Belgrade is one of the most talked-about cities in Europe, and although I’m not normally one to believe hype, I had a good feeling about it. From the moment I crossed over the Sava River and into the “White City” (to which its Serbian name, Beograd, translates), I could feel myself falling in love.
Of course, the reasons I ended up loving Serbia’s capital were different not only from the ones other travelers had given me, but also from how I imagined myself spending my time as I looked out onto the city from my apartment in its center. Belgrade, perhaps more than any other city I visited during my two weeks in the Balkans, is a place you can only get to know once you suspend expectation and lose yourself in the moment.
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Where to Stay in Belgrade
As is the case in much of the Balkans region, apartments are king in Belgrade. I was lucky enough to find Gala Suites, an apartment that is not only centrally located (it’s literally one minute by foot from Republic Square!), but is also newly renovated and, as a personal bonus for me, sits in an old Yugoslav-era building that mirrors the wonderful contrasts and contradictions that more broadly define Belgrade.
Day One: Past, Present and Future in the White City
Belgrade is perhaps the most eclectic European city I’ve ever visited (before I got there I’d have said nearby Sarajevo), an intoxicating mix of Austro-Hungarian splendor, Eastern Bloc drab and budding modernity that seems ugly at first, but more beautiful the longer you spend amid it. A great way to experience this is to start at the aforementioned Republic Square, then head down busy Terazije Boulevard toward St. Sava Temple, the largest Eastern Orthodox Church in the world.
Along the way there are many places to stop off, from green spaces such as Manjez and Tasmajdan, to historical attractions like the Nikola Tesla Museum to the National Assembly of Serbia. Spend as long as you want exploring this part of the Belgrade, but make sure to head back to the other way and to Kalemegdan, an ancient fortress that overlooks the confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers, before sunset.
Day Two: From Nikola Tesla to Novi Sad
For the second and third of your three days in Belgrade, I recommend taking day trips out of the city, both of which will take you west over the Sava—along the same road, in fact. One place you’ll pass through both days is Zemun, which is colloquially known as the “pretty” part of Belgrade, although I don’t necessarily recommend stopping here on your way to Novi Sad, a city that is perhaps Serbia’s most well-regarded.
Like Belgrade, Novi Sad is home to a riverside fortress (Petrovaradin), although you’ll need to walk a couple kilometers from the bus station (and, indeed, all the way through the charming Old Town) to get there. Still, I do think the best idea is to start your day trip in Novi Sad with a delicious lunch atop the fortress, overlooking the city, then head back into town to take in attractions such as the Church of the Great Martyr St. George and the Novi Sad Synagogue.
Day Three: Drunk on Serbia
Even if you don’t meet a charming Serbian called Nikola like I did, and shirk Belgrade’s famous nightlife (fun fact: Those floating structures you see from Kalemegdan are actually all bars!) as a result, you have plenty of reasons to skip sleep between the second and third of your three days in Belgrade. Get up somewhat early, however, so you can catch a bus to the Serbian wine city of Sremski Karlovci and stay drunk instead of succumbing to your hangover.
On paper, it might seem silly to do Sremski Karlovci as a separate day trip from Novi Sad. You can actually see Novi Sad, after all, from the Karlovci Belvedere viewpoint. To be sure, this would be sound logic is seeing Sremski Karlovci were only about enjoying attractions such as the Patriarch’s Court and the Cathedral Church of Saint Nicholas, but it’s not—visiting Sremski Karlovci is about following signs to the various wineries just out of town, and getting drunk with the owners as they spew semi-racist bullshit at you.
If this itinerary feels incomplete, that’s because it is: I definitely feel like three days in Belgrade (and, in my case, Serbia) was too short a time to spend. If you have any further tips for Belgrade or Serbia, feel free to post them in a comment! I’ll be sure to update this post one I inevitably return to Europe’s most underrated city and country.
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