Travel to Serbia

Kalmegdan fortress

In September 2018, I had a great opportunity to travel to Serbia. I arrived in Belgrade and stayed with the mother of my friend Nadezda from University. In fact, I stayed in her childhood room. Her mother gave me the warmest welcome, despite us not speaking the same language. And she cooked amazingly delicious food for me every day! Eventually I figured out that I could use google translate to write her notes and communicate. There’s a funny story about that in my post about Google Translate.

I was incredibly lucky to stay with my friend’s mother and to be shown around by her wonderful and friendly cousins. They picked me up and drove me around so I was able to see a lot of the city. We also took some public transport. In general I felt very safe even when walking around on my own during the day. In the evenings, I was with other people and probably would only take transport to get around rather than walk long distances. I took the bus home one night and walked the short distance to the apartment.

Interestingly, when we saw some jets fly over practicing for a military parade and air show, I thought it was cool to see. On the other hand, Nadezda’s cousins almost got a shiver from the sound because they said that they could still remember the horrible bombing in 1999. That made me really stop and think about how recent that was, and that many people remember it very clearly. 

This is a brief guide to travel to Serbia based on my three-day stay in Belgrade!

Tram in Belgrade, Serbia
Tram in Belgrade, Serbia
Ministry of Education
Ministry of Education
Old cars from Slovenia at the White palace in the Royal complex
Old cars from Slovenia at the White palace in the Royal complex

Highlights

  • Kalemegdan fortress and park- interesting to visit and also great views around the city and the Sava and Danube rivers
  • Palace of Princess Ljubica, who was married to Prince Miloš- mix of Asian and Turkish furniture and also European furniture and decor
  • Tito’s palace compound- interesting history; worth a visit and book tickets in advance from the tourist office, including bus transport from the city centre
  • Science and Technology gallery- we saw an exhibition on Romans and ruins in Serbia
  • Take the yellow ferry to Ada Ciganlija island across the river. It’s pretty to walk around and you will find a big Belgrade sign
  • Garda Tower in Zemun for the view of the city
  • Enjoying the architecture in Zemun with its Turkish influence
  • There is a free walking tour that starts near Republic Square. I didn’t take it since I had my own local guides who were my friend’s relatives. I heard good things about it and there is a lot to see walking around the city
  • Plaque on a yellow school building called King Peter The First, commemorating the first basketball game played in Yugoslavia in 1923
  • Holy Archangel Michael church- We saw the graves of two famous literary figures outside the church, Vuk (creator of simplified alphabet) and his tutor Dositej
  • Vuk and Dositej museum of literature- Serbian epic poems are read out while the person plays a traditional string instrument called a gusle
  • Street art- includign graffiti of famous people supporting Partizan sports teams especially football
  • Saint Sava church
  • Saint Mark’s cathedral
  • City hall (the old palace building) and the president’s office- you can walk right up to it

Before you go

  • UK and US citizens do not need a visa to visit Serbia for up to 90 days. Some countries do require a visa so check online before travelling
  • Within 24 hours of arrival, you need to register at the police office as a foreign guest. Usually your hotel will do this, or in my case my friend’s mom did it for me since I was staying with her
  • New Belgrade is divided into blocks, so you should know which block (blok) you are travelling to so you can let a taxi driver know. Unfortunately they don’t seem to be in a logical order though…
  • Sim cards are cheap so just go to any phone shop to get a pay as you go sim card to use in an unlocked phone
  • Google uses the male forms of words by default so be aware of this when using it as a woman- some people may be confused by the translation. It is helpful to have a translator since the alphabet is Cyrillic
  • There is a bustling night life scene with bars and live music. We went to Jazz Basta to see the cover band Blue Print, and that was a lot of fun. Good vibe and music, and tasty cocktails too.
  • In the summer, there are often concerts below the Kalemegdan fortress. We just sat on the walls above with drinks to watch from afar. Luckily we got to see the Two Cellos and a couple of local opening bands! The walls were packed so this was obviously a popular local thing to do.
  • As a part of history, and a great example of humanity I suggest reading this story. A number of the Serbian people I met told me about a US pilot, Dale Zelko, shot down in Belgrade in 1999. In 2011, he met the Serbian man, Zoltan Dani, who had shot him down and they have since become friends. Part of the F-117A plane is on display in the Aeronautical Museum in Belgrade
Famous fans of the Partizans sports club - there was similar graffiti all over this area!
Famous fans of the Partizans sports club – there was similar graffiti all over this area!
Blue Print playing a gig at Jazz Basta
Blue Print playing a gig at Jazz Basta
Belgrade!
Belgrade!

Transport

  • Once daily, there was a direct 1-hour flight from Tirana to Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla Airport on an old Air Serbia propeller plane. I arrived after a noisy flight!
  • I took a pre-booked taxi from the airport to New Belgrade and it cost 1150 dinars, which is about 8 British pounds. The ride was about 15 minutes.
  • In and around the city, it is easy to take the buses or trams. I was able to see the routes using GoogleMaps.

Accommodation

  • Fortunately, I was able to stay with the mother of my friend from University. I therefore did not have a chance to try out the local accommodation. However, when I had searched on Booking.com, there are a lot of good options in the city centre.
Monument with soldier Vasa Čarapić wearing traditional clothes
Monument with soldier Vasa Čarapić wearing traditional clothes
Monument to Saint Sava in front of the church
Monument to Saint Sava in front of the church
The Victor stature at Kalmegdan
The Victor stature at Kalmegdan

Currency

In Serbia, the currency is called the dinar. As of October 2021, the exchange rate is 139 dinars to 1 British pound.

I recommend to check the currency conversion just before you leave as this fluctuates

Serbian dinar
Serbian dinar
Dinner at Sač in Zemun
Dinner at Sač in Zemun with my friend’s cousins
Amazing breakfast cooked by my friend's mom
Amazing breakfast cooked by my friend’s mom

Food

Luckily for me, I had a lot of homemade local foods prepared by my friend’s mom. For breakfast and snacks there was a lot of fresh bread, sliced meats, cheese and vegetables. I like the cultured butter called kaymak, which is like a cross between cheese and butter. The fresh figs were also delicious.

We enjoyed a delicious traditional meal at restaurant Sač in Zemun. My friend’s cousins had pre-ordered a traditional smoked ham dish. It was served with potatoes, bean stew, grilled peppers, and a cabbage and tomato salad. The fresh bread was also tasty and soft. Lots of food and all delicious, washed down with fruity Serbian red wine.

We dined at Dva Jelena (Two deer). It’s considered the bohemian area and the street with the restaurants is very quaint. I had the local chicken noodle soup and a big chicken Caesar salad, and a glass of Serbian rose wine. I also tried traditional stew with pork, peppers and onions and a paprika sauce and a bean dish.

We ate at Walter for the traditional meat kebabs called cevap. The kebabs were tasty and packed into a type of pitta bread with salad. They went very well with a nice cold glass of local Serbian beer or a glass of rose wine.

Try the Croatian/ Slovenian herbal version of coke called Cockta, an interesting taste

Lunch at Walter eating traditional kebabs called cevap
Lunch at Walter eating traditional kebabs called cevap
Local Serbian snacks- yum!
Local Serbian snacks- yum!
Gardos tower in Zemun. Slovenian soft drink like Coca Cola called Cockta
Cockta Slovenian soft drink like Coca Cola

FAQs

Q: Do I need a tour guide?

A: No, it would not be necessary to visit Belgrade, as that was relatively easy to navigate even with most people not speaking English. However, it was nice to have my friend’s cousins as local guides. It made the experience much more enjoyable and I learned a lot just by chatting with them.

Q: Do people speak English?

A: Some at the tourist sites and large restaurants, but not on buses or in shops.

Q: Can I travel solo?

A: Yes it felt relatively safe and there is public transport.

Q: How easy is it to send postcards? It was easy to buy postcards in gift shops. And it was also relatively easy to find a post office to buy stamps. I was with Serbian people who helped me to ask for the stamps but I think it is possible as a foreigner. Just have a translator app to hand!

A: See Sending Postcards from Abroad for details on cost and the time it took to reach the USA.

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