I only had a short time in Belgrade so the next day was basically a whistlestop tour of the main sights. Despite its unkempt look, there’s a feeling Belgrade is trying to transform itself. There’s a lot of development going on by the waterfront and a brilliant promenade to stroll down. Sitting over the city is Belgrade Fortress which, in keeping with Eastern European generosity, is free to enter. You get a completely different perspective on Belgrade from up here – it’s green and blue and seems a lot more peaceful than the haywire streets.
The fortress is pretty big as well and whilst some parts of it have been restored, there’s other sections which have just been abandoned. It’s slightly unnerving to turn a corner and be told by a sign that you’re now risking your life. The fortress is a real jewel in the crown of Belgrade though – both historically and aesthetically.
The other major attraction in Belgrade is its beach. Like Budapest, Belgrade (and indeed the whole of Serbia) is landlocked. Unlike Budapest, however, the Serbs weren’t content to lie and sunbathe on tarmac, so they’ve built an island in the middle of the city designed for beach bums. It’s a stone beach but is really popular and, given it was a scorching hot day, we decided to check it out. The island, Ada Ciganlija, is probably best reached by public transport as it’s a little way up the river. However, in our infinite wisdom, we decided to walk for about 90 minutes in 30 degree heat to reach it. Most of it involves walking along the promenade but, given half the promenade is being renovated, it also involves traversing through a building site. There were loads of buses going to and from the island and we hopped on a bus back, though we literally just had to guess where it was going, since the bus destinations are written in Cyrillic script.
The beach itself is great. I’ve not had much experience with stone beaches before but stones are way less irritating than sand, even if they are a bit harder. There are loads of food and drink stalls on the way up to the beach and they’re priced like anywhere else in the city rather than being doubly expensive, which was a welcome change to other tourist spots. You can keep your Croatias and your Greeces. Belgrade is where the real European beach scene’s at.
After jumping on a random bus and putting our faith in Google Maps, we found our way back to the hostel then enjoyed another night out in Belgrade, eating some tasty and cheap food thanks to a voucher someone in our hostel had (Belgrade’s the sort of place where you pay £5 for a meal with drinks and that feels expensive), then followed by an evening of bar hopping and drinking Serbian beer for €1. I had to leave the next day to head to Kosovo but I definitely could have spent more time in Belgrade and Serbia as a whole. It’s imperfect, it’s unpredictable and it’s just a little bit crazy but that’s what gives it its charm. It’s the perfect blend of Europe and Asia, without even having to travel too far.