Publish-war Belgrade is radically reinventing itself

Only 17 years ago Serbia was at war, NATO dropped bombs on its capital Belgrade and the entire Balkans was shaken to the core.

Almost two decades later you can still feel the struggle of an entire generation that knows nothing but unrest – even when life returns to Belgrade.

Street art abounds.Megan Richards

Life will remind you of what it was like when Bakas (older women) sold their tattooed lace creations on the side of the road that led to the market.

And a life that promises the future when young people sit in cafes and talk about the local music scene, relax on party boats and indulge in a restaurant culture worthy of any European capital.

This city, where the Danube and Sava rivers meet, has never been a better place to get away.

Compared to most other European capitals, goods and services in Belgrade are cheap. The currency is the dinar, and 110 of this equals 1 US dollar. A taxi ride around town costs about 3,000 dinars or less than $ 30. Sit back, relax, enjoy the sights, and prepare to eat!

The Belgrade Fortress in Kalemegdan Park.Alamy Stock Photo

There’s a lot to do to whet your appetite in this city of 1.3 million people. Start with the Belgrade Fortress and Kalemegdan Park. The site, which is also Belgrade’s birthplace, is not only the highest point in the city with the most spectacular views, but also includes a park with a restaurant, performance rooms and a long wall from which you can enjoy the view of the rivers.

When the weather permits, people sit by the wall in the evening to watch the sunset. There are also a variety of activities available within the fortress, including an ancient torture chamber, the Roman fountain, and the bell tower.

Get on board Air Serbia.Alamy Stock Photo

And directly below – along the Save – former warehouses have been converted into trendy restaurants and lounges, including the delicious Italian eatery Comunale Caffe e Cucina.

The Ethnographic Museum is opposite the Mathematics Faculty of the University of Belgrade and Studentski Park, where numerous student protests took place during the rise of former President Slobodan Milošević.

It is one of the oldest museums in the Balkans and has three floors of historical artifacts reminiscent of the houses, workplaces and wardrobes of Serbs over the centuries.

The dioramas and mannequins reflect the Moorish and Eastern European influences of the region. The history and folklore on display provide a solid context in which to experience the city.

Don’t be surprised by this sign in the old, unused Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade.Alamy Stock Photo

The Museum of Contemporary Art in New Belgrade, founded in 1958, has been closed since 2013. The building, designed by the architect Ivan Antić, once featured modern works by greats such as Joan Miró, Max Ernst, Robert Rauschenberg and David Hockney.

Today the museum is no longer open to the public. Much of the permanent collection is either kept or displayed in smaller rooms across the city that serve as auxiliary galleries. But that doesn’t mean that the crystal-like structure shouldn’t be visited. Public works by sculptor Vojin BakiEx and Otto Logo still adorn the lawns. A stroll around the exterior of the museum reveals one of the most fascinating pieces of contemporary architecture in all of the former Yugoslavia.

The museum is also a nod to Belgrade’s burgeoning design scene, located in the nearby (and aptly named) Belgrade Design District. Once a shopping mall, the sprawling structure is filled with around 30 small shops selling indie fashion, accessories, and industrial design. In a city still recovering from conflict, this stylish newcomer proves that there is no shortage of innovation and reinvention on the easternmost edges of Europe.

A table with Serbian dishes.Megan Richards

Pastries (both sweet and savory) are a staple of the Serbian diet and should not be missing – that would be practically impossible. No sitting experience is required, although there are tons of places to have coffee and cake and rest your feet. Try gibanica, a Serbian pastry made from fresh cow cheese, egg, and phyllo batter that is popular in the Balkans. And for something sweet, take a Dobos Torta.

This rich multi-layer cake is of Hungarian origin, but is part of the Serbian food lexicon and is available in most bakeries. All of them are available in the seemingly endless sidewalk cafes on Knez Mihailova – the city’s main commercial corridor.

One of the more casual, contemporary restaurants is Dijagonala Zaplet 2.0 (Skerlićeva 6; +381 11-244-90-99), which is behind the Saint Sava Temple. This hip hangout, now five years old, is an example of the city’s forward thinking after the war. Traditional Serbian dishes such as cevapi (meat skewers) and tripe complement the rest of the menu with entrIt isIt’s like fried pulp with ginger and steamed apricot, fried pork shoulder with potato dumplings, and a wide variety of Serbian wines. There is plenty of seating on two floors and an outside deck. After dinner, stick around for a cocktail with the cool kids who arrive late on the club nights.

OMB Larder’s Flowers Flying Bowl.Courtesy of the Radisson Blu Old Mill Hotel in Belgrade

For an upscale option, the OMB Larder and Lounge Restaurant is a short taxi ride from downtown and is located in the Radisson Blu Hotel.

There are two Prix-Fixe menus as well as numerous à la carte options.

Sticky Pork Shank with bacon powder and sour cream is one of chef Milan Lekić’s personal favorites, as is the Busha beef burger with egg yolk confit, one of the most popular dishes on the menu.

Finish the process with Flowers Flying, which uses nitrogen, fresh flowers, and sugar to take full advantage of the Lekić’s ingenuity.

WHERE TO SLEEP

The Square Nine Hotel is a 10, um, square hotel.Courtesy of the Square Nine Hotel Belgrade

The super stylish, centrally located Square Nine Hotel, a member of the world’s leading hotels (from around US $ 200 per night), opened in 2011 for a cool US $ 40 million – an almost unfathomable fortune in Serbia.

It was designed by Brazilian architect Isay Weinfeld and features a mix of mid-century furniture, rich wood accents, angular, minimalist elements, and a sublime-chic swimming pool on the lower level. Even if you stay elsewhere, dine in the Japanese Boîte on the top floor of the 45-room hotel – by far the finest place in town.

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