If you are older you might first think of Belgrade as the former capital of Yugoslavia, and if you are younger you might have only barely heard of the city, perhaps reading about it in reference to the wars in the 1990s. In either case, it’s easy to assume that Belgrade is a depressing or dysfunctional city because you don’t hear much good news about the place. Fortunately, it’s a lovely urban area with a lot going for it, and you should visit if you get the chance.
First off, it’s now been about 15 years since wars were raging after the breakup of Yugoslavia, so they are a distant memory for older people while younger people have few if any memories of them. In other words, Belgrade is now similar to Vietnam in that the people have long moved on, and you should too.
The vibe in Belgrade
As a city of over 1.5 million people that was an important capital of a once-large nation, it’s no surprise that Belgrade is a large and very grand city. The historic part of the city sits on one side of a river while the New City is on the other, but things are quite modern everywhere once you look past the architectural facades.
One pleasant surprise about visiting Belgrade is that nearly all people under, say, 50 years old, not only speak English but they speak fluent English. It’s similar to visiting the Netherlands or Scandinavia in that you can actually carry on deep conversations in English with locals rather than just being able to get directions to the train station.
During the summer months you’ll find that life goes on primarily outdoors, as it does in most of southern Europe. This means that the city is filled with outdoor cafes and restaurants and bars that are often filled from morning until late at night, with relaxed patrons spending hours sipping coffee and just chatting.
The historic fortress and the large green park that surrounds it are highlights, and an easy walk from most central hotels. It’s all free to visit, and provides the finest views of the river and everything in the New City.
As with most other large European cities, Belgrade has a main pedestrian street lined with chain stores and fancy shops of all kinds. It’s very grand in scale, and a lovely place to just hang out even if you aren’t in the mood for shopping. Every couple blocks you’ll find a natural spring with many spouts where you can take a drink or refill your water bottle with the good stuff.
The food in Belgrade tends to be heavy (in typical Eastern European style) if you stick to the local stuff, so you can expect sausages and potatoes in addition to wonderful salads. But you can get cheap pizza slices or burgers of all sizes on every other block, plus there is an abundance of Italian and other international restaurants. One highlight is the touristy Skadarlija street that is lined with similar restaurants on both sides, with no cars to be found. It’s definitely worth dining there at least once to see what the fuss is about before you later make fun of it for being too touristy.
The prices of things in Belgrade
This might have been the lead section in this case because honestly the prices of things in Belgrade are a big part of its appeal for many people. Consider that the average take home wage of a resident is maybe €500 per month, and the city doesn’t get many tourists, so you can imagine that food and drinks need to be cheap for places to stay in business.
You can get a lunch or dinner in a sidewalk cafe for around US$4 or even less if you avoid the main streets, and a big meal-sized slice of pizza will be under US$1. Obviously you can spend as much as you like if you go to the posh restaurants, but if you are on a budget you can eat 3 meals out per day on US$15 or less.
Drinks are another fantastic bargain, as a .5L of beer will be under US$2 even in the nicer places, and a glass of Serbian wine or a cocktail will be around the same price. In many cities you have to go to the “old man’s bars” in order to find cheap drinks, but in Belgrade you can find them anywhere.
Hotels are also a good bargain, though maybe not to the same degree. For a city of its size there aren’t many hotels, and the guests tend to be foreigners with larger salaries so you’ll have to pay at least US$30 for a small 2-star room, or US$50 for a medium sized 3-star room. Those prices are definitely cheap by international standards, but not as cheap as most other things you’ll buy when you visit.