Why My One Day in Belgrade was Epic
Serbia will always hold a special place in my heart. I flew across the world to Serbia, on a plane where no one spoke English, to visit and explore a country that was introduced to me by 3 boys at my summer lifeguarding job. I spent a few weeks in the country, slowly getting to know them and their families, exploring the countryside and spending one day in Belgrade.
In reality, I was really in Belgrade for a total of about a week. Much of the time I spent there amounted to sleeping in late, spending hours in coffee houses sipping on delicious coffee, talking with my friends, and being pretty lazy.
I only spent one day in Belgrade being a tourist. And it was a pretty epic day for two reasons.
The first reason was because I knew Serbians and they showed me around their city. Getting a local’s perspective of where to eat and drink and what to see guarantees that you see the best of the best. Plus, Serbians are awesome.
And the second reason is that Serbia, even the capital city Belgrade, was not crawling with tourists. After spending summer days wandering the Charles Bridge or the Red light district, Belgrade was a breath of fresh air.
One Day in Belgrade: Best Things to Do
Take a Walking Tour
I was lucky enough to have my own guides to the city, directing me to the best sites that the city offered. But if you don’t have a local to show you around, and you only have one day in Belgrade, you may choose to do a walking tour of the city. This is a great free tour that you can attend. Remember to tip your guide!
If you want to do your own tour, I suggest not missing the sites below.
Check out the Belgrade Fortress and Visit Kalemegdan
The Belgrade Fortress was built from the 2nd century to the 18th century. The fortress kept getting destroyed and rebuilt over the centuries. Today, it stands proud in the heart of Belgrade. Surrounding the fortress is Kalemegdan park.
Admission is free, and you’ll see tourists and locals alike walking on walls, climbing stairs, admiring the views of the river, and relaxing on benches. It is so big that you forget that you’re even in a fortress. And the views of the Danube river are breathtaking.
I was lucky and had my personal guides to tell me the history of the fortress, but most tourists won’t be so lucky. Head to Viator to sign up for a tour of the fortress.
I recommend either visiting the fortress early in the morning or at sunset. Early in the morning you will avoid all of the crowds. But at sunset, the fortress lights up in the most warm golden tones that will give you some good eye candy and some great pictures.
The square is quite pretty and marks the starting/stopping point of Knez Mihailova. Surrounding the square are several points of interest such as the Prince Michael Statue and the National Museum.
Spend some time wandering and looking at the different fountains in the square.
Walk down Knez Mihailova
This street is filled with shops, restaurants, and coffee houses and serves as the “hub” of Belgrade. If you’re looking for some cool shops, a good cup of coffee, or some fabulous Serbian cuisine, look no further.
The road starts at Republic Square and dead-ends at the Belgrade fortress, so you really cannot get lost.
At night this road is filled with tons of young Serbs gathering, talking, laughing, getting ready to go out for a night on the town. There is electricity in the air.
Saint Sava Temple
Serbians take their religion very seriously. Most Serbians are Orthodox Christians.
Saint Sava Temple is the largest Orthodox Church in the world. The inside is only partly finished, but it is still a spectacular structure to behold.
Visit a Coffee Shop in Town
I was in love with Serbian coffee. And I spent quite a bit of time with my friends in coffee shops all over the city, and the country. One of my favorite coffee houses I visited was in downtown Belgrade. It was so eclectic and weird and wonderful. The coffee in Serbia is very delicious and cheap.
Try going to a variety of shops during different parts of the day, and spend a few hours enjoying your coffee and a good conversation. Note, Serbians spend hours in coffee shops talking and smoking. Enjoy the atmosphere, take your time, and enjoy some of the best coffee in the world.
Visit the Splavovi
You cannot visit Belgrade without going to one of these riverboat bars and restaurants.
Situated right on the river, these buildings serve coffee and alcohol.
At night, they turn into floating nightclubs. Most of the people in the Splavovi, or Splavs are locals. So, if you want to party in a Splav, make sure to make a reservation ahead of time, as usually these places are packed for the night, and patrons will be turned away without a reservation.
Similar to moonshine, rakia is deeply ingrained in Serbian culture. Consisting of anywhere between 40%-60% of alcohol, there are many different fruit flavors of rakia. Rakia is customarily used in welcomes and celebrations, and many families make their own rakia.
When I met my friend’s parents and my hosts for my time in Serbia, I was given some rakia in a shot glass. Now, I know how to take a shot. So, when we all clinked glasses I downed my shot in one fell swoop.
Well, I guess this type of rakia was not supposed to be inhaled as quickly as possible and I ended up getting quite tipsy quite fast. And, I managed to make my hosts laugh. Always a good thing.
If you want to venture a bit out of the city center, I recommend spending a couple of hours at Ada Ciganlija. Ada Ciganlija is a huge lake just outside the city. There is a small beach around almost the entire lake that is teeming with locals, especially on the weekends.
Lots of bikers and runners will walk the perimeter of the lake. In addition to the walking/biking path, restaurants and bars circle the perimeter, making this a great day and nighttime destination. If it’s a warm day, spend the day by the lake, tanning, swimming, eating, and drinking.
Gardos The Tower of Sibinjanin Janko and the Zemun river
On a terrifying journey, my friend’s dad drove us to Gardos. We were rewarded with a stunning view; you can get a great view of Belgrade from the top. Go around sunset for an amazing view. The Zemun river is only a few hundred feet away and worth a visit.
Take some time to appreciate what Serbia has gone through.
Serbia has a dark and, quite frankly, depressing history. And the bad part of history is not so far removed from the city. Signs of war-torn buildings can still be seen, as well as a lot of political graffiti. Take some time to duck into a museum and learn about the history of this country. I recommend the Museum of Yugoslavia. Other museums in the city include the Nikola Tesla Museum, the Historical Museum of Serbia, the Museum of Science and Technology, the Military Museum, and the National Museum.
A Note to Tourists in Belgrade
Belgrade is not the easiest city for a tourist, especially if you are traveling alone. I’m not saying it is impossible, or overly difficult by any means, but I think that the majority of the big cities in Europe make it easy for anyone who speaks English to get from one place to another. It is not like that in Belgrade (or in Serbia in general).
Transportation in Belgrade
One day when my friend had to study for a test, I said I wanted to go into the city by myself and walk around. He looked at me like I was crazy. “How are you going to get there?” “The bus,” I responded. “Kelly, even Serbians don’t understand the bus system. You will get lost.” I found his lack of faith in me a little disheartening, but I followed his advice.
In the city center, you can walk anywhere that you need to go. Most of the tourist attractions are right next to each other. For some other attractions, a walk may be a bit out of the question. I would opt to hire a taxi. Your hotel can arrange a taxi from a reputable company.
There is a public transportation system in Belgrade with buses, trams, and trolleys. You can buy a 1,2, or 5-day pass, or buy a pass and keep loading money on it as you go. I would recommend the 1 or 2-day pass-it is just easier. You can buy the pass at a street kiosk at most tram or bus stations.
Since you will most likely arrive at the airport, and you will most likely be staying in downtown Belgrade, take the airport shuttle to Slavija Square. The bus leaves the airport every hour on the hour and costs 200 dinars or about 2 US dollars. You can also take a cab which will cost you around 1500-2500 RSD to get into the downtown area.
Where to Stay in Belgrade
Stay in the Belgrade City Center. This will allow you easy access to the main attractions as well as great bars and restaurants. Booking allows you to filter by neighborhood when you search for accommodations.
Language in Serbia
Serbians speak Serbian. There are very few signs written in English to direct tourists, and the majority of people do not speak English. Although a good portion of the younger population of Serbia does speak English and are good people to ask if you get lost.
Most people who work in the tourism industry speak English.
Currency in Serbia
The currency in Serbia is the Serbian dinar (RSD). 100 RSD equals about $1 US dollar. So knock two zeros off of the price that you see and that will be (about) the price in US dollars. ATMs are plentiful in the city of Belgrade (less so in the countryside). Most places in Serbia will accept credit cards and cash.
Serbia is a pretty inexpensive country, for the most part. Name-brand clothing and shoes are quite pricey. But coffee, food, hotels, and attractions are all very affordable.
What to Eat in Serbia
Because I stayed with a friend, I was spoiled with wonderful home-cooked meals almost every night. I only went out for coffee. But, I would recommend several traditional dishes to have while in Serbia.
Many of the dishes center around meat- and they are so good. Try sarma, minced meat wrapped in cabbage leaves. Beans are also a favorite in Serbia, especially in soups. I had some fast food with bread, soup, and cheese which was so good (the cheese ended up being Kayjmak, see below, which ended up not being that great.) Any type of grilled meat is guaranteed to be delicious, try Cevapi or Pljeksavica. Serbians also love their cheese and bread. There are so many variations of breaded pies or Gibanica filled with cheese and meats, with flaky bread that melts in your mouth. They make for great breakfast foods.
Beware of Cheese in Serbia
Enjoy the food and the drink in Belgrade and the rest of Serbia. BUT. Do not eat Kajmak. Kajmak is a kind of cheese made in Serbia and if you eat it, you will get sick. I learned this the (very) hard way. There is bacteria in the cheese that is foreign to most visitors, and your stomach will not be happy with you.
Even though there is a lot to do, one day in Belgrade will be more than enough time to see all of the major attractions! I hope you enjoy your time in Belgrade as much as I did.
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