Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, which radiates from the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers, has long been a strategic city. Over the centuries, the Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires left their mar here at the crossroads of the Pannonian Plain and the Balkans. Today, a population of 1.3 million integrates Serbian traditions with rapid development and modernization. While the “White City” may be known for nightlife on splavs, or clubs onboard boats docked along the Sava river, there are other quintessential stops to see by the light of day. To experience both old and new in this aspiring destination, keep this guide handy.
Top Image: Dani Lavi 0007
Molly Harris is a freelance writer based in Athens, Georgia.
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1. Coffee at ?
Jump start the day with a Turkish coffee at the oldest traditional tavern, ?. A "kafana" of changing names, this Belgrade fixture was built in 1823. The question mark was painted as a temporary solution to a dispute with Serbian Orthodox Church officials who did not want to see St. Michael's Cathedral in the tavern's name. For a journey back in time, take a seat on the original 160-year-old handmade furniture. Cross Kralja Petra street to stroll through St. Michael's Cathedral whose iconic spire can be seen from across the Sava river.
Photo by Zavod za zaštitu spomenika kulture grada Beograda
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2. Walk about Town
From Republic Square anchored by a statue of Prince Michael and Belgrade's meeting point, the clock, walk northwest passing both the National Theatre and the National Museum. Note contrasting architecture from Austro-Hungarian to Brutalist styles along Vase Carapica street before reaching Studentski Square. A park located half way between Republic Square and Kalemegden, Studenski Square is surrounded by a score of educational and cultural establishments associated with the University of Belgrade.
Photo by Goran Aleksic
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Located back on Kralja Petra street, Manufaktura is a popular and casual bistro resembling a general store lined with shelves containing local ingredients. Outdoor seating continues to be an iconic Instagram locale with red umbrellas suspended overhead. Spend an afternoon munching on lunch at a table next to the ivey-covered exterior with a glass of Serbian wine in hand as the jazz trio's upbeat quickens. Fare ranges from options for the dietary restricted to traditional dishes deconstructed into tapas. Try a charcuterie or cheese plate paired with a glass of local crno vino (red wine).
Photo by Molly Harris
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4. Knez Mihailova
Knez Mihailova, a pedestrian street and one of Belgrade's oldest landmarks, runs the length of the city center and offers shopping options from international brands to native souvenir shops and even an antique market. Explore Katapult antique market for handmade items and homemade balms claiming to cure any ailment. Stands along the thoroughfare include grilled corn and chestnut carts which are popular street foods during the summer and winter seasons respectively. For Serbian books translated to English, step into Vulcan bookstore just across and down a few steps from Katapult.
Photo by Aktron / Wikimedia Commons
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Pass street art and river cruises along the waterfront in Savamala, and saunter into this edgy industrial restaurant with your head held high. Ambar is a place to be seen as much as it is to indulge in modernized Serbian dishes. Try light and fresh salads, spreads and cheeses on pita made in-house and "burek", a filo dough filled with spinach and feta. Keep your eyes open for famous patrons in this vibrant and pulsing bistro.
Photo by Wikiway
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6. Kalemegdan Park
The battered doors of Belgrade's former fortress pose no threat to those entering these days. A tranquil stroll through the park is a quiet moment after a boisterous dinner before heading off for a night cap. Locals may be playing tennis or basketball on courts nestled into the former mote while others settle onto a bench to overlook the Sava river from atop the 410-foot cliff. Follow the winding paths to "The Victor" statue that extends an arm with a dove in hand as a symbol of peace to all who enter Belgrade. Turn left from "The Victor" to walk through rows of flowers before climbing a marble staircase to follow the path by a gazebo and onto the fortress exit.
Photo by Molly Harris
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Keep your eyes peeled to find the Federal Association of Globetrotters bar. This urban hideaway is tucked into the basement of an apartment building down the right side of the military museum. Walk through the wrought iron apartment door entrance and down the staircase. A brightly stylized interpretation of the world is painted around the door. Knock first, or ring the doorbell, and a bartender will let you in. Originally a secret bar for friends and family to gather together, Globetrotters now welcomes anyone who can find it. Go for coffee or drinks in a less crowded, but engaging environment. James Brown or The Supremes spill from the speakers in the greenhouse room. Wander the former apartment now decorated in pueblo revival style before settling in for conversation with good company.
Photo by Molly Harris