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Yes, Belgrade has plenty of grit, brutalist architecture, and half-destroyed buildings, remnants of years of war and a socialist past. But in recent years, the city has embraced a more cosmopolitan outlook and travelers will find plenty of shiny new restaurants and packed night clubs. Belgradians have also held fast to traditional ways of eating and dining, which shouldn’t be missed. Here’s how to explore both sides of the fascinating city.
Where to Eat
Hidden away in a residential neighborhood, Stari Mlin isn’t easy to find. But a meal here is worth the effort. This is where Belgradians come to linger over authentic Serbian dishes—such as ćevapi, a spicy Balkan sausage, and đuveć, a vegetable stew—made with local ingredients. There’s no menu, just whatever the chef is inspired to cook from the day’s market haul. A large patio where musicians often play traditional Serbian folk music adds to Stari Mlin’s homey appeal. 10 Plzenjska St.
For a more modern take on Serbian food, head to Ambar, situated near the floating restaurants and splavs (nightclubs) on the banks of the Sava River. Travelers can try grilled sausage with housemade mustard or a selection of kaymak, a beloved Serbian cheese spread. Rakija, the Serbian national beverage made from distilled fruits, is the star of the drink menu. Ambar offers more than 40 varieties, including apricot, quince, and plum.
Toro Latin GastroBar
Next door to Ambar is Toro, one of the city’s first Latin American restaurants. Created by celebrity restaurateur Richard Sandoval and his Ambar business partner Ivan Iričanin, Toro offers small plates, such as steak tostadas with Brazil nuts and quail eggs and sea bass marinated in chipotle, that nod to a variety of Latin American cuisines. Vegan travelers should try the grilled avocado with corn pico de gallo; a gluten-free menu is also available.
This tiny, colorful ice cream shop almost always has a line out the door. Crna Ovca rotates more than 150 inventive flavors, including a ricotta ice cream studded with honeycomb, and a sesame-and-coffee flavor flecked with chocolate-covered coffee beans that’s a local favorite. crnaovca.rs
For a meal with a view, take a water taxi from the Belgrade waterfront to Siroti Ribar, about a 10-minute ride up the Sava River. The dockside restaurant traffics in—what else?—fish caught fresh each day. (If you go for lunch, you might spot fishing crews unloading their morning haul.) Travelers can enjoy smoked carp or catfish with a side of potato salad as they gaze at boats sailing by.
Where to Drink
Serbia’s national beverage goes full spectrum at Rakia Bar, where the menu includes more than 130 versions of the fruity spirit. Try the housemade plum rakija—the most ubiquitous variety—or a barrel-aged quince rakija made in Vojvodina, Serbia. Just don’t forget to eat between sips—rakija packs a boozy punch. rakiabar.com
Until 2012, coffee in Belgrade meant a cup of thick, strong, Turkish-style brew, usually served with a piece of Turkish delight. Then Pržionica opened. In a sleek, laboratory-like space, baristas create espresso-based drinks and pour-over-style coffee made from beans roasted on site. There are no sandwiches, no pastries, just impeccable coffee in a minimalist environment. Dobračina 59
Atelje Vina Šapat
Flanked by vineyards and overlooking the Danube River, Atelje Vina Šapat is one of Serbia’s best wineries and among its most bucolic. Located 45 miles north of Belgrade, it’s an easy day trip. Travelers can tour the winery and taste Šapat’s wines, such as a chardonnay and muscat-ottonel blend or a cabernet aged in Bordeaux-style barrels. There’s also a restaurant with views of the vineyard, where each dish is paired with one of Vina Šapat’s wines. sapat.rs
Mladost and Ludost
You can’t visit Belgrade without exploring its legendary nightlife. Mladost—translation “youth”—and its neighboring sister club, Ludost (which means “crazy”!) are among the chicest and most well-known. Each has a distinct identity. At Mladost, you’ll find DJs and techno music (and during the day it functions as a café). At Ludost, the music skews disco, funk, and jazz. Both serve surprisingly good cocktails. mladost-ludost.com
What to Do
Explore Serbia’s turbulent past at the historic Belgrade Fortress, perched on a cliff at the junction of the Sava and Danube Rivers. Built in the 2nd century by Roman invaders as a defensive structure and military camp, the fortress has been destroyed and rebuilt more than 20 times during its 2,000-year history. It’s now an important cultural site and museum chronicling Belgrade’s history—and a symbol for a city that grew through adversity. Admission $4, Terazije 3
Just outside the Belgrade Fortress is the city’s largest and most picturesque park. It was once the site of bloody combat (Kalemegdan came from the Turkish word for “battlefield”); now it’s a peaceful haven from the city, complete with walking paths, statues, and fountains.
A boat ride up the Sava River is one of the best ways to learn about Belgrade. Serbian Adventures offers daily 90-minute river tours that cruise past such iconic landmarks as the Belgrade Fortress and the Great War Island (a former military site turned unofficial bird sanctuary), complete with audio commentary about Belgrade’s history and legends, available in both Serbian and English. Belgrade Boat Tour offers a similar three-hour tour that begins shortly before sunset.
At Salaš 137, a farm an hour’s drive northwest of Belgrade, travelers can fulfill their country dreams. Take a horseback ride or stroll the 27 acres, then settle into the farmhouse restaurant for such local treats as rakija made with fruit from owner Aleksandar Samardžija’s quince trees, foie gras with homemade spiced berry jam and goat cheese, krempita (vanilla custard cake). salas137.rs
Where to Stay
Mama Shelter Belgrade
Located on Kneza Mihaila, the city’s liveliest pedestrian thoroughfare, Mama Shelter offers travelers access to the best of the city. The riverfront and Belgrade Fortress are just minutes away. The hotel’s eclectic style extends from the heavily graffitied lobby ceiling to the 125 guest rooms, each outfitted with wildly patterned black-and-white rugs and bedside lamps with action hero masks as shades. Guests can eat slices of pizza topped with pršuta (cured ham) at the hotel’s pizzeria, lounge on the large rooftop overlooking the city, and, come sundown, enjoy a cocktail at the rooftop’s outdoor bar. From $97.
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