I start to realize how little I know of the world when I show up in Belgrade and find I know nearly nothing of this “White City” and how impressive it is.
Belgrade very quickly became one of my favorite cities. While it was a little hot for me while I was there, that was about the only disadvantage. Otherwise I was spellbound not only by old structures, but also by the diversity of the architecture. Parts of the city seem to be a fully modern city, but you can also find perfectly preserved Bohemian cobblestone streets, communistic structures and along the waterfront are ancient fortifications.
Lodging in Belgrade
There are nearly 100 hostels in Belgrade all around the city, ranging from as little as €5 a night. I personally stayed at the 1001 Nights Hostel across from Tasmajdan Park. This hostel isn’t big, but the guys who run it make it very fun and it is ideally situated close to the center of the old town. Update: Sadly, the 1001 Nights Hostel no longer exists. If you find another good hostel in Belgrade, please comment below.
Transport within Belgrade
Belgrade is one of the only major European cities without a metro system. I think my tour guide mentioned this was due to underground ruins in the town but I haven’t been able to verify that online. The bus and tram system in the city is more than sufficient. Daily bus tickets are about €2.50. The majority of the city is compact enough that you can walk around it without the need of public transport. Traveling to or from Belgrade can be done by any of the common means, whether train, bus, plane or car. My bus from Serbia was about €25 and I later found that the train might have been significantly cheaper.
Food in Belgrade
The food in Serbia might not be the highest quality but it’s extremely cheap. Each day I would try different restaurants that were recommended to me by the hostel or other friends. One interesting meal was a pizza which I would simply call chicken stroganoff pizza. They have different sauces with varieties of meats and vegetables in a cream base which they spread on the baked dough and serve for €1 a slice. Odd, but satisfying.
There were a bunch of other dishes I tried, but my Serbian just wasn’t good enough to retain them. You can find a full list of them here.
Currency of Serbia
The value of the Serbian Dinar (RSD) is currently about 120 RSD to 1 Euro. Your bill for dinner might be over 1000 (that’s only about €8), except that you’ll have to eat in a fancy tourist restaurant to spend that much. Most local meals will cost around 100-500 RSD. A slice of pizza is 120, pizza with dessert and lemonade is 210, and a cevapi meal with fries and a drink is 410. A new movie is 300 and tickets to the museums are mostly around 100-400.
The current denominations are nowhere close to where they were in 1994. When you visit Belgrade, a stop in the National Bank of Serbia is a must. You will get to see the full history of money in the country, including the peak of inflation in 1994 when the largest bill produced was 500,000,000,000. Yes, that’s 500 BILLION! And it was only worth a little more than €4! No wonder it only lasted a couple weeks. Oh, and you’ll also get a Serbian bill printed with your picture on it.
Attractions in Belgrade
You should start city you visit with a free walking tour. The one in Belgrade happens to be one of my favorites. Milica the guide was amazing, commanding a group of nearly fifty people around the city for over two hours in the heat. The tour covers most of the city, has great history, amazing views from the fortress and Milica’s great sense of humor. She also made the tour very interactive, with gifts to those who answered questions right and personal stories of growing up in Serbia (and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the rest of the names the country went through in her lifetime).
Belgrade Walking Tour on the Belgrade Fortress
At the end of the tour, she passed out a list of things to do in Belgrade, which I’ll include here as it’s such a great summary.
- Go to a kafana
- Drink at least 4 different types of rakija
- Dance like no one is watching in a Belgrade club
- Visit Avala Mountain
- Wander around the streets at night
- Survive the public transport
- Walk along the rivers
- Visit Ada Ciganlija Lake
- Buy Čokančić
- Have a drink in the park with natives
- Kiss someone on Belgrade Fortress
To clarify those, a kafana is a local bistro, rakija is the local distilled beverage made from plum or other fruits and a Čokančić is the beaker-shaped shot glass used for rakija.
Another must for the city of Belgrade is the Tesla Museum. The museum is actually tiny, comprising just a couple of rooms. But there is a nice demonstration of tesla coils and you can get 100,000 volts of electricity in your hand if you’re brave enough. Or you can stand under a tesla coil holding a fluorescent bulb by the middle and watch it glow on its own.
In the summer, I would recommend getting out to the Great War Island. This island is in the Danube north of New Belgrade. In the summer they build a pontoon bridge to the island. There’s nothing particularly special about the island, beyond it being just a really nice place to walk around in the city.
For further reading on attractions across Serbia, read the 15 best places to visit in Serbia.
If you are traveling around Europe, I highly recommend adding Belgrade to your itinerary. It might not be on par with Vienna or Paris as stunning cities, but it has it’s own fantastic qualities and the sunsets over the Danube from the Fortress of Belgrade are stunning. And it’s right in the center of Europe, open to whichever direction you want to head next.