Belgrade may make those who lived through the 1990s think of bombs and conflict, but in the 30 years since the dissolution of Yugoslavia, it has regenerated into a hip and relaxing city to visit.
At a glance rough budgets for a 3 day break, for flights, accommodation, food and sightseeing (based on cheapest flights available).
Mid Range: £325pp
High End: £490pp
Return flights from London to Belgrade are not in the usual budget range, with cheap days around £150. It’s most expensive to fly on Friday and return on Sunday, and substantially cheaper to fly Thursday to Tuesday, and given how cheap it is once there, it’s probably worth staying a little longer than closer weekend breaks. Wizz Air are by far the cheapest flights, but Air Serbia do have similar priced flights, you just have to hunt harder for them.
A shared room in an 8 bed dorm can cost as little as £5 per person per night, and are often in great locations. A mid-range hotel room in a central location will set you back about £30 per room per night, while a 4* hotel will be more in the region of £50 – £60 per room per night. The very top notch can be more like £100 per night.
Belgrade loves meat. Any menu you find will be a long list of meatballs and hamburgers with a variety of spices and sides. to back this up, bacon is considered a snack food in Serbia. Other hunger-busting quick eats include Borek, a heavy, often cheese-based pastry cake or pie, and sandwiches galore.
The main thing you’ll notice in Belgrade however, is that everyone, at all times of day or night, male, female, old or young, all love to take a break and have a cake and a cup of coffee. Pancakes or ice cream can be suitable substitutes for cake, but it must be sugary and it must be eaten as constantly as possible. A cake and coffee in a posh, city-centre street cafe, where you can watch the fashionable residents shopping, might set you back about £3.50 (550 Dinar), elsewhere a very reasonable £2 to £2.50. Bear in mind, to really enjoy Belgrade, you will need to have 3 or 4 of these a day.
Dinner is a very mixed affair price-wise. A single course with side salad (you’ll need side salads a lot- mian courses are often just meat and potatoes) in one of the touris-heavy (but also very nice) restaurants on Skadarlija will set you back £8 – £15 per person, more if you want to push the boat out with a mixed grill or whole chicken. however, if you eat at budget places, a burger and fries or a whole pizza can be had for £3.
Belgrade doesn’t get as fiercely cold winters as you might expect, but it does freeze and snow there. It warms up quickly though, and from March you can expect double figures, and from May to October, the temperature often sits in the 20’s. August and September are the hottest months, often almost hitting 30 degrees. While there is something suitably post-communist state about wrapping yourself up in a thick coat and trampling through the snow, the one of the nicest things in Belgrade is taking an evening stroll through the mild streets, along with what feels like everyone else in the city, sitting outside for lazy evenings with a coffee or a cocktail, and you really need to be here from May to October for that to be at its best.
Things to do
Belgrade is a big city, with what seemingly as many different things to do as there are people in it. It’s a very young city, with a rising reputation on the clubbing scene, but there are also plenty for the tamer holiday makers.
Rising unavoidably from the banks of the Danube is Belgrade Fortress. From a distance it looks like a sprawling, wooded park, and that isn’t far from the mark. The grounds are open 24 hours a day, and extremely popular with locals for walks, views and to sit in the cafes. There are several museum-esque attractions in the fortress, including a clock tower you can climb up, a Roman well and some cold war bunkers. The attractions are not open all the time, and incur a small entrance fee. You can see more details about prices and opening hours here, but most entrance fees are only about £1 – £1.50. The interesting half-star shape of the fort means that walls are rarely running int he direction you think they are and it’s very easy to get lost here.
There are several impressive churches in the city, the most famous, and most spectacular, is that of St Sava’s. About a 30 minute walk from the main city shopping streets, it’s a bit out of the way, but definitely worth a visit. You can also take bus 31 right from the centre. The church rises above the surrounding city, with dome piling on dome, and once you’re inside it feels almost cavernous. It may have been started 100 years ago, but it’s not quite finished still, so there may well be scaffolding inside.
One of the city’s most famous residents, however briefly, was Nikola Tesla, and there’s a museum dedicated to his works. The museum is very small, but includes regular demonstrations in English of many of his original inventions, including an enormous Tesla coil. HasAnyoneBeenTo…?’s favourite item is a remote controlled boat from 1898, which everyone assumed was controlled by a secret monkey, as the technology it used was so radical it couldn’t really be comprehended. And who doesn’t like to think of a monkey piloting a boat? Tickets are pricey at £3.50pp (500RSD) but if you like a bit a technology and want something you really can only find in Belgrade, it’s a wonderful place to visit.
Just down the road is also a statue to Belgrade’s other most famous citizen, Gavrilo Princip. His name may not be as well known as that of Tesla, but his deed definitely is- he fired the shot that killed Archduke Ferdinand, setting in action the events that spiraled into the first world war.
For those who like to shop, Knez Mihailova is the street to head to. It begins directly outside one of the main entrances to the fortress and Kalemegdan park, and is wonderful mix of cafe and restaurants, high-end clothes shopping, slightly shonky jewellers and stalls outside selling painting of Serbia. The enormously wide boulevard, lined with it’s high rise, art-noveau-esque Romantic style buildings, is everything people imagine Paris still to be. Busy in the day with shoppers, come dusk, everyone comes out just to promenade up and down, meeting and greeting, and sizing up other peoples fashion choices. At weekends, the pedestrianised zone is extended and traffic diverted, such is the importance placed on that evening stroll.
No trip to Belgrade would be complete without a trip along the Danube, either along it’s banks or on it’s surface. There are several boat trips along the river, most on large modern vessels, for about £5 -£6 per person, some including a little food and drink for about £10 per person and then also one on a replica medieval ship for about £8pp.
There is a bike path all the way along the Danube, that in fact runs from Belgrade to Nantes in France, and will shortly continue all the way to Constanta in Romania. The good news is you don’t have to cycle the whole route to enjoy it’s charms, and a cycle along the river is a lovely way to spend a morning. Bikes can be hired from £6-£7 per day. A good destination might be Lido beach, on the north tip of Great War Island. This large island in the Danube is a nature reserve, with no developments allowed, but in summer locals flock over the temporary bridge to sunbath on the sandy beaches, walk in the woods or take kayaks out on the river.
If nightclubs are your scene, you want to head down to the river at night. On the eastern side of the river, many clubs are in the railway arches, or lining the streets between the Brankov Most bridge area to the railway station. When the night gets going, head over the bridge to the western bank, and pick a direction to follow the river. Either way, you’ll soon hit lines of floating clubs. Some are boats that have been converted, some look like shipping containers someone has balanced on a raft, all of them offer loud music and alcoholic drinks. Getting here before midnight is a definite faux pas, and most places are open until at least 4am.
For those who like a slightly more sedate night, there are also a number of jazz clubs in the city proper, such as Jazz Basta, just north of the Brankov Bridge which tend to wind up at a more sedate 2am.
For a reminder of Serbia and Belgrade’s recent past, head to the Museum of Yugoslav History. The complex has three main sections- the May 25th Museum, which is a fairly dry and partisan exhibition that really only focuses on Yugoslavia under Tito, the Old Museum, sometimes labelled as the Open Storage, which has a huge collection of Tito’s own things, mostly gifts from other leaders from around the world, or various communist party sections. This is an interesting collection, not so much for it’s illumination of what Tito was like, but simply as an overview of art and the kind of objects that were seen as important and good gifts by different nations over the decades Tito was president.
The final part of the museum is the House of Flowers, where Tito and his wife Jovanka are both interred. One £2.75 (400 RSD) ticket gets you access to all three buildings. It is not a good place to start if you are looking for a beginners guide to the former Yugoslavia, but it is a good (if overwhelmingly positive) look at Tito and his undeniable role in holding the different republics together for so long. Much of the displays in the May 25th Museum are only labelled in Serbian. It’s a way out of town, about an hours walk, but buses 40 or 41 go straight to the front door.
A taxi from the airport to central Belgrade will cost about £12. There is a fixed price system, and you buy a voucher from the desk inside the airport terminal before proceeding outside to the taxis. A minibus runs at least hourly, and costs about £2 (300RSD). You just buy a ticket from the driver, and a map and timetable can be found here. Getting around day to day is easy. Most things in Belgrade are within walking distance. If you do want to get a bus, for example to St Savas Church or the 25th May Museum, you can buy a ticket on board for £1 (150RSD).