Putting together a history or synopsis of Belgrade in a few short sentences is no easy task. The “White City” has been at the epicenter of conflicts of great empires for millennia, never seeming to find rest. The capital of former Yugoslavia and, today, Serbia, lies at not only a figurative crossroads of civilizations, but also the confluence of two great rivers, Danube and the Sava, creating a truly stunning aquatic landscape. The water separates old and New Belgrade, traditional cityscapes and the natural expanse of Great War Island, and while many bridges span the gaps, the contrasts remain.
Still, these contrasts, the visible edginess and its constant ability to reinvent itself in the still-alive-and-breathing ruins of its past are what make Belgrade one of the most interesting, vibrant, alternative and rewarding cities in Europe to visit at the moment. Of course, no-one’s better equipped than the Beograđanins themselves to tell you exactly what makes it truly special; follow these tips by Belgrade locals we have collected and discover the plenty of reasons they are proud of their city.
Τhe view over Great War Island and the confluence
Photo by Djordje Vidojevic
Belgrade’s fortress, also known as Kalamegdan, is worth visiting in its own right, but one aspect that’s not as often mentioned is the spectacular views it provides over the aforementioned Great War Island, right at the confluence of the Sava and Danube, or where the two rivers meet. This island is a protected natural sanctuary, so what makes the view interesting is that there’s nothing there – no lights, no civilization. Despite the lack of development, it’s actually possible to also visit the island across the Sava by renting private boats throughout the year (except winter), and from June to September there’s a temporary bridge connecting it with the rest of the city.
The best burek at an unexpected place
Photo by Vladimir Dulović
Burek is one of these magic words that unite the whole of the Balkans, similar to e.g. rakija – if you exclude squabbles over who makes the best, of course. It’s a kind of special pie, and you can find in pretty much everywhere. What makes Lili M special is how hidden it is and uninviting it looks from the inside — and outside. Everything about it feels messy and unworthy of mention, yet its cheese burek is out of this world: “lip-smacking, melt-in-your-mouth, just the right amount of cheese”. It takes dedication to experience to savor (and a combination of luck and speed, as they only make little quantities each day), but it pays off. Fitting; we’re in Belgrade, after all!
Impressive museum buildings – over 200 aircraft and modern art
Photo by Djordje Vidojevic
The Belgrade Aeronautical Museum, right next to the city airport, stands out for the impressive space where it is housed. Basically, it’s an enormous glass building filled with hundreds of airplanes and other aircraft going back to the Interwar period, following the creation of the first airline in Yugoslavia in 1927 (JAT). There are rarely more than 5 people in the museum, which makes the creepy-nostalgic feeling even stronger.
If you’re more into modern art, an interesting pick would be the recently re-opened Contemporary Art Museum on the banks of the Sava river. Opening in 1958, it was the first of its kind in this part of Europe. It had been closed since 2007, but now its collections are once again available for the public to see. Still, just like with the Aeronautical Museum, seeing the beautiful, angular, modernist building from up close is reason enough to pay a visit.
This relatively new coffee shop is in the beating heart of the city, yet it lies on a quiet road and is still relatively undiscovered. It’s ideal for breakfast or a light snack, and they’re famous for their oat biscuits. If the weather is good, you can sit outside, but they have basil plants on every table, both inside and out, making the space aromatic as well as homely. The best part is that most of the frequent clients know each other, making Užitak a real local favorite and, as its name suggests, a place dedicated to enjoying oneself.
Low-key garden & bar in old Art Nouveau building
Photo by @ljuticj
Bar Ljutić is in the backyard of an old Art Nouveau fin de siècle building. Apart from a small sign at the entrance, there is little else to announce this ever-popular spot to the rest of the world. Still, they like it low-profile here. When the weather’s good, everybody sits in the garden, a true oasis next to the tall surrounding buildings. The house itself is also full of random old items that create a truly laid-back atmosphere, and some of them are even artworks by local artists that are for sale. Grab a glass of pear rakija and enjoy!
Traditional Serbian food with a modern twist
Photo by Mala Fabrika Ukusa Facebook page
Mala Fabrika Ukusa (small flavor factory) is in Neimar (no, not named after the famous Brazilian football player), one of the old parts of Belgrade which is still resisting change. It’s a quiet area close to the Saint Sava church, one of the biggest Orthodox churches in the world. The natural materials used in the interior are a big plus to the high-quality food inspired by Serbian tradition with novel twists, such as, for example, grilled dry plums wrapped in bacon with goat cheese (with the added presentation bonus of coming on skewers stuck in cobblestones). The monastery chicken and gypsy dances are two other examples of how they present tradition with a modern dressing. A great finishing touch to a busy day in Belgrade.
How to get there
Belgrade has regular and direct rail connections with capital cities in Central and Eastern Europe. International passenger trains include a regular day and night train which circulates on the route Belgrade–Budapest–Vienna.
Belgrade is also the start of a spectacular scenic route through to Bar in Montenegro. Frequently names as one of the top European train trips, it’s like going back in time with sweeping views, velvet seats and soviet-style carriages.
It’s worth noting that a new station, Belgrade Centre railway station in Prokop, has recently replaced the old rail terminal, Belgrade Main railway station, which closed this summer.
For more local favourites across Europe, check out Spotted by Locals.
Header image from PxHere
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