Belgrade is the capital of Serbia, a small country in the Balkan peninsula. It is also the nightlife capital of that region. As exciting as nightlife in Belgrade sounds, let’s not forget that this city also has some interesting history and great sights.
The first thing you should know about Belgrade Serbia is that it is divided into three parts by two rivers – Danube and Sava. They are incredibly important for its history, and the reason why it was so often attacked, burnt to the ground, and rebuilt again. Legend says Belgrade was restored 38 times.
The Celts and Romans called it Singidunum, and Slavs gave it the current name Belgrade, which translates to “White City.” It might not be so white anymore, but it is still an interesting city for travelers (not conquerors thankfully).
If this is your first time visiting, here is a recommendation of 10 great things to do in Belgrade.
The Belgrade Fortress – Kalemegdan
The Belgrade Fortress is one place that you will most definitely not overlook. Kalemegdan Fortress was first built by the Celts and then reinforced by the Roman Empire. The fortress as it is today was last occupied by the Turk conquerors in the 19th Century.
It was used to demonstrate the power of the Ottoman empire and deter uprisings of the domicile population and attacks from the hostile Austro-Hungarian Empire across the Danube and Sava rivers.
In the fortress, there is a big and beautiful park. Here you can find a great viewpoint of the confluence where the Sava flows into the Danube. There is also an interesting open military museum.
The Belgrade Fortress is within walking distance from the city center and adjacent to main Knez Mihajlova street. This is a convenient and great place to catch the sunset. Despite the crowd, it is still a romantic location for couples to hang out.
Every city has this hipster, famous street. For Belgrade, that is Skadarlija. Skadarlija is a popular bohemian street, full of wonderful restaurants with great food and live music from unique guitar bands (tamburasi).
Here you can witness a genuine Balkan custom – loosely translated as “struck by the song.” People in Serbia (and generally in the Balkans) love getting their emotion evoked from music, even if that emotion is sadness.
Bands are sure to earn extra tips if they can trigger some memories in the hearts of their audience.
Skadarlija district is located in the city center. The restaurants here are one of the most memorable parts of nightlife in Belgrade and here are some famous ones:
- Sesir Moj
- Tri Sesira
- Dva Jelena
- Mali Vrabac
Nikola Tesla Museum
Nikola Tesla is the most famous scientist in Serbia (And no, we are not talking about the Tesla Car company founded by Elon Musk)
He was born in Croatia, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire back then, but in a Serbian family (his father was an orthodox priest). Serbia and Croatia are both claiming Nikola Tesla (surprisingly – Austria is not).
Nikola Tesla invented AC, designed the Niagara Falls Power Plant, invented the radio… pretty much everything the modern world is based on. In the museum, you can see some of his drawings (the FBI seized most of them after his death), models of his inventions, and learn more about his life.
There are free guided tours running in the museum at specific times in English or Serbian (timings might change so check them on the museum website). I highly recommend planning your visit based on that.
It is way more interesting when you hear the guides explain and show working models of Telsa’s machines. The highlight is seeing the Tesla Coil at work! You get to participate in holding the rods (if you volunteer) and feel the electricity pass through you.
Visit the Restaurant Barges on the Sava River
Belgrade nightlife is famous mainly because of the barges. You can choose from a variety of these floating restaurants. From traditional, with appropriate food and music, to all modern and fancy western-style barges.
It would be best if you visited several barges to find your jam. One thing is certain, no matter what kind of music they are playing there – the atmosphere is excellent, and people are dancing and having fun.
Enjoy the Architectural Differences
Belgrade has been heavily bombarded, both in WWI and WWII, even in 1999. A lot of buildings were destroyed, and due to the lack of planning, the new buildings did not follow the style of the existing houses.
It is common to see an ultra-modern building next to the grey-cement socialist structure, which is right next to a neoclassical building.
Here are some buildings you can look out for during your walk.
- Genex Tower, the first smart building in Serbia built in 1977
- The “Long Building,” which is almost 1000 meters (over 1000 yards long)
- “East Gate” – three matching skyscrapers.
- Hotel Moskva
- The Old Train Station
- Kapetan Misino Zdanje
- Palata Albania
- Serbian Congress Building
- National Bank of Serbia Building
- National Theater of Serbia
St Sava Orthodox Temple
This is the largest orthodox temple in the Balkans, and one of the largest in the world. Construction started in 1903, in the place where the Turks burnt the bones of this Serbian born saint.
He created the Serbian Orthodox Church and is largely responsible for the shaping of the Serbian nation and the language. The park in front of the Template is a great place to hang out and stop for a quick break.
St Sava Temple is slighter higher than St Mark’s Church, the second largest church in Belgrade. This church located in Tašmajdan park is also a great place to visit.
You find will find the parliament there, and other remanents of the bombing such as a monument to children that died during the NATO bombing. A portion of the RTS broadcasting building still stands in its original condition post bombing.
House of Flowers
This is the burial place of famous Yugoslavian communist dictator Tito. He was a person of controversies, and people remember his rule with different emotions (thanks to his “soft” approach to communism).
Many Serbians believe that Yugoslavia was a much better place to live with good salaries, low crime, and good status in the world. You can still find some of the elder generation talking about the good times during the Yugoslavian period. This is a common trend that can be recognized in the Balkan states especially since most of their economies are not faring very well now.
For things to do near Belgrade:
Ada Ciganlija and Great War Island (River Islands)
Belgrade has several river islands and these two are the most popular. I wasn’t able to visit them, since I was there during winter. However, these river islands are popular destinations recommended and visited by locals in better weather.
Ada Ciganlija is a favorite summer picnic destination for people from Belgrade. Besides the beaches, it has many sports activities, even a golf course.
How to get to Ada Ciganlija
By bus: Lines 23, 37, 51, 52, 53, 55, 56, 56Л, 58, 85, 87, 88, 89, 91, 92, 511, 551, 553, 860, 860E, 861A
By boat: Boats start from Block 45 and Block 70 in New Belgrade.
Great War Island is a wild animal sanctuary and simply fantastic because it is a green oasis in the center of the Belgrade city. When the Sava water lever is suitable, wild boars can swim right into the city, so it’s not that uncommon to see them right in front of the fancy shops or restaurants in the city center.
How to get to Great War Island
You can only get to the Great War Island by boats that start from Zemun Port. In the summer season, there is a pontoon bridge available to get there on foot. The bridge is also located in the Zemun Port. Bus lines 15, 706, and 82 will get you to the bridge and boat port base.
Zemun and Gardosh
Before the WWI, Sava river was the border between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Serbia, and before that – the Ottoman Empire. Once you cross the Sava and go into Gardos and Zemun, with their Hapsburg architecture, it is like crossing to a whole different world. From a busy city to a peaceful neoclassical town in just a few minutes.
This is a good reference for landmarks to visit if you want to walk around the area yourself. Key things to see include, the historical Gardos tower which offers a good view of the area, the Zemun Old Town, and Zemun Quay. If you want to learn more about the landmarks and save yourself the trouble of navigating around, consider going for a Zemun Walking Tour.
From Zeleni Venac Square, you can find several buses 15, 17, 84, 701, and 704 to Zemun. You can buy a BusPlus transport card and top it up at kiosks or get limited days BusPlus passes for tourists. This is cheaper if you plan to use buses a lot. Otherwise, you can also buy tickets from the driver that is good for 90 minutes.
Avala is a mountain 10 miles from the city center. It makes for a nice trip out of the city if you have time. It has a beautiful park and two magnificent buildings.
- Avala Tower, the tallest tower in Serbia and one of the highest buildings in the Balkans (600ft), with a magnificent viewpoint from which you can see almost half of Serbia.
- Monument of the Unknown Hero, a magnificent marble mausoleum dedicated to the victims of the WWI
Five bus lines will get you to Avala: 403, 405, 407, 468, 491.
Hear from Locals
If you find the opportunity, it is always good to sit down for coffee with the locals and talk. Serbians are welcoming to foreigners and most of the younger generation also speak English.
Another good way to hear more about the city’s history is via walking tours. They are a good first touchpoint to know a city and hear a local’s perspective of their city.
The Belgrade Underground Tour brought us through some curious tunnels and intriguing underground locations. These included the military bunker, old gunpowder warehouse and Roman well.
Each place come with their share of interesting war and spy stories across different periods. It ended with a nice and generous wine sampling in a cozy underground winery.
To say that Belgrade city is just about nightlife is like saying Prague is just about beer, or Munich is just about BMW. There is so much more to see, feel, and taste in Belgrade Serbia. Here are some finger licking good food in Serbia that you have to try!
Where to stay in Belgrade
There are a good variety of accommodations catering to different budget ranges in the capital city. If you are visiting as a tourist, it is generally most convenient to stay in the city center as that gets you everywhere easily. Here are some well-rated accommodations you can consider.
Hostel El Diablo: If you are looking for a hostel, El Diablo is known for having a great atmosphere and friendly staff. It also has a great location in the city center.
NapPARK Hostel: For a funky design and cozy feel home, NapPark Hostel is a well facilitated and comfortable hostel in the city center.
Hostel Karavan Inn: If modern design is your vibe, then Karavan Inn should fit the clean and minimal vibe. It is outside the city center but nothing too far or inconvenient.
City Apartments Belgrade: Situated just outside the city center, this is a good bang for buck if you are looking for private accommodations at affordable prices and great location.
Kings Palace Suites: Located in an old but beautiful house. There are multiple room options with classic, luxury design.
Belgrade Sky Apartment: Not too far from the city center. You get a well-equipped apartment with city views. This is good for groups or friends with 2 bedrooms.
Viktor Luxury Suites: For a splurge, a luxury suite right in the city center should make it worthwhile. An entire apartment fitted with large wardrobe space and spacious layout.
Beograd na vodi – Belgrade Waterfront Riverside: When we speak luxury in Belgrade, the waterfront has to come to mind. Here you can get huge apartments with a direct river view.
Apartments Royal – Belgrade Waterfront: Modern, spacious apartments in high rise building featuring views of the river on the terrace. Good for the warm seasons.