The Serbian capital is an interesting and friendly place to visit for a few days. However, if you only have one day in Belgrade (like I did), fear not. Despite the fact that it’s a fairly large city (1.23 million inhabitants), you can see the highlights in a single day if you follow the itinerary below.

If you travel in the Balkans for any length of time, you’ll probably find yourself in Belgrade at some point, since it’s one of the cities better served by air transportation in the region.

A few things to keep in mind: people speak good English, the food servings tend to be large (similar to neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina), and prices are surprisingly cheap.

A meal at Cevap kod Dekija in Belgrade (one day in Belgrade)

A meal of grilled meat at “Cevap kod Dekija”

How to spend one day in Belgrade

Morning

Whether you have breakfast at your hotel or self-cater at your apartment, you need to have coffee at one of Belgrade’s many coffee houses. They know their espresso coffee here, which was a great relief for me as I need my cappuccino every morning! Many coffee shops have quirky decors, or at least a terrace to enjoy the warm weather.

After a leisurely breakfast and coffee, make your way to Republic Square and find the big clock. This is where the Belgrade Free Walking Tour starts at 10:00 AM every morning. This is a great and efficient way to visit the Old Town (Stari Grad) at the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers. The tours are tip-based and last 2.5 hours, including a walk around the Belgrade Fortress (Kalemegdan) as well as several churches and buildings (but without entering into any of them).

Belgrade Fortress (Kalemegdan) (one day in Belgrade)

Belgrade Fortress (Kalemegdan) is a lot larger than this photo suggests

There were only two of us on my tour, so it was easy to ask questions. Our guide was very friendly, engaging, and spoke perfect English. She told us a lot about the history and culture of the city. (They have another tour at 3:30 PM if you miss the morning one.)

Early afternoon

The walking tour conveniently ends in front of Manufaktura, a popular restaurant with a large outdoor patio covered by red umbrellas. Stop for a Serbian beer and something to eat. The place is known for its authentic Balkan food and drinks.

Manufaktura Restaurant, Belgrade (one day in Belgrade)

Manufaktura Restaurant is a great place for lunch. (My top matching the umbrellas was a fluke!)

After lunch, pick one of Belgrade’s top museums to visit. This could be the National Museum on Republic Square, recently reopened after a 15-year closure for renovation. Or the unique Tesla Museum, about the life and inventions of native son Nikola Tesla (including a guided tour). Nearby is the Historical Museum of Serbia if you’re more of a history buff, and the Ethnography Museum.

National Museum of Belgrade (now reopened!) (one day in Belgrade)

The National Museum of Belgrade reopened in June 2018

On the way to or from your museum of choice, make sure to walk south along pedestrian Knez Mihajlova Street which merges into Terazije Boulevard, an important commercial artery. You will see a mixture of architectural styles from Art Nouveau, to communist-era concrete blocks, to Bauhaus and Neoclassical. The Moska Hotel on Terazije Square, with its green roof and decorative elements, is an instantly recognizable landmark in the secessionist style (the Central European version of “art nouveau”).

Moska Hotel, Belgrade (one day in Belgrade)

Moska Hotel on Trg Terazije (Terazije Square)

Late afternoon

Keep walking south. Terazije soon becomes Kralja Milana Street. If at this point you’re feeling like a rest and a sweet treat, keep an eye out for a funny castle-like yellow building just after crossing Resavska Street. You’ll see people sitting on terraces on the other side of the road. There you will find a couple of ice cream restaurants selling decadent concoctions of fruits, nuts, and gelato, as well as ice cream cakes. One is called FLOR Gelato Italiano and next door is Bacio Gelato.

After your break, continue walking south and make your way to the Church of Saint Sava, the second largest Orthodox church in the world. It’s a massive white building topped with domes and golden crosses. Its setting in a large park, fronted by a fountain, reminded me a bit of the Taj Mahal!

Saint Sava Church, Belgrade (one day in Belgrade)

The entrance to Saint Sava Church

However, I was surprised to discover that the interior was still under construction. This is a fairly modern church whose construction was only begun in 1935. An intricate mosaic mural inside the main cupola had been completed at the time of my visit, but there wasn’t much else to see. As I turned around to leave, I almost missed a small arrow pointing to the “Crypt”. Crypt is a bit of a misnomer for what I discovered going down a flight of stairs.

Below the main church is a colonnaded space with a vaulted ceiling, brightly coloured frescoes painted on both the walls and ceilings, and heavy chandeliers. It’s used for exhibitions, Christian music concerts, and other cultural manifestations. Stunning!

The Crypt under Saint Sava Church (one day in Belgrade)

The Crypt under Saint Sava Church is a treat for the eyes

Evening

Have dinner on pedestrian Skadarska street in Belgrade’s Skadarlija bohemian quarter. You could try popular Dva Jelena or another similar restaurant. During the warm season, musicians play for the patrons, making this tourist street very lively. You will have passed through this area during your walking tour (much more tranquil in the morning). If you would like somewhere quieter and cheaper to eat, I recommend Cevap kod Dekija, located at Strahinjica Bana 71. It specializes in grilled meats such as ćevapi.

Skadarska Street, Belgrade, in the evening (one day in Belgrade)

Skadarska Street in the evening is very busy and lively

Belgrade is famous for its nightlife, so if you still have energy after this very busy day, you can find a variety of venues both mainstream and alternative, playing all types of music every night of the week and every month of the year. I’m no expert on nightlife, but I’ll let you read this article if you’re interested to know more about Belgrade’s nightlife.

This rounds up my suggestions for how to spend one day in Belgrade. If you like walking, you could do all of the above without having to figure out the bus and tram system. But if you don’t mind going a little further afield and have an interest in Tito, you can replace one of the sights above with the House of Flowers, Tito’s winter garden home and final resting place, which also displays some memorabilia. The Museum of Yugoslavia is right next door.

A busy Belgrade street (one day in Belgrade)

A busy Belgrade street

An extra day in Belgrade?

It shouldn’t be hard to fill another day in Belgrade. Go back to the Kalemegdan Fortress for a more in-depth visit, or explore another museum. Check out the inside of a few Orthodox churches, or the only remaining mosque in Belgrade: Bajrakli Mosque. You could also join one of the many themed tours offered by Belgrade Walking Tours. Relax at a kafana (a kind of traditional Serbian tavern) or within the green confines of the Botanical Garden.

Things to know about Belgrade

Currency

The currency of Serbia is the Serbian dinar (RSD). At the time of writing (September 2018), US$1 = 100 RSD, CA$1 = 77 RSD, 1 Euro = 118 RSD, and 1 GBP = 132 RSD.You can find both ATMs and currency exchange desks in Belgrade.

Getting to/from the airport

If you don’t have too much luggage, the cheapest and simplest way to get to/from the airport is to take the airport bus (A1 line) that goes to/leaves from Trg Slavija every 20 minutes during the day (and every hour after 7:30 PM throughout the night). You buy your ticket in the bus for only 300 RSD and the ride takes 30 minutes. Here are other ways to get to/from the airport.

Where to stay

You can find hundreds of apartments in Belgrade available for short-term rent on sites like Booking.com and AirBnB, for less than the cost of standard hotel rooms. I rented a modern studio apartment downtown for only CA$35 (about US$27) a night!

My studio apartment in Belgrade (one day in Belgrade)

My studio apartment in Belgrade. Only US$27 a night!

Eating in Belgrade

I’ve already mentioned the large servings. Another thing to know about the food in Belgrade is that it’s very meat-heavy. Grilled meats seem to be a favourite.

As well, a lot of people smoke in Belgrade. This might come as a shock to many North Americans, but smoking indoors (including inside restaurants) is still allowed in Serbia. You could try asking for the “non-smoking” section if you’re a non-smoker. This is another good reason for visiting during the warm season when most people will be sitting outside.

Language/religion

The official language of Serbia is Serbian, a variant of Serbo-Croatian (just like Croatian, Montenegrin, and Bosnian). Most Serbians are Christian Orthodox, and you will see many beautiful Serbian Orthodox churches while walking around town.


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