Go with the flow: the Danube and Saba meet in Belgrade / Adam Batterbee

It's festival season in the Serbian capital, with events celebrating just about everything – from beer to boats, writes Mary Novakovich

Travel essentials

Why go now?

Serbia's buzzing capital goes into festival overdrive in the summer. The Belgrade Summer Festival (belef.rs) runs until 25 July with classical music, jazz, pop and theatre. Before the free Belgrade Beer Fest (belgradebeerfest.com) kicks off in Usce park (1) on 19 August, there's an offshoot from tomorrow until 12 August in Ada Ciganlija with free nightly gigs. It all builds to a climax with the Belgrade Boat Carnival on 29 August, which will see hundreds of boats pile into the river Sava in a riotous parade.

Touch down

Belgrade's airport is 18km west of the city and is served by Air Serbia (020 3769 5856; airserbia.com) from Heathrow and Wizz Air (0911 752 2257; wizzair.com) from Luton.

Two buses go to the centre: A1 to Slavija Square (2) for 300 dinars (£1.80) and Line 72 to Zeleni Venac (3) near the train station (4) for 150 dinars (90p). Both take 30 to 40 minutes and run two to three times an hour. Taxis cost 1,800 dinars (£11) and are booked from the kiosk in the baggage hall.

Get your bearings

Belgrade spreads around the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers, with Stari Grad (old town) on the east side. Looming over both rivers is Kalemegdan Park – home to Belgrade Fortress (5) – the city's historic and green heart. Wide boulevards and squares lead off Kalemegdan, including the busy pedestrianised zone at Knez Mihailova. Overlapping Stari Grad is the affluent district of Dorcol and the cobbled bohemian quarter of Skadarlija.

Across the Sava are the communist-era tower blocks of Novi Beograd, which are broken up by large parks including Usce (1). Follow the Danube and you end up in distinctly Hungarian-looking Zemun.

The biggest sights are within walking distance, but it's easy to use the trams and buses (gsp.co.rs). Singles cost 73 dinars (£0.43), or you can buy a pre-paid "BusPlus" card (busplus.rs) for 250 dinars (£1.50) and top it up. It can be used by several people travelling together. The main office of the Tourist Organisation of Belgrade (6) is at Knez Mihailova 5 (00 381 11 2635 622; tob.rs; serbia.travel). It's open daily, 9am to 7pm, and there are smaller offices at the train station (4) and the airport.

Check in

The oddly named yet stately four-star Allure Caramel by Karisma (7) (00 381 11 334 9572; allurecaramelhotel.com) opened last year in one of Dorcol's most elegant houses at Venizelosova 31. Defying the current trend for minimalism, spacious rooms are unashamedly baroque and antiques abound. Doubles from €205, with breakfast.

One of the newest additions to the riverside Savamala district is Jump Inn (8) at Koce Popovica 2a (00 381 11 40 49 650; jumpinnhotelbelgrade.com). Smart, modern rooms start at €72, with breakfast.

In the villagey area of Vracar, south of Stari Grad, Smokvica B&B (9) at Molerova 33 (00 381 63 60 84 46; smokvica.rs) has eight stylish rooms at immensely good value. Rustic-chic doubles start at €34 with breakfast, and there's a lively restaurant and garden café.

belgrade map

Click here to see a bigger image of the map

Day one

Take a hike

Start in Terazije, which calls itself a square but is really a boulevard. You'll see the imposing Art Nouveau façade of the venerable Hotel Moskva (10) on your left. Head into Knez Mihailova and straight into a party atmosphere amid buskers, street sellers, cafés, shops and a non-stop flow of promenaders. If you turn left at the Vapiano café (11) you can trawl through more restaurants in Obilicev Venac. Turn right and you're in Trg Republike (12), Republic Square, with more cafés and the towering equestrian statue of Prince Mihailo.

Carry straight on towards Kalemegdan and lose yourself in the sprawling park (5) with its gardens, monuments, fortifications, restaurants, museums, churches and zoo. The southern tip of the park leads to cobbled Kosancicev Venac, one of Belgrade's oldest streets. Turn right and go down the steps at Velike Stepenice to the Sava. On your right, you'll see Beton Hala, a long waterfront collection of restaurants and clubs.

Lunch on the run

Take in the views from the riverside terrace at sleek new Savanova (13) at Savsko Setaliste in Savamala (00 381 63 333181) . The Italian-tinged menu has grilled squid in spicy sauce for 860 dinars (£5).

Window shopping

If you want a change from the high-street chains in Knez Mihailova, head to nearby Kralja Petra street to Koncept 45 (14) at No 45 (00 381 11 262 3332; koncept45.rs). It's a fun mix of clothing, accessories, gadgets and jewellery. Mikser House (15) at Karadjordjeva 46 (00 381 11 262 6068; house.mikser.rs) in Savamala showcases clothing and products by Balkan designers in a converted warehouse, which also includes a café and a music venue.

Take a view

Climb the 36-metre, 1896 Gardos tower (16) in Zemun for sweeping views of the city and the Danube (open 11am to 8pm daily, April to October; entry 150 dinars/90p). You'll spot the nature reserve and sandy beach on Great War Island which, in summer, is connected to the quayside via a pontoon bridge.

An aperitif

Savamala, formerly a rundown district on the Sava's eastern bank, has rejuvenating itself over the past few years as new bars and clubs spring up in derelict warehouses. Beer prices average 200 dinars (£1.20) in the artfully ramshackle gardens of Klub Dvoristance (17) (00 381 63 404 405) and KC Grad (18) (00 381 11 328 2571; gradbeograd.eu) on Brace Krsmanovic, and Jazz Basta (19) (00 381 62 871 1475; jazzbasta.com) tucked away on the steps of Male Stepenice near Brankov Bridge.

Dining with the locals

Tezga Bar Restaurant (20) at Strahinjica Bana 82 (00 381 11 334 6598) near Skadarlija has a cosy terrace and a creative Serbian fusion menu featuring succulent pork fillet with chorizo, red peppers and black olives for 750 dinars (£4.45).

The ever expanding Smokvica (21) empire includes a relaxed restaurant on Kralja Petra 83 (00 381 69 446 4056; smokvica.rs). Choose the artistically rustic interior or the classy garden for Eastern-influenced dishes including blackened chicken "Lebanese style" with tabbouleh, hummus and pomegranate (830 dinars/£4.95).

 

 

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Flower power: the bohemian Skadarlija neighbourhood (Adam Batterbee)

Day two

Sunday morning: go to church

The enormous Byzantine dome of Sveti Sava temple (22) at Krusedolska is a Belgrade landmarks and, one of these days, the largest Orthodox church in the Balkans might even be finished. Building started nearly 80 years ago, and the cavernous interior is still forbiddingly bare but an impressive sight nonetheless. Open daily, 8am to 9pm.

Out to brunch

Supermarket (23) at Visnjiceva 10 in Dorcol (00 381 11 291 0942; supermarket.rs) was Belgrade's first concept store when it opened in 2008, and puts on an American-style breakfast on weekends until 1pm. Try the bandito burrito with scrambled eggs and cream cheese in a warm tortilla for 620 dinars (£3.70). Afterwards you can check out the cutting-edge fashions and furniture.

A walk in the park

Ada Ciganlija (24) (00 381 11 7857 220; adaciganlija.rs), is land-locked Serbia's sole Blue Flag beach and turns into a giant playground when temperatures rise. Lined with 7km of pebbly beaches and dozens of cafés, this quasi-island in the Sava has a cooling interior of forests, an adventure park and even a snowboard simulator. Watersports include kayaking, pedalos and an obstacle course.

Take a ride

The wide bike paths along the Sava and Danube are a joy to explore, as are the routes covering Ada Ciganlija. Bicikl Centar (25) on Ada Ciganlija has daily bike rental for 500 dinars (£3) a day.

Cultural afternoon

You get an enthralling crash course in Serbian contemporary art at Zepter Museum (26) a gem of a gallery on Knez Mihailova (00 381 11 328 3339; zeptermuseum.rs; closed Monday; entry 200 dinars/ £1.20).

It's not just science buffs who enjoy the Nikola Tesla Museum (27) at Krunska 51 (00 381 11 24 33 886; tesla-museum.org; Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 6pm; entry 500 dinars/£3). The story of the visionary Serbian engineer is told through entertaining hourly tours (twice daily in English) and models of his main inventions.

Icing on the cake

Belgrade's reputation as a nightlife magnet is boosted by the several hundred floating bars, restaurants and nightclubs lining the Danube and Sava rivers. Known as splavovi, they come in all shapes and sizes – some intimate, others mammoth nightclubs that pound all night. If you want a chilled-out sundowner, try Splav Play (28) (splavplay.net) on the Usce side of the Sava, where cocktails cost 490 dinars (£2.90).

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