The capital of Serbia, Belgrade is nicknamed the "Barcelona of the East" for its lively night life. Indeed, the city takes on another dimension at night: the monuments are lit up by many lights, the inhabitants go out and the streets become alive. The bars and restaurants are full and the terraces are overflowing once the weather starts to get nice. The city is great for discovering on foot, in particular by following the long pedestrian street of Prince Michael (Knez Mihailova) lined with trendy shops. It connects Terazide Square to the fortress of Belgrade, which stands at the heart of Kalemegdan Park and overlooks the Danube. Another street to be discovered is Skadarlija street, the "Montmartre" of Belgrade, located in the middle of the bohemian district. It is smaller but more typical and simply oozes charm, with its large cobblestones, pastel-coloured painted façades, and bars and restaurants with original frontages covered with flowers.Literally meaning 'white city' (beo - white, grad - city), Belgrade was built on 15 hills and has always been the most significant crossroads in the Balkans. It has also been the target of many invasions due to its location on the borders of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires. History repeated itself most recently when Belgrade was bombed by NATO forces in 1999 during the conflict in Kosovo. Some war-torn buildings still bear witness to the violence of this operation but in general the capital does not show any other signs of its stormy past. A city of 2 million inhabitants which stretches over 15 miles, Belgrade is quite an atypical city. On the other side of the Danube you find New Belgrade, a kind of business district where the luxury hotels, such as the Hyatt Regency, the Intercontinental, and the Holiday Inn are located. This district was built after the Second World War, in the style of architect Le Corbusier, and does not have any touristic interest. It does, however, need to be crossed to reach Zemun, a charming preserved district skirting the Danube and formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Trams like in Lisbon, hills like in Rome, taverns like along the Marne River, and small restaurants following Spanish meal times: Belgrade will not fail to seduce you!
The list of things to do in Belgrade by night is endless. Starting with the bars: go up Strahinjica Bana (Belgrade's street lined with bars), try out the Rakija bars, the Supermarket (a bar-restaurant in a supermarket!), Little Bay (a restaurant set up like a stage!), or the trendy clubs and nightclubs (Tube, Apartman, Magacin, Plastic, Stefan Brown, etc). For something more authentic, listen to the folk musicians while enjoying a drink on one of the terraces of Skadarlija Street, the "Montmartre" of Belgrade, and its bohemian atmosphere, or enjoy a beer to the sound of the gypsy music being played on one of many 'splavovi' (small barges open mostly in summer) moored in the Danube. Finally, stroll around the charming district of Zemun for a journey back to the time of the Hapsburgs, scour the green markets (like the open market of Kaleniceva Pijaca), go shopping in the pedestrian street of Prince Michael or go on a cruise on the Danube. When it comes to weekends and bank holidays, do as the locals do - head over to Ada CiganIija, where you can participate in various sports activities (including cycling, tennis, football, basketball, trampolining, water-skiing, kayaking, and even pedalo rides, among others) and relax on the man-made beaches surrounding the lake.
The fortress of Kalemegdan Park is one of the sites in Belgrade not to be missed. A real picture postcard image. This emblematic landmark overlooking the Danube and its confluence, the Sava, has witnessed over 2,000 years of history, from Roman tombs (in fact, 17 Roman emperors were born in the land we now call Serbia!) to Tito's Bunker, not forgetting the Medieval fortification walls, the army museum, a park, a zoo, two wonderful Orthodox churches, the monument to France, and the statue of 'the Victor'. Another significant monument in Belgrade is the Cathedral of Saint Sava, a replica of St. Sophia and the second largest Orthodox church in the world after St. Saver in Moscow: a true marvel! The architecture of the building suggests that the monument could be several centuries old, whereas in fact it is new and still unfinished. Another curiosity, the 13th century mosque, a testimony of the presence of the Ottomans over several centuries in Belgrade. In addition, a visit to the National Museum is essential, with its exhibits of interesting artistic and archaeological pieces bearing witness to the first traces of human civilisation up to the middle of the 20th century.
Don't hesitate to take a taxi to get around, they are very cheap (3 or 4 pounds maximum to get from one point to another in the city but most of the trips cost 2 or 3 pounds). The bus hardly costs anything at all but is generally crammed and pickpockets are not rare. You can also choose to take the very typical tram! In the evening, it is pleasant to get around on foot. You'll never have too far to walk from A to B in the centre, and there are no personal safety issues.
Unless you are visiting Belgrade for business reasons, know that there are no tourist attractions in New Belgrade, whose unremarkable buildings were inspired by the designs of French architect Le Corbusier. For transfers between the airport and the city centre, there is an official fixed price of 1,500 dinars, or £13, which is very reasonable. Do not hail down a random taxi in the street; take one at the airport or have the hotel hire one for you to make sure you it is an official one. It is preferable to change your money directly in Belgrade: there are bureaux de changes all over the city and they do not take a commission.
It is not necessary to bring up recent history and, in particular, to refer to the war or Slobodan Milosevic. The inhabitants suffered a great deal as a result of the NATO bombings.
Serbian cuisine is a blend of Mediterranean and Central European influences. Traditional meals are copious, festive and... enjoyed with music! It is also customary to offer visitors 'slatko' (fruits preserved in sugar) as a welcome gift. 'Kajmak' (cheese made from ewe's milk) mousse is traditionally served on 'proja' (small, flat waffles made from cornflour, rather like Turkish bread) as an aperitif, all washed down with a glass of Rakija. There are various sorts, but we decided to try 'sljivovica' (a plum brandy and speciality of central Serbia) and 'dunjevaca' (a quince-based brandy and speciality of the Voivodina region). You will be able to taste many others in the Rakija bars. Remember to say 'giveli' ('cheers') when toasting! The two local beers are Lav ('lions' in Serbian) and Yelen ('deer' in Serbian).You won't have any trouble finding somewhere to taste spit-roasted specialities: suckling pig (prasetina), lamb (janjetina) or mutton (ovcetina), as well as various Grilled meats (Rostilj). Kefka skewers evoke the influence of Turkish cuisine, just like the salad composed of feta, tomatoes and cucumbers. 'Chorba', a hearty local dish, is another of the things you mustn't miss. 'Cevapcici' is a preparation of small grilled beef rolls served with onions. 'Zito', meanwhile, is a dessert made with wheat, nuts, sugar, vanilla, and nutmeg all topped off with a drizzle of rum. Those with a sweet tooth should be sure to stop for afternoon tea at the Moskva café, one of the most beautiful hotels in Belgrade and one which cannot be missed thanks to its wonderful Art Nouveau façade. The best pastries in the city are served here! You can also taste the delightful cakes at the 'Present' pastry shop on 23 Nevesinjska street, opposite the town hall, or at the Toma bakery on Kolarceva street. Another nice address: '?' - no, it's not an error, this question mark is the name of the oldest tavern in the city, dating from 1823!
Rakija, local alcohol and spirits containing plums, quinces and other fruits are very nice souvenirs to bring back with you, as the bottles are generally well-decorated and nicely presented. Football fans can buy a shirt in support of one the city's two clubs: Red Star Belgrade and Partizan. You will find pretty icons and orthodox crosses in the churches, in particular in the impressive orthodox temple of Sveti Sava. Another inevitable souvenir are the small wooden shoes traditionally worn by Serbian children, sold in miniature on the end of a key-ring, for example.
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