The largest city in Serbia, Belgrade, is the beating heart of the Balkans. With over 1.200.000 inhabitants, you'll find lots to do in terms of culture, sights, gastronomy, museums and just plain fun and going out! It's one of the main financial center of Southeastern Europe and a quickly developing economic hub. With 17 million square metres of offices and over 50.000 shops, things are happening in Belgrade! There's a wide array of events and fairs taking place in the city, making it a destination with lots to do year-round. Check out the Wikipedia 'Culture' paragraph to see that just whatever comes up in your imagination takes place in Belgrade. In terms of history, the prehistoric Vinča culture developed between 5700–4500 B.C. They developed architectural techniques and developed into one of Europe's largest settlements in this era. Fast forward a few thousand years and Belgrade switches hands between the Romans, Byzantines, the Franks, Bulgarians, Hungarians. Then it fell under the Ottoman Empire, the Habsburg Empire, leading up to becoming the capital of Yugoslavia and eventually Serbia. A history you could study for ages. Nowadays, it's Serbia's metropolis with 24% of the country's population in the direct area of Belgrade.
I was in Belgrade twice, in 2012 and 2015. It is, in my opintion, one of Eastern Europe's coolest cities. It's on the place where two rivers meet, the Danube and Sava. The proud fortress Kalemegdan is right where the rivers split off. Belgrade has a large center, of which the main one, Knez Mihailova Street, is pedestrianized. Belgrade feels like a very big city - the buildings are impressive and especially in the center well-maintained. The views over the Dabube are impressive. The people are very friendly and dress well. It feels very European, yet it's also where east and west meet. It is absolutely a Balkan city. Just go out on a 'splav', a boat on the river where many good parties are thrown. Belgrade has become famous for its nightlife, I've heard many say it's the best in Europe. Even though I haven't visited any clubs myself, I know there are many and new ones open all the time.
Belgrade has developed fast, it's now popular as an easily accessible destination for a city break. It has its completely unique character and can't be compared to another city. There are people that compare it to Berlin, many cities are compared to Berlin. I think that's nonsense, Belgrade is just itself and has plenty of unique features you don't find in Berlin. And the other way around - each city is in my view worth assessing on its own. I do agree that Belgrade has the cosmopolitan feeling and a sense of optimism and friendliness that you could relate to a city like Berlin but many years ago. There's a certain feeling in the air, that Belgrade is really moving forward. The Serbs want the best for their city and improvements are seen on a daily basis. In infrastructure, tourist facilities, activities and places such as restaurants and bars. In Belgrade, you will not be bored for a second. And so wasn't I. Both times, I visited in winter so never really got the summer feeling when the city should be at its most beautiful and lively. Yet in winter, I loved to walk around and sit inside aft some cozy place having a coffee.
When to visit
The city can be visited in any season, it does get cold in winter but it has a charm. On the other hand, summer can be hot and even unpleasantly so. Autumn or spring might be ideal but I recommend to come to Belgrade any opportunity you get. You do need to make some effort to appreciate Belgrade, perhaps it's not love at first sight, especially outside the summer season. It's worth it just to stroll around and pick up the energy the city has. To enjoy the fantastic Serbian quisine and the cool bars that pop up all the time. It's a city where it's best to know someone to show you around. In Belgrade, not everything is laid out for you. That's the challenge and it also means you get your own, unique impression of this city. Travel to Belgrade ten times and none out of the trips will be similar. Do meet the people - the Serbs are so welcoming!
Admitted, the pictures on this page are not the best. In 2012, I had an old camera and it was winter. In 2015, I visited in the late afternoon and night. I do, however, want to share what I have. I will visit again and update this page - in the hope I get to inspire people to visit Belgrade in the meantime!
You may easily combine your visit to Belgrade with, well, every Balkan country. It makes sense to visit Serbia itself, it has enough to offer, such as the second and third cities Novi Sad and Niš. In the north, where you find Novi Sad and Sremski Karlovci, you could head to Subotica and Lake Palić. Or, cross into Hungary to visit the pretty city of Szeged. Why not Arad, Oradea or Timișoara in Romania? If you want to stay near Belgrade, don't miss the fortress of Smederovo or the city of Sremska Mitrovica. Montenegro is easily accessible by night train, you can get to Podgorica, the capital, and Bar on the coast. Macedonia is accessible by train and so is Hungary, yet buses are most often the fastest option in the Balkans. I found the sleeper train to Bar, Montenegro, to be fantastic though. On mountainous stretches especially, it's better to travel longer and more comfortable than being packed up in a bus. Safe travels!
BELGRADE (2015) - BY NIGHT
Below, you may see photos of the St. Sava Cathedral. It's one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world. At the time I visited, the interior was undergoing renovation.
Both in 2012 and 2015, I slept at Hotel Slavija on Slavija Square. The largest hotel in Belgrade. As the name says, this is an old-style hotel yet it's my preferred place. I like the style and feeling of going just a bit back in time - besides the rooms are fine for me as a single traveler and the rates are pretty good. Best is its location, the train station and center are at an equal walking distance. Also, you're pretty close to St. Sava Cathedral, which is just walking out the street. The views from the rooms are definitely a plus! However, do not expect luxury, in fact, be prepared to sacrifice some comfort. Read reviews and find what's best for you, the city is packed with hotels.