There is no denying that Belgrade is a city best enjoyed from April to October. Apart from the cheer over the extended holiday season (lasting roughly from Gregorian Christmas on 25th December to Julian New Year on 14th January), between November and March, the city is quieter, people are more irritable, while grey dilapidated facades and rusty infrastructure show themselves more against the gloomy winter skies and naked trees. Then of course, there is the wind and the biting cold, which make you want to stay holed up in your room, day-dreaming about warmer days.
Nevertheless, here is a list of things that will hopefully make your winter less miserable and maybe even enjoyable.
- Unwind with a mulled rakija at an old school kafana
If you thought normal rakija is a fast way of getting hammered, the mulled version is even more dangerous due to its sweetness and alcoholic fumes. Nevertheless, a shot or two will make you nicely warm, and ready to forget the miserable weather outside. It is best made (and enjoyed) and good old honest kafanas like Mornar or Kalenić.
- Dance to traditional brass music in Knez Mihailova
On 31st December Knez Mihailova and Trg Republike fill up with brass orchestras looking to make a quick buck from tourists and locals preparing for the New Year’s Eve. Although things don’t get anywhere near as crazy as Guča, it is a great way to lose your inhibitions, jump around a little or even join a kolo (a traditional circle dance), to get you in the mood for the New Year’s Eve party.
- Hike around Avala
Belgrade’s closest mountain, Avala is a great place to go for a bracing hike. Beside walking off a hangover and tonnes of food you consumed, you can visit Meštrović’s evocative tomb of the Unknown Soldier, admire snow-covered hills of Šumadija from the top of the TV tower, or enjoy a tea in quaint but worn-down Hotel Avala.
- Enjoy the badnjak pyre on Orthodox Christmas Eve in the Belgrade Fortress
Although St Sava Temple is the most popular place for badnjak burning ceremony on Orthodox Christmas Eve (6th January), I recommend going to the one front of Ružica Church, just below the Belgrade Fortress. The atmosphere is much more pleasant and the setting is more majestic: there are the beautifully-lit bone-white fortifications and the view over the confluence of the Danube and the Sava. For extra cosiness, the church normally prepares some mulled wine as well that is passed around between parishioners huddled around the badnjak pyre.
- Spend Serbian New Year’s Eve enjoying some folk music
“Serbian” (or more correctly Julian) New Year’s Eve falls on 13 January, and although not a national holiday, it is now widely celebrated. During the socialist times, celebrating was a bit of a taboo and celebrations were organised in secret, so now Belgraders are catching up on all those years of missed occasions to party. Given the atmosphere is more relaxed and going out is cheaper compared to the official (Gregorian) New Year’s Eve, best option is to find a kafana with live traditional music and have fun. Although dancing on tables is rarely to be seen these days, cheery singing of traditional songs never gets old or boring and is a sight to be seen. The most traditional (and priciest) places to book a table in would be Dva Jelena, Tri Šešira and Ima Dana in Skadarlija, but there are many cheaper, and probably livelier neighbourhood joints (LM, Gradimir, Stara Kapetanija, Staro Burence).
- Skate around Tašmajdan Stadium
The epicentre of teenage winter romances in 1970s and 80s, Tašmajdan stadium ice rink is open again. There are usual things to expect (cheesy music, show-offs, panicked beginners) as well as the stunning view towards St Mark’s and the walls of the old stone quarry surrounding the stadium.
- Shudder watching burly swimmers on Bogojavljenje
Beloved by brawny Serbian men, as a way to show off their sturdiness (and bellies) the traditional swim in icy waters to retreat the holy cross takes place on Bogojavljenje (Epiphany) on 19th January. You can watch it (and shudder) in three places in Belgrade: at Ada Ciganlija, in front of Gale Muškatirović Sports Centre and in Zemun. The Zemun option is probably the best as before and after the event you can have a drink in one of the many cafes on the Danube banks and wander up Gardoš to enjoy the magical view over Zemun’s many church towers.
- Glam it up at FEST
The high point of Belgrade’s social/cultural season, opening of the Belgrade Film Festival (FEST) at Sava Centar is an event which draws the crowds more to watch each other than to pay attention to whichever film is shown for the occasion. FEST 2018 will open on 23rd February 2018, however those more interested in cinema, than Belgrade’s glitterati, will have plenty of interesting films to choose from as the festival runs until 4th March. The programme is usually out by late January.
- Unwind at the brutalist Gale Muškatirović Sports Centre
Built for the purposes of World Swimming Championship in 1973, Gale Muškatirović Sports Centre (also known under its old name – 25 Maj [25th May]), does not only feature a huge pool and decent spa facilities, it is also an architectural marvel. Its double-sloped roof designed by Ivan Antić, looks like a socialist predecessor of Zaha Hadid’s Aquatics Centre in London, and its windows offer wonderful views over the Belgrade Fortress. Even if you are not a architecture geek, you will enjoy the pool and the two largish saunas, in which you can relax and pray for the quick arrival of spring.
10. Find smoke-free cafés in central Belgrade
If you are tired of smelling like an ashtray after a a quick coffee in town there is hope, as more smoke-free places are opening in the city. Here is a list of places where you can enjoy the fresh indoor air until the outdoor gardens open in March. Delfi, Apropo and Bookastore also have some fantastic books to browse around while you enjoy your drink
Completely smoke free:
Good and large non-smoking areas: