It’s been almost three weeks since I returned atsome from a whirlwind trip to the eastern European country of Serbia. Not familiar with Serbia? Don’t beat yourself up. You won’t believe how many times I had to clarify just exactly where I was heading to my friends and family. No, not Syria, I explained to my somewhat panicked sister. Nope Grandma, I’m definitely not going to Siberia (brrrr) S-E-R-B-I-A.
Smack in the middle of the Balkan peninsula (or Yugoslavia as the region was once known) you’ll find a country roughly half the size of the state of New York with a rich culture and history. Not to be overshadowed by it’s western neighbors of Croatia and Montenegro, Serbia and it’s capital city of Belgrade is quite the hidden gem. I feel so lucky I was able to take such a deep dive into all things-Serbian over the course of six days.
So let me take you back and explain just how I found myself on a AirSerbia flight to Belgrade with five other bloggers last month. I’ll admit that I was apprehensive when I first received the invite to participate in an influencer trip hosted by Serbia Tourism. I wasn’t familiar with the country and honestly had concerns about safety in the region. After some very thorough research (turns out Serbia is one of the safest European countries for female travelers) and assurance from the team planning the trip, I took a leap of faith and began prepping for what would turn out to be one of the most exciting and eye-opening trips I’ve ever taken.
Our adventure began in Belgrade where we spent a total of three days eating our way through the best restaurants, drinking too much coffee and rakia (Serbia’s famous brandy,) visiting the well-known and not so-well-known tourist sights (the perks of having a Serbian guide!) and learning about this city’s extensive history which dates back to the middle ages (!!!)
I honestly really felt at home in Belgrade. Not necessarily visually (many neighborhoods in Belgrade are way prettier than New York) but I recognized the familiar hustle and bustle I experience every day in New York. Belgrade is a very social and lively city– you can tell by the locals that they take time to really enjoy life. So why visit Belgrade as opposed to another European city like Paris or Berlin? Well let me break things down for ya– trust me by the end of this guide you’ll be adding Belgrade to your travel bucket list!
Belgrade Serbia Travel Guide
Getting To Belgrade.
Coming from the states, the best way to get Serbia or Belgrade is by air. I was so pumped to learn AirSerbia offers direct flight from New York’s JFK Airport. Talk about convenient… Nikola Tesla Airport in Belgrade is an easy drive from the city center– about 20 minutes! If you’re already in the region, then you can also get to Belgrade by train or bus.
I had the chance to stay at two different hotels: Hotel Moskva and the Metropol Palace Belgrade. You’ll find both on any Belgrade luxury hotel list for good reason. Hotel Moskva is one of the oldest hotels in the city and a historical landmark in itself. Though don’t let its age deter you– this centrally-located vintage hotel is fully updated with luxury accommodations with matching customer service. Many famous faces (like Leonardo DiCaprio and Albert Einstein) have visited Hotel Moskva, which the hotel proudly shows off with portrait plaques outside of the guest rooms where they stayed. If you’re looking for more modern accommodations, then the Metropol Palace Belgrade is the place for you. Also located walking distance from the city center, this 5-star hotel boasts luxurious guest rooms, a spa, fine dining and a very helpful personal concierge.
Bringing a backpack on this trip was life-changing!
Food is serious business in Belgrade. I could’ve spent a week just eating my way through the city! Our guides took us to some of the best spots for getting a taste of the local flavor. I quickly learned that Balkan cuisine is right up my alley when I saw menus filed with rich meats, cheeses, pastries and desserts. Serbian people like to eat hearty and portions are huge. I can honestly say I didn’t have a bad meal!
Manufaktura: Read any Belgrade dining guide and you’ll be sure to see a mention of Manufaktura. This popular restaurant immediately draws passerbys in with it’s eye-catching outdoor canopy of red umbrellas. The only thing that rivals the decor is the mouth-watering menu. We indulged in everything from fresh cheeses and charcuterie, to baked breads and traditionally prepared meat dishes roasted fresh off a spit. Talk about authentic!
Tri šešira (Three Hats): One of the oldest and most romantic restaurants in Belgrade (dating back to 1864!), Tri Sesera is a must-visit if you’re looking to experience Belgrade dining at night. Here you’ll find authentic Serbian food and live music on one of Belgrade’s most beautiful cobblestone streets in the neighborhood of Skadarlija.
Mala Fabrika Ukusa: This was my favorite lunch of trip. Our group enjoyed a spread of highlights from the menu including fried paprika, bacon-wrapped plum skewers, a traditional cheese dip and endless grilled pork, duck and beef.
Cantina de Frida: I loved everything about our dinner at Frida. Call me basic, but I couldn’t get enough of the latin-influenced tapas menu and the lively atmosphere. By the time dinner ended at 11PM the party was just getting started as a live band began playing. Also the chips and guac were some of the best I’ve ever had!
Ba.Ba.Lu: Sadly I wasn’t feeling well when we dined at Ba Ba Lu so I didn’t sample as much as I would’ve liked, however my pesto pasta hit the spot. The rest of the group couldn’t stop raving about the food which included a menu of fresh sandwiches, salads, pastas and craft cocktails!
Belgrade Coffee Shops & Sweets.
It would be unfair to group Belgrade’s endless coffee and desert shops in with restaurants because all the places we stopped for sweets and caffeine absolutely deserve their own category.
?: Yes, the name of this coffee shop is just “?” Maybe they named it purposely to keep ? a hidden gem… This coffee shop is as traditional as it gets from the drink menu to the rustic decor. Locals come here for domestic coffee– brewing involves a stronger preparation and each cup includes the unfiltered grounds and a Turkish delight candy on the side. Our tour guide was very adamant that we relax and enjoy our coffee slowly– as is the Serbian way.
Black Sheep: Stop here for a scoop (or two) of the best gelato in Belgrade.
Coffee Dream: This coffee shop chain is like the Starbucks of Belgrade, but so much better. Come here for your standard caffeinated fare– I recommend the iced latte. It was one of the best I’ve ever had!
Dolce: Think Laduree x5. Olivia and I had so much fun in the whimsical cafe which boasts a menu of macarons, cakes, ice cream and champagne. Talk about Instagram-worthy!
Is popping. They aren’t lying when they say that nightlife in Belgrade rivals that of New York and other big cities. I discovered that Belgrade has become known for its vibrant clubs and bars that attract both tourists and locals. We got a small taste of the night scene and I have to say, it was a ton of fun.
Pivara: I felt at home in this brewery-themed bar. I made a point to try the Serbian beer and it didn’t disappoint!
^ Shots of Rakia aka Serbian plum brandy (soooo strong)
Prohibicija Bar: So apparently in Belgrade the norm is to hit up a “pre-club” before beginning your night out. This small cocktail bar had a very chill vibe with a very expansive menu.
Freestyler: Apparently this is the best nightclub in Belgrade. Our tour guides hooked us up with a table and bottle service where we danced to electronic music until 2AM. It was crazy– in a good way 😛
Many of the city’s top tourism destinations can be found in downtown historic Belgrade. All of the sights we visited were conveniently within walking distance of our hotels or a short drive via taxi.
Ada Lake: Though Serbia is a land-locked country, it certainly doesn’t feel that way in Belgrade. Both the Danube and Sava Rivers intersect in the city’s capital so residents and visitors have plenty of opps for water fun. The city even has it’s own man-made lake and beaches where you’ll find walking paths, nightclubs and restaurants right along the water.
Skadarlija: This bohemian neighborhood is one of the oldest in Belgrade and another popular destination for visitors. As you walk down the cobblestone streets you’ll find some of the city’s best shops and restaurants.
Kalemegdan Fortress: A short walk from the city center you’ll find the oldest monument in Belgrade. This medieval fortress dates back to the Roman empire and has a tragic past due to it’s frequent attacks from invaders. Today it looks like something out of a Game of Thrones set and is the most popular tourist destination in Belgrade. Though expect to see many locals too– it’s the perfect place for walking and taking in the views of the Sava and Danube Rivers. There are also photo opps galore.
Nikola Tesla Museum: Physicist and inventor Nikola Tesla is by far one of the most world-famous Serbs. His namesake museum in central Belgrade is dedicated to his work and legacy and offers daily tours in both Serbian and English.
Kalenic Farmers Market: If you want to feel like a local and get your foodie on then a visit to the Kalenic Farmers Market is a must. You’ll find everything here from fresh produce, to meats, cheeses, candy, baked goods and flowers. I was in Heaven!
Church of Saint Sava: This Serbian Orthodox church is by far the most striking building we saw in Belgrade. It’s one of the largest churches in the world and a cultural landmark for the Serbian people. Throughout my time in the country, our guides continually referenced Saint Sava as one of the most important figures of Serbian history. He was a prince and the first Archbishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church who made many contributions to education and literature. This church is dedicated to him and built on the location where his remains were burned by the Ottoman Empire in 1595 as retribution for a Serbian uprising.
Belgrade Waterfront: This once industrial area of the city is in the midst of a major transformation. Here you’ll find trendy restaurants, lively bars and shops all along a stretch of the Sava River. In a few years time the area will also include upscale apartment buildings and new transportation hubs for rail and bus travel.
Important Things To Know.
Last thing! For anyone not familiar with the region, I recommend keeping these in mind when planning a visit to Belgrade.
Smoking: Cigarettes are very popular in Serbia and smoking is allowed indoors at almost all restaurants and bars. The only time we ever were in a non-smoking area were our hotel rooms (make sure to specify this when booking!)
Dining Hours: Of course you can make reservations whenever you prefer, however the norm for lunch is 2PM with dinner beginning no earlier than 9PM.
Language: Almost every Serb we encountered in Belgrade spoke English among other western languages like French, German, Italian, etc. It’s definitely a city you could visit and easily navigate without knowing a word of the native language.
Get pumped because my Serbian adventures didn’t stop in Belgrade! Keep a lookout because next week I’ll be recapping my time in the western Serbian countryside– much more to come!