“Belgrade” actually translates to “White City,” but I’d find “Gray City” to be more fitting. Belgrade is not the most beautiful city in the world, but it brings its own character that becomes beautiful in its own way. The city has been somewhat of a battleground over the years and this dark past still shows today. At the same time, you can see the positive transition the city is currently enjoying.
It’s also a very walkable city, which is great for exploring this unique Balkan city by foot. So here are my first impressions of Belgrade, from my personal Street Photography perspective…
7 First Impressions of Belgrade, Serbia
(From a Street Photography Perspective)
Belgrade is a city in the middle of a positive transition. Belgrade has seen plenty of trouble in its past, with the Kosovo War being as recent as 1999, but things really seem to be looking up now. This is most evident in the city’s center, especially around Prince Michael Street.
You can also see this transition in the change of environment. One street might be full of crumbling discount stores, while another street a block away is full of upscale shopping. Many of the rusty cars and trams look their age, while others drive around in the latest luxury vehicles. There’s even remnants from bombed buildings kept for remembrance, while many areas have been rebuilt to reflect a modern future.
It’s very interesting walking around observing a city in such transition. It’s not something you get to see often to the degree of Belgrade. This visual transition is one of the best aspects of the city for Street Photography.
2. Ugly and Attractive at the same time
Many might find Belgrade to be somewhat ugly. While the city is transitioning and becoming more modern, there doesn’t seem to be too much effort into making the city pretty. In addition to some of the crumbled buildings, graffiti and worn appearance, it can also have a darker, edgier feeling in many areas. This isn’t true everywhere, of course. The area and views around the Belgrade Fortress and Kalemegdan Park are beautiful.
In my opinion, Belgrade’s overall appearance isn’t a negative, though. Its worn and haggard environment shows character and has an authentic charm. It’s not polished. It’s real and you can feel its past while walking the streets. This edgy, visual character can create interesting street photos just as often as the more “pretty” cities.
3. Very Walkable
Belgrade is another very walkable city for Street Photography in Eastern Europe. Most things are concentrated close to each other and you can get around easily by foot. They don’t have a metro system yet, but the buses can get you around and the taxis are cheap, if needed. You probably won’t find transportation required most of the time at all, though.
I do love to walk more than most, but there was only a couple of times I found a need for transportation. Also, due to the compactness of the city, there’s interesting streets and activity wherever you walk.
4. Everyone Speaks English
I haven’t been to a city in Eastern Europe where everyone is fluent in english to the degree of Belgrade. I’m not sure why this is, but it does make things easier navigating the city and communicating with strangers when shooting Street Photography.
I can’t remember speaking to one person in Belgrade that didn’t speak some english, and most were fluent. This provided some great conversations and experiences meeting the locals when I was out capturing life with my camera .
5. Strong Ties to Russia
I quickly noticed stronger ties to Russia than most ex-soviet controlled countries. While countries like Ukraine sell toilet paper with Putin’s face and others try to distance themselves from their soviet past, Belgrade shows more pride in their relationship and history with Russia. There’s Russian flags around town and Russian memorabilia sold in shops.
While Belgrade shows interest in increasing their ties to Europe and the west, they still show an importance to not losing their soviet past and ties to Russia. This helps give Belgrade some of its soviet atmosphere when exploring the city.
6. Women are Beautiful
No, this isn’t my first impressions post on Kiev, Ukraine, but it’s worth noting for Belgrade too because there’s a lot of similarity. The women aren’t made up like models to the degree as Kiev, but it’s close. The style is a little more edgy than Kiev, while still looking like they could step on a runway in the middle of the day.
You’ll also see a lot of extravagant fur coats and jewelry on some of the women. With Belgrade’s gritty, concrete backdrop, it can make for some interesting juxtaposition for Street Photography.
7. Dark, but Friendly
While there’s a darkness to the city’s worn urban environment, the people themselves are very friendly. I’m sure english being so commonly spoken helped, but striking up conversations with strangers was noticeably easy in Belgrade. Reactions to photos were friendlier than most cities too.
At first sight, many of the people might look serious, but once you speak to them, it’s usually smiles and friendly conversation. There’s a very likeable sense of humor many of the Serbian people share too.
Belgrade has an adventurous, outspoken charm to its people and a gritty, fascinating charm to the city. While it’s not going to win any beauty contests, the city brings its own style of attraction. A chaotic past, a positive future and character to spare, all wrapped up into a very walkable city. All this and more makes Belgrade one of the better cities I’ve been to for Street Photography.
If any of you have been to Belgrade before, tell me about your experience and impressions of the city and country in the comments below! And stay tuned for more on Belgrade, including some of the best Street Photography shots I captured while there.