Unexpected Travel Destinations: Belgrade
When you start traveling, people expect you to visit the usual tourist destinations: Paris, London, Tokyo. When I suggest that world travelers should make sure to visit Belgrade, most people have to ask me where that is.
Belgrade, called the “White City,” is the capital of Serbia. If the city is in the public consciousness at all, it is probably because of vague memories of watching news anchors talk about the Kosovo War in the 1990s. However, Belgrade and Serbia are now experiencing both peace and prosperity, and Belgrade is becoming a popular city for people who want to travel beyond the typical shortlist of international destinations.
To start your Belgrade experience, look for a hotel that caters to English-speaking travelers. Hyatt Regency Belgrade, for example, is located near the city center as well as Belgrade’s major business conference facilities. It is designed primarily for business travelers, but welcomes tourists as well and is an excellent choice for your first trip to Belgrade.
While you will find English spoken in Belgrade, the majority of the population speaks Serbian or a related Serbo-Croatian dialect. Be prepared to learn a few Serbian phrases to help make your travel experience a bit easier to navigate. Belgrade is a city where it is best to leave your hotel room with a specific plan and directions to a destination; if you get lost in an area where you have very few language skills, you will have difficulty finding your way back home. Always carry a hotel business card with you, with the hotel name and address printed in both English and Serbian; this way you can show the card to a taxi driver and make your way back home.
However, don’t let the language barrier deter you from visiting or exploring this beautiful city. Belgrade is a city with a unique military history; it has been a central point of conflict in numerous wars and invasions, some of which date back to 300 B.C.E. Attila the Hun attempted to destroy Belgrade in 442 C.E., and it was part of all three Holy Roman Empire crusades before becoming the second-largest Ottoman Empire city after Constantinople (now Istanbul).
Visit the Belgrade Military Museum to learn more about this city’s history, and see military artifacts that include both medieval weapons and modern tanks. Once your museum tour is done, stroll through the Belgrade Fortress and nearby Kalemegdan Park, which overlooks the spot where the Sava River joins the Danube.
Yes, that’s right: bet you didn’t know that the Beautiful Blue Danube traveled through Belgrade! Make sure you spend at least one afternoon picnicking on its shores. You can also eat at one of the many floating restaurants that dock the length of this famous river.
If you like art, there are several museums available. The most famous is the Belgrade Museum of Contemporary Art, which includes work by Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali and Joan Miró in its collection. This museum, like many others in the city, also features works by internationally-known Belgrade artists such as performance artist Marina Abramovic. Belgrade is also home to a Museum of African Art, a Jewish Historical Museum, and a Historical Museum of Genocide.
Lastly, do not forget to take in Belgrade’s popular nightlife, which includes all categories of music and DJs, including disco clubs. Belgrade is like any other international city: a rich history, a distinct culture, and a love of fun. The next time you plan a trip abroad, consider adding Belgrade to your list.