Belgrade: Where Sava and Danube meet
January 1, 1970
After six hours on a bus, my feet finally felt the firm ground – I was in Belgrade. Serbian capital welcomed me with 25°C on a late September day, probably the best time to travel. I was invited by a friend to a summer school on European integration, a hot topic in Serbia and the region. Meeting some familiar places and learning something more about what the future might bring, I said yes.
It’s been almost 6 years since my last visit to Belgrade. And a lot has changed. I learned this the hard way, completely missing the hostel in which I was supposed to check in. But what I love about Belgrade and the Balkans in general is the hospitality and the fact that you can actually never get lost, not for real. People of Belgrade are easygoing and always ready to help. So after one hour, I finally managed to settle in. In the following days, I was re-exploring the city and here’s a short list of not-to-be-missed spots in Belgrade.
Terazije & the Republic square
We stayed in the very center of the city – the Terazije square. The host in our hostel kindly explained to me – the name Terazije comes from the Turkish “su terazisi” meaning “scales” or “water balance”. Decided for myself to acknowledge the latter, since the city is placed on the confluence of two gorgeous rivers – Sava and Danube.
I was pretty much happy about the location itself until Sunday and the “Belgrade Pride” that caused a complete blockage of the center preventing anyone from going in or out of the rainbow circle.
There are some other downsides to the location as a place to sleep, too, beginning with the fact that the area is very busy. The traffic almost never stops and Friday and Saturday night actually mean live music at the Square, especially during the summer, so if you prefer a good night’s sleep, this is probably not the best solution.
Never the less, the city offers a very wide range of accommodation – from friendly hostels for younger travelers to exclusive hotels for the business elite coming to Belgrade on work assignments with some of international and Serbian biggest companies.
The hostel was ideally located at the beginning of the Knez Mihailova street and close to the Republic square, making me realize that all the important historical (or should I say also touristic) spots are at a walking distance.
The monument to Prince Mihailo dominates the Square and a friend explained to me it is a common meeting place for Belgrade people – “Meet me at the horse”, he said, was the meeting phrase. He also explained that Prince Mihailo was the Prince of Serbia in the 19th century and pointed out to the fact that the statue actually has him, the Prince, raising his right hand, as well as his horse, raising its leg. According to my friend, this was due to the fact that the Prince was assassinated. Not sure if this is true, though.
Dine at Skadarlija
Actually, even before checking the very surrounding of the hostel, my first destination was Skadarlija, a beautiful bohemian street with numerous restaurants with very old-fashioned names such as “Two Deer” and “Three hats”. The street got it’s “bohemian” reputation in the beginning of the 20th century, as some very well-known poets and writers, mostly poor, started visiting Skadarlija on a regular basis. My hosts took me to the end of the street, to the Big Skadarlija restaurant, explaining it was the place where regionally popular singer Toma Zdravkovic started – and ended his career.
Quite contrary to Belgrade’s posh image, Skadarlija is really easy going, romantic and nostalgic. Restaurants offer delicious meals of domestic cuisine, of which I would go for a veal soup almost every time. The traditional cuisine, just as in the rest of the Balkans, includes a lot of meat dishes, cheese, desserts. Besides the already-mentioned veal soup, national food would include pljeskavica (usually beef or pork), ćevapi (grilled minced meat, typical for the entire Balkans region), Karađorđeva šnicla (Karageorge’s schnitzel), pasulj (bean stew) and many other delicious meals. Šopska salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions covered with grated kačkavalj cheese is a must, especially when ordering some of these.
The national drink is rakija, a fruit brandy of a sort, usually made of plums, grapes, pears.. These different types of rakija are named after the fruit it is made of. The common belief in the Balkans is that rakija cures everything and does not give one a hangover. Not sure about that one though.
To upgrade the ambiance, there are numerous traditionally dressed bands performing old and traditional urban music in almost every restaurant in the street, bringing nostalgia back to the table. Treat it with domestic wine. Or rakija.
Watch the sunset at the Kalemegdan fortress
Consisting of a citadel and a beautiful park, Kalemegdan oversees the confluence of Sava and Danube rivers. Thanks to its very strategic position, the Romans built the Kalemegdan fortress sometimes in the first century.
It has been destroyed and rebuilt many times, by Huns, Slavs and others, while the Serbians, the Turks, and the Austrians built upon the original walls.
Today, Kalemegdan park is always full of people, especially the youth sitting on the walls looking over to the Zemun. It is one of the favorite spots in Belgrade for its inhabitants and tourists. Mine as well. As the late autumn can award us with some of the most spectacular sunsets, I spent almost every evening in Belgrade at the Kalemegdan fortress trying to capture the colors and reflections of the sun on the two rivers meeting in Belgrade.
Wander through Zemun
Although we had an organized boat trip starting from Zemun, I still think Zemun should not be missed. Although it seems so far away, especially seen from Kalemegdan, Zemun is actually only minute’s ride away by bus.
It is a very beautiful and very green part of Belgrade on the right bank of the Danube which was a separate municipality till 1929 when it joined the Belgrade City Area. It still felt to me like a city within the city, so close, but still so far away from the fast-beating Belgrade center.
When mentioning Zemun, one might easily refer to Zemunski kej, a promenade on the Danube, and the rafts, which are a synonym for a good party in Belgrade. The offer ranges from coffee to lunch and dinner, but it is the concerts and live bands that attract all those seeking entertainment and exciting nightlife.
If around, take a walk along the Danube promenade and visit one of the restaurants offering traditional food and nice ambiance.
Visit the Saint Sava temple
Although my list of the things to see in Belgrade is not nearly final, I would like to recommend another attraction – the St. Sava temple.
Very impressive, especially under the night lights, the Church of Saint Sava is one of the biggest Serbian Orthodox churches and ranks among the biggest church buildings in the world. It is dedicated to Saint Sava, founder of the Serbian Orthodox church and one of the most important historical figures of Serbia.
It is being built on the spot where the Ottomans burned St. Sava’s remains in the 16th century. Although still not finished, it is absolutely gorgeous and definitely a must-see in Belgrade.
Although my visit to Belgrade was short and very limited in free time, due to my summer school obligations, I still enjoyed the Serbian capital very much. It is a vibrant city with warm people, delicious food, and great tourist sites, which definitely require more than just a couple of days. So, I am definitely coming back. Soon.