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Home » Belgrade’s Cultural Canvas: An Insider’s Tour of the City

Belgrade’s Cultural Canvas: An Insider’s Tour of the City

Jazz clubs and performances in English, a dance theater and cafes with traditional music, rooftop movie screenings, and dozens of art galleries: all in a container on the port territory, under a bridge, or in an apartment. Everything to get to know Serbian culture and Belgrade even better.

Music

To experience the national flavor, head to the center, to the Skadarlija district, where ensembles of tamburica players perform folk music in restaurants. An atmospheric place popular with both tourists and locals is Zadruga at Skadarska 9, where live music is played on Fridays and Saturdays.

For Belgrade residents, the main musical entertainment is jazz. There are about a dozen jazz clubs in the city, with concerts and jam sessions typically held from Thursday to Saturday. You can enjoy jazz in a cozy courtyard at Jazz Bašta, with a city view at Sinnerman, and in beautiful interiors at Monk’s Bar. A major jazz festival takes place in Belgrade at the end of October. The repertoire is not limited to jazz. Blues are played at Bluz i Pivo or Vox, while funk and more can be heard at Strogi Centar, and a wide variety of music is played at Soul Society.

At the end of October, a major jazz festival takes place in Belgrade. Photo: Beogradski Džez Festival
At the end of October, a major jazz festival takes place in Belgrade. Photo: Beogradski Džez Festival

Every month in Belgrade, there are about 20 free classical music concerts (mostly chamber music) at various venues, including cultural centers and temples. The program for each month is published at the beginning of the month by the Dan u Beogradu portal. The main venue for classical music is the Kolarac Concert Hall. In addition to free concerts, it’s also where the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra performs. Each season, the Philharmonic’s program is thematically compiled, and for the 2023/24 season, the Philharmonic is celebrating its centenary with themes like ‘A Century of Courage,’ ‘A Century of Exploration,’ and ‘A Century of Virtuosos.

The main venue for classical music is the Kolarac Concert Hall. In addition to free concerts, this is also where performances by the Belgrade Philharmonic are held. Photo: Belgrade Philharmonic
The main venue for classical music is the Kolarac Concert Hall. In addition to free concerts, this is also where performances by the Belgrade Philharmonic are held. Photo: Belgrade Philharmonic

Theatre

The National Theatre is the most famous in Belgrade. In addition to drama, they also stage opera and ballet. The opera ‘Melancholic Dreams of Count Sava Vladislavich’ is connected with the history of Russia, the ballet ‘Ko to tamo peva’ is based on the legendary 1980 Yugoslav movie ‘Who’s Singing Over There’, and the program also includes ‘The Dictionary of the Khazars’ based on the novel by Milorad Pavić. Additionally, the National Theatre has open days where visitors can not only explore the interior of the auditorium but also go backstage to see the theatre workshops and the stage machinery.

The ballet 'Ko to tamo peva' is based on the themes of the legendary 1980 Yugoslav film 'Who's Singing Over There'. Photo: Belgrade National Theatre
The ballet ‘Ko to tamo peva’ is based on the themes of the legendary 1980 Yugoslav film ‘Who’s Singing Over There’. Photo: Belgrade National Theatre

In the Yugoslav Drama Theatre, performances with English subtitles are held once a month. The Belgrade Drama Theatre, on the other hand, places a strong focus on stage movement and visual elements, so it’s possible to enjoy a vivid experience even without understanding the language. Another option is the dance performances at the Bitef Theatre, which are worth visiting not only for the performance but also for the venue itself – originally built as a church, it still retains that external appearance.

It's worth visiting the Bitef Theatre at least for the venue itself – the building was originally constructed as a church, and it still looks like one from the outside. Photo: Impi / Wikimedia.org
It’s worth visiting the Bitef Theatre at least for the venue itself – the building was originally constructed as a church, and it still looks like one from the outside. Photo: Impi / Wikimedia.org

Interesting productions can be found in the repertoire of independent theaters such as Reflektor, KPGT (this theater is located in a former sugar factory building), Heartefact (which stages performances in an apartment), and Dah Teatar. One of Dah Theatre’s performances takes place in a park in the city center. So, sometimes in Belgrade, you don’t even have to go to a theater – the theater might find you in the most unexpected places.

One of the Dah Theatre's plays takes place in a park in the city center. Photo: Dah Teatar
One of the Dah Theatre’s plays takes place in a park in the city center. Photo: Dah Teatar

The main theatrical event in the city is the international Bitef festival. It takes place in the fall, and besides local theater productions, during the festival, you can also see performances from theaters from different countries (in the original language with Serbian subtitles). In spring, the BDF dance festival is held.

Visual Arts

The most extensive collection in Belgrade is at the National Museum, which includes art from antiquity to the present, featuring a good retrospective collection of Serbian paintings from the 19th to the 20th century. Yugoslav art from the second half of the 20th century can be appreciated at the Zepter Museum.

The Museum of Contemporary Art does not have a permanent exhibition; instead, it regularly hosts exhibitions. It’s worth visiting even for the exhibition space itself, spanning several floors, where exhibits are revealed to visitors from different levels and perspectives, and the exhibition is complemented by views of the surroundings. The Museum of Contemporary Art also has two exhibition branches.

The Museum of Contemporary Art is worth visiting if only for its exhibition space, which spans several floors, where the exhibits are revealed to visitors from different levels and perspectives, and the exhibition seems to be complemented by views of the surroundings. Photo: Belgrade Museum of Contemporary Art
The Museum of Contemporary Art is worth visiting if only for its exhibition space, which spans several floors, where the exhibits are revealed to visitors from different levels and perspectives, and the exhibition seems to be complemented by views of the surroundings. Photo: Belgrade Museum of Contemporary Art

There are about fifty art galleries in Belgrade. Most of them specialize in contemporary and current art. Among them, galleries in unusual places stand out – Hestia in an apartment, Eugster in containers in the port area, N.EON under a bridge, or Ulična Galerija right on the street. One of the first independent galleries, Remont, also regularly organizes walks through the city’s key exhibitions with curators and artists.

There are about fifty art galleries in Belgrade. The Eugster Gallery is located in containers in the port area. Photo: Eugster
There are about fifty art galleries in Belgrade. The Eugster Gallery is located in containers in the port area. Photo: Eugster

The best way to spend a weekend immersed in art is to visit the suburb of Novi Banovci in Belgrade. Here, you’ll find the Matura Museum – a private avant-garde museum. It’s about an hour’s drive, and the museum is open only on weekends from May to October. Visitors need to arrange their visit by calling (+381 64 47 29 629), but it’s worth it. Firstly, there’s a unique collection that features significant avant-garde movements, including Yugoslav Zenitism and Dadaism. Secondly, it’s not a typical dusty museum space, but rather a house where art objects live. Thirdly, it’s a picturesque place, surrounded by a garden, near the river.

The Matura Museum is not a classic, dusty museum space, but rather a house where art objects live. Photo: Matura Museum
The Matura Museum is not a classic, dusty museum space, but rather a house where art objects live. Photo: Matura Museum

Cinema

The ‘Zvezda’ cinema was a cult favorite in socialist Yugoslavia. However, in 2007, the building was sold, the cinema closed, and it gradually fell into disrepair – until in 2014, a group of young enthusiasts literally took over the cinema. They organized an art campaign to raise funds and restored its operation. A documentary film, ‘Occupied Cinema’, was even made about this struggle. Now, it’s the main independent cinema venue, showing cult and art house films. When the weather permits, film screenings are held on the building’s rooftop.

A scene from the documentary film 'Occupied Cinema' and a real screening at the taken-over cinema 'Zvezda'. Photo: Cinema 'Zvezda'
A scene from the documentary film ‘Occupied Cinema’ and a real screening at the taken-over cinema ‘Zvezda’. Photo: Cinema ‘Zvezda’

You can also watch Yugoslav and international cinema classics at the Yugoslav Film Archive, where they show documentary, ethnographic films, or rare materials from the archives. On the archive’s YouTube channel, you can watch newsreels of Belgrade from the first half of the 20th century. The archive also participates in a European project collecting films about World War I, which are also available online. In the summer, the archive organizes film screenings on the roof of the Army House. Festival films are also shown at the Kolarac cinema, and in the summer, also in an open-air setting.

In the summer, the film archive organizes screenings on the roof of the Army House. Photo: Yugoslav Film Archive
In the summer, the film archive organizes screenings on the roof of the Army House. Photo: Yugoslav Film Archive

The main festival venue is the Youth House, where film festivals from different countries take place throughout the year. In May, the Beldocs documentary film festival is held in Belgrade, in October – the MFEF ethnographic film festival, in November – the Slobodna Zona engaged cinema festival, and in December – the metafilm festival.

Architecture

Exploring Belgrade’s architecture can be done simply by walking the streets, but it’s much more interesting to visit buildings with fascinating interiors. For example, every first Saturday of the month, you can visit the Parliament building (register via bginfo.knezmihailova@tob.rs) and even sit in the deputy’s chair. On Saturdays in the summer season, the Royal Complex in Dedinje is open for visits (registration also via bginfo.knezmihailova@tob.rs).

Every first Saturday of the month, you can visit the Serbian Parliament building and even sit in a deputy's chair. Photo: Bestalex, Snežana Negovanović / Wikimedia.org
Every first Saturday of the month, you can visit the Serbian Parliament building and even sit in a deputy’s chair. Photo: Bestalex, Snežana Negovanović / Wikimedia.org

Key dates to access many buildings are the Belgrade Days in early April, Museum Night in May, and European Heritage Days in September. On these dates, you can usually visit the observatory, the Army House, and most importantly, the government building of socialist Yugoslavia, whose interiors were designed by the best Yugoslav artists. In addition to buildings, special dates offer the opportunity to visit the cave complex under Tašmajdan Park.

A separate architectural event, the Belgrade Architecture Week (BINA), takes place in June. During this week, lectures, exhibitions, and tours are held, including inside interesting buildings.

Text: Elvira Ibragimova

Cover: Eugster Gallery

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