Belgrade rising

There’s an energy and authenticity to this city, one of the largest in the Balkans, that I can easily appreciate. Often during travelling, I feel like I’m just one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, walking around and doing the same thing. It’s a feeling that I dread and most times do my best to avoid; it’s usually not an issue here in Belgrade…

Zemun

Zemun – once the limit of the Austro-Hungarian Empire when the Turks controlled Belgrade

The beauty of Belgrade is that by and large, mass tourism is non-existent, or at the least much less obvious than most European cities. As such, it doesn’t put on a show for tourists and I can walk around the city and feel like I’m getting a sense of what the capital of Serbia is about. I think this is what makes Belgrade unique. True, a city like Belgrade has many similarities with other large cities – that faster pace of almost everything compared with being in the countryside or a small town; the pollution and noise of crazy speeding cars; higher prices (though still one of the most ridiculously cheap places I’ve visited in Europe). But to be sure, Belgrade as a city has its share of unique gems that easily attract the traveller’s eyes.

In terms of places to see, my favourite is Kalemegdan Park. It’s perched atop a cliff overlooking the point where the Sava and Danube rivers meet, with views of the concrete apartment blocks of New Belgrade and the Austro-Hungarian flavoured Zemun. The park is the site of a fortress, zoo, military museum, until recently secret bunkers, monuments, souvenir vendors, and plenty of open green space to relax and unwind. On one of the days that I visited, it was also a place to take refuge from the blistering sun that raised the temperature to 34°C (in late September!). During that lazy afternoon, I claimed a spot by the edge of the cliff, with an onion-filled pastry in one hand and a Nikšićko beer in the other, and let the afternoon pass away while I sat in contemplation…

Sava and Danube Rivers

Sava, meet Danube. Danube, Sava

I also quite like walking through some of the pedestrian streets. Knez Mihailova is the city’s main promenade, stretching from Kalemegdan to Trg Republike (a big square that is a popular meeting point for Belgraders) and beyond. The city’s bohemian quarter, Skadarlija, has traditionally been a haven for artists and poets, is also a pedestrianised street, and as one might imagine has a laid-back vibe in the air.

Knez Mihailova

pedestrian street Knez Mihailova

A particular novelty this city has to offer that I think is pretty cool is getting your picture taken and photoshopped onto a copy of a Serbian bank note. It’s all courtesy of the Serbian National Bank, which operates a museum in the city centre free of charge and offers this as what I think is its main draw to its visitors.

this barge is just one of dozens of bars/clubs along the Sava

Then there’s the nightlife. If one knows nothing about Belgrade before visiting, then the one thing one takes away after visiting is this city’s nightlife. People crowd into cafes, bars, pubs, clubs, and boats, and socialize and party. It’s here that I come to the early conclusion that Belgrade is a city that lives in the moment and dictates its own happiness, without anything to prove and unconcerned about its storied but less than stellar recent past. Belgraders seem to have a “live in the moment” mentality – in the last 22 or so years, they’ve faced the breakup of Yugoslavia and ensuing wars, hyperinflation, NATO bombings, and high unemployment, to name but a few headline-garnering events – so perhaps living in the moment is a platform to live life after all that (and perhaps I’m completely off base). In any case, once the sun has set and you’re in this city, you’re enveloped in an intoxicating atmosphere that only becomes more contagious as the night progresses and might only dissipate the next morning…

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