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It doesn’t take an expert urban planner to work out that Belgrade is a big city full of more neighbourhoods than you can shake the proverbial stick at. The cafe culture cool of Dorćol, the surprisingly energetic functionalism of New Belgrade, and the fiery independence of Zemun and more await.
Divided into two sections, Dorćol is the part of town you want to be in if you’re looking for a relaxing afternoon of sipping coffee and watching the world (or at least Dorćol) go by. The name comes from the colloquial Turkish word for ‘crossroads’, and the neighbourhood was a busy trading point during the Ottoman occupation.
That energetic business remains today, although the trade taking place is usually between customer and waiter, be it in the city’s best cafes or its myriad of fantastic restaurants. Belgrade’s multicultural history is best seen here, as Dorćol is home to the only surviving mosque in the city along with the former centre of Belgrade’s Jewish community.
Calling New Belgrade a ‘neighbourhood’ is a little bit of a stretch, but it is undeniable that this massive expanse of towering blocks is a world within itself. The most populous part of the city, New Belgrade sprung up from the swamp (not literally) at the end of the 1940s, satiating Josip Broz Tito’s desire for a huge capital city.
Some seem to focus on the concrete and the grey, but those who do are missing out on one of the most exciting parts of the Serbian capital. Many of Belgrade’s finest restaurants are here, catering to the 212,104 who live in Novi Beograd. The Genex Tower also divides opinion, but we’re firmly in the ‘architecture that looks otherworldly is awesome’ camp.
It may be the smallest municipality in the city, but don’t go thinking that Vračar lacks a punch. That thwack is mighty to say the least, and the spot just outside the old centre may well be the most desirable place to live in Belgrade. The city’s iconic Church of St. Sava is found in Vračar, along with the National Library of Serbia and the Beograđanka skyscraper.
Just 700 metres west of downtown, Kosančićev Venac was actually built on the site of an Ancient Roman necropolis. This shouldn’t worry you as those lost souls are long gone, and have been replaced by a charming mixture of architecture and tree-lined paths. This is the oldest neighbourhood in the city, although most of the buildings date back only to the second half of the 20th century as it was heavily damaged during World War II. The cobblestones remain, making this one of the city’s most appealing spots.
Whilst not the cultural powerhouse it once was (you can thank the controversial Belgrade Waterfront project for that), Savamala still retains plenty of its vitality and life. For decades this was considered the shabbiest part of the city, its proximity making it easy prey for drug dealers and pimps, but a number of bars and live music venues swaggered in to provide a much needed facelift.
The Belgrade Waterfront threatens to undo all the hard work, but many of Belgrade’s best bars can be found down here. KC Grad is the best of the bunch, as much an art gallery and cultural centre as it is a drinking hole and live music venue.
It is important to mention one small caveat when it comes to Dedinje. Belgrade’s wealthiest neighbourhood is full of villas, mansions and the rest, so don’t expect much in the way of charming cafes and amiable restaurants. The houses are utterly magnificent though, and an afternoon stroll through Dedinje will open many eyes to the riches of diplomats, businessmen and individuals who were involved in questionable actions in the first half of the ‘90s.
We’ve said it many times already, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Zemun is only a part of Belgrade if you’re asking people from the big city, as those native to the former border town are as fiercely independent as they come. They have good reason to be, as Zemun is practically the dictionary definition of a ‘town within a town’.
The Danube provides the perfect spot for a romantic riverside walk before settling down for a toothsome meal in one of the glorious restaurants. Those who enjoy fish will well and truly be in their element here. All that remains is a long night of boozing in Zemun’s numerous lively bars, pubs and clubs.
Belgrade can be an uncompromisingly intense city at times, so it pays to take some time to get out of the centre and enjoy the fresh air of the forest. The Zvezdara neighbourhood is the place to go, and it’ll be no surprise to find out that the Zvezdara Forest is located here. That mass of greenery is home to some of the most interesting fauna in the city, including a number of owls and hedgehogs.
Palilua occupies some prime real estate, finding itself as good as in the city centre but without the traffic and intensity. The neighbourhood came into existence during one of the few Habsburg occupations of Belgrade, with people swiftly moving in to live in this desirable location. The city’s largest kart racing track is found in Palilula, and an artificial island will start attracting masses of visitors once it is finished.