For my first trip to the Serbian capital, Belgrade, I had a lot of preconceived ideas and stereotypes in my mind as to what the city would be like. I was continually surprised throughout my whole trip. Let me just say—Belgrade is SO COOL.

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Belgrade suffered extensive bombing by NATO forces in 1999, and in general Serbia as a whole has a reputation as still being in ruins. This is absolutely not the case! While you can still see some bombed buildings (some buildings are purposely left in ruins as a memorial, I believe), Belgrade has been reconstructed. One of the things that surprised me the most was how many parks and green spaces there were throughout the city, as well as lots of fountains.

The other thing that surprised me about Belgrade was just how lively the city is. Belgrade is HOPPIN’—especially on a Friday night. The city really comes alive as everyone takes to the streets to walk around, shop, relax, eat, see and be seen, and of course (the Serbian national pastime if there ever was one): smoke.

I definitely did not have enough time to explore Belgrade—and I absolutely know it is a city I’ll be returning to. I’d give yourself at least a full weekend to discover everything Belgrade has to offer. If you’re quick on time, here’s a list of sites you shouldn’t miss:

Kalemegdan Fortress is one of Belgrade’s biggest attractions. The fortress has been fought over for centuries, and changed rulers many times. You can wander around the fortress and park (for free!), and enjoy the views: the fortress overlooks the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers.

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Knez Mihailova Street is the main pedestrian street in Belgrade. It is the happening place to be—this is where you come to see and be seen. It’s lined with shops, cafes, restaurants, and some historical buildings.

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Republic Square (right off of Knez Mihailova Street) is where you’ll find the National Museum (unfortunately closed), and the monument of Knez Mihailo.

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St. Sava’s Church is the largest Serbian Orthodox church, and one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world. You absolutely can’t miss a visit to this massive, beautiful building. The interior was under construction during my visit, but you can still feel the vastness regardless.

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Tasmajdan is a large park in Belgrade, with fountains, a swimming pool, and an open-air gym. There is a poignant monument to the children killed in the 1999 bombing of Belgrade in the middle of the park. There is also a memorial for the victims of the 1999 RTS (Radio Television of Serbia) bombing nearby.

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St. Mark’s Church is another Orthodox church, located at the far end of Tasmajdan. It is one of the biggest Orthodox landmarks after St. Sava’s Church.

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The Yugoslav Ministry of Defense building was severely damaged during the 1999 bombing of Belgrade, and remained in ruins for many years. Construction has begun on the building, although I’m not sure what it will turn in to. (There are other buildings ruins that were damaged by bombs in the nearby area.)

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Flowers at the entrance of the Yugoslav Ministry of Defense building // Belgrade, Serbia

Belgrade is also famous for its nightlife—some of the best parties in Europe take place here! After hitting up a Serbian rock club on a Friday night, I can only agree. I have no idea where I went (sorry not sorry), but it’s always a safe bet to ask a local for a recommendation. You won’t regret it!

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I daytripped to Novi Sad during my stay in Belgrade, which is about 1.5 hours away by bus. While the Petrovaradin Fortress was cool, there wasn’t much else to see. The fortress was also a 1.5 hour walk away from the bus station, which I wish I had known in advance. Overall, it was interesting to see more of Serbia, but I wish I had spent more of my limited time exploring Belgrade.

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The Basics: Belgrade is a city of 1.35 million people. Serbia is not a member of the EU, and does not recognize Kosovo as an independent country. The currency is Serbian dinar—even though prices might be shown in Euros, you’ll pay in dinar. I was a little surprised at how many people (especially young people) spoke exceptional English. The official language is Serbian, and many things (especially street signs) are often written in both Cyrillic and Latin alphabets.

Getting Around: Belgrade has a large network of trams and buses. I never took public transportation—I found most everything to be within walking distance in the city center.

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Where I Stayed: I stayed at Hostel Bongo, which is possibly one of the nicest hostels I’ve ever stayed in. I simply can’t say enough good things about it—if you’re going to Belgrade, STAY HERE! Check out my full review here.

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Belgrade really surprised me as a city. It is completely underrated as a European capital, undoubtedly due to the lasting impression of the wars. The conflicts in the Balkans are profound. The scars are deep. The wars in the 1990s are by no mean forgotten, and countries and people of all religions still clash when old tensions rise. I can only recommend going and seeing for yourself—only then can you get a real picture of the Serbia and Belgrade of today.

Have you ever visited Belgrade or Serbia? What did you think?