Visit Belgrade before the tourists arrive! Many people take Short Breaks in East European capitals, with Budapest and Prague being among the most popular and others like Bratislava and Zagreb not far behind. However Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, is not a place many people would consider as a Short Break venue.
That is a great pity, as I found much of interest to see in this ancient capital on the Danube and a very welcoming, hospitable populace. I was there on the day that Murray beat their local hero Djokovic at Wimbledon, but rather than any animosity, people happily joined us in drinking to Murray’s success!
Much has changed in the 14 years since hostilities ceased in Serbia and the country is now hoping for early EU membership. English is widely spoken, especially among the young who appear to look towards the West rather than towards their former allies in the East.
Belgrade is establishing a vibrant Mediterranean café culture, with the bars and restaurants in the Skadarlija district being as attractive as you will find in any Southern European city, but with prices in general much less!
My Top Ten Highlights
1. River waterfronts, along both the Sava and Danube. A river cruise is a great way to get a feel of the city with a 2 hour trip costing less than 400 RSD (at the time £1 = 133 RSD).
2. St Sava Temple (Hram Svetog Save), the biggest Orthodox Church in the Balkans. This massive edifice, still incomplete inside, has three choir galleries and is large enough to hold 10,000 people.
I visited the remaining eight of my highlights as a pleasant, relaxed walking tour of about 2 miles.
3. Belgrade Fortress (Kalemegdan) on a ridge overlooking where the Sava river meets the Danube. If you are a less nimble Senior, then get transport up to the fortress – after that the rest of the walk is relatively easy. There are great views from the upper part of the fortress. The lower part, the Kalemegdan Park, includes Belgrade Zoo and a Military Museum.
4. St Michael’s Cathedral (Saborna Crkva), just outside Kalemegdan Park. The exterior is imposing but don’t miss the richly decorated interior.
5. Knez Mihailova pedestrian zone. The centre of Belgrade from Roman times, this is where influential people in the 19th Century built great houses. Now the wide streets are filled with shops and pavement restaurants. I found the coffee and cakes to be as good as any Budapest or Vienna could offer. Attractive lanes and courtyards open up from the main streets.
6. Republic Square, the city’s central public space, and the location of the National Theatre and National Museum, and the nearby Terazije Square overlooked by Hotel Moscow and the Anker Palace.
7. Skadarlija, the Bohemian Quarter. Follow the Turkish cobblestoned street down past countless bars and restaurants, many dating back hundreds of years and traditionally frequented by artists and poets. This is an atmospheric place to stop for a cooling drink on a hot afternoon.
8. St Mark’s Church (Crkva Svetog Marka). The church has a striking exterior with red and yellow striped brickwork. On entering your eyes are drawn up to the dome towering above.
9. National Assembly, the seat of the Serbian parliament. I remember it from news summaries in 2000 when the Serbian people demonstrated there and overthrew the Milošević regime.
10. The Old Palace (Stari Dvor) and the New Palace (Novi Dvor). The Old Palace, built in 1881, is used as the City Assembly but was originally the residence of Serbian kings. The New Palace, built about 100 years ago as a residence for King Petar, is now the official seat of the President of Serbia.
Since Serbia is not yet on the tourist trail there are relatively few flights available from the UK to Belgrade. Wizz Air flies four times a week from Luton for about £100 to £200 return depending on when you travel (see Fly on a Tuesday! – Travel Tip).
I was holidaying in Hungary, so drove down to Belgrade for my two night Short Break. There were no delays on the Hungarian-Serbian border (see Serbia Visit, Lake Palić), and the Serbian motorways are of good quality with low tolls.
Some of the side roads are poorly maintained as I found out when a pothole shredded one of my tyres. We were immediately helped out by passing Serbians motorists and a new tyre was fitted quickly and at a very reasonable price.
Some of the major chains have hotels in Belgrade, including Best Western, Holiday Inn and Park Hotels (see for Hotel Deals for Seniors when making bookings). Since I was travelling by car, I decided to stay outside Belgrade and found excellent accommodation at Hotel Borcovac in a wooded area north of Belgade.
The Serbian dinar (RSD) can be obtained from ATMs and exchange kiosks give good rates. Euros are readily accepted. If you wish to obtain dinars before you travel then see my Travel Money to find out how to get the best rates.
As a Senior Traveller, I was pleased to find the historical centre of Belgrade to be relaxed and crowd free, unlike, for example, Prague at this time of year. In this pre-tourist era, few of the highlights I’ve mentioned above make any charge for entry, so need to report on Senior discounts!
Restaurants are relatively inexpensive, but provide good quality fare with some excellent grilled meat dishes, tasty sausages and good local cheese and salads.
I was very impressed by the friendliness and hospitality I found everywhere. Overall I strongly recommend Belgrade for a Short Break, but suggest you visit before the tourist hordes descend in years to come.