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Belgrade has it all. Okay, it doesn’t literally have everything, but it has more than enough to keep a grip on even those with the shortest attention spans. This is a city of monumental architecture, tangible history and nightlife that seemingly never stops. If Belgrade isn’t on the top of your Balkan travel list, your list needs to be redrawn.
The number one attraction in Belgrade is less a single sight and more a big conglomerate of everything that makes the city great. Kalemegdan Fortress has seen its fair share of conflict over the centuries, but the only violence you’ll see here in the 21st century will involve dogs fighting over a tennis ball. Essentially a huge park, the fortress looks out over the confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers for what is undoubtedly the city’s most romantic spot.
It also houses the Military Museum and a number of galleries, not to mention some of the city’s most recognisable monuments. In Belgrade, all roads lead to Kalemegdan. Well, not all of them, but you get the point.
One of the largest Orthodox churches on the planet, the Church of Saint Sava is one of the most identifiable attractions in the entire region. It dominates the city’s skyline, and at 79 metres in height, it is easy to see why. The church was built on the spot where the Ottomans burned Saint Sava’s remains in 1595, but nearly 400 years passed before the church itself was completed. The interior is still under construction, but its unfinished state adds another layer of intrigue to this monumental house of worship.
While it isn’t the geographical centre of the city, Knez Mihailova is without doubt the social midpoint of the Serbian capital. This long thoroughfare is where all strands of Belgrade society come to be seen, whether that is businessmen making deals in cafes or young people running aimlessly up and down it. This is the best spot for a little bit of people watching, and entire afternoons can be spent on Knez Mihailova, watching the day idly go by.
It is known as Belgrade’s Bohemian Quarter, but the use of the word ‘quarter’ is somewhat liberal. Skadarlija is more a street than an entire area, but that street is full of restaurants, bars and cafes, all dotted along the cobblestones that are a delight to look at in the morning and a struggle to walk on when inebriated. Once the domain of poets, academics and drunks, Skadarlija now has both eyes focused firmly on the tourism sector. With that in mind, some of the best restaurants in the city can be found on this short stretch of street.
The history of Yugoslavia looms large over the entire region, despite only being around for less than a century. The socialist state is remembered fondly by many in Belgrade, and as such, Josip Broz Tito’s grave is an important pilgrimage site for all visitors to Belgrade. The museum itself is a fascinating look at history as it was, and the traveling exhibitions are almost always worth a look. The collection of batons in the House of Flowers is particularly noteworthy, but it is the marble resting place of the Yugoslav leader that correctly takes center stage.
The people of Zemun might take umbrage with being described as a ‘must visit attraction in Belgrade’, as this small ‘town within a city’ is known for its fierce independence. Zemun was swallowed up by Belgrade in the 1930s, but its former position as an Austrian Empire border town means you can find a different atmosphere when compared to the big city centre. Zemun Kej is one of the most engrossing walkways in the city, and the view from Gardoš Hill and the Millennium Tower is one of the finest going. If you’re a fan of seafood, make Zemun your number one stop when in Belgrade.
Nikola Tesla probably takes home the award of being the most popular modern Serb, and the inventor’s incredible life is honoured in an excellent city centre museum. Located within a diplomatic neighbourhood in Vračar, the museum displays a number of the great man’s inventions along with many of his personal items. If you ever wanted to create light simply by holding a light bulb, this is the place to go.
Belgrade may be as landlocked as capital cities come, but the Serbs are nothing if not persistent. Ada Ciganlija, a river island turned peninsula, is affectionately known as Belgrade’s Seaside, and it is generally heaving with people once the temperatures creep above 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) in summer. By the time those temperatures hit 40 °C (104 °F), this is the best place to be. There are plenty of bars around for refreshment, making a day of lounging by the water even easier.
Belgrade’s Republic Square might seem to have a large number of people loitering on it, but do not fear. This is Belgrade’s main meeting point, where social evenings begin kod konj (by the horse). Some of Belgrade’s most important buildings are found here, including the National Museum and the National Theatre. The museum has been closed for over 15 years now, but the theatre is still going strong. Head to the website for the full schedule, and enjoy some high culture at low prices, a fabulous marketing slogan if ever there was one.
While not technically a part of Belgrade itself, Avala is a nearby mountain that overlooks the city like some sort of angry big brother, in the familial sense, as opposed to the Orwellian. It is easy to imagine the minds behind 1984’s main antagonist directing traffic from Avala Tower, however, a 205-metre tall spindle that was destroyed by NATO in 1999 before being rebuilt in 2009. This is the tallest tower in the Balkans, and it is arguably the number one attraction at Avala. The Monument to the Unknown Hero gives it a good run for its money, but the tower just about wins out.