ON THE CROSSROADS
Belgrade is located on the banks of Danube and Sava rivers and is geographically on the crossroad between East and West. You maybe surprised to find out that Beograd literally means White City, as it is no longer that white. But it was built with white stone and the first mention of the name "White City" dates back to 9th century AD. After the war and bombing of the 90ties, Belgrade is finally back on its feet. The number of visitors continues to increase each year, and the city is finally back on tourists' must-visit lists.
Belgrade is a fairly small city, and most of the attractions are within walking distance from each other. Visitors can use public transportation or move around with many taxi companies that operate in the city. It is easy to hail a cab on the street and most taxi drivers will understand where you want to go (but it is always best to write down the address just in case).
Airport transportation is mostly done by taxi and it can be arranged at the baggage claim area. There are at least 2 stands and an info desk where you can arrange transport and be directed to the taxi station. Ignore the hustlers who approach you as soon as you leave the baggage claim area, this is a very common tourist trap and the drivers are illegal and will overcharge you. The cab ride from the airport to any hotel/hostel downtown should not exceed 1800-2000 dinars ($18-20), and by law taxis are required to use taximeters for fares. If you need recommendation for honest taxi drivers, email us.
In recent years, Belgrade opened many new boutique hotels in downtown area. There are some brand hotels like Marriott, Crown Plaza, and more are coming in near future (Sheraton).
River Sava divides Belgrade into the Old Belgrade and the new Belgrade. The old part of town has more to offer sightseeing wise, while the new part hosts more shopping malls, businesses and river-based restaurants and bars.
The downtown area has things you must see, from the Tasmajdan Park and St Mark’s Church, country's Parliament and the main Post Office building (both built between two World Wars), to Terazije and the Square of the Republic from which you can either walk towards the fortress through Price Michael’s Street (Knez Mihajlova) or toward the Bohemian part of town called Skadarlija. Knez Mihajlova (Prince Michael’s) Street is a long pedestrian street with many boutiques, restaurants and cafes. The street is always packed regardless of the time of year or time of day. All these interesting attractions are very close to each other, and are within a walking distance.
If you ask local Belgrade residents which spot is the heart of the city, they will all say it is the statue of the horseman on the Square of the Republic, popularly only called "the Horse". The monument is actually to honor Prince Michael who in the 19th century succeeded in getting back several cities throughout Serbia from the Ottoman Empire. The cities are written around the base of the monument, in Cyrillic letters though. If you stay long enough in Belgrade or have local friends, you will soon learn all about the 500 years of Ottoman occupation.
Skadarlija or Skadarska Street is another must visit. It dates back to the 17th century and is the Bohemian part of town. This stone covered street used to be the place where city's poets and intellectuals met for drinks and food, and so many famous poems were written here in some local bar. There are still many good restaurants with live music playing daily and this is a great place to start tasting Serbian food. The Serbian cuisine is a mixture of Turkish, Greek, and Austro-Hungarian cuisines, which is logical as (cultural) influences of these countries and empires defined Serbian history. Lunches and dinners usually take time and are mostly designed for customers to enjoy the food and the company at their own pace. You will have to ask for a check when ready to leave, no one will just give you one in hopes you leave soon.
The cuisine is predominately based on grilled meat, with some vegetables and fresh seasonal salads. The traditional local drink “rakia” (rakija=brandy) is going through a revival phase and there are few bars in town that only focus on serving a wide variety of this drink. It is served mainly as aperitif and is made of different types of fruits- plum is the traditional one, but apricot, pear, grapes, and quince are equally as popular. The alcohol content is around 40% and it's served in small elongated glasses that look like a mini vase called "cokanjcic" (cho-kahn-chich).
Kalemegdan Park or Belgrade’s fortress is located at the end of Knez Mihajlova Street (Prince Michael’s Street), and it's overlooking the confluence of Sava and Danube rivers. The current fortress dates back to the 13th century but the location itself was inhabited long before, even during the Roman Empire. The entrance is free, with only few paid attractions such as the Military museum.
In recent years, Belgrade offers free walking tours of the city, and we highly recommend taking them as it gives you enough information to learn about the city without being overwhelmed. We took http://www.belgradewalkingtours.com and they meet every day, come rain or shine at 11am and 4pm at the Republic Square. The tours are mainly free which means they earn their living through tips, so be generous. Also, there is an open bus tour operating during the summers season. If you have time visit the National Gallery, Modern Art Museum, Ethnography Museum, Museum of Paja Jovanovic, and the Historical Museum of Serbia.
Lastly, we must mention Belgrade's unique Night Life, as it most famous attraction that annually brings thousands of young visitors. Considered the best in Europe by many renowned writers and bloggers, Belgrade's nightlife scene is absolute fun. While the clubs are all over town, the ones most fun are on Save or Danube rivers. The nightclubs are stationary floating vessels that are open every night and close at dawn the following day. The cooler temperatures by the river make this a perfect spot for those hot summer nights. Dress to impress as many clubs are trying to keep Soho-type standards. Serbs love listening to live music, so many clubs and restaurants feature great bands that play international hits or local music, pop and folk. Whatever your taste is, you will find something you like here.
This is not to say that Belgrade is not a cultural city. On the contrary- the city has its opera, ballet and several theatres that perform daily from October to June. The Philharmonic Orchestra plays every Friday at the “Kolarac” (Ilija M. Kolarac Endowment Building) and if you are planning a long stay, season tickets are available. Live transmission of New York's Metropolitan Operas (Met Live HD) is available at the Cineplexx theatre in Shopping Center Usce, and you even get a free glass of Champagne during the intermission. I'll toast to that - and to Belgrade!
Serbian cuisine, history, nigh life, hospitality and overall zest for life of its inhabitants make Belgrade a definitive must-visit-bucket-list kind of place. The city that never sleeps will offer you some unforgettable experiences for sure.