I just love the Balkans – it’s a region that has so much interesting history and culture yet the capital cities of the Balkan countries are so very different. Belgrade, capital of Serbia, is what someone in the UK might describe as ‘stereotypical Eastern European’ looking. A large part of the architecture of the city is very ‘functional’ large, square and rectangular concrete buildings. These coupled with much older ornate buildings and modern piazzas, make for a really interesting architectural landscape.
Although very different in many ways from Sarajevo, it is still a city steeped in history with lots to see and do and is definitely worth a visit.
Wizz Air fly direct to Belgrade from London Luton and they are super cheap, making it a perfect city for a mini break. For example at the time of searching, travelling on a Tuesday in April and returning on the following Thursday will set you back just £62.98!
Alternatively if you are looking for that adventure trip, consider coupling a trip to Belgrade with one to Budapest and get the overnight train between the two. The train leaves at 22.29 and arrives in Belgrade at 06.30 the following day.
Where to stay
We stayed at Hotel Tash, a boutique hotel less than half a mile away from downtown Belgrade and within walking distance of many of the sites in Belgrade. The hotel which had recently been refurbished, is just £33 a night for a standard double room or £43 for a suite. We opted for a suite which meant we had a jacuzzi bath and breakfast included in the price, as well as a bigger room.
If you are looking to spend a little more money, I have heard great things about the Art Hotel Belgrade, from very close family friends, so it might be worth checking that out too.
One thing I love about so many European cities is their tram system. OK so I’m a bit of a transport geek but there’s just something very quaint about trams that makes me feel like I’m in some sort of 1950s book or film.
The Belgrade tram system is pretty straight forward to plan a route on. The only thing that did prove to be quite a big problem was we couldn’t figure out how on earth to pay for a ticket! We wanted to pay, we really did, but when we tried to ask a couple of drivers we were met with blank and confused stares, except on one occasion where hand gestures were used to discuss a Serbian Manchester United footballer!
We didn’t come across any ticket inspectors thankfully so that wasn’t an issue but still, we felt pretty bad about not paying. If anyone does know how to pay, please do tell.
I have to say, Belgrade is one of the friendliest cities I’ve been too. The tram drivers were friendly, cafe and pub owners were chatty and everyone just seemed really polite and happy to help. One thing that was a bit of a bonus was our ability to speak very basic German. When we asked for directions in English, quite a lot of people really wanted to help but had no idea what we wanted. We managed to make ourselves understood by throwing in some basic German words and phrases. And when I say ‘basic’ German I really do mean basic…as in GCSE level- barely practiced for 15 years type basic!
Top 5 things to see
The House of Flowers and the museum of Yugoslav History
President Josip Broz Tito, arguably the most successful communist leader in history, ruled the former Yugoslavia from 1944 until his death in 1980. His belief in neutrality and independence during the Cold War helped to make him hugely popular during his time in power but in 1980 he passed away. The House of Flowers is his final resting place and it is beautiful. Set at the top of a long road reached through a park, the House of Flowers is true to its name and has many flowers inside. It is a relaxing serene place with benches outside for quiet contemplation. It also hosts an interesting exhibition which documents President Tito’s Torch Relay, an event for the youth of Yugoslavia during the time of Tito’s reign.
Next door to Tito’s mausoleum, is the museum of Yugoslav History. The museum hosts President Tito’s furniture and art collection, as well ethnographic artefacts from Yugoslavia and the rest of the world.
Part of the joy of Belgrade Fortress for us was the walk there through Kalemegdan Park. Squirrels scurry round the tree lined promenades and you could easily forget that you are in a capital city if it wasn’t for the interesting characters wondering around. Elderly women sit and gossip, young families relax and old men play on the huge chess sets on the floor. On the way to the fort you will reach a wall lined with a row of benches, overlooking part of the city and the rivers Sava and Danube. Take a break here – it is a perfect spot to relax and do a bit of people watching. The fort itself is said to be one of the oldest in the world and it is pretty big. There are other old ruins surrounding it as well which are great to explore. As we were on tight schedule, we only stayed in the park and at the fortress for a couple of hours but you could easily lose an afternoon here.
The NATO bombing ruins
So looking at ruins which were created in a recent war may seem like a pretty depressing thing to do on holiday and if I’m honest it is, but I really do recommend it.
In 1999, NATO bombed government buildings in Belgrade. You may remember the footage of the burning buildings from the news as it happened so recently. These ruins still stand today and although it isn’t a happy moment when you look at these buildings, when you see the damage done it really does make you pause for thought and consider just how pointless war is.
Well I already mentioned that I’m a transport geek but it wasn’t me that wanted to go here. My husband loves planes so this was his choice but do you know what? I really enjoyed this!
The museum is about a five minute walk from the airport so if your flight times allow, it would be a good idea to go on the first or last day of your trip. The museum holds tonnes of old soviet style aeroplanes from the last hundred years and it is really interesting to see these rather than the usual ones you’d see at museums in the UK. The museum doesn’t really get busy, probably because it is so far outside the city centre and well, I guess not that many people get excited by Aviation! Despite this I really recommend a visit, especially if you are quite into the history of the Cold War era.
Crkva Svetog Marka Orthodox Church
Although there are far bigger churches in Belgrade that people rave about, this was our favourite. It was just so beautiful on the inside and out. Situated in Tasmajdan Park, the church is built in what is apparently a typical Serbian Orthodox style. It was the first church of its kind that we had been to and was just such a peaceful place. Look out for the notes that worshippers have left around the church. They are prayers to the various saints who are represented.
Check out my Pinterest board for more photographs of Belgrade.