One of the world’s most colorful blends, both somber and lively… The young soul of an ancient continent, Belgrade!
The Balkans, with mountains, lakes, rivers and emerald-green forests rising up with joy before the sorrows of the past, never failing to send out friendly greetings to all who pass by… You’re more than free to speculate about where the heart of a city, country, or region might be found, but if you ask me, the heart is where there’s the most laughter and the most tears. Just like with humans. Which is why I call Belgrade the heart of the Balkans.
The aspect of visa-free travel that I’ve enjoyed the most is the chance it’s given me to get more closely acquainted with the Balkans. That’s why I say, “No matter where your ancestors come from, if you’ve never been to a village, it’s not really yours. So get up and go!” Belgrade is a great place to begin with when it comes to getting to know the Balkans. It’s an immortal city that takes you all the way back to the middle of the Middle Ages, but still manages to capture the spirit of today. Located at the point where the Sava and Danube rivers meet, Belgrade’s dynamic nature creates the impression of a meeting point between past and future.
This aged city’s young population appears to be working hard to prove that they know how to party better than anyone else in the world. It could be that the city’s low prices are a good incentive for the rest of the world to come here and join in the party with the city’s local residents. Stories follow you everywhere – to the parks, the squares, the streets. As the meeting point for everyone – young, old, local and tourist alike – “Kalemegdan” tells the story of the present day. The magnificent Itanbul Gate, which used to point out the road to Istanbul, tells the story of the past. Even more stories are waiting for you at the Cathedral of St Sava, the National Museum of Serbia, St Mark’s Church and the Old and New Palaces.
As the saying goes, “You are what you eat.” This must be true for cultures, too. With practically every step you take in Belgrade you’ll run into a “pekara”, one of the bakeries selling the delicious Balkan pastries known throughout the world. A close look at the word “pekara” and you might figure out that it shares the same root as the word “bakery”. Well, thanks to these pekaras, you can get by on around 1-2 Euros for a meal – although once you’ve had a taste, you might find the phrase “getting by” doesn’t at all do them justice. Imagine before your eyes all the cities you’ve ever visited. Did you notice that every single one of them has one long street that serves as the heart of the city? For Belgrade, that heart is Knez Mihailova Street. This street has so many cafes and restaurants where you can sit and listen to the rhythm of the city that it will be difficult to choose any one in particular. A word of advice: Sit down at the café closest to the street musicians. If listening to the rhythm of the city is what you’re after, there’s no better choice! Order yourself coffee and a “Moskow” cake. This will be one of the most vivid memories you’ll take back home from your trip to Belgrade.
I heard that a Bohemian-type culture has been sprouting up in Belgrade in recent years. The best place to see it is in Skadarlija. With art galleries lining the length of Skadarska Street, restaurants with tables and chairs spilling outside and flowers that appear to be gushing through the walls of buildings to enclose the entire street, Skadarlija is a separate realm within Belgrade. It is a neighborhood of people who live the city thoroughly, who are truly of the city, who love, cherish and protect it. Like we always say, you need to go where the locals go. So whatever you do, don’t miss out on Skadarlija.
If you want to find out who or what brings out the pride in a country or a city, all you need to do is take a look at the names of the streets and the statues in the squares. Nikola Tesla is the pride and joy of Belgrade. To get to know him better, visit the Nikola Tesla Museum, where you can explore his scientific works, take a look at his handwritten letters, see the clothes he wore and even where his ashes are kept. As soon as you leave, you might indulge in a bit of shopping. You can find the world’s cutest ceramics at Gallery 1250 on Cumicevo Street, and taste delicious handmade chocolates at Sirogojno Style.
When it comes to food, pastries are obviously not the only thing Serbian and Turkish cuisines have in common. There’s also meatballs, or rather, “Pljeskavica”, the famous Serbian dish that’s rather like a giant Turkish “köfte”. Loki is the best place in Belgrade for Pljeskavica, which is generally served with mashed potatoes and in portions large enough to satisfy two. If you’re one of those people who’d prefer the warmth of a home over a cool, detached hotel room, I’d recommend checking out ZigZag Belgrade. rent a flat there for as long as you like, and spend your holiday like a Belgrade native.
Zemun has recently evolved into the city center. Do visit Zemun for a long walk along the Danube; just grab a coffee and sit dwn on a bench to listen to the sounds of nature. Zemun is also the place for anyone wanting to experience Belgrade’s famous nightlife fist hand.