Lonely Planet Local Nevena Paunovic was born and raised in Belgrade’s green, hilly neighbourhood of Banovo Brdo. After plenty of travelling abroad, today she chooses to live here because for her, Belgrade still holds that charming balance between a metropolis and a provincial town. You’ll find her cycling along the city’s rivers, attending fantastic music gigs or enjoying Belgrade’s coolest vegetarian restaurants.

Evening walks on Kalemegdan Fortress above the Sava River © Makicom / Shutterstock

When I have friends in town… first I make sure they are properly fed, as every well-bred Serbian should do. I take all my friends to Radost Fina Kuhinjica, my favourite vegetarian restaurant with a beautiful garden. You don’t always need to eat pljeskavica or ćevapčići (ie meat and more meat) in Belgrade! We order Radost’s signature mezze platter and then dive into some of the innovative tasting mains. As the restaurant is located beneath the Kalemegdan Citadel, we follow up the dinner with a walk around the fortress or along the Sava river beneath its ramparts.

When I’m up for a big night out… the evening usually starts with a gig. I’m really into music, and many of the concerts I attend take place at Dom Omladine, where I've enjoyed some fantastic acts such as Cat Power, Wovenhand, Mark Lanegan, The Residents, Lisa Hannigan, Supersilent etc. The after-party continues either at one of the cool bars in Cetinjska 15, like Dvorištance, or at Chilton in Vračar neighbourhood (go with a local as it will be hard to find on your own!), or at 20/44 club on a river barge where we dance and drink until the stars fade out.

One of the popular Cetinjska 15 hangouts, charming Bajloni jazz cafe © Ivana Spasović / Bajloni Bar & Beyond

My favourite place in Belgrade is… the park on Banovo Brdo hill where I live. I can never get enough of it. In the summer it buzzes from early morning when mums with babies go out while the air is still fresh, until 2am when the last teenagers show mercy to the neighbours and stop howling at the moon. In the winter I enjoy counting squirrels running over leafless trees, and all year long I get my veggies from the green market at the bottom of the park.

My week can’t pass without… yoga, many times a week, either practising or teaching dynamic yoga styles. In the Ashtanga yoga studio where I practise, we often have foreign guests because yoga is a universal language, so don’t be shy to drop by when you’re in town!

Nevena waiting for an early morning coffee at Ski Staza on Banovo Brdo © Nevena Paunovic / Lonely Planet

A typical weekend involves… coffee! Not only weekends, but every day gets normal only after I sit down for a coffee, often at Ski Staza near my house. Belgrade is jam-packed with cafes, from tiny local ones to the fancy bistros. The coffee ritual is a life necessity over here – you don’t do any business or expect to get a boyfriend or a girlfriend without engaging in long coffee-sipping sessions. My favourite coffee place for the past 15 years has been Greenet in Nušićeva Street with their signature mocha coffee.

For cheap eats… a bit untypical for a Serbian, I try to keep myself on the healthy side of Belgrade’s food offerings. I often go to FitBar for its salads, grilled veggies and quinoa burgers. When I want to combine work and lunch, Tri Restaurant is a great choice as you can sit with your laptop and munch an amazing salad on the side.

Lunchtime salad at Tri Restaurant © Nevena Paunovic / Lonely Planet
Enjoying a healthy salad for lunch at Belgrade's Tri Restaurant © Nevena Paunovic / Lonely Planet

To spend a day outdoors… I jump on my bicycle and cycle down to Ada Ciganlija island for a coffee and a warm-up ride around the lake. Then I continue by the Sava river to Branko’s Bridge and ride across it towards Zemun Quay with its quaint streets overlooking the Danube. From Zemun I head towards New Belgrade, cycling through its socialist residential blocks until I reach the Sava river again. I hop with my bike on one of the boats operating between the north bank and Ada Ciganlija, and finish my day with a refreshing drink before climbing back up to Banovo Brdo.

When I want to get out of the city… I go cycling again! Either I take a one-hour ride to Mt Avala for some fresh air and great views (you can climb to the top of its tower, the tallest in the Balkans), or follow the Danube Cycle Path to visit my friends in the laid-back nearby town of Pančevo (where you can enjoy a pint or two at Serbia’s oldest brewery). Of course, both places can be reached by bus too. All I do in the winter is wait for enough snow to fall so I can get away for a weekend ski trip to Kopaonik National Park in southern Serbia.

Marina and new Ada bridge at Ada Ciganlija island on the Sava River © Bojan Bokic / Shutterstock

One thing I hate about Belgrade is…  the parking drama. Each year there are more and more cars and less and less parking space. The city centre is unbearable – you can spend 45 minutes searching for a spot. That’s why I don’t have a car and opt for public transport or cycling instead.

I know I’m a Belgrader because… normally there’s somebody I know when I go out at night or just sit down for a coffee.  As a local patriot I support the city’s cafe economy by drinking hectolitres per year!

Need more city travel inspiration? Check out The Cities Book, a celebration of 200 of the world’s great cities, beautifully photographed and packed with trip advice and recommendations.

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