Decades will probably still have to pass until the reputation of the former Yugoslav countries fully recover, and no nation has that problem more than Serbia. As the news cycle tends to focus only on the negative stories from the Balkans, the most populous republic of the old socialist country still has question marks poised next to it.
As such, when visiting the country’s capital, travelers wonder whether Belgrade is safe to visit, as much as they wonder what the best tourist spots are.
However considering Belgrade can offer so much to foodies, history buffs, sports enthusiasts, and night birds, it would be a shame to skip the city because of a distorted notoriety.
So if visiting Belgrade, use the following simple and clear tips to make your trip to the ‘White City’ just as safe as any vacation to most major European cities.
Crime in Belgrade
While the crime stats that politicians present are often enhanced, and the numbers can’t really be reported with a clear conscience, the actual state on the streets of Belgrade isn’t that far off what’s reported.
Around 10-20 murders happen every year in the city, which has up to 2,000,000 people living in it by the estimates of most locals. Mafia-related ambushes happen every two months or so, but most killings happen in family feuds.
As for the more common tourist problems:
Pickpocketing is not even near as big a problem as it is in the more popular European capitals. However aggressive beggars should be monitored, as well as foot-street salesmen of items like roses and such, especially if you’re out enjoying cafe gardens.
Pickpocketing is more prevalent on inter-city bus transportation during rush hour, especially in the winter, when criminals usually work in groups of three. Buckle up your pockets and hold your purses and wallets at your front!
Football fans: The biggest danger of visiting Belgrade is dressing improperly!
Hooligan groups supporting football clubs probably present the biggest danger for foreigners in Serbia’s capital.
That’s because the hardcore sports fans are basically criminal groups in not-so-great-hiding, and therefore wearing a shirt or scarves of a certain club or a club color could incite violence.
This especially applies to wearing the colors of the two domestic clubs – Partizan and Red Star Belgrade. But there’s jeopardy in displaying a number of European team’s outfits.
Yet not all football-related apparel is “forbidden” as Barcelona, Real Madrid and alike shirts can be worn all day long throughout the city’s main promenade as these sides and their supporters aren’t seen as threatening. They are viewed mostly as purely sport-oriented teams.
But the garments of clubs from England, Italy, Greece, Russia, France, or in general any club or country with a famed ultra or hooligan reputation can be seen as provocation.
Even wearing the shirts of Barca and Real, but with the names of Croatian, Bosnian, or Albanian players on the back, would make them inflammatory to hardcore Belgrade ultras.
This doesn’t mean that football fans should avoid supporting their team on a Belgrade away day, as supporters of the home sides do make the matches here an incredible sight to see. The local police force also has experience in organizing crowd-control for high-risk matches, and their heavy presence has ensured no violence in recent years – even when loud English fans have arrived in the city for European games.
To be safe, stick to the city’s center before and after the game, as suburbs or neighborhoods in the wider city won’t be as securely policed. It’s worth remembering the local Belgrade football teams don’t have the support of just those who live in the vicinity of the stadiums, but also from across the whole country.
Is Belgrade nightlife safe? Extra tips for staying safe in Belgrade
Besides football-related crimes, the biggest violence hotspots in the city are late-night alcohol-fueled spots.
“Kafanas” – the Serbian folk music spots with the aesthetics of traditional restaurants will be packed with beautiful women, but approaching them as a mixed group (men and women) can sometimes prove problematic. The same can be said for “splavs” – the raft-like clubs on the city’s two rivers.
If looking for some vacation romance, it may be better to be seek out music spots other than the two above, though it should be fine if you’re just in a group of women.
Belgrade nightlife doesn’t really begin until midnight in the city, which means late-night walks for club-goers. Thankfully the streets are well-lit and safe at night in general.
That’s mainly due to the constant police presence and according to a study from 2015, in Serbia there are more than double the police officers per 10,000 citizens compared to other EU countries.
Frequent construction on the city streets can be challenging, especially after a few drinks, so mind your step.
If Belgrade has its neighborhoods to avoid, that probably parts of New Belgrade. The architecture of the projects – called “blokovi” – make for an ominous atmosphere and have many dark corners. The paradox is that they are also one of the most expensive parts of the city in terms of square-foot value. So it’s reputation may be a thing of the past. But usually, there are no common reasons for travelers and tourists to visit that far into New Belgrade.
Serbia’s capital is one of the transit spots for the migrant and refugee crisis and the area around the main bus station and Zeleni Venac neighborhood have become a congregation spot for refugees. As with all cases of people with little to lose and in a desperate situation, this can be an unsafe area, but migrants and refugees here tend to be friendly.
Drug dealing isn’t done openly in any part of the city, and other than at parties it’s very rare anyone would approach bystanders offering them anything uninvited.
How safe is Belgrade for all races?
While the country has received a reputation for being highly racist, this is far from the truth. The infamy has been mostly caused by the sanctions that some of the country’s football clubs have received. Yet, the most recent ones appear to be due to the sanctioning body labeling nationalistic chants against Croats or Albanians as racist.
And while there have been instances of racist chants on the football terraces, they are dwarfed by the number of times football and basketball teams here have had icons in their ranks of different races.
Belgrade is also a somewhat popular destination for African students, and since Yugoslavia, has had construction projects throughout the African continent, with many workers marrying there and coming back here.
Additionally, with a considerable long-staying Chinese population in the city, it’s fair to say that the country has a history of, and is presently, racially accepting.
To be as safe as possible, one could argue that it’s best to avoid Belgrade’s neighborhood of Banjica, as the ultra fans of the local football club are openly fascist. Few in numbers – less than 200 in their strongest days – the heady heights of their club are now long behind them with most hardcore fans entering old age now.
Is Belgrade safe for solo travelers?
Solo traveling shouldn’t be an issue, but there are things to keep in mind, as solo travelers tend to visit places less-traveled.
Packs of stray dogs are an issue in Belgrade but mostly in the broader city limits, and loose strays are not likely to be seen in the city center. The outskirts, suburbs, and some large forest areas of the city can be challenging, but it’s important to keep in mind that these dogs wouldn’t be allowed to roam freely if they were truly aggressive.
Belgrade recently moved its central train station from the city center to a more secluded location, near the city’s luxurious areas, but it is less populated. Therefore the train station looks and feels ominous at times and one should be on the lookout especially at night.
How safe is Belgrade for LGBT travelers?
Although Serbia appointed a gay woman as its prime minister in 2017, the country is not the safest for LGBT travelers. Homosexuality isn’t illegal in Serbia, and the reaction of the public won’t be as harsh as in Russia, but some steps of precaution need to be taken.
LGBT parades have become more common, and unlike several years ago, when the whole city was swarmed by armored police for their safety, now there are only mellow reactions by opposing religious groups.
However men holding hands around town could find themselves in trouble soon enough, and kissing would certainly cause a reaction and possibly a confrontation.
Looking for an LGBT romance in Belgrade isn’t advisable, regardless of how good someone looks. But there is an LGBT NGO hub in the middle of the city center, and Belgrade does have some gays clubs.
But other night-places can be gay-friendly, most likely those with an alternative music scene. Bar/club areas like Savamala and Cetinjska should be safe.
Is Belgrade safe for American tourists?
Most people are aware that American citizens can’t be blamed for the actions of the American government. As paradoxical as it sounds.
But the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 is still fresh in the minds of many. As are the wars prior that didn’t go Serbia’s way, and most feel that is due to the intervention of the international community led by the USA.
Therefore angry nationalists can’t be ignored. But they mostly don’t congregate in the same spots that tourists usually visit. Kafanas, splavs, and possibly some rugged bars could be danger zones, but there are no clear distinctions. The only reliable way of spotting a possible nationalist is by tattoos, as religious or medieval motives are a good indicator of a person who cares about nationality here. Not all will be violent, of course.
Many young Serbs have taken up seasonal jobs in the United States, and many elderly people have their children living there now. This has considerably mitigated the resentful feelings people had.
Due to the globalization of fashion, it’s not unusual to see young Serbian people wear t-shirts or hoodies with the American flag on it. And if they don’t get in trouble for wearing the symbol of the country, a plain-dressed American tourist should be safe too.
Are taxis in Belgrade safe?
Avoiding bodily harm is the most important priority, but getting wronged in any other way is enough to ruin a vacation or business trip. No one wants to hear they got ripped off by a taxi driver, which is something Belgrade has become infamous for amongst tourists.
A cab ride from Nikola Tesla Airport to the city center shouldn’t cost more than 1,700 dinars ($15) during a work day. Rates increase during the night and weekends.
To exclude the possibility of being ripped-off, or being driven around town just to pump up a fare, one could use a Uber-like domestic application like CarGo. The drivers are usually friendlier, better-versed in English, and have visible phone screens showing the suggested route on a map.
The app currently runs in a light-grey economy, as it uses a law loophole, but isn’t pursued by the police, and is widely used. Although some incidents have been reported as taxi drivers don’t fancy the competition, but passengers were never harmed.
Should you visit Belgrade?
One of the most-important values all Serbian parents try to instill in their children is being a good host in your home. Having no rakia to pour for your guests is as big of a sin as getting an F in maths!
This hospitality naturally transitions to a warm reception for tourists. Even the non-English speaking natives will break their tongues and arms to try to give you the right directions on the street.
Additionally, due to what the Serbs perceive as the “demonization” of their nation by western media in the ’90s, and on occasions since then, many have an underlying want to show the visitors the “right” face of the country.
Now that you know the don’ts of the city, you can stop worrying about whether Belgrade is safe and enjoy it freely while getting pampered by the constant refilling of your rakia glass!