Serbia is an interesting intersection of cultures, and its capital Belgrade is a great off-the-beaten-path European city to spend a weekend in. The city is located at the intersection of the Sava and Danube rivers, which divide it into two distinct sides – Old Belgrade and New Belgrade. I recommend staying in the Old City, where the nightlife, pedestrian walking areas, shopping and most of the main city sights are.
Old Belgrade, also known as the ‘white city’ features crumbling communist-era buildings collapsing next to beautiful baroque theatres and palaces. The city has numerous incredible Orthodox churches and museums, as well as vibrant cafe culture and nightlife. Come for the interesting history and culture, stay for the vibrant after-dark party scene.
The Top Things To Do in Belgrade:
Explore Old Belgrade
Republic Square is a beautiful pedestrian promenade in Old Belgrade and makes a great place to start your exploration. Plan to have coffee or lunch in one of the lovely street cafes and check out the various stops as you walk toward the fortress. The surrounding architecture is pretty and it’s a great place to spend time during the day or night.
Old Belgrade Fortress
Belgrade Fortress was declared a Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance in 1979 and is the most visited tourist attraction in Belgrade. The towering fortress sits at the edge of the River Sava and Danube, on the Old Belgrade side of the city.
On a sunny day, the Fortress is a great place to wander, take in the views over the Danube and see the various exhibits throughout the site. There is a military museum in the middle with a variety of tanks and weapons from the war. If you have kids, there is also a dinosaur park to play at the fortress and occasional events. Bring snacks to enjoy a picnic in the lovely green park.
Visit the Orthodox Churches
There are a variety of beautiful Orthodox style churches to visit in Belgrade. The most famous is Saint Sava, which is pictured in many adverts for the city. The Church isn’t historic however, at the time of writing it actually still hasn’t completed construction. The exterior is finished as well as the impressive gold mosaic dome in the centre but the rest of the interior was heavily under scaffolding.
On route when walking from Old Belgrade however, it’s possible to also visit Saint Mark’s Church which has a simple and beautiful interior and quite a lot of gold-leafed mosaic work. Well worth a visit to one of the famous churches to take such prominence in Serbian architecture.
Tour the Nikola Tesla Museum
Learn all about the brilliant Serbia-American inventor, Nikola Tesla, who changed the course of human history with his contributions to modern electrical systems. The tiny museum houses many of his original designs and some working replicas of the various machines he created throughout his career. It’s a fascinating place to spend a few hours while in Belgrade.
There is a working Tesla Coil on display for visitors, which they will turn on and demo, a highlight to the experience. Note that you will only be able to visit the museum as part of a guided tour. When we visited, it was painfully busy and hard to take in the displays, but still worthwhile. Also, keep in mind that the museum doesn’t have a washroom.
Day Trip to Novi Sad & Sremski Karlovci
Novi Sad is a lovely small baroque city, with a pedestrian city centre and a fortress overlooking the Danube. It’s close to Belgrade and well worth a day trip to take a break from the big city, and explore another of Serbia’s major centres.
Although it’s possible to take an organized day tour, it was very easy and significantly cheaper to catch a local bus to Novi Sad and explore independently. At the time of writing, it was less than $10 US dollars, and there were frequent buses including rapid buses which arrive in 50 minutes or slow buses take 90 minutes. Just head to the main bus station in Belgrade and purchase a ticket for the next available departure.
Once you arrive at the Novi Sad’s bus station, you can walk about 45 minutes to the city centre or ask at the info booth which city bus to take, and for about $1 you can reach the city centre in about 10 minutes. Taxi is available too but make sure to ask an approximate cost before going. We got REPEATEDLY scammed by taxi drivers while travelling in Serbia.
Once in the pedestrian centre, spend some time exploring the beautiful squares, churches, and enjoy lunch or coffee in a sidewalk cafe before making your way toward the fortress. It’s a steady but easy walk up and you can take in the views, browse galleries and shops within the fortress. There is also a fantastic and not terribly expensive restaurant to enjoy a meal overlooking the river.
If you have time, I would also add a quick trip to Sremski Karlovci, a small fortified town nearby in the heart of wine country. Many places offer wine tasting so you can try some local Serbian wine. From the footsteps of the fortress, you can catch a local bus to Sremski Karlovci, which is only about 20 minutes away. At the time of writing it was necessary to return to Novi Sad in order to get back to Belgrade, as a portion of the highway was closed, but normally it’s possible to get a bus directly from Sremski Karlovci back to Belgrade. Check at the bus terminal.
Overall Belgrade is a great place to spend a few days. It has a unique vibe and although a little gritty on the surface, it has great character, nightlife and reasonable prices. I would caution however to watch out for scams. We had issues with taxis making up stories about ‘night rates’ or ‘weekend rates’ and trying to charge up to 10x the regular fare. This got quite frustrating and it was hard not for it to leave a bit of a bad taste.
We also got a quote from our hotel for doing a small load of laundry for about 3 euros, only to be charged 70 euros for the same service the following day. These people are always very insistent and can become quite forceful, which might be intimidating for some travellers. Try to get an estimate of taxi cost before getting in the car and get other quotes on paper when possible.
For More Information
Belgrade has an airport, with connections to other European capitals. There are also train, bus and shuttle service from neighbouring countries. Use the following website to plan your journey to Belgrade:
For well located, mid-range hotel accommodation in Belgrade, I recommend the City Nest Hotel. It is a designer hotel, right in the heart of the Old City. Just make sure to NOT use their expensive laundry service.