People make a city. Their energy can trigger a vibrant cultural scene or encourage a burgeoning tourist industry. Those same people can make or break your experiences when visiting for the first time. Every interaction, from ticket inspectors to people on the street leaves a lasting impression that could be recalled to others when returning home. The people of Belgrade could be this city’s greatest asset, having left their indelible mark on my first visit to Serbia.
Belgrade’s café culture and exuberant nightlife rightly attracts people in search of a good time. Dropping in and out of bustling bars, it is easy to become enchanted by the spirit that keeps Belgrade alive and kicking. Having sampled clubs and bars along the Danube and in the city centre during a recent trip, I can vouch for Belgrade’s deserved reputation as a party destination.
What is not so well known is the incredible warmth and welcoming openness of the people. On a recent visit, I experienced simple acts of kindness and friendliness that are all too uncommon.
Firstly, I was approached by a guy at the airport who offered directions into the city. I didn’t ask for it. He just came along and offered. I’m embarrassed to say, my attitude towards the clutch of cabbies vying for trade at arrivals meant that I was not especially open to his help.
Then on the bus to the city centre, I was encouraged into friendly conversation from two rush-hour passengers, and two others stopped to offer directions to my hotel when I looked a bit lost on the snowy streets.
Again, not once was this assistance requested. It was spontaneous and genuine help from people who really seemed to care that I felt comfortable in their city. Each time I was sent off on the next leg of my journey with a pleasant “welcome to Belgrade”.
During my week-long visit, I ate at some great restaurants, partied at fantastic clubs, enjoyed warm hospitality and returned home with some amazing new friends.
Yes, Serbia is a fascinating country with a strong culture to be explored and Belgrade is an ideal gateway. It has great restaurants and clubs, and some interesting architecture. But there is a greater reason why I will be returning to Belgrade in May: the people. They will have me coming back every time.