What to see and do on a short break to Belgrade, Serbia
Belgrade was an unexpected pleasure. We visited the city in June 2014 and we knew there was enough to occupy us for a full day of sightseeing but we weren’t expecting the city to be as pleasant as it was. Belgrade is not that attractive, in fact it is a little rough around the edges, but it is definitely a lived-in city and the longer you linger, the more it grows on you.
The Serbs we met were a friendly bunch and we had the added bonus of staying in a great part of the city (near Skadarlija (Bajloni) market – see below). This certainly enhanced our stay. The cost of living is low in Belgrade and we enjoyed slowing things down and being able to linger over an espresso or a beer and have the odd meal out rather than cooking in every night.
Looking for ideas on how to spend a few days in Belgrade? This is how we spent our time in the city.
Walking tour of Stari Grad (Old Town of Belgrade)
The Tourist Organisation of Belgrade on Republic Square is a good place to pick up a free map and begin a walking tour of the Old Town. If the National Museum is open (*) head there first. If not, start by walking in a northwesterly direction along Knez Mihailova, Belgrade’s premier pedestrian and shopping zone. The street is one of the oldest in the city and there are plenty of impressive buildings to catch your eye along its route.
Stari Grad (Old Town)
(*) The museum has been officially closed for over a decade but some exhibition rooms are sometimes temporarily open to the public. May be ask the Tourist Board people what’s open before walking to the museum.
At the end of Knez Mihailova street there is the option to head to Kalemegdan Citadel (see below), but if you want to save that for later, we would recommend taking a left and walking downhill past the notable buildings such as the School of Fine Arts until you reach St.Michael’s Cathedral and the Museum of Serbian Orthodox Church. Nearby is a terraced street of grand-looking apartments and a little beyond this is the Palace of Princess Ljubica, a fine example of Serbian-Balkan style architecture dating back to the early 1800s.
Stari Grad (Old Town)
From the palace, head back uphill to Republic Square and walk along Knez Mihailova Street once more, but this time in a southeasterly direction until you reach the Hotel Moskva.
Located on Terazije Square, this grande dame of Belgrade’s hotels has a fascinating history and is one of the city’s most recognisable landmarks. Apparently, it is the only hotel in Belgrade that doesn’t have a room number 13. Notable previous guests include Albert Einstein, Yasser Arafat and Alfred Hitchcock as well as the German Gestapo who took over the hotel and used it as their headquarters from 1941 until 1944. The hotel was one of the last buildings in the city to be liberated from German occupation.
Knez Mihailova Street turns into Kralja Milana Street just after the Hotel Moskva and continuing in a southerly direction along this busy road takes you past Stari Dvor, a once-royal palace that now houses the City Assembly of Belgrade, and the Presidential Palace which is also known as Beli dvor or White Palace. From the palace, if you have the energy, you can continue by foot to the Church of Saint Sava (see below) but keep in mind this is a long detour (we know, we did it) and the church is probably best left for another day using public transport.
St. Mark’s Church
Assuming no detour at this point, it is possible to cut through Pionirski Park from the Presidential Palace and head into Tašmajdan Park to visit St. Marks church. The park and many buildings within its vicinity were badly bombed by NATO in 1999 during the war in the Balkans (in particular the Kosovo War). A pleasant path leads through the park to St. Marks church, one of the largest churches in Serbia. The building of the original church began in 1931 and was completed in 1940 but in April 1941 it was completely destroyed by fire as a result of an extensive German bombing campaign. I cannot find any reference that indicates that St. Marks was bombed during the NATO attacks however. There is a small Russian Orthodox church next to St. Marks that is also quite nice to visit.
National Assembly Belgrade
The Headquarters of the Serbian Post and the House of the National Assembly of Serbia are the next two impressive buildings you will come across as you walk in a northwesterly direction along Bulevar Kralja Aleksandra Street towards Nikole Pašića Square and the Historical Museum of Serbia. From the square, it’s about 500 metres walk back to the start point of Republic Square.
Trg Nikole Pašića and Historical Museum of Serbia
Kalemegdan Citadel (Belgrade Fortress)
Located to the west of the Old Town, there are fine views of the confluence of the River Sava and the Danube from the Kalemegdan Citadel. The citadel is Belgrade’s top attraction and it is easy to spend half a day seeing the sights and relaxing in the pleasant park that surrounds it. The history of the fort can be traced back to Celtic times (3rd century BC) with many major-league hitters, including the Romans, Byzantines and the Turks, also leaving their mark over time. The grounds below the fortress are used for open-air concerts and recent ‘invaders’ have included Amy Winehouse, Whitesnake, Iron Maiden and Simply Red (Simply Red of all people – yuk!).
Clock Gate, Belgrade Fortress
You enter the citadel through the Stambol Gate, from where you will clock eyes (ho ho!) on the Clock Gate. We spent time in the Military Museum, although we were a little disappointed (too much ancient military history and not enough recent history for our liking). Other things of interest to look out for include the quaint Ružica (Little Rose) Church, the Monument of Gratitude to France and Despot Stefan Tower. To enter the citadel and the grounds is free but you have to pay a small amount to enter the Military Museum. There is also a zoo nearby but we didn’t visit it. Kalemegdan Citadel is very close to the western end of Knez Mihailova Street.
Ruzica (Little Rose) Church
Church of Saint Sava
The imposing Church of Saint Sava is the largest Orthodox church in the world. It is also listed as one of the largest church buildings in the world. Although it is out on a limb compared to the city’s other attractions, the church is definitely worth visiting. From the outside, Saint Savas is mighty and impressive. However the interior of the church doesn’t yet mirror such grandeur. This is because work on the interior is still continuing. Progress is slow because finance for the work comes exclusively from donors and furthermore, several wars have interrupted development over the years.
Church of Saint Sava
The Church of Saint Sava is located approximately 2km southeast of the Hotel Moskva. The quickest way to walk there from the hotel is to go along Kralja Milana Street, across Slavija Square and straight up Svetog Save Street.
Where to stay in Belgrade
We stayed at Studio 15 and we both agree that it was one of the best places we stayed in during our time in eastern and southern Europe. Milos, who owned the studio was a true gent. He met us at the bus stop when we arrived, gave us loads of helpful information and drove us to the airport-transfer bus stop when it was time for us to leave.
The location was great as well. We were just behind Skadarlija (Bajloni) market and 5 minutes’ walk from Skadarlija Street (*). It took us about 15 minutes to walk to Republic Square. We paid about €30 a night and considered it excellent value for money.
(*) Skadarlija Street is Belgrade’s bohemian quarter and packed with bars and restaurants. It is reasonably touristic but not too much so and you see plenty of locals enjoying a coffee there as well as tourists.
Mark praying. Or is he? | Church of Saint Sava