Belgrade, Serbia is all about meeting points. It’s where the winding Danube and Sava rivers join, where the lowland plains edge the towering Balkan mountains, and a place where the capital of the former Yugoslavia embraces a more modern way of life.
‘Beograd’ seamlessly blends old and new, where Soviet-style buildings and a hilltop fortress play backdrop to bohemian neighbourhoods, hipster coffee shops and one of Europe’s best nightlife scenes.
While Serbia’s capital deserves at least a few days to properly explore, most landmarks are within walking distance or a short drive away so it’s possible to see the highlights in just a day.
Here’s what to do in Belgrade in one day before heading off to see the other top places to visit in Serbia.
Morning: Belgrade Fortress and Kalemegdan, Republic Square, Saint Sava Temple, Knez Mihailova Street
Belgrade Fortress and Kalemegdan park
Kick off your Belgrade sightseeing at the city’s crown jewel: the Belgrade Fortress, perched at the top of the Kalemegdan city park.
This is one of my favourite areas of Belgrade, thanks to the high slopes which give sweeping, panoramic viewpoints in all directions including down at the city, Novi Beograd (New Belgrade) and the confluence of the rivers.
Visitors are free to wander the grounds and admire landmarks like Ruzica Church (the oldest in Belgrade, tucked into the side of the fortress under the Zindan gate), the medieval Nebojša Tower which was built in 1460, and the famous Victor statue.
One of Belgrade’s top landmarks, the statue was originally located in the city centre but was eventually moved up to the fortress since its depiction of a naked man was deemed “too risque” for women to see everyday.
There’s also a Military Museum showcasing heavy artillery from both world wars, the Natural History Museum, and a zoo housing nearly 2000 animals including the world’s oldest American alligator.
For a unique experience, book a guided tour and head underneath the fortress and explore the maze of caves, bunkers and passageways dating back to the Turkish, Austro-Hungarian and Roman rule.
Knez Mihailova Street
Once you’ve spent a couple hours exploring Kalemegdan, head back into the city centre along lively Knez Mihailova street just outside the park entrance.
This nearly one kilometre long pedestrian zone is lined with gorgeous buildings, which are protected due to their cultural and historical significance. Most were built in the 1870s, and feature neoclassicism architecture.
Today, they hold restaurants, cafes with outdoor patios, boutiques, hotels, art galleries and shops and are a great spot for people watching.
Knez Mihailova Street includes landmarks like Republic Square, considered the city’s main, central plaza.
To be honest there’s not a lot to see here other than a statue of Serbian Prince Mihailo on a horse: locals like to say ‘meet me by the horse’ since it’s a popular meetup spot.
Two of Belgrade’s most prominent buildings–The Serbian National Theatre and National Museum–are also found here.
Nikola Tesla Museum
If you don’t mind museums, drop into the Nikola Tesla Museum, an ode to the famed Serbian-American scientist best known for pioneering the generation, transmission,and use of alternating current (AC) electricity.
The museum has exhibitions about his life, the documents and drawings he created, and interactive experiences for visitors like live experiments being conducted.
Saint Sava Temple
Cap off your morning of Belgrade sightseeing at the Saint Sava Temple, a jaw-dropping, magnificent temple.
This 82-metre-high masterpiece is one of the world’s largest orthodox churches, and can hold a staggering 10,000 people. Fountains line the walkway up to the grand entrance, and its dazzling exterior is fashioned from white marble and a 4,000 tonne copper dome.
Visitors can go seven meters below the ground to explore its opulent Byzantine-style underground crypt features shimmering gold chandeliers, frescoes and Murano glass mosaics; when I visited, there was even a saint lying in state!
Globe Guide note: The total walking time from the fortress to Saint Sava Temple is only about 40 minutes.
Afternoon: Zemun, New Belgrade
New Belgrade is a stark contrast to the elegant buildings found in Belgrade’s historic centre–here, you’ll find a sea of towering concrete apartment buildings and the brand new Belgrade Waterfront project (controversially funded by Abu Dhabi money and without public consultation, but that’s a whole other story).
A better bet is to head to Zemun, the so-called ‘city within a city’ about a 20 minute drive from downtown which was a separate town until being absorbed by Belgrade in 1934.
The houses in these neighbourhoods resemble Austro-Hungarian towns, and there are artisan shops, markets and a tree-lined waterfront popular for its floating bars and restaurants.
One of the best views in Belgrade is found at the top of Gardoš (also known as the Millenium Tower), which dates back to the 9th century and is perched high on a hilltop.
Head up to the viewing platforms (200 rsd per person, cash only) overlooking the river and a sea of orange rooftops and church steeples.
Venturing over to Zemun is a must when you visit Belgrade, as it has some of the best walking areas, city skyline views and a perfect balance of nature and city life.
There are a few other options for how to spend your afternoon visiting Belgrade:
- Take a sightseeing boat cruise to see Belgrade and Zemun from the water. Tours last about two hours, and can be enjoyed during the day or at sunset. This tour on a pontoon boat is a bit more exclusive, and includes unlimited white wine, rakia, water, soft drinks and beer.
- Go kayaking around Great War Island (Veliko Ratno Ostrvo) during this three hour tour. Paddle along the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers through the nature reserve, keep an eye out for birds (there are more than 200 species here!), and relax on the sandy strip called Lido Beach which is popular with locals during the summer.
- Visit Avala Mountain (TBH it’s more of a hill) which hosts the Avala Tower, one of the city’s most prominent landmarks. Take the elevator up to its 122-metre high viewpoint for epic views, dine at the restaurant inside the dome, and stop at The Monument to the Unknown Hero.
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Day trips from Belgrade
Have an extra day or two in the capital? If you’re anything like me and prefer scenic spots to concrete cities, then good news: Belgrade is the perfect base for seeing some of the top places to visit in Serbia, some of which are only an hour away.
The most popular day trip from Belgrade is to Novi Sad, a postcard-perfect city along the Danube with pastel-hued streets, lively plazas and a hilltop fortress.
Petrovaradin Fortress is one of Europe’s best preserved fortresses, featuring 12 gates and 400 cannon outlets over 120 acres.
Wander through Liberty Square and enjoy happy hour at one of the patios lining Zmaj Jovina and Dunavska Streets. On a sunny summer day, a strip of beach called Štrand is one of Novi Sad’s top hangout spots.
It’s very easy to get to Novi Sad from Belgrade; driving takes just over an hour, or about 90 minutes by train or bus.
Pre-book a ticket on Flix Bus for about $20 round trip, which departs from Belgrade’s central bus station. Passengers must pay 190 dinar to enter the bus terminal (purchase from the ticket booth on the far left hand side), and taxis from the Novi Sad bus station to the city centre cost about $7.
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This day trip is a fantastic option for seeing some of Serbia’s impressive natural features like waterfalls, springs and caves, this tour to western Serbia includes off-the-beaten-path attractions like quirky viewpoints and a scenic train, and another one of the most popular Belgrade day trips is down to Tara National Park where gem-toned lakes, rivers and the dramatic Drina River canyon await.
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Where to stay in Belgrade
Moxy Belgrade: I’m a huge fan of this hotel chain, which feels like a group of fun boutique hotels despite being part of the worldwide Marriott group.
The Moxy Belgrade is perfect for millennial-types, with communal workspaces, a restaurant and bar (extra points for the welcome cocktail on arrival), funky lounge areas and amenities including a gym and ironing room.
Rooms are modern, clean and blissfully soundproof, which is great since the Moxy has a fantastic location in the heart of the action just a short walk from Republic Square. The staff are lovely and extremely helpful with booking everything from airport transfers to restaurant reservations. Click here to book
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