In October 2016, I got to cross another country off my bucket list as I flew to Serbia. I spent 4 days in total exploring both Belgrade and Novi Sad. The country wasn’t what I expected, but I was glad I’d visited.
We arrived in Belgrade at midnight, having caught a direct flight from Luton with Wizzair. The apartment we’d rented was on the top floor but unfortunately the lift was broken, so we had to climb 16 flights of stairs whilst carrying our suitcases! I was very out of breath by the time I’d reached the top, but at least I’d upped my step count and burnt several calories in the process!
We woke up bright and early on our first official day in the Serbian capital, ready to explore the city. With no clear direction in mind, we walked around the outskirts before stumbling upon Kalemegdan Park, home to Belgrade Fortress. Looking across, you could see the Danube and Sava rivers collect, with a smattering of grey Communist buildings for good measure.
After a quick visit to the Torture museum (I do love a good torture museum!), we ventured onto Knez Mihailova, Belgrade’s main shopping street.
I’m not going to lie: the shopping in Belgrade isn’t great. As a seasoned shopper, I can usually get some great finds wherever I go, but the only item of clothing I bought in Belgrade was a (very nice) bag from Aldo. Good for my bank balance, not good for my wardrobe.
Nevertheless, there were some nice cafes on Knez Mihailova – the Choco Caffe made great hot chocolates and cakes (as you’d imagine), and Boutique, literally opposite, did the best lunches.
After a quick chocolate fix, we had a wander round the rest of the shops before going back to the apartment.
It was at that point where I realised that Belgrade is one city that I couldn’t ever live in. There just wasn’t enough to do.
Traditional Serbian cuisine
That evening, we headed out to the Skadarlija District to meet with friends and enjoy a traditional Serbian meal (complete with LOTS of rakija and vodka!). The cobblestoned streets and quaint tavernas felt very authentic and charming – a world away from the bombed buildings down the road.
On our second day in Belgrade, we made a point of checking out all of the “tourist attractions” (at which point we realised there were literally no tourist attractions).
We started off at Trg Republike (the main square – not that you’d know!), before heading over to Hotel Moskva. Next on our list was the National Assembly of Serbia, Pionirski Park and the Church of Saint Mark. Continuing down the road (and nearly dying on one of the scariest roundabouts), we ended up at the Saint Sava temple. From a distance it looked deceivingly opulent, but up close it was very modern and I’m pretty sure they were still building it!
After some obligatory photos, we caught the bus across the Danube to Usce Shopping Centre, where my thoughts on Serbian fashion were further confirmed. I did, however, have a really nice chocolate pistachio cake.
Unsuccessful cocktail hunting
Another aspect in Belgrade that I couldn’t get used to was the lack of cocktail bars. I’d had a Google before I left, and found a place called Radionica that sounded pretty cool. Unfortunately for us, we traipsed to the other side of the city to find it was shut.
The one bar I did have a cocktail at was at a place called Blaznavac (Serbian for ‘moustache’) – it was quite a quirky place, with interesting artwork on the walls! However, the lack of cocktail bars alone is a good enough reason for me not to move there.
On our final day in Belgrade, we caught the tram out to the Museum of Yugoslavian History. Alongside finding out more about Serbia’s turbulent history (admittedly it’s not something I knew about), I had an ulterior motive: to get a selfie with Tito. I’ve selfied with Stalin, Lenin (and Brezhnev!) in the past, so it seemed only right to get a picture with another past Communist leader. To my surprise, whilst Tito’s Mausoleum was located in the museum, there wasn’t a bust or statue in sight, so that’s something I’ve yet to tick off my list.
On the way back to the city centre, I came across some… interesting architecture. Casually placed in the middle of the street were some bombed buildings. When I looked further into it I realised that it was the act of NATO back in 1999 when they bombed the Headquarters of the Federal Ministry of Defence.
It was kind of chilling to think that this only happened 17 years ago. Graffiti and posters around the city showed Serbia’s dislike of NATO and America, so the half blown up buildings seemed a good way to continue promoting this to other Serbians. It was kind of pretty in an ugly way.
Would I recommend Serbia? If you’re into Eastern Europe and ex-Communist countries like me, then I’d say go for it. However, if you’re visiting this area of the world for the first time, then I’d probably advise against it. As much as I enjoyed visiting Belgrade and am glad I went, I’m not going to lie: it’s an ugly city and not very tourist friendly. For instance, the “tourist information centre” couldn’t give us any advice on how to get to the Yugoslavian History museum (arguably one of the biggest attractions there). Even simple ideas like boat tours on the Danube weren’t a thing. Having been to two Balkan countries, I’d have to say that I preferred Montenegro.
Would I go back to Belgrade? Never say never. I feel like it has a lot of potential, but it’s a shame that as a relatively poor country, it hasn’t been able to invest in tourism. Saying that, this could be seemed as an advantage as it means you get a true picture of life in Belgrade.
It would be lovely to think that I could return in ten years’ time and find that the city has received investment to help it become the best that it can be. If I had a lot of money, I’d make a start on #ProjectBelgrade (I come up with some great hashtags!). If I win the lottery Serbia, you’ll see me again.