With fascinating holiday traditions, a bustling atmosphere throughout December and into January and beautiful attractions possibly even covered with a dusting of snow, Christmas in Belgrade, Serbia, is magical.
If you’re looking for a budget-friendly place to spend the festive period that celebrates in full swing but also has traditions that you might not find in other European capitals, head to Belgrade!
I’m Andrej, a Serbian local, and I currently live in Belgrade. Here are all of the best things to do in my city throughout the festive period.
What’s Belgrade like at Christmas?
Without a doubt one of the best places to visit in Serbia in winter, Belgrade is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Eastern part of Europe, so it’s not a surprise that it is especially attractive during Christmas and the festive season.
Thanks to its size and the number of people living there, the diversity of cultures is huge and is one of the main reasons for its popularity.
The warm and festive spirit can also be felt thanks to the many attractions around the city as well as all the decorations that make the center of the city look like it’s from a fairytale.
It’s also present in the way people interact, as they are much calmer and relaxed, and are even friendlier and willing to help you with anything.
Things to do in Belgrade at Christmas
Take a stroll through Knez Mihailova and visit the Christmas markets
If you could only visit one place during your trip to Belgrade, it would certainly have to be Knez Mihailova Street.
It embodies the festive spirit itself. It’s a great destination even outside the festive season, but the real magic happens in the winter.
The whole street gets covered in beautiful Christmas decorations, from overhead lights to giant present houses and of course, an enormous Christmas tree that sits at the very center of the street. Walking through it will leave you forgetting where you were going, as you’ll definitely get lost in all the bright lights.
There are also Christmas markets lined up all across the street selling a variety of festival things. Everything from barbecue to traditional souvenirs, as well as many candy stands in case you’ve got a sweet tooth. The treat you don’t want to miss is the
‘odžak’ cake, a traditional Serbian pastry in the shape of a chimney, filled with chocolate and other sweets.
Take part in the Santa Claus race
What do you think of when you hear ‘Santa Claus race’? Maybe a special race just named like this because it’s taking place close to Christmas, or a sleight race?
Well, it’s neither of those, because it’s a giant race where everyone is wearing a Santa Claus suit.
The race has been taking place for many years now (although it didn’t during the pandemic), so it’s grown into a tradition that people look forward to every year.
The number of participants is growing year after year, and it is estimated that more than 3000 men and women will compete in this year’s version.
It’s worth visiting it even if you don’t plan on participating, not only for the hilarious sight but also for the music program which often features the most popular Serbian singers and musicians.
Try ice skating at the Pionir Ice Hall
Besides exploring the city and enjoying its delicious food, you may want to keep yourself active and try some winter sports. The main one which many Belgrade locals often visit during the winter is the ice-skating rink at the Pionir Ice Hall.
It’s the biggest indoor ice rink in the country and has top-tier conditions for ice skating. It works in the evening hours as that is when most of the parents can take their children there, so make sure to organize your day accordingly.
The price is also really cheap, with a one-day ticket being under 3 euros, so it’s a great option for anyone traveling on a budget.
Visit the street of an open heart
The Christmas season is the season of giving and it inspired the charity event called the street of an open heart. It takes place every year on the 1st of January on Svetogorska street and has been going on for over 40 years.
It all began when actors from ‘Atelje 212’ swapped places with waiters from restaurant Srpska Kafana and served the guests. The number of guests grew and they even started organizing their own gatherings in front of the restaurant.
Today, during the event, many artists, musicians, and street animators walk through the street wearing red noses, which are sold for charity.
There are also various mini-concerts and games which are mostly made for children.
Spend New Year’s Eve at Skadarlija
If you’re lucky enough to be in Serbia during New Year’s Eve, the best place to spend it is Skadarlija.
It’s filled with many fantastic and famous restaurants, but for this occasion, we would recommend the restaurant Šešir Moj. It serves traditional Serbian food and the atmosphere is great.
You will get to enjoy Serbian cuisine, and experience what a traditional Serbian party looks like.
The sound of trumpeters mixed with the whole restaurant singing is something you have to experience for yourself. So if you prefer more traditional gatherings, it’s a match made in heaven.
Belgrade Christmas Traditions
Most Serbians are Orthodox Christians, meaning that they celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January. Most of their traditions are performed on this day and a day before called Badnji dan.
The first tradition is placing oak tree branches into a fire, symbolizing the Yule log.
This is done on Christmas Eve and is usually done at a family gathering, although many churches organize it for all the people that can’t do it at home, mainly because they live in flats.
Another tradition is the one performed during dinner on Christmas Eve. A woman, usually a mother or a grandmother bakes česnica, a bread that is only made on Christmas Eve and hides a coin within it.
Then, when the whole family is ready at the table, the bread is split apart and everyone gets a piece of it. The person who discovers the coin in their piece is believed to have good fortune throughout the year.
The last tradition is an older one and even most Serbians don’t know it. The first person who enters the house on Christmas Day is called polozajnik, and symbolizes the three wise men on Jesus’s birth.
He steps into the house with his right foot to bring good luck to the household, and upon leaving, is rewarded with many presents.
The families that follow this tradition, usually have their children be the polozajnik, so they can receive even more gifts.
What to eat in Belgrade at Christmas
If you’re visiting Belgrade, or Serbia in general, there’s a pretty good chance that the food is one of the main reasons for it.
Serbia is famous for its traditional cuisine which consists of many dishes which you can’t find in other parts of the world.
The food is even better around Christmas, as many ingredients are best served during this part of the year.
Your meal should start with a bowl of soup, preferably a veal one, but if you’re more of a chicken fan, the chicken one is great as well.
There are a variety of options for your main dish so it’s best to visit restaurants as many times as possible to try all of them.
Some of them include roasted lamb with potatoes and vegetables on the side, stuffed peppers, and sarmas, as well as all types of barbecue meat.
For all the cake lovers, Vasina, Plazma, and Reforma cakes should be your choice of dessert, while others might enjoy an orasnica or a piece of oblanda, both of which are traditional Serbian desserts made from natural ingredients.
Of course, if you aren’t excited thinking of Serbian food, you certainly have to be when it comes to their drinks.
Rakija, also known as brandy, is the drink of choice of most Serbians, so you must give it a try. On the other hand, if you don’t drink alcohol, getting any of their natural fruit juices is another great option.
Tips for visiting Belgrade at Christmas
Belgrade can be a bit tricky to navigate, especially when it snows or rains, as public transport usually slows down and some lines stop operating.
The best solution for this is to use the app Moovit.
It’s a navigation app that calculates the fastest way to get between destinations and shows you which buses/trains to take and where. It’s completely free and it can save you a ton of time.
On the other hand, if it happens to be the first big snowfall of the winter, it’s better to take a taxi as some buses/trains can’t operate before the snow is cleaned up, and that can sometimes take a lot of time.
The other piece of advice would be to search for accommodation somewhere close to the center of the city.
Most of the Christmas attractions, as well as other popular tourist destinations, are located near the center, so you would save yourself loads of time by not having to travel to them every day.
Are you ready for Christmas in Belgrade?
If you’re planning a festive trip to the Balkans, Belgrade has plenty on offer!
Whether you want to enjoy a mulled wine at the Christmas market, head out on the ice or take part in the famous Santa race, you’ll adore this charming city in the holiday period.