For years, I’ve been saying to all my friends to go to Belgrade. Very few people that I know have been there. Although it’s rapidly becoming very popular, it is still not your typical destination. For example, flights from London to Belgrade are too expensive for anyone to consider going there for a weekend break. Many other European cities can be reached for a fraction of money required to travel to Belgrade. Unfortunately, enjoying Belgrade is not as easy as it should be, mainly because it costs too much to go there.
Another likely reason is its recent history and the negative perception created by the western media after the break-up of Yugoslavia and subsequent civil wars. However, there has been a massive increase in the number of people coming from countries such as Turkey, China, Iran and Russia, which is to say from countries where the western propaganda doesn’t have any influence.
AN AUTHENTIC CITY
Belgrade is truly an authentic city. Because of the unfortunate events in the 1990s, for a long time the city was completely sidelined. Consequently, it avoided globalisation that rapidly engulfed the world in precisely that same period of time. Big financial capital never reached Belgrade in a way in which it reached most other eastern European capital cities.
In other words, there are very few big multinational chains in Belgrade. There are several of them in Prince Michael street, the pedestrian heart of Belgrade. They have also very recently started to appear in the newly constructed shopping centres. There are no multinational chains of restaurants and coffee shops. You will only find several McDonald’s in the whole city. Costa Coffee was in Belgrade, but closed down. This is very refreshing and it makes the city very interesting. In London, the same chains are everywhere, which is extremely dull.
FOOD IN BELGRADE
Generally speaking, Serbs are used to the very high standard of food and the same goes for drinks. People in Serbia drink very strong Turkish coffee. They are also used to home cooked food. Every meal is a ritual, meticulously prepared by caring mothers. The concept of ready-made meals does not really exist in a sense in which it exists in western countries. There are no supermarkets with aisles filled with factory produced spaghetti bolognese. The nearest Serbian version to ready-made meals is freshly cooked and very delicious food sold in supermarkets and other outlets. They usually prepare such food in bigger quantities, which means that it’s tastier and with prominent flavors.
In fact, you will eat well in most restaurants in Belgrade, because they primarily cater for the local customer base. In order to exist, they have to maintain a very high standard at all times.
I have family in Belgrade, so when I go there I spend a lot of time with them. But, I also go out and I explore the city. I always find new restaurants or new trendy bars and I go there with my friends.
SMOKING IN SERBIA
Now, a word about the main photo in this post. The painting is from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade. It depicts three men playing cards, drinking and smoking. They are clearly having a good time. The accent is on smoking!
Smoking is still allowed everywhere in Serbia. That’s why I never go there in winter. Because of cigarette smoke, it’s impossible to go anywhere. Sometimes when you walk into a bar, there is so much smoke that you can’t see anything and you can’t breathe, despite the air conditioning. I hope that this will change in the future. This also means that the best time to visit Belgrade is in spring or in autumn, because you can be outside. Summers in Belgrade are too hot and winters are too cold.
PRINCE MICHAEL STREET AND THE SURROUNDING AREA
The central area around Prince Michael street is the most interesting for visitors to Belgrade. Restaurants, bars and coffee shops are everywhere.
You will find a lot of places in all side streets, where you can sit down and enjoy.
All places in this area are very good, although in some bars you may only get a sandwich or something similar. To eat properly, you would need to find a restaurant. Anyhow, the pedestrian area is relatively small and restaurants are very easy to find.
Obilićev Venac is a street parallel with Prince Mihailo street. There, you will find many nice bars and coffee shops. Okno is my favourite bar.
I was very lucky with the weather in Belgrade. Despite the fact that it was early November, the temperature was around 25 degrees C. You can see people sitting outside in the photos in this post. For that reason, there was no one inside of the bar Okno, although this particular place has a very nice decor.
To get an idea of how expensive or how cheap Belgrade is, I took a photo of the price list in this particular bar. Prices are in the Serbian currency dinar. At the time when I was there, the exchange rates were:
- Euro 1 = 118 dinars
- US dollar 1 = 103 dinars
- Pound sterling 1 = 133 dinars
One excellent restaurant in this area, that offers the typical Serbian cuisine, that I would recommend is Vuk. It is in 12 Vuka Karadžića street.
Flower Square – opposite the Yugoslav Drama Theatre in King Milan street is another interesting area, with a lot of bars, coffee shops and restaurants. There, they are literally lined one after the other.
This square is particularly nice from March until October, as there is a lot of outdoor sitting. Also, there are a lot of trees and it is sufficiently far from the traffic.
I went to a very nice Italian bar & restaurant Piazza dei Foiri. However, all other places in this area are equally nice, so if you happen to be there, any of them will be a good choice.
I first went for drinks with a friend of mine to Piazza dei Fiori, but afterwards we went to eat in a nearby restaurant – Sarajevski Ćevap Ćevabdžinica Savić – in 31 King Milutin street.
In this restaurant you will find the Serbian delicacy – ćevapčići – which has its origin in the Oriental cuisine. I’ve eaten different variants of this particular dish in other countries, although the Serbian version is rather unique. Anyhow, in this restaurant they prepare them according to the recipe from Sarajevo, which is apparently different from the typical Serbian recipe.
Also, I was surprised with the way they served them. Basically, in this variant of the dish there are no garnishes, while the Serbian version comes with a salad and fries. Ćevapi were divine and I highly recommend this place, if you want to try something typical.
One more very interesting area, where I went for the very first time, is Beton Hala in Savamala. This area is south of the Belgrade Fortress, on the right bank of the Sava river. When I lived in Belgrade, there was nothing interesting there, just warehouses. However, the area has changed tremendously and dilapidated and abandoned warehouses have now become trendy restaurants.
There are many restaurants to choose from. I went to the restaurant Ambar, which proposes the typical Balkan cuisine. As the weather was very warm, I had a lunch with a friend of mine outside, on the restaurant terrace.
It’s a chic place and the meal was delicious. I also highly recommend this place, but I am sure that all restaurants in this area are equally good, the only difference being the type of cuisine that they offer.
The view of New Belgrade on the opposite side of the river was very enjoyable. The excellent location makes this whole area rather unique in Belgrade.
FLOATING BARS AND RESTAURANTS
As a matter of fact, Belgrade is famous for its many floating bars and restaurants along both rivers – Sava and Danube. I visited a friend of mine in New Belgrade. First, we went for a walk along Danube and then for drinks in one of the floating establishments. These places form the core of the nightlife in Belgrade, primarily because they are away from populated areas. It means that they can play very loud music, until very early morning hours. These places are open every day and you can choose where to go depending on the type of the music that best suits your taste.
I mentioned Skadarlija in my previous post on Belgrade, the bohemian street and one of the most important attractions in the city. This street is famous because of its very old restaurants that offer the excellent traditional Serbian cuisine. I went to all of them in the past, but not this time. They are so good that they deserve to be mentioned in this post, primarily as a suggestion to anyone visiting Belgrade.
The restaurant below is Tri Šešira (Three Hats).
Another famous restaurant is Ima Dana, which loosely translated in English means – There Are Days.
Another iconic institution is Dva Jelena (Two Deers).
The entrance into the garden shows that this particular establishment is from 1832.
One more notable restaurant is Zlatni Bokal (Golden Jug). All these restaurants are excellent and whichever you choose, you are guaranteed to have a very delicious meal.
Furthermore, although these restaurants are relatively expensive for an average Serbian person, they are very affordable, if not cheap, for people coming from western European countries.
HOTEL MOSCOW PATISSERIE
One more place that I want to mention is Hotel Moscow. This hotel is one of the most recognisable landmarks in central Belgrade. After the Second World War, it became a favourite place of the Belgrade’s cultural elite. The Yugoslav Nobel laureate – Ivo Andrić – had his own table there. In 1974, the restaurant added poslastičarnica, a Vienna style patisserie.
For the occasion of the opening of the patisserie, they created Moskva Šnit – a fruitcake with almonds, sour cherries and pineapple. It became the hotel’s trademark.
I went there with a friend of mine and as it was warm, we sat outside on the terrace. The hotel and its patisserie are in the prime location, in the very heart of the city.
Moskva Šnit is the yellow cake that you can see in the photo below, with bits of sour cherries in the middle. It is needless to say that both cakes in the photo were excellent. If you go to Belgrade, don’t miss this place!
One more interesting observation about Belgrade is that there are bakeries everywhere. Most of them are small private businesses, which means that they offer fresh, house-made products. Some of them are open 24h, so this is one more good choice for hungry people. A bakery that you can see below is in Slavia Square.
MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART
As I previously mentioned, the main picture of this post originates from the Museum of Contemporary Art. Belgrade has a lot of museums and certainly visiting some of them while you are there can be a very good way for you to get an insight in the Serbian history and culture.
They founded the museum in 1958, as the Modern Gallery. It moved into its current building in New Belgrade in 1965.
The reconstruction of the museum started in 2007, but for numerous reasons, it dragged on for a decade.
After 10 years of renovation, the museum finally re-opened on the 20th October 2017, the date that marks the anniversary of the museum’s opening 52 years earlier.
The building was renovated and upgraded to the modern museum standards. In fact, the museum building is extremely interesting and despite the fact that it was constructed 54 years ago, it still looks very contemporary and stylish. Visiting this museum just because of the building is already sufficient, but if you go there, you will also get the benefit of enjoying the art in its permanent collection.
The museum is on the left bank of the Sava river, directly opposite the Belgrade Fortress. It’s in the superb location, in a park close to both rivers. After the museum, I went for a long walk along the river, which was a very pleasant and gratifying experience.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS ON ENJOYING BELGRADE
There is so much to do in the city. In this particular post, I’ve included just some of my experiences from my latest stay. The same as any other new place that we visit, the best thing to do is to explore and to get familiar with it. But sometimes an advice from people that have already been there can be very helpful.
I will inevitably go back there and will look for other good bars and restaurants and I will write about them too.
I very much look forward to this task, especially because it means that I will eat delicious Serbian food and will enjoy drinks with my friends there!