Serbia has worked hard to put the chaos of the 1990s behind it and today its capital, Belgrade, is one of the most happening cities in Europe. Home to top-class museums, a huge range of quality cafes and restaurants, good shopping, plus some of the best nightlife in southeast Europe, Belgrade will keep you well entertained.
Meander through the streets and the capital’s history unfolds before your eyes – neoclassical buildings and art nouveau architecture tower over the grand boulevards, and on the narrow pedestrianised streets, you’ll find remnants of the Ottoman era. Meanwhile on the western banks of the Sava, New Belgrade, Soviet era buildings dominate the scene.
Where to start on your discovery of this multi-faceted city? We’ve gathered together some ideas to help you make the most of your trip:
Where the mighty Danube and Sava rivers converge, the stunning fortress of Kalemegdan is a sight to behold. Dating back to Celtic times, this well-preserved castle is set within a large, pleasant park that rises to a steep hill. Its battlements were built to defend the city from the Ottomans, but were only to be captured and occupied by the invaders themselves. In fact, a total of around 115 battles have been fought around Kalemegdan and its bloody history makes the citadel all the more fascinating. Take a stroll around its walls and through the park to admire the fantastic views – which are particularly scenic at sunset.
Fascinatingly, underground Belgrade hosts over 100 caves, tunnels, passages, bunkers and canals harbouring incredible stories from Roman times to the Cold War. A wide variety of empires and states have ruled the city over the ages and there is much to explore during the two-hour underground tour. Visit the Roman hall where parts of the main gate of the Roman fortress and aqueduct can be found and learn about former president Tito’s political games and spy secrets from the days of the Communist Information Bureau. Wine tasting rounds up this adventurous journey through Belgrade’s past. Advanced booking is a must.
This grand Republic Square Palace dates back to 1844 and is Serbia’s oldest and biggest museum. There are almost half a million items on display here and you’ll find everything from Ancient Greek and Roman artefacts to medieval manuscripts, icons and other curios. The museum also showcases an impressive collection of paintings from across the world, as well as works by several Serbian and Hungarian artists.
For some artistic inspiration, head to the old riverside cultural quarter of Savamala. Once a neglected industrial area behind Belgrade’s central station, Savamala has changed considerably since the 1990s when most its art nouveau mansions and warehouses lay derelict or bombed by Nato during the Kosovo conflict. Today they’ve been imaginatively restored, transforming the neighbourhood into a riverside cultural hub. Works are led by free thinkers looking towards the city’s future and wishing to redefine the image of Belgrade.
Don’t miss the contemporary restaurants: Iguana and Comunale and the prominent Mikser House, an independent design centre and performance venue within a vast wooden-floored warehouse. G12HUB also occupies a grand, previously abandoned building and its gallery is one of the best places in Belgrade to view video and performance art.
The old bohemian quarter (Skadarlija)
Right below Republic Square, the bohemian quarter of Skadarlija covers just 400 metres along short, winding Skadarska Street. One of the most famous streets in Belgrade, its history began in the 1830s when gypsies settled in the abandoned trenches in front of the ramparts. These gypsy hovels were later replaced by brick buildings where artisans, petty clerks, caterers and others of similar social standing moved to.
The gypsy quarter acquired its bohemian character in the late 19th century, when Dardaneli Inn was demolished and its guests – leading writers and actors – frequented the Skadarlija inns. The best know inns were Tri šešira, Zlatni bokal and Dva jelena which still stand today. Today the entire bohemian quarter is dotted with lively restaurants, galleries, cafes and antique stores and makes for a great place to potter and explore.
House of Flowers
The House of Flowers is essentially the mausoleum of Josip Broz Tito, president of Yugoslavia from 1953 until he died in 1980. While under Tito’s rule, Yugoslavia distanced itself from Stalin’s Russia following its own version of socialism. To this day, Tito is still venerated by many and from the opening of the mausoleum in 1982, some 17,000,000 people have visited, mainly because it’s an important symbol of a time an ideology which ruled the area for some 50 years.
The House of Flowers displays collections of Tito’s army uniforms and office furniture, along with the many state gifts he received during office.
Nikola Tesla Museum
For the scientists amongst us, this fascinating museum is dedicated to the eccentric Serbian inventor and physicist, Nikola Tesla. It offers plenty of interactive displays and honours Tesla’s work for inventing AC currents to many electrical devices. In acknowledgment of his remarkable technological achievement, the Nikola Tesla Archive was added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme Register in 2003. In addition to the hands-on exhibits, the museum contains hundreds of thousands of documents, journals, books, photographs, apparatus and historical technical displays.