in Serbia, part of the former Yugoslavia, and not many people will identify it as a holiday hotspot. In most people’s minds if they know it at all it is associated with the civil wars of the 1990s, not carefree shopping and sunbathing.
Yet these days holidaying is exactly what’s on many visitor’s agendas, particularly those from neighbouring Greece and Italy who know all about its street cafes, lively art scene, and the delights of swimming in the Danube, one of two rivers that runs through the city.
And you need not worry about languages: although Cyrillic is everywhere on signs, most street signs have a romanised version underneath and many people speak English so you won’t get lost or be unable to order food.
About the food. Despite their love of meat, Serbians would laugh at you if you mentioned the “Five fruit and vegetables a day
” slogan to them - raw in salads, cooked, pickled, juiced, lightly fermented, distilled into potent brandy: fruit and vegetables are bought and consumed by quite literally the kilo. A request for one single cucumber had a stall holder frown at me in pity and hand it over for free. The open air markets therefore are a wonder to behold, with heaps and piles of fresh produce ready to be bought. It’s not just green grocery either, but fresh cheeses, eggs, bread and pastries are available in abundance.
If you prefer to eat out, although you can pick up a pizza in the town centre, for a real treat head to the area of town called Zemun
, which has cafe-barges lining the riverside. Cafe-barges is a general term – you can get a good coffee at lots, but many are very fine restaurant-barges, and one or two are even nightclub-barges-with-an-onboard-whirlpool. But back to the restaurants. They serve fish which is freshly caught on the very river you’re dining on, served very simply with potatoes and chard on the side. It is delicious, especially with a glass or two of the local wine. The experience is fantastic at any time of the day but at night it is very romantic, with the lights on the opposite shore twinkling away.
While we’re on the subject of the river, yes, you can swim in it. Not willy nilly though - river swimming is best enjoyed off one of two islands positioned in the Danube. If you’re the sort who likes wild camping, go to the tiny island of Lido
, which is an unpopulated nature reserve on which yes, you can camp (and locals insist that they catch the frogs you hear calling at night and barbecue them) or just visit for a day trip and swim off the beaches and sunbathe. A very short boat trip will get you there from the bank of the Danube.Ada Ciganlija
is not technically an island any more but a peninsula, which is very handy for walking right onto it. The man made beaches of white pebbles are highly organised into strips belonging to the cafes and bars there, and loud music accompanies your sunbathing. Water sports and yoga along with bike hire are available on the island, and locals love bike and rollerblade along its perimeter. It’s a carefree summer sort of place, full of teenagers flirting and families enjoying ice cream.
If city life appeals to you more than sunbathing, the clubs and parties more than rival better known Croatia, next door
. For shopping, the main street, Knez Mihailova is well stocked with high street shops, some of which you will be familiar with, as well as lesser known boutiques and bookshops. Street cafes are everywhere, and people watching is the local sport. The art scene is thriving and the weekly openings of art exhibitions (on a Thursday) are the place to catch up with your arty friends.
Overall Belgrade is a great place for a holiday, with a warm climate, good food and plenty to do.
Genevieve has travelled to many destinations, but she particularly enjoys going to places where art and culture are alive and kicking. She has returned to Serbia and its neighbouring countries many times.