Visit Belgrade, the capital city of Serbia, for an immersive walk from the country’s turbulent past to its liberated present
A famous thought expressed by Serbian writer Duško Radovic says, “Whoever was lucky enough to wake up in Belgrade this morning can consider that he has achieved enough for life today. To insist on anything more would be unseemly.”
One of the oldest cities in Europe, Belgrade‘s beauty doesn’t impress me instantly. However, after spending a few hours ambling along its streets, I realise that Belgrade is more than just a city. It’s a deep thought that won’t go away, a thought that inspires you to rise from the ashes!
My first day in the White City is spent capturing the mood of its lively pedestrian boulevard in the heart of Stari Grad. Artists lost in imagination, talented buskers serenading the crowd, locals enjoying leisurely meals in the sun and people perfecting the art of doing nothing!
The Republic Square and Knez Mihailova Street, despite of being laid-back and slow-paced, ooze a certain energy and charm that cannot be ignored. I am walking past some handsome historical buildings—National Theatre, National Museum and the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, cultural centres, numerous art galleries, bookstores, chic roadside cafes, hole-in-the-wall joints, several shops and stalls selling boiled corn and popcorn—before reaching the gem that is the Kalemegdan Park.
Hugging the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers, the massive Kalemegdan is where the chaotic past of Belgrade unfolds before my eyes. Often described as an open-air museum, it is home to the mysterious Roman Well, 18th century Clock Tower and the Ružica Church that boasts of chandeliers made by WWI Serbian soldiers from spent bullet casings, swords, rifles and cannon parts. Its shaded pathways take me past postcard-perfect medieval fortifications, offering several photo opportunities.
From the towering Belgrade Fortress, I witness the stunning view of the city and one of the most beautiful sunsets, with the sky changing its colours every few minutes – from blue to orange to pink.
In Belgrade, history is omnipresent. I spot towering buildings with their gaping holes and structures that were bombed during the NATO attacks of 1999. My next stop is the Museum of Yugoslavia and the neighbouring House of Flowers where socialist Yugoslavia’s lifelong president Josip Broz Tito is laid to rest. The museum offers an insight into the various aspects of life in 20th century Yugoslavia. A must see is a display of several priceless gifts that Tito received in his lifetime, such as his portrait painted on half a grain of rice, a flag of Yugoslavia that has travelled to the moon and desert rose from Libya. An addition to my museum-hopping itinerary is the Nikola Tesla Museum where I meet the man on the 100RSD note and witness the magnificent and interactive working models of Tesla’s machines. A celebrated Serbian-American scientist, Tesla’s ashes are kept here in a glowing, golden orb!
No matter which part of Belgrade I am in, there’s one edifice that follows me wherever I go. City’s crowning jewel, the St. Sava Temple boasts of a 4,000-ton copper dome that protrudes from the top of Vracar Hill and proudly announces noon with its 49 bells.
While the temple’s surface is covered with white marble and granite, the underground crypt has massive archways, breathtakingly gorgeous frescoes, ornate gold chandeliers and Murano glass mosaics. The interiors of St Sava, the second largest Orthodox temple in the world, truly blows me away! An eternal work-in-progress—one that’s existed in various stages of creation for more than 100 years—the construction of this church has lasted a lifetime for many locals. For many, this temple is also a beacon of faith and hope.
A melting pot of diverse cultures, Belgrade has several venues and uniquely-designed pubs that guarantee a fun, pleasant evening out! The city’s characteristic spirit of openness and cosmopolitanism makes everything all the more interesting.
I spend an evening in one of the inns at the old, cobbled street Skadarlija, sampling Serbian specialties and enjoying traditional old city music. Sitting in the very heart of Belgrade, this old, bohemian district is where painters and poets used to gather. Today, it is home to several art galleries.
Alternatively, consider heading to Zemun for a quiet sunset stroll along the riverside. Built on the right bank of the mighty Danube, Zemun was once an independent border town between the Ottoman and Austrian Empires. Today, a municipality of Belgrade, Zemun is where little, colourful boats clog up the shore, old timers saunter with dogs and nippers frolicking while enjoying their ice-creams. Choose to sit in silence on one of the benches and watch the world go by, feast on fresh fish at one of the floating restaurants playing live music or walk past remnants of the old village to reach Gardoš Tower for a panoramic view of terracotta rooftops, the Danube and Belgrade’s Stari Grad in the distance.
TOP SPOTS FOR LOVERS OF GOOD FOOD
– Kalenic Pijaca (Green Market)
One of the biggest open-air markets, this vibrant place is home to all things delicious. Besides freshest berries, veggies, flowers, honey, pickles, jams and craftwork, you will find national delicacies such as ajvar (roasted red bell pepper paste), sir (cottage cheese) and kajmak (clotted cream) as well as Turkish sweets and biscuits. Take a walk through colourful stands, chat with the local vendors and try some free samples of cheese, prosciutto and more.
– Lorenzo Kakalamba
Covered from floor to ceiling in a riot of quirky artworks and extraordinary detailing, to dine here is to dine in an eccentric wonderland. Owned by a Serbian-Italian couple, expect the menu to comprise the best of Florence and Pirot cuisine. Among must tries are handmade ravioli and gnocchi, ironed sausage, Djubek (famous Pirot yellow cheese) and Suspe (Dried red peppers stuffed with minced meat and baked in the oven).
– Beton Hala
A perfect neighbourhood to hang out in good company, it is located along the Sava River and offers beautiful views with a great vibe! Enjoy a cup of coffee at one of the cafes during the day or feel the buzz by dining at one of the hip venues at night. A must-visit in Beton Hala is the elegant Faro that serves Mediterranean food over jazz and instrumental music.
A cute little joint in Kursulina, Miamiam is a place for modern and innovative dishes prepared using some of the freshest local ingredients from the Kalenić Pijaca. Indulge in homemade lemonade and creatively-curated Serbian and Indian dishes in a laid-back ambience.
WORDS YOU MUST KNOW
Zdravo – Hello
Dubro Jutro – Good Morning
Kako Ste? – How are you?
Hvala – Thank You
Ziveli – Cheers