Belgrade is pretty awesome… but there are a few things you should know before going.
When you hear Belgrade in Serbia has around two million citizens, you might reflexively brace for the impact of super-crowded sidewalks or public spaces. Instead, they’re fairly spread out throughout the city in two main sections: Old Belgrade and New Belgrade. Old Belgrade is centuries old, while New Belgrade has that ‘planned’ look that dates from just after World War II.
Smokers are everywhere.
Easily the biggest downer about going almost anywhere in Belgrade, cigarette smoke and smokers are everywhere. They’re rarely blocking sidewalks, since smoking is explicitly allowed in many restaurants / indoor businesses. Some have a ‘non-smoking’ section, but there are rarely any barriers or air filters.
Look for the black ‘smoking allowed’ sign or the white ‘no smoking allowed’ sign near the entrance or on the door — and don’t be surprised if you see both signs for the two different sections of the place.
There’s little need to learn Serbian.
English is widely spoken by people under 35. While we don’t know if there’s an official reason, it’s something we’ve also noticed in Bucharest, Sofia, and other Eastern European capitals.
Beer and wine is cheaper than expected.
Whether you get it at a restaurant or a grocery store, there are plenty of cheap options. 2 liter bottles of local brands of beer are less than 200 dinars (about $2 USD, at 105 Serbian dinars to the US dollar) at the store, and 500ml cans or bottles of local brews are between 120-200 dinars. One local brew stands out by adding works of art to the cans — cute.
It’s surprisingly easy to get around… but there’s a catch.
Belgrade lacks a subway system (though a small part of the train system does go underground), so people that use public transportation use the city’s buses, trams, and tram-buses. There’s even a fair number of maps at bus stops indicating the routes. Ah, progress!
Pick up one-ride tickets from the driver (which doesn’t allow transfers) or pick up a BusPlus card and add some credit to it.
The catch? As of publication, Google Maps doesn’t provide directions here as they do in other countries. The solution? A free app called Eway, available for iOS and Android. It’s been really useful elsewhere in Eastern Europe as well.
Kiosks (and ‘Chinese shops’) are everywhere.
You’re never too far from a bottle of water, some Coke, beer, cigarettes, or some snacks. Sure, the many Shop and Go’s will have a larger variety, but only a fraction of them are open 24/7 (you’ll see ’00-24′ next to the sign if they are). Kiosks will sell you the BusPlus card needed to ride the bus, SIM cards and credit for VIP or MTS phone services (but not Telenor), and of course a selection of drinks and such.
‘Chinese shops’ are those cheap / low-end sort of places that sell a bit of everything. While you can go to one of the largest wholesale markets I’ve ever seen in New Belgrade, Chinese shops are all over the city. They’re never called that out front, of course — this is just my personal name for these types of shops.
Tons of places to gamble.
It’s actually quite hard to go more than a block in Belgrade without seeing a place to bet on sports, try your luck with a gambling machine, or the like. It’s not personally my thing, but if it’s yours, do what you like.
Plenty of life well after dark.
It’ll be 11pm and people are still enjoying their coffees, beers, or hanging out in parks. It’s safe across the city — just don’t be stumbly drunk or hanging out in dark alleys and expect good things to happen.
There’s plenty of new…
Delta City and Ušće Shopping Center are two modern shopping malls in New Belgrade that are worthy.
…but consider skipping some of the old stuff.
One of Belgrade’s most famous restaurants (kafana) is simply known as ‘?’, and was first built in 1824. The authorities forbid the place to be named ‘by the Cathedral’, and the temporary name ‘?’ stuck. While it’s unquestionably authentic, it’s comparatively expensive, the waiters were on the snooty side, and the food just wasn’t that great.
Do check out Kalemegdan Fortress on the northwest corner of Old Belgrade, overlooking the Danube river. It’s free and beautiful.
Head to the Hotel Yugoslavia in New Belgrade for a great 1950’s theme diner.
Ask for the English-language menu, naturally. The shakes are great. Once finished here, head behind the hotel for a walking trail and a park.
Over to you
Have you been to Belgrade? What did you think?