As lockdown restrictions start to lift, travel is back on my mind, and the other day I found myself thinking “if I were to book a last minute weekend away to a city I’ve already been to, where would I go?”. One place instantly popped into my mind, and kind of surprised me – I’d visit Belgrade!
The reason that I was surprised by my answer was that Belgrade was never on the bucket list, I only visited as a stop off between Sofia and Zagreb on my trip from Istanbul to Venice. I don’t find myself talking about Belgrade all that much, but I think that’s because none of my other friends have been there.
I loved Belgrade, and I hope that the recent global pandemic will result in many of us visiting cities that we might not have previously thought of to avoid overcrowding.
So, let me tell you why you should visit Belgrade for you next city break, before sharing my favourite places to visit on both sides of Belgrade, and of course some recommendations for places to eat and drink!
Why Should You Visit Belgrade?
When I think of the factors that make a perfect city break destination (in my opinion), Belgrade has a little bit of them all. Culture, beauty, history, interesting cuisine, good wine and, most importantly of all, fun. What’s the point in taking time off work and spending your hard earned cash if it’s not going to be fun?!
For general wandering around, stopping off for a drink and a snack at regular intervals, and relaxing in the sunshine (I visited Belgrade in the summer), you can’t get much better!
Belgrade is much larger than I thought it would be, and with less than two full days there, there was a lot that we didn’t get to see. This could be one of the reasons that it’s top of my list to return!
Having researched Belgrade, there are a huge amount of fascinating museums, art galleries, statues, sculptures, religious buildings and more to see. Due to our lack of time, our trip focused on wandering around the city to get a feel for the place, and accidentally drinking more than we intended (I blame the sunshine).
As a result, you’ll notice that most of the places that I recommend are pretty streets, spacious parks and beautiful buildings. There wasn’t enough time to visit museums and such, so if that’s your thing you’ll need to do some further research!
Visiting New Belgrade
Belgrade is essentially split into New Belgrade and Old Belgrade by the Sava river, and both sides have their own reasons to visit. The majority of our visit to Belgrade was spent on the Old Town side, but we did cross over the river to spend half a day in New Belgrade before getting a bus to Zagreb.
After crossing the Sava, our visit to New Belgrade was spent walking along the Danube river, enjoying a cold beer on one of the many floating bars (the one we stopped at was kitted out with deckchairs and cushions and was the perfect spot to sunbathe and watch the swans enjoy their river life), and eating the best sandwich of my life.
If we’d have had more time, I’d have loved to visit the Gardoš Tower, further along the river. This memorial tower opened on 20th August 1896 to celebrate 1,000 years of Hungarian settlement in the Pannonian Plain (a large basin roughly covering western Slovakia, southeastern Poland, Western Ukraine, western Romania, northern Serbia, northeasten Croatia, northeastern Slovenia and eastern Austria).
The tower offers incredible views, and the area of Zemun where it’s located is supposed to be beautiful, offering cobbled streets, quaint cafés, small seafood restaurants and a legendary flea market.
If you’re interested in the Yugoslav wars, New Belgrade is definitely worth a visit to help understand the extent of the devastation that Belgrade saw at this time, containing more remnants from the 1999 NATO bombings than the other side of the river. The Eternal Flame can also be found here, which was built in memory of the innocent civilians who lost their lives during these bombings.
When we planned our trip to Belgrade, I hadn’t really thought about the Yugoslav wars, but chatting to a waiter at dinner made a very lasting impression. I was talking to him about what a beautiful city Belgrade is, and hearing him say that he couldn’t really see it as a beautiful city after witnessing the wars as a child put a completely different perspective on the city. I think talking to someone the same age as me but with such a different experience of childhood, really made me think.
Other notable things to see in New Belgrade include the Museum of Contemporary Art (we didn’t have time to visit this so I can’t recommend it personally), the Sava Centre (same with this one) and the Park of Friendship – a beautiful park along the riverbank.
Exploring Belgrade Old Town
The Old Town is where we spent the majority of our time in Belgrade. To be completely honest with you, on first impressions I didn’t really like it. We arrived late at night by bus, walked a few minutes to our Air BnB, and briefly walked around the surrounding area in search of food. It seemed a bit plain, and a bit rough around the edges.
The next morning, we made our way further into the Old Town, and it still took about 15 minutes of walking before I began to change my mind. If you begin your visit to Belgrade near the bus or train station, please don’t be put off by first impressions because Belgrade is absolutely beautiful!
As I’ve said, we didn’t have time to do everything, but here are my favourite spots that we did visit during our trip to Belgrade.
Zeleni Venac Market
I’m never one to miss out on a trip to a local market! There are several large markets in Belgrade including the Kalenic market (which is the largest), Skadarlija (built on a former swamp, and also known as Bajloni, which was it’s name before WWII) and Djeram.
Zeleni Venac was closest to our accommodation, and we began our first day in Belgrade with a wander through the fruit and veg stalls, before stopping at a tiny bakery within the market to purchase some breakfast.
With a lack of Serbian language skills, we pointed at a variety of mystery breads and pastries, paid the equivalent of about £1 for our feast, and went in search of a quiet bench to enjoy it on. I couldn’t tell you what we ate, but it was delicious all the same!
Hotel Moskva and Terazije Square
I mention Hotel Moskva because the bench that we enjoyed our market breakfast on was opposite this hotel and it’s impressive fountain. It’s one of the most famous buildings in Belgrade and one of the oldest hotels still operating in Serbia, dating back to 1908.
Originally a 36 room inn within the Palace Rossiya, it expanded to take over the whole palace and has been owned by the likes of Russian Empire, the Bank of Yugoslavia and the Nazi Gestapo at different times. Guests have included Albert Einstien, Robert De Niro, Louis Armstrong and Alfred Hitchcock!
Across the road from Hotel Moskva is Terazije Square. It’s not the prettiest square in Belgrade, but it’s essentially the centre of Belgrade and it’s packed full of restaurants, cafés, shops and interesting buildings, so it’s definitely worth a visit.
House of the National Assembly
We were drawn towards this impressive building by the sound of loud music and the buzzing of a substantial crowd. Led by our ears, we found the House of National Assembly just a few minutes walk from Hotel Moskva, situated on Nikola Pašić Square. It turned out that a military matriculation ceremony was taking place!
This meant that we couldn’t admire the building close up or step inside, but we spent a good hour enjoying the celebratory atmosphere and the military brass band in the sunshine.
The building itself opened in 1907, on the site of the biggest Turkish Batal Mosque, which was demolished when Serbia gained independence from Turkish reign in 1878. It functions as the seat of the National Assembly of Serbia, but also as a testimony to the political history of Yugoslavia and Serbia.
Knez Mihailova Street
My second favourite street in Belgrade! Knez Mihaillova is a large, pedestrianised street running through the centre of Old Belgrade from Republic Square, through Terazije Square and down to Kalemegdan Park.
It’s a beautiful and lively street, lined with shops and cafés, perfectl for stopping for a coffee and soaking up the atmosphere. Knez Mihaillova is protected as a cultural heritage site, and is known as one of the oldest and most valuable parts of Belgrade.
Kalemegdan Park & Belgrade Fortress
At the end of our walk along Knez Mihaillova, we reached Kalemegdan Park. Feeling a little lazy, we decided to take the land train around the park, which was great fun!
The land train took us around vast green spaces, a dinosaur park (obviously plastic dinosaurs, not real ones) and an outdoor military museum, before stopping at Belgrade Fortress for us to admire the views over the Danube and Sava, and across to New Belgrade.
We wandered back through the park on foot, stopping off for the biggest sausage one has ever seen! The plan for our day was to graze so that we could experience different dishes and restaurants, but even sharing this “snack” resulted in us not being able to eat for at least the next six hours. If you’re hungry in Kalemegdan Park, I’d definitely recommend stopping off at Kahvana Mali Kalemegdan.
If Knez Mihaillova was my second favourite street, then what was my favourite? Skadarska Street is the definition of the perfect holiday street in my mind: a cobbled street lined with restaurants, cafés and wine bars, shaded by trees, and just the right amount of busy.
We enjoyed a bottle of cold, white wine at the quieter end of Skadarska Street in an evening sun spot outside of a small pub, before walking along the tree lined streets and stopping off at a couple of small artisan shops and wine bars. Early evening was definitely the right time to visit!
Just off of Skadarska Street we stopped for another glass of wine at a small wine bar called Wine Room, which I highly recommend! We got chatting to a lovely American lady who had moved to Belgrade a few years previous, and she recommended a spot just around the corner called Cetinjska.
Cetinjska is a car park, but this car park is home to several pubs, bars and even small nightclubs. After dark, this is apparently one of the most popular places in Belgrade for night life (as well as the waterfront with it’s floating nightclubs). We’re definitely more day drinkers than nightclubbers, and Cetinjska was perfect for us in the early evening.
We spent our time in Cetinjska at a pub called Bluz i Pivo. Neon lighting and swing seats were the perfect set up for live music, but we took a seat on the outdoor terrace and enjoyed a local beer. Aside from feeling a bit sea sick, I had a great time posing on the swing seats whilst trying not to fall off!
The best thing about Bluz i Pivo? Right next door is a pizza bar, serving pizza by the slice from a tiny hole in the wall. The staff at Bluz i Pivo have no issue with you buying a slice of pizza to enjoy on their terrace!
Where to Eat in Belgrade
This isn’t going to be a huge section, as I didn’t spend enough time in Belgrade to really explore the culinary scene. Plus, that sausage that I told you about earlier meant that I was too full to enjoy much more food! But I do have a couple of recommendations, which happened to be a couple of the best meals I had on my entire 17 day Balkan adventure.
Breakfast in Belgrade
Zavičaj was recommended by our Air BnB host, and was perfect for enjoying a traditional Serbian breakfast. I had a huge and inexpensive breakfast of cured meat, some sort of deep fried dough thing, and Kajmic which is essentially seasoned clotted cream. The food was tasty, the service was swift and the restaurant itself was lovely and airy.
Lunch in Belgrade
Way back in this blog post in my section about New Belgrade, I mentioned I’d had the best sandwich of my life. Let me introduce you to Šiš Ćevap: both a food and the name of a street food restaurant.
This sandwich / kebab was essentially a long, flat burger in bread, stuffed with salad and all the sauce. I’m the sauce queen, and this was almost (but not quite) too much sauce for me. It took me two sittings to finish my ćevap, and I have to admit that it caused quite the IBS flare up, but it was absolutely worth it.
Dinner in Belgrade
Enso was a fabulous dining experience, but we probably shouldn’t have gone for this dinner. An eight course tasting menu with wine pairing at a fancy restaurant isn’t ideal when you’ve been drinking in the sun all afternoon.
But we managed to hold it together, and I have to say that this was an excellent meal. The food was innovative, stylish and satisfying, the service was on point, and the outside seating area was perfect for a romantic dinner.
It was also excellent value for money! If a tasting menu would usually be out of budget, this is the place to try it. Eight courses, a wine pairing package and glass of champagne each came to about £55 equivalent for the both of us.
I hope this post has inspired you to visit Belgrade! If you’d like some more travel inspiration please take a look at these posts:
- 15 Travel Destinations for a Cheap European City Break
- How to Spend 24 Hours in Ljubljana if You Love Food & Wine
- Things to Do in Wroclaw, the City of Dwarfs
- Falling in Love With Venice
- Why You Should Take the night Train From Istanbul To Venice
- Vilnius: A Guide to Visiting Europe’s G-Spot