Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, was an exceptional city to visit- it was a beautiful urban sprawl. By the time I left Serbia, I wanted to come back for a longer stay, especially the vibrant city of Belgrade.
Although my first impressions of the city were not great, after I stepped off the bus at the central station and my nerves got racked. All the passengers, one by one, were practically mauled by a mob of taxi drivers who were trying to get us into their taxis. We were being poked and yelled at, “Eh! Taxi! Come to my taxi!” It was minicanal and bordering on a riot, I am not exaggerating!
Fortunately for me, I had met a young man from New Jersey (of all places) on the bus. He looked after me, and made sure that I was okay. He seemed just as shaken up as I was, and we both said what we were thinking, “What the fuck was that? Let’s get out of here!”
To this day, I have no idea what the bus station mayhem was about because the city itself was extremely friendly and quite safe. I had asked other travelers if they experienced the same, and they had not. It was just a bizarre circumstance I suppose upon my arrival.
In hind sight, it was hilarious since no one was taken advantage of, and it still makes for an unforgettable memory and travel story.
If you are wondering what ever happened to that young man from New Jersey, I saw him several weeks later walking down a small street in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina. I heard a voice loudly say “Oh shit, its you!”, and it was the cute guy who helped me out of the bus station in Belgrade. We took a selfie together, talked a bit, and are social media friends!
Understanding last century’s Serbian war history, and remembering the images on the news during the 1990’s, did not help matters much while being mobbed at the bus station. That experience was a lesson not to judge one moment in time, and bring that forward while exploring a country. Belgrade was an exciting city, and letting go of that one experience allowed me to flow with the city in a good frame of mind.
During the span of the 1990s Serbia was deeply involved in the Yugoslav wars, from 1991 and 1999. Their involvement was controversial with the War in Slovenia, War in Croatia, War in Bosnia, and War in Kosovo. The United States had great involvement during these wars, especially during the Clinton admiration, with an over two month bombing campaign.
The city of Belgrade, was mainly targeted and many of its structures were destroyed. This is as far as I am going with the Yugoslov war, as I am not a political person, but I believe it an important factor of understanding Belgrade.
Today, Belgrade is vibrant and full of life. Yes, there are issues here and there, but if you look back to its recent past of 20-30 years ago, the city has come a long way. When I had visited, the city was alive with restaurants, cafes, and unique neighbooods to wander.
Belgrade is a a beautiful city in the Balkans, and here are many reasons why…
The old neighborhood of Zemun was my favorite place to explore in Belgrade. It is not close to the center of Belgrade, and you will have to take a taxi or public transportation, it is also quite easy by bus. This old neighborhood may look a bit rough around the edges than the other Belgrade neighborhoods, but do not let that fool you. I just considered it colorful and quaint.
There are winding streets and stairs that will lead to the top of the hill, where you will find the Millennium Tower, and the most beautiful views of Belgrade.
Zemun was originally a separate town with Roman roots that changed hands from the Byzantines, Ottomans, Hungarians, Mongols, Bulgarians, and Serbs, all before becoming part of the Habsburg Empire. It was eventually absorbed into Belgrade in 1934.
Exploring the Unique Neighborhoods
The one thing that I loved about Belgrade was something that was down to the basics of a city, the neighborhoods. I had explored many different neighborhoods in the city that it was mind-blowing, all were unique in their own rights, and all were amazing.
From Dorcol to Zemun, the beautiful neighborhoods with their own vibe, cafes, buildings and people are a great way to explore Belgrade. Grab a map, do a little research, and just walk. I had wandered parts of Belgrade that had trendy restaurants, cobble stone streets with charming cafes, a winding road residential area that lead to the top of a hill, and many others. Neighborhood walking in Belgrade is a must.
If you spot an old Yugo in Belgrade, consider itself a treat. Well, I thought it was quite interesting to see this automobile from the former Yugoslavian era in former Yugoslavia. I have not seen a Yugo in decades, so to see one in Belgrade was pretty cool.
This was the only Yugo that I was while I was in Belgrade, so I think they are few and far between. If you find one, then the auto gods were shining down on you that day.
City View from Zemun
However you get to the top of Zemun’s hill, there is a breathtaking view of Belgrade behind Gardos Tower. If you climbed the narrow stairway and up the pedestrian streets, this inspiring view of Belgrade will be your best reward!
In the neighborhood of Zemun, at the top of its hill is the magnificent Gardos Tower, also known as Millennium Tower. The tower is a memorial for John Hunyadi and was officially opened on August 20, 1896 to celebrate one thousand years of Hungarian settlement along the Pannonian Plain.
The tower is 118 feet tall and is built from sandstone and specially made hollow bricks, which were designed for maximum weight and pressure. You are allowed to go into the tower, which is what I did to see the structure from the inside as well as a small exhibition. It is quite a spectacular tower.
The Republic Square has been considered by many as the center of the city. It has been a meeting place for locals and tourists for centuries. If you are looking to do a walking tour, more than likely this is where you begin.
Republic Square is one of the central town squares and is located in the Stari Grad (Old Town) district. The square is the site to several of Belgrade’s most notable and recognizable public buildings, including the National Theatre, National Museum, as well as the statue of Prince Michael.
Who does not love the word “Bohemian”? I know I do. I have often been referred to by my friends as the Bougie Bohemian, in the kindest of ways- of course. The Bohemian Quarter in Belgrade was fetching with its narrow stoned streets, charming cafes and colorful flower boxes.
The Bohemian Quarter is one of Belgrade’s most famous streets and is located on Skadarska Street just below Republic Square. It is famous for keeping it traditional 19th century charm of old Belgrade architecture. There are a number of pubs, restaurants, shops and art galleries in the Bohemian Quarter. It is a charmer!
Đura Jakšić Statue
Located in the Bohemian Quarter the statue of Đura Jakšićis is located in front of his house at 34 Skadarska Street. He is one of Serbia’s most important poets, who was also a writer and painter. The sculpture was created by a famous sculptor from Novi Sad, Jovan Soldatovic.
Situated close to the Dorcol neighborhood is an original Ottoman house. It is a beautiful remnant from the Ottoman Empire that reigned throughout this region from 1459 until the early 1800s.
The neighborhood of Dorcol is the oldest neighborhood in Belgrade, and dates back to the Roman period. Over the centuries it was known as a multicultural area with different people living here- Jewish, Turkish, Roma, Serbian and many others.
Today, Dorcol is one of the trendiest neighborhoods in the city and was placed one the list of “50 Coolest Neighborhoods” by Time Out Magazine. This artsy neighborhood has also been nicknamed “The Berlin District” of the Balkans, for its eccentric and alternative vibe.
The historic Bajrakli Mosque was built around 1575 and is the only mosque in Belgrade left, which was part of the Ottoman Empire’s rule of Serbia. It is located in Gospodar Jevremova Street in the Drocol neighborhood. It was repaired after a violent protest, when it was set on fire in March 2004. It was burned in retaliation for the burning of Serbian churches in Kosovo, during the years of unrest in Kosovo.
Zemun Town Park
Located in my favorite neighborhood of Belgrade, is the beautiful Zemun Town park. It is lined with tall trees, shaded pathways, grassy grounds and a relaxing atmosphere. The unique part of this park, is how it is incorporated with the neighborhood. Within the park there are churches, a monastery, a sports hall and a couple of schools.
The Belgrade fortress, has to be the oldest fortified castle-fortresses that I have been to, and I have visited plenty. It was first originally built 279 BC and declared a Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance in 1979. The fortress is one of the city’s most important structures that represents Belgrade’s layers of cultural history. The fortress complex is huge for the very reason the city population once lived inside the walls, so in turn the fortress reflects an important part of Belgrade’s original history.
Today, Belgrade’s fortress is one of the city’s most popular attraction and is free to the public.
From the fortress grounds, you can get a magnificent view of the rivers in Belgrade. This city is the only European capital that is situated on two large rivers- the Danube and the Sava. For centuries both rivers had connected Belgrade with the rest of the world. They were also used as empire borders and provided citizens with fresh water, recreation and food.
This fun filled park is located on the grounds of the Belgrade Fortress and occupies a small part of the complex. It is the largest park in the city and is the most significant historical monument of Belgrade. The views are spectacular from the edges of the park, since it sits on a cliff with views of the River Sava and the Danube.
Both Kalemegdan Park and the fortress hold various art, cultural and sporting events, as well as being a relaxing place for all generations.
Pobednik – Victor Statue
The towering statue of Pobednik looks over the junction of both the Sava and the Danube River, and faces what at one time was the Austria-Hungarian people. It was built in 1928 by Ivan Mestrovic, a renowned sculptor, and stands victoriously on a Doric column. It commemorates Serbia’s triumph over both past ruling regimes, the Ottoman and the Austria-Hungarian Empires.
Eastern Orthodox Church
While I was exploring Zemun, I came across an old Eastern Orthodox church that I cannot recall the name. I was looking for a specific Orthodox church and got lost, and ended up here. There are a few Orthodox Churches in the neighborhood of Zemun, which you can visit. I have been into several Orthodox churches in the Balkans, and they have always been a glorious site inside.
Zemun Quay is one more reason that Zemun was my favorite neighborhood in Belgrade. The Quay located on the right bank of the Danube River is one of the city’s favorite locations for restaurants and recreation. There are many spay (Belgrade’s floating clubs and restaurants), two marinas, and a promenade. Zemun Quay is the perfect place for exercise and recreation- walking, skating and bicycling are popular pastimes here.
Over the last five years, I had traveled to every Eastern European and Balkan country- Hooray! This also means that I had tasted and journaled a lot of interesting cuisine along the way. This food journal covers three of those Balkan countries: Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Croatia.
As I traveled from country to country, I started to notice a crossover in the food and ingredients. I found it very enlightening to learn and experience the different varieties of dishes throughout the region.
⭐ What I ate in THE BALKANS – Part 1 – A Food Journal
Novi Sad Day Trip
I had an extra day or two while I was visiting Belgrade in Serbia, and decided on taking a quick solo trip to the second largest city, Novi Sad. This was a very easy trip that I strongly recommend to those who are visiting Belgrade, as the travel time only took 1.5 hours and the bus cost was about 5-6 € . It is a charming city to visit, that is quieter and more low-key than busy Belgrade.
During my visit, I stayed in Stari Grad along the old Market Square in Novi Sad’s old town, which was an amazing place to be. The Market Square is flanked by two historic buildings- The Name of Mary Church and Town Hall. Stari Grad is a lively neighborhood that is filled with several important cultural institutions, landmarks, shopping and popular restaurants and cafes.
⭐ For more information – The Cultural City of NOVI SAD | Discovering Serbia
It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey…
🌎 Thank you for visiting my website and NEVER STOP EXPLORING!
📸 All photos are taken by me and are my intellectual property – Trixie Navarre
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