By Nemanja Cabric
Every year thousands flock to Belgrade to ring in the New Year as the city offers something for everyone, from European clubbers to history buffs to families.
Belgrade’s natural charm, the romantic New Year atmosphere and the variety of celebrations in the city, touted as one of Europe’s top party destinations by Lonely Planet travel guides, make the Serbian capital a regional favourite for the end of year holidays.
European clubbers are lured by affordable accommodation and a host of free parties with well-known DJ’s and bands. The city also offers cultural events, sightseeing tours and a magical winter atmosphere with lavishly decorated shop windows and special Christmas street lights around the centre.
This year the Belgrade tourist organization wants to stretch the holidays and keep visitors in town a bit longer by staging extra events in December and January as a part of the celebration programme.
For the holidays the main Trg Republike square has been turned into “Open Heart Square”, offering concerts, performances and a skating rink until January 20th.
Decorated wooden huts line the square giving it a cosy small town feeling. In the centre is a stage where local rock musicians Dejan Cukic and Igor Blazevic (known as Dirty Inspector Blaza) will DJ.
Visitors can warm up with mulled wine and rakija brandy sold from the shacks or buy traditional decorated heart-shaped cookies and other local snacks.
To get into the holiday spirit you can help raise funds for the Belgrade Baby Club, which provides each Belgrade newborn and his or her parents with a kind of baby starter kit to help babies and mothers through the first weeks by buying a New Year’s “Open Heart City” coffee mug for 150 dinars (a little over €1).
On the morning of January 1st the traditional “Open Heart Street” event turns Svetogorska street into an open air carnival for parents and children.
Every year crowds flock to the street for the warm holiday atmosphere and the spirit of solidarity. Actors from the Atelje 212 theatre mingle with visitors and sell hot drinks and meals with all proceeds going to charity.
Throughout the city centre 25 streets and squares are especially dolled up for the holidays with Christmas lights including three locations with new long-lasting and energy efficient LED lamps: Knez Mihailova street, Kralja Milana Street and the beginning of Bulevar Kralja Aleksandra.
The city has also set up free ice skating rinks, one in the central Nikola Pasic’s Square and one at the Ada Ciganlija lake close to the Belgrade fairground.
Among the many seasonal shop windows in Knez Mihailova the most charming is the French Cultural Centre, which shows sculptures made from recycled garbage that illustrate four poems of 20th century poet Jacques Prévert, known for his masterful rhymes about love and the streets of Paris.
For those who want to peek behind the holiday veneer and dive into the history and culture of Belgrade there are several English-language guided tours on offer. Visitors and interested expats can learn about Belgrade streets, architecture, important historical figures and sites such as the Kalemegdan fortress and the old town of Zemun.
Tickets for all tours cost 200 dinars (about €2) and the profits go to charity.
The Serbian capital also caters to music lovers with a string of concerts ranging from classical to jazz, blues and pop.
Besides the traditional concert programmes at Kolarac (Studentski Trg 5) there will be a celebration of New Year with classical music in Sava Centre dubbed “Classic Please – An Elegant New Year”.
New Year’s Eve in Sava Centre is divided into four parts: Baroque, Classic, Opera and Folk. Visitors can enjoy different musical styles from Vivaldi and miniatures by Tchaikovsky, Bach, and Mozart Baroque to Camerata Serbica and beautiful traditional folk music.
The most popular New Year’s Eve celebration in Belgrade remains the traditional rock concert on the impressive stage in front of the parliament.
This year the slogan of the concert is “Be Charmed, Be Unique, Be in Belgrade”, picked by the City of Belgrade after an open competition.
Despite the rather cumbersome slogan the concert promises to deliver a decent open air party that everyone can join.
The main celebration in front of the National Assembly features performances by Masterblasters & Rock choir, Jelena Mihailovic (Jela Cello), Marcelo & Iskaz, Dejan Pejovic Black and White world and the stars of the night: veteran Serbian new wave band Elektricni orgazam.
In addition to the public celebration Belgrade offers endless theme parties, rock concerts and DJ performances to usher in the New Year.
There is an ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ party in the ballroom of the former Obrenovic Royal dynasty in Resavska 11 and in Prince Paul’s Residency in Safarikova 1, where musicians such as Bebi Dol, Zemlja Gruva and St Louis will perform, together with many DJ’s.
Around 1,500 people are expected to attend the ‘New Year Traffic light Party’ in Sarajevska 24 that will have six stages with music to cater to all tastes. From the main stage with pop and folk music to House, Karaoke, Retro, Silent disco, and finally a Kafana stage with traditional tavern music, checkered tablecloths and serving premium domestic rakija brandy and wine.
For hardcore clubbers there are always the famous ‘Splavovi’ barges on the river, which specialise in turbo folk, techno and house music.
For a more bohemian experience visit the Skadarlija street lined with traditional restaurants.
Hipsters who want to steer clear of the big crowds will be able to hang out in the many famous alternative clubs and bars in Belgrade, which usually prepare a special New Year’s night.