Despite being a major international capital and regional powerhouse, Belgrade is still a long way from what could be described as a ‘touristy’ city. Visiting here could almost be classed a ‘non-touristy’ thing to do, but what are the alternatives to the alternative? Here are some ideas.
New Belgrade is the capital’s most populous district, yet it remains unloved by locals and visitors alike. The harsh aesthetic of the 20th century development has a lot to do with this, and you are extremely unlikely to see many people walking its wide boulevards with a map in hand. More fool them of course, as Novi Beograd has plenty to offer the visitor.
Best known for the hulking grey blocks that dominate, visitors will likely be surprised by just how green New Belgrade’s long streets are. This is real life Belgrade with the city centre well within reach, giving the best of both worlds. It also happens to house some of the finest restaurants in the country, offering both traditional and international cuisine.
The Blocks themselves are an intriguing monument to an unloved architectural era, each one a hive of activity featuring Serbs of all generations. New Belgrade is the ‘warts and all’ version of Belgrade, and you can go ahead and use the marmite analogy if you so desire.
Sticking with New Belgrade, the socialist architecture of Belgrade is often listed among the reasons to dislike the city. Why is this? The harsh angles and gloomy lack of colour aside, buildings like the Palace of Serbia and the otherworldly Genex Tower give a unique insight into what was a prosperous time for the people of Belgrade. There may come a time when such constructions are appreciated, so seek them out and get ahead of the curve.
The Eternal Derby between Red Star and Partizan Belgrade has become a popular attraction for visitors, but it doesn’t paint an accurate picture of football in Serbia. Red Star and Partizan dominate, but the 2017/18 Serbian SuperLiga also features another four clubs based in Belgrade.
How about checking out a game in a stadium on top of a shopping centre, as you can do in Voždovac? FK Rad’s supporters are the most notorious in the country, so why not see that misery for yourself? Does the fiery independence of Zemun extend to its soccer side? FK Čukarički were the first Serbian club to be privatised, and has produced players like Aleksander Kolarov.
Better yet, why not check out a game of rugby instead of football? Rugby Union is very much a minority sport in Serbia, but the Partizan club is extremely well established and has a fantastic core through the team. Games take place at Ada Ciganlija, so you can tick off a tourist attraction with a decidedly non-touristy one.
The Museum of Yugoslav History and Nikola Tesla Museum get plenty of visitors, but one of Belgrade’s most curious houses of culture is found tucked away in an apartment block in the city centre. The Roma Museum isn’t easy to find, but it is well worth the effort. What it lacks in size it makes up in intrigue, showcasing and celebrating the history of Europe’s most maligned people. The story of the Roma remains one of the least told of modern times.
Belgrade is a big place, a fact that feels true even if you consider Zemun or New Belgrade to be the end of the city. Belgrade stretches way beyond those districts however, and life becomes extremely different once the bright lights have been left behind. Tourist attractions are thin on the ground out in places like Mirijevo, Karaburma and Konjarnik, but real life and engaging stories are everywhere you look.
Belgrade has seen its fair share of misery over the centuries, but it is hard to argue with the Nazi occupation in the 1940s as being the darkest of days. Two major concentration camps were located in Belgrade during World War II. The Sajmište camp was out in Zemun, and around 23,000 people were killed there. A monument to the dead stands on the site today.
Dedinje is Belgrade’s most affluent suburb, but wealth and luxury were far from the minds of those interned at the Banjica concentration camp. Nearly 24,000 people were imprisoned here, almost 4,000 of which were murdered. Many prominent Serbian intellectuals were held here, in what was considered to be the most notorious camp on Serbian territory. Monuments can be found here as well.
Visiting Belgrade’s concentration camps is not an experience that should be taken lightly, but that dark period of time plays an important role in what would eventually fester and rip apart Yugoslavia.
Protest tourism is something that should never exist, but those who believe in social causes should absolutely keep an eye open for any protests while in Belgrade. One of the most cultural parts of the city is being destroyed to make way for a highly questionable luxurious development that nobody asked for and nobody wants, and the Ne Davimo Beograd group may as well be the last line of security.
Protests and events are held regularly, but those interested in supporting the cause should get in touch with the group regardless. Who wouldn’t love a shirt with a big yellow duck on it, after all?
If ever there was a city that needed a metro, Belgrade is it. That is unlikely to ever happen however, due to a lack of funds and the whole ‘New Belgrade is built on a swamp’ thing. An underground train station does exist however, at the city’s famous Vuk Monument (Vukov Spomenik). It has been described as ‘one of the most beautiful railway objects, built in the worst time of the state’, and that seems like a fairly accurate description.
Belgrade is the largest city (by population) in Europe without a subway, and the station at Vukov Spomenik gives a heartbreaking glimpse into a future that will likely never arrive.