The best of Belgrade: what to see and do

The best of Belgrade: what to see and do

Destinations

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Is Belgrade worth visiting? Absolutely! Here’s how to have fun in the Serbian capital — the best things to see and do, where to go, and what to eat and drink

Belgrade is one of the coolest capital cities in Europe — a wild, fiery, passionate place that runs on coffee and creativity. Use Kiwi.com’s guide to find out what to do and where to go, including the coolest places and the local hidden gems.

Must-sees in Belgrade

The main sights

Church of St. Sava in Belgrade — Getty ImagesThe Church of St. Sava — Getty Images

Republic Square is a natural starting point for almost everyone visiting Belgrade. Dominated by the National Museum, the National Theater, and the equestrian statue of Prince Mihailo, it’s often thought to be the very center of the city. (For the pedants among you, the actual, geographical center is considered to be the Terazije square, around 100 meters southwest).

Whatever the truth, they’re both good places to begin. From there, head along Kralja Milana, across the huge traffic island at Slavija, and continue down Svetog Save to the Church of St. Sava. This huge white edifice is one of the largest Eastern Orthodox churches in the world and is not as old as you might think, its first stone having been laid in 1935. Under communism, the continuation of its construction was canceled; it wasn’t until 1989 that the mighty dome was finally added.

For something older (but that, oddly, feels more contemporary), the Nikola Tesla Museum on Krunska is the place to be. This celebrates the life and works of Tesla, a pioneer in the fields of electrical and mechanical engineering, and contains over 1,200 technical exhibits, as well as drawings, papers, books and plans. The first part of the exhibition is a memorial to his life and work, while the second part is more interactive, with 3D computer-generated models of a number of his inventions.

Belgrade Fortress and Kalemegdan Park

Kalemegdan Park is the largest public park in the city, located on a cliff where the Sava river meets the Danube. It’s divided into a number of areas and, since the 19th century, has provided the citizens of Belgrade with a place to meet, relax, stroll, hold events, and generally bask in its elegance.

Belgrade Fortress at sunset — Getty ImagesFor hundreds of years, Belgrade Fortress essentially marked the city boundaries — Getty Images

It contains Belgrade Fortress, the city’s most visited site, and the core of historic Belgrade. For centuries, the city existed purely within the walls of the fortress (it’s a big fortress), before slowly extending outwards. Its age — and its use by various tribes and rulers of different eras — have contributed to its mish-mash of styles, with walls, gates and towers dating from anywhere between the 12th and 19th centuries. It’s free to go in and explore so you should definitely do so, even if you’re only here for a short time.

The Big Staircase at Belgrade's Kalemegdan Park — Getty ImagesKalemegdan Park’s Big Staircase — Getty Images

Otherwise, simply wander around the huge park, taking in the sights. The Military Museum is easy to find (head for the building with all the cannon outside!), there are a couple of churches and chapels dotted around the grounds, and there are also the grandiose Big and Small Staircases, sited on an old castle rampart and joined by the Sava Promenade. There’s something very romantic about watching the sun go down from the promenade, the deep red light reflected in the waters of the Danube.

Street art tours

One thing you may very well notice about Belgrade is the prevalence of graffiti. However, a great deal of it isn’t your usual tags and squiggles, but actual pieces of art ranging from sly characters appearing at doors and windows, to vast murals covering entire sides of buildings.

You can walk around and see them for yourself of course, but one of the best ways to learn about what connects these images to the history of the city and its individual neighborhoods is to take a street art tour. There are a number of such walks, often curated or even guided by one of the artists themselves.

These tours will take you into some less-frequented parts of the city, to the gray concrete blocks that sprang up throughout the communist era and that are now being brightened up by people who know a blank canvas when they see one. Indeed, some of these pieces are now venerable Belgrade sights, with a couple dating back as far as 1989. If you want a bit of grit and street-level history with your art, doing one of these tours is an essential experience.

Belgrade’s coolest neighborhoods

Going hand-in-hand with the concept of street art and a love of using spaces to their fullest, Belgrade’s individual neighborhoods are worth exploring. Two areas that stand out are Dorćol, where the Sava meets the Danube, and neighboring Savamala, just to the south.

The history of Dorćol is one that encompasses the military, industry, ghettofication, and many of the city’s religious and cultural aspects, leading to it being one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Belgrade. It’s home to the Bajrakli Mosque, dating from 1660 (although it’s been demolished and rebuilt several times), the Church of Alexander Nevsky, the House of Bookseller Marko Marković (built in 1904 and seen as the ultimate architectural expression of the era), Serbia’s first thermal power plant, and the Beth Israel Synagogue. Just scanning this list tells you that there’s a lot to unpack when it comes to this part of town!

Savamala was designed as one of Belgrade’s most upmarket areas, with urban planning and wealth coming into Serbia, turning several smaller streets into one Parisian-style boulevard (Krađorđeva), along which sprang up grand mansions, palaces, theaters, and hotels. However, it was bombed heavily during World War II and then left in disrepair, turning what had once been a jewel in Belgrade’s crown into an abandoned, lawless part of the city.

It’s now being reborn, and for almost 20 years has been the byword for urban regeneration, with galleries, restaurants, bars and independent shops moving in. The quayside and the riverbank have been revitalized (not that everyone is happy about the relatively controversial way it’s been handled). It’s still often cited, along with Dorćol, as one of the coolest suburbs in Europe.

Dive into Belgrade’s history

The history of Serbia is a long, complicated and, at times, contentious one. From its place at the crossroads of Europe where the Ottomans met Austro-Hungary to its half-century under communism, the breakup of Yugoslavia, and the Balkan conflict of the 1990s, it’s somewhere that needs context to be understood.

The Historical Museum of Serbia on Trg Nikole Pašića is in a former bank. Since it started collecting artifacts as the Historical Museum of Yugoslavia in the 1950s, its collection now consists of around 35,000 items. It also stages temporary exhibitions on Serbian history and culture, from eras millennia ago to displays of contemporary art and sculpture.

A more modern but equally important museum is the Museum of Yugoslavia. It was originally (and still is) the Josip Broz Tito Memorial Center, a mausoleum to the man who was the president of Yugoslavia from 1953 to his death in 1980. He’s interred in the House of Flowers, and his burial site can be visited.

Otherwise, the museum nowadays commits itself to telling the history of the region in the 20th century. It states that “Our mission is to be the place of open dialogue, to exchange knowledge and experiences on the social and cultural phenomena of the 20th century with all institutions, organizations and individuals interested in issues on Yugoslav heritage and Yugoslav past.” For the casual visitor, this is done with excellent and sensitive examinations of the (often harrowing) events that have taken place in this region of Europe, all the while helping to educate and inform.

More fun things to do in Belgrade

Belgrade’s best… beach?!

An island in the Sava that’s been artificially turned into a peninsula, Ada (officially Ada Ciganlija) is the place to be for Belgraders in search of a day at the beach.

Woman in water at city beach in early evening — Getty ImagesSerbia may be landlocked, but its capital still boasts a great beach — Getty Images

The peninsula is covered with beautiful, dense forests, interspersed with the odd clearing or meadow, and while walking through the trees, you might be lucky enough to see deer, pheasants or occasionally even quails. The real reason people flock here, however, is the beach. There’s over seven kilometers of beach on which to lie back and relax, or for swimming, boating, kayaking, windsurfing, or anything else that involves being active on the water. Across the island, there are other sporting distractions as well, including a golf course, beach volleyball, a climbing wall, tennis courts… even paintball!

The summer sees a number of cultural events take place on Ada, with open-air choir and orchestral performances. There are also a number of restaurants and bars, with even a couple of nightclubs for that all-night, outdoor clubbing scene.

No matter when you come, there’s enough on Ada to spend at least a day here easily, either tiring yourself out or simply lazing around and doing very little.

Explore New Belgrade

View over rooftops in Zemun — Getty ImagesZemun has a much more European-old-town feel to it than the rest of the city does — Getty Images

Until 1934, Zemun was actually an independent town, and it looks more like your typical Central European town than the Ottoman-tinged areas of Belgrade itself. It’s all cobbled streets and hidden squares, and feels… just different, somehow. It’s a greener place than the rest of Belgrade, proud of its (counter-)cultural side, and has a number of protected historical sites and monuments.

Walk, eat (the seafood is something the locals are rightly proud of), drink, and climb Gardoš. This is one of Zemun’s three hills and is the place for beautiful views out over the Danube and back across the red-tiled rooftops.

View from underneath Genex Tower/Western City Gate — Getty ImagesThe Genex Tower is perhaps Belgrade’s best example of brutalist architecture — Getty Images

Even though they’re neighbors, there could be no more jarring contrast than between Zemun and New Belgrade (Novi Beograd). Construction began in 1948 and was planned to be a source of pride and forward-thinking by the communist government of the day. A ruthlessly- and meticulously- planned part of the city, its brutalist buildings are… striking, to say the least. The most famous is probably the mighty Genex Tower (also known as the Western City Gate) — 35 colossal storeys of concrete and heft, which is now, for better or worse, one of Belgrade’s most recognizable structures.

Typical Serbian cuisine: the best things to eat and drink

Coffee lovers rejoice — Serbia runs on the stuff. It chugs and glugs through its veins on an almost constant drip, a relic of Ottoman rule and the influence of Turkey. Today, however, traditional Turkish-style coffee is being, if not replaced by, then certainly put in competition with Italian-style hole-in-the-wall espresso stands and hip, stripped-wood-and-bare-metal coffee shops.

Ćevapi and kaymak on plate with potatoes and salad — Getty Images Grilled minced meat topped with kaymak, a typical Serbian dish — Getty Images

Belgrade restaurateurs are also combining the old and the new when it comes to food. For example, try kaymak, a traditional soft cheese that’s flavored with porcini mushrooms; or take a typical Balkan dish like lamb skewers, but drizzle it with eggplant aioli. There are, naturally, plenty of places that do things such as traditional barbecued pork in a number of ways (sausages, steak, pork knee with delicious, crispily-glazed fat), but the newer combinations of trad dishes with a flavorful modern twist are where it’s at.

Why not wash your meal down with a bottle of local wine? Since the early 2000s, the country’s viniculture has been slowly growing in strength, charming even winemakers in countries more associated with the art, such as Italy and France. Around 65% of the grapes grown in Serbia are white, but the deep reds from varietals such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are an excellent choice with those rich, barbecued meals.

Belgrade’s best festivals

No matter when you visit Belgrade, your trip is almost certain to coincide with one of the hundreds of festivals that take place year-round. Music, dance, food, drink, art, sport — you name it, Belgrade has it.

Every August sees the Belgrade Beer Fest, a five-day celebration of hops and froth that began in 2004 and now attracts almost a million visitors. The combination of over 45 breweries, live music ranging from punk to hip-hop and everything in between, and free admission means it’s unsurprisingly popular.

Mid-May is when Museum Night takes place, a common event in this part of the world where all museums and galleries are open for free, with the majority putting on extra events, workshops or exhibitions. In a city as artsy and varied as this, however, it’s an extra treat, and a great way to spend a night with the locals.

The October Salon began in 1960, and in its long history, it’s become one of the world’s most recognized forums for both Serbian and international visual artists. The festival consists of exhibitions, round tables, workshops, lectures, professional guides, and performances. A wilder show of artistry comes in the form of Open Heart Street, a tradition that began around New Year in 1988/89. Acting, singing, street performances and more are seen by thousands of hardy souls who brave the weather to join this huge street party.

There’s obviously no space here to cover every festival and event that Belgrade has to offer, but rest assured, there’s always something going on!

Discover the best of Belgrade with Kiwi.com

Belgrade is rightly seen as one of Europe’s up-and-coming cities for tourists of all ages and wants, and if you want to explore further, Serbia in general is a winning combination of beauty, history, and friendly people. Book a flight to Belgrade with Kiwi.com and experience it for yourself.

The best of Belgrade: what to see and do

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