The first thing anyone will tell you about Serbia’s capital is that it does not live up to its name – Belgrade, or Beograd (the ‘White City’), is anything but white. Rather, it is mostly a utilitarian grey, the colour of concrete, which looks its dreary worst under a leaden, winter sky and only marginally more cheerful in spring sunshine.
This stereotypical Eastern-bloc greyness is deceptive, however, because although the grim monoliths of New Belgrade’s high-rises do their best to dispirit the first-time visitor, the city has far more to offer than these initial impressions might suggest.
What to see and do in Belgrade
Old Town (Stari Grad)
Many of Belgrade’s most appealing landmarks lie within this comparatively small area. The Old City may be defined as being the part of the city that lies southwest of Dunavska, with its western boundary circumscribed by Karađorđeva and Kalemegdan Park, and its southern limit set by Brankova. This haystack-shaped concentration of Belgrade’s older buildings is bisected by Vase Čarapića (usually referred to as Vasina), an important artery that connects Trg Republike, the spiritual heart of the city, with Kalemegdan Park by way of Studentski trg.
The pedestrian thoroughfare of Knez Mihailova (sometimes called Kneza Mihaila) runs parallel to this. Trg Republike (Republic Square) is as good a place as any to begin. This large, elongated square has been renamed recently as Trg Slobode – Freedom Square – but most simply refer to it as ‘Trg’. Trg Slobode is flanked by the imposing Neoclassical edifice of Narodni Muzej – the National Museum – at its north side, with the National Theatre (originally built in 1869, bomb-damaged during World War I and rRebuilt with a new façade in 1922) just across Vase Čarapića to the east.
Kalemegdan Park gets its name from a combination of two Turkish words, kale (fortress) and meydan (town square). The name refers to the plateau itself rather than the fortifications that were built upon it that are simply known as the Belgrade Fortress. A good idea of the development of the fortress can be had by studying the models on display at the Belgrade Fortress Museum next door to the clock tower. This also clearly indicates how the small manmade harbour on the Danube below was created and defended, as well as how it subsequently vanished from sight.
The Temple of St Sava (Hram svetog Save) is also within easy grasp from Trg Slavija – just a short walk south to the Vračar neighbourhood – and the church’s enormous dome can be seen from all over the city, gleaming through Belgrade’s haze in all directions like a beacon. Size apart, the church is undeniably a highly impressive structure: a neo-Byzantine colossus with echoes of St Sophia in Istanbul. The site at Vračar was chosen because it was the same place where the Ottoman ruler, Sinan Pasha, had the holy relics of St Sava burned in 1594, having seized them from Mileševa Monastery in Raška in southwest Serbia.
The mosaic in the main dome, costing around €4 million, was financed by the Russian Orthodox Church. Following the reconversion to a mosque of Istanbul’s Hagia Sofia in July 2020, it was hoped that St Sava’s would become a symbolic replacement for this iconic building.
The modern city
The sights of modern Belgrade are fewer and farther between than those of the Old Town, but they are interesting nevertheless, especially when considering the city’s more recent history. A short walk along Terazije from its junction with Knez Mihailova soon brings you to the imposing and attractive façade of the Hotel Moscow. This building, built in Art Nouveau style in 1906 for the ‘Russia’ insurance company, is one of Belgrade’s more notable landmarks, but the view across to the neon signs of Terazije and its dull row of traffic-grimed buildings is overall less pleasing.
Sitting opposite the Hotel Moscow is the equally large but rather less grandiose Hotel Balkan. Walking down Prizrenska from here will soon bring you to Zeleni venac, an important terminus for the city’s bus network and the prized location of another McDonald’s branch. From the terrace above the bus park you can see the chequerboard-patterned roofs of Zeleni venac, condemned by some hard-line nationalists for echoing the Croatian national emblem in its design.
In the street behind, hidden away at Maršala Birjuzova 19, is the city’s only currently active synagogue, built in 1924–25 on a piece of land donated by the Belgrade Municipality. The gate leading into it appears to be locked nearly all of the time. Steps lead up from this rather woebegone street to Obilićev venac and a whole parade of trendy cafés.
Just off the street on the edge of Pionirski Park to the left, stands the City Hall, built in 1882 as the royal palace of the Obrenović dynasty in an Italian Renaissance style. The building now houses the mayor’s offices and is the premises of the Belgrade City Assembly; it was also used by Tito for a while in the early days of the post-war Yugoslav republic.
Next door to City Hall, across some gardens and a newly restored fountain, stands the New Palace, which was built between 1913 and 1918 for Petar I Karađorđević. This was restored after being badly damaged during World War I and reoccupied in 1922 when it became the official residence of the Serbian royal family until 1934 when King Aleksandar was assassinated. Today the building serves as the seat for the Serbian State Assembly.
Getting to Belgrade
International flights to Belgrade land at Nikola Tesla Airport, which lies 20km west of the city. For more information, see our travel and visas page.
Arriving by train no longer brings you right into the city centre near the Old Town as it once did, since the old railway station closed in 2018 to make way for the ambitious developments of the Belgrade Waterfront project.
The main railway station, Belgrade Central Station, locally known as ‘Prokop’, is in the municipality of Savski venac south of the centre, and not very central at all. This new station is largely underground (the name ‘Prokop’ translates as something like ‘ditch’) and, although still unfinished, has toilets, an ATM, a café and a ticket office adjacent to platform 10. Advance train tickets may be booked here, or at New Belgrade station, at least two days ahead of travel. Alternatively, contact Serbian Railways information and booking line for reservations.