In all honesty, Belgrade isn’t known for its beauty. In fact, I almost called this post “Ugly but Awesome” but I like the city so much I thought it deserved better. For a place to be filled with so many friendly people in love with their city, it must be beautiful on the inside.
And in fact, there are plenty of vistas and experiences to be had here that are beautiful on the outside too. If you’re looking for things to do in Belgrade, here’s the shortlist:
Traveler’s Note: If you stay in the area near Republic Square, you’ll be easily within reach of everything. Belgrade is a very affordable city.
Kalemegdan fortress and park is perhaps the most significant and most beloved space in the city. Its view overlooking the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers made it historically strategic for both the Romans and Ottomans. Today it’s a popular spot for concerts and festivals, first dates for local teens, beautiful sunset views, and overall a great gathering place in the city.
Side note: Did you know that Belgrade has a burgeoning craft beer scene? It’s true! I stumbled onto the Craft Land beer pavilion in Kalemegdan park (during a weekend festival called MANIFEST) with over a dozen local breweries. It was heaven. And from what the locals tell me, there is something like this happening nearly every weekend.
Eat and Drink
When people talk about Belgrade, they always mention the nightlife. I also almost called this post “Why Belgrade Reminds me of Austin, TX” because there are so many hip bars and cafes everywhere. Here’s what to eat and drink in Belgrade:
Of the brandy variety, rakia (or rakija) is the spirit of choice in the Balkan region. Chances are, you won’t love it the first time you try it. But the aged quince and some other fruit ones are pretty good. Quince is called dunja in Serbian and the aged one should be a brown color. Not like the clear ones you’ll see more commonly.
Admittedly a bit fancy for a ćevapi place, Drama‘s version of the classic Balkan dish is spot on. Order your ćevapi (little sausages) by the piece, and make sure you get all the toppings. “All the toppings” means sour cream, a red spicy sauce, diced onions, sliced seasoned cabbage. Put it all in bread and enjoy.
For a few extra dinars, you can try a local delicacy called kajmak (kay-mak). Essentially butter on steroids, kajmak has 60% fat. Add a smear to your bread before everything else, and then tell me you don’t love Serbia. I dare you!
Foodie Note: Not as authentic, but the beef short rib sandwich at Drama is a barbecue lover’s dream. It’s like a pulled pork style sandwich served on soft bread with mystery sauce and overflowing with meat.
Sač (pronounced satch) is a metal or clay vessel put in hot ashes and used to bake food. You can cook almost anything inside, but it is commonly used for meat and potatoes. The outcome is heavenly. You can try sač at a few places in Skadarska street or in Zemun. For a less touristy but delectable experience, try restaurant “Sač” in Zemun. There are other Serbian specialties on the menu but the veal and lamb baked sač are their bread and butter. Get ready for this dish to virtually melt in your mouth,
Everyone will tell you to go to Skadarlija. The area named for Skadarska street is one of the city’s oldest preserved streets and a longtime bohemian quarter. It’s a bit touristy now but retains some charm, and some locals still go there for special occasions. At the very least, stroll down this cobblestoned street at night to hear local music pouring out of the doors and imagine what it was like for poor writers and poets to gather here.
Then, if you’re lucky, you’ll find your way to the nearby enclave of outdoor bars for a drink. It looks kind of like an empty lot with bars on three sides … Ask a local, they’ll know!
Zemun – Gardoš
Of course it has a different vibe than old town, but in my opinion, a visit to new Belgrade is an important aspect of understanding the city. While seemingly desolate in some areas, this section of Zemun is filled with cute bars and restaurants as well as the famous Gardoš Tower.
You’ll probably hear about the famous splavovi – floating riverside party bars. Let’s just say their fame is getting to their head. But Gardoš has a few that are relatively quiet, not overcrowded and don’t require reservations.
Catch the 83 or 84 bus to Zemun. A single-ride ticket costs 150 dinars from the driver.
Nikola Tesla Museum
Nikola Tesla is one man the Serbs are pretty proud of, and with good reason. Although he emigrated to the United States in 1884, where he become a naturalized citizen and received most of his initial scientific and business notoriety, the museum in Belgrade serves as a great tribute to the engineer-inventor’s life and work.
Arrive strategically – every hour on the hour, the museum will demonstrate some of Tesla’s most amazing creations. Closed Mondays.
Underground Secrets of Belgrade Tour
Learn a bit about the Serbian capital’s complex and often brutal history. You’ll visit a Roman well, a cold war era military bunker, and an Austrian gunpowder storehouse that’s full of surprises. This tour costs 10 Euros including all entry fees, an informative guide, and FREE WINE at the end. Obviously I loved it.
The folks behind the Underground Secrets of Belgrade Tour also offer excellent free walking tours, which I highly recommend.
Nerd note: Walking tours are a great way to get the lay of the land, a bit of history and local insight, and get ideas for the rest of your trip. I like to do one on my first day in a new city if possible.
If you visit Belgrade in summer months, the city can be H O T. The people need to swim somewhere, so they go to Ada Ciganlija to get some sun, maybe have a drink, relax and take a dip. Undoubtedly a great people watching spot.
To me, Belgrade seems like a great place to hang out for weeks and just take in the local culture, both new and old. Other cultural and sightseeing highlights you might want to look into are the church of Saint Sava, Avala Tower, and Konak Kneginje Ljubice (house of a princess).
Are you planning to visit Belgrade? There is an easy and airport shuttle to Belgrade city center from Nikola Tesla Airport
I hope you enjoy.