Serbia was one of the most unique places that I visited for a number of reasons. But the two reasons that made it the most special, for me, was one; the fact that I actually knew Serbians and they showed me around their city; and two, that Serbia, even the capital city Belgrade, was not crawling with tourists. If you have ever been to a major European city during the summer, you know what I’m talking about.
The streets are packed, stores are crowded, famous sites are over run, after two weeks of dealing with the crowds in Vienna, Prague, and Amsterdam it was nice driving around Serbia and enjoying some peace and quiet. And, hanging out in the country’s capital was pretty cool as well.
I have a feeling Belgrade is going to see a sharp increase in tourism. Several popular bloggers are making their way to Serbia in the upcoming months, and, eurail just added Belgrade to their Europe passes. (Even though the best and cheapest way to get into and out of Serbia is by bus.) My hope is that the country sees a steep increase in tourism in the next few months and years, because they deserve it, and it is a beautiful, unique city.
I was in Belgrade a total of about a week. Much of the time I spent there amounted to sleeping in late, spending hours in coffee houses sipping on delicious coffee, and being pretty lazy. I was lucky enough to stay at one of my friend’s houses, and get driven around by my friend and shown all the sites. But, I can imagine Belgrade being hard as a tourist.
So before I go into my short but sweet list of what you should do if you find yourself in the capital of Serbia, let me issue a warning. Belgrade is not the easiest city for a tourist, especially if you are traveling alone. I’m not saying it is impossible, or overly difficult by any means, but I think that the majority of the big cities in Europe make it easy on anyone who speaks English to get from one place to another. It is not like that in Belgrade (or in Serbia in general). One day when my friend had to study for a test, I said I wanted to go into the city by myself and walk around. He looked at me like I was crazy. “How are you going to get there?” “The bus,” I responded. “Kelly, even Serbians don’t understand the bus system. You will get lost.” I found his lack of faith in me a little disheartening, but, I followed his advice, and it was probably a good thing.
There are very few signs written in English to direct tourists, and, the majority of people do not speak English (although a good portion of the younger population of Serbia does speak English, and are good people to ask if you get lost).
But, fear not, if you go to Serbia most of the sites are going to be within walking distance. And, the few hostels that are in Serbia are conveniently located and staffed with people who will stock you up on maps and great advice.
One last warning before I get on with my list. Do not eat Kajmak when you visit Serbia. Kajmak is a kind of cheese made in Serbia and if you eat it, you will get sick. I learned this the (very) hard way. There is bacteria in the cheese that is foreign to most visitors, and your stomach will not be happy with you.
Okay, did I scare you enough? I hope not, because Belgrade is an absolutely amazing city, filled with incredible people.
- Visit Kalemegdan
Kalemegdan is a huge fortress in the heart of Belgrade. And it is huge. Admission is free, and you’ll see tourists and locals alike walking on walls, climbing stairs, admiring the views of the river, and relaxing on benches. It is so big that you forget that you’re even in a fortress. And the views of the Danube river are breathtaking.
- Ada Ciganlija
Ada is a huge lake just outside the city. There is a small beach around almost the entire lake that is teeming with locals. Restaurants and bars circle the perimeter, so if it’s a warm day you can go spend a day by the lake, tanning, swimming, eating, and drinking.
- St. Sava Temple
This is the largest Orthodox Church in the world. The inside is only partly finished, but it still a spectacular structure to behold.
- Gardos The Tower of Sibinjanin Janko and the Zemun river
In a terrifying journey, my friend’s dad drove us to Gardos. We were rewarded with a stunning view; you can get a great view of Belgrade from the top. The Zemun river is only a few hundred feet away and definetly worth a visit.
- Walk down Knez Mihailova
This street is filled with shops, restaurants, and coffee houses and serves as the “hub” of Belgrade. If you’re looking for some cool shops, a good cup of coffee, or some fabulous Serbian cuisine, look no further. And, the road dead ends at the fort, so you really have to try to get lost.
- Splavas, or what I call “River Boat Bar Things”
You cannot visit Belgrade without going to one of these. Situated right on the river, these buildings serve coffee and alcohol. Some transform into nightclubs, others have a quieter atmosphere. And you cannot beat the views.
- Visit a regular coffee shop in town
One of my favorite coffee houses I visited was in downtown Belgrade. It was so eclectic and weird and wonderful. Serbians take their coffee very seriously, and its very delicious and cheap. Try going to a variety of shops during different parts of the day, and spend a few hours enjoying your coffee and a good conversation.
- Try Raikia
Similar to moonshine, raikia is deeply ingrained in Serbian culture. When I met my friend’s parents and my hosts for my time in Serbia, I was given some raikia in a shot glass. Now, I know how to take a shot. So, when we all clinked glasses I downed my shot in one fell swoop. Well, I guess this type of raikia was not supposed to be inhaled as quickly as possible and I ended up getting quite tipsy quite fast. And, I managed to make my hosts laugh. Always a good thing.
- Take some time to appreciate what Serbia has gone through.
Serbia has a dark and, quite frankely, depressing history. And the bad part of the history is not so far removed from the city. Signs of war-torn buildings can still be seen, as a lot of political graffeti.
- Walk around the city and meet Serbians!
I always recommend walking around a city until you get lost. I love the corners and hidden alleys that tourists so often overlook. And try and meet some Serbians if you can. They really are the nicest people in the world.