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Party capital of Europe

Belgrade

General Information

‘The New Berlin’. ‘Party capital of Europe’. ‘The Wild East’; Belgrade is called many names. But if you really want to know what makes Belgrade so special and why you need to visit it you will need to come over and experience it yourself. And give it a name yourself.

One thing is sure about Belgrade: it is the city of contradictions: it’s raw and elegant, it’s rich and poor, it’s exiting and boring, it’s moving forward and backwards, it’s the place people want to go to and want to leave from. And you can love it and hate it at the same time.

Since 2011, when it became easier for Serbians to travel through the EU, the first low-cost airline started to fly on Nikola Tesla Airport and tourism started to grow and change. Before that it was mainly the most adventurous travellers coming, but slowly but surely other visitors started to discover that Belgrade is not as scary and dark as many people think. You will experience yourself how there is almost a Mediterranean vibe when you walk pass the full terraces and listen to the music played on every corner. Maybe it gets its vibe from the two big rivers Danube and Sava, that meet at the corner of the Kalemegdan city-park with its beautiful views. Or the old men playing chess in the shade of its trees. Or the elegantly dressed girls using the bustling Knez Mihailova street as their catwalk. Or the teens in love watching the sunset from the walls of the mighty Kalemgdan fortress. Whatever it is, it will get you for sure and before you know it you walk a bit slower, sit down at the terrace for a bit longer than planned and slowly become a little bit Belgradian yourself….

History

Belgrade has a long and illustrious history, stretching all the way from the first prehistoric settlements in the area. Celts were first to name it Singidun, Romans conquered it later, Romanizing the name into Singidunum. It changed hands a lot of times – Avars, Huns, Slavs, Hungarians, Byzantines, Serbs – all of them held the city for some time during the turbulent Middle Ages. Only the Belgrade Fortress remains the trusty witness of those times, with its mixture of various parts – from the Roman military encampment foundations, to the ruins of the Serbian royal castle overlooking the Great War Island, on the confluence of Danube and Sava rivers.

After the successful Ottoman Turkish siege of Belgrade in 1521, it was transformed into an Oriental town. Over hundred mosques were built inside the city, along with caravanserais and hans (guesthouses). The diverse population was settled in mahalas (city quarters), like the Turkish, Serbian, Bulgarian, Greek, Gipsy, Jewish and Armenian ones. After that a brief period of Austrian rule in the early 18th century left us with the oldest inhabited townhouse in Belgrade in Cara Dušana Street, dating from 1727. Unfortunately, very few buildings remain from the Turkish times, like the unique Bayrakli Mosque.

After all these conquests and wars Belgrade still didn’t get any rest, for in the 20th century alone it was bombed 4 times, for the last time in 1999 during the 3-months lasting NATO campaign against Serbia. Traces of those last bombing can still be found around the city, sometimes looking like it only happened yesterday instead of 20 years ago.

Art & Architecture

Belgrade displays a wild mix of architectural styles. It isn’t at all unique to find a socialist building next to an art-nouveau villa next to a modernist glass building next to a one-floor tiny old house which is falling apart. After having been destroyed about 40 times in its history and having had a socialist government which didn’t have much interest in preserving anything old (especially not if it was owned by the rich)  for 40 years, it is no wonder that many of its most beautiful buildings have gone. Still, it is this mix and the surprises you get finding a beautiful old house on a place you don’t expect that makes it appealing a as a whole.

And in recent year the interest in the socialist building style and the so-called Brutalist architecture is rising and the neighborhood of New Belgrade has been more popular than ever among  fans and students of architecture.

Something similar is true for the art-scene in Belgrade maybe. It also has been destroyed several times, mainly by governments who rather saw their own artists making things than free thinking individuals. This resulted in an underground scene of musicians, painters, photographers, sculptors and actors creating an exciting and original diversity of work. Although recently the 2 large art museums, The National Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Arts, finally opened their doors again after years of renovation, we recommend you to visit the small galleries scattered around the city too, as well as listen to some local bands performing to get the full picture of the great stuff that’s being made in Belgrade!

Nightlife

Belgrade is more than a city. At night, the metropolis turns into a living, breathing creature in its own right, with citizens and visitors alike ready to party the night away no matter what obligations they have waiting for them in the morning. The sheer choice of venues can be a little overwhelming to the newcomer, but you will get into the mood soon enough. A wonderful way to help you with that is having a rakia or better, a few rakias. This local drink is made of fruit, mostly plum, and has the effect that you very quickly become friends with anybody else drinking it.

The early nightlife takes place on land, mainly in the old town, where hundreds of bars are scattered. They all close at 01.00 in the weekends, after which the party-goers head for the river and its floating clubs. These are boats and rafts on the riverside and basically are divided in the more trashy ones, with caged go-go dancers, enormously loud techno-music and expensive drinks and the more underground ones, with more rock and pop music, no fancy dress and cheaper drinks. Wherever you choose to go, make sure to look the look, because in Belgrade they love looking smart when going out!

Food & Drinks

We’re sorry for the vegetarians out there, but eating in Belgrade means eating meat. Luckily there are more and more vegetarian restaurants opening up and other restaurants offer more diversity on their menu’s, but meat is still the no. 1 ingredient of a Serbian meal. The main places to try the local cuisine are the so-called kafana’s, where traditionally only men would come to drink coffee and rakia, talk about politics, football and marriage and do business. Some kafana’s are still like that and can be recognized by the hard white light, no music and a thick cloud of cigarette smoke. Other are more festive, with live music being played by a band that’s going from table to table to and people dress up and sing and when things really get going, move the food aside and dance on the tables.