Not many people consider Belgrade for a weekend. Yet in many ways it’s the ideal place for a short break — easy to get to, with plenty to see and a buzzy centre that forms a perfect backdrop for shopping, dining and sightseeing. It’s highly affordable and likely to remain so for a while, at least until the Serbs realise their dream of joining the EU.
To properly understand Belgrade go to Kalemegdan — a sprawling park and citadel at the top of the city’s main street. The view from its ramparts is truly one of the great views of the world, and you can spend a happy morning ambling around the park, picking up a trinket or two from the Yugoslav years — Yugo-nostalgia is big in Serbia.
Work your way back down Knez Mihailova Street, a grand pedestrianised street that is home to the best shopping, also making time to pop into Serbia’s National Museum (narodnimuzej.rs) on nearby Trg Republike — open again after years of renovation and worth a visit for just that (plus it’s free on Sundays). On the other side of the centre, in Vracar, you’ll find the Hram or Temple of St Sava, a vast structure, planned since the late 19th century to remember the Serbs’ patron saint, whose remains were burnt on this spot in Ottoman times. It was begun in the Thirties yet untouched until the rise of Serb nationalism in the Eighties. Peek inside to see the huge dome and concrete shell — which in time will be covered by the world’s largest mosaic — and the (finished) crypt.
Visit the Tesla Museum (nikolateslamuseum.org) nearby, dedicated to genius inventor Nikola Tesla, who developed the theory of alternating current as well as giving Elon Musk a name for his electric car company (which in part funds the museum). Don’t miss the flower-filled mausoleum of communist ruler Marshal Tito, in the posh residential area of Dedinje, still visited by those who view the Yugoslav years as the best in the country’s recent history. The period is documented in the museum in the grounds, where the ruins of Tito’s villa are still visible through the trees. It was destroyed by Nato bombs in 1999 during the Kosovo war. The ruins, like many others in Belgrade, have been deliberately left as a reminder.
Eat and Drink
Just off Knez Mihailova, Restaurant Manufaktura (restoran-manufaktura.rs/en) specialises in Serbian produce and serves kebabs, salads and fabulous sharing platters stacked with delicious cheeses, smoked meats, sausage and stuffed vegetables. It has a shop attached if you want to take something home. You’ll find delicious Serbian food at trendy Ambar (ambarrestaurant.com), on the waterfront below Kalemegdan — one of the capital’s coolest areas to hang out by night. Try the kajmak (a sort of creamy cottage cheese) while taking in views of the wide and gentle Danube.
Ceger (kafeceger.com), right opposite the Hram in Vracar, has everything from coffee and cocktails to decent burgers, pasta and steaks and there’s a nice outside terrace. Finally the river island of Ada Ciganlija — known simply as “Ada” — shows the lighter side of the city, a special place where Belgraders come to swim, eat and dance. Visit on a summer weekend and you’ll have to fight for a table at the many bars and restaurants.
The City Savoy (hotelcitysavoy.com) is comfortable, mid-priced and in the centre (double rooms from about £80 a night), or try Mama Shelter (mamashelter.com), a new boutique hotel that occupies the top floor of a shopping mall and has a huge rooftop terrace (doubles from around £80 a night). The art nouveau Moskva (hotelmoskva.rs), is the grande dame of Belgrade hotels, with a café, spa and pool, and a frisson of Cold War atmosphere (doubles from about £100 a night).
Air Serbia fly most days from London Heathrow to Belgrade; from £219.