On the surface, life appears to move slowly in the capital city of Belgrade, where sidewalks are for strolling, drinks are for sipping, and lunch is an event lasting upwards of three hours. But the reality is this industrious city has fought long and hard for the joie de vivre so prevalent throughout its streets today. After centuries of tumultuous taking and overtaking — from Attila the Hun to Slobodan Milošević — the “White City” finally can enjoy its long-deserved liberation and flex its hard-earned free-market muscles.
Belgrade has long been desired for its strategic location between Western and Central Europe, at the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers, and for that reason it remains such a desirable city for doing business today. Located in the heart of the CEFTA zone, Belgrade enjoys nontariff access to nearly 30 million consumers and houses a highly educated workforce that continues to boast the highest percentage of English speakers in Central and Southern Europe. As Serbia awaits its confirmation into the European Union (it was accepted as a candidate in 2012), its capital city continues to grow, including plans to launch a $5.2 billion metro construction project in December 2021 that will integrate four urban railway lines into the two new metro lines spanning the city and its outlying suburbs.
Most of Belgrade operates on a 40-hour work week, with Sundays often considered a non-negotiable day of rest, and the workday is limited by law to a maximum of 12 hours. Laws also regulate breaks, and anyone working more than a six-hour workday is allowed a minimum 30-minute break, although many workers extend their breaks much longer than a single half hour. In Belgrade many business decisions wind up actually being made at the lunch table; therefore, it’s not uncommon for a single business lunch to last two or even three hours.
However, true Serbians know the most important meal of the day isn’t a meal at all. Most workers in Belgrade opt for eating a quick lunch of ćevapi(grilled Serbian sausages) and pljeskavice u lepinji (the Serbian equivalent of a hamburger) from a fast-casual place like Pile & Prase in exchange for a longer coffee break. Kafenisanje literally translates as “to coffee,” and this beautiful Balkan concept doesn’t really exist anywhere else in the world. Kafenisanje isn’t just a word; it’s an art form. Taking a coffee in Belgrade involves dressing to impress (which isn’t typically a problem since business professional attire is standard for most offices), sorting through a 10- or 20-page coffee menu and spending no less than an hour and a half sipping and talking with friends or co-workers. The type or quality of the coffee proves less important than the relationships built during the time spent slowly draining cups of roasted espresso. Serbian chain Kafeterija is popular among locals and offers multiple locations throughout the city, but some of the best cafés are locally owned, including Lokal Coffee Roastersin the Vracar quarter and Užitak in Stari Grad.
Taxis are available throughout the city, but the network of public transportation proves the most efficient (and fraud-proof ) method of getting around. More than 130 routes connect the city via GSP Beograd bus, trolleybus and tram, including GSP line No. 72 which takes passengers to/from Belgrade Nikola Tesla International Airport to Zeleni Venac in the city center. The A1 bus also runs to and from the airport every 20 minutes from Slavija Square, about a mile from Belgrade’s central Terazije Square. The square played a historic role as the business and commercial center of Belgrade and today provides a starting point for strolling down the main pedestrian and shopping zone of Knez Mihailova Street.
The street serves as a popular meeting point for Belgradians and passes by Belgrade Art Hotel and near the Square Nine Hotel Belgrade on the way to the Kalemegdan Fortress. Built in the first century, today the fortress offers one of the best spots in the entire city for watching the sun set over the meeting point of the Sava and Danube rivers. It also houses one of the most impressive restaurants in Europe for entertaining clients and co-workers, as Kalemegdanska Terasa Restaurant’s chef Danijel Stevanovic prepares local specialties with a French flair and pairs the dishes with delicious Serbian wines. For a less formal but equally impressive venue, restaurant Ambar is one of the trendiest restaurants in the city. Small plates and boutique wines (like the decadently dry Vinarija Virtus Prokupac red wine) are meant to be shared with friends at this riverside restaurant located in the hip, repurposed confines of the Beton Hala district. Once a series of concrete warehouses and storage docks, the district today boasts the hottest reservations to score, as it houses the city’s best restaurants and lies within strolling distance of the top nightclubs.