Belgrade, a bustling city with nearly 2 million people, is both the capital of the Republic of Serbia and the largest city in the Balkans. While the city has something for everyone, the following list will take a look at the top five things to do in Belgrade from a historical and cultural perspective.
All of the locations below can be reached either on foot or via public transport. Also be sure to check the very end of the guide for tips on transportation and accommodation.
Visit the Neolithic Site of Vinča
Located on the banks of the Danube in the Belgrade suburb of the same name, Vinča has been continuously occupied for 7,500 years.
And it’s after this site that an entire Neolithic civilization was named, evidence of which has also been found in parts of Bosnia, Hungary, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Transylvania.
The culture emerged sometime in the 7th millennium BC, making it one of Europe’s oldest.
The Vinča people were capable of creating high-quality arts and crafts, even developing the technique of metallurgy to work with copper. Furthermore, their settlements demonstrated a sophisticated level of social organization.
After walking through the field where excavations have been ongoing for decades, you’ll pass by a replica of what archaeologists believe Vinča houses once looked like. The walls were created with a mix of clay, sand and chaff while wooden floors have been coated with plaster.
While aside from some deep trenches and a nice view of the river, there’s little to see of the former settlement itself. The main reason to visit Vinča is to enjoy its on-site museum, which includes an explanation by a passionate and knowledgeable guide.
In Neolithic times, there was a thriving trade network along the Danube, allowing the Vinča people access to many exotic materials from afar, including obsidian, Spondylus shells and various minerals. Many of these are on display at the museum.
Also on display is a fascinating collection of clay figurines – possibly either used as part of a fertility cult or as ritual burial objects.
Vinča society was believed to be peaceful, and that’s what archaeologists believe largely led to their demise. Suddenly faced with outside threats for the first time in the 5th millennium BC, they had little means of self-defense and were thus forced out of their lands.
The last remnants of the culture date from around 4600 BC. But this site remained occupied. From the 3rd millennium BC, during the Bronze Age, a culture known as the Vatin built large burial mounds around the area.
Later on, the site was occupied by the Romans. And more recently, it was home to an expansive medieval necropolis.
Excavations began as early as 1908 by Serbian archaeologist Miloje Vasić, continuing up through the ’30s. And they once again resumed in the 1970s.
For fans of Neolithic sites and Europe’s ancient past, a visit to Vinča is definitely one of the top things to do in Belgrade.
GETTING THERE: The site is open every day except Monday and costs 200 Dinar to enter. Keep in mind that it’s only open between April 1st and October 31st each year.
Located about 17 km east of central Belgrade, Vinča is a bit out of the way, but it is indeed accessible by public transport.
It’s best to use an app like Google Maps or Moovit to tell you exactly which buses or trams you need to take from wherever you are. Based on the time and location, there are several different methods, all of which will likely require at least one transfer.
In my case, I hopped on a local minibus (E1) before transferring to a regular bus (307), followed by a 10-minute walk or so to the site.
Coming back, I took a combination of tram and standard bus. The journey took about an hour each way.
Explore Belgrade Fortress (Kalemegdan)
Situated atop a ridge at the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers, the history of Belgrade Fortress is that of Belgrade itself. Also known as Kalemegdan, exploring the fortress is by far one of the most popular things to do in Belgrade.
The area was inhabited since at least the 3rd century BC, when the Celtic tribe of Scordisci first founded the city. Later, following the Roman takeover, the fortress would mark the boundary between the Western and Eastern Roman Empires.
The fortress was later expanded during the Byzantine Era before being taken by the Slavs who began invading the Balkans from around the 7th century.
The Byzantines would later get it back, holding onto it until the 12th century. After that, it was taken by the Kingdom of Serbia and the subsequent Principality of Moravian Serbia.
And finally, in 1521, the Ottomans took control, and Belgrade would remain in Ottoman hands until 1867. The Austrians did, however, briefly take the fortress from 1718–1738, during which they greatly refurbished and modernized it, even building a hospital within its walls.
Belgrade Fortress has been regarded as an important archaeological and historical site since the Germans began excavations during their brief occupation in the 1940s.
But today, Kalemegdan is also Belgrade’s most prominent public space. Free to enter for all, the area features spacious parks and gorgeous views of the nearby rivers.
Within the fortress walls are plenty of interesting landmarks to seek out – both above the surface and deeper underground.
Some of these underground sites require separate tickets to enter. But the best way to see them would be through an ‘Underground Secrets‘ walking tour.
The tours, which cost €15, leave every Sunday at 15:00. You can learn more about the details of the tour, in addition to a summary of Kalemegdan’s most prominent landmarks, in our dedicated guide to the fortress.
Tour The Residence of Princess Ljubica
The former residence of Princess Ljubica is more than just a beautiful house with nice furniture. Having been repurposed into a museum in 1980, the various rooms help demonstrate the gradually shifting tastes of Belgrade’s 19th-century ruling elite.
The residence was built between 1829-31 to house Miloš Obrenović, a prince of one of Serbia’s most prominent dynasties.
But the prince only stayed here from time to time, as nearby Belgrade Fortress was still being occupied by Ottoman troops. The house was instead primarily occupied by his wife, Princess Ljubica, and their sons.
On the first floor, you’ll find a room decorated in the typical Ottoman Balkan style. These types of rooms were typically multifunctional but primarily used for socialization.
Notice the Christian icon on the wall, which demonstrates how even Christian families in the Empire utilized Oriental design schemes. (You can also see this at Sarajevo’s Despić House.)
In the center of the first floor, you’ll find a divanhane, a semicircular gathering space that was a common feature in Ottoman homes.
Nearby is the room believed to be that of Princess Ljubica herself, mainly due to the presence of a small private bathroom.
Be that as it may, experts still aren’t entirely sure of how the room once looked. As part of the museum exhibition, the room takes on a typical Ottoman appearance albeit with European-style portraits on the walls.
A nearby room, meanwhile, represents the Ottoman Baroque style of the late 19th century.
As the Ottoman Empire’s cultural influence started to wane, bourgeois families in the Balkans instead turned to the contemporary style of Central and Western Europe for inspiration. This is especially evident across the museum’s upper floor.
In particular, much of the furniture and art here represents the Biedermeier style. This period, which lasted from 1815-1848 in Central Europe, saw the middle class take an increasing interest in art.
As such, arts, literature and interior design thrived across all levels of society. Amongst Belgrade’s upper classes, families started acquiring Western furniture, paintings and silverware to not only show off their wealth but also their refined tastes.
Later on in the 19th century, local styles were also influenced by the Rococo revival along with the Alt Deutsch style.
Interestingly, in the middle of the European-style rooms of the upper floor is yet another distinctly Ottoman divanhane. This one likely would’ve been reserved for private family gatherings, as opposed to the lower one which was accessible to outside guests.
The Residence of Princess Ljubica is closed Mondays and costs 200 RSD to enter.
Walk Around the Zemun District
The neighborhood of Zemun may now be part of Belgrade, but it was long controlled by Austria-Hungary, meaning it was technically in a different country. Serbia only regained control of the area in 1918, and it officially merged with Belgrade in 1934.
Given its history, the district closely resembles the Austrian towns you’ll find throughout the northern Vojvodina region.
While the main thing to do in Zemun is simply wandering around and soaking up the atmosphere, it’s also home to numerous landmarks that are worth seeking out.
The largest church in the area is the Church of the Holy Virgin, completed in 1780. It’s known for its stunning baroque iconostasis, while from the outside, you can also admire its imposing bell tower.
Fans of carved iconostasis should also be sure to visit the Nikolajevska Church closer to the river. Likely built in the 16th century, it took on its current form around 1750.
A bit further west, Gardoš Tower is arguably Zemun’s top highlight. Built in the Gothic style, it’s located in the middle of what remains of a medieval fortress.
While parts of the fortress walls are as old as the 14th century, the tower itself was erected in 1896. It was actually just one of seven monuments erected that year to commemorate a millennium of Hungarian presence in Central/Southeast Europe’s Pannonian Basin.
Designed by Hungarian architects, the tower stands at 36 m high. And nowadays, for an entry fee of 200 RSD, visitors can ascend the windy staircase for the best view of Zemun.
Other things to do in Zemun include a stroll along the Danube River and a visit to the central square. At the time of my visit, it was bustling with activity due to the presence of an outdoor market.
Zemun can easily be reached from the city center by public bus (or even on foot if you have the stamina), and it’s easily one of the top things to do in Belgrade.
Visit the Nikola Tesla Museum
Nikola Tesla was a Serbian-American scientist who was undoubtedly one of the important inventors of modern times. At this museum, you’ll not only get to learn about the man and his inventions but see some of them demonstrated in person.
Housed in an ornate 1927 residential villa, the museum first opened in 1955. And ever since, it’s been one of Belgrade’s top highlights.
Tesla was born the fourth child of an Orthodox priest in the village of Smiljan, modern-day Croatia (and then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire).
He was a gifted student from a young age and eventually enrolled in an elite polytechnic school. He’d later begin working as a phone technician in Budapest. And in 1882, he got a job at the Continental Edison company in France.
Before long, in 1884, he emigrated to the United States, working at Edison Machine Works. And in 1888, he received funding to start working on his own inventions.
Over the following years, he developed technology such as alternating current induction motors, electric discharge tubes and a lot more. Many of these fascinating inventions are currently on display at the museum.
Among them are things like a speedometer, 250 and 500 KV oscillating transformers, the Tesla Coil and even a remote-controlled boat!
While the entry ticket is relatively pricey at 800 RSD, it includes a guided tour and a demonstration of many of the items.
These old machines are quite loud and produce brilliant sparks. As amazing as they are to watch today, one could only imagine how these inventions would’ve appeared to the public in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Despite his contributions, Tesla has been largely overshadowed by other inventors of the time such as Thomas Edison.
And since his death, numerous theories have circulated that he invented many more things, such as a particle-beam weapon and a perpetual motion machine, that were never revealed to the public.
Tesla died in New York City in 1945. And his ashes were later moved to this museum, where they’re now kept in a spherical urn.
There are, of course, more than just five things to do in Belgrade. That’s why you’ll want to give yourself several days in the city at a minimum. Here are a few other highlights you shouldn’t miss:
*One of the most popular landmarks in the city, the Royal Compound, has been completely closed since the start of the pandemic, hence its absence from this list.*
The Belgrade National Museum is arguably the finest archaeological museum in the Balkans. In addition to artifacts from Neolithic sites like Vinča and the even older Lepinski Vir, there’s also plenty to see from the Hellenistic era up through medieval times.
For those doing more extensive travels throughout the Balkans, you’ll even find many important artifacts from neighboring countries, such as the golden funerary mask of Ohrid, Macedonia.
Additionally, fragments from important Kosovo cathedrals are on display as well.
The Sveti Sava Temple, opened in 1935, is the largest Orthodox church in the Balkans and one of the largest in the entire world. St. Sava, who died in the 13th century, is widely regarded as the founder of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
And this is supposedly the spot at which the Ottomans destroyed his relics. While often crowded with tour groups, one can’t help but stand in awe at the mesmerizing golden mosaics.
While not as essential as the city’s other museums, the Museum of Yugoslavia is worth a visit for those with an extra day in town.
The museum should really be called ‘The Museum of Tito,’ as it’s entirely dedicated to the life and reign of Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito, who controlled the country until 1980.
In addition to an extensive display of the numerous gifts he received from international leaders, the museum is also the final resting place of the man himself.
Getting to Belgrade is fairly simple. As the largest city in the Balkans, you’ll find direct connections with cities – both big and small – throughout the entire region.
Coming from Sarajevo, on the other hand, is not as straightforward as one would think, given Bosnia’s division between Bosnia & Herzegovina and Republika Srpska. While there are numerous buses each day from Sarajevo’s East Bus Station (located in Republika Srpska), that station is quite difficult to reach for the average tourist.
There are indeed direct buses from Sarajevo’s Main Bus Station, but they only depart at 6:00 in the morning or late at night. I opted for the morning bus, and despite a terrible border crossing on both sides, I ended up making it to Belgrade by afternoon in one piece.
Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla Airport is well-connected with cities throughout Europe and the Middle East. Belgrade also happens to be the only city in the Balkans with direct flights to the USA (NYC via Air Serbia).
One can also get to and from Montenegro, Croatia and Hungary by rail. But as construction work on the tracks is ongoing, be sure to check for updates before your trip.
Throughout my long trip across Serbia, I stayed in Belgrade a couple of times. As the largest city in the region, there’s no shortage of places to stay.
Wanting to explore the city in addition to taking numerous day trips to nearby towns, I was looking for something within walking distance of the main bus station. And as a budget traveler who doesn’t like dorm rooms, I was looking for a private room at a reasonable price.
I first stayed at a place called Hostel M. It was walkable from the bus station in just about 5 minutes, while the city center was only about 20 minutes away on foot.
But unfortunately, despite the staff being quite friendly, there were simply too many people staying in such a small space, resulting in issues with cleanliness and noise.
My second stay in Belgrade was much more comfortable. I stayed at ‘Rooms and Apartments S,’ about 15 minutes on foot south of the bus terminal. Again, I had my own room with a shared bathroom. But with much fewer rooms, this guest house was a lot quieter and the bathroom always seemed to be free when I needed it.
The main downside was that smoking is allowed in the rooms. But given the friendliness of the owner, the comfort of the room and its proximity to a major supermarket, I was able to look past that.
Belgrade has a comprehensive public bus and tram system. While many of the locations in the city center are walkable, you’ll want to hop on a rail or tram at some point to visit some of the more distant neighborhoods.
The fare system is rather confusing, however. You can usually purchase bus tickets from the driver for 150 RSD, though you can supposedly top up a transport card at certain kiosks for a better price.
You’ll sometimes be asked to show your ticket by fare inspectors, but this only happened to me once on the journey from Zemun. According to a local I spoke with, many residents simply don’t pay despite the potential risk of a fine.
During one of my bus rides, the driver had no paper to print the ticket so he told me to just ride for free! I also was legitimately uncertain of how to pay for tram tickets, but luckily I never encountered an inspector.