Serbia is a land of rivers, lakes, valleys, and mountains. Each one “tells its own story”. I’ve been exploring Belgrade’s interesting riverside and Savamala District on foot. Spring weather is warm and beautiful – perfect for walking.
Transportation isn’t Belgrade’s forte. Traffic is heavy and drivers impatient. There’s no underground, bus routes seem slow and complicated, taxi drivers are not trustworthy, and local transportation apps I’ve tried – Moovit, CarGo – don’t work very well. My apartment is well-located, so it’s easier and less stressful to walk.
Belgrade rests along the banks of two major rivers – the Sava and Danube. They “connect the city with the world and provide food, fresh water, and recreation”. In addition to the big rivers there are “192 smaller rivers and streams, a dozen lakes, 20 islands, three large beaches, and countless tiny inlets”!
Savamala is a “happening” place for young people. Party riverboats and trendy clubs are popular destinations. The cobbled streets are home to art galleries, embassies, unique architecture, and Brankov Bridge.
Karađorđeva Street is Savamala’s “main artery”. It follows the Sava connecting Belgrade Fortress and the Port with Sava Square. The Belgrade Cooperative and Bristol Hotel are two of many spectacular buildings in the area.
There are interesting restaurants in Beton Hala (concrete Hall) on Karađorđeva. I’ve walked the area – usually teeming with young people – but personally enjoy quieter more isolated backstreet restaurants.
For Belgrade residents “the rivers are their seaside”. In the summer they come to the rivers to escape the heat.
Splavs – Floating Restaurants, Nightclubs, and Cabins
On hot summer days Belgrade residents visit splavs – floating restaurants and nightclubs. The opening of splavs is the first sign of summer.
Hundreds of floating restaurants, bars, clubs, and cabins anchor along the river bank. I haven’t noticed any splavs open yet but with warmer weather it may happen soon.
In addition to restaurants and clubs, Belgrade rivers have hundreds of floating cabins of various size and design. They’re usually built on wooden platforms buoyed by metal barrels for stability.
“Belgrade’s splavs are a unique experience that, especially to foreigners, could seem surreal, magical, and incredible.”
Each splav has a distinct personality – usually characterized by its music. There’s something for everyone. Finding the right splav could be a challenge but local guides are available to provide expert help and advice. Fashionable splavs – for young people who want to be seen – blast international pop music, casual splavs play Serbian folk music, and cool hipster splavs play underground music.
The Danube is Europe’s second largest river, after Russia’s Volga. The Danube flows through 10 Central European countries and “connects Belgrade with the North and Black Seas via a series of canals and waterways”.
The Sava was the largest “national river in Yugoslavia, connecting three capitals – Ljubljana, Zagreb, and Belgrade”. The Sava and Danube meet in the center of Belgrade. The meeting point – Ušće – forms two islands – Great and Little War Islands.
Great Island is an uninhibited nature reserve with wildlife and lush green vegetation. If the “Danube is Europe’s great river, Sava was its equal when it came to 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.
Belgrade is third among world cities with the most beautiful location – after Rio de Janeiro and Istanbul.
The Drina is the Sava’s longest tributary. It’s known for speed, character, and sharp curves. The river “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”.
The Uvac River forms some of the “most majestic natural sights in the Balkans”. The river has bends surrounded by dramatic cliffs and lush forests.
The Ibar River is the most polluted river in Serbia. However, the lower course of the river “created a number of gorgeous valleys, where famous Serbian monasteries like Studenica, Žiča and Gradac were built over the centuries”. The Ibar Valley has several spas and natural springs. It’s also called the Valley of the Kings and Lilacs.
Bridges on the Sava River
Urban Belgrade has six bridges on the Sava River and one on the Danube. The Danube has three more bridges in Belgrade’s southern suburbs. Many of the smaller bridges over streams don’t have names. Brankov and Ada are the most famous.
Ada Bridge is the newest and tallest bridge in Belgrade. It’s also “the longest-single pylon bridge span in the world”. It opened at midnight on New Year’s Eve 2012.
Brankov Bridge is the most famous bridge in Belgrade. It’s the main connection between city center and New Belgrade and is visible from Kalemegdan and Ušće Parks. It has a walking path. One of the oldest bridges in Belgrade, its pillars are from the King Aleksandar Bridge destroyed in WWII.
Old Tram (Sava) Bridge
The Old Tram (Sava) Bridge is the “only arch bridge in Belgrade”. During World War II it was the only bridge that remained intact in Belgrade and one of few bridges the retreating German forces didn’t demolish”.
Recently reconstructed, Gazela Bridge “has the shape and color of a gazelle”. The bridge is part of Route E75, the major highway passing through city center connecting Belgrade with Niš to the south and Novi Sad to the north.
Old Railway Bridge
Located between Gazela and New Railway, Old Railway Bridge is the oldest standing bridge in Belgrade. It’s also the only one from the 19th century.
New Railway Bridge
New Railway Bridge, Belgrade’s second railway bridge, opened in 1979.
Danube River Bridges
The Danube’s Pančevački (Pančevo) Bridge is a “combined road and railroad truss bridge”. Built in 1935 it was destroyed during World War II and rebuilt after the end of the war. Although Pančevo bridge was constructed as a temporary 10-year solution, it’s still being used.
Great War Island
Great War Island is an uninhabited island and “oasis of wildlife and tranquility in the heart of Belgrade”. Located at the confluence of the Sava and Danube it has “strategic importance for either conquest or defense of the Belgrade Fortress”.
Great War Island is accessible by boat from Zemun Quay or by crossing a pontoon bridge connecting it to the mainland in summertime. Undeveloped but popular Lido Beach is on the northern tip of the island. The island is “covered in forests providing a habitat for a variety of small game and over a hundred bird species, many endangered”. It’s an ideal location for birdwatchers.
Ada Ciganlija Island
“From the hand of God to the plans of man” – Ada Ciganlija was once an island in the Sava River. Now it’s a man-made peninsula known as ‘Belgrade’s Seaside’.
Ada Međica Island
Ada Međica is a small island in the Sava, covered with trees. It’s unspoiled by modern tourism. and the Ada Međica Fan Club makes sure it stays that way.
The only means of transport to and from Ada Međica is a small local boat from Sava Quay in New Belgrade. There’s a concrete path running the length of the island which is surrounded by “picturesque and private floating cabins and stilt houses”. There’s a small café next to the boat platform but no electricity, water, or public toilets on the island.
The south-eastern tip of the island is a good place for swimming but the Sava’s current is strong. The island’s code of conduct “requires that you take all your garbage with you when you leave”.
Sava Lake is the largest lake in Belgrade. Also known as Lake Ada Ciganlija. The lake is Belgrade’s “summer resort” with picnic spots, ground and water sports, and other attractions. The beaches are pebble. There’s are walking, biking, and skating paths, and cafes. A small fishing lake brimming with carp, marina, rowing clubs, and floating cabins make the lake a popular spot.
Vlasina Lake is another “magnificent body of water in Serbia”. The “highest lake in Serbia, it’s home to two permanent islands and several floating islands.
Bela Crkva Lakes
Bela Crkva Lakes contains six artificial lakes considered the “most unpolluted water in Serbia”. It’s a favorite cooling off spot during the hot summer months.
Ada Ciganlija Lake
Ada Ciganlija is a big island on the Sava. It’s Belgrade’s most popular resort. Embankments connect it to the Belgrade’s mainland, creating an artificial lake with beaches. Bathing season lasts from June through September.
Perućac Lake is a fisherman’s paradise. An artificial lagoon on the Drina River it’s named after a nearby Serbian village. The lake’s the result of a dam that created the Bajina Bašta Hydroelectric Power Plant.
Belgrade is truly a fascinating city – there’s so much here. The time in Belgrade was well spent. It reaffirms the need to visit a place yourself to understand it!