Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Summer in the City: Belgrade, Serbia

Despite having endured four armed conflicts only in the twentieth century, Belgrade always seems to manage to spring back to life and is currently one of the Balkans’ most interesting urban destinations. In recent years, the city has gained a reputation as a party spot, tempting travellers with its bars, clubs and restaurants. In addition to them and some more traditional tourist attractions, the city’s recent conflict-torn past is another selling point for Serbia’s capital when it comes to drawing tourists, with the traces of the NATO bombings now being commonly offered as part of tours.
But, since it isn’t located on the sea, Belgrade is still not an obvious destination for the summer, when most holidaymakers around the Balkans prefer to head to the regions’ beaches. However, as contributor Aleksandar Obradovic writes, Serbia’s capital may turn out to be just the perfect place to visit during the warm months of the year. In addition to the city’s traditional sites, such as the City Library, some galleries and bookshops, visitors can enjoy an array of cultural events that take place in Belgrade during August. And those who can’t bear to be away from the water need not fret – although Belgrade isn’t on the sea, three rivers pass through the city and there is even a beach.

Text by Aleksandar Obradovic | Photographs by Aleksandar Obradovic, and Creative Commons

A good place to start out a tour of Belgrade is around the city’s main pedestrian and shopping area – Knez Mihajlova Street, where most of the summer festivals and events are held. This summer, visitors to the street can enjoy a unique exhibition of terracotta sculptures, which was made for the Universiade that was held in Belgrade in the first half of July, but will remain in Knez Mihajlova Street, close to Republic Square.

Knez Mihajlova Street is not only Belgrade’s main pedestrian street, but also the best place to go shopping in city. Recently, as many major clothing brands tried to open shops along the street, the existence of some of Belgrade’s very important bookstores and galleries was threatened. Fortunately, most of them were saved and many were modernized, now serving to diversify the area.

After visiting the terracotta exhibition, you can stop by one of the important bookstores - Geca Kon, named after a publisher of Jewish origin that was killed by the German army in the Second World War. One part of that bookstore is also a gallery where paintings of the most prominent Serbian painters can not only be seen but bought, too.

After the calmness of the bookstore, it is time to return to the busy street, listen to some musicians there, have your portrait pained by a local street artist, eat some ice-cream and move to another important cultural sight in Belgrade – the Serbian Academy of Science and Arts.

Throughout the year, the institution’s gallery has different thematic exhibitions from all fields of science and art. Entrance is free of charge and – regardless of what the current exhibition is, a visit is sure to be pleasant and interesting. The Academy-owned bookstore is located next to the gallery and also offers a great number of titles published by the institution and written by its members. Many titles are translated into English, which allows foreign visitors to learn more about modern Serbian society’s scientific and artistic developments.

Just across the street, another gallery – Singidunum, owned by Association of Fine Artists of Serbia, eagerly awaits new visitors. It carries Belgrade’s ancient name which has Celtic roots, but was used by the Romans. Interestingly enough, many centuries ago, the centre of Roman Belgrade was approximately at the same place where Knez Mihajlova Street is today.

The Singidunum Gallery is known for its attractive exhibitions, and two are planned to run until September. Between July 28 and August 14, about 20 of Stojan Milanov’s painings will be on display. The presence of the painter himself is a highlight of the exhibition. He will not only be painting in the gallery, but will also invite others to join him and show off their talent. The second part of August is reserved for another painter, Marina Zivkovic, with around 40 of her works on display, depicting scenes from 1920s and 1930s. The gallery is open from 9 am until 9 pm from Mondays to Fridays and from 10 am until 4 pm on Saturdays. More information is available on (in Serbian).

Moving on, a visitor can see the City Library. A beautiful, white building that used to be a luxurious hotel and now houses the national library not only has a huge selection of books, but a beautiful Roman hall, too. Remnants from the Roman Era were found during reconstruction works and are now kept in place. In the area there is also a beautiful hall where various kinds of cultural presentations are held. Unfortunately, most of them are in Serbian and not of much interest to visitors who don’t speak the language. But the place and relics are worth seeing nevertheless.

After a short visit to the library, it is time to see Belgrade’s main cultural attraction – Kalemegdan Park and Belgrade Fortress. Hours can be spent here, seeing the fortification walls and gates, browsing the galleries in places originally built for Turkish soldiers and visiting the Military Museum, learning about the region’s turbulent history and about old and traditional crafts. Finally, a good place to enjoy the sunset is from the main terrace close to the Victor monument.

Another place that should not be missed during a visit to Belgrade is the bohemian street Skadarlija. Plan an evening for that place and forget about time. Just walk around, enjoy the music and let the place’s atmosphere soak in. Pick a restaurant, like At Two Dears (Kod Dva Jelena) or Ima dana and just enjoy. The place was visited by almost every celebrity that ever came to Belgrade and many of them couldn’t resist and had to return again and again. Just like Belgrade as a whole, incidentally, which will always remain in your heart and once you visit it, you will want to return many times.

For those who would rather spend their summer vacation bumming around on the beach rather than doing traditional sight-seeing, Belgrade does not disappoint either. The wonderful island Ada Ciganlija in the Sava River offers excitements to satisfy every whim, taste and athletic ability (or lack thereof). For those who want to spend the day swimming and sunbathing, the island boasts huge beaches on an artificial lake. Those with extra energy to spare have a choice of sports just a few metres off the beach – from the traditional basketball and football, to the ever more popular beach volleyball, tennis and even golf. The island, known colloquially as Ada, even offers bungee jumping to those addicted to adrenaline.

When the sun sets and the majority of visitors go home, the place starts catering to the lovers of night life, which in Belgrade is at its peak at this time of year. Night life is booming with new clubs and restaurants, river banks are literally filled up with rafts that serve as small restaurants and offer the unique experience of partying on the water. Tourist organizations, counting on that aspect, do their best to attract as many visitors as possible but they often forget that Belgrade is also a very sophisticated city with very interesting cultural life.

In all big cities around Europe, summer is the season of cultural slowdown and, to a certain extent, Belgrade is no different. At the same time, however, summer in Belgrade is when different kinds of events take place, as artists, musicians and actors move from the traditional halls and theatres to the streets, squares, beaches.

There are some interesting festivals and events held during summer season in Belgrade and it would take more than one night out to experience them all.

The main cultural event in Belgrade during summer is BELEF (Belgrade Summer Festival) that covers music, theatre and visual art. Events are held in various locations around the city, like Republic Square, in front of the Moskva Hotel and concerts take in the garden of Bitef theatre or in an open area close to the Victor Monument at Belgrade Fortress.

The festival tends to show more experimental forms of art, so you could see Mark Jenkins’ sculptures made of self-adhesive tape, join the exhibition walk around the streets close to Knez Mihajlova that will be held from July 15 or just sit in the garden of Bitef Theatre and listen to jazz musicians from all over Europe. Complete program of events can be found on the festival’s website.

Another place of interest for all the visitors keen to enjoy cultural life of Belgrade is Dom Omladine. The recently renovated building was known for several decades as a place for cultural events and concerts. It is a place made for the younger generation and is also known as the headquarters of the very popular anti-government radio station B92 during 1990s. Traditionally, during the summer season, Dom Omladine offers an interesting program of events. For more information, visit Dom Omladine’s official website.

Another of Belgrade’s festivals, held in the Zemun area of the city, is the Summer in Gardos, which takes place between July 6 and August 30. Once an independent city, Zemun is now a municipality within the City of Belgrade. It is located some 15 minutes by car from the downtown festival and has its own summer festival held in the historical part called Gardos. This festival mostly offers theatre performances, varying from cabaret shows and comedies to children’s plays. An interesting play called “Pockets filled with rocks” will be performed on July 31, which deals with the life of two guys who desperately want to live an unordinary life.

In addition to theatre, the festival’s programme also features concerts and poetry evenings, such as “Vera Pavladoljskaja”, dedicated to the very popular poem by one of the most important modern Serbian poets Matija Beckovic. Every Saturday in August will be reserved for concerts, mostly of traditional music from the region. The grand finale of the whole festival will be the concert of one of the very popular ethno-musicians, Biljana Krstic with her band Bistrik. Mondays and Fridays are dedicated to children, with events starting at 8.30 pm and free entrance. The festival’s complete programme can be seen here (in Serbian only).

If only two days a week are reserved for children in Gardos, there is another theatre and festival entirely dedicated to kids – the theatre festival on the River Sava. The very location of that seasonal theatre offers a unique experience for all and the theatre itself is on a big raft on a river. The Theatre on Sava Festival showcases Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Asterix and Obelix, as well as making it possible for tourists’ children to make new friends with locals in Belgrade. Although not close to the city centre, there is bus transportation from Slavija square in the centre of the Belgrade to the festival location. If you are interested in taking that bus to reach the location, all you need to do is to make a phone reservation.

Going to the Theatre on Sava also presents the opportunity to see another part of the city. The river banks offer a huge variety of different restaurants where you can have a pleasant dinner and enjoy the local cuisine, and most of them have live music. While, until recently the area was mostly frequented almost exclusively by locals, that is beginning to change, as more and more foreign visitors come to the area.

As a new activity for this season, tourists can go on a daily river cruise and visit to some of the museums and monasteries located vicinity.

Aleksandar Obradovic is a licenced tour guide in Belgrade. You can learn more about him and the services he offers to travellers on his website.




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