Belgrade Survival Tips – Have a good time and don’t lose money
My introduction to Belgrade didn’t go smoothly. Within 24 hours I was ripped off by a taxi driver, got a bum exchange rate for the local currency, and checked in to an uncomfortably stuffy Airbnb. It took quite a bit of will power to overcome my first impressions of the city and get down to enjoying it. Avoid my mistakes. Follow these Belgrade survival tips when you arrive in the capital of Serbia.
Belgrade Survival Tips
- Arrival into the city. Flying and train travel are the two most common ways to get to Belgrade. The train is the more economical transportation method, and I’ve taken it twice. The train from Zagreb runs about $15 USD per person and it is a great option to take if you are traveling in cooler weather months. I did this trip once in the winter and once in the summer. Never again will I take this train in the summer. Hundred degree heat without powerful AC makes a six hour train ride feel like you’re wearing damp laundry to the prom. It just isn’t comfortable. Belgrade Survival Tip: Take a train into Belgrade during cooler months unless you are coming from Montenegro (then fly.) Fly during the summer. The only thing you will miss seeing are the canola fields in their spectacular yellow bloom.
- Money Exchanging – At the time this article was written, the exchange rate from USD (United States Dollar) to RSD (Serbian Dinar) was about 1 to 100. This makes it very easy to figure prices. However, it isn’t always easy to find an exchange rate close to that. Especially at the train station. The office at the train station states that they “don’t take commission.” They also don’t post their exchange rates or give you a favorable one. Belgrade Survival Tip: Exchange some funds into dinars before arrival into Serbia. Have at least 2000 dinars to cover the cost of your taxi to your accommodation and a little snack if needed. Visit one of the money exchangers in the downtown area or at your hotel. Just make sure that you can see the posted rates beforehand.
- Taxis – Let’s just say that not all taxis are created equal in Belgrade. There are the “legit” taxis and then there are the “opportunistic” taxis. Avoid the opportunistic taxis unless you want to be whipsawed by the cost of your fare. Belgrade Survival Tip: Pink Taxi and BEO Taxi are the best taxi companies in the city. However, always have a hotel or restaurant call you a taxi. NEVER get a taxi off the street. Opportunistic taxis hang out in places that the tourists love namely Skadarlija Street and Republic Square. There you will always see a queue of taxis. But, as two hotel staffers advised me “they are not reliable.” When the hotel staffer calls a taxi for you, they will tell you the taxi brand (BEO or Pink), the taxi number (321 or 1024) and their estimated arrival time (two minutes.) Use that info to make sure that you are entering the correct taxi. The meters are generally in the rear view mirrors. As an estimate – it takes about 500 dinars to get across town.
- Money Exchanging Part 2 – It is extremely difficult to exchange dinars outside of Serbia. Many banks will refuse to exchange the currency. Even in neighboring countries it is difficult. As an example, there is only one branch of one bank in all of Podgorica, Montenegro that will exchange dinars. Just one. Belgrade Survival Tip: Spend every last dinar before you leave Serbia. Check with your bank at home if they will exchange Serbian Dinars (but don’t count on it.)
- Apartment Rentals / Airbnb – I stay in Airbnbs more often than not. I love them, and I think that my vetting process is pretty down pat when it comes to selecting an Airbnb. I got stumped in Belgrade. I always ask a potential host before booking what the speed of the wifi is, if the pool in the complex is closed, and if there are actual dishes to use in the kitchen. That may sound ridiculous, but those questions were born out of previous experiences. Belgrade Survival Tip: For apartment Airbnbs, you need to ask if the windows open. If airflow isn’t a part of your daily feng shui than go ahead and live in a non-aerated fish bowl. Working windows are important to me. There is a big push in remodeling downtown flats and rejuvenating the city. (This is great!) A common trick with older constructions is to paint windows shut instead of replacing and updating them. (Not so great.)
Belgrade Survival Tips Recap
Belgrade is a great city to visit. There are just a few things to be aware of so you don’t get off on the wrong foot with the city. Tourism is a growing industry in Serbia, but it is nowhere near being the top dog on the economic ladder. In 2015, tourism only made up about 6% of the GDP. Due to that, strict protections against small scams against tourists aren’t high on the priority list. So, you need to watch out for yourself. Be sure you know your money and have a plan to exchange it. Be smart about your taxi rides, and be inquisitive about your rentals. With these plans in place, you will be set up to enjoy Belgrade.
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