Discover this über-hip city’s historic past
Cast an eye over Belgrade’s mismatched cityscape, and you’ll spot a trail of breadcrumbs leading to its past. Communist-era buildings. Striking citadels. And museums holding ancient history under lock-and-key. While it is loud and proud when it comes to its heritage, the up-and-coming hipster scene in this city rivals even Berlin’s. With our city guide, explore the home of brutalist buildings, the best luxury hotels in Belgrade and some of Western Europe’s most vibrant nightlife.
1. Step back in time…
In Belgrade, it’s easy to get a sense of how things used to be. In the streets, art-nouveau meets stripped-back brutalism – an architectural time map of the city’s tumultuous past. But it doesn’t stop there.
What was once the site of a canon attack on Belgrade, is now Topčider Park – a peaceful area for river walks and picnicking, close to the luxurious neighbourhood of Dedinje. It’s hard to imagine this spot as anything other than idyllic. But a visit to the Palace of Prince Miloš will give you a glimpse of past uprisings against the Turks.
Continue to satisfy your taste for history by sampling authentic Serbian cuisine. Look out for mouth-watering traditional dishes like ćevapčići – pork or beef sausages grilled with diced onion, creamy kajmak and ajvar, a red pepper sauce.
Traditional, family-run restaurants are scattered all over the city. But at Dva Jelena, you can savour superb, yet homely Serbian cuisine with a difference, as violinists weave around the tables. For a sweet fix, hunt for local pekaras, or bakeries. Mounds of small jam-filled doughnuts, vanilice, are a sweet staple served mostly in Western Serbia.
For an equally authentic dinner spot, head to Zavicaj. Think waiters clad in Serbian dress. Walls adorned with local artwork. And rustic dishes served on chequered tablecloths. Sit and savour this slice of Serbia’s rural heritage in the whirl of the bustling city.
2. Get with the times…
There’s a tangible edginess to Belgrade. Its bolshie, no-frills attitude is as boisterous as it is beguiling. Let its art scene woo you – from the street art climbing up the houses of the bohemian quarter Skadarlija. To the exhibits in the Museum of Contemporary Art, a modernist building surrounded by a sculpture park.
While Belgrade’s eating habits remain largely traditional, some contemporary eateries have shouldered in between the rustic taverns. Though meat makes up a large part of the Serbian diet, vegetarians need not miss out. Radost House is a fusion of modern Thai and Indian cooking. They’ve hidden the signs to stop it from being overrun by tourists, so it can be hard to find. But once you’re there, you’ll discover it’s well worth the treasure hunt.
Often branded ‘the new Berlin’, Belgrade’s nightlife isn’t solely defined by its gritty clubs and pounding basslines. If raving’s not your scene, there are plenty of laid-back bars to spend the night in. Fashionable crowds flock to Mladost/Ludost, with its shining steel bar and exposed brick that seems straight out of Soho. While Jazz Bašta is the perfect place to dig into the city’s deep jazz roots.
Top tip: Every summer, Exit music festival descends on the Petrovaradin Fortress in the Novi Sad neighbourhood. This award-winning event has seen the likes of Bastille, Ellie Goulding and The Killers perform on its stages.
3. Feel it stand still
There’s a lot to discover about this fast-paced city. Luckily, it’s brimming with museums waiting to be explored. The Museum of Yugoslavia holds over 200,000 artefacts telling fascinating tales of the former country. Soak it all in yourself, or join a free tour at the weekends.
Named after the Serbian inventor, the Nikola Tesla Museum is a must-visit on your Belgrade city break. An homage to his genius, the museum holds a range of interactive exhibits that make it a great option if you’re visiting with children.
To discover how Yugoslavian royalty lived, take a tour of the Royal Compound, made up of the Royal and White Palaces. As the former home of King Peter II, and used by the communist regime post-WWII, this site is brimming with political intrigue.
Where to stay
Saint Ten Hotel is as much a historic landmark as a forward-thinking boutique hotel. Built in the 1920s, this luxury bolthole rubs shoulders with stately homes along a tree-lined boulevard in the Vracar neighbourhood.