The capital city of modern day Serbia is a city that is often overlooked due to its lack of well established tourist sights and its wretched recent history. Don’t be fooled though, Belgrade (Beograd in Serbian) has evolved into one of Europe’s most hailed party destinations which has fostered its rise in popularity among travellers and contributed to the continuous growth of its tourism industry.
History and overview:
Belgrade’s history can be traced back to as far as 400BC, when Paleo-Balkan tribes inhabited the area before the Celtics conquered the settlements in 297BC. The territory of modern day Serbia was later annexed by the Romans and incorporated into the Byzantine Empire. It was in this period that the famous Roman Emperor Justinian ordered the construction of Kalemegdan Fortress which is nowadays perceived as constituting the ancient heart of Belgrade.
Many centuries of conquests, destruction, restructuring and expansion followed. From the 6th until the 20th century, Belgrade has been occupied by more than 10 different rulers, including Greece, the Bulgarian Empire, the Huns, the Kingdom of Hungary, the Habsburg Monarchy, the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The collapse of the latter led to the unification of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1918 which fell victim to the invasion of Nazi Germany during the Second World War.
The Second World War’s resistance hero, a man named Josip Broz who would later become known as Tito, proceeded with the second unification of the South Slavic nations which induced the creation of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, in 1944.
The SFR of Yugoslavia became a prosperous country by adopting a very unique and independent socialist model and Belgrade was transformed into its vibrant and influential capital.
Tito’s death in 1980 preceded a new era of war and misery on the Western Balkans. The consequences of old resurfacing ethnic conflicts and the global decay of socialism culminated into the implosion of the SFR of Yugoslavia in the early ’90s which generated the most atrocious conflict Europe had seen since World War 2.
The end of the Balkan Wars did not stabilize peace between Serbia and Kosovo, the 1999 Kosovo War isolated Serbia on the global stage, leading to NATO bombings of strategic sites in the Serbian capital. Remnants of these bombings are still very visible today and make some avenues in Belgrade look like war museums.
The country is nowadays recovering from the tragic recent events and has slowly commenced its journey to stable and high quality growth. Serbia accepted the breakaway of its brother nation Montenegro (the last former Yugoslav nation governed by the authorities in Belgrade after the breakup) in 2006 and has introduced its bid to join the European Union.
The best area to stay in Belgrade is the city centre, preferably around Kneza Mihailova Street. In this area, you will be close to many shops, restaurants and cultural sights.
Hotel Majestic Beograd: A fantastic hotel that gives a new definition to the concept of value for money. Located right on the corner of one of the city’s busiest shopping avenues, the Kneza Mihailova, Hotel Majestic offers everything you need for a city break.
In addition to that, it has, like many places in Belgrade, a historic aspect to it as it was here where the English football team Manchester United spent the night before boarding the plane that killed half of the team in 1958.
Hotel Moskva: Another famous hotel in a historic building that will amaze you with its over the top rooms, its wellness facilities and its elegant café and restaurant.
Hedonist Hostel: One of the coolest hostels in town convincing travellers from all the over the world with its cool staff, its excellent location and its nice and crisp rooms.
Cultural offer and activities:
Museum of Yugoslav History: (Botićeva 6) Located a bit outside of the city’s main core, the Museum of Yugoslav History enables you to dive deeper into the tremendously complicated past of Serbia and to learn about the historic and cultural bases of the former multi-ethnic superstate of Yugoslavia.
The Museum also contains the House of Flowers, Marshall Tito’s mausoleum. Whatever you may have heard about Marshall Tito, he is remembered as a hero, a great statesman and a political genius in this country (in the other Balkan countries as well by the way). It is therefore highly recommendable to visit his mausoleum, a beautiful space where the father of Yugoslavia rests in peaceful serenity in his old winter garden.
Nikola Tesla Museum: (Krunska 51) Science enthusiasts will love this museum dedicated to one of the most important engineers in the field of electricity. You probably didn’t even know that one of the main figures in the history of electrical engineering, whose name has been adopted as brand name by the most successful electrical car maker, was actually Serbian.
Kalemegdan Fortress: A nicely maintained set of ancient fortifications that overlooks the conjunction of the Danube and Sava rivers. One of the best viewpoints in the city, frequented by locals and travellers alike.
25th May Swimming pool and sports complex: (Dunavski kej) A refreshing activity when the extreme summer heat makes its way into the Serbian capital.
St Sava Cathedral: (Krušedolska 2a) The neo-byzantine St Sava Cathedral is not only the most impressive sacred building in the city but also one of the largest orthodox cathedrals in the world.
Museum of Contemporary Art: (Ušće 10) An absolute must visit for art lovers in the Serbian capital. Housed in a striking modernist building, the museum features several temporary and permanent exhibitions, mostly showing Yugoslav art from the 20th century as well as 21st century art.
Wine & Dine:
Serbian cuisine is different from usual Balkan cuisines in the way that the dishes often consist of pork meat, which is naturally not the case in the Muslim parts of the Balkans. Belgrade’s food scene is experiencing a revival and now boasts many international restaurants in addition to the traditional Serbian and eclectic Balkan venues. Here are our suggestions.
Homa: (Senjanina Ive) The stylish option in the Old Town. This laidback restaurant serves traditional Serbian cuisine in a crisp and modern decor.
Ambar: (mains 510-3300DIN) An upscale restaurant right on the riverbank which applies Balkan recipes but adds a modern take to them. The dishes are therefore traditional and modern at the same time and very innovative. The staff can give great recommendations in case you cannot figure out what dish will suit your taste.
Manufaktura: (Kralja Petra 13) Another great restaurant in the city centre where you can try the local delicacies in a relaxing, laid back atmosphere.
Belgrade’s entrenched reputation as a party hotspot is certainly not based on overrating when you explore the sheer infinite array of nightlife options that this city can provide. Amidst Belgrade’s numerous nightlife spots, the one thing that should definitely not be missed are the Splavs (party boats that do not move), due to their uniqueness and the fact that Belgrade’s riverbanks are absolutely full of them. Some of them are only open in summer while others can be enjoyed even on the coldest of nights.
Splav Shake’n’Shake: (Ušće bb) The best splav to hang out during the day. Its many couches and several bars enable you to relax while enjoying the view of the Sava river. Not the busiest splav at night.
Splav Povetarac: (Brodarska) A more ‘down to earth’ splav, very priceworthy but also extremely loud and crowded. Still a great place to go out, just maybe a bit overshadowed by the more high-end splavs around it.
Wurst Platz: (Makedonska 4) A great all-year-round venue close to Republic Square. This bar/club consists of two sections, one for loud clubbing and one which resembles more a sit down bar. This drinks selection is varied and the clientele is a mix of locals and tourists from every age group.
Gunner’s Pub: (Braće Jugovića 2a) One of the best pubs in the city, especially if you don’t visit during the summer months, this is an excellent place to try out local or international beers in order to warm up and meet some locals in the Serbian capital.
Mikser Garden: (46a Karadjordjeva Street) A cool location to dance to electronic beats in the city centre. The Garden is an excellent place to hang out and listen to electronic music during the warm summer months.
Disco Bar Mladost: (44 Karadjordjeva Street) Located right next to Mikser Garden, Mladost is seen as one of the top electro clubs in Belgrade. An absolute must for fans of any kind of electronic music, but most of all for techno lovers.
Hot Mess Splav: (Ušće bb) Another splav on the bank of the Sava river. This party temple scores points with its extensive variety of international drinks and its swimming pool.
Freestyler Splav: (Brodarska) Last but not least, probably the best splav in Belgrade with amazing parties and djs. The only disadvantage is that you have to reserve a table in advance, your entrance will otherwise depend on the grace of the bouncers because this club is absolutely packed on weekends.
Final tips & verdict:
Belgrade is not a particularly difficult place to visit but beware of currency exchange rate scamming and taxi rip-offs. Other than that common sense will largely suffice to not run into trouble.
Knowing a few basic phrases in the local language will help in countless situations and it will also show the locals that you are not just another drink tourist. English levels are quite low, especially among the older generations.
Belgrade is not the most beautiful, most exciting or most well maintained European capital but still extremely underrated and therefore certainly worth a visit. Its cultural institutions are well worth a visit and its nightlife smokes most of the competing capitals from Western Europe.