With over 40 invasions and numerous ruling factions in the course of its history, Belgrade and Serbia as a whole have had a dark history, colored by blood, chaos, and the perpetual quest for independence. Look beyond its somewhat rough exterior of Communist-era architecture and monotone color palettes, and you will find a vibrant city full of unique personalities, a robust artistic and cultural scene, never-ending nightlife, and affordable yet innovative cuisine. A developing cafe culture and distinct experiences, make visitors feel that Belgrade is on the cusp of becoming a more mainstream European destination. Visit now before the world discovers it.
THINGS TO KNOW
1| Smoking is still very much a thing in Serbia. According to one tour guide, 51% of the population smokes, making much of Belgrade a veritable ash tray. Cafes and establishments with black smoking signs (most of them) allow smoking indoors, while the few white signs meaning no smoking inside are few and far between. I hope this unfortunate habit is addressed in the coming years.
2| Despite a sometimes unfriendly demeanor, the people of Belgrade are actually quite kind and helpful once you begin a conversation. Remember many, especially the slightly older generations, have experienced much hardship in their lifetimes.
Public transport in Belgrade is fairly unreliable and not recommended by most locals, luckily much of the city is walkable. Alternatively, the carbon copy of UBER, CarGo (the one with the black/blue logo, NOT black/yellow) is available and extremely affordable. Taxis are also available via the Taxify app. In general, only get into taxis with a TX at the end of the license plate.
Leaving the airport, expect flat taxi rates based on what zone in the city you are traveling to. Much of the city center falls in zone 2 and is currently 1800 dinar or roughly $18.
WHERE TO STAY
Square Nine - Located in the Old Town near Kalemegdan Fortress is the recently opened boutique hotel Square Nine. The decor is sleek, but comfortable and the staff seems willing to do whatever you ask of them including organizing tours and activities. Enjoy a drink at the rooftop restaurant. A spa is also on site.
Airbnb - The usual favorite with plenty of options throughout town. Don't be alarmed if buildings look rough from the exterior, many apartments have been completely and tastefully remodeled.
WHERE TO EAT
Ambar - Once a port-side warehouse, the Beton Hala (Concrete Hall) along the Sava River is now home to a handful of happening, modern restaurants and bars. Ambar serves tapas/sharing style plates with seasonal ingredients. The menu is lengthy and they boast a generous selection of vegetarian options. Plenty of seating inside and outside.
Homa - The brainchild of one of the more famous Serbian chefs, Filip Ciric, Homa is one of the few casual fine dining restaurants in town. The interiors are simple and clean, with contrasting black and white tones throughout. Homa was one of the first in Belgrade to offer a tasting menu - an 8-course degustacion, but a la carte options are also available.
Homa Bistrot - The more casual, everyday sister of the above, Homa Bistrot is full of warm wood tones, softer lighting, and an overall more homey feel. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and the cuisine is a mix of Balkan, French, & Italian.
Smokvica - Your everyday local spot for Serbian / Mediterranean favorites served at breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Hanan - For Mediterranean eats, Hanan is likely your best option in town, open for both lunch & dinner. Bring a few friends and share some mezze platters, grilled meats, and do not miss the tabbouleh. They also offer take-out options if you are in a hurry as service can be hit or miss.
Mala Fabrika Ukusa - Located in the Vracar neighborhood close to the Church of Saint Sava is this cozy restaurant serving Serbian and Balkan classics in a playful and unique way. In warmer months seating extends outside.
Comunale - Yet another Beton Hall restaurant, Comunale brings Italian to the posh restaurant strip. The restaurant is sleek, sparsely decorated and boasts lofty double height ceilings. Fresh pastas (in generous portions) are a must here as are a few of the antipasti to share.
Crna Ovka - Ice cream! Crna Ovka literally translates to black sheep and the small but colorful and bright shop on BLANK street is always full with a steady stream of ice cream cravers. Although all your classic flavors are available, Crna Ovka excels at the more avante garde flavors like gorgonzola and poppy seed. Flavor blends like lemon with basil and mascarpone with carmelized figs make selecting scoops quite difficult. They also offer various sized takeaway options.
Dokolica Bistro - This cute neighborhood bistro is open all day and serves a variety of comfort foods fusing French and Serbian cuisines. The wifi is strong and is a great place to get some work done in the morning.
Radost Fina Kuhinjica - In a converted apartment near the Kalemegdan Fortress, we find one of the few vegan (some dishes are only vegetarian not vegan) friendly spots in the city. The ambiance is decidedly moody, with dark woods and walls and somewhat somber (but super friendly!!) staff. Dishes span the world from ramen to quesadillas to hummus, but everything is fresh, healthy, and affordable. Do note there is no sign and you have to ring what looks like the doorbell to an apartment to gain entry.
Tezga - A lunchtime favorite of mine at the end of the charming Skadarlija Street serving healthy Mediterranean options. The chickpea salad, grilled feta, red wheat, and soups are not to be missed! Open for breakfast, lunch (service begins at 1pm), and dinner.
WHERE TO DRINK
Przionica d59b - One of my all-time favorite coffee shops for the coffee shop's initial purpose - to drink coffee. The space is small, offers A/C (most welcome in 105 heat), does not I repeat DOES NOT allow smoking, and exudes a rustic / mod vibe with rough walls, colorful tiled floors, and fun accents. The shop was opened by a few djs so in moderate weather, sets are played on Sundays.
Kafeterija - With several locations around town, the Kafeterija just off the main drag of Kneza Mihaila became my favorite working cafe. 3 levels provides ample seating and the array of coffees and small selection of food and bites is most welcome. Plenty of outlets, good wifi, and a kind staff!
Boho Bar - Nestled into the edge of the Kalemegdan Fortress is one of the coolest outdoor, urban bars you will find. Eastern rugs, plump pillows, low tables, a scattering of trees, strings of lights, and steady beats make this popular hangout perfect to spend a lazy afternoon or evening.
WHAT TO DO
Stroll Knez Mihailova, a manicured pedestrian avenue full of shops and restaurants with seating spilling outside. The road ends in the expansive and impressive Kalemegdan Fortress, which is a must visit. When you need a break, hop over to Boho Bar (mentioned above) for a relaxing drink.
Visit the dramatic, Byzantine style Church of Saint Sava, over one hundred years in the making and still under construction. The church reflects the persistence and determination of a war riddled nation.
See an evening jazz performance in the quaint, two-level outdoor patio at Basta Jazz Bar.
Explore the charming municipality of Zemun, once a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire despite being just 10km from Old Town Belgrade. The area was absorbed into Belgrade in the 1900s, but still maintains a distinct architectural feel and is known for its abundance of eateries serving fresh fish along the river. I recommend the local favorite Siroka Staza.
Take a dip at Ada Lake or one of the city's public pools, a local favorite is the Maj swimming pool located on the Danube.
Day trip to the nearby wine region and sample Serbian varietals. Temet Winery is considered one of the best in the country - do try their barrel aged chardonnay and the Blush rose.
For the digital nomads, spend a few days at the Mokrin House a couple hours outside of Belgrade to recharge. The house is both a coliving and coworking space complete with an on-site chef, pool, and organized activities.
Explore a small snippet of the extensive tunnels below Belgrade with an underground wine tasting at Cellar Panajotovic. Bring layers as the tunnels remain 12 degrees Celcius, even when it's 42 Celcius outside (trust me, I experienced this firsthand).
For the fashionistas, don't miss the Belgrade Design District, home to some 30 boutiques.
Sample the national spirit, rakia at the Rakia Bar.
Take a sunset cruise along the Danube and the Sava rivers. Boats depart from the Beton Hall area along the Sava.