Is it safe to travel in Belgrade, Serbia? Yes & you must! Frida Kahlo theme restaurant, Selection Apartments.
Do you remember the 1998-9 Kosovo War? The breakup of Yugoslavia? Most of you probably have only vague notions of this Eastern European region, which was a conflict zone not long ago.
I confess I didn’t know much about Belgrade, Serbia until I went with my filmmakers, as part of our Eurail.com train journey. Boy, were my eyes opened. The locals are lovely, and there is an emerging food, nightlife and fashion scene that will make “Beograd” a hip destination in the years to come.
Read on for ice cream and unibrows…
First, don’t let the graffiti and crumbling walls fool you. Belgrade is currently as safe as any Western European city like Berlin or Milan. There aren’t any special precautions for tourists, other than the common-sense ones: beware of pickpockets, don’t do stupid things alone at night, you get the idea.
(Ironic side-note: my film team and I talked about where we’ve felt most unsafe. The unanimous consensus was USA. Personally, I’ve been most endangered in parts of Chicago, St Louis, and outside LA.)
We were hosted by the sweetest family-run hotel I’ve ever stayed in: Selection Apartments. They have three rooms, each with private bathrooms, and the family puts their hearts into taking care of you.
Ivan stayed up past midnight in order to pick us up from the train station. The next morning, he and his wife Desa brought us strong coffee, yogurt, burek (a flaky filo pastry filled with cheese) and apricot cookies. Ivan takes all his guests on a little walking tour where he points out his favorite Belgrade cafes and sights. We were grateful to have their help in making reservations and changing money to Serbian dinars.
I’ve stayed in luxury hotels around the world. But there’s nothing I appreciate more than genuinely kind hosts, a comfortable and clean room (we had our own patio), air conditioning, and speedy WiFi. Selection Apartments has all that, plus the warm attention of this local family. I can’t recommend my new friends enough, and hope you’ll get a chance to experience their hospitality.
In every city, we like to visit historical attractions in addition to “cool-hunting” for up-and-coming trends. Most Serbians are Orthodox Christians, and Belgrade is home to the world’s largest Eastern Orthodox church.
Inside, there were two shops selling rosaries and other religious items. Eastern iconography is markedly different; we saw paintings of Mary with a cut on her chin, and what appears to be a disembodied hand in front of her.
Another side-note: in Belgrade, many of the locals speak English and very helpful. However, Serbian words can be in Cyrillic, so you may have trouble deciphering street signs.
I loved wandering the small city and seeing the architecture. Main attractions include the “Green Market” and Belgrade Fortress. There were a surprising number of upscale fashion and jewelry shops in the downtown shopping district.
You know you aren’t in a tourist area when there are no other Asians around. I encourage you to travel to places that you know little about, as you won’t have expectations and can simply learn and discover.
A prime example: theme cafes (like the ones I wrote about in my book) aren’t limited to Asia. There’s a Frida Kahlo theme restaurant in Belgrade! It’s called Cantina de Frida (Karađorđeva 2-4, Beograd).
In a meat-and-potatoes region, it was nice to have seafood ceviche and other Mexican tapas.
I’m wearing wood sunglasses, sent to me by the Britain-based Moat House Eyewear.
The restaurant is a tribute to the famous Mexican painter, known for her bold artistic style and self-portraits.
One wall recreates the home of Frida and her husband Diego Rivera. Her face is omnipresent, even in the restrooms.
Behind the bar, there was a wall of Frida Kahlo tequila bottles. (Photography in this post by Melissa Rundle, Eric Bergemann and me.)
At the moment, there are only a few modern restaurants like this one on the waterfront. But many are under construction, and we can sense that in a few years, young travelers will be flocking here to hang out by the harbor.
Whenever I’m in Europe, I fill up on baked goods and dairy. Ivan recommended his favorite ice cream shop, Moritz Eis (Vuka Karadžića 9). I ordered a scoop of dark chocolate Tabasco, and a scoop of orange ginger.
I encourage people to be flexible about what they eat when they’re traveling, in order to experience more of the culture. Try new foods while you have the opportunity! I was a fan of this bitter lemon drink, and the many filo pastries including one filled with poppy seed paste.
Belgrade’s a fascinating place. The ruins remain, but there’s a feeling of young creativity and urban development.
Can you count all five stray cats?
I leave you with this “come hither” picture of Nikola Tesla on the Dinar currency. He’s a Serbian-born inventor, known for his breakthroughs in electricity and forward-thinking ideas about futurism.
Did you know much about Belgrade, Serbia before reading this post? Isn’t the street art phenomenal?
In the next post, I’ll take you on a tour of the local nightlife and fashion — and you’ll see what I mean when I say this place is waiting to explode!
PS – THANK YOU to everyone for your huge response to this post — I hope it encourages more travelers to discover the beauty of Serbia. Please keep in touch by adding my social networks below, as there is much more to come. хвала!