Serbia is a country of rivers, lakes, valleys, and mountains. Each one “tells its own story”. I’ve been exploring Belgrade’s riverside and Savamala District on foot. Early spring weather is warm and beautiful – perfect for walking.
Transportation isn’t Belgrade’s forte. There’s no metro and traffic is heavy. Drivers are impatient and like honking their horns. Packed trolleybuses are slow and knowing the where and when of catching them seems impossibly complicated. Taxi drivers are untrustworthy, and the transportation apps I’ve tried – Moovit, CarGo – didn’t work. Since my apartment is well-located in Central Belgrade, it’s easier and less stressful to walk. The most pressing decision is where to go and what to explore each day.
Belgrade rests along the banks of two major rivers – the Sava and Danube. These rivers “connect the city with the world and provide food, water, and recreation”. In addition to these two big rivers there are “192 smaller rivers and streams, a dozen lakes, 20 islands, 3 large beaches, and countless tiny inlets”!
Savamala is a lively neighborhood along the Belgrade riverside. Young people enjoy popular destinations like party riverboats and trendy nightclubs. The cozy cobbled streets lead to Brankov Bridge, cafés, restaurants, galleries, and unique architecture.
Karađorđeva Street is Savamala’s “main artery”. It follows the Sava River connecting Belgrade Fortress and Port with Sava Square. Spectacular buildings in the area include embassies, Belgrade Cooperative (Geozavod), and the Bristol Hotel.
In the summer people flock to the rivers to escape the heat. For Belgrade residents “the rivers are their seaside”.
Splavs – Floating Restaurants and Nightclubs
On hot summer days Belgrade residents visit splavs – floating cafés, restaurants, and nightclubs. The opening of splavs is the first sign of summer.
Hundreds of floating restaurants, bars, and clubs anchor along the banks of the Sava and Danube Rivers. I haven’t noticed any splavs open yet, but with warmer weather it’s certain to happen soon.
In addition to restaurants and clubs, Belgrade rivers have hundreds of floating cabins in various sizes and designs. Floating cabins are usually built on wooden platforms and buoyed with metal barrels for stability.
“Belgrade splavs are a unique experience that can seem surreal, magical, and incredible.”
Each splav has a distinct personality – usually characterized by its music. There’s truly something for everyone. Finding just the right splav is challenging, but local “splav guides” are available to help. For those “who want to be seen, fashionable splavs blast international pop music; casual splavs play Serbian folk music; and cool hipster splavs are known for spinning underground music”.
The Sava was former Yugoslavia’s “largest national river connecting three capitals – Ljubljana, Zagreb, and Belgrade”. The Sava meets the Danube at Ušće in the center of Belgrade. Great and Little War Islands are directly at the confluence of the two rivers.
Great War Island is an uninhibited nature reserve with wildlife and lush vegetation. If the Danube is “Europe’s great river, the Sava is its equal for Yugoslavia”.
The Drina River is the “most famous body of water in the Balkans”. It forms a border between Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Drina became famous in 1945 with Yugoslav novelist Ivo Andrić’s Nobel-Prize-winning novel The Bridge on the Drina.
After Rio de Janeiro and Istanbul, Belgrade is third among world cities with the most beautiful locations.
The Drina is the Sava’s longest tributary. It’s known for its speed, character, and sharp curves. The Drina “became a modern lexicon”. Someone trying to solve an impossible problem is said to be “attempting to straighten the Drina”. The river has inspired songs and stories and is “close to the hearts of Serbs”.
“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” John Steinbeck
The Uvac River forms the “most majestic natural sights in the Balkans”. Dramatic cliffs and lush forests surround the river’s many bends.
The Ibar River is the most polluted river in Serbia. The river’s lower course “created a number of gorgeous valleys. The Ibar Valley has spas and natural springs. It’s also known as the Valley of the Kings and Valley of Lilacs. Famous Serbian monasteries like Studenica, Žiča, and Gradac were built near the Ibar”.
Urban Belgrade has six bridges on the Sava River and one on the Danube. The Danube has three more bridges in the southern suburbs. Brankov and Ada are Belgrade’s most famous bridges. Many of the smaller bridges don’t have names.
Bridges Sava River
Brankov Bridge is the most famous bridge in Belgrade. It has a walking path and is the main connection between Belgrade City Center and New Belgrade. It’s visible from Ušće and Kalemegdan Parks. One of the oldest bridges in Belgrade, Brankov’s pillars are from the King Alexander Bridge destroyed during WWII.
Old Tram (Sava) Bridge
The Old Tram Bridge is the “only arch bridge in Belgrade”. During WWII it was the “only bridge that remained intact in Belgrade and is one of few bridges the retreating German forces didn’t demolish”.
Gazela Bridge “has the shape and color of a gazelle”. The bridge is part of Route E75, a major European highway passing through City Center connecting Belgrade with two Serbian cities – Niš and Novi Sad.
Old Railway Bridge
Located between Gazela and New Railway Bridges, Old Railway is the oldest bridge in Belgrade. It’s the only bridge from the 19th century.
New Railway Bridge
New Railway Bridge, Belgrade’s second railway bridge, opened in 1979. It was built to help facilitate Belgrade’s growing traffic. It was the first railway bridge in Europe to use the cable-stayed girder system.
Bridges Danube River
The Danube’s Pančevo Bridge is a “combined road and railroad truss bridge“. Built in 1935 it was destroyed during WWII and rebuilt at the end of the war. Pančevo bridge was constructed as a “temporary 10-year solution”, but it’s still being used today.
Great War Island
Great War Island is an “oasis of wildlife and tranquility in the heart of Belgrade”. Located at the confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers it had “strategic importance for the conquest or defense of Belgrade Fortress”.
Great War Island is accessible by boat from Zemun Quay or crossing a pontoon bridge built in summer to connect it to the mainland. Undeveloped but popular Lido Beach is on the northern tip of the island. The island is “covered in forests providing a habitat for small game and over a hundred bird species”. It’s ideal for birdwatchers.
Bela Stena Resort
Ada Ciganlija Island
“From the hand of God to the plans of man” – Ada Ciganlija was once an island in the Sava. Now it’s a man-made peninsula known as “Belgrade’s Seaside”.
Ada Međica Island
The only means of transport to and from Ada Međica is a small boat from Sava Quay in New Belgrade. A walking path and “picturesque floating cabins and stilt houses” run the length of the island. There’s a small café next to the boat platform but no public toilets, water, or electricity on the island.
The south-eastern tip of the island is a good place for swimming, but swimmers need to beware of strong river currents. The island’s code of conduct “requires taking all your garbage with you when you leave”.
Also known as Ada and Ciganlija, Sava Lake is the largest lake in Belgrade. Its pebble beach is popular in summer. Features include a marina, picnic spots, ground and water sports, fishing, rowing clubs, cafés, floating cabins, and paths for walking, biking, and skating. To the delight of fishermen, the small lake is “brimming with carp”.
Lake Palić is North of Subotica on Serbia’s border with Hungary. “The story goes that Lake Palić was made from the tears of a shepherd who lost his golden lamb”. The lake hosts a film festival and is known for its health spas.
The “highest lake in Serbia” Vlasina Lake is another “magnificent body of water.” It’s home to permanent and floating islands.
Bela Crkva Lakes
Bela Crkva Lakes consist of six artificial lakes with the most “unpolluted water in Serbia”. A favorite “cooling off spot” during the hot summer months, Bela Crkva is known as the “Venice of Vojvodina“. The city is surrounded by the Serbian Carpathian Mountains in Banat – between Romania, Serbia, and Hungary.
Ada Ciganlija Lake
Belgrade’s most popular resort, Ada Ciganlija, is a big island on the Sava River. Embankments connecting it to Belgrade’s mainland created an artificial lake with swimming beaches. Bathing season runs from June through September.
An artificial lagoon on the Drina River, Perućac Lake is a fisherman’s paradise. It’s named after a nearby Serbian village. The lake is the result of the dam that created Bajina Bašta Hydroelectric Power Plant.
Belgrade is a beautiful, fascinating city – there’s so much in Serbia. My time exploring was well spent and reaffirms the need to experience a place yourself in order to better understand it!