After one month of living in Belgrade, I learned so much about Serbia’s proud and culturally rich capital.
Europe’s Best Kept Secret: Belgrade
It took me a summer weekend to fall in love with Belgrade. Later on, this past autumn, I decided to head back and stay for a month. It seemed like the perfect place to just take a break from Athens and refresh myself and my writing.
Tucked between central and southeast Europe, it became my haven to just write for a while. As a self-proclaimed balkanophile, it was also a great way to understand more of the Serbian culture and explore the little city that is full of energy, nightlife and great cuisine.
I wasn’t alone. I made many Serbian friends so far living here on this side of the Atlantic. Through them and actually living in their city for a month I feel that Belgrade is Europe’s “best kept secret.”
15 Things I Learned about Belgrade in 1 Month
1) Love the Serbian Language
As a lover of languages, I took private Serbian language lessons. I got as far as ordering some food and singing the alphabet like a toddler but I loved every minute of it.
2) Zivili and Mean It
One Serbian word that definitely stuck was the word said as the toast. It is zivili meaning to live. And you definitely cannot say it without looking your drinking companions in the eye!
3) Rich Balkan History
More than a century old, the Ethnographic Museum of Belgrade is a great place to get a taste of Serbian history in a little amount of time. In fact, the costumes, culture and art were exactly like that of the northern part of Greece. The Ottoman influence was obvious and made me think of the cultural vs. political borders humans have drawn throughout time.
- Tip: The museum is free on Sundays.
4) Serbia’s Tumultuous Past
Serbia has a tumultuous past and an especially violent recent past. The 90s were a rough time during the breakup of Yugoslavia of which Serbia played a role. I have come to love Serbia, so it was sad to see the remnants of war around the city. The ruins of buildings left from NATO bombing are a testament to that time.
5) The Significance of St. Sava Cathedral
I frequented the park of this beautiful but unfinished cathedral many times. It was always relaxing to walk around the grounds where you can people watch the day away. I quickly learned that St. Sava with all its uncompleted beauty is a symbol of Belgrade.
For more read my post: The Impressively Unfinished St. Sava Cathedral.
6) Belgrade’s “Sea” is Ada Ciganlija
This island park is referred to as “Belgrade’s sea.” It is really an 8 km long gravel beach on the edge of the Sava River. It is the go-to place during the summer thanks to its cool microclimate. It’s also a nice place to have a coffee or a drink.
7) Favorite Belgrade Neighborhoods
Near the Brankov bridge, Savamala is an up-and-coming area where historic buildings are living new lives as bars, clubs and hip hotels.
This cobble-stoned distrct of Belgrade is a historic street known as the bohemian quarter and often compared with the Montmartre in Paris thanks to its artistic vibe and history. Writers, poets and painters used to live, eat and drink here.
Next to Skardarlija is Dorcol where my close friend lived and where you can take in the city’s best of the old and the new. It’s very central, packed with historic buildings. Strahinjića Bana is a pretty glitzy cocktail bar street.
8) City Center Streets with Character
I loved strolling down Belgrade’s downtown shopping area. The main street is called Knez Mihajlova which is a pedestrian way.
Every city has that meeting point. In Belgrade, Republic Square is it.
I also loved bumping into Belgrade’s old buildings. However dilapidated, they seemed to scream out a million stories at once.
9) Inspiring Kalmegdan Fortress Views
Kalemegdan Park is in the heart of Belgrade, right where the Sava and Danube rivers converge. I loved running or walking here where the expanse of green, shady trees and lovely stone paths were always a welcome sight for me. The fortress itself, full of history, is a great monument to explore. The benches are situated in perfect viewing spots to watch sunset.
In the white city, the white lions make a home at the Belgrade Zoo located right next to Kalemegdan Fortress. The white lion is sometimes found in wildlife reserves in South Africa.
10) Belgrade for Foodies
Hanging out with my local Serbian friends – and on my own – I had many memorable Serbian foodie experiences.
I’ll start first with my local pekara or bakery. It was one of the first Serbian words I learned. I was living near one and had a terrible time deciding what sweet treats to try.
One memorable moment was my stare down at what was the biggest burger I had ever encountered in Europe. The traditional burger is the pljeskavica. It is made with any combination of pork, lamb and beef and can be grilled, broiled, baked or pan fried.
Generally, I’d say that traditional Serbian meals are full of strong flavors and lots and lots of meat in some form. There are a lot of Turkish influenced foods, as I have found in Greece. One dish that is popular is cevapcici (skinless mincemeat sausage), always impressive to see served.
The markets of Belgrade were always lively. The nicest ones are Kalenic and the atmospheric Zeleni Venac.
Forget Oreos. My new favorite cookie is now Plasma. This cookie-cracker invention is of Serbian genius. I leaped for joy when I found out they even come topped with dark chocolate. I am now officially a fan of Rum chocolate bars, too.
Belgrade has an up-and-coming restaurant scene and there are some great places to dine on nice Serbian dishes. Two of my favorites were Fransh and Mala Fabrika Usuka.
Check out Serbian wines at some wine bars including Vinoteka in the center of Belgrade.
11) Belgrade Coffee Culture
I’m used to the Greek frappe, a classic modern Greek mix of Nescafe instant cold coffee and milk. In Serbia, I discovered their version which is made with the same ingredients but rather served mild cold (a difference indeed!) with tasty whipped cream. Sometimes, the frappe has a plasma cookie jutting out of the top. Extra cool.
I highly recommend a great coffee shop called Smokvica (little fig) which is full of character. Also a cool calm place for an evening drink.
12) That Serbian Spirit: Rakija
The Serbian spirit called rakija is, in my view, very strong! Wow! It’s a double-distilled fruit brandy that has been offered to me many times. It can be made with quince, pear or peaches—but from what I noticed the favorite version is made from plums.
13) Beautiful Tall People
At 5’ 5”, I must admit I felt like a munchkin in Belgrade. Serbians are simply tall and everyone we went people towered above me. Also, I must say they are a handsome people. Women especially are striking and so put together in every way from hairstyles, nails to clothing style. I can see why models come from this part of the world.
14) Thriving Belgrade Nightlife
Most people don’t know that this city is about nightlife. The town just comes alive every weekend and that’s because Serbians love to be out, look good while they are at it and have fun. It reminds me of Athens in that way but, of course, Belgrade keeps its own unique vibe – one totally worth discovering if you love a good night out. Think tall beautiful people, stylish bars, pretty cocktails and colourful nightclubs set on river will keep you dancing and having a great time until sunrise.
Belgradians go clubbing on the river on splavs or splavovi, they are bars and clubs set in boats along the Sava and Danube. The music ranges from Serbian to modern but it is always lively.
Antoher nightlife experience I loved was going out to kafana in Zemun. It was kind of like a Serbian bouzoukia (traditional Greek music hangout) in a way, where traditional live music was played and everyone danced and knew all the words to every song.
For more on Belgrade nightlife check out my post: Belgrade Nightlife Serbian Style
15) Warm Serbian People
I’ll end this post about things I love with a testament to the Serbian people. They have a warm, fun-loving and hospitable nature. As a visitor you can’t help but walk away with a great feeling about them. They truly define famous Balkan hospitality. They are proud of their country and totally proud you have chosen to visit their country – a place that still remains off the beaten path in many ways.
Have you ever been to Belgrade? What did you experience?