The Best Of: Belgrade

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The Independent Travel

Bombarded and bombed countless times, Serbia's capital is a born survivor. Long ignored by foreign tourists, Belgrade is putting its rather grim, recent past behind it.

Bombarded and bombed countless times, Serbia's capital is a born survivor. Long ignored by foreign tourists, Belgrade is putting its rather grim, recent past behind it. Follow the example of young people from Slovenia and several other republics of the former Yugoslavia. When it's a real party they're after, many of them still head for Belgrade.

Best hotel

For a real pampering, try the Aleksandar Palas at Kralja Petra 13-15 (00 381 11 3305 300; www.aleksandarpalas.com). This late 19th-century mansion in the heart of the old town was converted last year into Belgrade's first small, luxury hotel. Doubles start at €220 (£151) per night, with breakfast.

Those with slimmer wallets should head for the turreted and stately Moskva at Balkanska 1 (00 381 11 2686 255) queen of the city's grand old hotels. With its Titanic-era furnishings, the Moskva is the height of retro chic. Doubles start from €102 (£70) a night with breakfast.

Best restaurant

If you have the stomach for peasant food, try Daca, pronounced "datcha", at Patrisa Lumumbe 49 (00 381 11 782 422). There beefy waiters in national dress hurtle around long wooden tables serving Karadjordje schnitzel, (veal stuffed with "kajmak", or curd cheese) local wines, and the national tipple, "rakija", fruit brandy.

For modern European cuisine, many Belgraders favour the cool and elegant surroundings of Zaplet at Kajmakcalanska, 2 (00 381 11 404 142), in Vracar district.

For good pastries, go to Toma, in Trg Republika. Top-quality burgers pop out of the 24-7 hole in the wall called Loki, at Kralja Petra and Jovanove junctions.

Best cultural attraction

The city hosts excellent arts festivals, starting with the Belgrade International Film Festival, in late February ( www.fest.org.yu/2005/sr) and the theatre and musical festivals, known as Bitef and Bemus, which take place in autumn ( www.bemus.co.yu and www.bitef.co.yu). There is an extensive summer arts festival, Belef (00 381 11 3061 631; www.belef.org.yu).

Best shopping

The best gifts are the "rakija" fruit brandies. Top of the league is pear brandy, viljamovka, the best of which have a pear grown inside the bottle. These cost about 1,700 dinars (£16) and can be bought at Belgrade airport.

Best sightseeing

Enjoy the magnificent view from the battlements of the walled fortress at the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers, Kalemegdan, then stroll down the one old street that survived bombs and bulldozers, Skadarlija.

For a longer walk start in the quiet, cobbled streets that encircle the 18th-century old cathedral, known as the Saborna crkva. Then head for Dorcol, the former Jewish district, on the other side of Knez Mihajlova. The main artery in Dorcol, Strahinjica Bana, is lined with trendy bars and cafés. Good tries are Ipanema at No 68 and at 48, Kandahar.

War junkies can snap the ruins of Nato's 1999 air war on Kneza Milosa. In Vracar see the giant new cathedral, a testament to the rise in power and influence of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

A taxi will take you to Tito's tomb in the House of Flowers, known as the Kuca Cveca, at Uzicka 15. Next door is a huge display of gifts presented by various grateful workers' associations - guns and handkerchiefs mostly. Best nightspot

Serbs start partying late. Most spin out the earlier part of the evening in cafes and bars. The frenetic Ben Akiba at Nusiceva, 8 (00 381 11 323 7775) serves cocktails at 200-300 dinars (£2-£3) each. At Udruzenje Svetskih Putnika (Club of World Travellers), at 29 Novembra, 7 (00 381 11 324 2303), an older, quieter crowd relaxes. The clubs don't get going until the early hours. Two popular choices are Andergraund at Pariska, 1a (00 381 11 328 2524), and Plastic, Takovska, 34 (00 381 11 328 5437).

How to get there

Return flights from London on British Airways (0870 850 9 850; www.ba.com) cost around £200. The national carrier Jat (020-7629 2007; www.jatlondon.com), offers return fares from £152.

Get more information from the National Tourism Organisation of Serbia (00 381 11 3342 521; www.serbia-tourism.org).

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