Cheap flights to Belgrade made us tourists

view of belgrade, serbia, from the zemun fort overlook

If you follow news about Serbia, you know about ongoing conflict within the Balkan nation over Kosovo, government leadership, public surveillance, and the first school shootings the country recently experienced. This post covers none of that. Instead, this is about how cheap flights to Belgrade turned us into casual tourists — and how we Americans discovered Belgrade is worth your travel time and money.

Cheap flights to Belgrade made us tourists

Our travel lifestyle is all about budget slow travel. And to be honest, Serbia wasn’t exactly high on our list because of all the stuff mentioned above. However, thanks to cheap flights to Belgrade, we ended up in Serbia — and we’re glad about it! Our brief 10-day stay made us feel more like tourists on vacation than budget slow travelers.

I can report Belgrade is a vibrant city in Eastern Europe with a lot to offer tourists and budget slow travelers. In fact, I could stay in Belgrade well beyond a mere 10 days.

Why are flights to Belgrade so cheap?

Frequent readers will know how spouse Theo snagged amazingly low airfare on Wizz Air from Abu Dhabi to Belgrade. (If you missed his method to find the best airfare in the world, it’s right here.)

Cheap flights to Belgrade from the USA

  • one-way flight from New York’s JFK to Belgrade with a short stop in Oslo on Norwegian Air: $311
  • round-trip direct flights from JFK to Belgrade on Air Serbia: $900

(Examples priced in late June 2023 for early September travel.)

Our Wizz Air flight from Abu Dhabi was nearly full of Serbians headed home from vacation in the United Arab Emirates. That might partly be why our tickets cost only $162 total – for two people!

Wizz Air is a low-cost carrier based in Hungary.

wizz air offers cheap flights to belgrade from the uae - this was our plane

Once we were in Belgrade, we discovered the UAE and Serbia are working together on projects. The UAE is a big investor in the city’s waterfront development with several skyscrapers where people live, work, and play on the Sava River.

Belgrade in summertime for tourists

Belgrade is an extremely walkable city. We arrived in late June and the late springtime blooms in parks smelled wonderful. The parks were filled with Serbian families and their pets.

The city’s many parks are just one budget-friendly activity to enjoy in Serbia’s capital.

Notable Attractions

Republic Square
Fortress & Kalemegdan Park
Belgrade Waterfront (BW)
Skadarlija – the Bohemian quarter
National Museum of Serbia
Nikola Tesla Museum
St. Mark Orthodox Church
Tasmajdan Park
Temple of Sain Sava
Communist architecture (New Belgrade)
Floating restaurants on Sava River
Zemun Fort, overlook, & Danube River promenade

We stayed in Stari Grad (Old Town) — a historic area with modern flair. Our Airbnb rental was about $32 a night a short walk to Tasmajdan Park and St. Mark Orthodox Church. It was a modern update to a sturdy building that survived WWII bombings.

Classic architecture is found in virtually every neighborhood of Stari Grad, juxtaposed with boxy-old Yugoslavia designs. You might even see old “Jugoslavia” (sic) signs if you look up at tall buildings.

Museums are inexpensive and world class. Standouts: National History Museum and Nikola Tesla Museum.

Historic churches (and one mosque) give a little insight to the religious mindset of some Serbians.

Cafes are everywhere in every neighborhood. Restaurants offer outdoor dining and live music.

montage of shopping, churches, parks, bohemian quarter -- all visited thanks to cheap airfare to belgrade

Strangely, there are many betting parlors with slot machines in just about every neighborhood.

For me, shopping is fantastic boon for travel staples — personal things I couldn’t get during nearly five years in Asia, including larger-sized underwear and wider sneakers. For tourists with more money to spend, name brands are likely cheaper in Belgrade than other European shopping districts.

Price examples

Here are five examples of what things cost at Belgrade restaurants, cafes, and fast food joints:

  1. Dinner for two in Skadarlija – the hip Bohemian quarter: $30 for cevapi (grilled sausage) & beer, Greek salad and soda
  2. Coffee/tea/soda at a typical cafe: $2.50 – $3
  3. Beer at a typical cafe: average $2.75 (regular size); average $3.75 (larger size)
  4. Beer at grocery/convenience stores: less than $1 for a large can
  5. Slice of Serbian-style pizza with ‘cream salad’ topping: $1.60 (vegetarian); $2.50 (meat)
VAT is included in all prices.

Restaurant tip:

The amount underneath your total bill looks like a suggested service tip.
But it’s only the VAT breakdown from the total bill.
Tips of 10% are greatly appreciated.
Up to 20% for excellent service.

VAT included on restaurant bill in Belgrade, Serbia, looks like a tip suggestion.

Here are a quick five examples of consumer goods:

  1. Fila sneakers at Deichmann (Eurpoe’s largest footwear retailers, headquartered in Germany): less than $60
  2. Pack of 20 small feminine napkins: $2
  3. Small bunch of flowers: $3
  4. Second-hand clothing: $4 – $10 at shops on Dzordza Vasingtona Street
  5. Women’s hair cut at an average salon: $20

Public transportation

In May 2023, Belgrade changed the way people pay for rides on buses, trams, and bus trams. Instead of tickets, riders need a SIM card to send SMS messages to a centralized system. You keep a balance on your SIM account, and your messages deduct fares for rides in different zones.

On our first bus ride from the airport into the city, we couldn’t figure out how to pay for tickets. There were no kiosks, no conductors, and the driver refused our money. “Don’t worry. Sit down,” the driver said.

When we arrived in June 2023, the Belgrade government was still working out the kinks to this new system. Obviously, tourists getting off a plane won’t have a Serbian SIM card.

We decided not to buy SIM cards because, as mentioned, Belgrade is an extremely walkable city for tourists. It is easy to explore two or three (or more) sections of the city each day, as long as you are up for walking. We did ride a few times, and offered drivers money for our fares. Our offers were refused each time.

If you do want to buy the SIM card for public transportation, you might find it difficult to read the instructions at the ‘Moj Kiosk’ stands — it’s all in Serbian and we couldn’t find explanations in English anywhere. Those street kiosks sell SIM cards and accept prepayment for fares, but vendors do not speak English.

belgrade bus, republic square, guruwalk tour, skyline developed by UAE firms, serbian-style pizza

Belgrade walking tour review

To get acquainted with Belgrade, we took a ‘free’ walking tour at the start of our stay. It’s the second time we used GuruWalk – the first time was in Bangkok in 2022 when we restarted travel after COVID.

There is no set cost for a GuruWalk tour. You pay the guide a fair market rate at the end of the tour. In this case, we paid $20 total, and can only hope the other 18 people anted up, too.

Our GuruWalk with guide Nikola was great. In 2.5 hours we got to see a lot and learn a lot about Belgrade — and Serbian culture.

I asked a follow-up question to something he said about Kosovo when we visited the city’s only mosque. He said Kosovo was ‘occupied’ and I asked him to expound. ‘Yes, Kosovo is occupied by NATO. That’s all I will say.’

The next question was from a Pakistani man about food, which entirely eased the tension.

No politics

That exchange was a reminder that Serbia is filled with conflicting ideologies today, as it has been for centuries — since Roman invaders, to Turkish invaders, through the most recent wars in our lifetimes, including the NATO bombing of Belgrade.

My homeland government recognizes Kosovo as an independent country. As a culture-learning traveler, I can understand why some Serbians view Kosovo as one of their own states. But this post isn’t about politics. It’s about how cheap flights to Belgrade made us tourists, and how that low cost journey put me in a place to learn something new.

I’ve learned Belgrade is great — if you don’t talk politics.

If you want to experience a slice of European culture, and if you have any desire at all to see Serbia’s capital city, I’d say go! Especially since different airlines are still offering cheap flights to Belgrade.

nikola tesla museum, new belgrade, communist blocks, st mark orthodox church, floating restaurant on sava river

Thanks for reading, “Cheap flights to Belgrade made us tourists.”

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