This post was originally published on January 15, 2018. I have completely rewritten it in order to make it more useful and comprehensive, and as I scrapped 90% of the original content, am republishing it now as new!
If you had asked me when I was younger what visiting Serbia would be like, I would have looked at you aghast.
Serbia? 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 Dani was a dumb bitch and didn’t know anything.
Now, after visiting Belgrade, Serbia’s capital, and spending almost a month there, I can concede that I, Dani Leigh, 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. Travelling in the Balkans is an experience like no other, and so I decided to compile a list of everything that you need to know before you visit Belgrade!
Backpacking Serbia – 20 +Things You Should Know Before You Visit Belgrade
General Belgrade Information
Where is Belgrade?
Belgrade is the largest city in Serbia and is also Serbia’s capital city. It was also the capital of Yugoslavia (which was comprised of Serbia, Slovenia, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro) from its inception in 1918 right up until its final dissolution in 2006.
Getting to Belgrade is very easy as it can be reached by bus from Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Croatia, North Macedonia and Montenegro. 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!
Is Belgrade safe?
In a word, yes. 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.
Belgrade does not have high levels of street crime and most robberies that do happen are not violent, but as a result of cars being left unlocked, bags being left unattended etc. Tourists are almost never victims of violent crime in Serbia.
One thing that you should be aware of when you visit Belgrade is that there is an intolerance to LGBT+ people in Serbia. While homosexual acts are not illegal, they are not socially accepted, and open displays of affection between two men or two women may attract hostility from Serbian people, even the young generation.
It is also not wise to talk about Kosovo while you are visiting Belgrade (or talking to any Serbian person for that matter). Kosovo is an extremely sensitive topic in Serbia – Serbians do not recognise Kosovo as a country and believe that it is a part of Serbia that was taken from them. While you may think of yourself as a ‘devil’s advocate’ or enjoy a healthy debate, I would strongly advise you staying away from the topic of Kosovo entirely. Kosovo only separated from Serbia in 2008, and it is still a very raw situation.
When is the best time to visit Belgrade?
I usually suggest travelling in shoulder season, when the weather is nice but cities are less crowded. This is exactly the same with Belgrade, with the months of April, May, early June and September being a great time to plan a Belgrade trip.
That said, perhaps the best time to visit Belgrade is actually the summer months! With 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.
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!
Practical tips for your Belgrade trip
The currency in Serbia is the Serbian Dinar, with 1 EUR being the equivalent of 118 RSD.
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.
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!
Belgrade prices – 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 (despite what the internet will tell you), 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.
Serbia is not in the EU and it is not in the Schengen zone. This is great if you are nearing the end of your 90 days in the Schengen area!
Taxi drivers in Belgrade are notorious for scamming tourists. The best way to use a taxi in Belgrade is to ask your hostel/hotel to call you one, or download the CarGo app, which is similar to Uber.
WiFi is great in Belgrade, with most bars and cafes having free WiFi and many parks having open WiFi as well.
Visiting Serbia and Kosovo
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.
Visiting Belgrade – What to expect
Belgrade is ugly but beautiful
My first impressions while backpacking Belgrade weren’t great. Coming from Bosnia, with its fairytale 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, those interested in Brutalism will love the amount of Brutalist and Modernist architecture in Belgrade. The main walking street in Belgrade, Kneza Mihaila is very attractive with a mix of different architectural styles and packed with museums, galleries, bars and restaurants.
Much of Belgrade’s beauty is hidden just beneath the surface, only revealing itself to those willing to give the city a chance. Quirky cafes, colourful street art and breathtaking sunsets give the city a certain charm that isn’t obvious to the impatient traveller who is just rushing to tick Belgrade attractions off a list. To truly discover the beauty of Belgrade, you have to slow down and allow the city to seduce you in its own unique way.
Coffee is life
Something that you can’t fail to notice when visiting Belgrade is the abundance of coffee shops, which 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 kafa 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 I actually remember saying ‘does anybody actually go to work in this city?!’ because even on a Tuesday afternoon, hundreds of Serbs will be sitting in the sun, drinking coffee and gossiping until sunset.
One of the best coffee shops in Belgrade is Kafeterija. Kafeterija has got to be the best coffee shop I’ve ever been to, and I could spend all day just reading the menu! They have absolutely every kind of coffee imaginable, including the infamous Kopi Luwak which I tried in Bali, and the baristas are super knowledgable about the differences between each blend, which coffee is best in which season etc.
If you want to feel truly Serbian, you will spend at least one afternoon sitting outside a coffee shop in Belgrade, chain smoking, chatting and sipping coffee!
Belgrade has impressive churches (and other things…)
When travelling around Europe, visiting church after church can get pretty monotonous. However, churches in Belgrade are seriously impressive. In fact, Belgrade is home to the largest Orthodox Church in the world (Temple of St. Sava)! Not only that, the list of things to see on any Belgrade sightseeing trip is almost endless!
Some of the main things to see in Belgrade include:
St Mark’s Church – this Neo-Byzantine structure is one of the largest churches in Serbia
Residence of Princess Ljubica – venture inside to see richly-furnished rooms and authentic period items
St Michael’s Cathedral – Neoclassical cathedral that was instrumental in Serbia’s fight for independence
National Theatre – You can see a performance here for as little as 5 EUR, and this theatre also offers backstage tours during the daytime as well
Republic Square – the main square in Serbia and the meeting place for pretty much every walking tour
Skadarlija (Bohemian Quarter) – a pedestrian zone, this is where artists, musicians and poets used to live. Full of cutesy bars and restaurants
Avala Tower – this is a short distance from Belgrade and is a communications tower which is the tallest structure in all of the Balkans
Stari Dvor and Novi Dvor (Old and New Palaces) – built for different royal families, the Old Palace has Beaux-Arts architecture and the New Palace has Revivalist architecture
House of the National Assembly of Serbia – Former Parliament of Yugoslavia, this is one of the most beautiful buildings in Belgrade
White Palace – a royal palace. Tours need to be booked in advance by writing to the tourist board
Ružica Church – the oldest church in Belgrade
Zeleni Venac – an outdoor market known as ‘Queen of the Markets’
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 used to being around smokers, it was definitely quite a shock to the system.
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 I used to love going to a tiny local cafe for a traditional Serbian lunch every day – two courses and a drink were just 5 EUR!
What’s more, due to fertile lands and late industrialisation, the quality of the ingredients is always high, even at budget restaurants. In Serbia, organic really does mean organic!
Some Balkan foods that you must eat in Belgrade include:
Burek – flaky pastry filled with meat or veg
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
Belgrade has tonnes of museums
If you’re anything like me you love a good museum, and if you are wondering what to do in Belgrade then you’re in luck because there are tonnes of them!
The museums are some of the main Belgrade attractions, 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 – Nikola Tesla is credited with ‘inventing the 20th century,’ and so this is perhaps one of the most important places to visit in Belgrade! A guide will lead you around this museum performing scientific experiments in front of you and allowing you to get involved yourself. This museum is also where Nikola Tesla’s ashes are kept.
Historical Museum of Serbia – Serbia has an incredibly long and tumultuous history, and it is sometimes difficult to get a clear idea of just what happened and when. 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 – Is it a bank? Is it a museum? It’s both! After the unsmiling doorman lets you enter, head upstairs to the museum inside, where you can learn about all things money related in 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!
Torture Museum – This museum is not necessarily different to any of the other torture museums out there, but having always been a fan of the macabre, I couldn’t resist popping in to have a look! Located where people actually used to be tortured back in medieval times, there are lots of terrifying contraptions and helpful sheets explaining just how each one can inflict pain.
Museum of Science and Technology – an extremely interactive museum with a very interesting ‘Room of Illusions.’
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.
Roma Museum – The Roma community are still mistreated in Serbia (and just about everywhere), but this museum, dedicated to Roma culture, tells the centuries-long story of the Roma community and is one of the more interesting places to visit in Belgrade.
Belgrade nightlife is legendary
For party animals who are asking themselves ‘Why visit Serbia?’ you should know that Belgrade nightlife is famous all around the world.
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 splav boats, 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 (sequinned horse and carriages to sit in while you drink your cocktails? Yes pls.) and Pubby’s Magic Garden was a favourite of mine during my Belgrade trip. A cosy, smokey pub with cheap drinks, kitsch decor and a weird entrance inside an empty shopping mall, Pubby’s Magic Garden is everything I love – cheap, no frills and unpretentious.
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 about the past.
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. No Belgrade trip is complete without rakija.
Belgrade Fortress is where it’s at
Of all the things to do in Belgrade, you can’t skip Belgrade Fortress. 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.
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. No. 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 and the men are big bald blocks of pure muscle. If you like the natural look, then you probably won’t be impressed, but if you’re like me and are all about the fake boobs, duck lips, hair extensions, fur coats and stilettos then you’ll be in heaven in Belgrade.
That said, if you are a man travelling to Serbia with the intention of hooking up with a ‘submissive’ woman, you might want to think again. Women in Serbia are highly educated, highly driven and not (as many men seem to think) desperate to be ‘saved’ from Serbia for a life with a balding American dude.
Belgrade has a thriving art scene
It is a well-kept secret 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 just 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. Our guide not only took us to see all of the best Belgrade street art, but also to galleries, art squats, and an abandoned cinema (more on that in a minute). It cost just 5 EUR and to date is one of the best walking tours that I’ve attended.
This cinema that we visited on our Alternative Tour was actually the Zvezda New 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 electricity costs), bringing your own alcohol is encouraged, 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 film itself SUCKED, it was definitely cool to wander around an abandoned cinema, drinking my own beer and using my phone as a torch when I was attempting to use the bathroom (no leccy remember).
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.
Belgrade is not as ‘foreign’ as you may think
As I said at the beginning of this post, 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 my age 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 a whole lot 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 (maybe I did enjoy several KFCs in Belgrade, don’t judge me).
Visiting Belgrade – Final thoughts…
Belgrade is not one of my favourite cities in the world. The longer I spent in Belgrade, the more I came to like it, and I definitely believe that there is a hell of a lot to love about Belgrade.
My reasons for Belgrade not being one of my top destinations are purely down to personal taste – when it comes to cities, I’m a sucker for medieval old towns, cobbled streets and quaint courtyards. Belgrade, while having some of this in the Bohemian Quarter, is, for the most part, a big grey city.
Belgrade is very similar to Berlin, not just for the way it looks, but also in the edgy, underground vibe of the place. For many people then, a Belgrade city break is a wonderful choice. Belgrade has an abundance of museums and monuments for those interested in sightseeing, and a thriving nightlife for those who want to party. It 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, please pin this post so that others can find it and don’t forget to let me know what you think in the comments below!