Outspoken, loud, and edgy. Quite contrary to the city’s name (which loosely translates as ‘white city’) Belgrade is everything but the angelic image one might link to the meaning of its name. The former capital of ex-Yugoslavia is home to impressive art nouveau architecture, as well as not-so-impressive remnants of the socialist regime that characterise the outskirts of the city. Haunted by its relatively recent past, and more specifically its share in the conflict that lead to the fall of Yugoslavia, Serbia has been at the bottom of the list for city trips for quite some time. However, the tide seems to be turning – and rightfully so. Belgrade is slowly but surely re-claiming its spot amongst the top European cities for weekend getaways, boasting high quality cuisine, cultural heritage dating back to the Habsburg empire and unparalleled nightlife. Here’s a few highlights that you simply cannot miss when visiting this city:
It would be wrong to start this list with anything else than Belgrade’s nightlife. Internationally acclaimed, and listed amongst the world’s best by the Times and the Lonely Planet, nightlife in Serbia’s capital does not stop until the wee hours of the morning. The barges (splavovi) are located on the banks of the Danube and Sava river, and offer a unique insight into what seems to be the life motto of Belgrade’s inhabitants: work hard, party harder. Like, way harder. The programme of most barges is limited to Serbian music, but some might devote a night or two a week to house or R&B. We particularly liked Port by Community (eclectic), River (Balkan folk), Mr. Stefan Braun (house) and Club 94 (R&B), but to find out what’s going on every night of the week, make sure to check out http://www.gdeizaci.com and http://www.beogradnocu.com. Friendly advice to the ladies: there is no such thing as being underdressed in Belgrade. Ultra short skirts, dazzling high heels and excessive make-up are mandatory regardless of which club you choose to visit.
Amazing restaurants. Generally speaking, if you are a fan of Michelin star establishments, and if you prefer food being presented in a minimalistic way, Belgrade might not quite be your thing. However, it will exceed your expectations in a no-nonsense, great quality for a low price kinda-way. Casa Nova is one of those family-owned restaurants with impeccable service that will serve you that once-in-a-lifetime-kinda-meal – that is, if you choose the steak and top it off with the chocolate fondant. Wine tip: Aurelius by winery Kovacevic. You can thank us later. Manufaktura is another must-visit: the menu features international, as wel as domestic dishes. The interior has been styled to the perfection, and the terrace makes for the perfect setting for a relaxing lunch, with hundreds of umbrella’s covering the sky above the wooden tables.
Also food-related, although in a different category: the strip of restaurants located on the banks of the Sava river – Karadordzeva street, to be exact – many of which are set up by international investors which can easily keep up with its culinary counterparts in Amsterdam, London or Barcelona. This is the home of Belgrade’s jetset: perfectly manicured hands holding the latest designer bags and pouty lips as the focal point of the many selfies that are taken here: it’s either your crowd or it isn’t. The menus are impeccable, though. With food prices slightly higher than in other parts of the city, the financial damage is still lower than in most other European capitals. Each of the restaurants has marked one night of the week as ladies night, and offers great cocktails at reduced prices, but make sure not to skip Toro Latin Gastro Bar, Ambar and Comunale, as they are always jam-packed.
Skadarlija, what Bohemian dreams are made of. Undoubtedly the city’s most quaint neighbourhood, made up of cobblestoned streets and restaurants that have been serving the same traditional dishes for decades. Skadarlija is easy to reach by foot from the city center, making the perfect setting to enjoy a coffee (strong by definition in Belgrade) while listening to live Serbian music that many restaurants here offer to their (international) guests.
Kalemegdan Citadel and Kalemegdan Park – the number 1 historical highlight when visiting Belgrade. Taking into consideration the number of times the fortress was destroyed throughout the centuries, it is a miracle that it is still standing today. Rather than studying tourist guides and history books, try to book a local tour guide when visiting Kalemegdan: the citizens of Belgrade are generally very proud of their city and the tour guides very knowledgeable – apart from facts that cannot be studied in history books, you will receive first hand tips on what else is going on in the city at the time of your visit.
For global fashion brands, take a stroll through the number 1 shopping street: Knez Mihajlova. However, if you prefer something a bit more unique, do not miss one of very first concept stores that has been opened in Belgrade just last September: Jevremova 25. The bright, open space, showcases one of a kind fashion items and designer goods from local brands, in addition to serving (vegan) brunches (a rare find in a culture that is big on meat consumption). Their Instagram page is well worth following, and the Yugochic shirts make the perfect souvenir for all you fashionistas. Beats coming home with a H&M bag.
Try the locally brewed alcoholic drink: rakija, fruit brandy distilled from fruits (plums, apricots, grapes and others) and in some cases mixed with other ingredients, such as herbs, honey or walnuts. Generally, rakija contains 40% alcohol, although the home-produced alternative can have an alcohol content of about 50%. Another friendly piece of advice: Serbians know how to hold their liquor. Try to keep up and you might end up severely hungover the next day.
The rise of micro breweries as a global phenomenon has not gone unnoticed in Belgrade, either, and there are several bars that should be added to your list: the Black Turtle Pub and Dogma, serving beer that is not only cheap, but also of high quality. The Belgrade Beer Fest is organised annually and for the duration of 3-4 days in Kalemegdan park. In addition to domestic and foreign brews at affordable prices, the festival features many live performances and various activities.
The church of Sveti Sava: with the vast majority of the Serbs being Orthodox Christians, it should come as no surprise that one of the largest orthodox churches in the world is located in Serbia’s capital. At the time of our visit, the church was under renovation due to which it might be easy to overlook the basement – a beautifully decorated, bright space, where religious visitors come to pay their respect and to pray.