Belgrade is a very unique city which is perfect for budget travellers, for night owls (everything is open late every day here) and the locals are so endearing that you could be forgiven for thinking you are in utopia for a moment. This is a city where there is something for everyone whether you are interested in sightseeing and visiting historical sites, tasting the delicious food, just chilling (my personal favourite), shopping or discovering the party scene or all of the above!
I started my slow travels in Belgrade
If you have been keeping up with me on social media or my previous blogs you will know that I spent a lot of time unwell on this trip. In Belgrade, my immune system started to show signs that it was struggling and I ended up visiting a doctor again. I decided it was time to put my health first and that it was time to start travelling slower (as I have been intending to do for a long time) and I ended up spending 3 weeks in the city. I write this on my last day in Belgrade, it is starting to feel kind of like home and I am quite sad to be leaving.
The People of Belgrade
Something that really makes Belgrade special is the people who live here. After coming from a cold German city where I felt really unwelcome, Belgrade was a breath of fresh air! I immediately felt warmly welcomed and was surprised by the friendliness of every person I came across. I had met Serbians while in Lisbon, that is why I came in the first place, after meeting a local bar owner on the streets and meeting his lovely friends. After that encounter, I got the impression that Serbians were friendly people but it is totally different when you are actually here, the vibe is really something else and the strong sense of community is so obvious (which is crazy for a city!!!). For example, when I was looking for a medical clinic I accidentally went to a public clinic where I couldn’t be seen – a random lady noticed I was struggling (I was nearly crying) and walked me to a private clinic and spoke to the receptionist for me. This ladies unexpected kindness really touched my heart. I often had conversations with strangers and I never felt alone in this city.
People in Belgrade actually remind of Australians in the sense that we are both laid back, relaxed types of people, we don’t take things too seriously, we both laugh and smile a lot. Australians will especially receive a warm reception in Belgrade due to our relationship with Serbia (large populations of Serbians sought refuge in Australia during times of conflict throughout the 20th century) and people are generally just very curious about Australia. Belgrade is the type of place though, no matter where you are from people will help you if you need it and you will be welcomed! I felt very safe in Belgrade and confidently walked alone at all different times of the day.
Communicating with Locals in Belgrade
For most Native English speakers, Serbian won’t make much sense and attempting to read Cyrillic probably won’t end well. No need to fear though, I only ever came across one situation where someone didn’t understand me at all and I’ve been here for 3 weeks. You might need to speak slowly occasionally (especially if you are not American or Canadian – people are more familiar with these accents) but daily interactions in shops, restaurants and cafe’s, for example, will normally be without any problems! In fact, I found that a lot of people in Belgrade speak English at quite a high level especially the younger people. A lot of signs relevant to tourists are also in English. As mentioned above, the people of Belgrade are extremely friendly, so if you find yourself lost or in need of some assistance because of the language barrier don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Belgrade is a budget-friendly place
While staying with my friend I spent hardly any money as I was only buying food and occasionally alcohol – if you have free accommodation you could quite easily live on between $6AUD-$20AUD in a day. When I stayed in Airbnb apartments I spent between $35-60AUD daily on living expenses. The more expensive days happened when I went to very nice vegetarian restaurants – so if you are on an extreme budget you can spend on the lower end of the scale by just avoiding fancier restaurants. Airbnb is your best bet for private accommodation at the lowest price. Also, if you opt to stay in a hostel you will also spend a lot less than what I did (I am estimating between $20-30AUD per day for all expenses).
Transport/ Getting Around By Foot/ Choosing Accommodation in Belgrade
– Public transport was a confusing beast to me that I never worked out, unlike other cities you can’t simply use Google Maps or Rome2Rio to work out routes. The two options are buses and trams. You can buy a loadable card from a Kiosk to use public transport which is relatively inexpensive at 89RSD ($1.20AUD) for 90 minutes of public transport use. Signs for stops are sometimes only in Cyrillic and this can be quite confusing.
-To combat all the confusion I would suggest making sure your accommodation is very central (as close to Republic Square as possible) this will make your life a lot easier as you can get by on foot easily most of the time. Then when you need to take the bus it is best that you speak to your accommodation provider for specific advice.
-Taxis are also fairly cheap here if you need to take one, it cost me $5.71AUD for a 15-minute ride. If you need a taxi you can go to a taxi rank but I normally had someone call one for me on my behalf.
Free WiFi & Data
I made a somewhat beautiful mistake of prematurely cancelling my Australian phone number when I still needed it but in the end, found out I didn’t need it anyway.
If you don’t have data on your phone
I would suggest ensuring you stay in accommodation with Wi-Fi included and download a map through Google maps of Belgrade, save your accommodation and add any other places you would like to visit to your map (or get a physical map and mark these points). This is all you really need to do as there is free Wi-Fi everywhere – on the public bus, at bus stops, in restaurants, cafes and there are even public hotspots in parks and other public areas.
If you still want your own data
You can pick up a tourist sim card from a VIP mobile centre – they last for varying amounts of times and have quite a lot of data for very cheap. I picked up an ordinary prepaid sim for my trip to the Serbian countryside (my hostel has no Wi-Fi) – it was $3.80AUD for 4GB of data for a week. You can top up your data at a Kiosk or VIP mobile centre.
Sightseeing in Belgrade
There are a lot of great places to visit in and around Belgrade and a lot of these places are either free or very cheap to visit. I spent most of my time in Old Belgrade (the city centre), where most of the attractions are. I will share some of my favourite places I visited.
Republic Square is a very popular meeting point and is a very picturesque part of the city. I thoroughly enjoyed telling my friend that we could meet at the “horsey” or the statue of Prince Mihailo which was erected in 1882. The National Museum (which has been closed for 15 years and is set to reopen on June 28th, 2018) and the National Theatre are some very aesthetically pleasing buildings that can be viewed from the square.
Kalemegdan Park & Belgrade Fortress
Kalemegdan Park is the largest park in Belgrade – the historically significant park is well-known for the Pobednik Monument (a male figure on a pedestal to commemorate Serbia’s past victories against the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empire) and Belgrade Fortress. Belgrade Fortress’ beginnings date back to 279AD – the Fortress has been destroyed and rebuilt multiple times since then. This was my favourite place to visit in Belgrade.
Belgrade Fortress is easily one of the most breathtaking Fortresses I have come across! I visited Kalemedgan Park multiple times during my stay in Belgrade and I would happily visit again in the future. It is a really peaceful place where you are free to wander around at no cost at any time. It is a beautiful park with lots of interesting features and it is a great vantage point to get incredible views of Belgrade.
Knez Mihailova Street
Knez Mihailova (Prince Michael Street) is the main pedestrian and shopping area in Belgrade. The street is of historical importance as it is home to multiple buildings that were built in the late 1870’s.
In the present day, the street is a great place to go for coffee or for a meal and of course, to go shopping at. This is also a fabulous place for people and puppy watching – grab a drink or something to eat, take a seat and enjoy the view.
The Church of St. Sava
The Church of Saint Sava is the largest Serbian Orthodox church and one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world. It was built upon the Vračar plateau which is believed to be the location that St. Sava’s remains were burnt by the Ottomans in 1595.
The church is a great place to stroll around at any time of the day and is also great for puppy or people watching. I especially like how the church looks at night. The inside of the church is also intricately decorated – I didn’t go inside as I only visited at night (twice) but it is definitely worth wandering inside if you can.
Skardarlija is the picturesque bohemian district of Belgrade which dates back to 1830. This is a place where you can get a taste of traditional Serbian music and food. I visited with my friend and we had some beverages and I ate some yummy breadcrumbed cheese.
The waterfronts of both sides of Branko Bridge
Both sides of the Branko Bridge are interesting places to walk along, they both have a number of restaurants and cafes.
The side of New Belgrade also has floating bars and clubs called ‘Splavs’ which are only open in Spring and Summer – this is a place you cannot miss visiting if you are interested in the Belgrade party scene.
Learning about Belgrade’s past
After coming across The House of the National Assembly of Serbia building and observing the banner closer while editing I couldn’t help but feel very curious about the history of Belgrade, especially the history of recent times. I spent many hours digging for information online and I watched a number of documentaries – I was so disturbed by what I learnt that I couldn’t sleep that night. I asked my friend a million questions but there is a lot that isn’t totally understood about what happened and it is difficult to get answers.
Only 19 years ago in Belgrade, many innocent civilians were killed (including many children), some were seriously disfigured or left with psychological scars as a result of the NATO attacks. Please don’t let this deter you from visiting Belgrade – if anything I find it very inspiring and quite mindblowing the way that the people are in spite of the atrocities that happened here.
Visiting Belgrade reinforced for me that you don’t truly know until you go – to any country or city. There is so much misinformation, lies and just plain prejudice when it comes to visiting a lot of parts of the world. You can do extensive research, get other peoples opinions BUT you do not know until you are there yourself what it is REALLY like.
Buildings that wear scars and memorial monuments
If you are interested in seeing some sights or monuments relating to the NATO bombings I can suggest a number of places to visit. Of course, visit with respect and think very carefully if you choose to take photos because as mentioned this only happened recently. In one of the documentaries I watched, a local lady who lost important people in her life during the bombings said she gets very upset when she sees people photographing a particular site. I opted to take no photos of these sites, my friend took one using my camera which I have shared below.
- Former Yugoslav Ministry of Defence – a site which remains destroyed in memorial
- Memorial NATO-Bombing of Radio Television of Serbia Headquarters – another site which also remains destroyed as a memorial
- ‘We were just children’ monument – a monument dedicated to the children that were killed during the 1999 NATO bombings.
The Historical Museum of Serbia is a small museum dedicated to displaying artefacts and information about prominent people and periods of time in Serbian history. The collection is very small with changing exhibitions. When I visited there were exhibitions dedicated to the Serbian war hero Karadjordje, scientist Stanojevic and art created during the NATO bombings with a few artefacts from that time (the last two exhibits had introductions in English but no placards but were nevertheless interesting). It costs only 200RSD (around $2.69AUD) to visit so, in my opinion, it is still worth visiting regardless of the small size.
Food recommendations for vegetarians (and health conscious people)
If you are on a budget and wish to maintain a somewhat healthy vegetarian diet whilst in Belgrade I would suggest ensuring that your accommodation has cooking facilities. If you want to purchase any special ingredients there is a well-stocked DM in Belgrade, the larger supermarkets (like Maxi) sell tofu and a few speciality vegetarian and vegan foods and there are also smaller health food stores which you can find on Happy Cow.
There a few vegetarian restaurants in Belgrade that serve tasty and healthy food options, a few of which I have shared below, however, if you on a tight budget it is best you prepare your own food most of the time.
You can also go to ‘normal’ restaurants but you will have very limited options as traditional food is very meat-heavy and you will likely be stuck with having mostly pizza and pasta for your options – and don’t get me wrong I love both but you can’t live on only that forever (sadly).
I recommend visiting a Serbian bakery and trying some savoury and sweet baked goods, there are a lot of tasty things to try! If you like cheese also make sure you try some Serbian cheese, especially the young cheese which is a fresh soft white cheese.
If you are looking for a fresh juice and perhaps a salad or wrap to accompany it, look no further than Lime & Carrot (Dečanska 17, Belgrade 11000). The friendly owner will prepare you a juice according to your tastes/needs. A salad and a juice will cost you less than $6.50AUD so this is a budget-friendly place to visit and with wonderful, nutritious ingredients it is excellent value for money – I highly recommend stopping by!
-I visited Radost Fina Kuhinjica and Glow restaurants in Belgrade. They both serve healthy and delicious vegetarian and vegan meals and I recommend visiting both. They are both on the somewhat pricier side for dining in Belgrade but are still reasonably priced. Check out Happy Cow if you are looking for more dining out options.
The one thing I didn’t like about Belgrade
Belgrade is almost perfect for me – the only one thing that detracted from my experience is that legal to smoke indoors and it common to smoke inside houses, cafes, clubs and restaurants. This is the norm across Serbia. I am somewhat a sensitive Susan, I have vomited from being inside a smoke-filled club once in Vienna and I nearly had a repeat of this while visiting a club in Belgrade. It is difficult to avoid inhaling cigarette smoke in Belgrade – there are however some restaurants and cafes where smoking is not allowed. One of the restaurants is the vegetarian restaurant I mentioned above, Glow is strictly non-smoking. There is also a cat cafe/bookstore called Apropo where smoking is not allowed. A quick Google search will bring up more results if you are after more suggestions.
Getting out of the Schengen Zone – Including Serbia in your Eurotrip
As an Australian without a second passport, I can only stay in the Schengen Zone for a maximum of 90 days and after then I need to get a longer-term visa from a specific country or leave. A lot of Australian’s and others who get Schengen Visas opt to head to places like the UK or Turkey. But you don’t need to go somewhere as expensive as the UK or somewhere as far as Turkey to get out the Schengen Zone. Serbia is not a Schengen country and I highly recommend visiting as a part of your Eurotrip especially if you have a Schengen Visa. As an Australian, I can spend up to 90 days in Serbia, there is no need to apply for a visa and there is no fee. It is like that for visitors from a number of countries, to find out what the requirements are depending on your country of origin, click here.
-Hair Salon: If you are a blonde looking for a touch up (or a lady with any other hair colour looking for a great colourist) visit Hair Force by Boban. They do a great job at hair colouring and the prices are more than reasonable. The above picture is an ‘after’ shot.
I would like to thank my friend Slobodan (Instagram@slobica) for letting me stay with him, for kindly showing me Belgrade, putting up with all my annoying questions AND for taking so many amazing pictures of me.
I hope you found this blog post interesting and helpful. I look forward to sharing my next Serbian adventure with you :).