‘Belgrade? Why did you go there?’ seems to be a popular reaction when I mention one of the latest places I visited. I had never been to the Balkans before, but now I’m trying to work out a way to go back. Serbia is beautiful, and although I only saw what I’m sure was a mere speck of what Belgrade has to offer, I’d urge you to add it to your list of places to go which haven’t been touched all that much (relatively) by tourists. Given that our local little post office now stocks the Croatian Kuna, that’s definitely a sign of the growing popularity of this part of the world. (I should add that Serbian Dinar is a closed currency, so don’t be too dismayed if you can’t find it anywhere in the UK, you’re not alone.)
Speaking of which, check out how seductive Nikola Tesla is on the 100 Dinar note:
You can judge how true a country remains to itself, I think, by your experience on the flight over. Flying from Luton with Wizz Air (so much pink), the main language was Serbian. The flight attendants and fellow passengers will often speak to you first in Serbian before they try English, which can prove quite a disconcerting experience if you’ve travelled to more popular tourist destinations in the past, where it would seem English is the default even once you’ve left our green and pleasant land.
Anyway, Belgrade, especially the Old Town, is wonderful, and not to mention incredibly hot in June. We had highs of 35 degrees, and the temperatures were set to rise further still in the weeks after we left. The weather is great, the people are lovely, the food is delicious, and Serbian traditions are alive and thriving.
Long story short- you might find that the road less travelled by, is actually the road most worth travelling. Plus, not only do you get a stamp in your passport (it’s the little things, eh), you also get to scratch out a small, obscure country on your scratch map, and who doesn’t enjoy that?
Here’s my experience of Belgrade in a few words and photos:
St Sava’s Temple can be seen from miles away. I can’t convey just how huge it is to you, but to give you an idea, it’s still under construction and won’t be finished within our lifetime. It’s beautiful, and well worth seeing. Just wear more sensible shoes than I did if you’re walking there. There’s nothing quite like blister regret.
No trip to Belgrade is complete without ambling around Kalemegdan. Broadly speaking, Kalemegdan is a park which also houses Belgrade Fortress, and affords amazing views across the confluence of the rivers Sava and Danube, perfect if you love taking a good panoramic shot on your phone/camera.
Kalemegdan is also home to this fully naked man on a plinth, known as the Victor, or the Pobednik. Our good friend Victor is a work by Ivan Meštrović and was built, according to our other good friend Wikipedia, ‘to commemorate Serbia’s victory over Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empire during the Balkan Wars and the First World War’. So there you have it.
The wall of the fortress also encompasses a restaurant and a club/bar, known as Terassa Club, where we headed one night. The view is amazing. You find an upper and lower terrace, from which you look out on to the fortress, which feels within touching distance and provides a striking contrast to the modern style of the Terassa, in terms of both the decor and music. Probably not great when it’s raining.
Do beware though, the atmosphere may be great, and the view phenomenal, but the lighting doesn’t lend itself well to photos. Unless you like purple.
We did venture out a little further one day, namely to Ada, or Ada Ciganlija, which is ‘a river island that has artificially been turned into a peninsula, located in the Sava River’s course through central Belgrade’. Gosh, Wikipedia, what would I do without you? One of the benefits of travelling with people who know Belgrade well and speak Serbian is visiting places like this, which a mere tourist like me would never have come across otherwise.
Arriving at Ada by bus, you walk through Serbian Stonehenge, and can see what looks like a giant bleach bottle water feature. Only in Serbia.
A short walk takes you to a long stretch of beaches, cafes, ice cream bars and sun-loungers, which I really wasn’t expecting to find in Serbia, but it just adds to the reasons why Belgrade is well worth a visit. It was 34 degrees on this day. which lent itself to plenty of photo-ops, including this one:
This leads me perfectly to another reason why Serbia should be on your list of places to visit: the food and drink! Travelling with people who may as well be locals meant that we stayed away from all the familiar places we have here in the UK. There are plenty of well-known fast-food chains with restaurants in Belgrade, but if you’re looking to get a little more of the Serbian experience, then traditional food and drink aren’t a bad place to start!
Firstly, the Turkish coffee. Perfect for any coffee lover, and complete with a Turkish delight on the side. Just a warning, though, there’s what can only be described as ‘sludge’ which settles at the bottom of the mug, so for the love of God don’t try to down your coffee. Unless you like a sandy texture in your mouth, that is.
If you’re looking for savoury, look no further than a pancake. They’re available all over the place, and with all sorts of different fillings and toppings. Ham, cheese and sour cream was my personal favourite. Also, if you’re feeling especially Serbian, then a traditional Šopska salad is for you. It’s pronounced Shopska, and is essentially a mix of tomato, cucumber, peppers and onion covered in grated feta. It’s simple but delicious.
Now, you can’t talk about Serbian specialities without mentioning Plazma. Plazma is essentially a biscuit, and I’m reliably informed that a plazma shake is a brilliant hangover cure, and so one morning we decided to give plazma a go, minus the hangover. It’s a biscuity milkshake, and that’s really the only way of explaining it! If you’re feeling indulgent or a little worse for wear, then find your nearest cafe and this should sort you out.
Finally, I can’t leave this without mentioning one restaurant in particular which is perfect for your inner Instagrammer. This is none other than Manufaktura, which most people will know as ‘the place with the red umbrellas’:
I took many, many more photos than this, I really couldn’t help myself. We went here on my last day, and thankfully the restaurant isn’t just pretty on the outside, the food is traditional and tasty, too.
Belgrade might seem obscure, but it has so much to offer and an incredibly rich history. If you’re looking for a city break with a difference, then you need look no further.
Just don’t forget your sun cream.