The least ‘touristy’ of the places we visited, Belgrade is still repairing itself from the 90’s Yugoslav wars. Talking to people our own age about war stories and atrocities was one of the most interesting things about visiting, and it is evident that it is still a painful topic. Belgrade was off to a strange start from the night train from Budapest…
Story time: Thinking the train went from Budapest’s main station, we ended up travelling across the city with about 30 seconds to spare to a much smaller station which was deserted and very dimly lit, and the way google maps took us involved a trek across an industrial estate. The train didn’t actually appear until way after it was due and gave no indication why, but seemed fine inside. At around 2am, they rudely awakened me with a smack on the leg to take our passports and wandered off for ages with them, only to reappear and begin shouting our names out with very different pronunciation… needless to say I didn’t recognise mine. We finally arrived over an hour late and very tired, before the city had woken up. Serbia was the only place on our travels that didn’t allow the use of mobile data roaming like home due to not being in the EU (and in fact the only passport stamp!) so we ended up following some very dodgy ‘free wifi’ signs to try and find the city centre. All in all, it was a strange experience, made worse by our lack of map reading skills and common sense!
Our hostel was called ‘Hostel Home Sweet Home’
and I cannot recommend it enough! It was cheap (around £9 a night), the bathrooms were lovely and full of free toiletries and though there was no free breakfast there was a coffee machine, which you could use as much as you liked. It was near loads of supermarkets and little shops too, including a hilarious one called ‘IDEA London’ full of things English people definitely don’t eat, complete with a phone box and workers in queen’s guards uniforms (why not).
I’ll start by saying that as usual, we went on the free walking tour which took us around the city centre as well as up to the castle and was led by a girl around my age who was so interesting. The castle gives amazing views across the rivers, like the first picture, and is a great place to go and sit and chill with a book (or it would be when they’re not digging it up). Apparently, and rather hilariously, they get the scaffolding/workmen out in the summer to pretend to tourists that things are being done up but it doesn’t ever change. The national museum reopened in June 2018, after being closed for over 15 years, so if I went back I’d definitely go there. Our guide said she’d never even been inside.
The statue of Serbian artist Djura Jaksic is on Skadarlija Street, which I’ll talk about in a minute. According to urban legend, your wishes will come true if you sit on his lap and whisper them in his ear.
The town centre is really pretty and quite a contrast to the train station, the area around which is rather run down. One main thing that was very different about Belgrade was that most people did not speak English, especially in people over 30 it seemed quite rare – they knew Russian instead. The language is very different and almost impossible to decipher, unlike German etc. which you can guess at.
The epicentre of Belgrade nightlife, Skardalija street is only a few hundred meters from the main square but has it’s own amazing vibe. It’s pretty, colourful bars spill out onto the street at night and loads of live bands who play traditional music and roam the street, playing both inside restaurants and on the pavement.
The shot to have in Serbia (and in fact all of the Balkans) is ‘Rakia/Rakija’ which is a kind of fruit brandy which comes in loads of flavours. People also have stalls on the street selling their own homemade Rakia!
We spent both nights on this street and it’s lively, traditional music and dancing are a must for all visitors.
I’m adding this section because I always do…
Belgrade was off to a good start when the first café we stumbled into in our sleep deprived state had soya milk, even if people smoking inside at 7am was a bit of a shock. However, the small vegan win didn’t last and the remainder of the trip was a mixture of hummus from IDEA and random bread rolls from bakeries in town. On one memorable occasion we went to a restaurant on Skadarlija Street, Zlatni Bokal, which had the traditional dish my friend wanted to try (not a vegan). I explained what I could and couldn’t eat to the lovely waiter, who to be fair to him did try really hard, and ended up with broccoli soup… containing only broccoli and water. And a massive fresh bread basket, which was only about 50p and actually the highlight of my food there.
There are actually 39 vegan and vegetarian restaurants listed on Happy Cow in Belgrade, it’s just that without 4G and not understanding the language I didn’t manage to find any whilst there.
Though miscellaneous, these first two pictures are once again Skardalija Street. Firstly, a very pretty bar front and a more serious warning – in the daytime we were approached around every 20 minutes by people begging for food and money on the street. It is important to remember that the city is still poor and many people struggle, and especially me being very obviously foreign (blonde hair, blue eyes, pale skin), we were targeted a lot. Just keep your wits about you!
Secondly, there are loads of rather well fed looking cats which will cuddle up to you and in the evenings and beg for scraps on the street. I would say they were strays but if so they’re definitely fat ones!
There are also many bars a short walk away from the town centre/Skadarlija, including this one
which had loads of pretty and unusual things inside, like this car.
We had some surprisingly blue cocktails from here and they had a massive projector screen playing cartoons with no sound… I’m not sure why.
I hope you enjoyed this insight into one of the more entertainingly charming cities on our trip.
Have you ever been to Belgrade? Would you like to? Let’s have a chat in the comments!