Belgrade is one of the most enchanting, and yet underrated cities in Europe. Walking down the quasi-deserted streets of the Serbian capital in the peak of summer, I couldn’t help but wonder why this time-warped metropolis, with its glorious architecture and thriving nightlife, was not teeming with tourists. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining in the slightest. In fact, I very much enjoyed the city’s laid-back atmosphere and uncrowded attractions, but I honestly feel that Belgrade deserves more attention.
A city scarred by war, Belgrade is slowly emerging from the shackles of its dark history, thanks to its growing hip scene and vibrant cafe culture. Besides being one of Europe’s best-kept secrets, Belgrade is also an inexpensive place to visit. The city can be explored in two days and its best attractions are free.
If you’re planning a short trip to Belgrade, here are my recommendations for the top (free) things to see and do in the city. Meanwhile, if you’re spending more than a day or two in Belgrade, check out this list of 100+ exciting things to do in the Serbian capital.
Recommendation: I stayed at Atlas Travel Point Centre Suites, a traditional building just off the main street (Knez Mihailova). The rooms are spacious and quite cosy, and there are plenty of restaurants and cafes in the area.
1. Explore the quiet old town of Zemun
The oldest neighbourhood in Belgrade, Zemun’s 18th-century architecture remains largely well-preserved. Dating back to Roman times, Zemun used to be a town on the Austrian border and part of the old Astro-Hungarian empire. Its twisting cobbled lanes and pastel-coloured houses make Zemun a pleasure to explore on foot. You can also go for a stroll along the river promenade, where a plethora of cafes and restaurants line this popular part of the city’s Danube shoreline.
For a stunning view of Zemun and the rest of Belgrade, head up to Gardoš Hill. In 1896, a tower was erected on the summit to celebrate 1,000 years of the Astro-Hungarian empire.
If you’re staying in the centre of Belgrade, the quickest way to get to Zemun is by bus. There are frequent buses leaving from Zeleni Venac square in downtown Belgrade (bus lines 15,17, 84, 701,704) and the journey to Zemun doesn’t take more than 10 minutes.
2. Visit the Belgrade Fortress
Did you know that Belgrade is actually one of the oldest cities in Europe? Dating back to the 4th century BC, the imposing Belgrade Fortress, which consists of the old citadel and Kalemegdan Park, takes you on a journey through the city’s rich and colourful past, from the Neolithic period up until WWII. The fortress also offers impressive views of the Danube and Sava rivers.
Belgrade Fortress is free to enter and wander around. There are many important monuments and historic sites within the citadel, including the Nebojša Tower, the tomb of Grand Vizier Silahdar Ali Pasha, and the Church of St Petka. The fortress also boasts a massive network of underground corridors, tunnels and catacombs.
3. Go for a swim in the city’s lakes
Belgrade’s gravel beaches offer a perfect escape from the unrelenting summer heat. There are many swimming areas in different parts of the city, but the most popular spot among locals is the island of Ada Ciganlija. Ada’s beach stretches for 7 kilometres along the man-made Sava Lake, and the island can be accessed via a pontoon bridge.
4. Stroll down the stunning Knez Mihailova Street
Knez Mihailova Street or Prince Michael Street is the main pedestrian zone in Belgrade’s Old Town and the beating heart of the city. Bordered by lavish 19th century buildings, Knez Mihailova is protected by law for being one of the oldest and significant streets in the city.
If you want to absorb Belgrade’s lively ambiance and chilled vibes, walk down Knez Mihailova and sit down at one of the many cafes lining the street.
5. Marvel at the impressive St. Sava Temple
The largest Orthodox temple in the Balkans, the Church of St. Sava can seat more than 10,000 people and reaches a height of 82 metres. The church is built on the place where the Ottoman Grand Vizier Sinan Pasha burned the remains of Saint Sava; the founder of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
The temple is just a 20-minute walk from Knez Mihailova. After admiring the sheer beauty and size of the temple both from the outside and inside, take a seat on one of the benches in the surrounding park and just watch the world go by.
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