me, it’s like getting lost in another world. People just take money and throw them in the instruments, and they are very happy to do so. Amazing. I had never seen anything like it. People like hypnotized just taking money from their pockets without putting attention on how much did they take. In the end they pay 10 times more for the musicians than for the dinner. And they don’t regret it. On the contrary, it’s a perfect story to tell years later. And well, that’s Skadarlija. A unique experience.
4) boat ride – As we were many, we rented a boat and navigate through Sava and Danube. It was spectacular. I was driving the boat for about 20 minutes, as I am from the Adriatic coast the captain left me alone and left, he only gave me a couple of tips and permission to play music (obviously full volume). An incredible experience. When he came back he said that I earned a job and also his son. No comment.
5) House of flowers (Kuća cvijeća) – in the elegant Dedinje district there is a museum about the Yugoslav era, but there is also the tomb of Marshal Josip Broz Tito, who died in 1980, and whose death meant a before and after in Yugoslav politics. Internationally famous for its role as anti-fascist leader during World War II, after the war ended, he was the symbol of the unification of Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia and Montenegro, which together formed Yugoslavia. His role during the war was undoubtedly positive, since that man gathered peasants and together they fought against the fascism that had seized s big part of Europe. His diversions helped the raw materials couldn’t cross the Balkans and reach Germany, which earned him the admiration of English and French authorities. Also, after the war (that is, after 1945) he showed great courage by separating his policy from that of the entire Eastern bloc (the iron curtain) and bringing it closer to the West. The most famous thing was his breaks up with Stalin, because it wasn’t something anyone could do. Yugoslavia was a weird thing. After the leaders settled in power, they clearly forgot some of their promises. And that’s why today Tito’s figure remains controversial throughout the former Yugoslavia. After having for the first time water, electric energy and paved streets (in many sectors there was not) and to obtain a job, people expected more. A more similar system as the “western countries”, but they didn’t have it. There was not much space for political opposition and less for new ideas coming from young people and capable to make a more egalitarian system. That is why more than 700,000 people from the country went to work in the countries of Western Europe or USA and Canada. The Yugoslav leader borrowed a lot of money form the foreign banks to be able to offer an idea of prosperity to his people. When he died, in 1980 all the obvious system failures began to emerge, as did the economic crisis (one cannot go into debt forever). The extreme right grew in all the republics and suddenly everyone wanted to separate and Serbia as the main state didn’t want any separation. And there was war. A war as a result of decades of bad politics. But, of course, in Yugoslavia there were good things, especially for women, from the indispensable right to vote in 1945 to an active role in the labor market and the legalization of abortion. If we judged only for that, Yugoslavia would be a modern state to this day. But not everything was roses. And now, if you want to know more about Yugoslavia, there are history books and Wikipedia.
But yes, Tito is still interesting for independent republics, although it doesn’t make much sense to dig into history. But the famous Slavic nostalgia always longs for the good or bad old days. Bosnians love him, Slovenians turned him into a beer brand, in Montenegro they put his monuments back, in Croatia they hate him … I just think that we have to give him a place as a historical personality. In front of the House of flowers they don’t think like that, they sell magnets with a message: “After Tito the thieves multiply.” All this seems very interesting to me. If I hadn’t been so focused on eating, drinking a lot and having a good time, maybe I would have given more opportunity to the Yugoslav era in Belgrade. It will be for the next time. I recommend visiting the museum because it’s really interesting.
Of course, like many European cities, Belgrade had a history full of different kinds of happenings that marked the city, which is evident in each step. The architecture of the city is a nice mixture of oriental and Austrian style, also mixed with the “socialist” style (if we can call thar a style). And now I will tell you why. In the 16th century the Turks came and the Ottoman Empire seized the city. However, already at the end of the century the Serbian people began to organize armed uprisings, so that sometimes Serbs are those who control the city and sometimes Turks. The Austro-Hungarian Empire also got into it, since the city was practically on the border of two empires with a phenomenal strategic location, between two rivers, Sava and the Danube. So, in the twentieth century the city was not at peaceful place either, they bombed it in both the first and the second World War. It was the capital of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and later of the SFRY, socialist Yugoslavia. In the city it is simply to see that, although it’s clearly not as developed as the other European capitals, it had an important role at a certain time. As a Yugoslav capital it had to represent the renewal and “triumph” of a softer, more practical socialism open to the West than the other socialist regimes in the world after the Second World War. You can see that the city is also a strong cultural center, which is shown in a large number of bookstores and cultural institutes in the main street, and there are also many concerts of different musical genres. To the difficult history of Belgrade is added a bombardment resulting from the dismemberment of Yugoslavia. Serbia and the Yugoslav army (at that time the Serbian authorities maintained control over the army) was declared an aggressor republic, to the war in Croatia (1991) and Bosnia (1992) was joined later that of Kosovo and NATO bombed the Serbian capital in 1999, which ended in deaths of innocents, such as that of the girl Milica, to whom they made a monument and which could be synonymous to a “collateral victim”. Some of the damaged buildings weren’t renewed unpurpose, so the rests still stay there to show the suffer of people that were living in Belgrade then.
The death of this three-year-old girl who didn’t even know what the war was is the best proof that even the Balkan region still doesn’t understand itself, but neither does the world understand it. The wars in the Balkans never had any sense, but they are repeated periodically with eternal tensions between nations that first coexist for a hundred years, then kill each other, then live together again, kill each other again … Well, better skip that issue. You will hear infinite and surreal versions, as I have heard them. Don´t want to spoile you the fun.
Actually, it’s up to you what you’re going to do in Belgrade and how it’s going to happen to you. I took it a little more relaxed and enjoyed every moment. But if you want to walk around museums and you like history, that city has a lot to offer. There is everything for everyone. I still didn’t know a person who was in Belgrade and came home feeling bad. If that city does something, it’s to involve people in its fast urban rhythm, in that hurricane of parties and that paradise in the form of great restaurants everywhere. Eat and have fun as if there were no tomorrow. That is Belgrade.