Culture

A seriously hip guide to Belgrade

Over the last 10 years or so, Belgrade has made quite a reputation for itself as a nightlife and tourism hotspot.  

Scores of visitors from all over the world have flocked to the Serbian capital in search of new experiences, sights, and sounds.  

One of those experiences is the mighty and celebrated splav. This Serbian word means raft, but also describes a specific type of popular riverfront club. Dotting the banks of the Sava river these floating nightlife destinations offer live music, DJs, cocktails, and a heated party atmosphere. 

Alas, should a traveler visit the city in the winter they will find these notorious party spots shuttered. That’s because the splav season runs only during the summer and early autumn months when the weather is best for semi-outdoor events. 

Yet there’s nothing to fear, for Belgrade still offers a plethora of fun, happening venues to visit during a winter holiday or business trip.  

Those looking for a similar club-like experience of loud music and trendy DJs would do well to head to Nemanjina 4 in the Old City. Here they will find a perennial favourite of both local and visiting party-goers: the exclusive Mr Stefan Braun. This nightclub, on the ninth floor of a high-rise building, has long been synonymous with high-class entertainment. From the glamorous hostesses to skilled bartenders and the upper echelon clientele, this is a venue that exudes opulence and sophistication.

Visitors should be warned that reservations, as well as a jacket, are mandatory.  

An emerging party spot is the Beton Hala (Concrete Hall), an entertainment and dining hub featuring several restaurants and clubs. Located just under the Kalemegdan Fortress, it gives guests a clear view of the New Belgrade skyline.  

By night it turns into a simulacrum of a splav, thanks to Freestyler Winter Stage. The off-season offering of one of the most famous summer splavs is just as fun and energetic as the real thing.

And by day it’s a place to have lunch and hold business meetings in one of the eight modern and bright restaurants that make up the complex.

Those who wish to sample local cuisine elevated to the highest level will love Ambar. This restaurant chain (one has recently opened in Washington, DC) is famous for its delectable dishes that draw inspiration from the unique traditions of a number of Balkan countries. 

Continuing the unique Balkan track, for good food and local live music nothing beats the historic Skadarlija district. Once a meeting place for bohemian writers, artists, and philosophers, today its cobblestone streets are home to many kafanas. The kafana is a traditional venue serving hearty (if a little greasy) food and rambunctious folk music. 

Don’t be surprised if what starts as a quiet dinner turns into a wild party once the music plays and the patrons have had just a smidgen too much of the signature Serbian spirit – rakija.  

It’s not just parties, food, and rakija you will find in Belgrade. The city also offers a range of cultural pursuits to enjoy. From sightseeing on the Kalemegdan Fortress (built in 279 BC) to museums and art galleries, there’s enough to satiate any voracious lover of the arts.  

Be sure to also visit the National Museum of Serbia. A ticket costs the same as a cup of good coffee and will let you enjoy a truly massive art collection. The first floor is dedicated to objects from the Palaeolithic Vinca culture, while the upper floors contain some of the best paintings and sculptures from local and European artists.

And once you’ve finished with the history lesson, it’s time to head to the Museum of Contemporary Art in New Belgrade. Reopened after nearly 10 years of renovation in 2017, it’s home to stunning and provocative art pieces from modern and contemporary Yugoslavian and Serbian artists. 

For tastes that run more underground and off-kilter, the Podroom Gallery is an absolute must. To find it, visit the Vulkan bookstore in Republic Square, head toward the very back of the room and descend the staircase. Once finally there, a world of interesting, strange, and avant-garde art from up-and-coming regional young artists awaits.

In recent years, Belgrade has attained a reputation as a city that never sleeps. There is always something going on and there are always interesting places to visit. In 2016, the Associated Press called the Serbian capital “dirt cheap” and “chic” and not much has changed since.  

Then, as now, visitors will find a vibrant city where long history and fast progress collide to create a one-of-a-kind, unforgettable atmosphere.