In Serbia’s capital, learning about Yugoslavia’s war history goes hand in hand with a vibrant nightlife and café scene. Belgrade’s chequered past is part of the reason why this city is fascinating to explore. From ancient fortresses to museums and vibrant street life, here are 10 things to do in Belgrade.
Things to do in Belgrade
1- Explore the Kalemegdan Citadel
Since the third century BC, the citadel has been a strategic military vantage point that has been fought over and conquered many times.
Over the centuries, a succession of conquerors includes the Hungarians, Bulgarians, Byzantines and Ottomans.
As it stands, the fortress structure dates back to the 18th century.
The area around it is a green public park with walking paths, tall trees and public benches. Belgrade Zoo is located in one section of the park.
2- Visit the Ethnographic Museum
The Ethnographic Museum is one of the best places to visit in Belgrade to soak up Serbia’s rich culture.
Wander past displays of intricately woven Serbian costumes, folk art, textiles and household items.
There are 3000 pieces of 19th-century jewellery, ceramic pottery, ancient musical instruments and a collection consists of pictures, lithographs, watercolours and drawings on show.
3- Al-fresco dining on Skadarlila Street
Wondering what to do in Belgrade at night? The cobblestone neighbourhood of Skadarska is frequently referred to by locals as Belgrade’s Montmartre.
The area started off as a gypsy settlement in the 1830’s; by the early 1900’s it morphed into a bohemian hang out for poets and artists.
Today, Skadarska’s main street, Skadarlija Street, is packed with al-fresco restaurants which have expressive names like Dva Bela Goluba (Two White Doves) and Tri Sesira (Three Hats) because it was once a millinery.
4- Visit Marsal Tito’s grave
Tito, whose real name was Josip Broz, was the leader of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia from 1945 until his death in 1980.
During World War II he led the anti-fascist resistance movement known as the Yugoslav Partisans and chose to structure the country on the Soviet Union model with a federal state of six republics (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia). But under Tito’s rule, Yugoslavia developed its own brand of socialism with an open society and high standard of living uncharacteristic of the Soviet states.
When Yugoslavia was expelled from the Communist bloc in 1948, Tito founded the Non-Aligned Movement, which is an international federation of states not formally aligned with or against any major power.
After his death, his successors were unable to keep the factions united and many war-torn years followed, resulting in the republics breaking away to form their own separate countries.
What to see in Belgrade if you’re interested in this period in history? Tito’s grave is located in the House of Flowers, which is part of Museum of Yugoslav History (MYH).
The museum has displays of cultural gifts presented to Tito by leaders from around the world. Admission is 400 dinars.
5- Drink beer and eat cake
Of all the things to do in Belgrade, most people have a rollicking good time at the Belgrade Beer Fest. The event flows with lots of beer, rock, pop, and reggae music.
In recent years, Serbia has seen a boom in beer-related advertising with catchy slogans, colourful billboards and local celebrities pushing local brews like Lav, Jelen and Weifert.
To satisfy that sweet tooth, pop into one of the many cafes in Belgrade’s city centre for a coffee and a slice of cake.
Many of the café’s have extensive cake menus which range from cheese cake to rich black forest cake.
6- Learn about the Kosovo legacy
Little has been done to fix well-known buildings – such as the Yugoslav Army Headquarters – that were bombed by NATO in 1999.
Serbia’s war with the Kosovo Liberation Army of Albanian freedom fighters caused thousands of deaths.
The NATO bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (which consisted of Serbia and Montenegro) saw aircraft flying more than 38,000 combat missions from 24 March to 11 June 1999.
Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from aircraft, ships and submarines.
Serbia’s dictator, Slobodan Milosevic (his reign lasted from 1989 to 2000) faced 66 counts of war crimes war crimes, crimes against humanity in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo, and genocide committed in Bosnia.
He was brought to account for his actions by the United National war crimes tribunal. See City of Belgrade for a map indicating the buildings that were bombed.
7- See tanks and guns at Belgrade’s Military Museum
Old guns, decommissioned bombs and missiles are some of the exhibits at Belgrade’s Military Museum.
Located at the Kalemegdan fortress, the museum showcases the military might of the former Yugoslavia.
Displays include captured Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) weapons and parts from an American F117 stealth fighter that was shot down by Serbian gunners during the NATO bombings in 1999.
Outside the museum is a line-up of old guns and tanks, some of which were captured from retreating Nazi forces during World War II. Admission is 100din.
8- Relax at Saint Sava’s Cathedral
The construction of the largest Serbian Orthodox church in use today began in 1894 and was interrupted by several wars to be finally completed in 1989.
The cathedral is dedicated to the medieval founder of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Saint Sava, and is a beautiful building.
Its 4,000-ton central dome was built on the ground and later lifted up onto the walls.
9- Party on a Danube River barge
Belgrade has some of the most exuberant nightlife in Europe where you can pull on your dancing shoes and dance from midnight to dawn.
The strip of barges moored along the Danube and Sava Rivers are packed with splavovi (floating river clubs), jazz bars and restaurants.
Local patrons are usually well-dressed, especially the young women who look as if they have stepped out of fashion pages of Vogue magazine.
10- Zemun day trip
8km northwest of central Belgrade is the charming town of Zemun.
Have a long lunch in a riverside restaurant, walk around the old town and admire the 19th-century mansions.
Browse food stalls at the local market or wander the narrow cobblestone streets to the town’s 9th century Gardos fortress.
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