Belgrade is one of those cities where the more you dive in and peel back its layers, the more intriguing it becomes. Sure, the same can be said of most of Europe’s top cities, but Belgrade has a unique undercurrent which bubbles beneath its increasingly more tourist-friendly surface. It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what this undercurrent is, but it’s no doubt due in part to to its history which still isn’t quite yet in the distant past. In a place where the current young generation can still recall political tumult and bombs being dropped, it’s unsurprising that Belgrade has a rapidly growing hip scene which focuses on fun and freedom of expression. Everything you will see in your visit to Belgrade will pull you in two directions – on the one hand demonstrating how this city is moving rapidly towards the future, but on the other, unable to rid itself of its painful pieces of the past. This philosophy is represented perfectly by the untouched bombed facades of government buildings, surrounded by a bustling, growing centre. There’s a lot to see, and a lot to do, so go ahead and start to immerse yourself in this special city starting with my Top 5 things to see in Belgrade:
Start with some of Belgrade’s less-heavy and more fun history, with a visit to Skadarlija. Belgrade’s equivalent of Montmartre in Paris, Skadarlija used to be the bohemian drinking and dwelling quarter of artists, actors and writers alike. The cobbled and curving street filled with numerous kafanas (Serbia’s more traditional somewhat equivalent of the local British pub) immediately transports visitors back to times gone by. Wander down – there’s a pleasant open green market at the bottom of the hill – and don’t forget to explore the neighbouring streets either, which have an appeal of their very own, too.
2. KNEZ MIHAILOVA
For Belgrade’s shiny and chic shopping area (and yes, it caters a little to the tourists) head to Knez Mihailova street. Stretching from the Republic Square to the fortress, Knez Mihailova is said to be one of the more beautiful pedestriansed streets in Europe – and it’s not hard to see why once strolling along it.
3. SAVAMALA STREET ART
If you want further proof that Belgrade is a city in flux, head over to the increasingly hipster Savamala – a once derelict district which is being transformed into a cultural hotspot (more on that in Belgrade: Do). This is an industrial area on the up – an area for Belgrade’s youth to express themselves freely, whether that be through entrepreneurship, comedy, music, raves or: art. Savamala is an area of Belgrade dominated by street art – and when I say ‘art’ I mean it, no half scribbled amateur spray signatures to be found here. The vibrancy of the area can be seen splashed and sprayed all over the walls – there’s no need to sift through the streets to find the art here, just go for a leisurely stroll with your eyes truly open and it won’t take you long to spot some. Some good places to swing by to see some of the best street art Belgrade has to offer are: Karadordeva street, Little Steps, Branko’s Bridge, and Braće Krsmanović and its surroundings.
4. CHURCH OF SAINT SAVA
Wow. Just wow. It’s impossible to understand the true scale of the Church of Saint Sava –the largest Orthodox place of worship in the Balkans – without experiencing it for yourself. This Church embodies Belgrade’s current state of flux – seemingly perfect and complete from the outside, but upon entering you immediately realise that the church’s interiors and finishing touches are still very much in construction. This is an unfortunate side-effect of Belgrade’s many wars, which have continually hampered the church’s road to completion. I, however, think this makes the building all the more unique to see – it’s rare to witness a place of worship of this scale unfinished, with many of the world’s biggest having been created and completed centuries ago. What’s more, the juxtaposition of the dominant Church of Saint Sava and its tiny neighbour, the small church of St. Sava, is also something quite architecturally unique to behold.
5. GRITTIER SIDE
Don’t be afraid to venture away from the masses and explore some of the less polished streets of Belgrade. Personally, I think that Belgrade’s underlying grit is what sets it apart from the rest of Europe’s cities (perhaps only to be compared with Berlin, which has suffered its own fair share of tumultuous history). At no point wandering around did I feel unsafe, which meant that I explored a lot of the city on foot – something I can highly recommend as it permits you to get acquainted with the city in a much more personal way. Not neccessarily ‘gritty’, but certainly feeling more local, is the area and the side streets between the Vukoc Monument and Saint Sava church. Of course, like when travelling anywhere, common sense is key – so the moment you no longer feel at ease just hop on a tram or a bus and head back to where you came from (and, of course, don’t go walking around at night alone!)