The main reason why I decided to write a separate post is because, when you go to Zemun, it feels like being in a completely different place. The last time I was there it was over 30 years ago, when I lived in Belgrade. But even then, I only passed through Zemun, without ever visiting its historical centre. Back then, I remember Zemun as a grim suburb of Belgrade, with buildings in a bad state, a typical reflection of the communist era.
As you will see in the photos in this post, Zemun was a real discovery. Now, it’s a magical town that you wouldn’t want to miss if you are visiting Belgrade.
HOW TO GET TO ZEMUN?
Let’s start with how to get there. If you are staying in central Belgrade, clearly, the most obvious way to go to Zemun is by bus. You can take the bus number 84 from the “Zeleni Venac” market, which is right in the centre of Belgrade. That way, you would arrive to Zemun within 15 minutes.
Once the bus crosses the Sava river, the New Belgrade boulevards are wide and rarely congested, thus the journey is normally fast.
But, if the weather is good and if you have time, I suggest that you walk. Perhaps, you can walk there and take the bus back, like I did, or you can do the opposite.
To get to Zemun from central Belgrade, the path takes you along the bank of the Danube river. That particular route is spectacular.
When you cross the Branko’s bridge over the Sava river, you arrive to the Contemporary Art museum. Once there, look for the pathway along the river and simply walk in the direction opposite to central Belgrade. It’s all very easy to find.
It took me approximately one hour of gentle walk to arrive to Zemun, Furthermore, there are trees along the way that make a very pleasant continuous shade, protecting from the sun and the heat. It was a very hot day when I went to Zemun, but because of this, I didn’t really feel it.
You will also see many floating bars and restaurants. Belgrade is famous for this. These are veritable entertainment institutions, although they all have to close at 11pm at the moment, because of the coronavirus restrictions. Otherwise, they normally stay open until the early morning hours.
If you feel like, you can stop in any of them for a drink or for something to eat.
The Old Town is the main reason why you would want to visit Zemun. The same as Belgrade, it fell under the Ottoman rule in 1521. But, it changed hands in 1717, when it became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And that’s the key difference between Zemun and Belgrade. Belgrade remained an Ottoman city for approximately further 150 years.
That’s why the oldest Serbian Orthodox church in Belgrade is precisely in Zemun. It’s architecture, especially in the historical centre, is typically Austro-Hungarian, the same as you can see in all other smaller towns in northern Serbia, but what you can’t see in smaller towns in southern Serbia, that were under the Ottoman rule.
I started my visit of the Old Town in the Big Square, near the Zemun’s green market. The most prominent building in the square is the Catholic church of “The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary”. Unfortunately, the church was closed and I couldn’t visit it. Maybe next time.
Around the corner from the Big Square is Magistarski Square. This whole area is a pedestrian zone now, with numerous restaurants, bars and coffee shops.
Magistarski Trg is more like a wide street that feels like a big square. Anyway, that’s not really important, because there is no traffic there. It’s a peaceful corner within the Old Town where you can sit down and spend some time in one of the establishments.
However, what’s really noticeable in this particular area and all over Zemun’s Old Town are the facades. Basically, almost all facades have been recently restored and they are beautiful. Now, the buildings look how they are meant to look, the same way the looked when they were constructed many years ago.
Before I went to Zemun, I didn’t really know what to expect. Perhaps, there would’ve been an occasional restored building, the same as you can see in central Belgrade.
But, I certainly didn’t expect that the whole central area would be completely restored. This is precisely why I decided to write a separate post about Zemun. I felt like being in a different city. Central Belgrade is more or less in a good state, but as soon as you move away from the most popular touristic spots, you see its grim side.
THE REST OF ZEMUN
The pedestrian area within the Old Town is small and you can see everything pretty quickly. Although, you can spend a lot of time there, in one of the coffee shops, enjoying the beautiful surroundings.
From there, I came to Glavna Street, the main traffic artery through Zemun. That’s where you can see some more grandiose buildings.
You will also see the modern Madlenianum Opera & Theatre building. Zemun has its own opera, although I believe that it’s the assemble of the Belgrade’s National Theatre that performs there. At least, that’s how it used to be in the past.
In the vicinity, you can’t miss “The Birth of the Holy Virgin” Orthodox church. Unfortunately, it was nearly impossible to take a photo of the whole church, because it’s surrounded with other buildings on all sides. The architecture of all churches in Zemun is almost identical.
From there, I continued my visit through some smaller residential streets. Surprisingly, nearly all houses in those streets have also been completely restored, creating a uniquely magical atmosphere.
The path took me to the “St. Nicholas” church. This is also an Orthodox church, constructed in 1745 and it is the oldest Orthodox church in Belgrade.
From the church, you can go down Njegoševa street, where you will find some restaurants and coffee shops. This street takes you to the bank of the Danube river.
But, I didn’t go there because, to get to Zemun, I had already walked along the river. I went to see the most important historical landmark in the town.
Undoubtedly, the most important and the most famous historical landmark in Zemun is the Gardoš Tower. Built in 1896, together with 6 other monuments across the Hungarian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it celebrated one thousand years of the Hungarian presence in the Pannonian plain.
If you go to Zemun, you would certainly want to visit this historical structure. You can enter it and climb the narrow stairs up to the viewing platform, which is approximately mid way to the top.
Views of the Danube river, Zemun and Belgrade in the distance from the tower are spectacular.
RETURN TO BELGRADE
Having spent almost all day in Zemun which, in addition to sight-seeing, also included a very pleasant coffee break in one of the coffee shops in the Old Town, I decided to go back to central Belgrade. But, I didn’t want to walk back.
To catch the bus, I had to go back to Glavna Street. As I’ve already mentioned, that street is the main artery where you can find busses to various different destinations.
As you can see in these photos, absolutely all buildings in this street have also been restored. Personally, I think it’s amazing, especially because I remember this street as very grim and ugly.
The street is beautiful now and it once again reinforced the feeling that I had earlier, that I was in a completely different place.
But, before I returned to Belgrade, I went to see one more historical site, close to Glavna Street – the Monastery of St. John the Baptist and Anthony.
The original Catholic Franciscan monastery was destroyed by the Ottomans in 1453. The building that we see today is the 19th century construction, finished in 1830.
I am very glad that I visited Zemun. The local municipality government clearly invested a lot of money and effort in embellishing the whole town.
Because of that, I additionally enjoyed my visit, I observed the beautiful architecture and absorbed its overall magical atmosphere.
I hope that all of Belgrade will be like that one day in not so distant future. After all, living in any city, in which we spend most of our time, should also mean being surrounded by aesthetically pleasing buildings. Belgrade has a lot of them, it’s just that they need to be restored.
If you are visiting Belgrade, make sure that you visit Zemun. You will enjoy it tremendously.