Lord Byron once wrote, “At the moment of birth of our planet, the most beautiful meeting of land and sea was on the Montenegrin coast … ” and he wasn’t far off the mark. Despite the turbulence of the past decade, Serbia is still blessed with the natural beauty, rich heritage and vibrant culture which once made it the traditional aristocrat’s vacation spot, and is fast becoming one of the most popular ‘undiscovered’ vacation spots in Europe.
Strolling Along In Belgrade
Paris has Champs-Elysee; London has Bond Street; Los Angeles has Rodeo Drive; and Singapore has Orchard Road – popular, iconic boulevards that are as much tourist attractions as any castles or museums, and just as filled with tourists. In Belgrade, Serbia, the local counterpart of these more famous avenues would be the hugely popular Knez Mihajlova, or Prince Mihajlo’s Street.
Located in the very heart of Belgrade city, near to the Kalemegdan fortress (Belgrade’s No 1 tourist attraction) and the Square of the Republic (tourist attraction No. 2), the pedestrians-only Knez Mihajlova is the social heart of the city. For generations, it has served as the parade ground for the city’s fashion-conscious peacocks, with one side of the pavement traditionally reserved for strolling ‘up’ the street, and the other side reserved for strolling ‘down’. Every evening, stylishly dressed locals come out to parade, keep an eye on the latest garments displayed in the windows of high-end boutiques, and check out the other strollers. Along the way, they stop by some of the city’s finest restaurants, pop into the many small art galleries, libraries or bookshops, or just do some shopping.
The Charms of Knez Mihajlova
Knez Mihajlova was designed and built in the middle of the 19th century, and was named after one of the Serbian rulers of the time, Prince Mihailo Obrenovic, who was accounted a great military ruler, as well as a great supporter of cultural institutions. Though times have moved on since then, and more modern buildings have come up, many of the original buildings and houses along the street have been preserved. The result is street that is quirkily eclectic in style, with some stretches unrelentingly modern and others quaintly Old World in feel. In a quiet hour on the right stretch of street, you could almost imagine a gowned and bejeweled lady stepping out of one of the houses and sweeping off to the shops to buy lace handkerchiefs.
Knez Mihajlova is one of the best places to see the locals in all their finery, but the one thing visitors won’t see much of is other tourists. Apart from the weekend visitors from the neighbouring countries, who have been aware of Belgrade’s charms for ages, international tourism has largely still not caught onto the fact that the city is ready and waiting for visitors. Though there are still burned out buildings and other legacies from over a decade on warring, the city has largely healed itself, and is rapidly improving its tourism infrastructure and facilities. For visitors willing to step a little way off the beaten track, the next couple years would be an excellent time to visit the city, just as the quality of service goes up but before the rest of the world discovers it as a new vacation spot.
Skadarlija: An Artist’s Refuge
Knez Mihajlova isn’t the only popular promenade in Belgrade. If Knez Mihajlova is the Belgrade equivalent of the Champs Elysee, the Skadarlija, or Skadar street, is the local answer to the Montmartre quarter. Located in the eastern side of the old quarter and originally the haunt of gypsies, in the early 1900s Skadarlija gradually began attracting writers, artists and other visionaries to its inns, cafes, restaurants and art houses, who transformed the street into a bohemian refuge. In later years, more distinguished visitors have taken a turn along the street, including Jimi Hendrix, George W Bush, Tito and more.
Today, even though the street has become a popular tourist attraction, Skadarlija still retains some of its artistic traditions, as there are often performers and street musicians filling the evening air with traditional songs. Like Knez Mihajlova, many of the buildings here have been preserved from the 19th century, adding a certain romantic air to a stroll down the street. During summer, many of the restaurants and pubs will put little wooden tables out in the open air and on fine evenings, you can join the couples and families enjoying their evening meals. This would also be the perfect time to try Belgrade’s most popular dish, the rostilj – grilled meat best eaten with a local beer. Unfortunately, vegetarians would have a harder time in Belgrade, which still maintains the traditional European ‘meat and two veg’ style of cuisine – the only salads you’ll likely find here are the paltry side dishes accompanying a main dish.
Knez Mihajlova and Skafarlija at the two most popular pedestrians-only areas in Belgrade, but they aren’t the only pretty streets in the city. Much of the city (especially in the old quarter) still retains cobblestone streets, old buildings created in an eclectic range of styles, little parks and other quiet attractions. One of the best ways to see the city is from the ground up, via one of the many walking tours on offer, though the do-it-yourself tour is also possible for the more adventurous visitors. Whether you go by yourself or with a guided group however, do be sure to take the time to appreciate the city in its current ‘untouristy’ state, for in a few years, you may return to find yourself lost in a stream of tourists.
Belgrade: Things To See & Do
Belgrade: Events Highlights
|Belgrade International Film Festival
|23 February – 4 March
This premier event brings together the best in world cinema, as well as some of the best of Serbian silver screen.
|Belgrade Summer Festival
|July – August (tba)
Theatre, dance, visual art and music come together in this annual event, presenting innovative artistic programmes at different venues throughout the city including the streets, the squares and the theatres.
|Belgrade Race Through History
This annual event takes place at the historic Kalemegdan fortress, when participants will run around the building and around the streets of the city.
|Joy Of Europe
Held in Belgrade since 1969, this annual event sees children from around Europe gathering in the city to celebrate, have fun and encourage a greater sense of union among the diverse peoples of Europe.