The largest city in the Balkans, Belgrade is not just Serbia’s capital but the centre-piece of the entire region. Once a Roman fortress-town known as Singidunum, Belgrade’s position – above the meeting point of the Sava and Danube rivers – has always been an important location. Read on for a guide to Belgrade – the great bastion of the Balkans.
Fast-forward to today and magnificent coffee houses that could rival Vienna’s finest jostle with trendy bars, and Brutalist structures rub shoulders with Beaux Arts buildings. This is a city that slowly grinds through its gears, giving every architectural period a run for its money.
Belgrade’s museums guard this gorgeous heritage jealously. From the Nikola Tesla museum (that displays works by the polymath) to the National Museum, which contains the coveted Miroslav Gospels, it can sometimes feel like every tenth building in the city is a museum! But this is balanced out by places like the old riverside quarter of Savamala. Once derelict, it’s now a cultural hub led by trendsetters and free-thinkers, with lots of modish eateries to enjoy, too.
Above Belgrade looms the city’s most popular attraction: Kalemegdan Fortress. Possessing a formidable pedigree (with Celtic tribes settling here in the 4th century BC), almost every one of the White City’s 40 or so invasions has made a beeline towards its stronghold. Nowadays, despite the fun military museum nearby (where visitors can leap into old tanks and trucks), most choose to surmount its walls, which offer the perfect platform to see the city unfold beneath their feet.
Walking down into Belgrade’s central square, Trg Republike, a must-see for any traveller is the old bohemian quarter of Skadarlija. Full of cobbled lanes and once known for its writers, painters, musicians and creatives, today it’s got more of a reputation for its picturesque qualities and animated folk music (in the kafanas –taverns).
Don’t let its bright lights and high spirits waylay you from seeing the Church of Saint Sava, though. Made of white marble and standing proud as the largest Orthodox church in the Balkans, almost 10,700 people can pray beneath its 4,000-ton dome. Then wander back towards Kneza Mihaila Street. A kilometre-long boulevard, filled with boutiques and some of the city’s best restaurants and cafés, it was once part of the country’s main coronation route. Now lined with grand academies, mansions and libraries, most promenade up and down it for the food, which is exquisite.
It’s easy to get confused by the menu, however, so if you find yourself in a dilemma, plump for one of the following specialties. Sarma is mince, rice and veg rolled up in cabbage leaves – sometimes doused in sour cream. Pečenje is a big hunk of roasted meat (often lamb or goat) and one of Serbia’s most popular dishes. And don’t leave before tasting a pastry. Gibanica, Burek and Proja are all variations of doughs and fillings, and are all as delicious as they are stodgy! Wash it all down with a local lager like Jelen (meaning, deer) or a little glass of Rakija (brandy) and raise a toast to your hosts – “Ziveli!”
If exploring Belgrade’s picturesque lanes and impressive museums sounds like an exciting prospect, why not book a place on the European Supreme trip?