Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to a 24 hours in Belgrade itinerary. For many of my fellow Americans, Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, is associated with war and tragedy. So I was pleasantly surprised to find how charming and attractive many parts of Belgrade are. The city has adorable winding streets like London, a great outdoor dining culture like Paris, and outstanding views of the Danube like Budapest. Spent 24 hours in Belgrade with me, and I hope to help you appreciate the city too!
24 Hours in Belgrade Itinerary
Where to Stay?
I highly recommend the Envoy Hotel in Belgrade for your 24 hours in Belgrade itinerary. It is a luxury hotel at mid-range prices. The location right in the center of Belgrade couldn’t be more convenient, the staff was extremely helpful and spoke perfect English, and the breakfast spread every morning was to die for. Even the breakfast meats were amazing! (As we will see, meat is a big theme in Serbia.)
24 hours in Belgrade Itinerary
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today on our 24 hours of the best things to do in Serbia. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Serbia is hot in the summer, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, if you’re American, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. European electrical outlets don’t work with American plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
24 Hours in Belgrade Itinerary
Morning: Belgrade Fortress
Belgrade Fortress is the absolute number one must see attraction in Belgrade. No 24 hours in Belgrade itinerary is complete without it. Don’t believe me? Then ask Serbia.com, which claims that Belgrade Fortress is the symbol of the city. (As an aside, it amuses me that the county of Serbia has a dot com address. Is there a France.com? A Japan.com? I want to know.) Anyway, one other reason it is so popular is that it is completely free.
Unlike the Smederevo Fortress or Nis Fortress that we visited on our last trip to Serbia, Belgrade Fortress dates all the way back to the 2nd century. As you can imagine, it has accumulated quite a bit of history since then. It would be my pleasure to acquaint you with some of this history via…
Three Fun Facts: Belgrade Fortress
1) Who Built This Fortress?
Well, it was founded in the 2nd century, so that should give you a clue. After all, which people were most likely to be building fortresses around the Balkans in the 2nd century? That’s right, it’s the Romans! Apparently a guy named Flaviae IV was in charge here, so I assume that means his ghost haunts the area.
There aren’t too many Roman ruins around Belgrade Fortress, but they did excavate some Roman stones when they were restoring part of the fortress. Keep an eye out for them! They’re near the Pasha’s Drinking Fountain and there are English signs to help you look.
Because so many people lived in this fortress and kept adding on to it, the fortress itself is massive. There’s even an Upper City and a Lower City of the fortress. There are museums, zoos, archery lessons…pretty much everything a tourist could ask for. Just don’t bring the bow and arrow into the zoo…I learned that the hard way.
2) Who Else Lived in Belgrade Fortress?
SO MANY different groups have been here. We’ve got everyone from Huns, to Slavs, to Hungarians, to Ottoman Turks. But the name “Belgrade” will sound familiar if you know any Slavic languages. (And keep in mind the Serbian name for the city is Beograd, just like the French name for Paris is Par-ee!) Anyway, Belgrade means either the white city or the white fortress, depending on which meaning of “grad” you are using.
During medieval times, this fortress belonged at different points to the Byzantines, the Bulgarians, the Hungarians, and the Serbs themselves. Medieval Times were a hot mess, yo. You had plagues, warring political factions, social unrest. Really nothing like today…
3) Is There Just One Architecture Style?
Absolutely not! There are as many architectural styles as there are people who have inhabited this fortress. For example, above you can see Leopold’s Gate from the Austrian occupation of Serbia in the 17th and 18th centuries. (No serious, were there any peoples in the world who didn’t occupy Serbia at some point? Are we sure that Iceland didn’t get in there during the 15th century or something?) The guy who finished this gate was named Andrea Cornaro, and apparently he was accused of treason for working on the gate. The sign doesn’t say WHO accused him of treason, though, which would be helpful to know.
And here we have my favorite building in the Belgrade Fortress, the Damat Ali Pasha’s Turbeh. This is one of the only Turkish buildings left in Belgrade, and it’s a real gem. I didn’t know what a turbeh was before visiting Belgrade, but I gather from context that it means mausoleum because this is where Damat Ali Pasha was laid to rest. He was the governor of Belgrade during part of the Ottoman occupation of Serbia. I like how this building is tasteful, yet memorable because of its unique shape. I plan on modeling my own mausoleum after this one.
24 Hours in Belgrade Itinerary
Afternoon: National Museum of Serbia
I know when some people hear the phrase “Serbian Nationalism”, they think, “Yikes!” But you don’t need to be nervous at the National Museum of Serbia! It’s an amazing collection of archaeological artifacts, religious art, and fabulous paintings of men with flowing beards and crazy hats carrying a bunch of fruit. As it’s also the largest museum in Belgrade, I can’t show you everything in the museum during our 24 hours in Belgrade itinerary. But I can show you around my…
Approximately Top 5: National Museum of Serbia
1) Lunch at Burger House
I can sense you’re getting worried Internet Stranger. But of course there are no burgers on display at the National Museum. I’m not even sure they had burgers in medieval Serbia! But they do have plenty of burgers in Belgrade now, and I recommend stopping for gourmet burgers and homemade fries at Burger House. It’s right in between Belgrade Fortress and the National Museum, so it truly could not be more convenient. The meat had a nice amount of “funk” on it like a good burger should have.
Plus they gave me ketchup because I am American. (All over the Balkans, I got offered ketchup “because I am American”. I choose to take this as kindness instead of an insult. Plus, I DO love ketchup. USA, USA, USA!)
2) The Idol of Klicevac
Take a guess as to how old this woman is. If you’re guessing she’s looking pretty good for 3000+ years old, you are correct! The idol of Klicevac has a truly amazing life. She was first donated to the museum in the 19th century by a local schoolteacher. How on earth did a schoolteacher get her hands on such a priceless artifact in the first place? I’m sure a teacher’s salary doesn’t pay for that kind of thing, even if Serbian teachers make more than American teachers. Was she the Serbian female Indiana Jones? Someone make a movie about that, ASAP!
The idol was lost again during the bombing of Belgrade by the Austro-Hungarians in the First World War. I think she looks pretty good considering how much she has been through! I hope my skin is that smooth when I am 3000.
3) Religious Art
The two most impressive collections at the National Museum of Serbia are the ancient art and the Orthodox Christian art. Serbia is a majority Orthodox country–about 85% of the country identifies as Orthodox. According to the signs at the museum, the Orthodox church really took off in Serbia back when it was part of Bulgaria in the Middle Ages. Then it became an independent empire, ruled by a series of guys who seemed to be all named Stefan. (That guy in the painting above? Definitely a Stefan.)
Serbia didn’t just become an independent empire; it also developed its own Orthodox church. (Each Orthodox country tends to have its own Orthodox church, which is one thing that makes it different from the Catholic church.) The Serbian church is the second-oldest Slavic Orthodox church in the entire world. If you’ve been paying careful attention to this blog post, you’ll already know which country has the oldest Slavic Orthodox church in the world. Feel free to email me the answer at [email protected].com
4) Paja Jovanovic
Here we get to something a little more modern! Jovanovic is the painter of this work, not the subject. Jovanovic himself is more famous than any of his paintings. In fact, he is one of the most celebrated portrait painters of 20th century Europe. He studied all over Europe and even in the United States.
He is notable for painting the portrait of Austro-Hungarian emperor Franz Josef more than 10 times. Back then, Serbia was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, but not every Serb was as kind to the Austro-Hungarians as Jovanovic. You’ll recall that World War I was started in part because a Bosnian Serb named Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Archduke of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. If only Princip had tried to paint his portrait instead! We would have been spared millions of death.
5) Serbian Independence Art
It’s easy to forget that Europe has a crazy lot more countries now than it used to. Countries like Finland and Lithuania used to belong to the Russian Empire, and countries like Serbia used to belong to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. During the late 19th-early 20th century, many of these nations began to fight for their independence, and this struggle is reflected in the art of the time period. So you’ll see a lot of stunning landscapes, traditional clothes, and figures from folklore in paintings by Pro-Independence artists.
I mean, this could be a Very Patriotic Serb Baby in Patriotic Serb Baby Clothes sitting in a beautiful Serbian countryside. Or…it could just be an Adorable Squishy Baby Holding a Baby Goat. I support YOUR independence to interpret this painting anyway you want.
24 Hours in Belgrade Itinerary
Evening: Dinner at Ambar
When I was researching my trip to Serbia, the one thing everyone told me is that Serbia is amazing at meat. So unless you do not partake of flesh, I strongly urge you to try Unlimited Dining at Ambar. You pay one set price and then the kitchen brings out small dish after small dish until you beg them for mercy. Start with a Welcome to Belgrade cocktail, which contains apple rakia. (Rakia is the famous fruit brandy you can find all over the Balkans. Do not worry because we will definitely be eating plenty of food to soak up the booze.
Then…when you’re ready…it’s time for MEAT-A-PALOOZA to begin.
No Meat-a-Palooza is complete without bacon! Here we have a profiterole stuffed with bacon and fig.
My waiter really wanted me to know that Serbia isn’t ONLY good at meat, so here is a stuffed pepper with kajmak (a scrumptious fresh cheese) and ajvar, a traditional red pepper and oil spread. When you add lots of oil and cheese, veggies are almost as good as meat!
Here we have a lighter addition to Meat-a-palooza with beef, cauliflower, and a smoked aioli.
At first I assumed these were pieces of bacon shaped to look like a salad. But no, the vegetables are real, and they’re spectacular.
ARRR! It’s the return of Meat-a-palooza with a housemade sausage with a little spicy pepper on the side. Meat doesn’t get anymore authentic than this!
And here we have a new entry in Meat-a-palooza: LAMB! It’s cute, it’s cuddly, and it’s in your tummy with a side of pickles and sour cream.
Because one sausage is never enough for Meat-a-palooza, enjoy a long, thin, curved sausage with homemade mustard. I feel like Sigmund Freud would have a lot to say about this sausage but I will leave exactly what up to your imagination!
We’ve had a baby sheep, now it’s time for baby cow. This is a veal “sarmale”, which is a kind of cabbage roll stuffed with meat that is popular in Romania. But this is the Serbian version, and I don’t know exactly what it’s called because my Romanian is a lot better than my Serbian.
Now we’ve got a throwback to the Austro-Hungarian empire with pulled pork, potatoes, and cabbage. I approve of this dish, but maybe Gavrilo Princip’s ghost wouldn’t.
At this point in Meat-a-palooza I said that I was full, so they begged me to just accept a couple of more dishes because the kitchen had already started cooking them. So be prepared to eat more even after you tell them you are done. Just some light snacks like a rich sous vide lamb with forest mushroom gnocchi.
…followed by one more sausage for the road. (That’s kajmer, the special cow cheese, next to the sausage. This is basically the Serbian version of a Philly cheesesteak.)
Instead of dessert, there was cream cheese ravioli with light summer vegetables. If this is a typical dinner in Belgrade, I’m truly amazed at the strength and might of their stomachs.
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours in Belgrade Itinerary!
What would you do with a perfect 24 hours in Belgrade Itinerary? Which is cuter, a fat Serbian baby or a baby goat? And are you ready for Meat-a-palooza? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY try a 24 hours in Belgrade itinerary.
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