Last updated 11/08/2021.
If you had asked me when I was younger what visiting Belgrade would be like, I would have looked at you aghast.
As in A Serbian Film Serbia?
No way, I’d like to keep my kidneys thank you very much!
Like most ignorant Brits, I didn’t know a thing about Serbia and assumed that the film Hostel said it all – yes, I’m aware that Hostel is set in Slovakia but teenage me was dumb and didn’t know the difference.
However, after visiting Belgrade twice and spending almost a month there, I can concede that I was wrong about Serbia.
Belgrade is not some sinister land where mobsters are waiting to sell your kidneys and turn you into a sex slave – it is a vibrant European city that doesn’t get nearly as much tourism as it deserves.
With that said, Belgrade is definitely a city that needs to be understood rather than simply ticked off a list. Some compare it to the city of Warsaw in Poland – both are cities with difficult histories that may seem harsh at first, but will reward you immensely if you just give them a chance.
Travelling in the Balkans is an experience like no other, and so I decided to compile a list of things that you can expect when visiting Belgrade, the ‘White City’ of Serbia.
Visiting Belgrade? 25 Things to Expect from Serbia’s White City
1. Belgrade is ugly, but beautiful
My first impressions of Belgrade weren’t great.
Coming from Bosnia, with its fairy tale streets and incredible nature, my first thoughts were that Belgrade was downright ugly.
All around the main railway station, grey crumbling buildings are squished together, their Soviet uniformity only enhanced by their dirty windows and peeling paint.
As you wander the city, you don’t have to look far to see the scars of the 1999 NATO bombings.
That said, while parts of Belgrade are dilapidated and bleak, there is plenty of beauty hidden just beneath the surface.
From the cobbled streets and colourful flowers of the Bohemian Quarter to the quirky street art, Orthodox churches and various architectural styles in the city centre, you don’t have to look too far to find Belgrade’s hidden charm.
2. Coffee is life
Something that you can’t fail to notice when visiting Belgrade is the abundance of coffee shops.
This isn’t actually surprising considering that Belgrade was home to Europe’s first ever kafana (coffee shop), all the way back in 1522!
Coffee was brought to Belgrade by the Ottomans in the 16th century, and this is why the Serbian coffee or ‘domestic coffee’ is so similar to what you might know as Turkish coffee.
Kafa is a very rich, very thick coffee that is prepared by simmering roasted and ground coffee beans on the hob (with sugar if you like).
It is almost a way of life in Serbia, and the Balkans in general for that matter!
Coffee culture in Belgrade is so prominent that you could be forgiven for wondering if anybody actually goes to work in Belgrade, because even on a Tuesday afternoon, every coffee shop will be packed full of Serbs drinking endless cups of coffee and gossiping until sunset.
One of the best places to drink coffee in Belgrade is a chain called Kafeterija.
Kafeterija have every kind of coffee imaginable, including the infamous Kopi Luwak which I tried in Bali, and the baristas are super knowledgeable about the differences between each blend, which coffee is best in which season etc.
3. Belgrade has impressive churches
Churches in Belgrade are seriously impressive.
In fact, Belgrade is home to the largest Orthodox Church in the whole world!
Some of the main churches in Belgrade include:
– Temple of St. Sava – the aforementioned largest Orthodox Church in the world!
– St Mark’s Church – this Neo-Byzantine structure is one of the largest churches in Serbia
– St Michael’s Cathedral – Neoclassical cathedral that was instrumental in Serbia’s fight for independence
– Ružica Church – the oldest church in Belgrade
4. Belgrade is SAFE
Serbia has had many wars and problems over the years, but these days, Belgrade is a totally safe city to visit, even as a solo female traveller.
The biggest problem that you will likely run into visiting Belgrade is theft – pickpockets tend to work on the public buses in the centre of Belgrade and in the touristy areas, so be sure to hold on tightly to your valuables.
You should also avoid wearing football shirts in Belgrade because this can provoke violent football hooligans to cause trouble. This especially applies to the two domestic clubs (Partizan and Red Star Belgrade), but you should also avoid wearing England, Italy, Greece, Russia or France shirts.
On a lesser-note, taxi drivers in Belgrade are notorious for scamming tourists. The best way to use a taxi in Belgrade is to download the CarGo app, which is similar to Uber.
5. Belgrade is a museum city
If you’re anything like me you love a good museum then you’re in luck because there are tonnes of them in Belgrade!
The museums are some of the main attractions for people visiting Belgrade, and no matter where your interest lies, you will surely find a museum to suit you in Serbia’s capital.
Great museums in Belgrade include:
– Museum of Yugoslavia – Belgrade’s most popular museum, this tells the story of Yugoslavia from the beginning. Tito’s mausoleum can be found here.
– Museum of Aviation – Located nearby the Nikola Tesla Airport, Belgrade’s Museum of Aviation houses hundreds of Serbian Air Force planes, as well as two NATO aircrafts that were shot down during the 1999 troubles.
– Nikola Tesla Museum – A guide will lead you around this museum performing scientific experiments and allowing you to get involved yourself. This museum is also where Nikola Tesla’s ashes are kept.
– Historical Museum of Serbia – This museum goes all the way back to medieval Serbia and is a must for anybody wanting to know more about Serbian history.
– National Bank of Serbia – Here you will find coins dating back thousands of years, learn how money is printed, and you can even get your photograph printed on a 5 billion Serbian dinar note – I still have mine
– Military Museum – You can easily spot this by all of the tanks outside it! This museum dates all the way back to 1878 and is home to more than 3000 artefacts covering violence from the Roman times to the modern day. It also features an in-depth look at the NATO aggression of 1999.
6. Everybody smokes
Although smoking indoors is technically prohibited in Serbia, the laws are rarely enforced – this is Serbia, and if people want to smoke then they will.
Every bar, restaurant, coffee shop and service station will be full of people chain smoking to their heart’s content, and although I consider myself very tolerant of smokers, it was definitely quite a shock to the system!
7. Food in Belgrade is fantastic
Eating out in Belgrade is not only great because of the hearty Balkan food everywhere, but there are also tonnes of international restaurants in Belgrade that offer great quality food at incredibly low prices.
The best sushi I’ve ever tasted was at Moon Sushi, where my friend and I got a 34 piece sushi box for less than 25 EUR, and you can grab a traditional Serbian lunch (2 courses and a drink) for less than 5 EUR at the local cafés.
What’s more, due to fertile lands and late industrialisation, the quality of the ingredients in Serbian food is always high, even at budget restaurants – in Serbia, organic really does mean organic!
Some foods that you must try in Belgrade include:
Burek – flaky pastry filled with meat, cheese or veg, popular all over the Balkans
Cevapcici – a kind of kebab made from minced beef or pork, and served with flatbread, ajvar (a spread made primarily from red peppers), chopped onions, sour cream and kajmak (similar to clotted cream)
Karađorđeva šnicla – veal or pork schnitzel which is rolled, stuffed with kajmak, breaded and fried
Sarma – spiced minced meat rolled in sour cabbage rolls
Musaka – Serbian moussaka uses potatoes instead of eggplant
If you want to experience Serbian cuisine properly, take part on a food tour so you can learn about what you’re eating as you eat it!
8. Belgrade nightlife is legendary
Belgrade nightlife is famous all around the world and in the summertime, Splavovi are where its at.
Splavs are boats that rock up in Belgrade for the duration of the summer.
Each one has its own unique interior and music style, and a casual stroll along the waterfront will take you to all of them. From house and techno to Serbian folk music (known as turbo-folk), there really is something for everyone when it comes to Belgrade nightlife. The drinks are definitely more expensive on the splavs, but they are a rite of passage for anybody wanting to discover Belgrade nightlife.
For those wanting to remain on land, Blaznavac Kafe-bar is a quirky cocktail bar complete sequinned horse and carriages to sit in while you drink your cocktails, and Pubby’s Magic Garden is a cosy pub with cheap drinks, kitsch décor and a weird entrance inside an empty shopping mall.
You could also discover some of the best pubs on a beer tour, enjoy a traditional Serbian dinner while watching a folklore show, or have the night of your life on a 5 hour pub crawl.
9. Rakija is a religion
As is the case everywhere in the Balkans, rakija is the drink of choice and there wasn’t a day that went by in Belgrade when I wasn’t handed a shot of rakija at some point.
It’s breakfast time? Doesn’t matter.
You don’t drink? Come on, you’re in Serbia.
You haven’t got money? Don’t be silly, nobody pays for rakija.
Rakija is a kind of fruit brandy that comes in many flavours (honey is my personal favourite) and is usually brewed at home, where it can reach up to 90% proof.
Fun fact – a huge tabloid newspaper in Serbia published an article about my love for rakija!
10. Belgrade Fortress is where it’s at
Belgrade Fortress is the symbol of Serbia’s capital, having been destroyed and rebuilt countless times over the years and towering above the Sava and Danube rivers.
First built by the Romans in the 2nd century, Belgrade Fortress has seen devastation from Goths, Huns, Avars and Slavs, and to understand Serbia, you absolutely must visit Belgrade Fortress.
Belgrade Fortress is situated in Kalemegdan Park, which is a lovely spot to wander around, ending the afternoon by taking a seat, drinking a cool beer and watching the sun set with the locals.
If you’re like me and enjoy the macabre, you may enjoy this underground fortress tour, where you’ll discover a Roman well surrounded by mysteries, an army bunker that reveals well-kept secrets of Communist Yugoslavia, a Gunpowder Warehouse that houses Roman artefacts and the dungeons, where you will see some medieval torture devices and learn about how they were used.
11. There are strong ties to Russia
In Belgrade you can buy a t-shirt with a picture of Vladimir Putin in a camouflage Parka coat, wearing sunglasses.
How do I know this?
Because I bought one.
Go to pretty much any Belgrade market and you’ll see Putin’s face on t-shirts, mugs, key rings and posters.
Russian flags, t-shirts and hats are everywhere, and you can also buy traditional Russian dolls, Russian scarves and boots, and handmade trinkets.
The affinity between Russians and Serbs has always been strong, and it’s of no big surprise. They both hate the West (doesn’t everyone?), have similar languages and political views, and practice the same religion (Orthodox Christianity).
Serbia is one of the few European countries that definitely has that Eastern feel, and as such is a great place to learn.
12. Belgrade has a thriving art scene
It may surprise you that that the vibe of Belgrade is similar to that of Berlin, and there is a thriving underground art and music scene that is hidden from the casual visitor.
If you dig a little beneath the surface, you will find plenty of bars that also act as culture centres, art galleries, venues for poetry readings and concept stores.
Belgrade is also home to a tonne of street art and you can easily while away an afternoon in the city centre hunting for the best pieces.
I explored Belgrade’s street art as part of an Alternative Tour and it was one of the best walking tours I’ve been on.
13. Serbs are beautiful
Before I went to Serbia, I was told that Serbia is home to the most beautiful women in the world, and I can’t disagree.
Both the men and women in Serbia are exceptionally good looking.
Think Barbie and Ken.
Barbie and Action Man (Ken is far too metrosexual for Serbia).
The women are all skinny, tall (SO tall) and dress like they’re on a runway every damn day while the men are big bald blocks of pure muscle.
However, if you’re a man visiting Belgrade on the hunt for Serbian women, think again.
Many Western men seem to have the idea that Serbian women are meek and submissive homemakers who are desperate to ‘escape’ Serbia and settle down with a balding dude from Kentucky, but that just isn’t the case. Serbian women are highly driven, highly educated and not ones for doing as they are told.
14. Belgrade is home to an illegal squatters cinema
The Zvezda New Cinema was one of the first cinemas in Belgrade and was left abandoned and neglected in the 1990s.
Since then, squatters have moved in and provide the hipsters of Belgrade with hard-to-find films such as cult classics, activist, queer, anarchist and documentary films.
Entrance is dirt cheap (just enough to cover the generator costs), bringing your own alcohol is encouraged, there is no electricity and although the cinema is technically illegal, authorities turn a blind eye.
I actually went to a screening of an ‘art experience’ at Zvezda New Cinema while visiting Belgrade.
While the movie SUCKED, it was definitely cool to wander around an abandoned cinema with a bunch of Serbian misfits, squatters and anarchists, and visiting Belgrade’s illegal cinema is quite possibly one of my most surreal travel memories.
15. There is no ‘one size fits all’ architecture in Belgrade
Those interested in Brutalism will love the amount of Soviet Brutalist and Modernist architecture in Belgrade, but there is something for everybody when it comes to the architectural styles at play in the city.
The main walking street, Kneza Mihaila, is home to art deco, Baroque and art nouveau architecture, and even if you’re not an architecture nerd, you can’t fail to be impressed in Belgrade.
16. Serbs harbour a deep resentment towards the US, the Clintons and NATO
Just outside the National Assembly in Belgrade, there is a huge banner that changes frequently.
When I was in Belgrade it read ‘Kosovo Is Abducted with War Crimes, Hillary and Bill Clinton with NATO Forces,’ and sat alongside images of dead babies and other victims of the Belgrade bombings, which were ordered by Bill Clinton at Hillary’s insistence.
Previous banners have read ‘We Will Never Forgive You for Killing Our Children‘ and ‘US-NATO-EU – Why You Protect Albanian War Criminals?‘
Serbians feel as though they are the victims of a great injustice from the West with regards to how they were treated during the Bosnian War and the Kosovo War. They hate that they are seen as the sole aggressors, as Serbs did lose their lives to the wars as well.
The history of Serbia is very deep and complex, and it is advisable not to bring up the Bosnian War or the Kosovo situation with people whom you have just met.
Serbs love to tell their side of the story to people who are genuinely interested, but are sick of being asked what they think about Srebrenica by backpackers.
If you decide to ask controversial questions about Serbia’s history, be prepared for defensive and even hostile reactions.
If you are visiting Belgrade from the United States, I would avoid these topics entirely.
17. Belgrade is home to a funky ‘Bohemian Quarter’
Okay, so it may be less ‘bohemian’ and more ‘tourist central’ these days, but Belgrade is actually home to its very own bohemian quarter, named Skadarlija.
This dinky little pedestrian zone, with cobbled streets and hanging baskets full of flowers used to be where artists, musicians and poets used to live, but these days it is there for tourists. With that said, it is (IMO) the most beautiful part of Belgrade, and there are tonnes of restaurants selling traditional Serbian food, with live folk music and lots of flavours of rakija.
If you’re visiting Belgrade, you have to spend some time in Skadarlija.
18. Belgrade is not as ‘foreign’ as you may think
My teenage impressions of Serbia were that it was like something from the film Hostel.
Serbia has the reputation for being the bad boy of the Balkans, and I’m sure that most people in the UK couldn’t even point to it on a map.
To us, Serbia seems far removed from everything that we know.
Until we visit, that is.
Belgrade is not scary, it’s not backwards, and it isn’t much different to any other European capital.
You will find the same chain stores, fast-food joints and music as you would anywhere else in Europe (I may have indulged in several KFCs in Belgrade, don’t @ me).
19. Belgrade is home to some fantastic hotels
Belgrade has some wonderful historic hotels, and so if you enjoy a bit of luxury, you won’t be disappointed in Belgrade.
Hotel Moskva is an iconic art nouveau hotel in downtown Belgrade, or if you want to stay along the river in New Belgrade then the modernist Hotel Jugoslavija is a great bet.
By far the most famous hotel in Belgrade is the Metropol Palace. Tito himself wanted a grand hotel in Belgrade, and his dreams became a reality with Metropol Palace. With modernist architecture, elegant rooms and a stunning mosaic in the lobby, Metropol Palace is one of the best hotels in Belgrade.
To see the full range of available hotels in Belgrade, use Hotellook for the best prices.
20. Most people can speak English
The language in Serbia is Serbian, which is very similar to other Slavic languages. Most former Yugoslavian countries share a language that is almost the same. With that said, most young Serbians in the capital will speak English, and so you shouldn’t have any problem making yourself understood in cafes, coffee shops etc.
Serbia primarily uses the Cyrillic alphabet, which can make getting around a little complicated. However, most signs in Belgrade will have both the Cyrillic and Latin versions of the word on them, sometimes even having the English written underneath!
21. You can visit Kosovo from Serbia, but not the other way around
There is much confusion about this, so allow me to clarify.
You can go directly TO Kosovo FROM Serbia but you cannot go FROM Kosovo TO Serbia.
If you visit Kosovo first and wish to go to Serbia, you must take a bus to North Macedonia or Montenegro and take a bus to Belgrade from there.
The reason for this is that because Serbia views Kosovo as a part of Serbia, if you enter Serbia from Kosovo, they will question why you ‘entered Serbia’ without receiving a Serbian stamp in your passport. You will be deemed as having entered the country illegally and may encounter problems.
22. Visiting Belgrade in the summer is a great choice
I usually suggest travelling in shoulder season, when the weather is nice but cities are less crowded.
That said, with high (but not too high) temperatures, parties all along the river, EXIT festival taking place in Novi Sad every July, and the Belgrade Beer Fest taking over the city in August, perhaps the best time to visit Belgrade is in the summer!
Because Belgrade is not plagued by overtourism like other European capitals, visiting in July or August is not as ill-advised as travelling to somewhere like Rome or Paris during those times!
23. Belgrade is cheap
Belgrade is a very affordable city – one of the cheapest cities in Europe in fact!
While it is not as cheap as other Balkan cities, it is much more affordable than anywhere in Western Europe. Expect to pay 3 EUR for a cocktail, 1 EUR for a beer, and 6 – 10 EUR for a bed in a hostel dorm room.
The currency in Serbia is the Serbian Dinar, with 1 EUR being the equivalent of 118 RSD.
24. Belgrade is super well-connected
Getting to Belgrade is very easy as it can be reached by bus from Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Croatia, North Macedonia and Montenegro.
My go-to bus travel in Europe is always FlixBus. Flixbus is the most extensive bus network worldwide and all Flix buses have Wi-Fi, extra legroom, charging ports and the ability to modify your booking just 15 minutes before departure! Click here to book your Flixbus to Belgrade.
Most major European airlines also fly to Belgrade, making a Belgrade city break a great option for anybody who isn’t able to visit Belgrade as part of a larger trip!
If you’re planning a trip to Belgrade and need an airport transfer, I recommend using i’way. Click here to book!
25. Belgrade is a great choice for digital nomads
Belgrade may not be the first place that comes to mind when you consider where to base yourself as a digital nomad, but there are a number of reasons why it might be a great choice!
Firstly, Serbia is not in the EU or the Schengen zone. This is great if you are nearing the end of your 90 days in the Schengen area! You can actually stay in Serbia for up to 90 days visa-free, which is incredible!
Wi-Fi is also fantastic in Belgrade, with most bars and cafes having free Wi-Fi and many parks having open Wi-Fi as well. The coffee shop culture in Belgrade means that you won’t struggle to find a laptop-friendly place to set up shop for a few hours every day while you drink some of the world’s best coffee!
The fact that Belgrade is also super affordable, both in terms of accommodation and living costs, as well as being so well-connected to other major European cities make it a solid option for remote workers.
Visiting Belgrade | Final thoughts
The longer I spent in Belgrade, the more I came to like it, and I firmly believe that there’s a lot to love about Belgrade.
Belgrade is very similar to Berlin, not just for the way it looks, but also in the edgy, underground vibe of the place.
It also has an abundance of museums and monuments for those interested in sightseeing, hundreds of fantastic restaurants and a thriving nightlife.
Belgrade is safe, it is affordable, and a truly multifaceted city that rewards those who take the time to get to know it.
I have no doubt that Belgrade tourism will grow massively in the future, and I can’t say that it isn’t well-deserved.
If you would like to read more about Belgrade, then check out this Belgrade guide at Sam Sees World or head to My Open Passport!
Lastly, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask me in the comments section!
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