A city that never sleeps, where Sava and Danube rivers meet, capital of the former state of Yugoslavia and the first stop on our Ultimate Balkan Road Trip, Belgrade is indeed a place of great interest that I recommend to all travel enthusiasts.
The beginning of our road trip across the Balkan Peninsula took place on the 24th of May 2017. We woke up as early as possible, we loaded the car and we drove to the nearest country, Serbia. Getting to the border didn’t take more than an hour. My memory was still fresh from our past trip to Serbia two months before, so I didn’t even have to check the map. This time we didn’t stop anywhere other than our planned destination, the capital, Belgrade. Driving between the capital cities of Bulgaria and Serbia takes 5 hours if you take the highway, however you’ll find toll roads between the city of Nis and Belgrade.
It didn’t take long to realize we had reached our destination. A huge and crowded city, with tall grey buildings. We could see three huge grey towers which later I came to discover that are called the “Eastern City Gates of Belgrade”, a large residential complex.
After great struggle across the Serbian traffic jams and with the help of our map, we reached Bicycle Hostel, where we were going to spend the night. Parking the car was all I wished at the moment. I still find it very confusing the way traffic lights work in Serbia. I kept getting people honking at me for stopping, because I couldn’t understand if the light was either green or red. If you’re a Serbian and you’re reading this, please give me your explanation on this subject!
After parking the car and checking in at Bicycle Hostel, it was time to discover the surroundings. We started by visiting the city’s number one attraction, the Kalemegdan Park, Belgrade’s largest park where the Belgrade Fortress is located. The fortress itself, dates back to the 3rd century BC and it has been destroyed more than 40 times. We entered the fortress through Vidin Gate and we visited the very first tower. The panoramic view from the top was good, but I had no idea that all around Kalemegdan you could get a lot better views.
On top of the fortress you’ll find Ruzica Church, a peculiar church like you’ve never seen before, which was used as a gunpowder magazine back in the 18th Century. I strongly recommend a visit to this incredible monument covered in green. The view from the top is amazing and free of charge!
On the southwestern part of Kalemegdan you’ll find Belgrade’s most recognizable landmark, Pobednik, or, in English, the Statue of Victor, a 14 meters high bronze statue of a male figure holding a falcon and a sword, built to commemorate Serbia’s victory over both Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empire. The confluence of rivers Sava and Danube in the Serbian capital, as seen from the Victor, reminds me of Constância, a small Portuguese town, where rivers Tagus and Zêzere meet.
The Military Museum, the Sahat Tower and the Torture Museum are three of the many attractions located in Kalamegdan. If you like war history and war material the first option is probably the best one for you. In the outside area of the Military Museum you’ll find a few examples of tanks and rockets. The Torture Museum was the only one we got to visit, for an entry fee of 300 RSD (Approx. 2.40€). We didn’t bother visiting the tower, and the Military Museum was closed at the time we got there. Plus, it was raining a lot, so the Torture Museum seemed like a nice choice to avoid getting soaked.
South of the park is located Belgrade’s most famous pedestrian street and shopping zone, Kneza Mihaila, and connecting to it, the Republic Square, where a statue of Prince Mihailo can be found standing in front of the National Museum. It is Serbia’s largest and oldest museum, founded in the year of 1844.
At the end of the day, after facing the rain, we had dinner at Restaurant Gradska. The best salmon I had since my last visit to Portugal back in October 2016. The staff was very gentle and served us some home-made rakija on the house.
The next day was our last day in Serbia and there were still many attractions in our itinerary left to visit before departing to Bosnia and Herzegovina. We started by visiting Skadarlija, the old bohemian quarter of Belgrade, paved with cobblestones, which was once home to Serbian writers, poets, actors and artists. Bars and restaurants can be found everywhere on this street, just like hostels, flowers and colorful buildings.
One of the most remarkable squares in Belgrade is the Square of Nikola Pašić, named after the 1st Prime Minister of Yugoslavia. It is also in this square, that the House of the National Assembly of Serbia, former seat of the Parliament of Yugoslavia is located.
Excluding the population of Kosovo, which still isn’t recognized as a sovereign state by Serbia, more than 80% of the population of Serbia is Orthodox. Two of the most visited attractions in Belgrade, are indeed, Orthodox churches. I am speaking of the Church of St. Mark and the Temple of Saint Sava. From my point of view, the Church of St. Mark, “Crkva Svetog Marka”, located in Tašmajdan Park, is the city’s most beautiful church. Right next to it there’s also a small but interesting Russian chapel with a blues colored domes. On the other hand, the Temple of Saint Sava, is the world’s largest Orthodox Cathedral with an area of 5,350 square metters and capacity for 10,800 worshipers. It is indeed a remarkable monument of a magnificent size. The internal decoration of the building is still in progress but you can visit the crypt and admire the golden walls and ceilings free of charge.
I had been invited to shoot some arrows at Belgrade Archery at Kalamegdan’s Park so we rushed back. It was the second time I tried archery and I did better than I expected. The staff is also very nice, so I recommend. A cheap and fun activity, high quality bows and arrows, assisted by incredible instructors, suited for everyone. Do not miss it during your next trip to the Serbian capital.
Next, we decided to visit the only surviving medieval tower of the Belgrade Fortress, the Nebojsa Tower. It is the closest historical monument to the confluence of the rivers. I was quickly disappointed when I discovered that it offers no panoramic view. The inside is also very empty, just a few displays, not much to see in fact. If I knew it in advance I wouldn’t have bothered going inside. The outside of the tower and its perfect location are the best you can enjoy from it.
We had been discussing whether to visit Avala Tower, Belgrade’s tallest tower, which offers the best view of the country, or the Aviation Museum located next to Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport. To be fair with you I’d pick the first option, but the weather wasn’t very helpful, it was very cloudy and I knew we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the view. We ended up choosing the Aviation Museum instead, the smartest decision we made.
An iconic building, an incredible museum and a vast exhibition of aircrafts from the last 100 years. The museum consists of an outdoor area with both planes and helicopters, and two floors with some of the best preserved aircrafts from the last century. Whether you’re into aviation or history this is the museum for you. There is an entrance fee of 600 RSD per person (Approx 4.20€). Most of the planes you’ll discover inside the building played a part in both World War II and the Yugoslav Wars that took place in the 90s.
One of the most famous artifacts is the wreckage of the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk stealth aircraft of the United States. It is said that the Serbs did the impossible when they shot down the aircraft, which until the moment was believed to be invisible. A funny aftermath story is that Colonel Zoltán Dani, the former commander of the 3rd battery of the 250th Missile Brigade, which shot down the F-117, and Lieutenant Colonel Dale Zelko, the pilot of the downed aircraft, have later become friends.
Our visit to Belgrade was in the end, it was time to drive to our next destination, Sarajevo, the capital and largest city of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Our smooth day was just about to become a nightmare, and we couldn’t have imagined…
Stay tuned for the next part of The Ultimate Balkan Road Trip