Sometimes it’s good to go to a city you know nothing about, and just hang out and soak in the vibe. Belgrade was one of these places. I didn’t have a list of must-sees. I certainly wasn’t drawn to it for its beauty, but my curiosity was sparked by rumours of its creative side.
Belgrade has a reputation for being cool. Some call it the ‘Berlin of the Balkans.’ So although its communist architecture mightn’t be much to look at, it’s full of hipsters, creatives, vegans, musicians and graffiti artists. What it lacks in looks, it makes up for in culture.
Go for a walk
The first sight we visited was the Saint Sava Church. The whole interior was being restored, so there wasn’t much to see there, but it was still architecturally impressive. Also there was a wedding taking place, which was fun to take a look at. The best part about it was the beautiful singers, who harmoniously echoed (presumably latin) words back to the priest.
Then we headed through the main street, Kralja Milana, towards Nikola Pasic Square. We pased the Terazije Fountain and National Assembly of Serbia. Then we went up to Republic Square, past the National Museum.
From there, we visited Kneza Mihajla, the main commercial street, where there was a lot of action going on.
On this main street, don’t miss the Cultural Centre of Belgrade about halfway through the street, which houses a great souvenir shop with local crafts (Belgrade Window), the Citaonica Coffee shop, and a great bookshop that even has a few titles in English. It also has art galleries upstairs and downstairs. They had really cool (free!) exhibits when we were there. Upstairs housed a series of photographs from gritty freight ships, with portraits of wrinkled and windblown workers, and simple close-up shots of depicting the lines of the boat’s machinery.
The exhibition downstairs was called ‘A la Frontiere… ! Old and new borders in Europe.’ A prominent theme of the exhibition was the refugee crisis, which we witnessed upon arriving at the Belgrade bus station. With signs welcoming refugees and directing them to where they can find assistance.
My favourite piece in this exhibition was by Laure Keyrouz and Angelo Riccardi, which depicted two screens with videos playing. On one screen, there was a girl taking a bucket to the ocean, filling it up and throwing the water on the shore. A boy did the same on the opposite screen. Beneath the videos, there were love letters between the two characters. They were trying to ‘empty the sea’ so that they could be together. This piece raised a lot of emotions in my heart, as I was about to say a painful goodbye.
Visit the fortress
After visiting the bustling main street, we made our way up to the city park, where you will find Kalemegdan Fortress (also free). It’s fun walking around the castle walls and people watching in this impressively large public space.
Let your hair down
If there’s one thing Belgrade is famous for, it’s the nightlife. Of course the partying must be preceded by a delicious local dinner. So when your stomach starts rumbling, make your way to the Bohemian district of Skadarska. A cobblestoned street of restaurants and bars which really comes to life in the evenings, with traditional fiddlers and folk bands playing at the restaurants. After dinner, stop by Red Bar for a beer.
If you’re looking to get a taste of Belgrade’s famous night life, head to Savamala. This area is home to Belgrade’s alternative culture. You’ll find politically aware graffiti adorning the streets, live music and cheap drinks.
This area is pretty special for locals, as we saw when a massive protest of thousands walking right in front of our hostel. Sadly, Arabian-owners of a development project in Savamala had demolished buildings in the area (they did it secretively at night, with balaclava clad-workers) to build a fancy new hotel, completely out of step with the urban culture in that area. This caused a whole lot of outrage.
In this area, check out Misker House, which is as much of a cultural and artistic institution as a club. We happened to be in town for the Annual Misker Festival, which featured local artists, promoted gender equality and supported refugees.
We love Breakfast
If you’re feeling flat after a big night or if you’re a bit of a brunch connoisseur, be sure to head to Kafe Kozmeticar. Whether you prefer filter coffee or espresso, they will have the perfect mix for you. They have a great range of breakfast options for vegetarians, the health-conscious and those looking to indulge. I loved the eggs benedict, and the omelette and avocado on toast was also a winner. If you’re hungry, they do a cheap breakfast platter for two with a bit of everything. They also have good wifi if you need to get some internet-stuff done.
On getting around:
We had so much trouble getting around this city! It’s not that it’s complicated, but it is a little too spread out to walk the whole time.
The city has a pretty good tram network, but we found it impossible to buy tickets anywhere, even our hostel couldn’t tell us where to find a supermarket that sells them. So didn’t have much choice but to freeload… pretty sure most of the locals were doing that too. We actually did get caught once, but we played ignorant tourists so we were excused.
Another problem was finding the right tram to catch. We never found any timetables, and we sometimes waited 20 minutes plus for the right numbered tram. And then they would end up going a completely different route to our map because of roadworks or some shit. But I guess this is Eastern Europe, so you can’t expect too much.
We tried taking a taxi, but they were really expensive! I hate using taxis as a tourist cause even when they do use the meter you can’t really tell if you’re being ripped off. And you can’t do much about it once you arrive.