As B and I were planning our trip to the Balkans region, we knew we wanted to go from Romania to Montenegro. There were a few different ways to travel between the these countries, but we opted to travel there via Serbia. And we were so very glad we did. While we only spent 36 hours in Belgrade, we had a really wonderful time. Belgrade was a definite sleeper and turned out to be one of our favorite stops on the whole trip. This post will discuss what we did, saw and ate during our too brief stay in this Balkan gem.
You might be wondering why we didn’t just fly from Romania to Montenegro and skip right over Serbia. Well, the reason is because I had read an article on the delights of a certain train that crossed the Balkans. The article promised us the scenery would be spectacular. Since B is a sucker for a rail ride, we decided it would be a fun experience. We had some sketchy moments making this particular adventure happen, but overall it was a really good decision. Visiting Belgrade was a by-product of taking this train. Lucky for us, it turned out to be a terrific bonus.
Getting In and Out
We had hired a personal driver to take us from Romania to Belgrade. (This is a WHOLE different story, but suffice it to say it was our best option.) I rather liked arriving in style, but in most circumstances this is not how we normally roll. Our exit from Belgrade was much more conventional for us. We lugged our backpacks down to the train station, and boarded a train for Podgorica, Montenegro.
We had purchased our ticket at the train station the day before, using a method that would see us through the rest of the trip. (See this post for surviving in countries where you don’t speak the language.) This process involved the following:
- Look up train schedules online (if possible). Sometimes this meant using Google Maps.
- Arrive at the window to buy our tickets armed with money and a piece of paper on which we had written the name of the place we wanted to go, the time we wanted and the seat we wanted.
- Hand the person the paper and money and smile really big.
We had paid extra to reserve our spots on the train ($2-ish or so). Apparently, this is not the norm. Instead, people just show up and claim seats they want. This led to an awkward moment where we sat down in our seats and the person who wanted them had to leave. Most likely cussing out bourgeois Americans. Anyway, the train is a nice option for arriving and exiting Belgrade.
Belgrade is very walkable. From the point we got dropped off to the point we boarded the train, we only used our two feet for getting around. They do have public transportation, but everything we wanted to see was in a pretty compact few miles. The city is surrounded on two sides by rivers, so you could probably catch a river ride..or maybe kayak or paddle board?
I’ve said this before, B and I are not foodies. We are perfectly happy to find markets and grocery stores and eat snacks at our hotel. Belgrade was a crazy affordable city, though, so we ended up eating lots of places that had food you could grab and go. For example, we had giant pizza slices for about a $1.50 a slice. Our AirBnB host, Djordge, recommended a place just across the street for some authentic Serbian food. This place served pljeskavica, which was essentially a hamburger with clotted cream instead of ketchup and mustard. We hadn’t had clotted cream before, but to us it tasted like butter. Our sandwiches were only a few dollars.
Belgrade is an ancient city. Like ANCIENT ancient. As such there are lots of things to see and do for a history buff like me. But don’t worry, this town is not fuddy duddy. Quite the opposite really. Trendy, beautiful (and tall!) people are all over, doing the things that trendy, beautiful people do. Here are the things we enjoyed the most.
Right up some cliffs from the Danube River is the Belgrade Fortress, a.k.a. Kalmegdan. Picture a stone wall stretching along the river bank, dotted with little buildings. Word on the street was that Attila the Hun was buried here…but no one really knows for sure because the Serbians have stopped excavating this area because they know they’ll find awesome historical stuff wherever they dig. That’s what happens with ancient cities. We most enjoyed this area because it was gorgeous. On the other side of the stone walls is a nice big park. We went there a few times during our 36 hours in Belgrade.
Serbian National Opera
Like most things in Belgrade, the Serbian National Opera is ridiculously affordable. We splurged on the good seats and only spent about $5.00 to watch La Traviata. Well, most of it. Being as how we don’t really know our operas and the subtitles were in Cyrillic and we didn’t know what was going on when they kept taking breaks…we left before the Third Act. Oh well, I definitely felt I got my $5 bucks worth even leaving early.
Nope, not a car lot, but a cool museum dedicated to Serbian (later American) Nikola Tesla. I still don’t understand most of what Tesla’s inventions do, but I can appreciate that this man was a genius and lots of things I take for granted I have because of him. This museum is small and tucked in a residential part of town. It was nice to walk to it and see a different side of Belgrade.
Saint Sava Cathedral
This church is one of the largest in the world. It is on top of a higher part of town, which makes it look even more impressive. But the thing that impressed me most about this church is that there were so many worshippers, especially young ones. It seems like I only see old women at most cathedrals in Europe. Eastern Orthodoxy is still going strong among the youth in Serbia. We watched as one woman walked in and before she crossed the door she kissed the door frame. After she did this I noticed a smudge on the doorframe, so this must be a common practice.
I only mention this so as not to lead any readers astray if they are into clubbing and are visiting Belgrade. B and I are most definitely not into clubbing (too old, not cool enough even when we were young). But if you are, make sure to visit the banks of the Sava River and hit up some of the large barges that sideline as clubs and bars. Apparently, they get bumping to EDT come evening. We saw them during the day and could easily picture a party going on. These things plus the cheap booze in this town is probably a big enough reason for Euro youths to visit Belgrade.
Knez Mihailova Street is a terrific pedestrian street that stretches for about a half of a mile. This is clearly the place for people to hang out in Belgrade, locals and tourists alike. There are shops and restaurants lining the roads, but we most enjoyed just watching people do their thing. Lots of street performers hang out in this area. (Sadly, lots of beggar children also.) I especially enjoyed the popcorn sellers where I could get a bag of popcorn for only $.30.
We found an artisan/handicraft boutique and visited it a few times. We probably bought more stuff from this little co-op than we did in whole other countries on this trip. There are lots of international brands in Belgrade, and I assume goods are much more affordable here than in other places. So if you are craving some high fashion, it might just be worth the trip to Belgrade to buy it. I could be wrong about that, but hey, at least you’d get to visit this rad town!
36 hours in Belgrade was not nearly enough. But now we know that this gem exists and if we ever have the chance we can plan a longer trip to really enjoy this surprising city.