I was asked almost on a daily basis, what brought me to Belgrade for the third time in less than a year. Any traveler to Belgrade (I am not talking about social media tourists) will immediately recognize that, if there is one particular and singular characteristic that remains central to this city, then it is The Glorious Creativity Scene. Read on, if you can emotionally identify with creativity and food, as I will be sharing my top 3 things to discover in Belgrade. So first step, make a tiny effort to find the locals and speak to them. Get away from the tourist traps, the restaurants dotted across the pedestrian street, that is characteristic in every European city and I promise that it would be the best thing you can do with your time in Belgrade.
This city has been painted as a party central filled with plastic, easy women that is still scarred with a post-Yugoslav War. I really beg to differ. If you just look beneath this superficial layer, this historical capital has restless creativity. Arts flows in the veins of its people, it never truly stops moving and therein lies it’s charm.
Yes this White City has been hit with wars, probably the worst 20th Century inflation in Europe and sanctions. Obviously, this will leave an impact and particularly on the street art scene. I learnt that in the 90’s artists could not purchase any colour or paints of good quality. However, that did not stop the locals and they continued to create. This is an important point to take into when comparing the art scene from that time and with other countries. It was an absolute feast for the eyes exploring the meaning behind the graffiti-strewn walls with chic shabiness that cover most parts of this city.
From tongue in cheek humor to deeper emotional messages that can be interpreted in whichever way your eyes wants to see; one thing which is a common thread is, it is a coping mechanism with the present social and economic issues. Definitely a tour I would recommend to book at http://stillinbelgrade.com/creative-in-belgrade-tour/
Even on a freezing, sunny February morning while I was here, the warmth of this city can be felt at 8am as the locals are filling up the local cafes and as soon it is noon, the riverside restaurants are packing up. It goes without saying, that this historical capital city is blessed to be situated between two mighty rivers: the Danube and the Sava.
I am not about to recommend any restaurants because I am a big believer that with rise of social media, pretend foodies are everywhere and ordering food based on what looks good on Instagram is trendy. So this is what I would recommend: Eat. Local. Food. Eat to understand. There are tons of traditional Serbian dishes obviously and there are just some dishes that will make you want to quit your job, pack your bags and run away into the Danube sunset.
Burek. This iconic symbol that can be found in most local bakeries is a must have. It is the Serbian Food Institution. The prettiest form of flaky dough layers of cheese or meat is the ultimate comfort soul food. And, if even if you are not an admirer of a high-calorie experience, you shall not regret it.
Sarma. Cabbage rolls stuffed with ground beef or rice or even sometimes you might find a substitute of vine leaves. Personally, I am very familiar of this taste since I have lived in the Middle East for most of my life. Still, I love the familiarity of how food transcends man-made country borders and you forge that connection through Sarma or Dolma or Waraq Enab – whatever you want to call it.
LIVE MUSIC & LOCAL BARS
The live music scene here is insane. It is a movement. From underground, invite only concerts like Sofar Sounds Belgrade to paid events at Bitef Art Cafe to classical music Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra. There is live events every week for every music taste. I was lucky to attend three live music events in less than three weeks and I am not done yet: James Brown Tribute led by Marko Vlahović, a fun filled sold out concert by the Grammy Award winning jazz bassist Richard Bona and a very interesting classical music experience at the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra.
Belgrade being a top contender of affordable nightlife European destination and having experienced the Exit Festival in Novi Sad a couple of years ago, personally, hanging out in the hidden bar gems on any given day of the week is where you meet the locals. I can’t help but stating the age-old travel advice about learning about a place is meeting locals. Serbs LOVE to drink (Rakija obviously being my kiss of death) and in the same breath I would say: under no circumstance do you drink like a Serb if you are not Serb.
Less than a block away from my place, I discovered this basement pub called “Macor” which is in Kursulina, Vračar. One of the most authentic and truest places in my temporary “elite” neighborhood that some locals described to me. Another place that absolutely stole my liver, from the owner Branco to the cutest adopted in-house cat to the weekend blues band. “Popara” which is situated in hipster urban Dorćol and apparently, I learnt, this is the area where legit Belgradians lived.
Solo travel can be enlightening and terribly lonely. It’s not quite easy to introduce yourself to total strangers or “ just be friendly” and “say hi” to people in a foreign country where you don’t speak the local language. All those barriers were broken and it was so easy to meet the locals and get under the skin of this intriguing city!
Like the late Anthony Bourdain said, If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food, it’s a plus for everybody. Open your mind, get up off the couch. Move!
A Third Culture Kid/Nomad living her life by the next time she eats and living her life by a compass and not a clock. She wishes how the world has no countries, passports or borders to define the human race.