Belgrade, the best destination you haven’t discovered yet
If you consider yourself a traveler, you’ve heard of it. It’s the cool city famous for its night life, great food and pretty girls. But it’s probably not made it on your top 10 places to visit quite yet. Well, that’s about to change. Here are some facts that will make you wonder what you’ve been thinking all this time.
- If you’re into barbeque, get ready to have your mind blown
The most important thing to know about Serbian people is that we are absolutely crazy about meat. We know how to make a mean barbeque, ok?! If you’re walking around city center and would like to feel what life was like in the old days, you should definitely take a detour from the main tourist street of Knez Mihailova and explore the smaller streets and alleys leading all the way down to the river. Kosančićev venac is famous for the oldest tavern in Belgrade, a former princess residence, and the prettiest church that makes the city’s skyline so unique.
It’s a steep walk so you might get hungry. Remeber what I said about our meat? Go to Cica’s and see what I mean. Ćevapi is the keyword. And just a few streets away you’ll fing great alternatives, like this place and this one (which also offers local craft beer that will make you change your return ticket to a week later).
What I’ve always loved about Belgrade is how easy it is to explore it. Everything is walking distance and connected, so once I’m out the door it doesn’t matter whether I go left or right, there’s always something to discover just around the corner. I really don’t have to know where I’m going, just start walking and let the city take me where it may.
Since summers in Belgrade can be very hot, whenever I start to feel like I’m in a barbeque myself, nothing brings me back to life like a limunana (fresh mint lemonade, think virgin mojito) at Smokvica. The atmosphere of the place will make you feel like you’re at the seaside, which is probably why it’s always full and everyone has a smile on their face. The backyard-turned-cafe concept is very popular around town so you’ll find similar and equally satisfying options here and here. For a more alcoholic refreshment try one of the Black Turtle pubs and their signature blueberry beer. Germany has Radler, we have blueberry. And I just love how it makes my tongue turn purple!
2. Get ready for some serious sleep deprivation
The party scene of Belgrade. Where do I begin…it’s on boats, tops of abandoned buildings, hangars, apartments and sides of bridges. It’s cheap, it’s non-stop and it’s versatile. There are so many options you might spend hours strategising on the best way to not miss out on anything. Mission impossible, but kudos for trying!
I like changing venues without wasting time and money getting from one place to the next, so I either go for the row of house boat clubs lined along the river banks (this is also a great option if you like versatility, as each club has it’s own vibe depending on the music and the people) or I stay on dry land and go to Savamala. Either way I get a lot of options within walking distance, it’s never disappointing and there’s something about watching the sun come up over the river that just makes me forget myself.
If you’re more into old town and old times though, head over to Cetinjska or Skadarlija and get a taste of the ethnic old school spirit filled with great food, local drinks and the friendliest people you can find. Stroll down the cobbled street and pick a restaurant, like this one. I practically grew up around the corner but going to Skadarlija always feels like it’s my first time. There’s something magical about it that words just can’t describe. You’ll know when you get there. And you’ll be glad you did.
3. If you’re not into history, prepare to be turned
Kalemegdan, the spectacular fortress surrounded by an enormous park and zoo, together with a breathtaking view of the the two rivers merging, is the place to be on a sunny afternoon. Getting lost in its massive stone walls and wooden gates brings me back to childhood and the stories of knights and queens my grandfather would tell me…every single time! I always try not to make that sunny afternoon a weekend one as it does get crowded, though watching the ritual Sunday chess match with a bunch of old shirtless men always makes my day.
Another thing rarely found elsewhere is the grocery shopping experience found at the local markets. If I manage to drag myself out of bed before noon on a Saturday Kalenić is the place to be. Where else am I on a first name basis with my cheese and eggs guy, and the butcher knows my entire family? Nothing beats dropping my mom’s name for that premium steak or the duck eggs hidden in the back. The personal touch found at Serbian markets takes local shopping to a whole new level. Especially when I walk away with a free bottle of rakija just because I have my father’s eyes!
4. Speaking of rakija…
No local experience goes without it. I dragged that stuff to Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Germany, and watched it separate the weak from the strong and boys from men. It’s our national pride drink and if you’re not into getting down and dirty with the locals you are seriously missing out.
You’ll find it on the menu of virtually all bars and restaurants, but the best ones come from backyards and proudly bear the stamp of “kućna radinost” (yes, “home made” sounds way cooler in Serbian). Šljivovica is the most popular, but I always prefered Dunja (made from the not so usual quince fruit). If you find it too strong go for Medovača, the honey mix (but keep in mind that’s considered a “girly drink”, not the best option if you wanna show off your drinking stamina). As for the day after…
5. Pekara is a magical place that turns your hangover into absolute bliss
Another thing we’re really good at — baking. Sweet, salty, filled, plain, you name it, it’s good. A great option for breakfast on the go or a mid day snack. Just make sure you’re pairing burek with yoghurt and always ask what’s freshly baked. Toma has something for everyone and Hleb&Kifle has some interesting alternatives to the usual selection, like GF and chrono alternatives. This place is really great and the constant line stretching out into the street proves it. If you have 10 minutes to spare it’s more than worth the wait.
And last, but definitely not least, try going to Zemun for a different kind of “old”. It adds serenity to the busy city, with a beautiful view of the river and unrivaled fish restaurants. I always feel guilty for not going there more often, it definitely deserves the attention.
So, why are you not there yet?