Beergrade, the Serbian Capital
We have been dying to tell you guys our Belgrade experience since the day we stepped foot in the Serbian capital. It was weird, and crazy, and at times uncomfortable but isn’t that the best part of traveling, the unknown? We found basically nothing when it came to researching Belgrade so this should be a helpful guide for anyone wanting to visit the lesser traveled road to Serbia.
Belgrade may sounds like an off beat destination that wouldn’t be on the top of most people’s list but we chose it for a couple of reasons. First, if you’ve followed us for a while or know us personally, you know we love ourselves a good beer. We had read somewhere that Belgrade was up and coming in the craft beer scene and happens to be one of the highest breweries per capita city in Europe. This was basically the top reason we wanted to visit. Second, we also liked the idea of heading off to a place that is often overlooked on Europe excursions. Belgrade ended up being exactly what we expected in a lot of ways, it was the place we felt the most uneasy within Europe (and still wasn’t even as bad as San Francisco) and where we had the most unexpected mishaps. Even with all our misadventures, we still enjoyed the grungy, interesting, and historically rich capital of Serbia. It is definitely a place to visit if you’re ready for some wild stories and a unique experience!
Whatever you do… for the love of everything that is holy, please do NOT take the overnight train from Hungary to Belgrade or vice versa. This is the shortest version we can give to explain all that went wrong on this train and some advice and info on why you should take any alternative route.
» The most important reason to avoid the overnight train is that it is run by the Hungarian/Serbian mafia so literally everything from buying your tickets to sitting in your seat is tainted by corruption. If you absolutely must take this train as an option, buy your tickets online to ensure you have an actual seat rather than buying at the train station.
» Do not let the ticket officer take you to the bed cars, unless you’ve actually paid for a bed car ticket. Long story short, we got taken to a cabin car and just assumed we must have gotten lucky and paid less for a bed. It was the only bed car of the train and we were the only ones back there besides one Serbian guy with no luggage, HUGE RED FLAG. We usually know better than this, but since we were so tired and grateful to have an actual bed to sleep in, we naively locked the door and tried to get some sleep. We were woken up about an hour later from the same man who took us to this bed trying to get into our room and telling us that this wasn’t our reservation. In our confusion and sleep stupor, we finally managed to figure out that our tickets were for the real seats, well lit in the front cars where all the other people were. Apparently, this is a scheme that happens often – the ticket officer will take sleepy tourists to the bed cabins and throughout the night steal their money and personal belongings. We think the lock got jammed and they weren’t able to get in the room like normal. The unfortunate thing is that when you wake in the morning to having all your possessions stolen, there’s nothing you can do about it.
» You will be stopped 4 to 5 times throughout the night in random places throughout the Serbian countryside, which we found out later is for the thieves to hop off and get away scotch free with all your stuff. The mobster looking Serbian man in our bed car happened to be nowhere to be found in the car anymore when we got moved to our actual seats.
» You will also be stopped at least twice for immigration and for customs. We had our passports looked at and stamped both times and the border police and immigration agents were not friendly. This was one of those times that being an American was very scrutinized and they had a lot of questions for the two of us. We obviously ended up passing through but we got absolutely no sleep and ended up pretty exhausted by the time we got off around 6 am.
When we got into Belgrade we started to research the stories of the night train and sadly, it has happened a lot, to many people. We got lucky that we didn’t have anything taken from us since there has been a lot of travelers that weren’t so fortunate.
A nicer alternative way to travel to Belgrade is the airport, it is very nice and easy to navigate! We flew out of the airport when leaving Belgrade and we really wish we would have just paid a little extra to fly into it from Budapest. If you have that option, we recommend using planes instead.
Trav Tav’s Tip:
If you find yourself in a time crunch getting the airport, a taxi is actually a great option! The bus from Belgrade to the airport takes about an hour, which we didn’t have when we were leaving, so we opted for a taxi. We had our taxi called for us by someone from a nearby hostel and we were to the airport in 25 minutes for only $13!
where to stay
We absolutely recommend staying in the old Bohemian Quarter, Skadarlija. It was quiet and safe and had tons of cool eateries, bars, and boutique shops. We chose the Boutique Apartment in the heart of Skadarlija so we could enjoy our own space and explore the eclectic neighborhood on our own. We had a great host, who even let us check in early so we could drop our bags since we arrived so early and the apartment was top notch and everything you could need for a stay in Belgrade! If you prefer a hostel, we highly recommend Hostel Bongo. We didn’t trust leaving our bags at the train station when we checked out of our room, but we called Hostel Bongo and they let us keep our bags there even though we didn’t have a reservation. They had such a sweet staff who gave us great recommendations and made us feel really comfortable with leaving our stuff there for the few hours we had left in Belgrade. Plus, the hostel ended up being in a really fun part of the city that we got to explore!
Whichever option you choose, accommodations in Belgrade are extremely cheap and most of them are highly reviewed. Plus, everything is pretty walkable by foot if you want to stay within the Bohemian and Savamala districts. You won’t really find a need to get on the public transpo, which is mainly just the buses and trams.
We selected 5 craft beer bars to visit in Belgrade and we have ranked them in order starting with our favorite! Breweries and craft beer bars (all bars mainly) are some of our favorite places to find while traveling. Beer is one of the most universal enjoyments around the world and sitting at the bar sipping a brew can be one of the easiest ways to meet people and bond. Plus, it’s probably our favorite liquid known to man so we are on a mission to try the local draft wherever we go. Belgrade breweries seem to like to brew a lot of American pale ales and IPA’s, although we did try one or two darker style beers. We loved all the beers we tried and we had such a great time at all the brewpubs we visited that we would travel back to Belgrade again just for the beer!
Trav Tav’s Tip:
Smoking within a building is still allowed in Belgrade, so if you are sensitive to smoke you had better bring your face mask! Basically every place has a little puff of smoke that meanders out the doors when you open them. Even though in most of Europe smoking is normal on the patios, a lot of the countries have implemented smoke free laws indoors and in public spaces like public transportation. Belgrade, however, hasn’t quite hopped on the train so you’ll see a lot of people smoking and dining or drinking. It wasn’t as bad as we were expecting but there is different air quality in some places we stepped into, so it’s just something to be aware of.
◊ Samo Pivo – Drinking beer at Samo Pivo felt like drinking back at home with our friends. It’s a relaxed, no nonsense hangout with a considerable local and international beer selection. With 23 beers on tap and a few fridges full of bottles, you won’t be disappointed. When we were here, it was pretty dead since we arrived close to their opening time but we could see this place getting BUSY. It has a killer patio outside that overlooks the streets of daily Serbian life. ‘Samo Pivo’ means ‘just beer’, but you will also helpful bartenders and an unpretentious atmosphere. We tried a few different kinds of beer recommended by the bartenders – all four local Serbian craft brews and all delicious. If they happen to be around still, make sure to try the Crow Gecko American APA, Kabinet Supernova IPA + Porter, and the Zebrew Ice Cream Stout. Don’t let the sketchy entrance fool you, this place is worth the visit!
◊ Krafter – This hip little find was close to our apartment and at the top of our list when visiting Belgrade. The bartender alone was a reason to visit, she was so sweet and friendly and made our whole experience here fun. We waited out the rain that had of course befallen us, but what did we care if we got to drink some tasty brews? Krafter also happens to be one place that keeps on draft two very well known Serbian beers, Salto and Dogma. Gotta try the Pale Ale from Salto and the famed Hoptopod from Dogma, and pair them with a nice heaping bowl of complimentary peanuts!
◊ Miner’s Pub – We found this downstairs pub not far from Krafter. We might have been the only ones during our entire visit and our bartender may not have spoken much English, but we managed to still pick two very flavorful beers and have a great time. We couldn’t read much of the menu but picked one called Kors Mini Pivara (a grizzly APA – whatever that means?!) and an unknown wheat beer. They boast a few fridges full of international imports as well as local drafts and bottles. Miner’s was a quiet, intimate place while we were here but given its downstairs acoustics, we’re sure it can get rowdy and fun!
◊ The Black Turtle II – You will find not one, but five different Black Turtle pubs! We chose number two since it was in a neighborhood we wanted to visit by the water. It’s a traditional pub, with a smoky, comfortable interior that was packed with locals and tourists alike. This is where you want to try something seasonal – because you sure won’t be able to find it anywhere else! We found our cheapest and most unique beers here, the Black Turtle signature blueberry lager and a seasonal dark wheat both at $1.75 a pint.
◊ Prohibijica – Located within the Savamala district close to the river, Prohibijica has named itself a “pre-club bar” so we expected it to be somewhat of a college style hangout. We must have gotten lucky since there was only one other person seated at the bar (are you sensing a trend here?) but it was quiet and we loved that. We had two local brews both from Nikolacar brewery that comes from the Zemen district across the river in Belgrade – the American IPA and the Punk Pale Ale. It’s a great place to get acquainted with the Savamala neighborhood, the new hip district in town.
where to eat and drink
◊ Aviator Coffee Explorer – Finally… we found a good coffee shop in Belgrade! This place was on par with some of our favorite shops in Reno and we were itching for a good cappuccino. Aviator is a modern, stylish coffeehouse close to Samo Pivo in the Savamala district of town and has all kinds of specialty coffees, teas, and pastries. The coffee was superb and the pastries were scrumptious and felt just like home.
◊ Balkon Urban Italian – We had lunch at Balkon while we waited for Samo Pivo to open on our last day in Belgrade and this was one of those places that we would go back to just because of the staff. We were seated in the outdoor covered patio and waited on by the sweetest woman who just loved that were were Americans. Order any of the pasta dishes and pair it with a nice, cold glass of beer on the patio before a night cap at one of the brewpubs nearby.
◊ Little Bay – Kenny found this on TripAdvisor when we were trying to find to somewhere to eat for lunch on our first day in Belgrade. It was highly reviewed online but we are here to tell you that we highly recommend it also! It was such a fun dining experience and can actually be found in London and Brighton, UK. It’s set up a little bit like an Opera house, so you can sit on the lower or upper level and there was a pianist and singer downstairs to listen to while you ate. Try an upstairs booth and enjoy the unique, musical dining adventure!
There were so many amazing places to eat in the Skadarlija district, especially if you want a traditional Serbian experience – meat, potatoes, and gypsy music! We found one place for dinner on a cute street that had tons of different patio restaurants and we can’t find it anywhere online to link it but it was so FUN! You could take a gander down any of the streets around the Old Town and Bohemian Quarter and pop into any of the restaurants and not be disappointed.
Trav Tav’s Tip:
When you get a chance, try the local Rakija, a fermented fruit alcohol that comes in many flavors. It is normally 40-65% and can be made with many different fruits, the most popular being plum, apricot, peach, grape, and fig! It’s a bit like the Palinka in Budapest but has its own unique flavor and deserves a try when you find it.
things to do
Since we came to Belgrade for a beer tour, everything else we did was an extra experience we hadn’t planned on having – so we really didn’t know anything about the capital nor had anything else we needed to check off our to- do list. We honestly still don’t really know a lot about Belgrade because we missed the one activity we wanted to do, the free walking tour. Sometimes travel plans just work out that way; you miss out on stuff due to unforeseen difficulties and you just have to roll with it. If you get the chance, a free walking tour of a city is one of the best ways to learn about its history and culture. Two things we managed to gather is that Belgrade had a large Roma gypsy population in the 1800’s and even with its rocky history, Belgrade is in a time of restoring and rebuilding itself to a new glory. Even though we missed a lot of stuff of the city had to offer, these were a couple of the things we did or wished we had.
This area was one of our favorite parts of Belgrade. It was a quiet and beautiful area of town that overlooks the convergence of the River Saga and the Danube River. You can explore around the park, the old fortress walls, and the open air military museum and then make your way toward the towering statue of the “Victor” that overlooks the river bank. It was built to commemorate the victory of Serbia over the Ottoman and Austrio-Hungarian empires during the Balkan Wars and World War I.
Belgrade boasts of having some of the world’s best nightlife where apparently, every night is Friday night! Across the river from the Belgrade Fortress, you can find around 300 floating river clubs called Splavs. If you desire a night of fun, you can head on over to the Splavs and take your experience in Belgrade to the next level. We never made it over to the Splavs but if we had more time you better believe we were trying to go check them out. You don’t have to go to the crazy party clubs, there’s also Splavs that are just restaurants, quieter bars, and even some hostels. The Splavs are part of Belgrade’s unique culture that will surely give you an incomparable experience unlike anything else!
Even though our time in Belgrade was short and riddled with difficulties, we had a great time exploring its old streets and meeting Serbian people. It ended up being one of our least busy places which made it feel like we could live like a local for a couple days and not feel like a tourist. We got to see the daily side of Belgrade – the quiet, normal life that happens in between the crazy political landscape and refugee crisis; one that was strange and different, and a bit uncomfortable at times. We think its important to get out of your comfort zone and experience places that you never thought you’d be interested in, you might be surprised at how much you enjoy it!
Any favorites that we missed in the Serbian capital? Let us know in the comments below!