Cities

Away days: 24 hours in Belgrade

A whistle-stop guide to the Serbian capital for the travelling Champions League fan

WORDS Michael Harrold

I’ve just arrived in Belgrade and I’m on my way to see Miroslav Vjetrović. A former player, he is now something of a celebrity in Serbia for his job as a television football presenter. I’m in the Serbian capital for a single night to watch Crvena zvezda take on Young Boys in the play-offs and he has offered to take me out for a meal before the game.

I’m staying in Stari Grad – Belgrade’s old town – not far from where he lives and we meet up on Knez Mihailova, the main street that bisects the centre. It’s a favourite with locals for its shops, bars and cafés and is calm and relaxed. Like much of the old town, it’s pedestrianised, giving you time and space to chat and take things in.

(Clockwise, from above) Belgrade's bustling old town, Stari Grad, traditional Serb cuisine and the Rajko Mitić Stadium

We turn left down Vuka Karadžića and walk past a series of inviting terraced restaurants, before stopping at Proleće, a typical Serbian eaterie where grilled meat is very much on the menu. Miroslav orders for me: Jelen beer (pivo) and a plate of sausages (kobasica) and kofta kebabs (ćevapčići), which hit the spot. A defender for Hanover 96 in his playing days, he tells me about his first taste of German football and coming up against the great FC Köln side of the early 80s featuring Klaus Allofs, Toni Schumacher and Pierre Littbarski. It was a massive step up from playing for second division Belgrade side Obilić, but one he took in his stride.

It was in West Germany that he went to his first Champions League final – Marseille against AC Milan in Munich in 1993. He has only missed one since, in 1999, when conflict in the former Yugoslavia prevented him from leaving Belgrade. “I really don’t think there can be that many people who have seen as many Champions League finals as me,” he laughs.  

As Miroslav relaxes back into his chair, it is difficult to imagine Belgrade’s turbulent recent history, though there had been a stark reminder the previous day when fans parked a tank outside the stadium. But for now it is about football and Miroslav tells me we have to go if I’m to get to the stadium on time. We walk back down Knez Mihailova, towards Terazije to get a taxi to the ground. He points out the grand Republic Square, which is being restored, and talks of the new pride of Belgrade, the National Museum of Serbia, which has just reopened after many years of renovation work. In front of the museum is the renowned statue of Prince Mihailo, who led the uprising against Ottoman rule in the mid-19th century.

For a meat feast, head to Skadarlija, The mini-Montmartre of Belgrade

Miroslav packs me into a cab for the ten-minute drive out to the Rajko Mitić Stadium, named after the club’s first captain following their foundation on 4 March 1945. The stadium is resolutely old school – a single bowl around a running track with a second tier only in the main West Stand. It is dug into a hillside and the stands rise higher on the west side. From my spot at the back of the upper tier you can see the European Champion Clubs’ Cup, perched at the top of an impressive display of silverware in the club’s museum. To the north over the roof of the stand are the green domes of the Temple of St Sava – one of the city’s most famous landmarks.

On the night, Crvena zvezda’s prayers are answered. Throughout the noise is deafening, but it reaches a crescendo on the final whistle. “Auf wiedersehen” (Goodbye to the Swiss Germans of Berne) sing the home fans as a 1-1 draw seals their place in the group stage for the second straight year. The players do a lap of honour then climb into the North Stand to celebrate with the fans. Still in their kits, they travel off to the centre of town. Fans let off fireworks, horns blare, flags fly from the windows of speeding cars. Crvena zvezda and Belgrade are back in the big time.

Your travel guide
The Best of Belgrade

Taste of Serbia

For the full meat feast, head to Skadarlija, Belgrade’s mini-Montmartre, a cobbled street off Republic Square lined with terraced restaurants and bars. Three Hats (Tri Śesira) is lively with Roma musicians playing at your table as you work your way through a plate of chops, kebabs, chicken and sausages. Try a Serbian wine – Prokupac is the local red – and finish off with a shot of plum Rakija, a fiery spirit. 

Night out

The old town is full of bars and cafés, particularly on Republic Square, Obilićev venac and at Kralja Petra I. In the summer, the booming clubs on the moored boats (splav) on the opposite side of the River Sava can be heard in the old town. There is also a run of bars and restaurants on this shore. Cantina de Frida is my pick, with a live band attracting a fun crowd.

Where to stay

Definitely Stari Grad, the old town, where there are plenty of affordable hotels and you are in walking distance of Belgrade’s main sights. I booked into the excellent four-star Royal Inn on Kralja Petra I on hotels.com the day before the game for under €60.

What to see

The easternmost point of the old town is Kalemegdan Fortress perched on a hill above the point where the Danube and Sava rivers meet. Walk through Kalemegdan Park and peer over the ramparts for views of the city and countryside beyond.

Club scene

Crvena zvezda’s rivals Partizan were the first Yugoslav side in the European Cup, even playing in the competition’s first-ever match, a 3-3 draw against Sporting in Lisbon on 5 September 1955. They were also the first to reach the final, losing to Real Madrid in 1966, and the first Serbian side to play in the Champions League group stage in 2003/04. Nothing, though, matches the achievements of Crvena zvezda, who won the European Cup thanks to Darko Pančev’s deciding spot-kick in the shootout against Marseille in 1991. 

Getting about

Public transport is cheap and if you’re leaving from Terazije take the 31 bus, then change to the 78 at Slavija Square or St Sava. It’s easier to hop in a taxi; Pink and Naxis are both good value, or download the CarGo app, which works like Uber. From the airport, the A1 bus goes as far as Slavija Square. If you take a taxi, pick up a voucher at the desk near the exit to fix the price then give it to the driver when you get in. A trip to the old town costs 1,800 Serb dinars (€15).

I’ve just arrived in Belgrade and I’m on my way to see Miroslav Vjetrović. A former player, he is now something of a celebrity in Serbia for his job as a television football presenter. I’m in the Serbian capital for a single night to watch Crvena zvezda take on Young Boys in the play-offs and he has offered to take me out for a meal before the game.

I’m staying in Stari Grad – Belgrade’s old town – not far from where he lives and we meet up on Knez Mihailova, the main street that bisects the centre. It’s a favourite with locals for its shops, bars and cafés and is calm and relaxed. Like much of the old town, it’s pedestrianised, giving you time and space to chat and take things in.

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(Clockwise, from above) Belgrade's bustling old town, Stari Grad, traditional Serb cuisine and the Rajko Mitić Stadium

We turn left down Vuka Karadžića and walk past a series of inviting terraced restaurants, before stopping at Proleće, a typical Serbian eaterie where grilled meat is very much on the menu. Miroslav orders for me: Jelen beer (pivo) and a plate of sausages (kobasica) and kofta kebabs (ćevapčići), which hit the spot. A defender for Hanover 96 in his playing days, he tells me about his first taste of German football and coming up against the great FC Köln side of the early 80s featuring Klaus Allofs, Toni Schumacher and Pierre Littbarski. It was a massive step up from playing for second division Belgrade side Obilić, but one he took in his stride.

It was in West Germany that he went to his first Champions League final – Marseille against AC Milan in Munich in 1993. He has only missed one since, in 1999, when conflict in the former Yugoslavia prevented him from leaving Belgrade. “I really don’t think there can be that many people who have seen as many Champions League finals as me,” he laughs.  

As Miroslav relaxes back into his chair, it is difficult to imagine Belgrade’s turbulent recent history, though there had been a stark reminder the previous day when fans parked a tank outside the stadium. But for now it is about football and Miroslav tells me we have to go if I’m to get to the stadium on time. We walk back down Knez Mihailova, towards Terazije to get a taxi to the ground. He points out the grand Republic Square, which is being restored, and talks of the new pride of Belgrade, the National Museum of Serbia, which has just reopened after many years of renovation work. In front of the museum is the renowned statue of Prince Mihailo, who led the uprising against Ottoman rule in the mid-19th century.

For a meat feast, head to Skadarlija, The mini-Montmartre of Belgrade

Miroslav packs me into a cab for the ten-minute drive out to the Rajko Mitić Stadium, named after the club’s first captain following their foundation on 4 March 1945. The stadium is resolutely old school – a single bowl around a running track with a second tier only in the main West Stand. It is dug into a hillside and the stands rise higher on the west side. From my spot at the back of the upper tier you can see the European Champion Clubs’ Cup, perched at the top of an impressive display of silverware in the club’s museum. To the north over the roof of the stand are the green domes of the Temple of St Sava – one of the city’s most famous landmarks.

On the night, Crvena zvezda’s prayers are answered. Throughout the noise is deafening, but it reaches a crescendo on the final whistle. “Auf wiedersehen” (Goodbye to the Swiss Germans of Berne) sing the home fans as a 1-1 draw seals their place in the group stage for the second straight year. The players do a lap of honour then climb into the North Stand to celebrate with the fans. Still in their kits, they travel off to the centre of town. Fans let off fireworks, horns blare, flags fly from the windows of speeding cars. Crvena zvezda and Belgrade are back in the big time.

Your travel guide
The Best of Belgrade

Taste of Serbia

For the full meat feast, head to Skadarlija, Belgrade’s mini-Montmartre, a cobbled street off Republic Square lined with terraced restaurants and bars. Three Hats (Tri Śesira) is lively with Roma musicians playing at your table as you work your way through a plate of chops, kebabs, chicken and sausages. Try a Serbian wine – Prokupac is the local red – and finish off with a shot of plum Rakija, a fiery spirit. 

Night out

The old town is full of bars and cafés, particularly on Republic Square, Obilićev venac and at Kralja Petra I. In the summer, the booming clubs on the moored boats (splav) on the opposite side of the River Sava can be heard in the old town. There is also a run of bars and restaurants on this shore. Cantina de Frida is my pick, with a live band attracting a fun crowd.

Where to stay

Definitely Stari Grad, the old town, where there are plenty of affordable hotels and you are in walking distance of Belgrade’s main sights. I booked into the excellent four-star Royal Inn on Kralja Petra I on hotels.com the day before the game for under €60.

What to see

The easternmost point of the old town is Kalemegdan Fortress perched on a hill above the point where the Danube and Sava rivers meet. Walk through Kalemegdan Park and peer over the ramparts for views of the city and countryside beyond.

Club scene

Crvena zvezda’s rivals Partizan were the first Yugoslav side in the European Cup, even playing in the competition’s first-ever match, a 3-3 draw against Sporting in Lisbon on 5 September 1955. They were also the first to reach the final, losing to Real Madrid in 1966, and the first Serbian side to play in the Champions League group stage in 2003/04. Nothing, though, matches the achievements of Crvena zvezda, who won the European Cup thanks to Darko Pančev’s deciding spot-kick in the shootout against Marseille in 1991. 

Getting about

Public transport is cheap and if you’re leaving from Terazije take the 31 bus, then change to the 78 at Slavija Square or St Sava. It’s easier to hop in a taxi; Pink and Naxis are both good value, or download the CarGo app, which works like Uber. From the airport, the A1 bus goes as far as Slavija Square. If you take a taxi, pick up a voucher at the desk near the exit to fix the price then give it to the driver when you get in. A trip to the old town costs 1,800 Serb dinars (€15).

I’ve just arrived in Belgrade and I’m on my way to see Miroslav Vjetrović. A former player, he is now something of a celebrity in Serbia for his job as a television football presenter. I’m in the Serbian capital for a single night to watch Crvena zvezda take on Young Boys in the play-offs and he has offered to take me out for a meal before the game.

I’m staying in Stari Grad – Belgrade’s old town – not far from where he lives and we meet up on Knez Mihailova, the main street that bisects the centre. It’s a favourite with locals for its shops, bars and cafés and is calm and relaxed. Like much of the old town, it’s pedestrianised, giving you time and space to chat and take things in.

(Clockwise, from above) Belgrade's bustling old town, Stari Grad, traditional Serb cuisine and the Rajko Mitić Stadium

We turn left down Vuka Karadžića and walk past a series of inviting terraced restaurants, before stopping at Proleće, a typical Serbian eaterie where grilled meat is very much on the menu. Miroslav orders for me: Jelen beer (pivo) and a plate of sausages (kobasica) and kofta kebabs (ćevapčići), which hit the spot. A defender for Hanover 96 in his playing days, he tells me about his first taste of German football and coming up against the great FC Köln side of the early 80s featuring Klaus Allofs, Toni Schumacher and Pierre Littbarski. It was a massive step up from playing for second division Belgrade side Obilić, but one he took in his stride.

It was in West Germany that he went to his first Champions League final – Marseille against AC Milan in Munich in 1993. He has only missed one since, in 1999, when conflict in the former Yugoslavia prevented him from leaving Belgrade. “I really don’t think there can be that many people who have seen as many Champions League finals as me,” he laughs.  

As Miroslav relaxes back into his chair, it is difficult to imagine Belgrade’s turbulent recent history, though there had been a stark reminder the previous day when fans parked a tank outside the stadium. But for now it is about football and Miroslav tells me we have to go if I’m to get to the stadium on time. We walk back down Knez Mihailova, towards Terazije to get a taxi to the ground. He points out the grand Republic Square, which is being restored, and talks of the new pride of Belgrade, the National Museum of Serbia, which has just reopened after many years of renovation work. In front of the museum is the renowned statue of Prince Mihailo, who led the uprising against Ottoman rule in the mid-19th century.

For a meat feast, head to Skadarlija, The mini-Montmartre of Belgrade

Miroslav packs me into a cab for the ten-minute drive out to the Rajko Mitić Stadium, named after the club’s first captain following their foundation on 4 March 1945. The stadium is resolutely old school – a single bowl around a running track with a second tier only in the main West Stand. It is dug into a hillside and the stands rise higher on the west side. From my spot at the back of the upper tier you can see the European Champion Clubs’ Cup, perched at the top of an impressive display of silverware in the club’s museum. To the north over the roof of the stand are the green domes of the Temple of St Sava – one of the city’s most famous landmarks.

On the night, Crvena zvezda’s prayers are answered. Throughout the noise is deafening, but it reaches a crescendo on the final whistle. “Auf wiedersehen” (Goodbye to the Swiss Germans of Berne) sing the home fans as a 1-1 draw seals their place in the group stage for the second straight year. The players do a lap of honour then climb into the North Stand to celebrate with the fans. Still in their kits, they travel off to the centre of town. Fans let off fireworks, horns blare, flags fly from the windows of speeding cars. Crvena zvezda and Belgrade are back in the big time.

Your travel guide
The Best of Belgrade

Taste of Serbia

For the full meat feast, head to Skadarlija, Belgrade’s mini-Montmartre, a cobbled street off Republic Square lined with terraced restaurants and bars. Three Hats (Tri Śesira) is lively with Roma musicians playing at your table as you work your way through a plate of chops, kebabs, chicken and sausages. Try a Serbian wine – Prokupac is the local red – and finish off with a shot of plum Rakija, a fiery spirit. 

Night out

The old town is full of bars and cafés, particularly on Republic Square, Obilićev venac and at Kralja Petra I. In the summer, the booming clubs on the moored boats (splav) on the opposite side of the River Sava can be heard in the old town. There is also a run of bars and restaurants on this shore. Cantina de Frida is my pick, with a live band attracting a fun crowd.

Where to stay

Definitely Stari Grad, the old town, where there are plenty of affordable hotels and you are in walking distance of Belgrade’s main sights. I booked into the excellent four-star Royal Inn on Kralja Petra I on hotels.com the day before the game for under €60.

What to see

The easternmost point of the old town is Kalemegdan Fortress perched on a hill above the point where the Danube and Sava rivers meet. Walk through Kalemegdan Park and peer over the ramparts for views of the city and countryside beyond.

Club scene

Crvena zvezda’s rivals Partizan were the first Yugoslav side in the European Cup, even playing in the competition’s first-ever match, a 3-3 draw against Sporting in Lisbon on 5 September 1955. They were also the first to reach the final, losing to Real Madrid in 1966, and the first Serbian side to play in the Champions League group stage in 2003/04. Nothing, though, matches the achievements of Crvena zvezda, who won the European Cup thanks to Darko Pančev’s deciding spot-kick in the shootout against Marseille in 1991. 

Getting about

Public transport is cheap and if you’re leaving from Terazije take the 31 bus, then change to the 78 at Slavija Square or St Sava. It’s easier to hop in a taxi; Pink and Naxis are both good value, or download the CarGo app, which works like Uber. From the airport, the A1 bus goes as far as Slavija Square. If you take a taxi, pick up a voucher at the desk near the exit to fix the price then give it to the driver when you get in. A trip to the old town costs 1,800 Serb dinars (€15).

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