For years I have wanted to visit this absolutely fascinating city, however the problem is getting to Belgrade is a serious pain in the neck.
Taking the Flixbus from Sofia
The quickest and cheapest possible way to get to Serbia from the UK is to fly from the horrific Luton airport. However, it’s at a ridiculous time and I hate that airport. For some reason, you can’t take a train in and the busses into the country aren’t the cheapest.
As I said, the easiest way to get to Serbia is by taking the bus into the country, I got the Flixbus which left Sofia at 9AM and I arrived in Belgrade at about 3PM. Crossing the border took a bit of time and that is to be expected. I got through passport control without any problems and the border crossing probably took about up to 40 minutes.
Staying at Habitat Hostel
This hostel experience was fantastic to say the least, even though I didn’t meet other fellow backpackers. This hostel is run by local Belgraders, Igor who was one of the owners, was extremely funny and accommodating. They even had a dog called Dante. Furthermore, the location was extremely decent as it was very close to the national assembly. It was also round the corner from a big supermarket where I bought my breakfast for less than £3.
Seeing the Bombing Scars
In the decade of the 90s, Yugoslavia was torn apart by war and in 1999 what was left of Yugoslavia had entered into another war involving Kosovo. NATO decided to intervene by bombing Serbia and Montenegro. Many areas in Belgrade were targeted, the NATO bombing of Serbia is something that Belgrade has not forgotten. 5 minutes from the my hostel, I was able to see the ruins of the old ministry of defence building whose ruins stand as a reminder of NATO’s aggression.
Walking Down Knez Mihailova Street
This place is Belgrade’s main pedestrian street and it’s good to find a place for coffee and all the main shops of the city are here. Walking down this street, you will also see Republic Square which is the main square in Belgrade and has a lot to offer. What’s interesting about this street is that there is a combination of both brutalist buildings from the Yugoslavia period and buildings which look more than 100 years old.
Looking Around Kalemegdan
During this time, I got to meet a relative of mine who lives in Belgrade and works at Kalemegdan. She was able to give me booklets which contain information about different places in Belgrade and these are a good way I can get familiar with Serbian Cyrillic.
Furthermore, Kalemegdan is both a historical fortress and a massive park. You can get good views of the whole city and the Sava River. What makes this place also interesting is that there is a tomb of an Ottoman general and is one of the only remnants of Ottoman rule in Serbia. There is also a big clock tower right in the middle of the park and there are two very immaculate Orthodox churches.
Belgrade Military Museum
This museum is located within the Kalemegdan fortress and I paid 200 dinars (£1.50) and I have to say this museum is worth a visit. While the outside part has some tanks to look at, inside it has a vast exhibition of military equipment. It shows different stuff from when Slavs first settled in Serbia, the Ottoman rule, the Great War, World War Two and all the up to the war in 1999, displaying a captured American’s military uniform.
Wandering Around Skadarlija
This place cannot be missed during a trip to Belgrade, it’s an area full of cool bars and restaurants. What makes this place truly unique is that it looks both quaint and off-beat at the same time. It has nice cobbled streets and also a few street art murals on the walls.
It is in Skadarlija that you can find countless bars and kafanas which are traditional Serbian taverns. It was here I found a place to eat some ćevapi which is an essential thing to eat in Serbia. Even if you don’t feel like eating Balkan food, I found a great place called Holy Smokes which had excellent beer and burgers. Skadarlija is also a hotbed for trendy bars and I even went to a bar which was also selling vinyls, you can’t get more cool than that!
Getting Shown Around the Marakana
The Rajko Mitić stadium, also known by its nickname the Marakana is the biggest football stadium in Serbia. It is the home of Red Star who had once won the Champions League and Intercontinental Cup in 1991. This stadium is also where the Serbian national team play their home matches and if you are Scottish, you will have a fond memory of David Marshall’s heroics in this stadium.
Anyway, I was fortunate to be shown around the stadium by a lifelong fan of Red Star, I was sitting in the hostel and met a guy called Marko and I told him I wanted to visit the Marakana. He said he’d show me around the next day and he paid for my ticket for the tour and even bought me a coffee while we were waiting for the tour. A true salt of the earth man and a shining example of Balkan hospitality.
At the Marakana, you can pay a visit to the Red Star museum, which is a collection of trophies and explains a little bit about the history of the club. There’s a chance a pennant of the team you support will be displayed in the museum as I managed to find a pennant and some whisky glasses given by Hearts from the time they played Red Star in 1995.
Taking the stadium tour means that you can go down to the pitchside and walk through the tunnel. This is the second biggest tunnel in a football stadium in the world and it has murals in red and white. I also saw the media room and the press conference room in which I saw people still busy at work there. After finishing the tour, I had a look at the tank which is outside of the stadium and was even told that the tank’s gun is pointed at the Partizan stadium.
Also seeing the Partizan Stadium
A 5 minute walk from the Marakana is the stadium of Red Star’s bitter rivals, Partizan and the official name of the stadium is the JNA stadium. The team itself is of course named after the Yugoslav partizans who successfully managed to defend their homeland in WWII and were instrumental in the foundation of Tito’s Yugoslavia.
Unfortunately I didn’t have time to get a proper look inside of the stadium, however I did pay a visit to the club shop and bought myself a T shirt as a souvenir. I’d honestly choose to be a Partizan fan over Red Star, why? Because I like to root for the underdog.
Paying my Respects at the House of Flowers and Yugoslavia Museum
5 minutes from the Partizan stadium is the Yugoslavia museum which is a must visit for anyone interested in the history of Yugoslavia. It costs 200 dinars (£1.50) and despite it being quite a small museum, it gives some good detail on different aspects of life in Yugoslavia. Furthermore, you can also see some of Tito’s personal belongings such as his attire.
The House of Flowers is Tito’s Mausoleum which is a place that carries a particularly gloomy aura. It has some information about Tito’s death and funeral which was the most attended funeral of a head of state in modern times. Tito is buried in a grave with his wife who passed away in 2013.
Taking a Look at St Sava Church
This place is one of the most famous buildings within Belgrade’s skyline and is dedicated to St Sava who is the founder of the Serbian Orthodox Church. It is the biggest Orthodox church in Serbia and I also believe it the biggest one outside of Russia. This place is huge and looking at the ceiling inside is quite incredible.
Walking Around Tašmajdan and St Mark’s Church
St Mark’s Church is an Orthodox church which looks very interesting and unique. Unfortunately, the original church was destroyed in WWI and the church was rebuilt in 1940. Adjacent to the church is Tašmajdan, a park with some rather intriguing statues such as that of Haydar Aliyev, the former president of Azerbaijan and a memorial to the children who were killed during the NATO bombings.
Exploring Dorćol and Coffee at Brat Fidel
Dorćol is a very trendy area of Belgrade which is next to the bank of the Danube. I managed to find a cool Cuban-themed café and bar where I could sit down for a coffee called Brat Fidel (brother Fidel.) Dorćol is lined with loads of trendy bars and I even found a bar which was also a record store. However, being there in January I think the place would be more lively in the summer.
Visiting the Serbian National Museum
This museum is located in Republic Square and is 400 Dinars (£3) for admission, visiting this place gave me an insight into the history of the country and how much the Orthodox church is linked to Serbian identity. There is also a collection of paintings from Serbian artists and you can see a lot of interesting art from international painters as well.
The Best Burek I Ever Had at Trpković
It’s essential when in Serbia to have burek at least once, it’s great for any time of day, but is very convenient as something for breakfast. It’s only right to come to this bakery called Trpković which looks much more fancy than your average Greggs. You might have to expect a bit of a wait as I waited for about 5 minutes, but you won’t be disappointed as this was the best burek I ever had.
Heading Over to Zemun
This place is right on the edge of the city and quite a trek from the centre, so I recommend using the bus to get here. While Belgrade is known to be a bit of a concrete jungle, this place has more of a quaint village vibe. I definitely recommend making the trip as you can get some incredible views with a bit of walking. If you walk up to where the Gardoš tower is, you will be given some of the best views that the city has to offer. You can even go up the tower, but seeing as I didn’t have 200 dinar on me, I was unable to do so.
Final Thoughts on Belgrade
I have to say that Belgrade is definitely up there in terms of being one of my favourite cities in Europe. There is a lot to see and a lot of places to have coffee or beer. I also have to say that the media makes Serbia look like the worst place in the world, I can tell you it’s not, the local people are incredibly welcoming and it’s just like any other place in the world.