7 priceless experiences to enjoy Belgrade like a local
December 2, 2018
by Marion Dautry
Serbia’s capital city is a modern European city buzzing with budget-friendly activities. Even better: some of the best experience you can get in Belgrade are free or almost and truly unique. Follow the example of the inhabitants and enjoy the city like a local!
Sunset on Kalemegdan
The old fortress is one of the oldest remains of Belgrade’s troubled history, linking together the Roman times of Singidunum, the empires’ battles over the city and the communist recent history with its hidden bunkers. It is also an amazing park loved by the city’s inhabitants who never miss a chance to stroll through the alleys, gather on the walls to chat, drink and eat popcorn and at the feet of the famous statue of the Victor (Pobednik). Kalemegdan is first of all one of the best spots to admire the sunset on the city all year long. The sun goes down on the river, throwing its last rays of light over New Belgrade while the whole city lights up. Unlike many other parks at night in Europe, Kalemegdan is a perfectly safe place to hang out late with friends. If you come in June, you might see me celebrating my birthday on the grass!
Biking around Ada
A perfect spring/summer/autumn activity. You can rent bikes from April to October (dates fluctuating based on the weather) next to the Brankov bridge and then follow the bike path along the river all the way to Ada Ciganlija. The island on the Sava river was turned into a peninsula and an outdoor activity complex open to everyone with an artificial lake. You can bicycle, rollerblade, play tennis, run, practice yoga, and of course swim! The artificial lake is entirely surrounded by beaches, cafés and restaurants. Most of them are only open during the warm season but you can come and ride or take a good walk around any time of the year. It is one of the most popular recreational zones in Belgrade during the summer. You can go all the way around the lake, which is about 7 kilometres, plus about 5 kilometres from the bridge to Ada. Then you can sit at a café on the beach, or directly with your towels on one of the free portions. There are also events happening there such as Beer Garden Ada, a beer festival with live music.
A rakia-flavoured ice cream
Two in one: the Balkan’s famous brandy and a delicious organic ice cream. Ice cream is very popular in Belgrade and you will find many shops in the city centre with delicious flavours, nice staff and cool interior design, like Crna Ovca (Black Sheep), Moritz and the very old Pelikan. The owner of the Poslasticarnica shop in Marsala Birjuzova started with a shop in the city of Novi Sad 25 years ago, then started to sell machines to make ice cream. He got in touch with ice cream masters from all over the world (and of course particularly from Italia). Then, he decided to open a shop in Belgrade. The street itself is very central and was pedestrianized not long ago. In Poslasticarnica, you can try a wide range of flavours from the usual fruity ones to more original ones like Schweppes, white wine and rakia, the traditional plum brandy of the Balkan. Everything is homemade and tasteful, without any additive. The shop has a small terrace in summer and plenty of space inside. You can also get coffee, lemonade…
Coffee with view
Serbs love coffee. In every style and size, from everywhere in the world. There is a multitude of cafés serving good coffee to sit in with friends or even by yourself – I have found this to be perfectly comfortable in Belgrade, and indulge in hours of conversation and people-watching. But my personal favourite is the combo “coffee+view”. On the river at the boat-hostel Arka Barka or in Aligator, in Zemun next to the Gardos tower, and last but not least, at Sinnerman on Nikola Pasic Square right in the city centre. This one might be hard to find the first time: take the middle entrance of the gigantic building (dom sindikata) and the lift to the last floor. Then go left all the way down the corridor (there are signs from there). Sinnerman has a big terrace (opened when the weather is good and not windy), live music during the weekends (blues, jazz) and a restaurant with delicious and cheap food.
Ever craved greasy or simply filling food when going home in the middle of the night after a long trip or wild hours of partying? The solution is in Sarajevo. The little shop in Svetogorska street, not the capital city of Bosnia. This shop is opened 24/7, it is known to be the best in town and is also very cheap. Now is the time to learn the difference between burek and pita so that your Serbian friends won’t have to chastise you for blaspheming. Both are made of filo pastry stuffed with meat, vegetables, spices or even fruits. The burek is the traditional one, filled with a mix of minced meats (in Serbia usually beef and pork; in Bosnia beef and lamb). Any other filling and you have to call it “pita with”. Pita with cheese is “sirnica”. Pita with greens is “zeljanica”… But don’t worry, “Sarajevo” has recently put up stickers with translation in English and Italian of its products.
The traditional Serbian burek is cut in quarters while the Bosnia way, which you will find in “Sarajevo” for instance, is made in long rolls later cut out according to how much the customer wants to buy. Choose which one(s) you want, ask for a quantity in grams, ask for jogurt to drink with it and eat on the spot or take away. Burek is also a usual dish for breakfast.
Chilling and partying on the river
People of Belgrade love their riverside as much as their parks. A big part of it is completely equipped for recreational activities, people-watching and lazy days filled with friend times and coffee. Zemun’s quay is the most popular. Tucked between the river and a gigantic green area, it links the Brankov bridge to the old town of Zemun, a delightful 10+ kilometres long walk. It features a bicycle lane, a running lane, sports equipment, popcorn shops, restaurants and lots of splavs. The splavs are the stationary boats and boat docks on the rivers Dunav (Danube) and Sava. They are used as clubs (only in summer), hostels, cafés and restaurants. You can walk around and sit to chill with friends all day and party all night!
If you are looking for a place slightly less crowded during the day, Sava’s quay is also great. For fancy places, heads out to 25. Maj (25th of May) down Kalemegdan and Beton Hala between the Brankov bridge and the harbour.
Golden hour at Sveti Sava
I always say the sunlight has a particular hue in Belgrade. One of my favourite time of the day is the golden hour, the moments before sunset when the sun bathes the city in a beautiful shade of gold. It is really spectacular around the church of Sveti Sava. It is the biggest orthodox church in Europe (excluding Russia). Its dome is 70-metres high and its outside walls made of beautiful blocks of white stone. The national library is right next to it and also gets a magnificent light at the end of the day. During summer, the area is full of families taking a stroll with their kids, playing with the waters of the big fountains and chasing pigeons. There are also plenty of cafés around to sit and simply enjoy the time passing, Serbian-style.