Belgrade may not be the prettiest capital in the world, but it makes up for it with a gritty resilience all of its own. Reminders of past rulers are everywhere – from grandiose Habsburg boulevards to cafes that recall the bygone days of Communist Yugoslavia.
A neighbourhood dating back to the days when the Habsburg Empire ruled the
city, Stari Grad is a jumble of café-lined
streets peppered with neo-classical and Art Nouveau buildings. Take a wander
down the pedestrianised Knez Mihailova Street – one of the city’s grandest
The Kalemegdan Citadel is an imposing fortress
by the banks of the Danube that traces its origins to the time of the Celts. A
military museum recounts the history of the Yugoslav army through the ages,
with grim relics of the Balkan wars of the 1990s (Kalemegdan; admission £1.20).
Communist dictator Marshal Tito lies buried in the House of Flowers
– a mausoleum where nostalgic comrades regularly pay their respects. Close to
the tomb is a vast collection of relay batons handed to Tito by children across
Yugoslavia (admission £1.60).
A prominent feature on the skyline, the Cathedral of Saint Sava is the largest
church in the Balkans – a 20th-century structure built on the site where
Turkish invaders supposedly burned the relics of Saint Sava, founder of the
Serbian Orthodox church (admission free).
A quieter, more laid-back counterpart to Belgrade on the opposite bank of the
Sava river, Zemun was once on the frontier of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Today it’s a place of cobbled streets, crumbling fortifications and good fish
restaurants. Raise a glass to solidarity at Kafana Pavle Korcˇagin – a frantic
café which is packed with Communist memorabilia. Grinning accordionists and
tablethumping drinkers set the pace come sundown – so reserve a table (00 38
111 240 1980; C´irila i Metodija 2a; beers £1).
Kafana Dacˇo bills itself as a visit to the
Serbian grandmother you never had. Walls are cluttered with china plates,
paintings and kitsch curios, while chequered tablecloths and rickety tables
measure up to the burek and other comfort food dishes on the menu (Patrisa
Lumumbe 49; mains from £5).
Little Bay is one of Serbia’s best dining experiences
– a good value restaurant done up like an opera house with red curtains and
golden balconies. Opera singers often turn up to serve arias with your
aperitifs. Try duck in pastry or catfish with spinach and salsa (00 38 111 328
8995; Dositejeva 9a; lunch mains from £5).
A popular bohemian haunt in Stari Grad, Dva Jelena
has been dishing out hearty meals for two centuries. The wood-panelled
interiors make for a cosy spot to peruse the meat-centric menu (Skadarska 32;
dinner mains from £6).
Kalemegdanska Terasa is a bastion of fine
food with stone arches and columns framing the dining room. Swanky dishes
include beef steak and goose liver in a truffle sauce (Mali Kalemegdan bb;
dinner mains from £6).
is a good-value stay in the town of Zemun, a five-minute walk from the banks of
the Danube river. Sunny rooms are arranged around an atrium-cum-courtyard, and
there’s also a cavernous basement restaurant replete with stone arches and a
vaulted ceiling (Bežanijska 3; from £45).
Styling itself as a dollop of Parisian finesse imported
to Belgrade, Le
Petit Piaf features rooms with fashionably muted colours, bearing
names such as Sacré Coeur and Notre Dame. Appropriately enough, the downstairs
restaurant specialises in French cooking, with a healthy nod to Italian
cuisine, too (Skadarska 34; from £65).
Travelling Actor is an upmarket pension in
Skadarlija – Belgrade’s bohemian district. True to its name, the gilded rooms
are melodramatically over the top, with Rococo chairs and Persian rugs
scattered about the place (Gospodar Jevremova 65; from £75).
Hotel Moskva has been an Art Nouveau icon
of Belgrade since 1906 – it was opened by the King of Serbia himself. Past
guests include the great and the good from Albert Einstein to Alfred Hitchcock.
Suitably regal rooms feature parquet flooring, polished surfaces and high
ceilings (Balkanska 1; from £95).
The Belgrade Art Hotel is a swanky
Italian-designed place to stay on Knez Mihailova. Flash rooms juxtapose
patterned fabrics with sultry lighting, while soundproof windows prove
invaluable assets on noisy evenings (Knez Mihajlova 27; from £110).
and trolleybuses ply limited routes in Belgrade, but buses serve
most of the city. Tickets can be purchased on board, although it’s cheaper to
purchase them in advance from newsagents and tobacco kiosks (tickets from 50p).
Belgrade has a busy cultural diary year round. FEST, one of the foremost film festivals in
the region, is held from February to March, while the city’s Jazz
Festival takes place annually in October.
Air flies to Belgrade Nikola Tesla airport from Luton (from ￡75),
while Jat Airways
flies from Heathrow (from ￡165). From the airport, buses run to central Belgrade, which is
around 11 miles away (tickets from ￡1),
and a taxi should cost no more than ￡10.
The article 'Mini guide to Belgrade, Serbia' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.