10 best places to visit in Belgrade

Mary Novakovich, CNNUpdated 21st August 2019
(CNN) — Known as the White Phoenix because it's been destroyed and rebuilt so many times, Belgrade is a city that's always evolving.
The Serbian capital is constantly bringing new life to old neighborhoods, rivaling Hungary's Budapest when it comes to turning derelict outdoor spaces into agreeably shabby-chic bars.
Fueled by a desire to live outdoors as much as possible, café culture is taken very seriously in this thriving southeast European destination.
Unlike some waterside cities, Belgrade embraces both its rivers -- the Danube and the Sava -- turning both into playgrounds full of bars, restaurants, cycle paths and parkland.
Whether you're a first-time visitor or a regular, these are the 10 best places in Belgrade you shouldn't miss when you travel there:

Kalemegdan

The oldest part of Belgrade, Kalemegdan consists of a park and a vast sprawling fortress which stand high on a bluff over the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers.
Kalemegdan is the city's green and historic heart: a place to stroll, sit, eat, watch outdoor films in the summer and enjoy the many festivals that take place in its 75 acres of parkland.
The on-site museum gives you an idea of the long history of the fortress, from Celtic and Roman times to the Ottoman and Austrian empires.
Look out for the collection of tanks that lead to the Military Museum, and there's also an art pavilion and a zoo.
Ružica Church holds the unexpected sight of chandeliers made from bullet casings from World War I.

Knez Mihailova

Knez Mihailova
The city's main pedestrian and zone is protected by law as one of its oldest and most valuable landmarks.
Courtesy Adam Batterbee
If Kalemegdan is Belgrade's heart, then Knez Mihailova is a major artery.
This broad pedestrianized thoroughfare constantly hums with life, whether it's people chatting on café terraces, music from buskers or the salty aroma of popcorn from food stalls.
Stately 19th-century neoclassical buildings frame the boulevard. For art lovers, there's the Zepter Museum, which has a fascinating collection of modern and contemporary art.

Dorćol

Smokvica in Gospodar Jovanova
Dorcol's Strahinjića Bana is crammed with bars and restaurants.
Courtesy Adam Batterbee
One of Belgrade's oldest and most attractive districts, Dorćol is teeming with bars and restaurants.
The bars along Strahinjića Bana have always drawn crowds, but there are plenty of others to check out.
The funky garden bar at Blaznavac on Kneginje Ljubice and the Middle Eastern-tinged menu at Smokvica in Gospodar Jovanova are both worth dropping into.
Two of the drinks close to a Serb's heart -- beer and rakija (brandy) -- are brewed under one large roof at Belgrade Urban Distillery, along with a wide selection of food stalls to soak up the booze.

Skadarlija

Skadarlija, Belgrade
Skadarlija is probably the best-known area of Belgrade.
Courtesy Adam Batterbee
Skadarlija is the nearest thing Belgrade has to a touristy area.
Located just next door to Dorćol, it was a hangout for artists and intellectuals in the 19th century.
Nowadays, Skadarlija's cobblestoned streets are filled with restaurants serving traditional Serbian food.
There's a permanent party atmosphere thanks to folk musicians serenading diners, particularly in and around Dva Jelena and Tri Seširi restaurants.
For something a bit grittier, there's Cetinjska, a disused brewery that's been transformed into a ramshackle collection of bars and restaurants.

Zemun

Zemun, Belgrade
Zemun didn't become an official part of Belgrade until 1934.
Courtesy Adam Batterbee
Across the Sava, in the New Belgrade area, lies the picturesque Zemun.
It's one of Belgrade's prettiest suburbs, with cobblestoned streets, a lively waterside section and an excellent morning food market in Masarikov Trg.
Zemun's baroque architecture serves as a reminder of Belgrade's Austro-Hungarian past.
If you follow the streets uphill, you eventually reach Gardoš Tower, which the Hungarians built in 1896.
The relatively short climb is worth it for the panoramic views of Zemun's terracotta rooftops, the sweep of the Danube and a fair chunk of Belgrade's cityscape.
From late June to September, a temporary pontoon bridge is set up to provide access to Great War Island (Veliko Ratno Ostrovo). The sandy beach at the northwestern tip of this vast nature reserve is a great place to relax in summer.
Along the riverside Kej Oslobođenja, popular restaurant Šaran serves up beautifully cooked seafood. Visitors can also sample Spanish delicacies at Milagro or Mediterranean-style cuisine at Supermarket Talas.
Just around the corner on Njegoševa, is Cafeteria Gardoš, which boasts a terrace that's a great spot for people-watching.
Tucked away up a staircase off the quayside is Galerija, with a lovely shaded terrace and fabulously fresh fish to go with it.

National Museum of Serbia

National Museum of Serbia
The National Museum reopened in 2018, 15 years after it was closed for restoration work.
Courtesy Adam Batterbee
It only took 15 years, but the National Museum of Serbia finally reopened in 2018 after an absurdly lengthy renovation.
Luckily, it was worth the wait. Set in an imposing former bank dating from 1903, the country's major art and cultural collection is an impressive one.
Starting with ancient Roman and Neolithic artifacts, it carries on into the Byzantine era with icons and frescoes, and meanders into the 19th century with works by Gauguin, Picasso and Matisse along with its compelling paintings by lesser-known Serbian artists.

The riverside nightlife

Splav, Belgrade
There's a special name for Belgrade's floating bars and restaurants -- splavovi.
Courtesy Adam Batterbee
With several hundred floating bars, restaurants and nightclubs lining the riverbanks of both the Danube and Sava, it's not surprising that Belgrade has a reputation for possessing the most raucous nightlife in Eastern Europe.
These places known as splavovi are a motley collection -- anything from cozy little restaurants to multi-level nightclubs with swimming pools.
There's even a splav, aptly named Monza, with a racing track on its roof. You'll find even more clinging to the Sava further south all the way to Ada Ciganlija.
Overlooking the Sava's eastern bank is an old warehouse, Beton Hala, packed with restaurants, bars and a constant parade of people strolling past.
It's at the tail end of the Savamala district -- another formerly down-at-heel neighborhood whose old buildings have been turned into bars and clubs. They all add to the soundtrack of a Belgrade summer.

Ada Ciganlija

Ada Ciganlija, Belgrade
River island Ada Ciganlija has been artificially transformed into a peninsula.
Courtesy Adam Batterbee
With all that river water swirling around Belgrade, it would be a shame not to put it to good use. Belgrade has landlocked Serbia's only Blue Flag beach, set on its own island that's been turned into a little peninsula in the Sava River.
Although Ada Ciganlija is the city's playground all year round, it really comes into its own during the summer.
Not only is it filled with cafés and restaurants, there's also a golf course, tennis courts, miles of cycle lanes, a tiny zoo and even a snowboarding simulator.
Those who arrive on its western edge from New Belgrade can hop on a little boat that shuttles across the river.

Museum of Contemporary Art

Museum of Contemporary Art Belgrade
Belgrade's Museum of Contemporary Art holds the biggest collection of Yugoslav art in the world.
Courtesy Adam Batterbee
Set in a white futuristic 1960s building and surrounded by forests of Ušće Park, the Museum of Contemporary Art romps through the 20th century works of regional artists in cleverly laid out galleries.
It doesn't matter if you know nothing about Yugoslav art -- you'll enjoy the ride.
Like the National Museum of Serbia, the contemporary art gallery endured a painfully long period of renovations, but the result is captivating.

Sveti Sava

Sveti Sava. Belgrade
This enormous Eastern Orthodox temple has been under construction for more than 80 years.
Courtesy Adam Batterbee
This enormous Eastern Orthodox temple -- one of the largest in the world -- vies with Barcelona's Sagrada Familia for the dubious distinction of being famously unfinished for far too many decades.
It's been under construction since the 1930s, with interruptions brought about by wars and other shattering events.
But while the interior's frescoes are still being painted, a visit down to the crypt offers a glimpse of what's still to come.
Its vaulted ceilings are glittering with gilt and beautifully painted frescoes.