Belgrade: Europe's Best-Kept Secret
 

Belgrade: Europe's Best-Kept Secret

Author: Veronika Tomanova
Aug 29. 2016.
Culture & Art,   Places
Beograd, Serbia
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Beautiful wide boulevards, numerous excellent cafes, and locals who simply know how to enjoy life. This is what awaits you in Belgrade.

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Belgrade, capital of Serbia, is one of Europe’s best-kept secrets. It wasn’t until recently that Belgrade made its name as a tourist destination. With its rich history dating back to Celtic times, the city offers outstanding historic sights.

The Serbian capital lies on the confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers. The strategic position had made Belgrade into a battlefield time and time again. Not even the 20th Century was peaceful: Belgrade suffered serious damage during World War II and 1999 NATO bombing. Luckily, peace has prevailed in Belgrade since then.

This year, I got the chance to visit Belgrade for the third time. I love returning to this city. The city center is really pretty and has a special atmosphere, and time somehow goes slower in Belgrade. Serbian people seem to have mastered the art of living in a more relaxed, stress-free manner.

 

GETTING TO BELGRADE
The most convenient way to reach Belgrade is by air. Nikola Tesla Airport is located 18 kilometers from the city center and the national carrier Air Serbia flies to 49 destinations. If you are already in the region, consider reaching Belgrade by car or railway. Train connections are available from other European destinations such as Budapest, Vienna, Ljubljana and Prague.

BELGRADE SIGHTS
The best way to explore the city is on foot. The city center is quite compact so there is no need to use public transportation. Everything between Kalemegdan, Knez Mihailova Street and Skadarlija corner is within walking distance. The following are attractions worth visiting when in Belgrade:

1. Church of Saint Sava
This white marble building overlooking the city from the quarter of Vračar is the biggest Orthodox church in the Balkans, and among the biggest on earth. As many as 10,700 people can fit inside this monumental building. The walls inside the St. Sava church are unattractively covered by scaffolding; the church had been patiently awaiting its completion since 1936, when construction officially began. Work on the interior is still in progress, but the northern section is still open to both worshippers and visitors alike.
TIP: Take a good look up at the church’s dome. It is quite special as it was built separately (weighing an impressive 4000 tons), and lifting it up to the roof took a full 20 days. Quite amazing, huh?

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2. Kalemegdan Fortress 
The historical complex of Kalemegdan is the oldest monument in Belgrade. This is the place where Celtic tribes first settled in the 4th Century BC. Due to its strategic location, the fortress was always a target of various invaders who wanted to rule the region. Despite this traumatic past, the building is now a popular leisure destination for people from Belgrade. The surrounding 30-hectare park is stunning, and offers a fine vantage point for stunning sunsets.
TIP: Make sure to observe the confluence of the Danube and Sava Rivers and the statue of Pobednik (Winner), one of the symbols of Belgrade. Next to the fortress, an outdoor collection of historical canons lines the outer wall of the Military Museum.

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3. Republic Square (Trg Republike)
When Belgrade people make plans to meet, their choice location is usually the Republic Square, which is dominated by an equastrian statue of Mihailo Obrenović, the Serbian Prince that freed Serbia from the Ottoman Empire. The square is surrounded by beautiful historical buildings such as the National Theatre and the National Museum. It is a landmark used to orient yourself when navigating the city. You can easily reach Terezije and Knez Mihailova Street from here.
TIP: If you want to relax, I recommend you stop by Student Park (Studentski Park), about a 5-minute walk from the square. There are plenty of benches to sit on and for some reason, I really love this place.

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4. Knez Mihailova Street
The kilometer-long boulevard is surely one of the most beautiful pedestrian zones in southeastern Europe. There are plenty of shops as well as the most expensive flats in the city. Who wouldn’t like to have an address on Belgrade' prettiest street? It is a nice walk down Knez Mihailova. The restaurants and cafes with huge umbrellas are inviting. No matter what time of day, there are always plenty of people passing by. This is also where many street artists perform... you might even walk into a random guy with a cobra wrapped around his neck!
TIP: Stroll the Knez Mihailova in the evening when the atmosphere is more romantic.

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5. Skadarlija
This cobblestone street is legendary. Writers and poets once flocked here, hence the reputation as the bohemian center of the city. With all the rapid post-war rebuilding that has taken place in Belgrade, it is hard to find as picturesque a street as Skadarlija is. Thanks to its atmosphere, Skadarlija is usually compared to Montmartre in Paris. It’s an amazing place to spend an evening, as you can find some of the best local restaurants here. Also, local live bands often perform traditional music here.

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BELGRADE RESTAURANTS
I am sure you will get hungry while wandering around the city. The good news is that finding great food in Belgrade is not hard at all. You don’t need much money to eat well here either, it is much cheaper than most European cities.

Restaurant Manufaktura will catch your attention immediately thanks to the large red umbrellas outside. You will really eat well here. The service is great and every dish comes with an amazing salad. In the evenings, especially on the weekends, there is a live band playing

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The next Belgrade restaurant that you should try is Vuk, near Knez Mihailova Street. They serve authentic Serbian cuisine, including amazing desserts.
A bunch of nice restaurants can also be found in Skadarlija. Nearly every choice is a good one around there. I recommend Mali Vrabac, great service and they serve big portions.

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Serbian national cuisine bears characteristics from various countries of the former Yugoslavia. The national dishes you should definitely try in Serbia include ćevapi (grilled minced meat) and pljeskavica (dish similar to burger). As for drinks, have a shot of plum brandy (šljivovica) or rakija, a kind of fruit brandy.

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BELGRADE HOTELS
Belgrade offers a wide variety of accommodation options. The closer to the city center you can find, the better. I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express. These are other great places to stay:

  • Mosaic Hostel Belgrade: Nice option for backpackers. It is a modern hostel located just 20 meters from the main pedestrian street.
  • Holiday Inn Express: This 3-star hotel was my second home for a couple of days:) Stylish and spacious rooms. 30-minute walk from city center. Perfect WiFi.
  • Hotel Crystal Belgrade: Elegant 4-star hotel. From their rooftop terrace, you can see the whole Vračar district, including the St. Sava church.

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