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With a youthful population (over 40% of its citizens are under the age of 45), Belgrade’s a city of contrasts fusing beauty, austerity and modernism. It’s been conquered over 111 times and destroyed to the ground over 30 times, yet it keeps bouncing back.

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We recently spent a full day in the “White City” (Beo = white; Grad = city) during a Viking River cruise, spending the morning on an organized tour and the afternoon exploring Belgrade’s shopping district, its unique architecture, the Nikola Tesla Museum and a stop inside Belgrade Hilton’s Two Kings Restaurant & Bar.

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Kalemegdan Fortress

A city must-see is the Kalemegdan Fortress, with its stunning hilltop location where the two rivers Sava and Danube meet. The fortress is Belgrade’s most visited attraction and consists of the old citadels and leafy Kalemegdan Park.

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Founded by a Celtic tribe in the 3rd century BC, the fortress was conquered by various rulers over the centuries, including those from Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Turkey, Austro-Hungary, then again by Serbia and for a short while, by Bulgaria.

Kalemegdan also happened to be on the borderline between the Western and Eastern Roman Empire (then a Byzantine state) and Slavs and Avars on the north.

It is even believed that Attila the Hun’s grave is here.

The fortress was damaged during both First and Second World wars. In total, it’s survived nearly two millennia of continuous sieges, battles and conquests. It’s interesting to note the varying styles of the fortress, built and rebuilt throughout history.

Admission is free, so take the time to explore both the fortress and park.

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Church of St. Sava

The Church of St. Sava is the second largest Orthodox church in the world. It’s so large that over 12,000 people can fit inside (standing room only) to attend a 90-minute service.

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St. Sava is still undergoing construction, receiving financial aid from around the world. The crypt downstairs however is a stunning display of columns, chandeliers and colourful artwork, a sharp contrast to the bare interior of the church above.

That enormous dome weighs 4,000 tons and at night gets beautifully illuminated.

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Sample Burek

Burek, the city’s favourite snack, is a flaky pastry sold with a variety of fillings at many bakeries around Belgrade. It’s made from layers of dough, alternating with layers of other fillings in a circular baking pan. Burek may be baked without filling (prazan, meaning empty), with stewed minced meat and onions, or with cheese.

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Nikola Tesla Museum

Of all the museums in the city, the one we’re most drawn to is the small, two-room Nikola Tesla Museum. Featuring a collection of instruments, drawings, photos, even some of Tesla’s clothing and accessories, this is a loving ode to the Serbian inventor.

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[Tesla on Serbia’s 100 dinar note alongside my new read — interviews with Tesla]

Tesla left for the US in 1884 and briefly worked with Thomas Edison, who made mockery of his work, even claiming some of the inventions as his own.

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The museum also contains a gold-plated sphere containing Telsa’s remains, making a visit here a fine way to pay respect to the man who invented alternate current machinery, transmission technology and his famous Tesla coil, still used in radio technology today.

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Tours alternate between Serbian and English and are offered on the hour (best to check in that day as we discovered the schedule changes on the fly and tours fill up quickly).

Other Belgrade museums worth looking into:
– National Museum
– Ethnographic Museum
– Belgrade City Museum

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Two Kings Restaurant & Bar, Hilton Belgrade

If you’ve got an aversion to cigarette smoke, I’d suggest skipping the local cafes and heading to a luxury hotel (we found the recently-opened Hilton Belgrade did the trick) for some lovely afternoon coffee to recharge after lots of time on your feet.

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The Two Kings (the hotel’s signature restaurant) has a cool interior and offers a great selection of coffee and tea (plus craft beer, wine and spirits). It’s located at Kralja Milana 35.

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